Op-Ed Columns



2011 Opinion / Editorial Columns


Title: ‘Freedom is for Everyone’ icon, Russell Means, speaks his mind

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 2/11/2011

Article: http://brianrwright.com/Coffee_Coaster/01_Columns/2011/110207_Russell_Means.htm

Former LP candidate for the presidential nomination (1988) [http://brianrwright.com/Coffee_Coaster/04_Articles/2009/091012_LPConvention_1987.htm], Russell Means, opens up about patriarchy, the Constitution, how all Americans are being treated as prisoners of war… just like the Lakotah Sioux.
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2010 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: O-Slammer-Care and the Constitution

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 3/29/2010

Article: Note the following rad opinion is definitely not an official Libertarian Party one, yet represents a view that many Libertarians find within the bounds of civil discourse:


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Title: The Paulpocalypse… from Reason Magazine

Author: Webmaster_LPM

Date: 2/24/2010

Article: The Paulpocalypse
A longtime Ron Paul watcher wonders if his CPAC victory is the dawn of a new age, or the beginning of the end
Brian Doherty | February 24, 2010

The straw poll victory of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, with a plurality of 31 percent, spurred a wide range of reaction and emotions. If you weren’t already a fan of the radically libertarian Republican congressmen, his victory wasn’t the thing to make you start taking him seriously.

Many agreed that Paul’s win, if meaningful, could only bode ill for the Republican Party’s prospects. David A. Harris at TalkingPointsMemo thinks Paul’s ascendance means the GOP is determined to give up on the Jews (since Paul has suggested that certain U.S. foreign policy decisions benefit Israel more than they benefit the U.S.). Earl Ofari Hutchinson at Huffington Post thinks Paul’s win means racism and nativism is on the rise in the GOP, as he fantasizes about non-existent race-based jibes in Paul’s CPAC speech.

In the real world, Paul’s speech was mostly about fiscal probity and saving the U.S. from a debt-driven dollar collapse. Paul applied principles of limited government and restrained spending to a place where most Republicans fear to tread: foreign policy. He stressed the vital importance of the free exchange of ideas, including a long shout-out to Eugene Debs, the socialist leader jailed by Democratic god Woodrow Wilson for saying the wrong things, and freed by Republican President Warren Harding…


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Title: About those libertarians… Zogby Poll article

Author: Webmaster_LPM

Date: 2/19/2010

Year: 2010

Article: http://www.zogby.com/blog/loader.cfm?p=/2010/02/19/about-those-libertarians/

John Zogby and our very own blogger Zeljka Buturovic recently published an article in the National Review analyzing the political tendencies of self-described libertarians. They suggest that overall, libertarians can be seen as a part of the conservative coalition. For example, even while libertarians describe their ideology as “libertarian” (as opposed to progressive, liberal, conservative, or very conservative), when asked to identify their ideology on a 1-9 scale (with 1 being very liberal and 9 being very conservative), they are similar to those who call themselves conservative or very conservative. From the article:
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2009 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: Book Review of Ron Paul’s End the Fed

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 10/21/2009

Article: Important book for Libertarians:


Please Digg if the review appeals to you:

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Title: Out of control

Author: Greg Creswell

Date: 10/14/2009

Article: Letter to the editor in response to Metro Times article.

RE: Jack Lessenberry’s column “Merrily down the drain.” (Sept. 30)

Sir, since you believe you “certainly should have to pay more state taxes than [you] do,” there is no one stopping you from writing a weekly check to the state. Also Jack, since you believe you “owe something to those … before you … and after [you],” all you have to do is stand on a street corner and give your money to everyone that passes by you. I always knew you were a jealous person, Jack, but, man, it really runs deep. To zero in on “kids with money” shows me that you have low self-esteem. The money they may get, however much it may be, belongs to them not you or a politician.

Now Jack, for all of the years I have read your column, you have condemned the use of force, except when it comes to taxes and socialized medicine. And yet you support a law mandating that everyone carry health insurance, by stating that we “don’t have the right to be without health insurance.” Can you spell f-a-s-c-i-s-t? Jack, I am glad that some citizens believe “that our state government is …. bloated …wastes … money…. [and] wants to cut government spending”… but not enough of them do. Because if they did, Granholm would not be governor. As for state parks, state health inspectors, etc., I say privatize them all except the state police, state prisons, the state national guards and the courts, that’s it. And lastly, Jack, you can quote Oliver W. Holmes all you want, but my favorite quote tops yours, “The power to tax means the power to control.”

—G. Creswell

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Title: Sample Letter to Your Legislators

Author: Ray Kozora

Date: 4/6/2009

Article: http://michiganlp.org/Shared%20Documents/Kozora.pdf

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Title: Time to think about legalizing drugs

Author: Leonard Pitts

Date: 4/3/2009

Article: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009904030312

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2008 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: Reject bailout rush to socialism–David Littmann

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 9/26/2008

Article: http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080924/OPINION01/809240304

From the Detroit News
Fix government ventures, rules that got nation into trouble, not market

David Littmann

Prudent workers, taxpayers and firms are getting the bum’s rush on a massive proposed bailout from panicked politicians who are weeks away from a national election of extraordinary significance.

In this case, a bipartisan group is forcibly trying to eject this country from a market-based, decentralized economic and financial system. Washington, its politicians and armies of regulatory employees are touting another elixir of taxpayer dollars to fix yet another of their colossal fiascos. The proposed federal intervention (up to a $1 trillion bailout of distressed assets and bonus-paying firms) is the antithesis of what the competitive markets of capitalism would permit.

The problem is not the fundamental well-being of our economic system. At midyear, the U.S. economy was still running at growth between 2-3 percent above 2007 levels, even discounting inflation. The national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, not the 35 percent of the Depression era. The stock market remained higher than the levels of four years earlier.
No, the problem lies with the bursting of the residential housing bubble that developed an irrational price exuberance (except in Michigan) in the wake of the Federal Reserve’s exceptionally easy monetary policies from 2003 to 2006. Economics students understand this axiom: “Loose money policies create tight credit conditions.”

In this case, the tight credit situation — where banks fear lending, and markets no longer supply bonds or equity capital — emerged because of the collapse of the housing bubble and the suicidal regulatory mandates that politicians and their special-interest campaign fund-raisers legislated. And Wall Street’s pursuit of opaque financial derivatives and the credit rating agencies’ complicity in subprime mortgages played a role.
Yet, to cover their corrupting decisions and past complaisance, Washington’s major mouthpieces — from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd — now say that unless we trust them with a new round of our scarce resources, the U.S. economic system will collapse. This rhetoric is meant to panic us into accepting a new federal steward of our hard-earned dollars.

But when you dissect the palaver, what you see is a bare-knuckled proposal to further centralize federal control over the marketplace of investments and savings. Such a revolutionary move is socialism. It will not simply be a matter of taxing the rich or those with some ability to pay for the purpose of redistributing shelter to the poor. It will represent an institutionalization of financing immoral behavior. Why?

If I take an interest-only loan with the hope and bet that my new mortgage will pay for itself as home prices escalate, it leaves me free to spend, not save, on other things. I have little reason to defer purchases. When housing prices go south, however, I can walk away as if my payments were just rentals and the lender gets back a depreciated asset. Why reward this kind of behavior by either the lender or the borrower?
Considering the incentives that were in place, we now know why so many fellow citizens chose these reckless options. And clearly, Washington does not want you to remember the four ways it has brought us to this unfortunate moment. Let’s review:

• The Community Reinvestment Act (approved in 1977 during the Carter administration) compelled banks and other lenders to loan money and grant mortgages in areas where they would have never dreamed of making such loans because of the exceptional risks of default. Banks were denied charters for growth and geographical expansion if regulators found them to be out of compliance with these politically correct regulations, enforced by the Federal Reserve and others.

• Government-sponsored enterprises (such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) received taxpayer subsidies to provide mortgages and are favored by politicians and regulators with the privilege of maintaining very thin capital reserves as buffers against losses that result from defaulting on delinquent mortgages.

• Insane accounting rules, the Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory regime and Securities and Exchange Commission rules have contributed to the mess, especially the devastating “mark-to-market” requirement. The financial reports of firms and financial organizations must carry assets on their ledgers as though they were forced to sell them immediately into distressed markets, rather than at book value.

This is like requiring people to send wedding or graduation photos of themselves to newspapers while sick with the 24-hour flu rather than pictures of themselves when they are healthy the rest of the year. No wonder the market seized up.
Regulators require that firms go to the market and raise capital when their assets fall below book value, even if it is a paper value, rather than a real loss, that is registered. When hundreds of large and small firms all seek scarce capital at once, the market can’t meet their needs.

• And the Federal Reserve spurred subprime lending by pursuing inflationary money policies that dropped bank-borrowing rates to 1 percent.
To avoid greater government involvement and messes in the future (think Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), Washington must extricate itself from the market. As real estate prices become more affordable, credit-worthy firms and individuals throughout the nation and world are ready to pounce on bargains that will appreciate.
The government got America into this situation. The solution is simple: Government, get out.

David Littmann is senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Midland, and the former chief economist for Comerica Bank. Mail letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226 or e-mail to letters@detnews.com.

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Title: LEAP Commentary in Boston Globe

Author: Boston Globe

Date: 9/13/2008

Article: Law Enforcement against Prohibition (LEAP) president Jack Cole discusses the disastrous policies of the drug war–especially for minorities–in a commentary in the Boston Globe:

The solution to the failed drug war


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Title: Time to sticker up for the Libertarians

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 9/8/2008

Article: From a recent column by Brian Wright:

Political Lessons of Late Summer ’08
Dem and Rep conventions, Rally for the Republic, one clear message:

Support the Libertarians!

My political convention viewing this
year did not start until the Democrats set up in Denver the last week of August. Unfortunately, I could not personally attend the convention of
the political party of which I’m a member: the Libertarians, also in Denver. And as much as I regard the freedom credentials of Bob Barr as less than awesome, I’m glad he’s our nominee. He’s respectable, he’s polling in double digits in a few states, and he’s going to probably take more votes away from the neocon-lunatic Republicans than from the seriously flawed yet essentially-and-redeemably human Democrats.

Time to Sticker Up for Bob Barr and the LP

I want to mention as well, that I’ve formally decided to vote for Libertarian Bob Barr, and I advocate that anyone considering voting for McCain/Palin instead vote for B2… because: a) at all costs McCain must not win and b) we need to make sure Obama understands that not fighting the massive US-security/police-state/empire—he’s supported the FISA amendments, Iran provocations, the whole endorsement of Georgian aggression, temporizing on Iraq withdrawal, etc.—is not an option. And I’m chagrined that neither Ron Paul nor Jesse Ventura nor any of the other speakers deigned to state the obvious: B2 is the most consistent remaining candidate advocating CL (Constitutional Liberty).

For the complete column:


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Title: Mackinac Center column on private-public partnerships

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 7/31/2008

Article: Submitted by Chairman Bill Hall

The University of Michigan recently began construction of a new residence hall. The North Quad Residential and Academic Complex will house approximately 500 students, in addition to academic facilities for the School of Information and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts on the University’s Central Campus. Initial project approval set the cost at $137 million, but subsequent plans increased the cost to $175 million. Funded in part by a debt service, the university expects residence hall revenues to fund operations.

While the university’s plan constitutes a commendable effort to keep up with increasing enrollment and student housing demands, the project remains an anachronism. Michigan’s public universities have failed to consider the expertise and innovative financing mechanisms that other institutions of higher learning nationwide have used to privatize residence hall projects. In an economy of ever-increasing specialization, the U of M’s housing services would benefit from privatization. While universities certainly have expertise in academic pursuits, they should in turn recognize the expertise of others in the specialized field of residence hall facilities.

University residence hall privatization usually takes the form of a public-private partnership, or PPP…


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Title: Reflections on the Marriage “Issue”


Date: 5/28/2008

Article: Submitted to the Coffee Coaster and posted to the following link:


Peter Ponzetti is a social studies teacher from Grand Blanc.

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Title: Automatic License Plate Recognition

Author: American Fed. of Whiggs

Date: 5/10/2008

Article: 10th May 2008

Re: Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR)

The Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team of Canada has a new gadget to assist them in apprehending criminals and the unlicensed and/or uninsured motorists. I have attached a video clip http://youtu.be/ENGY1CD9y_4 that gives full details of the system called Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) and its operation.

The ACLU may want to start considering 4th and 5th Amendment arguments against such a thing being used here, though the one benefit would be in fighting crime and recovering stolen property. In states where there is no provision to have an uninsured motorist fund to provide lawful coverage at a nominal fee to persons who cannot afford or who do not wish to utilize insurance companies because of high premium fees, there should really be a privacy issue on the use of this system to enforce a business transaction.

The high costs of insurance premiums could be held down if Michigan was to return to a public, citizen used Uninsured Motorist Fund, where citizens would pay an annual fee of $50 to drive uninsured for a year. The fund would then be used to pay any insurance claims against that driver who would then be required to pay the amount of the claim back into the fund. Failure to repay the fund would result in a suspended license and the loss of driving privileges until the payments are made and/or the fund is reimbursed.

That was the way that the Michigan Uninsured Motorized Fund operated before so-called “Your Fault Insurance” (No Fault Insurance). Under so-called No Fault Insurance, costs were supposed to not increase, but they did while benefits decreased. Michigan is one of the most profitable states for the insurance companies while its premium rates are the highest! Without the old Uninsured Motorist Fund, just saying no to high priced premiums could send you to jail!

Sincerely yours,

Dean S. Hazel
American Federation of Whiggs

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Title: Anti-Jitney Laws Take People for a Ride

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 4/21/2008

Article: A good look at the prospects for solving the urban transportation problem. Hint, it’s already being accomplished: the government simply needs to stop subsidizing and protecting the impediments:


I’d also like to reference a guest column from today 4/21/2008 in the Coffee Coaster on this subject (in which the proprietor refers to Larry Reed’s column above):


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Title: The Libertarian Party Option

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 4/11/2008

Article: Well, the Ron Paul phenomenon has faded from the national media. We face the prospect of choosing between a neocon man of (perpetual) war, John McCain, or an activist-government liberal for peace and some semblance of constitutional liberty, Barack Obama. [It’s still conceivable Hillary will get the Dem nod; in that case we will face a choice between empire supreme and empire lite… with the lite version showing little concern for constitutional liberty.]


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Title: Ohio Needs More Foreign Trade

Author: Cato Institute

Date: 3/1/2008

Article: Appearing in the WSJ, op-ed by Daniel T. Griswold:

In a bid to woo blue-collar voters in Ohio before Tuesday’s presidential primary, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton trashed free trade during their debate this week in Cleveland.

Sen. Clinton denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) as “flawed” and blamed it for closing factories in Ohio and upstate New York. Sen. Obama claimed that “if you travel through Youngstown and you travel through communities in my home state of Illinois, you will see entire cities that have been devastated as a consequence of trade agreements.” Both pledged to withdraw the U.S. from Nafta if Canada and Mexico refuse to add “enforceable” labor and environmental standards.


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Title: The Michigan Diaspora–State Policies Drive Out Residents, Jobs

Author: Heartland Institute

Date: 3/1/2008

Article: Written By: Michael D. LaFaive and Michael Hicks
Published In: Budget & Tax News

Michigan residents continue to flee the Great Lake State and are doing so at a near-record rate, according to one vital measure.

A leading indicator of a Michigan diaspora, or dispersion, comes from United Van Lines (UVL), which annually releases its household moving data for the calendar year…


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Title: Beach Affront

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 2/4/2008

Article: by Patrick J. Wright

A trial court in Ohio recently held that Lake Erie beachfront property owners have the right to exclude others from their property. As the right to exclude is a traditional and fundamental aspect of owning property, it seems odd that such a holding would be newsworthy. But in 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the general public has a right to walk the Great Lakes shoreline, and that trumps the property owners’ right to exclude. These divergent results indicate that there must be constant vigilance to prevent property rights from being weakened…


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Title: The Unvarnished State of the State (of Michigan)

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 2/4/2008

Article: by Mr. Michael D. LaFaive

Since my job as fiscal policy director of a think tank requires me to watch the State of the State address every year, I have often wondered what I might say if I were governor. After a decade of analyzing state budgets and Michigan’s economy, I think my remarks would go something like this:
“Someone once said that politicians will do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other option. Michigan may have reached that point.”


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Title: The Age of Turbulence

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 1/9/2008

Article: Adventures in a new world
by Alan Greenspan

Book Review

Back in the heyday of the first radical-libertarian ideological surge—I place it at two years plus or minus of my own personal awareness, in 1970, of the publication of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (©1966)—the Ayn Rand Objectivist machinery was running at full-tilt boogie. Also in 1966, a series of columns from her monthly newsletter, The Objectivist, was published under the title Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. In that book were three articles by Alan Greenspan:


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Title: Michigan Needs Worker Freedom of Choice

Author: Lawrence W. Reed

Date: 1/7/2008

Article: Michigan is a state rich in natural beauty and resources, skilled laborers and entrepreneurial capability, but our future potential is being frittered away by political leaders who cannot muster the courage to fix the fundamentals.

Poor policy and snake-oil remedies have come to define Lansing these days as our state’s economy languishes….


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Title: Michigan Medical Marijuana Pioneer, Mae “Grandma Marijuana” Nutt passes away.

Author: Michigan NORML

Date: 1/1/2008

Article: Mae Nutt, who passed away on New Year’s Day at age 86, was the unlikeliest poster person for pot. But after her son Keith died of cancer in 1979, she began a one-woman campaign to educate the world about marijuana’s medical properties.

Keith had smoked pot to counter the effects of chemotherapy. Mae approved and was impressed with how Keith was able to fight off nausea, eat and prevent weight loss thanks to a little weed. It didn’t save his life, but made the suffering more bearable.

Mae, who lived in Midland, Michigan at the time (she’d since moved to Antelope, California after her husband’s death), became the Mother Theresa of pot. People gave her quantities and she distributed it to sick people in need. The Michigan media dubbed her “Grandma Marijuana.”


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2007 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: Federal law and UN rule create ability to track drivers with chip

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 12/13/2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007
Be careful about fixing Mich. drivers licenses
Federal law and UN rule create ability to track drivers with chip.
Tim O’Brien

For most Americans, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (or “Witty” as it is called by wonkers) has, ironically, flown under the radar.
This provision of the Intelligence Reform and Prevention Act of 2004, scheduled to take effect early next year, will require all of us to present either a passport or “valid travel document” to cross any national border — including the one with Canada.

This massive inconvenience to the 58,000 people who cross between Michigan and Ontario every day — not to mention the impediment to the $1.2 billion in trade they have with them — has caused substantial alarm among commercial interests and political leaders on both sides of the border…


Tim O’Brien is executive director of the Small Government Alliance (http://www.smallgov.us/opeds.html), a statewide, independent political action committee. Mail letters to Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226, fax to (313) 222-6417 or e-mail to letters@detnews.com.

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Title: How America Lost the War on Drugs

Author: Rolling Stone

Date: 12/13/2007

Article: After Thirty-Five Years and $500 Billion, Drugs Are as Cheap and Plentiful as Ever: An Anatomy of a Failure.

by Ben Wallace-Wells

[Affects Michigan in a big way because of its $2 billion budget for prisons and the large number of innocent human lives destroyed by drug prohibition. Which presidential candidate knows that drug prohibition is a failure? Hillary?]


On the day of his death, December 2nd, 1993, the Colombian billionaire drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was on the run and living in a small, tiled-roof house in a middle-class neighborhood of Medellín, close to the soccer stadium. He died, theatrically, ­ridiculously, gunned down by a Colombian police manhunt squad while he tried to flee across the barrio’s rooftops, a fat, bearded man who had kicked off his flip-flops to try to outrun the bullets. The first thing the American drug agents who arrived on the scene wanted to do was to make sure that the corpse was actually Escobar’s. The second thing was to check his house….


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Title: A Call to Arm…chair Libertarians

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 11/19/2007

Article: Time to load the muskets and hook up with
the Patriotic Resistance!

On the morning of Wednesday, November 14, 2007, a dozen agents of the FBI and Secret Service raided the offices of the Liberty Dollar company (LDC) in Evansville, Indiana. The Liberty LDC is a private precious-metals and value-based currency business that seeks to provide competition to central bank government debt-based paper notes (Federal Reserve notes (FRNs); roughly $20 million FRNs worth of Liberty Dollars (LDs)—in gold-and-silver specie, redeemable certificate, and digital form—are in circulation worldwide…

[Note: this is not an advocacy of purchase of the Liberty Dollar, merely a warning that federal agents have committed an illegal taking and, if not countered, no one is safe.]


Brian Wright

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Title: Budget savings can replace recent tax hikes

Author: Mackinac Center

Date: 11/5/2007

Article: by Jack J. McHugh

Last year, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy published a list of 14 transformational government reforms that could save Michigan taxpayers $1.9 billion. Such reforms are vital, but in the short term the need is for immediate savings to allow repeal of the destructive $1.3 billion tax increase adopted as the capstone to this year’s state budget debacle.

Here is how:


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Title: Balancing the Michigan Budget

Author: Coffee Coaster

Date: 10/8/2007

Year: 2007

Article: One surefire solution to the crisis

For some reason it seems many citizens don’t want to save themselves from higher taxes or from the specter of reduced state services. Perhaps it’s the same reason some people don’t want to believe the emperor wears no clothes!

The State of Michigan, which by law cannot run a deficit, faced a $1.75 billion deficit by the deadline of October 1, 2007. Under threat of a shutdown by Governor Jennifer Granholm —by the way, I understand that welfare recipients would still receive their checks—a “compromise” resulted in raising the state income tax from 3.9% to 4.35% and extension of the 6% sales tax to a large portion of the service sector….


The Coffee Coaster
Brian Wright, Proprietor

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Title: Theme Park Subsidies Take Taxpayers for a Ride

Author: Heartland Institute

Date: 8/1/2007

Article: Written By: Diane S. Katz and James M. Hohman
Published In: Budget & Tax News

Axiom Entertainment of Rochester, Michigan is eyeing 1,800 acres of state-owned land near Grayling, in north-central Michigan, for a $160 million theme park.

Axiom is also reportedly seeking $25 million in infrastructure improvements from the state. The site, in Crawford County, currently lacks sewer and water service and would likely require improved highway access as well.

On May 29 the Grayling Township Planning Commission unanimously approved a “concept plan” for the park, including a request that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sell 1,800 acres of public land for the venture. A letter of intent for the purchase of the oak and pine woodlands along Interstate 75 reportedly has been signed by David E. Freed, who oversees land sales for the department….


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Title: Real Identity Crisis

Author: Small Government Alliance

Date: 5/1/2007

Article: by Tim O’Brien

We are now less than a year away from the deadline for states to comply with the federal Real ID Act, buried inside a spending bill that passed – virtually without debate – in the throes of anti-terrorism furor and signed into law by President Bush two years ago this month.


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2001 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: Gothic Foreign Policy

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 10/2/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
October 2, 2001

The search for who was behind the horrifying terrorist attack on our country a few weeks ago is actually more problematic than the current thirst for retribution will long tolerate.

Osama bin Laden, Saudi expatriate, late of Afghanistan, is the most popular candidate. But this is primarily because he is our most recent villain. Supported and supplied by the CIA back in the days when his Mujahadeen was taking on the Soviets, bin Laden is less enamored of our more recent foreign policy. And he is known to favor “sending a message” with bombs (a means of expression, incidentally, not infrequently employed by our own government).

But since the end of the Second World War we have actually racked up a substantial list of enemies with both the willingness and the wherewithal to have perpetrated this outrage.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, another former client thug — back when Iran and America more actively regarded one another as “the Great Satan” — has been pounded relentlessly by our military. This has been going on ever since President George Bush I decided that keeping gasoline cheap for American consumers was a “vital national interest” worth killing a few thousand people here and there (until now, mostly there).

Speaking of the Iranians, they have resented US beneficence ever since our CIA overthrew the first democratic government they ever had in 1953. When new Prime Minister Mossadeq was not sufficiently accommodating of US interests the nascent democracy was toppled and the more cooperative Shah put back on his throne.

Then there is Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. President Reagan, acting upon information that the Colonel was behind the 1986 bombing of a German nightclub popular with American servicemen, ordered our military to “send a message” via air mail special delivery — destroying the dictator’s home and killing his daughter. Qaddafi is reputed to have retaliated to our retaliation two years later by blowing up a commercial airliner over Scotland. But who knows if he then considered the matter closed? People tend to take killing their children pretty personally.

And those are just the more obvious candidates. Syria is not exactly a big fan. Neither are Pakistan or the PLO (their current posturing notwithstanding). And it’s just possible that Sudan never found sufficient solace in our shrugging non-apology after President Clinton — sending yet another message — ordered the obliteration of what turned out to be a civilian aspirin factory there by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Nor can we overlook other possible culprits simply because the hijackers were all of a particular ethnic group. It was only a few years ago that the president between the Bushes also had the Chinese embassy in Belgrade bombed to rubble (another accident). The “usual suspects” could be mere surrogates.

This whole exercise is academic in any event. Whoever engineered the carefully planned, impeccably timed September 11 attack is surely not sitting around casually waiting for US retaliation to rain down from the heavens. We can only hope that the cycle will not be perpetuated by the slaughter of more civilian bystanders instead.

With all the punditry over exactly who did this and how to retaliate one would think at least some thought might be given to the question: Why?

It seems not to occur to anyone to ask what could have provoked such blinding hatred that anyone would go to suicidal lengths to do us this unspeakable harm?

The assertion by President George Bush II in his address to the nation the night of this heinous attack that it was “…because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world” is, not to put too fine a point on it, implausible.

In any case, whoever the perpetrators, whatever the incitement, we are now being harangued into balancing freedom with security.

This is misdirection. For most of our history we had both. Until our political leaders decided that these weren’t enough and that it was our manifest destiny to bring Pax Americana to the world.

The real problem is not that we can’t have both freedom and security. It’s that we can’t have both while maintaining an empire. One of the three — freedom, security, or empire — will have to be sacrificed to the other two.

Sadly, it’s pretty clear which of them our politicians consider the most important. Our government is already making overtures to yet another ragtag band in the area called the Northern Alliance — based on nothing more than the fact that they oppose the ruling Taliban.

Experience does not make one sanguine about the long-term prospects for our relationship with the Northern Alliance.

Maybe we should make Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein required reading on Capitol Hill.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: A Fairy Tale of Two Cites

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 8/10/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
August 10, 2001

Once upon a time the American ideal for governance was what has been called the “Night Watchman” state. Government as nothing more than an impartial arbiter. A protector against force and fraud that, otherwise, left citizens free to buy and sell their goods and services in the voluntary marketplace.

It lasted for about as long as it took someone to figure out that using the force of law to get an advantage over competitors was much easier than doing things better or cheaper. And then to come up with a plausible rationalization for why government interference would actually benefit all the rest of us, as well.

Pretty soon the real action in buying and selling was in lawmaker futures.

Just how naked does the greedy power grab have to get before some impolitic person shouts out to the world that the emperor is prancing around in the altogether?
Try this.

Suppose there was a small, suburban community on the outskirts of a once-great but now decaying, metropolis. Let’s call the town Westend.

Life is good in Westend. For all except MegaCorp. The managers of MegaCorp are very unhappy at being undersold and undermined by smaller, hungrier competitors.
Now, being prudent businessmen, these managers have been unofficially paying for local politicians for some time now — in the form of what everyone calls (wink, wink, nudge, nudge): “campaign contributions.”

So they go to their wholly-owned subsidiary politicians, wringing their hands in earnest lamentation at the unfairness of it all. MegaCorp has higher quality standards! And much higher overhead! Something must be done about these annoying little competitors who are taking large bites out their major corporate profits. What is needed, they plead, is a new law. An ordinance that requires the City of Westend, and any businesses doing business with Westend, or receiving any kind of grant, subsidy or tax break from Westend (which pretty much covers everyone in town) to do business only with multi-million dollar companies. As it happens only MegaCorp meets this criterion.

The new law will be called the “Fair Profit” ordinance and the limitation would, MegaCorp executives assure, go a long way towards making the marketplace more secure — for consumers, as well as MegaCorp personnel. Not to mention MegaCorp profits. And these benefits will, they posture, trickle down to all the happy Westenders.

A few naysayers will undoubtedly complain that the “Fair Profit” ordinance is not fair at all to the legally excluded businesses who weren’t guilty of anything more than being smaller, leaner and more efficient. Not to mention the added cost to taxpayers in Westend not taking advantage of the best deals available.
But the whiners can be dismissed as lacking the vision to see all of the benefits of a centrally planned marketplace run by benevolent politicians, compared with the anarchy of uncontrolled buying and selling based only on the selfishness of individual consumers.

Too far-fetched? Okay. Then how about this.
On the other side of town there is another small, suburban community. Let’s call this one Eastpointe.

Life is also good in Eastpointe. For all except the members of Local 12 of the Big Brotherhood of United Teamworkers.

The officials of B.B.U.T. (who, incidentally, are as well compensated as their MegaCorp counterparts) represent high wage workers unhappy at being underbid and undermined by poorer, younger, hungrier workers.

Now, being run by astute negotiators, B.B.U.T. representatives have been unofficially paying for local politicians for some time now — in the form of what everyone calls (wink, wink, nudge, nudge): “campaign contributions.”

So they go to their labor-friendly politicians, wringing their hands in earnest lamentation at the unfairness of it all. B.B.U.T. members have higher quality standards! They have families to support!

What is needed, they plead, is a new law. An ordinance that requires the City of Eastpointe, and any businesses doing business with Eastpointe, or receiving any kind of grant, subsidy or tax break from Eastpointe (which pretty much covers everyone in town) to do business only with companies that pay all of their workers at a rate at least equal to the national poverty standard for a family of four.

The new law will be called the “Living Wage” ordinance and the limitation would, union officials assure, go a long way towards making the workplace more secure — for consumers, as well as Local 12 members. Not to mention B.B.U.T. officials. And these benefits will, they posture, trickle down to all the happy Eastpointers.

Now, a few naysayers may complain that the “Living Wage” ordinance will deprive some of the opportunity to earn any wage at all, such as the young (who have no families) and the working poor (who have only entry level skills) — workers who aren’t guilty of anything more than being unorganized, leaner and more efficient. Not to mention the added cost to taxpayers in not taking advantage of the best wage scales available.
You don’t buy that one, either?

Well, of course we know the story of Westend and Eastpointe is a fairy tale. Because this is where we’re told by MegaCorp and the Big Brotherhood of United Teamworkers — and their politicians — that consumers and taxpayers all lived happily ever after.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: An Important Day

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 7/3/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
July 3, 2001

As we celebrate our country’s 225th birthday with pomp and circumstance, parades and picnics and fireworks, it’s worth taking at least a few moments to reflect on some of the facts (and misconceptions) surrounding our nation’s birth announcement, the Declaration of Independence.

Let’s start right out with the date. The final document was actually adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. John Adams — a signer who would later become our second president — even wrote a letter to his wife Abigail predicting that July 2 would be celebrated by generations to come as the most important date in our history. He was right about the future festivities, but slightly off on the date.

Not that the exact date would have been regarded back then as especially important anyway. Most Americans of that era regarded the Declaration as little more than a formal recognition of a state of affairs already extant for some time.

Among other things, colonists had expressed their opinion of parliament’s 3-cents-per-pound tea tax back in the fall of 1773 by tossing three shiploads full into Boston harbor. The first exchange of gun fire between American militia and British regulars — over a “gun control” measure, incidentally — happened more than a year before the Declaration in the spring of 1775 in a couple of little towns north of Boston. George Washington’s appointment as commander of American military forces had also been made more than a year earlier.

Despite the concurrence of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (who in later years agreed on little else) that the document was ceremoniously signed on July 2nd by the members of the continental congress, historians today believe that their recollections were, perhaps, a bit more nostalgic than accurate. It is more likely that only the president, John Hancock, and the secretary, Charles Thomson, signed that day. It is well established that the final signature, Thomas McKean, was not affixed until several years later.

Although the Declaration itself was officially drafted by a committee of five, the actual language came mostly from the pen of Thomas Jefferson.

The document consists of three parts.

The prologue, the most famous portion and, arguably, one of the most profound statements of political philosophy in history, is a distillation of nearly a century of natural rights theory that had grown out of the Enlightenment from such then highly regarded philosopher/writers as John Locke and Algernon Sidney.

The ideas expressed were actually ubiquitous and uncontroversial throughout the colonies, having been refined and popularized notably by Jefferson’s fellow Virginians George Mason and Richard Henry Lee (the latter being the delegate who actually offered the original resolution in the continental congress).

The second section of the Declaration consists of a recitation of 27 reasons why Americans felt compelled to separate from England.

It is this section that contains the only substantive change made by the continental congress to Jefferson’s draft. The body shortened his original list of 28 grievances against the crown by one in striking in its entirety:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold…”

Contrary to contemporary misconception, Jefferson was well aware of the incongruity that the sanction of slavery represented in the otherwise noble principles embodied in the American cause. The passage was removed by the congress as a purely political concession in order to form a “United” States of America. The undeniable reality was that it would have been otherwise impossible to get several of the southern states to join.

In the final section the delegates declare “That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be Free and Independent States” and “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

As has often been observed, it is the winners who write history. So, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were destined to become “Founding Fathers.” But two and a quarter centuries later, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that at the time they were traitors.

That fact was plain enough to them. It led Benjamin Franklin to respond to John Hancock’s observation that to be successful they would need to hang together: “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

But if these events culminated on July 2, 1776, how is it that we have come to celebrate the 4th of July?

The reason is simply that July 4th was the date the document was actually published (or, as they put it, “submitted to a candid World.”)

Of course, in the 18th century news travelled pretty slowly — taking two months or better to finally make it all the way across the ocean to europe.

And in one of history’s most exquisite ironies, King George III’s diary entry for July 4, 1776 simply reads: “Nothing of importance happened today.”

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Selling Us a Sales Tax Bill of Goods (Add 6%)

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 6/5/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
June 5, 2001

If there is one, universal, defining characteristic of politicians, it would have to be: covetousness.

Nothing drives a politician to distraction faster than the prospect that some money might be trading hands somewhere without the government getting a piece of the action.

The consummate incarnation of this effort to skim off of every transaction is the sales tax. In fact, elected officials are so enamored of this source of revenue that they have shamelessly pursued expansion of its application in ways that strain even contemporary credulity.

Consider, for instance, the sales tax attack on our state’s most important product — the automobile.

Suppose you buy even a modest new car for, say, $16,000. From an historical perspective this is really quite a bargain, given all of the creativity, resources and labor that goes into producing a vehicle that can safely and comfortably whisk you across several states in a single day.

But open your checkbook a bit wider. You will also have to fork over another $1,000 to the state government — which contributed nothing to the production of your new car. The extra $1,000 essentially gets you a purchase permit.

What if you buy the car in another state? Or even don’t buy it at all but, instead, merely lease it? No Michigan sale, no Michigan sales tax, right? As TV pundit Charles McLaughlin would say: “Wrong!” They thought of that. And created a corresponding “use” tax for such circumstances to make sure the government still gets its cut.

And if you expect any credit for the tax already paid on your trade-in, you obviously aren’t appreciating the depths of the politicians’ avarice. This isn’t about equity. It’s about opportunity. There is no credit for taxes previously paid on a vehicle when it is resold.

But you won’t encounter the most crass example of government greed until you take that new car to your local gas station for a fill-up. There you will notice that the state has tacked the 6% sales tax onto the final price of a gallon of gasoline. A price that already includes a 19 cent state tax. That’s right. More than a penny of the sales tax you pay on every gallon of gasoline you buy is not even on the gasoline. It is a tax on the tax!

How is that for unvarnished rapacity?

Now comes much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Lansing over the money that is allegedly being “lost” because the people are increasingly making purchases over the Internet. (In point of fact, of course, no money is evaporating into the ether. It is simply remaining in the pockets of the people who actually earned it. The only thing that is being lost is the politicians’ chance to rake in a 6% windfall and spend the money as they see fit.)

The problem for state pols in attempting to leech off of e-commerce is a little stumbling block called the United States Constitution. This annoying document limits the enforcement authority of the individual states to within their own borders. And it prohibits them from interfering with interstate commerce — including e-type — by, for instance, slapping a tariff on goods produced in other states.

Senator Joanne Emmons (R-Big Rapids) has sponsored and already shepherded through her Senate Finance committee and the Senate itself a bill to circumvent this little difficulty. The legislation would send Michigan representatives to a National Council of State Legislatures meeting where they would be authorized to negotiate an interstate compact — a reciprocal agreement that would permit collection and remittance of sales and use taxes among all of the signatory states. A sort of you-shakedown-our-residents-and-we’ll-shakedown-yours deal.

Although the legislation is strongly supported by Governor John “31 Tax Cuts” Engler and is said by insiders to be on a fast-track, it still faces some additional obstacles.

For one thing, SB-433 has yet to be formally introduced in the state house (where stiffer opposition than in the senate is anticipated).

For another, the drafters of that pesky US Constitution anticipated the possibility that states might attempt this kind of “end-run” around the Interstate Commerce clause and also included in Article I, Section 10 a prohibition against states entering into such Agreements or Compacts without the consent of congress. A hurdle that may yet prove problematic.

Then, there’s the fact that in order to unify the administration of diverse sales and use taxes, the numerous state codes themselves will have to be standardized in a way that is broad enough to encompass all variations.

That means caps and exemptions (such as our state’s exempting food and medicine) and limits on application (such as our state’s not applying the tax to services) could ultimately be eliminated.

So, they ostensibly set out to tax Internet transactions. But could well end up extending the 6% sales and use tax to everything from groceries and antibiotics to haircuts and medical check-ups — even if you don’t have to cross state lines to get to your supermarket, pharmacy, barber or doctor.

When the Almighty carved the last of his Ten Commandments in stone he must have had politicians in mind.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Child Support and Responsibility

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 5/22/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
May 22, 2001

The sound and fury continue over the problem of what self-proclaimed children’s advocates used to alliterate “Deadbeat Dads,” but have now politically corrected to the much less lyrical “Deadbeat Parents.” (Mere posturing, really — only 3% are “Deadbeat Moms.”)

The federal government has been pressuring our state to create a unified database to administer child support payments. The state has in turn threatened the ten counties that haven’t yet joined.

Convinced that centralization is the solution, the latest is a federal edict that all states incorporate Social Security numbers into their drivers licenses to create a national ID (something the original proponents of the Social Security system absolutely swore on the Bible, the Constitution and their sainted mother’s memory would never, ever be done) to facilitate tracking across state lines those who are under child support orders.

Ironically, we wouldn’t have nearly the magnitude of the problem if the government hadn’t abdicated one of its most fundamental responsibilities — providing a forum for dispute resolution — by adopting a seriously flawed “No-Fault” divorce law back in 1972.

The catalyst for the change is easy to understand.

Social institutions in general were beginning to crumble as the “If it feels good, do it” generation transmogrified into the “me” generation, just as its members started coming of age.

And, despite the fact that marriage is often called a “contract,” it isn’t. One of the basic criteria for forming a valid contract under centuries-old common law is that it must be enforceable.

While two people might promise one another eternal love and devotion, as a practical matter there is no way to make a legally binding agreement to that effect.

So, the law was modified to allow for “No-fault” divorce, eliminating the need for a merely dissatisfied spouse to specify grounds in order to be released from his or her marriage “contract.”

Since by legislative decree a showing of fault is no longer necessary, either party may breach the putative contract and incur little, if any, liability.

This situation, already both unfair and profoundly life-altering for the innocent spouse, becomes truly traumatic when there are also dependent children.

At least, it does if the defendant is the husband/father. This circumstance is in fact the first blow in the knockdown that presages virtually every “Deadbeat Dad.”

A plaintiff wife/mother comes into court suing for dissolution of her marriage contract, stating no grounds whatever beyond the incontestably vague assertion that “there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed.”

Then, since the contemporary social presumption is that “the best interests of the child” are to be raised by mom, she is almost always granted full, physical custody.

Thus, she lays claim to the innocent defendant’s children. And, in order to facilitate raising those children, his home and all of their (previously, jointly held) property, as well.

In other words she essentially retains his life. She merely has him forcibly removed from it.

Needless to say, this sometimes provokes just a bit of resentment from the dispossessed and banished husband/father.

Next comes the “two-punch.”

The fact that mom is not even financially capable of supporting his home and children is remedied by compelling him to continue to pay many of his erstwhile family’s bills — his own (now separate) needs, notwithstanding — handing over a third or more of his income for as much as the better part of the next two decades. He is, incidentally, legally prohibited from demanding any kind of accounting of what becomes of the money.

Unsurprisingly, some in such circumstances are less than enthusiastically cooperative.

But, any objections are met by the indignant accusation that he is attempting to shirk his responsibilities. Of course, in point of fact, “Deadbeat Dad” was never actually offered the option of retaining them.

Now, there’s really not much we can do about people — male or female — who will selfishly turn their spouse and children’s lives upside down by ripping apart a family without even offering a coherent reason. A contract to love someone is, as previously observed, unenforceable.

However, we could greatly reduce the child support collection problem by simply amending our no-fault divorce law to give the (rebuttable) presumption of custody of any minor children to the defendant, regardless of gender.

It is, after all, not unreasonable to presume that “the best interests of the child” will be better served by remaining with the parent who does not abandon commitments for frivolous reasons and wants to maintain the family.

The spouse/parent who still wishes to leave may, of course, do so — with his or her clothes and any other personal belongings. The more dedicated, responsible party should keep the children, home, property, and claim on future child support.

The immediate effect of such a change would undoubtedly be a plummeting divorce rate, thereby reducing the necessity for child support orders to begin with.

The difficulties of collecting in the few remaining cases would be significantly reduced since the only parents who would incur such obligations are those who have voluntarily taken them on in exchange for being released from the marriage “contract.”

And the rest of us could skip getting a national ID.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Civics Lessons

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 2/16/2001

Article: by Tim O’Brien
February 16, 2001

A group of Allen Park high schoolers got a wonderful, real-world lesson in how government works when they went on a field trip to a recent meeting of our city council.

As luck would have it, there happened to be an item on the agenda that was of particular interest to these young citizens.

In response to complaints by a retiree about the volume at which certain motorists played their radios while passing his home, a new ordinance was being proposed that would empower the police to issue traffic citations in such circumstances.

Rather than investing in the equipment and training necessary to employ a decibel meter to scientifically measure the magnitude of the offense, the standard to be imposed was whether the officer could hear the radio from 50 feet during daylight hours or 15 feet at night.

Needless to say, the teenagers immediately perceived that they were the obvious target of this proposal.

Knowing that this class of potential victims could use a bit of adult support, I took up their cause during the citizen comment time.

I began by observing that traffic court is widely perceived to be more a supplementary source of income to local government than a forum for unbiased resolution of legal disputes. This is especially the case for defendants under the age of twenty.

Then there was the arbitrary and utterly subjective nature of the proposed standard. Who could say what a particular officer can or cannot hear from some particular distance on some particular occasion? Much less disprove it (since the burden of proof in traffic court is as a practical matter on the defendant, legal pretensions notwithstanding).

Finally, this was clearly an attack not on noise pollution generally but on the customs of young people particularly. Did the police intend to ticket large semi-trucks that routinely shake our windows and rattle our walls as they go rumbling by? Or the trains that roar through the city, their whistles heard from distances measured not in feet but in miles? Or the jetliners that pass overhead whenever conditions put us under flight patterns into and out of Metro Airport?

The measure was tabled and referred to a committee for further study. The students applauded.

But that wasn’t the lesson.

The lesson came a half hour later when a question arose among council members as to whether they had violated a provision of our new city charter for not yet having appointed a board of ethics within one year of adoption as required.

Our city attorney opined that the clock started ticking on the time limit not from the date of the election at which the charter was adopted (Nov. 2, 1999), but rather from the date on which it was officially recorded and certified by the Secretary of State’s office in Lansing. No one could say exactly when that was.

In any case, counsel advised, the ordinance establishing the new committee was quite complex, running to nearly a dozen pages, and he would have no qualms about arguing in court — if it came to that — that the council was “making a diligent effort to comply.”

Everyone in the room but me accepted the logic of these arguments without question or hesitation.

I couldn’t help but wonder how these same defenses would be received if proffered by teenage musical motorists: “I wasn’t sure exactly what time the sun set, your Honor. Or whether the standard for radio volume was 15 feet or 50 feet. And anyway, my new Pioneer sound system is very complicated and I was searching for the volume control at the time — making a diligent effort to comply.”

Do you think the judge would be dazzled by the penetrating legal argumentation of this future Clarence Darrow?

The important lesson these students needed to take from their experience watching government in action was this: Officials will hold you to standards of behavior that they it would never even cross their minds to apply to themselves.

Somehow, I doubt that their government teacher made this real world observation.

And there’s an interesting postscript to this little tale. It now turns out that the one-year time limit for setting up Allen Park’s new board of ethics is nowhere near expired. It seems the new charter was never received in Lansing.

Our local officials were a bit chagrined, but explained that to save money they always sent such documents via first-class mail, rather certified or registered mail, and the filing must have gone astray in transit.

Now here’s a way out of traffic ticket difficulties that doesn’t even require a court appearance: “I sent in that ticket, your Honor. It must have got lost in the mail.”

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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2000 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: In Memoriam: The Bill of Rights

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 12/18/2000

Year: 2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
December 18, 2000

Last Friday, while the rest of the country continued the seemingly endless debate over which sixth of the population’s votes actually reflected “the will of the people” in the last presidential election, most libertarians took a moment to commemorate the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. And they eulogized on the 209th anniversary of the adoption of that inspired and inspiring document about the freedoms it sought in vain to protect.

After two centuries of “interpreting,” only one of the ten has actually survived completely unscathed. Taking them in no particular order, see if, by process of elimination, you can guess which one it is. Lets start with No. 7. This one guarantees the right to a jury trial in all civil matters where the amount in dispute is more than $20, and that the legal system shall be governed according to the principles of common law.

Under the Coinage Act of 1794 the “Eagle,” or “$10 piece,” was precisely defined as 270 grains of standard gold. Thus, until the creation of the Federal Reserve system early in the 20th century, our money was fixed; our monetary system was, quite literally, “as sound as a dollar.”

Unfortunately, subsequent inflation made possible by the issuance of printing-press money for the last hundred years has rendered the original $20 minimum absurd.

As for common law, it’s principles still hold some sway in criminal matters, but are otherwise regarded as the quaint affectations of a bygone era, their necessity in civil law having been preempted by the licensing and regulatory state.
Well, then, how about No. 2 — the fabled “right to keep and bear arms”?

This amendment undoubtedly has more ardent defenders and opponents than any of the other nine. Nevertheless, despite the hand-wringing of gun control advocates over what is left of it, I wouldn’t advise walking around with a .357 in your pocket and waving a copy of the Constitution as your “gun permit.” The reason there is so much confusion about the intent of the Second Amendment is because most people today don’t realize that in the eighteenth century it was their government that Americans didn’t trust — not their fellow citizens.

Is the intact amendment No. 4? This one is supposed to protect us from “unreasonable search and seizure” and require “probable cause” for a search or arrest.

The framers insisted on these protections because they remembered bitterly the “Writs of Assistance” — basically, general search warrants — issued by the British Crown prior to the revolution in a (futile) effort to clamp down on smuggling.

Search warrant requirements have now been all but eliminated in order to wage the War on Drugs, that is, in a (futile) effort to clamp down on smuggling. Ironic, isn’t it?

And “probable cause”? Nowadays, simply matching a police profile is considered sufficient.

Okay, but surely the First Amendment continues to serve.
“Free speech”? Ask the tobacco companies, which are prohibited from TV advertising, about free speech. “Free exercise of religion”? Native American ceremonies pre-dating the United States by centuries have been criminalized — another compromise for the sake of drug prohibition.
And “peaceable assembly”? Only with a government granted permit.

Well, how about Nos. 9 and 10? These two were included to make it absolutely clear that no central government powers should be inferred from the omission of restrictions in the Bill of Rights. They formally retain any powers not expressly given the federal government to the individual states or to the people themselves.

But today, our federal government does precisely what these amendments explicitly reject, taking for granted the authority to do anything not expressly prohibited by the Constitution.
Could it be No. 6? This one guarantees a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of your peers.

Intended to insulate Americans from persecution under unjust laws, it has been stood on its head by the courts which now instruct juries that the judge will define and rule on the appropriateness and application of the law, restricting the jury to mere trier of fact. This, of course, renders moot the original purpose of even having a jury.

How about No. 8? This one is supposed to prohibit both “excessive fines and bail” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”
It has become yet another casualty of the all-consuming Drug Jihad.

What would the drafters of the Bill of Rights have thought about forfeiting your home because your teenager grew some marijuana plants in the backyard without your knowledge? How about life in prison for mere possession of certain, refined plant products? Since we don’t have capital punishment in Michigan that is the severest penalty possible under law — the same as for premeditated murder.

Maybe it’s No. 5, the one that requires “due process of law” and prohibits both “double jeopardy” and “self-incrimination”?

Please! Today the IRS can take your bank account, the coast guard can take your boat, the welfare authorities can even take your children, prior to any process at all — “due” or otherwise.

“Double jeopardy”? It has become a routine tactic for prosecutors to argue that, for instance, a murder for which the defendant was acquitted under state law also represented a violation of the victim’s “civil rights,” bringing new charges for precisely the same act, only under federal law.

And “Self-incrimination”? I have yet to hear an explanation of how one can comply with the Internal Revenue code without waiving this right.

So that leaves only one of the original ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights still intact. If you guessed No. 3, you win.

What protection has survived more than two centuries of statist assault? If you don’t know, I think I’ll leave it to you to look it up. And, perhaps, in the process you’ll reflect for a moment on the nine that have been lost.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: They Say the Party’s Over

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 11/30/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
November 30, 2000

The Libertarian Party of Michigan has hit a small bump on the road to freedom. On November 27 the Secretary of State’s office certified the results of the most recent election — and decertified the LP as a legally recognized, ballot-qualified, political party.

While George Bush and Al Gore chase each other around the courts nitpicking the jots and tittles of Florida election law, while hand-wringing media pundits blather on that the very fate of the republic is hanging by a chad because a few hundred Floridians can’t seem to punch out a butterfly ballot, Michigan has at least partially disenfranchised over 130,000 people here who cast votes for any of the 115 Libertarian Party candidates.

The Libertarian option has now been eliminated entirely in Michigan because our ballot access law puts all of a political party’s eggs in one “top-of-ticket” basket. In order to remain legally qualified to nominate candidates for public office a party’s “principal candidate” — defined as the one whose name is highest up on the ballot — must garner votes equal to at least one percent of the votes cast for the winning candidate for secretary of state in the preceding election.

I have no idea how this particular standard came about. I suspect the process was the type to which Otto von Bismarck was referring when he observed that those who like sausage and laws ought not watch either being made.

In any case the rule means that LP presidential candidate, Harry Browne, needed to get at least 20,555 votes or the party’s over. He didn’t. And it is. The fact that more than 1.5 million votes were cast for other Libertarian candidates in Michigan is irrelevant.

Because of the pervasive misapprehension that ours is “a two party system” (constitutionally insupportable, but certainly a convenient mythology for the Democrats and Republicans to promote) voters are continually whipsawed with the admonition that backing anyone other than one of the major party candidates is “wasting their vote.”

This in turn can make what is an otherwise vibrant political party with a substantial base of support vulnerable to being sentenced to death by legal rejection when voters opt to split their ticket in an effort to mitigate the damage of having one or the other of the old party candidates elected president.

This defensive voting has given rise to the all too common lament: “I didn’t like either of them, but I had to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

The problem, though probably inherent in a winner-take-all, plurality system, is greatly exacerbated by the closeness of the race between the old-party candidates. And the historic closeness of the most recent presidential contest significantly depressed the vote for all the alternatives.

Ralph Nader got 2% in Michigan — sufficient to keep his Green Party on the ballot, but less than half what he was polling mere days before the election.

The Michigan Reform Party, as it turned out, was actually thrown a life preserver when Secretary of State (and Bush’s Michigan campaign co-chair) Candice Miller denied Pat Buchanan a place on the ballot here. This dropped Reform’s “Top-of-Ticket” race down to U.S. Senate where their candidate, though finishing fifth, still drew enough votes to meet the 20,555 minimum. Buchanan, despite a $12 million subsidy from taxpayers, didn’t fare much better than Browne nationally, and would surely have lost the Reformers their place on the Michigan ballot.

Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin and U.S. Taxpayers Party nominee Howard Phillips both finished well out of the running for keeping their respective parties on the 2002 ballot.

Still, in spite of the setback in the presidential race, the Libertarian Party of Michigan is buoyed by its overall success, having fielded more than twice as many candidates as all the other “minor” parties combined. And most of these candidates trailed only their “major” party rivals, including Diane Barnes, the Libertarian candidate for State Board of Ed (the race that political analysts consider the true measure of any party’s base of support) who garnered more than 127,000 votes. In fact only one of the party’s nine statewide, partisan candidates did not meet the minimum vote threshold to maintain its ballot status — presidential nominee, Harry Browne. Unfortunately, under Michigan election law his was the only race that counted.

Libertarians are a determined bunch who have built a political party to advance a principle rather than merely to serve as a bandwagon upon which some celebrity may perch a soapbox. The petition drive to get the Libertarian Party back on the ballot in time for the 2002 election will begin sometime next spring.

Maybe by the time that election actually takes place the Michigan legislature will have eliminated this misrepresentative “principal candidate” standard, so that any statewide race can satisfy the vote requirement to maintain a party’s ballot status. Anyone seeking evidence of the dangers of placing all our faith in top-of-ticket politicians need look no further than Florida.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Keep Your Government Even Closer

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 10/27/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
October 27, 2000

“Why should I swap one tyrant 3,000 miles away,” asked Benjamin Martin, the fictional (and archetypically reluctant) American hero in the recent movie The Patriot, “for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?”

While Mel Gibson’s character’s concerns about the potential dangers of mobocracy are well advised and would be shared by those who designed our constitutionally limited republic, the proximity of the governors to the governed is, nevertheless, not an inconsequential question.

Indeed, it is one that remains with us more than two centuries later as Michigan voters consider amending our constitution to require that any impositions by the state legislature upon smaller units of government require two-thirds concurrence in both houses.

Opponents of the measure, designated Proposal 2 on the November 7 ballot, have endlessly repeated the refrain that this amendment would permit “minority rule.”

This is not merely false. It is disingenuous, scare-mongering propaganda. Proposal 2 will convey no authority of less than half the legislature to impose anything on the majority. Quite the reverse. It empowers one-third plus one to block any impositions by the state legislature on more local jurisdictions.

And that is an outstanding idea. Lansing is too far removed from our daily lives to permit most of us any input whatever in the decision-making done there.

I have met my state senator once, my state rep twice, and Governor Engler twice. Each of those encounters was exceedingly brief. It is safe to say that none of the three would know me from Benjamin Martin (though, in truth I am only occasionally confused with Mel Gibson).

On the other hand I am on a first name basis with my mayor and all six of the members of my city council. And it’s easy to see why this is so. My hometown of Allen Park has a total population of just over 30,000 within an area of only seven square miles. City council meetings are every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at a city hall that’s barely two miles from my front door. I can — and do — attend and even address most of them.

And in six years since I have worked on successful efforts that have amended our city charter to put term limits on local officials, stopped a $20 million recreation center bond proposal as well as two straight-up tax increases, and unceremoniously dumped an incumbent mayor and most of the city council.

Of course, I also came up short in a petition drive to recall another mayor. But, you can’t win ’em all.

And making waves in a small pond can have ripple effects that spread farther than one might guess.

More than three years ago I was the lone voice at my city council meetings demanding to know when the all but abandoned 38 acre VA hospital complex at the north end of town would be wrested from federal control and put to productive purpose. I was at first regarded as some kind of not-too-tightly-wrapped Don Quixote since everyone knows that no one budges the federal government. But, eventually, other citizens began complaining — which the local press began reporting.

Soon some city council members began observing that this was not an unreasonable question. Then came a Task Force by some downriver state reps. Of course, it was photo-op grandstanding on their part. But it, in turn, drew the attention of Congressman Dingell. By this time the mayor and the entire city council had fully joined the cause. And just a few days ago the news was announced that a bill has been passed in congress authorizing $14 million to raze the 22 buildings of the old, VA medical complex in Allen Park, Michigan. President Clinton’s signature is expected shortly, so the project may commence as early as next year.

I doubt very much that we would be where we are today in this whole process if it had to begin with an average citizen knocking on the front door of the White House. Or wandering the halls of the capitol in Lansing.

With all due respect to our Patriot hero, there is in fact tremendous advantage in keeping political decision-making as close to home as possible. I have had some notable successes affecting the local laws and regulations that govern my life and property. I do not care to have all of my work undone at the whim of a bare majority of legislators 100 miles away representing the collective wishes of the entire state.

And if I am unable to persuade my neighbors to make local conditions to my own liking, Lincoln Park is right next door. Escaping intolerable state-wide dictates would be far more disruptive and inconvenient. Not to mention the fact that I can’t even imagine becoming a Buckeye fan.

That’s why I will be casting an enthusiastic “Yes!” vote for Proposal 2.

And this could be just the beginning. State Representative Robert Gosselin, R-Troy, recently introduced a bill (HB 6043) that would require a two-thirds vote of a city council to adopt any ordinance that “intervenes in the affairs of individuals, families, businesses or taxpayers.”

What an outstanding idea! Before you know it people might actually be back in charge of their own lives.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: The Limits of Term Limits

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 8/17/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
August 17, 2000

When Michigan voters amended the state constitution in 1992 to limit the terms of most state level elected officials there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among professional politicians and central planning visionaries. What a tragic loss of knowledge and experience! What a danger to the republic to be governed by amateurs!

When Michigan voters amended the state constitution in 1992 to limit the terms of most state level elected officials there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among professional politicians and central planning visionaries. What a tragic loss of knowledge and experience! What a danger to the republic to be governed by amateurs!

But now that term limits are actually taking hold, it appears the concerns of the pundits were unwarranted. The professional pols will not be so easily put out to pasture. The “institutional memory” isn’t being lost. It is merely being reshuffled.

This was already his second effort to keep a place at the public trough since Michigan voters made “Move along, Bossy” public policy.

Four years ago Hart was one of half a dozen contenders to succeed scandal-plagued U.S. Congresswoman, Barbara-Rose Collins. And that particular contest provided an exquisite example of the absolutely essential knowledge and experience the electorate stands to lose if the good services of professional rulers are denied us.

In order to enlighten voters on the contenders’ qualifications to serve in the U.S. Congress one of Detroit’s major dailies, as part of an interview with each, gave them a little pop quiz that included five questions on some basics about the U.S. government. Here are the questions along with Sen. Hart’s answers:

1.) Who is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?

Sandra Day O’Connor

(CORRECT ANSWER: William Rehnquist)

2.) What is the CBO and what does it do?

Don’t know.

(CORRECT ANSWER: Congressional Budget Office; it does budget estimates and projects the costs of proposals.)

3.) How many amendments to the Constitution are in the Bill of Rights?


4.) How much is the U.S. debt?

$200 billion
(CORRECT ANSWER: Officially, over $2 1/2 trillion — back then. The officially recognized debt has since doubled again.

However, this is something of a trick question in that congress years ago moved social security revenue into the general fund and its liabilities “off budget.” The actual unfunded obligations of the U.S. government are now about 100 times Senator Hart’s 1996 guess.)

5.) What is the federal income tax rate?

(CORRECT ANSWER: There are several rates, from 15 to 28 to 39.6 percent.)

In fairness it should be observed that none of the six passed the test. In fact correctly answering three of the five questions (or 60%, an “F” in anyone’s gradebook) was the highest score any of them was able to manage — which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the credentials of those who would govern us at gunpoint.

Still, special mention must go to Hart — the only contender who managed to get every single answer wrong and score a perfect 0%.

Needless to say, his bid to go to Disneyland-on-the-Potomac was no more successful than his recent try for the Wayne County Treasurer post. Stuck in the Michigan senate with half of his terminal term now expired, the clock keeps ticking on the public tenure of the Honorable George Hart. Two years and counting.

And we must feel some measure of compassion for his plight. His chances look even worse in the private sector. After a lifetime of public service, what is he actually qualified to do?

Aside from kissing hands and shaking babies (and schmoozing or shaking down campaign contributors) what marketable talents do politicians really have? What likelihood is there that someone like Hart can acquire any useful skills necessary to the production of goods or services that people would buy voluntarily?

Whatever else he may be, Senator Hart is clearly not the brightest crayon in the box. Forget professional pols. How many people in everyday life do you know who think Sandra Day O’Connor is Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court?

Of course, neither the pressures of term limits nor the response to them is unique to Democrats.

It was only a few months ago that Republican Secretary of State Candice Miller, whose name was being trial ballooned in the media to contend with U.S. House minority leader David Bonior this fall, announced that she would stay in her current position.

Asked by a reporter if this was to keep her options open to run for governor in 2002 (as John Engler is constitutionally barred from seeking a fourth term) Miller unabashedly admitted that since she, too, would be disallowed an additional term in her current office, she would certainly be “looking for other opportunities.”

Here’s a wacky possibility. I know it sounds kind of crazy and extreme. But how about this? GET A REAL JOB!

Then, of course, there is the old tried-and-true method of at least keeping certain public offices in the family. The tag team of Sal and Sue Rocca in Macomb County is doing an excellent job of taking turns with different elected positions and wresting power from any pretenders.

Perhaps the most inventive approach for those who have sought to make a career out of governing the rest of us is to find another incumbent with good name recognition in the district and just swap offices.

This maneuver was successfully carried off by term-limited State Representative, Joseph Palamara, two years ago when he and Wayne County Commissioner, William O’Neil, simply traded positions. Now it’s Commissioner Palamara and Representative O’Neil.

An economist by the name of James Buchanan won the 1986 Nobel prize for his “Public Choice” theory in which he conclusively demonstrated that politicians are motivated by the same kind of self-interest as the rest of us. And they are just as resourceful in satisfying those interests. They will build their careers, expand their domains, spend their budgets into the red, make deals with allies and stab rivals in the back with the best of corporate ladder climbers.

Term limits is simply another challenge on that particular career path. A new obstacle to be overcome.

Still, even with all the shenanigans don’t let anyone tell you that term limits wasn’t a fabulous idea. As evidence of its efficacy just look at all the whining and moaning from the philosopher-kings (and their media handmaidens) who feel ordained from on high to be our public masters.

Unfortunately, the plan didn’t go quite far enough. The lifetime ban from ever serving again in the same office needs to be extended to a ban on ever serving again in ANY elective office.

As it is the members of the ruling class have simply resorted to a glorified game of Musical Chairs. And when they play it just right, no incumbent is left standing when the music stops.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Chasing Pokemon

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 5/12/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
May 12, 2000

Officials at the Taft Elementary School in Wyandotte announced a few weeks ago that they are considering a ban on Pokemon trading cards — the latest fad among elementary school kids. Teachers complain that the cards are an on-going source of arguments and even thefts among the youngsters.

Banning Pokemon cards seems so trivial in a world in which a 6-year-old shoots and kills a classmate. But it is a perfect example of the contemporary pedagogic philosophy that makes these larger tragedies all but inevitable.

Previous generations of educators would undoubtedly have used such childish disputes as an opportunity to teach about voluntary cooperation and civil social interactions. Refraining from disruptive behavior has always been one of the first lessons learned in school.

I attended parochial schools and recall that gum chewing was, for instance, not allowed. But it was chewing gum during school that was prohibited — not the mere possession of a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint (Juicyfruit for the girls). Violation of the rule could result in a trip to the principal’s office and, perhaps, an after-school detention. I’m sure that today’s politically correct, “progressive” school administrators would be aghast to see how the nuns at St. Jude’s would have dealt with theft.

The contemporary approach is to preempt irresponsible behavior by the simple expedient of banishing the troublesome items. Coincidentally, there was another example of this kind of “protect kids from having to actually deal with the real world” philosophy the very same week in one of the daily columns by professional advice dispenser, Ann Landers. In that instance the offending objects were in fact guns. But the proposal was essentially the same: lock them up, hide them somewhere, hide the ammunition somewhere else, hide the key in yet another place, and to quote Ann, “teach kids not to touch guns.”

This is incredibly stupid and dangerous counseling from someone who makes her living giving out advice.

Every parent knows that, given ten minutes of unsupervised opportunity, kids could work their way through every clever security measure protecting the legendary pirate booty in the “Money Pit” on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. And in another two minutes figure out how to get the treasure chest unlocked. Every parent also knows that kids find what is strictly taboo irresistibly appealing.

The wise parent who is a responsible gun owner will remove the mystery by taking their kids to the range, teaching them the fundamentals of gun safety, and letting them hold and fire a weapon — so they can see for themselves the power and damage of which it is capable.

Of course, this would no more have prevented the tragedy of a six-year-old finding a stolen weapon in his crackhouse home than would President Clinton’s proposal to ban high capacity clips and require trigger locks and background checks of legitimate buyers.

But Ms. Landers suggests instead that safety is somehow to be found in blind fear and deliberate ignorance (though, oddly, she doesn’t espouse this philosophy when it comes to illicit drugs or sexually transmitted diseases).

It used to be that the widely acknowledged goal of child rearing was to prepare the naive and dependent youngster to face the world as a competent, independent, self-reliant adult. However, as we enter the 21st century it appears that has been replaced by the notion that children should be sheltered for as long as possible from learning that actions have consequences.

The traditional “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” focus of education, for instance, has now taken a back seat to obsessively promoting what is mislabeled “self-esteem.”

Genuine self-esteem flows naturally from a sense of personal integrity, competence and accomplishment. What our society has actually ingrained in our children is not self-esteem, but self-importance — it’s perverse mirror image that is not earned but rather asserted as an entitlement.

The most obvious result of embracing this psychobabble is, not surprisingly, that scholastic skills have plummeted. Of course, on the plus side, the little dears are perfectly comfortable with that.

It puts one in mind of the old admonition: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. Unfortunately for educators, there remains a stubborn 15% or so of kids who are restless and unhappy despite all the insulation and the ceaseless I’m-okay-you’re-okay indoctrination. But, our culture has found away to deal with these problem kids, as well.

We drug them.

A daily dose of Ritilin or Luvox or Prozac and our Brave New World can be populated with nothing but contented little Alphas and Betas and Gammas protected from normal growing pains and convinced that they are destined to be the indispensable cog in society’s machinery.

And isn’t the Soma-sotted world a happy place?

Until a couple of them in Colorado shoot up a school like some non-virtual video game — only without a reset button to bring all the fleeing targets back to life. Then everyone wrings their hands and pontificates about how we need to make even more laws to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of high school kids. But, it has always been difficult to control teenaged angst in any case. It would be far easier to nip this problem in the bud.

What we really need to do is keep Pokemon cards out of the hands of 1st graders. And hope that the ban is more effective than the one against handguns.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: No Census Con

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 3/22/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
March 22, 2000

Towards the end of the eighteenth century our forefathers, who had successfully ended rule by an hereditary monarchy and replaced it with a republican form of government, came up against what seemed to them to be an all but insurmountable disagreement.

The thirteen colonies that had called their alliance “the united States of America” were extremely jealous of their individual sovereignty.

In fact the previous sentence provides good evidence of this anxiety in that it contains no misprint. Look at a copy of the Declaration of Independence and you will discover that the proclamation is made on behalf of the States of America. The word “united” in the title is a mere, lower case modifier — given no more prominence than the number “thirteen” which precedes it.

At the time Mr. Madison, et al., were debating the formation of our second (and current) government under what would become the Constitution of the United States, our country was much more analogous to the contemporary combination NATO and European Economic Union than the omnipotent central leviathan we have now.

Indeed, up until Reconstruction, the name of our country was a plural noun (i.e., one would say “The United States are…” not “The United States is…”). Even after the “u” graduated to upper case.

The impasse for those who wished to replace our first central government with a new and stronger one was over how to apportion representation in the legislative branch. The more populous states argued that relative power should reflect the relative distribution of the people to be represented. The smaller states would not permit their individual sovereignty to be trumped by the sheer weight of numbers represented by their larger sisters.

Finally, “the Great Compromise” was struck whereby the legislature would consist of two, separate bodies with all legislation having to pass through both. One, called the Senate, would give all states equal representation. The other, called the House of Representatives, would be apportioned according to population.

It was in order to make certain that this second body would continue to fairly reflect the distribution of population in the young and growing land that there would be a census at the beginning of every decade.

It is the 21st such census that is now underway.

Many people, having endured incessant blathering over the last few months by census officials, mostly about getting our “fair share” of federal loot, may be surprised to learn that apportioning representation in Congress is the only constitutional purpose of the census.

Thus, the only relevant census question is: How many people are living at this address?

The necessity of redetermining appropriate representation in congress among the states is not advanced by telling the government whether you are a homeowner or renter, your gender, age, or race.

Indeed, this last question is downright offensive. There is nothing but mischief to be made of classifying people by race. And there is very grave danger in it.

Our federal government finally managed to recognize the ugliness of counting each African-American as three fifths of person (another deal struck by Madison & Co. at the constitutional convention) and eliminated that particular travesty. But they apparently missed the history of racial classifications in this century by such governments as Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.

And if you think this is an exaggeration or only happened in other countries, ask census officials what their guarantees of confidentiality meant to the Japanese-Americans who were rounded up and put into American concentration camps based on data their agency supplied to the army.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of bureaucrats do not have sinister intent. However, they are by their very nature obsessively nosy. They just couldn’t pass up the decennial opportunity to pry into our personal lives.

One in six households will get the even more obnoxious “long form” that includes more than 50 questions, ranging from the merely intrusive, such as what you do for a living and how much you make doing it, to the ludicrous, such as how many toilets you have and whether you take a ferry to work.

Since there is no constitutional authority for any of this, the snoops in Washington DC have passed statutory requirements that you answer all of their questions.

13 USC 221 provides for fines up to $100 for anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him.” Anyone “who willfully gives any answer that is false” can be fined up to $500.

So, my wife and I will answer the first question on our census form: “Two.”

And since we don’t wish to break the law, we’ll answer all the rest of the questions: “None of your business.”

That way we won’t be willfully neglecting to answer. Nor will our answers be false.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Buying and Selling the Second Amendment

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 1/27/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
January 27, 2000

Libertarians are ringing in the new millennium with a rousing chorus of cheers for Brass Roots — a Michigan gun rights organization founded by 1994 LP candidate for U.S. Senate, Jon Coon.

The group has brought suit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Detroit Housing Commission and the Detroit Chief of Police to stop a federal “Gun Buyback” program from going forward in Detroit.

If implemented, the scheme would pay $50 to anyone in Detroit who surrenders a firearm to authorities — cash on the spot, no questions asked.

Aside from the dubious public policy of setting the government up in the business of offering to fence stolen property (and, potentially, dispose of evidence of even more serious crimes), the plan would, of course, violate numerous state and federal laws.

Gun rights groups have long argued that various and sundry identifications, reporting requirements, waiting periods and other restrictions on firearms transfers are as unnecessarily burdensome on responsible gun owners as they are unlikely to deter criminals.

The bitter irony of this government scheme to deliberately circumvent these very laws was not lost on Brass Roots. Still, before filing the complaint in federal district court they attempted every other obvious route to express their concerns.

They contacted HUD Secretary, Andrew Cuomo, as soon Detroit’s application to participate in the plan was announced and were told that there was no step in the approval process for participation by “third parties.”

They wrote to Governor Engler asking how it was that the federal government could operate a program — which no one even pretended would be limited to HUD properties — that so clearly intruded upon state and local jurisdiction. There was no response at all from the governor’s office.

They contacted Detroit Housing Commission Director, John Nelson, Jr., pointing out all the violations of state and federal laws that this “Gun Buyback” program would entail.

No response from Director Nelson, either.

Finally, with no remaining options open to them, the organization filed suit in federal district court. The complaint is similar to one brought last fall by Libertarian Party of Chicago chairman, Matt Beauchamp, to halt the program in Cook County, Illinois.

The Plaintiffs in both cases charge that none of the participants in the program is federally licensed to “engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms,” that the stated intent of the plan is to purchase weapons from anonymous individuals, thus “knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the firearm…was stolen,” and that the Chief of Police, charged with administering the program, will deliberately “fail to make appropriate entry in, or fail to properly maintain, [records] which he is required to keep” on firearms transfers.

All three are felonies under federal law.

Just to give a bit of perspective consider how authorities have dealt with even more obscure gun law “technicalities” in recent years.

In 1992 a reclusive man by the name of Randy Weaver living in a remote part of the Idaho panhandle was merely accused of selling a shotgun with a barrel that was one quarter of an inch below the minimum legal length (and, of course, without the paperwork authorities apparently now regard as inconsequential).

When Weaver failed to appear for trial on that charge, several agents went to the mountain top cabin where he lived with his wife and four children, ultimately shooting his 14-year-old son, Sammy, in the back and killing him on the spot. Then, during a week long siege of the property, a government sniper, using a high-powered assassin’s rifle, and following “shoot on sight” rules of engagement, literally blew the head off of Weaver’s wife, Vicky, while she stood in the doorway of the cabin clutching their infant child in her arms.

The next year nearly a hundred federal agents stormed a religious commune outside of Waco, Texas in a military style assault to serve a search warrant for illegal firearms parts and to arrest the group’s leader on federal firearms charges. Ten people died in the initial attack. After a nearly two month long siege, eighty more people — most of them women and children — died in a fiery, final tank and tear gas assault.

Now, authorities would as a matter of policy cavalierly violate far more serious firearms laws than those that prompted the two deadly incidents in Idaho and Texas?

Not if Brass Roots has anything to say about it.

A request for a preliminary injunction will be heard later this month by District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman.

Unfortunately, their chances of success have been significantly reduced as the judge in the Illinois case recently dismissed the complaint saying: “Mr. Beauchamp alleges no other basis for his lawsuit than his interest in ensuring that public officials act in accordance with the law. That is an insufficient basis.”

And that’s a sad state of affairs for our republic.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Priorities in the Criminal Justice System

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 1/19/2000

Article: by Tim O’Brien
January 19, 2000

The sentencing of Nate Abraham, the 13-year-old who shot and killed 18-year-old Ronnie Greene (apparently for nothing more than the sport of it) when Abraham was only 11, has prompted both genuine concern and disingenuous posturing from across the traditional political spectrum.

Thoughtful liberals point out that an 11-year-old should not be (and, until recently, never has been) held to the same standard of legal accountability as an adult for the simple reason that someone so young cannot comprehend the consequences of his actions. An adult sentence amounts to giving up hope of even the possibility of rehabilitation of a mere child.

Conservatives, suspicious of what they perceive to be the delusion of rehabilitation, focus on deterrence. “Adult time for adult crime,” has become their mantra. Ronnie Greene, they observe, would probably not have had much interest in the age or future prospects of the person who shot him. Furthermore, even if his killer does get over his anti-social tendencies during the eight years it will take him to reach adulthood, Greene will probably not have gotten over being dead.

The libertarian view of the proper priorities in the criminal justice system puts not just one but two considerations ahead of both rehabilitation and deterrence.

The first is restitution. Justice consists most fundamentally in requiring that the perpetrator make the victim whole to the extent this is possible.

It is important to note that there is no place in the libertarian justice system for “society” to serve as a surrogate for either of these parties. If there is no human being to come into court and point an accusing finger at another human being and tell a judge and/or jury “there is the person who harmed me and here is how I was hurt,” then there is no crime.

Obviously, in some instances — most notably murder — there simply is no way to restore the victim. In such cases libertarians’ secondary consideration becomes paramount: protecting the rest of us from the possibility of becoming this person’s next victim. The best way to guarantee that outcome is, of course, to simply never allow demonstrably dangerous individuals another opportunity.

Now, most people would say that this is excessive. Some criminals may be persuaded by a combination of the conservatives’ deterrence and the liberals’ rehabilitation to never repeat their anti-social behavior and, thus, should be permitted to reenter society.

The problem is that it is notoriously difficult to accurately predict recidivism. This is compounded by the fact that parole boards and other officials responsible for making the determination have no actual stake in the reliability of their decisions. If the once-dangerous people they release turn out to be still dangerous, they simply shrug and move on to the next case.

A Libertarian friend of mine once suggested an intriguing proposal for making us potential victims of repeat offenders just a bit more secure. When a convicted criminal becomes eligible for parole (or in the case of juveniles or the mentally incompetent, found to be no longer a threat) include along with all of the customary requirements an appropriate bond before he or she can be released back into society.

Anyone would be free to post such a bond on behalf of any convict. What would constitute a sufficient amount would vary according to the potential damage should this person repeat the offense. Perhaps as little as $30,000 might be enough to indemnify against a once and future car thief. While society might require a million dollars or more as security for someone who commits the kind of crime for which no amount of money can ever adequately compensate.

This bond, if not forfeited because of a subsequent crime, would last for the lifetime of the perpetrator, but would be refunded to the guarantor once the individual in question is no longer a danger.

As a peaceful member of society I have no special interest in either punishing or rehabilitating criminals. My interest is in being protected from them — and where that protection fails, compensated by them.

Considering that our society still devotes more than half of its criminal justice resources to “crimes” that don’t even have actual victims, I am not holding out much hope that we will see any refocus from deterrence and rehabilitation to restitution and protection in the near future.

Instead we are treated to the spectacle of court jester, Geoffrey Fieger, exploiting the latest high profile criminal case before the Court TV cameras — perchance to follow Jerry Spence and Marcia Clark into the Lawyer’s Hall of National Syndication Fame.

Meanwhile, the talk radio airwaves crackle with demands for swift and sure punishment of a child. And professional race-baiter, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and his traveling sideshow howl about the prejudice of the system in a case where both perpetrator and victim are young blacks.

And in the end we have a judge who launches into extended social criticism of everything from the social services department to video games. Who incomprehensibly castigates the Legislature for giving him too much discretion in such cases. Who then sentences Nate Abraham under the juvenile law with the none-too-subtle insinuation that, if the rest of us know what’s good for us, we better get cracking and provide effective reformation services before this killer is turned loose on us again.

It’s enough to make a Libertarian wonder if the ghost of Allen Funt isn’t lurking somewhere with a cosmic camera.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.
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1999 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: A Disarming Proposal

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 12/13/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
December 13, 1999

In an effort to reduce violent crime in public housing the Detroit Housing Commission is going to participate in a federal “gun buyback” program that will give residents $50 for every firearm they hand over to authorities. No questions asked. The funding is coming from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program under which taxpayers will spend $15 million nationwide to purchase and destroy 300,000 guns. So, naturally, local officials are eager to take advantage of the plan and get our “fair share” — despite the fact that there has been only one murder in Detroit public housing so far this year. And the weapon used in that instance was a knife.

This program has already been implemented by the Cook County Sheriff in Chicago where it has become the subject of a lawsuit. Evidence gathered as part of that case has shown that the majority of firearms that will be turned in for the bounty fall into one of two categories. The first type will be hunting, target or fine antique weapons that widows find among their husband’s possessions and for which they have no use. These are generally worth more — sometimes, significantly more — than the $50 officials will give them. Individuals in this circumstance would be well advised to first take such weapons to a local gun show (back in operation again, for the moment, anyway, at several locations around the metro area) to get some idea of their actual value. Of course, disarming little, old ladies of weapons they don’t even know how to use isn’t going to take much of a bite out of crime.

The second type of weapons these “buyback” programs draw are ones that are either rusty old relics that have been gathering dust in an attic or else have been cobbled together — sometimes from disparate and even incompatible parts — using super glue, duct tape and baling wire. No one in his right mind would actually put a live round into one of these and pull the trigger, for fear the whole contraption might blow up in his hand. Eliminating these will have little impact on crime either since they were all but forgotten or, perhaps, didn’t even exist at all until the incentive to scrounge and/or assemble them was offered. Unlike many in the previous group, these are not even worth the modest sum offered under the buyback program. Like those in the other group, however, neither were they a threat to begin with.

The number of useful weapons turned in by genuine criminals willing to exchange the tools of their trade for a mere $50 apiece will be vanishingly small. Although, it ought to be observed that those who specialize in what police call “B&E’s” (breaking and entering) will in fact find a tremendous new C.O.D. outlet for a major part of their loot. Which brings us to another point. Buying or otherwise transferring a firearm with “no questions asked” is a substantial violation of about a dozen different federal laws. And there are some folks in places like Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas who could tell you just how serious the feds can be when it comes to even such minor technicalities as selling a shotgun with a barrel that’s a quarter of an inch too short or mere suspicion of possessing prohibited gun parts. Well, at least, their survivors could.

Since we seem to be of a mind to try some new approaches to reducing violent crime in public housing let me propose a simple experiment. Select one, particular public housing project and offer to train and arm every adult resident who has no criminal or mental illness history. For free. The cost of such a program could be kept quite low. People can learn the basics of handgun use, maintenance and safety in a single, one-day class. The weapons themselves could be some portion of the used ones the Detroit police routinely sell wholesale out of state (many of which seem to find their way back home anyway).

Once the program has been fully implemented, prominently display a sign out in front of the apartment complex that says: “More than half of the residents here are armed. Care to guess which ones?” Meanwhile, select another public housing complex of similar size, type and environs where possession of any firearm can then, without exception, be prohibited. The sign out front here can read: “This is a gun free apartment complex.
Please don’t hurt us.”

Would anyone care to place any wagers as to which of the two will experience the lower crime rate?

Meanwhile, maybe Detroit officials should hold off on their buyback program until the Chicago lawsuit is resolved and we learn whether the court system approves of the government effectively running a fencing operation.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Reforming Campaign Finance Reform

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 10/21/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
October 21, 1999

Someone once observed that, when legislation is for sale, the first thing that will be bought and sold is legislators. It seems that everyone has finally come to realize that something needs to be done about it.

In Washington the U.S. Senate recently filibustered a bill that would have banned what is called “soft” money (contributions to political parties rather than specific candidates), unregulated under current law.

Meanwhile, here in Michigan public interest groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are planning an initiative imposing some combination of contribution limits and taxpayer financing for state House, state Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

But all of these schemes are merely treating the symptoms of the problem instead of its underlying cause.

The fundamental reason for our current difficulties is that the founders of our republic never intended for politicians to have the power to meddle in the economy.

“A wise and frugal government,” observed President Jefferson, “which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government.”

We have obviously strayed a long way from our third president’s conception of good government in the intervening two centuries. Try and think of one aspect of your life that isn’t taxed, regulated or otherwise dictated by government at one level or another. From bedroom to boardroom, nowadays, what isn’t prohibited is required.

Once government goes beyond its only legitimate function — protecting its citizens from foreign armies and domestic criminals — and begins taxing some products and services, subsidizing others, and regulating everything, there will simply be no way of stopping those who are affected from seeking to influence the process. The handmaidens of overreaching government are as predictable as they are inevitable.

Like a hapless cartoon character trying to cope with a leaky dike by sticking fingers and toes into each new hole only to have another leak spring somewhere else, reformers persist in their futile quest to plug up the money leaks in our political system.

How can they remain so blissfully oblivious, for instance, to the fact that the “PACs” and the “soft money” subterfuge they now seek to control is a child of their own previous, post-Watergate efforts at campaign finance reform?

The special interests and their wholly-owned politicians always have and always will stay one step ahead.

Case in point. A couple of years ago, an Indonesian businessman, after visiting the White House several times, gave former Assistant Attorney General (and “Friend Of Bill”) Webster Hubbel half a million dollars in cash and contracts. Mr. Hubbel then suddenly developed amnesia with regard to the president’s involvement in Whitewater. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clinton reversed himself on granting China “Most Favored Nation” trade status — a change eagerly sought by the businessman who began this whole quid-pro-quo-once-removed.

Reformers are no doubt already preparing new proposals to address this kind of situation.

There is nothing mysterious here about the problem. Or the solution.

Restrict our government, at all levels, to its only legitimate function: protecting good and honorable people from bad and dishonorable people.

Then you won’t have to worry about self-proclaimed “Supermarket to the World” Archer-Daniels-Midland financing politicians who then promote corn subsidies. Or Chase-Manhattan Bank supporting other politicians who favor propping up the Mexican peso with loans guaranteed by American taxpayers. Or a thousand other examples, large and small, that have become the stock-in-trade of politicians.

Attempting to remedy this problem with yet another round of campaign finance reform, on the other hand, is like trying to treat tuberculosis with cough medicine.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: The Changing Face of Racism

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 9/16/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
September 16, 1999

There must be something seriously wrong with how we define our political spectrum if I can somehow have been moved from one end to the other while always standing in the same place.

Take the issue of racial discrimination.

Not since my college days when I marched in the streets in uncompromising opposition to the notion that individuals may be segregated or otherwise discriminated against based on the color of their skin, has race been such a hot political topic.

The flashpoint then (and for that matter, now) was admissions to government sponsored educational institutions.

Many of us insisted that any institution supported by everyone must be equally open to everyone who meets objective admission standards. These criteria might include grades, test scores, even athletic prowess or alumnus legacy. However, admissions ought never be based on any intrinsic (and irrelevant) characteristics such as a student’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group, race, and so forth.

Universities, especially in the south, were adamant that criteria for admittance should be entirely within their administrative discretion.

That position is echoed today by our own University of Michigan which is currently embroiled in lawsuits over its racist admissions policy, nowadays euphemistically called: affirmative action.

“Can you get into an admissions process by a court?” president Bollinger asks in words that could have come directly from a 60’s vintage diatribe by Lester Maddox or George Wallace.

In the style of those “segregation forever” southern governors he goes on to rail against “anybody coming from the outside [saying], ‘This is fair, this is unfair. I don’t like this thing you are doing, I don’t like that thing. If we can just get inside this admissions policy, we’re sure we can do a better job.'”

And, having asserted a self-righteous moral superiority justifying exemption from societal norms and accountability, Bollinger proceeds as his political forebears did to offer up one spurious argument after another to rationalize racial discrimination against individuals whom no one denies are utterly innocent of any wrongdoing.

He begins by smugly stating that the notion that race is no longer a significant factor in American life is a myth.

This is what in argumentation is called a “straw man” — a debating ploy whereby, a claim is attributed to the opponent which he never actually made for the sole purpose of then knocking it down.

The fact of the matter is that opponents of affirmative action never said that race is not a factor in contemporary America. Indeed, it is, ironically, affirmative action proponents such as president Bollinger who continue to make it one.

Apologists for contemporary discrimination assert that “diversity” (by which, incidentally, they mean only of the most superficial, physical kind — diversity of viewpoint, for instance, is ruthlessly repressed) is not an optional characteristic of a particular university environment but rather an essential element of the entire educational process.

This would, no doubt, have come as something of a surprise to the scholars and academics from time immemorial whose devotion to the knowledge and teaching of the arts and sciences, irrespective of the ethnic composition their student bodies, somehow managed to get us through to the 21st century.

And in traditional left-liberal mulishness the fact that his own students tend to prefer congregating and interacting within their own ethnic groups only reinforces the belief that efforts to impose social engineering must be redoubled. The more persistent the failure, the more this is taken as evidence of the necessity.

Coincidentally, in Washington U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., has introduced a bill to prohibit the practice of racial profiling. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer also claims to oppose the practice.

Perhaps, they can prevail upon president Bollinger to explain the rationale behind treating people differently based on their skin color since he so vigorously endorses the idea and supports the practice.

The fundamental fact that is utterly ignored by those who would impose their vision of a just society is that there is no such entity as the black race, the white race, or any other discrete collective, that can either perpetrate or suffer from injustice.

There are only individuals — some particular characteristic of which places each into one or another of those amorphous categories.

There are only unique students with their own, personal hopes and dreams for a happy and productive life.

Like James Meredith, who in 1962 used integration laws to become the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi, going on to a distinguished career as an author, civil rights activist and attorney, who ran for U.S. Congress and worked for a time (interestingly enough) in the office of conservative U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms (R- NC).

And like Jennifer Gratz, the math major and homecoming queen who graduated from a high school in Southgate with a 3.8 GPA dreaming of one day becoming a doctor, who has now filed suit against the University of Michigan to stop that institution from destroying her aspirations by denying her admission simply because she is white.

None of us dreams in black and white. We only dream as individuals.

There is no fairness or balance achieved by compensating those who never suffered under a system of legal discrimination at the expense of those who never caused it.

A great American leader back in my college days once said he dreamed of a day when each of us would be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.

I thought he was right. I still do.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: The Allen Park Veterans Clinic

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 7/1/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
July 1, 1999

Last month six state reps (constituting a self-proclaimed “Task Force”) convened the first of a promised series of public hearings on the status of the all but abandoned former Veterans Administration hospital complex in Allen Park.

In 1937 Henry and Clara Ford in a show of patriotic generosity donated 38 acres of property at the north end of Allen Park as a site for a veterans health care facility. The transfer of title did, however, contain what is called a “reverter clause.” That is, the gift included the condition that, should the property no longer be used for the designated purpose, it would revert to the Fords (or their heirs).

So, a huge veterans hospital was built on the property. It opened in 1939 and operated for more than half a century, eventually expanding into a complex of 22 buildings sprawling over most of the farm-sized parcel of land. Finally, in June 1996, the facility, deemed outdated and impractical to renovate, was shut down and area veterans’ health care services — with the exception of a two-days-per-week walk-in clinic which continued to operate in a small annex — were transferred to a brand new facility near downtown Detroit.

And so the status quoed until one Allen Park resident/taxpayer (a Libertarian who shall go nameless) began asking some pointed questions at city council meetings about the future of the now deserted, ten-story double building, its score of attendant structures, and the substantial real estate the whole phalanx commanded.

Soon other Allen Parkers began asking similar questions, the local newspaper began reporting these concerns, and the wherewithal was mustered in local officialdom to politely but formally inquire of the federal powers-that-be as to their plans for the property.

Like a high school girl who loses interest in some guy but, nevertheless, endeavors to make certain none of the other girls will date him either, John Dingell, D-Dearborn (the congressman for whom the downtown replacement facility was named, owing to his supposed status as champion of veterans’ issues), immediately set about the task of finding some pretext upon which to retain federal control over the almost entirely idle and now decaying property.

Meanwhile, a gaggle of politicians from Lansing, sensing a photo-op, set up their Task Force committee and staged the present hearings to look into the matter — despite the obvious fact that they had no jurisdiction whatever over a federal facility in a local community.

The first hearing brought out a hundred or more veterans festooned in traditional regalia, a relative handful of local residents, a congressional aide, a couple of Ford lawyers (representing the company, not the family, for some reason that was never made clear) and one Charles Lott, Director of the new Veteran’s Health Care Center in Detroit who, apparently, also had primary responsibility for the abandoned site it replaced.

Director Lott explained that he and his staff were working on a five year plan (shades of the old Soviet Union) to clear some — or all, he wasn’t sure — of the Allen Park property retaining, perhaps, seven acres so as to keep open the remaining walk-in clinic. Or not. The order and timing of demolition were also undetermined. A master of bureaucratic vagueries, Director Lott felt under no particular pressure to be more precise in as much as the five year plan would not even commence for another year and a half. Testimony by various folks regarding operations of the clinic were consistent on one point: the one doctor and two nurses saw an average of twenty patients on each of the two days per week that it is open, an annual total of about 2000 appointments. This, according to ‘typical usage’ figures offered by Director Lott, would suggest that the clinic provides services to about 400 veterans, who visit such facilities an average of five times per year.

Most of the veterans at the hearing complained about parking problems, the lack of “green space” (i.e., lawns) and the inconvenience of the new, downtown facility — all of which objections must surely have been raised when the location for the new facility was first proposed. Finally, the troublemaking resident who started this whole wrecking ball swinging got up and agreed with one of the representatives, Eileen DeHart, D-Westland, that the generosity of the Ford family in having provided the property should be recognized, but wondered why the sacrifice by Allen Park residents of 38 acres of property tax base for the last six decades was not being similarly noted. This observation was met with a sour glower from the entire panel.

Further, while he appreciated a proposal that would return at least 31 acres to productive purpose, he couldn’t help but wonder why seven acres should be necessary to the maintenance of so limited a service as a two-days-per-week walk-in clinic.

“I think our veterans,” snapped the representative, “are worth seven acres!” and used the applause line to full effect.

“Indeed,” our benighted citizen rejoined, “they are surely worth all 38 acres! But that is hardly the point. The question is: What is reasonably needed to provide the services? I would think that a couple thousand square feet of rented office space would be more than adequate,” he observed to the now quiet room.

“And perhaps we might locate the facility in Lincoln Park for awhile,” he added.

The implications of this last did not sit well with Representative Gloria Schermesser, D-Lincoln Park, the politician who organized and chaired the show — as she hails from that very city.

“Well,” she sputtered, “I’d be proud to have a veterans clinic in Lincoln Park!”

And, indeed, why should Allen Park be permitted to hog all the glory?

Let some other community have the honor of passing up several hundred thousand dollars a year in property tax revenue for the next few decades. Besides, what’s a mere seven acres out of a wealthy city like Lincoln Park? In the meantime an empty and decaying colossus stands astride the northern entrance to Allen Park, mute testimony to governmental inertia and political intransigence. And there it will continue to brood — along with local property taxpayers — apparently, for the better part of the next decade. Or until it collapses like its grecian forerunner.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Playing Post Office

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 6/1/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
June 1999

Whether to fight mail fraud as they allege or simply to legally ruin competition for the last monopoly protected area of their business, postal authorities will no longer play with renters of private mail boxes. By June 24 every one of the more than two million customers of what the USPS calls “Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies” (places such as Mail Boxes, Etc.) will be required by a “Procedural Revision,” implemented by Postal Bulletin 21994 last March, to fill out and sign under notary a new Form 1583.

Form 1583 requires the disclosure of a considerable amount of personal information along with production of two items of valid identification one of which “must contain a photograph of the addressee” (for the vast majority this means a drivers license which, of course, includes a residence address) and the “other credential showing the applicant’s signature and a serial number or similar information that is traceable to the bearer” (read: social security card).

The new form must then be filed with the post office for use in creating a massive new database. A photocopy of the ID’s must be retained by the CMRA and made available to anyone who asks to see it — not just law enforcement or someone with a warrant.

The new regulation is carefully constructed to circumvent two different federal laws.

First, under the Privacy Act of 1974, the Postal Service is prohibited from retaining all of this information itself. The new regulations force the CMRA’s to act as their surrogate.

Second, federal law has always prohibited requiring an individual to provide his or her SS# for identification purposes. (This has, obviously, long since become something of joke; nevertheless, the law remains in force and the fiction of privacy in this regard must be maintained). You will note that, though no other document comes to mind that meets the criteria for the second form of identification, “social security card” is not specified.

But wait, there’s more.

Within the next six months. Every CMRA box renter will have to somehow contact every potential person or entity that will ever send them mail any time in the future and advise them that henceforward the acronym “PMB” (Private Mail Box) must precede the renter’s box number on a separate line in the address.

According to the revisions, any mail addressed to a private mail box renter after the October 11, 1999 deadline that does not have the required “PMB” designator in the correct place will not be delivered and will be returned to the sender (which, incidentally, suggests some interesting questions with regard to international treaties and the Postal Service’s refusal for want of a “PMB” designation to deliver a piece of international mail.)

It has been conservatively estimated that these “Procedural Revisions” will mean $1 Billion in direct costs (new stationary and business cards, contacting all customers, etc.) to small businesses during the initial six-month compliance period.

“The primary reason for the new regulations,” claims Inspector Tom Hall of the postal inspection service, “is increased security for the mail and to protect the American public — both businesses and consumers — from criminals.”

This is a rather peculiar position in as much as providers estimate that less than 1% of private mail boxes are used for fraudulent purposes. (Inspector Hall, when challenged on the proportionality of this solution, admitted that he had no actual statistics at all on the extent of criminal use.)

Further, this compilation of personal data on more than two million people at over 10,000 CMRA locations around the country will open up vast new opportunities for the latest criminal enterprise: identity theft. By breaking and entering or even simply bribing an employee, a genuine criminal could gain access to all the information needed to get credit in the name of every one of a CMRA’s customers.

And then there are battered women and other victims of stalkers. Long advised to provide themselves with some small measure of protection by utilizing PMB’s, they will now be stripped of even this modest defense. Inspector Hall offered no “secondary” reasons for the measure, though privacy advocates could easily supply several.

One might think the CMRA’s themselves would be up in arms over this whole situation.

One would be wrong.

“We do applaud them for addressing the issue,” said Karen Gajewski, a public relations manager at Mail Boxes, Etc. “We, however, certainly feel that it is unfortunate that so many honest business people and consumers have to go through such trouble to comply.”

Perhaps Ms. Gajewski is so sanguine because she assumes that, since the burden falls equally on all providers it will not disproportionately impact her company. If so, her naivete is breathtaking. People do not pay $15 or $20 dollars a month to have access to xerox machines and office supplies. They have private mail boxes because they want privacy. Under the new circumstances, they may as well use a home address. This postal “Procedural Revision” will destroy her entire industry.

But it’s an ill wind, they say, that blows no good. And the dark cloud carried in on this bureaucratic breeze, indeed, has one, bright, shining, silver lining.

The kind of people who have private mail boxes are the same kind of people who have routine access to the internet. This clumsy move by the post office will undoubtedly hasten PMB users’ transition to conducting all of their business via the burgeoning marketplace called “e-commerce” — which eliminates the mail entirely.

Postal Bulletin 21994 may also sound the death knell for the post office.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: School Millage Fatigue

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 4/1/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
April 1999

On April 27 people in the Southgate school district will be forced to trudge to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years if they wish to express their opinion on a millage proposal.

The first version — a $68 million wish list that included not only structural refurbishing of the district’s eight schools but everything from new administrative digs to a multi-million dollar gym and swimming pool upgrade — was trounced by a 3-1 margin in June of ’97.

The second attempt the following February basically reconfigured the same proposal into four separate requests: $48.7 million for infrastructure and technology, $9.7 million for expanded gym and fine arts facilities, $6.2 million to renovate the pool and $1.1 million for new administrative offices. But subdividing the tax grab bag was unavailing. All four proposals failed.

The third try last September kept the $51 million for infrastructure and technology, and reduced and combined the gym and swimming pool upgrades into one $10.3 million proposal. The voters answered: “No,” and “No.”

The latest incarnation is limited to a mere $48 million to replace roofs and boilers and to make electrical upgrades to accommodate putting computers in the classrooms.

Superintendent Stanley Mazur describes the current proposal as a “bare-bones plan.”

It is hard to imagine how a proposal to spend an average of $6 million apiece on the schools could rightly be called “bare-bones” when one would think this sufficient funding to build all eight from scratch.

It is even harder to imagine a Southgate voter applying that description to a tax increase that will cost the average homeowner $4,264 (assuming no increase whatever in property values over the life of the bond).

But what weary voters are finding just plain impossible to accept any longer is the relentless “We won’t take ‘No’ for an answer” tactics by school district officials.

The Gibraltar schools — to cite another example — lost a 5-mill tax increase proposal last month and immediately scheduled another election for a few weeks from now.

That school district didn’t even bother with the ruse of revising their proposal before Superintendent James Vollmar, admitting the day after it was rejected that he didn’t know why the plan lost, shamelessly stated that the purpose of scheduling another election only 90 days later was so that they might “do a better job of getting ‘Yes’ voters out.”

The Gibraltar officials might wish to take a lesson from my old hometown of Harper Woods.

Several years ago school bureaucrats there, after having lost on tax increase proposals several times in row, came up with the perfect solution to their problem. They simply fulfilled the legal minimum election notice requirements by posting an announcement on the City Hall bulletin board and running a tiny classified ad in the local newspaper. Then they sent individual notices home with every student in the district to make certain all of their parents would turn out and vote.

The Michigan legislature could put an end to these kinds of shenanigans by simply removing the authority of school districts to schedule separate elections at all.

Districts would then have only one opportunity every other year — during regularly scheduled elections (which would also save the cost of all of these special elections) — to bring a proposal to the voters. With such a limitation it would, of course, be in their own best interests to make the proposal a realistic one because, if it failed, they wouldn’t get the chance to make another for two years.

We are all familiar with the ringing words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. But the part that many of us could almost recite from memory is actually just the prologue to a recitation of 27 specific grievances of the American people of the eighteenth century against the British king.

The fourth of these reads: “He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.”

Obviously, government tactics haven’t changed one whit in the last two centuries.

Perhaps we can prevail upon our state legislature to remove the authority of school districts to call elections at all and end these incessant millage increase proposals made repeatedly by officials for the sole Purpose of fatiguing us into Compliance with their Measures.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Some Lessons from Black History

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 3/1/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
March 1999

On September 8, 1925 Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family into their new two- story, brick home on the corner of Garland and Charlevoix on Detroit’s east side.

A prominent and successful gynecologist, the ambitious, hard-working Ossian Sweet was a graduate of Howard University medical school in Washington DC, having paid his tuition by firing furnaces, shoveling snow and waiting tables. He also spent time studying and working in Europe — including a stint with nobel prize winner Madame Curie in Paris — before settling in Detroit and starting both a family and a private practice.
One might expect that Dr. Sweet would be out of place in the poor, working class neighborhood. And he definitely was.

However, it was not so much because of his noticeably greater wealth and education than his mostly poor and illiterate neighbors, but rather because he was black and they were white. A mob of hundreds that had gathered in the schoolyard across the street grew increasingly ugly. The Waterworks Park Improvement Association, as they called themselves, had driven another black doctor, a surgeon by the name of Turner, out of his home on Spokane Avenue some weeks before.

Anticipating trouble, a dozen police officers cordoned off the area for three blocks around and walked up and down the street between the mob and the Sweet residence.

In the midst of the growing tension the Sweet family did their best to maintain an air of normalcy. Mrs. Sweet was in the kitchen preparing dinner and several family and friends were helping unpack, when the crowd started howling and stones began pelting the house.

Dr. Sweet grabbed a gun and dashed to an upstairs window to get a better — and safer — view of what was going on outside his new home. Just as he saw a car with his dentist brother, Henry, and a family friend named Davis pull up to the curb a rock smashed through the window showering him in shards.

The now terrified doctor ran back downstairs to let his brother and their friend into the house as the crowd was screaming: “Here’s niggers! Get them! Get them!”

That’s when the first shot rang out. In the ensuing pandemonium no one is exactly certain how or in what order events then unfolded.

It is certain that six of the 11 people inside the house fired their weapons, as did at least one police officer outside who in fact emptied his revolver. Two people in the mob were struck — one fatally. The police, who until gunfire erupted had been little more than spectators, stormed the house and arrested everyone inside charging them all with murder.

The sensational case polarized the city, but as chance would have it, ended up assigned to a judge whose integrity and personal courage would one day make him a Michigan legend. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime to demonstrate sincere liberalism,” remarked the unflappable presiding Judge Frank Murphy, who immediately released Mrs. Sweet on bail.

Nor were the defendants wanting for high-powered legal representation. Irrepressible champion of society’s downtrodden, Clarence Darrow, came into Detroit to handle the case. Darrow’s legendary eloquence and craft were very much in evidence in his impassioned defense of the Sweets. This pioneer in the cause of “equal protection before the law” spent three weeks on jury selection alone — most of it in a painstakingly detailed recounting of the history of the black man in America.

A Detroit Free Press reporter said at the time: “When I was assigned to cover the trial I had the average prejudice against Negroes. I give Clarence Darrow credit for destroying my race hatred.”

Following a seven week trial and three days of often acrimonious deliberations by the all white jury, Judge Murphy ruled that a verdict could not be reached and declared a mistrial. Prosecutors decided to retry only Ossian’s brother, Henry, who had freely admitted firing his gun.

At this second trial, attorney Darrow, not only didn’t deny the fact that his sole remaining client may indeed have fired the fatal shot, but argued that the defendant was fully justified and acting in self-defense. The second jury (also all white) took barely three hours to return a “Not Guilty” verdict.

As a consequence of all of this the Ku Klux Klan — which operated much more openly in those days — lobbied for and got the first round of restrictive gun legislation in Michigan. The Public Acts of 1927 included the requirement that citizens obtain government issued “purchase permits” following mandatory “safety inspections,” and even then that the opportunity to legally carry the weapon be granted only at the whim of (unaccountable) county “gun boards.” Following racial unrest in major American cities across the country in the early to mid 60’s — culminating in “the long, hot summer” of 1967 — the next round of restrictions came out the federal government in the form of the Gun Control Act of 1968. This legislation was actually modeled on the German Weapons Law of 1938 enacted by the Nazi government.

A revealing feature of the contemporary gun control movement has been the persistent drive to ban inexpensive handguns often disparagingly called “Saturday Night Specials” — an epithet based on an old racist line that any kind of riotous going-on was a “Niggertown Saturday Night.” And, indeed it is pretty obvious that, if not strictly minorities, it is at the very least, poor people who are being targeted by a ban on inexpensive weapons.

Of course, none of this has proven effective in stemming violent crime because criminals, by definition, do not respect the law, whatever it might say.

Nevertheless, those whose sacred cause is to finally and fully disarm the law-abiding in the deluded belief that this will somehow impact the criminal population have discovered a new tactic.

Since courts have been unwilling and legislatures unable to accomplish their goal, several major cities have decided that perhaps the marketplace itself can be choked off by civil litigation holding manufacturers responsible for the misuse of their products.

An announcement that the hometown of Dr. Ossian Sweet is following suit is expected soon. Had it come a couple of weeks ago it would have provided a tragically ironic end to Black History Month. For, as Jews have already discovered, disarming a people is only the first phase in attempting to end their history entirely.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Libertarian Pragmatism

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 2/9/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
February 9, 1999

Making the rounds in my political circle is our own version of the familiar “lightbulb” riddle that goes:

“How many libertarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

The answer, of course, is: “None, the market will do it.”

Once you get us beyond our natural tendency to harangue — some might even say, pontificate — endlessly about the inherent immorality of basing social institutions on coercion (we are actually naive enough to take Jefferson’s words about “the consent of the governed” seriously), our answer to the challenge of providing public services always seems to be the same: unfettered free enterprise.

Indeed, I’ve heard a pretty convincing case made for the power of the market to meet every public need with the sole exception of national defense. And years of observing politics has provided innumerable examples of government failure.

A somewhat mundane instance of the latter rained down upon the city of Detroit on the second day of the new year. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say the city was “snowed under” by it. Despite having both a city income tax and a property tax rate so high that nearly all major corporations have been driven out (one would think local officials might have gotten a clue when the largest single employer in the city of Detroit became… the city of Detroit), the services these are supposed to fund that aren’t entirely absent are nothing short of abysmal.

Nearly a foot of snow the day after New Years, for example, left the entire city utterly paralyzed for the next two weeks. Major thoroughfares went unplowed and so remained perpetually ensnarled with traffic. Residential streets were completely impassable stranding citizens and leaving them cut-off even from emergency services. Schools were closed. It turns out that 59 plows is insufficient to clear nearly 3000 miles of streets in any reasonable time-frame (say, before the spring thaw). Who could have guessed?

With thinly-veiled resentment at the implication that all of this was somehow the city government’s fault, Mayor Archer blamed God for the situation and promised to seek assistance (money, actually, which it now appears he will in fact get by the bucketsful) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Finally, the call went out for volunteer help. Two weeks to the day after the big blizzard — which had been exacerbated by additional snowfalls in the interim more than doubling the total accumulation — citizens were asked to bring out their snow shovels and snow blowers and join in a massive effort to clear the streets.

This endeavor was especially important since there would be no plowing by unionized drivers either the next day which was, of course, Sunday or the day after that which, as luck would have it, was Martin Luther King Day. (Some “Emergency,” eh?) Noticeable progress was, as a result, made in clearing some streets and sidewalks around the schools. But the real break came when the Almighty — who, as we had been advised by the mayor, after all bore ultimate responsibility for this debacle in the first place — deigned to bring us sunshine and above freezing temperatures. Of course, there are more significant examples of private resourcefulness in compensating for more intractable public inadequacies. The legal monopoly postal system that just raised rates for the fourth time in the last decade (and, though perhaps still undaunted by rain or heat or gloom of night, for the sake of truth-in-advertising really ought to drop snow from the list as in Motown last month it did, indeed, stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds) is losing ever increasing portions of information delivery services to fax machines and e-mail.

Private businesses are now routinely including provisions in contracts that require “Binding Arbitration” in the event of a dispute in order to bypass the terminally clogged court system. In fact there are now more individuals providing even “police” type security services on private than public payrolls. The list of circumstances in which Americans pay government — exorbitantly, I might add — to provide services and then find some other way to actually get those services is just about equal to the number of services provided by government.

How many bureaucrats would it actually take to operate the public infrastructure?

None, the market could do it.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Know Your Government

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 2/2/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
February 2, 1999

In one of what has become a seemingly unending series of assaults on our traditional, American way of life in the name of the War on Drugs, a new federal database of banking transactions first went on-line right here in Detroit in April of 1996.

Called the Suspicious Activity Reporting System, banks are now required to submit five pages of information to the federal government on any cash transaction over $10,000 — including the “suspicious” individual’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, drivers license, and justifications for the transaction.

A moment’s reflection will show that, if we are to prohibit what Robert Nozick (in a wonderfully pithy phrase) called “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” such measures are all but unavoidable. Prohibition laws, after all, criminalize transactions in which there is no party coming forward to make a complaint.

The problem for law enforcement in this is that we have in essence expanded the definition of “crime” (an act which harms another) to include vice (an act which harms oneself). Whether the prohibition is of gambling, prostitution, pornography, drugs or anything else, there simply is no way to defeat such commerce other than by utilizing undercover agents, eavesdropping, in short, domestic espionage.

Next come decoys, police profiles, checkpoints, stop-and-frisk, warrantless searches, no-knock laws, and so forth. Virtually the entire Bill of Rights and all of the cherished freedoms and protections that have made American society unique and the envy of the world have fallen before the all-corrosive War on Drugs.

Ultimately, limiting the spying to only suspects becomes problematic when virtually everyone is a potential suspect. The scope of surveillance must be expanded to include everyone. It is inevitable.

And it necessarily follows from this that the final protection which must be sacrificed is the one that is foremost in the centuries-old common law: presumption of innocence. If voluntary trade is to be restricted, all of us must be considered guilty and required to prove to authorities that we aren’t. The goal cannot possibly be achieved by any lesser means.

Thus, the Suspicious Activity Reporting System.

Now, those who are engaged in an illicit trade are not successful at it by being fools. And it wouldn’t take a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump of the cocaine business to figure out that he should limit cash transactions through the banking system to less than five figures.

So the government has found the current reporting system, though not yet three years in effect, insufficient.

Last month the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation published proposed new regulations in the Federal Register called “Know Your Customer.”

These will compel all financial institutions to develop complete customer profiles in which everyone will be required to disclose all of his or her sources of income (employer, pension, social security, interest and dividends, etc.) and “customary” expenditures (mortgage or rent, utility payments, auto or other loan and credit card payments, insurance premiums, etc.)

All of your financial transactions will then be continuously monitored. If you deviate significantly from your usual banking patterns — say, for instance, by depositing the proceeds of a Christmas bonus, an inheritance or from selling a used car — your name will be sent to federal authorities who will be calling on you to account for your suspicious financial activity.

Such is the orwellian world that must follow when society attempts to use its police powers in a quixotic quest to save the terminally stupid from the consequences of their own bad habits.

The truly tragic irony in all of this is that while our liberties are in tatters, there is not a single shred of evidence anywhere in recorded history that this crusade to save people from themselves can be anything but utterly futile.

Just how far can it go? No one knows. However, based on the rampant drug trafficking that goes on there, we can say for certain that matching the level of security inside a prison will not be enough.

Meanwhile, some few of us would readily risk losing our money in a bank failure and trade the federal deposit insurance in exchange for keeping some modicum of the little privacy that we have left.

I know that between now and April 1st when the new Know Your Customer rules take effect, I’ll be watching for bank ads that end with the disclaimer: “Non-member FDIC.”

Unfortunately, I’m told that other federal rules have already effectively mandated participation in this federal “insurance” program and there are no such financial institutions remaining.

So maybe I’ll just have to learn how to sleep on a lumpy mattress.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Drunk with Power

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 1/1/1999

Article: by Tim O’Brien
January 1999

In his final radio address of 1998 President Clinton called for new federal regulations requiring all fifty state governments to adopt a .08% blood-alcohol standard for drunk driving.

Since the Tenth Amendment reserves jurisdiction in such matters to the individual states, the federal government itself cannot unilaterally impose the standard. However, the feds have found a nifty way around this constitutional inconvenience. They simply threaten to withhold federal highway funds from any state that doesn’t go along.

The potential of this little ploy was first realized in 1974 when in the throes of the putative “energy crisis” the U.S. Department of Transportation demanded that all states lower their freeway speed limit to 55 mph… or lose their federal highway money. One western state held out for awhile, but in the end all caved and complied.

As with any extortion racket, capitulation inevitably brings new demands as often as the extortionist finds it in his interest or pleasure to make them. The “double nickel” was quickly followed by requirements to test auto emissions, raise the legal drinking age, mandate seatbelt use, register motor voters, etc., all backed up by the threat to not return federal gas tax money to any state that balked.

The irony in all of this is that in defeating the “laboratories of democracy” concept upon which our republic was founded — whereby as many as fifty different approaches to any problem may be tried — we can easily end up with a bad solution universally imposed with no opportunity to measure its effectiveness against any other approaches.

Like, for instance, lowering the blood-alcohol standard for drunk driving to .08%.

In the first place it is well known that the most intractable part of the drunk driving problem is caused by individuals who at the time of arrest register far beyond even Michigan’s current .10% standard — often at twice this level, sometimes more.

By way of comparison a woman of average body weight and metabolism can reach the .08% level after having two glasses of wine over a two hour dinner.

Far from deterring drunk driving and raising awareness about the problem generally, this wholly unrealistic standard will more likely breed contempt for and disregard of the law by millions of average, otherwise law-abiding people.

These facts have already been widely recognized. Just last year 23 states (including Michigan) considered lowering the legal drunk driving threshold precisely as President Clinton has threatened to mandate. After studying the proposal, all but one (not Michigan) decided against it.

Now, arbitrary standards by definition cannot accurately reflect the real risk associated with different levels of alcohol consumption by different individuals. Inevitably, some will be unsafe drivers at blood-alcohol levels even below .08% while others will be perfectly competent at levels even above .10%.

This is precisely because the potential impact on driving ability can only be approximately inferred from blood-alcohol level and extrapolated to the population as a whole. Actual, individual, driving performance is never measured.

A far more effective solution to the problem would be to skip the indirect method of alcohol measurement entirely and instead directly test coordination, reaction time, and so forth.

If the goal is to remove unsafe drivers, wouldn’t it make more sense to test driving ability?

In fact a device that does precisely this is already in use by doctors in evaluating whether certain recovering patients are able to safely get behind the wheel.

Called the Proto-Clinic Glare Evaluation System it is a simulator that tests vision including color, glare coping ability and depth perception. A gas and brake pedal also measure coordination and reaction time.

A less elaborate, more portable version of this device could easily evaluate any individual’s driving competence in any situation in which a police officer has doubts.

Though more effective, since it measures ability or lack thereof regardless of cause — whether alcohol or other drugs, illness, fatigue or simple incompetence — such an approach would undoubtedly encounter monumental political problems.

Removing the relevance of the cause of impairment will deprive the morally self-righteous of their opportunity to “Tsk, Tsk” other people’s lifestyles.

Furthermore, it would likely result in the revoking of driving privileges for a large number of senior citizens who, though frequently a menace to navigation, are nearly all registered voters.

As for President Clinton’s threat to not return our federal gas tax money to us, the obvious answer to this is for Governor Engler to cite the Tenth Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution…are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) and simply impound the federal gas tax revenue before it ever leaves Michigan.

Such a move would solve our road funding problems while simultaneously putting the feds back in their place.

And as an added bonus it would also give all of the pundits who mischaracterized the recent House vote to impeach the president as a “constitutional crisis,” the genuine article to talk about.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.
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1998 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: A Conservative Divorce

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 12/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
December 1998

I have long suspected that the marriage of convenience between religious-right and nanny-state conservatives must inevitably end in a messy divorce.

Other than a desire to achieve political power in order to compel the rest of us to follow their vision (by force, if necessary), these two groups actually have no more in common than say, for instance, environmentalists and feminists — strange bedfellows from the other wing of the bird.

Now, it appears the catalyst for the final breakup may have appeared on the scene in the person of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

Right to Life, the Roman Catholic Church and their fellow travellers are well aware of the fact that their successful campaign to defeat Proposal B last month (which would have permitted physician-assisted suicide under strictly regulated conditions) is ultimately only a holding action.

The scare tactics about granny being brow-beaten into submission by greedy heirs — and, ironically, the appeal to libertarian objections to the intrusiveness of the proposed new bureaucracy — will finally give way to the sensible notion that human beings are entitled to at least the same level of compassion society has for its suffering pets.

Dr. Kevorkian made this point rather forcefully a few weeks ago on network television.

That’s why some of the Citizens for Compassionate Care who fought Proposal B are now calling for a significant overhaul of state laws regarding pain management.

This, of course, means adopting a new attitude about and approach to the use of drugs — the ultimate bugaboo of their erstwhile allies in the conservative movement.

Now there is little dispute in the scientific community that the most efficacious treatment for intractable pain would be the refined version of morphine, the best drug currently available.

Not surprisingly, the more potent form provides better pain relief at lower doses and with less side-effects. Indeed, this drug was originally developed more than a century ago for precisely those reasons. Prior to being made completely illegal, it was marketed in the United States by the Bayer company under the trade name: Heroin.

We can probably gauge the reaction of the nanny-state conservatives to a proposal to make heroin available for medical use by their response to similar recent proposals with regard to marijuana (a drug so mild that there has never been so much a single recorded instance of a fatal overdose).

In 1996 medical marijuana proposals appeared on ballots in California and Arizona. They passed in both states.

The feds promptly went ballistic. A furious federal “Drug Czar” McCaffrey, scornful of Tenth Amendment arguments about the right of states to set their own drug policies, threatened to pull the prescription writing privileges of any doctor who dared recommend marijuana to a patient (the drug has proven effective in ameliorating the side effects of cancer and AIDS treatments as well as relieving the symptoms of glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and certain other chronic maladies).

This year similar measures appeared on ballots in Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. Also, the legislature in Arizona put a referendum on the ballot asking its citizens if they didn’t want to reconsider their 1996 vote.

The results were that medical marijuana passed in all four additional states.

Further, the good folks in Arizona said, no, they were not interested in rescinding the approval they had given previously.

However, the results of the vote in D.C. remain unknown. It seems that Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) managed to insert a provision in the District’s budget authorization bill last October that prohibited the local government from expending any funds whatever on any vote for any measure which would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. Too late to amend the already printed ballots, the vote went ahead. The results were simply withheld.

The American Civil Liberties Union promptly filed a lawsuit demanding that the results be released under the Freedom of Information Act and alleging that the measure attempting to prohibit the vote was an unconstitutional “viewpoint-based restriction” in violation of the First Amendment in any case.

The Libertarian Party filed an Amicus brief and joined the Complaint which was heard by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts on December 18th. A ruling is expected by year’s end.

Whatever the outcome, one thing recent events have made manifest about the nanny-state branch of conservatism is that their drug jihad hysteria has reached truly astonishing proportions. They not only no longer care about the wishes of the people but refuse to even recognize that in a democratic system the citizens have a right to make their wishes known.

Of course, the religious-right zealots who want to stop Dr. Kevorkian at all costs are a pretty determined bunch themselves.

It’s definitely going to be a messy divorce.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: SLAPPED by the Mayor

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 11/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
November 1998

My mayor is suing me.

About a year ago I was approached by a fellow Allen Parker who had become sufficiently displeased with our mayor’s exploits (an amusing collection of anecdotes too numerous to retell here) that he purposed to recall Hizzonor from office.

Though I declined any official role I did offer my humble advice and assistance — which seemed the least I could do in as much as more than a few folks here regard me as arguably responsible for the current state of affairs because of my stunningly successful campaign to unseat the previous mayor and council.

In compliance with legal requirements that grounds for a recall election be stated clearly and unambiguously on petitions, allegations of three separate instances of the mayor’s official actions violating either the City Charter or the state Campaign Finance Act were submitted to the county clerk’s office for certification as to clarity (by law only the electorate has the authority to pass on the substance of the allegations.) Ultimately, only one of the three reasons was approved.

Petitions were printed and circulated, but the number of signatures gathered fell short of the 25% required to actually schedule a recall election. That’s when the mayor sued the individual who organized this effort, claiming that because the alleged acts are misdemeanors under the law these, therefore, “impute a criminal offense” — something which is actionable per se under the law of libel and slander.

Further, the mayor asserted that the very act of submitting the language to the appropriate government body for certification constituted “publishing” under that same tort law.

Finally, he claimed that his demand for a retraction went unanswered leaving him no other remedy than legal action.

In a deposition for the case the recall organizer named four other individuals who had helped him in the effort in one way or another including a city councilman and, of course, me. The four of us were subsequently added to the Complaint.

Now, our mayor as you have undoubtedly already deduced is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

Students of the English language probably noticed that the entire claim rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between the words “impute” (to attribute or ascribe) and “imply” (to suggest or insinuate).

Further, it is patently absurd to suggest that following the procedures prescribed by administrative law for certifying a recall petition can in and of itself constitute “publishing” under the law of libel and slander.

Finally, our four names were merely added to the original complaint that contained the demand for a retraction from the organizer. In point of fact none of the four added defendants ever actually received any such demand. Of course, Article II, Section 8 of our state constitution reserves determination of “the sufficiency of any statement of reasons or grounds” for recall to the electorate — explicitly excluding judicial review — in any case.

The only claim by the mayor in his entire lawsuit that I am inclined to accept at face value based on the available evidence is that he must, indeed, be suffering from some kind of mental distress.

It would be quite intolerable that citizens’ involvement in the democratic process should expose them to civil litigation by aggrieved public officials. Having been politically active my entire life and well known for it in my community, the mayor should have realized that there was little chance I could be bullied in this way. And I have every confidence I will prevail in court and win a motion for summary disposition.

However, most people are very much intimidated by this kind of tactic — which is known in legal circles as a “SLAPP suit” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Indeed, the original recall organizer in this very case has settled out of court simply to spare himself the time and expense of mounting a defense.

The state of California officially recognized SLAPP suits as frivolous, vexatious and against the public interest, revising their law in 1993 to prohibit them. Similar proposals are currently under consideration in four other state legislatures, though Michigan is not among them.

So, okay. Here comes something you just don’t see from Libertarians. (Drum roll, please.)

Maybe, we need a new law.

It’s time Michigan also moved to prohibit public officials using civil litigation as a club in an attempt to harass and silence citizens. A Libertarian proposing a new law? The LP may be in the process of revoking my membership even as you read these words.

Oh, well. Maybe I’ll run for mayor.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Would Three Parties Really Be A Crowd

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 10/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
October 1998

If you have always considered yourself either a Republican or a Democrat, take a moment and try this little thought experiment with me.

Suppose you’re on a bowling team. All the league dues have been paid over the last season and its time to plan the year-end banquet.

Now imagine that two of the league’s most prominent members, let’s call them Fred Kramden and Barney Norris, each propose to organize the event. In fact one or the other of them has run the annual banquet (with the assistance of the one not chosen that year) for as long as anyone can remember.

Needless to say, the pair have acquired a good many friends over the years who are caterers and florists, banquet hall owners, trophy sellers, and so forth.

With this system, of course, neither really loses out completely. While the year’s winner does get to choose the hall and the caterer, the other is still involved in much of the preparations, such as decorations and trophies.

While the two compete vigorously for the honor of running the year’s festivities, claiming to have very different views of how banquets ought to be organized (though in truth most league members fail to see much difference between the events planned by one compared with those of the other), one thing on which they absolutely do concur is that their’s should be the only two proposals submitted for consideration.

They express heartfelt concern for the members who, they aver, would only be confused by having to review any additional plans. And being in charge of all the banquet committees for as long as anyone can remember, they’ve set up committee rules that all but guarantee their continued exclusivity. They will not permit a third league member to be involved in any of the planning — strictly out of concern for your own limitations, you understand.

In such circumstances mightn’t you be just a tad suspicious that whichever proposal you ultimately choose, somehow both Kramden and Norris are going to do alright for themselves and their friends?

Now, the setting for this little musing is only a bowling league. If you were really in such circumstances and my hypothetical pair’s shenanigans become too blatant or expensive (though, I can’t imagine real people letting the kind of situation I described actually come to pass in the first place), you could simply quit and join another league.

So, now let’s make the scenario a bit less frivolous.

In place of Fred Kramden and Barney Norris put Bill Clinton and Trent Lott. Or John Engler and Geoffrey Fieger. Make planning a bowling banquet into running the government. Now put guns in their hands. And block all the exits because they run the only game in town.

What you then have is the state of contemporary American politics — what the old political parties conveniently call “the two party system.”

The notion that our government was ever intended to be controlled by a duopoly is pure myth. There is absolutely nothing in the constitution or any of the other founding documents of the United States or the state of Michigan that designates either a “two party” system.

Indeed, there has never been another representative form of government anywhere in the world that has effectively restricted itself to only two political parties.

When you go into the voting booth next Tuesday think about the dynamics inherent in two-way power sharing, the kind of mutual back-scratching made manifest in the half trillion dollar budget agreement recently adopted by congress that is so larded with pork for both Republicans and Democrats that you can almost feel your arteries clogging up just reading it.

Then consider the control on such tacit understandings that inevitably happens when you add even one additional player to the mix. And please consider doing just that.

Being the Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, I would, of course, like to see as many people as possible vote for Libertarian candidates.

But if you are not comfortable with the Libertarian platform (basically, a lot less government at every level), vote for the Natural Law candidates. Or the Reform candidates. Any candidates other than Republicans and Democrats.

Let’s add at least one more party to the power sharing circle and do away with the destructive and wrong-headed idea that ours is somehow a “two party system.”

Unless, of course, you’re perfectly happy with the way Fred and Barney have been running your life.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Forced to Live with Colonel Cathcart

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 9/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
September 1998

In a wonderful exchange that gave title to a wildly popular novel in the 60’s, a World War II bombardier named Yossarian, looking to remove himself from harm’s way and having learned that “crazy” fliers are grounded, is told by a Dr. Daneeka that this was in fact the case but that in order to qualify such a person must request that certification.

“And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked.

“No. Then I can’t ground him.”

“You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

That title has since passed into the popular lexicon. And no one in the crazy world of politics is more often confronted by this kind of conundrum than we poor, benighted libertarians.

A perfect case in point is the current Ballot Proposal B to legalize assisted suicide.

Perhaps the most fundamental tenet of libertarianism is the notion of self-ownership. If we have not even legally established that each individual owns his or her own person, it seems to us rather pointless to get into hair-splitting over control of any other possessions.

The implications of self-ownership are fairly self-evident. Proceeding from this premise there can, for instance, be no moral justification for prohibition laws of any type. So long as an individual harms no one else, what substances he or she chooses to ingest is no one else’s business. All of our state’s bizarre laws criminalizing various sex acts between consenting adults, to cite another example, are also a wholly unwarranted intrusion.

Likewise, the state has absolutely no business whatever dictating to any free citizen whether or when or under what circumstances or with whose assistance he or she may end his or her own life. The life belongs exclusively to that individual, not society. And it most certainly does not belong to the state. A competent adult need not seek anyone’s permission to end his own life.

Further, the right to seek the assistance of others is, even by traditional, common law, let alone libertarian, standards, undeniable.

While conceding the obvious — that it is necessarily futile and a bit foolish to try and legally forbid suicide — some have argued that the state may legitimately prohibit others from offering any assistance. But this argument is unprecedented. Historically, the right to do a thing has always included the right to seek the assistance of others to do it. If I have a right to build a house to live in on my own property, that includes the right to hire a contractor to help me build it. If I have a right to defend my life and property, that includes the right to hire police to help me. If I have a right to end my own life, that must include the right to hire a physician to help me.

Now comes this proposal to create a new government bureaucracy specifically to rule on questions that can only belong to individuals and their doctors and are, by the most fundamental of libertarian precepts, absolutely none of the state’s business.

Libertarians hold that the only legitimate function of government is to protect its citizens from force and fraud whenever possible and to redress wrongs committed against them when not. To us, the notion that violence or the threat of it should be used to protect sane, adult individuals from themselves is not only a fool’s errand but utterly immoral, as well.

Obviously, we have a very long way to go in reducing government to what we regard as its legitimate functions and eliminate all parts of it not necessary to accomplish these. We are, therefore, loathe to support the addition of any new powers and the bureaucracies to enforce them.

Unfortunately, the practical reality of the situation is that, if Proposal B is rejected by the electorate, the recently implemented legislation making assisting a suicide under all circumstances a five year felony will continue in force.

Further, religious fanatics — far too many of whom seem to find peaceful persuasion not nearly so effective a means of doing “God’s will” as employing the coercive power of the state — will spin the defeat as proof positive that the people of Michigan are completely opposed to legally permitting anyone to assist anyone else in ending his or her own life.

What is a libertarian to do?

Yossarian would understand our dilemma.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Limitless Politicians

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 8/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
August 1998

Following a journey across the nascent United States, French author, Alexis de Tocqueville, predicted in his seminal “Democracy in America” that our experiment in self-government would survive only until politicians discover that they can bribe the people with their own money.

This, despite the elaborate precautions incorporated by the framers into our radical, new constitutionally-limited republic.
Their brilliant system of “checks and balances” included, for instance, restraining the power of the executive branch of government by having the runner-up in the presidential election become vice president (and President of the Senate — a position of even greater importance than Speaker of the House.)

Limiting the legislative branch — which they regarded as the fundamental repository of legitimate governmental authority — proved to be more problematic. When the states, dramatically different in size and population, became gridlocked over how best to protect themselves against their potentially dictatorial sisters, they finally resolved the issue by creating a two body legislature. One house was apportioned by population and popularly elected. The other provided equal representation among them by having its members appointed two each by the several state legislatures. This inspired solution history now calls “The Great Compromise.”

Both of these restrictions, as well as others too numerous to list here, were ultimately undone. President and vice president soon ran as a “ticket” with the latter having long ago abandoned his constitutionally prescribed duty, serving only in a ceremonial capacity. Senators are now elected rather than appointed, thereby reflecting the whims or passions of the moment rather than the more measured and long-range concerns of the individual states they ostensibly represent.

Now, Michigan never even made any attempt to divide executive power, electing governor and lieutenant governor together from the beginning. We did, however, mimic the bi-cameral legislature, though this is a classic example of the triumph of form over substance. In fact one can’t help but wonder about debate at the time as to precisely what separate, political subdivisions the two bodies were intended to represent.

As a result of the systematic deconstruction — at both national and state level — of nearly all circumscriptions of political power, a century after Tocqueville, American journalist, H.L. Mencken, acknowledged the fulfillment of his prophecy when he noted: “Government is a broker in pillage and every election is sort of an advance auction of stolen goods.”

This sad state of affairs having become increasingly apparent, there have been numerous recent efforts at political reform (though not so much as a whisper that we might consider simply returning to the system designed by Mr. Madison, et.al.)
These fixes have included the contemporary term limits movement — a check against perpetual incumbency which was, incidentally, strongly advocated by Thomas Jefferson and considered but discarded as unnecessary by the drafters at the constitutional convention.

This particular reform has appeared on 18 state-wide ballots since the beginning of the decade (three quarters of the states, in fact, where citizen initiative is an available recourse against legislative intransigence) including, of course, Michigan. It has been enacted in all 18.

Passed here in 1992, this is the first election in our state wherein term limits have come into play. And the impact has been noticeable, if less than entirely salutary.

Incumbents are being forced out of 64 of the 110 House seats.

As a consequence nearly 500 hopefuls competed to replace them in the just completed primary.

But as history has repeatedly demonstrated, power always seeks to unshackle itself and find some way to circumvent any restrictions placed on it. And five of the contestants in this month’s primary were women seeking the seat being vacated by their term-limited spouses. Another four presumably share some other familial relationship as they share both surname and home address. Two more have the same surname but different addresses within the same state rep district.

In addition many more career politicians have simply sought the jobs of other career politicians, including Burton Leland who will likely end up in the Senate and (in an especially cute maneuver) Joseph Palamara who is attempting to swap positions with Wayne County Commissioner William O’Neill.

One can’t help but wonder what it will take to get these leeches to go out into the real world and get a job actually producing some good or service their fellow citizens want to voluntarily buy, rather than continuing to merely redistribute the wealth created by others.

As for our chief executive (and his conjoined lieutenant), Governor Engler has decided that his own importance to the state compels him to set aside his earlier campaign pledge to voluntarily limit himself to two terms. The legal force to make him give up power will not take effect until the 2002 election.

Now, the Libertarian Party, in order to protect its ballot status against the state’s arbitrary “Top of Ticket” rule, chose not to nominate any candidate for governor in the 1998 election.
Instead, the party unilaterally implemented an election reform proposal long promoted in its platform by nominating “None of the Above” for governor.

This was essentially a symbolic gesture since, unfortunately, current election law will not permit certification of such a nomination for the ballot.

Too bad. Given the major party nominees, I suspect that right about now the voters of Michigan would dearly love to have “None of the Above” as an option in the gubernatorial race.

But, then, as Mr. Mencken also observed: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it… good and hard.”

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: King Edward of Wayne

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 7/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
July 1998

Wayne county voters should take a moment to appreciate the range of candidates on the August 4th primary ballot before exercising their franchise. In the overwhelming majority of county-wide races it is the last opportunity they will have this year to see the names of candidates who have not been pre-approved by County Executive, Ed McNamara.

How is it that the County Executive can have such control over the ballot?

In order to be elected to public office major party candidates must first win their party’s primary election in August (for which taxpayers, incidentally, have thoughtfully picked up the tab.) Indeed, in what the major parties call “safe” districts — for example, Democrats in Detroit — winning the primary amounts to winning the office.

Now a primary is quite different from a general election in terms of voter “demographics.”

Primary voters tend to be both older and more attuned to all things political. Given that, what can we infer about these folks? Most significantly for the McNamara machine, they are in relatively larger proportion “absentee” voters. That is, they receive their ballots in the mail, mark and return them, all a month or so before the polls ever even open for everyone else.

Now comes the crucial point: this means that for absentee voters the entire process is completed well before the deluge of campaign advertising inundates the rest of us. In fact, even as you are reading these words, for about one in four of those who will participate, the August 4th primary election is already over. The die (or in this case, the ballot) is cast.

Because the absentee vote is so large a fraction of the total, as a practical matter, one cannot win the primary election without specifically campaigning for it. Add to this one other thing we can say for certain about absentee voters — that they are necessarily reachable by mail — and the obvious solution is to send literature to everyone (or, more efficiently, every household) who will be receiving an absentee ballot. One cannot cost-effectively advertise to these people by any other means.

Obviously, candidates cannot send literature to this enormous segment of the electorate without first acquiring in some useful form a mailing list of these voters. While each of the communities that comprise Wayne county, of course, has its own such list in order to mail out the ballots, obtaining this information from all 43 would be a herculean task. Further, even if accomplished, the resulting uncoordinated and unfiltered mass would be virtually useless since there is no way to eliminate the duplication of “multiple-voter households,” distinguish the Democrats from the Republicans, the frequent voters from the occasional, and so forth. Making sense of this chaotic universe of absentee voters would be like trying to separate out the defensemen from a complete and totally undifferentiated NHL roster. Multiplied by about 1,000. Finally, even if some organization of the data could be accomplished, these would still need to be standardized from the various sources and formats and consolidated into a single list in order to make the postage affordable.

One obscure little company in Lansing has eliminated this entire problem by continuously tracking, updating and organizing all of this information into a useful database. Very few voters would have ever heard of this company or its owner. However, every elected official in Wayne county is painfully familiar with both. Necessarily so. Those who do not go on bended knee are, almost by definition, not elected officials in Wayne county. Indeed, everyone from politicians seeking Metro airport service contracts for their friends to sitting Wayne county judges go all atremble at the mere mention of his name for the company unabashedly proclaims that it serves Democratic and independent (read: judicial) candidates, if and only if they have been approved by…guess who? Wayne County Executive, Ed McNamara.

These critical mailing lists are simply unavailable to anyone who isn’t a friend of Ed. Supplicants must, in fact, have written permission from the County Executive to be permitted this sine qua non of electoral success. Going to a different mailing house will avail the unfavored candidate naught since all the rest rely on the same, single source for any particular, county-wide voter list.

Now, many less politically connected citizens will no doubt wonder how it is that in the age of the fairness doctrine and equal time, not to mention incessant blathering about “campaign reform,” one company has come to have such a stranglehold on the Wayne county electoral process.

It has, for instance, long been illegal for the broadcast media — radio and television stations — to discriminate among candidates for any particular office. It is standard operating procedure for newspaper, magazine, billboard and lawnsign companies to be scrupulously even-handed in dealing with political candidates.

Yet, by having veto-power control over the critical direct mail advertising medium at this vital step in the election process, one person has, thereby, come to have effectively gained near dictatorial control over all of Wayne county elected officialdom.

Now, Libertarians are strong proponents of the free market system. And there is a company based in Washington DC that is laboriously compiling a voter database of the whole country. Though they still have a long way to go, with the phenomenon of the exploding Information Age and the burgeoning Internet and World Wide Web, the whole process could easily be accelerated to the speed of light.

Nevertheless, amidst all the hype and hyperbole surrounding various campaign reform proposals, voters should not lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, so long as there is political power to grab, there will always be power brokers who will always find ways to build political fiefdoms. In this era of political correctness the smoke itself may be gone, but make no mistake about it, the metaphorical “smoke-filled room” is alive and well.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Brave New Diversity

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 6/15/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
June 15, 1998

The very tolerant townsfolk of Ypsilanti recently voted against repealing an anti-discrimination ordinance enacted by the city council last year.

The reaffirmed measure bars discrimination in 14 areas, including race, height, weight, religion, disability and — the instigating category — sexual orientation. Violation of the ordinance carries a possible $500 fine.

The issue arose when the owners of a local print shop turned down a job to print raffle tickets for a gay group, citing their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. This was regarded by the more enlightened Ypsilanti officialdom as insufficient justification for the shop owners to decline the business, so they adopted the ordinance to ensure tolerance for diversity in the future. Any regard for the property rights (not to mention the First Amendment “freedom of association” rights) of the shop owners never even merited so much as an honorable mention before the new law was passed unanimously. And, though legal protection against discrimination based on religion does fall within the purview of the ordinance, such concern apparently did not extend to the religious convictions of the shop owners.

This entire facet of anti-discrimination law — that is, that commercial establishments may be compelled to do business with whomever walks through the door, the owner’s wishes notwithstanding — goes back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a Supreme Court decision called Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States.

In that precedent-setting case a bigoted business owner had a policy against serving blacks, maintaining that it was his motel which he would, therefore, operate any way he pleased, and that those who didn’t like the policy were free to seek lodging elsewhere. The Justice Department disagreed with this line of reasoning and sued.

As with the failed attempt to secede from the union a century earlier, the Heart of the Atlanta was broken again. The court ruled that the business was a “public accommodation” and thus in one breath-takingly sweeping act of obtuseness erased the distinction between public property (like, for instance, a state park) and private property open to the public (like, for instance, a motel.)

This ruling was so utterly muddle-headed that, as when the “separate but equal” doctrine enunciated in the nineteenth century Plessy v. Ferguson decision was finally and flatly repudiated in Brown v. Board of Ed in 1954, there will undoubtedly be no way around the chagrin of some future court having to simply admit that the learned Justices of the civil rights era were just plain wrong: there is a crucial difference between “public property” and “private property open to the public.”

Libertarians have long known that in rising to the defense of the rights of the unpopular one is invariably accused of having the ulterior motive of secretly harboring those self-same views.

Members of the Illinois chapter of the ACLU discovered this unhappy consequence as well when they chose to defend the free speech and assembly rights of Nazis in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie some years ago. But in point of fact one need not be a bigot to defend the constitutional rights of bigots.

Indeed, it is in precisely this arena that the battle to defend our American heritage of liberty must be fought. The First Amendment is not needed to protect popular speech. The same can be said of all the rest of the protections guaranteed in the Constitution, as well.

The weekend after Ypsilanti voters endorsed the notion of using the coercive power of the almighty state to force private businesses to engage in commercial intercourse whether they like it or not, a group of several dozen Ku Klux Klansmen staged a rally in downtown Ann Arbor.

Considering the reaction to their demonstration I would be surprised if the Klan didn’t encounter some difficulties in getting their hate literature printed there. I would imagine that some printers just might be offended and rather not do work for a group whose raison d’etre is to remove Jews, homosexuals and others they regard as undesirable from our midst.

Fortunately for the hate-mongers (and unfortunately for the rest of us), the KKK can now simply take their business to neighboring Ypsilanti. Under the new ordinance printers there can be required to serve them since they have from the beginning maintained that their message is all about God’s special affection and plan for the white race. And, as we have already seen, it is only the rights of customers and not those of store owners that are protected under law.

If a Christian-owned shop can be required to do printing for gays, a Jewish-owned shop can likewise be required to do printing for the Klan.

I believe they call this: diversity.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Down the Sewer

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 6/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
June 1998

More than three years ago, I began voicing objections at my bi-monthly city council meetings to a Consent Decree entered into by my hometown of Allen Park (along with Belleville, Brownstown, Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, Lincoln Park, River Rouge, Riverview, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Van Buren, and Wyandotte) agreeing to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to design and build a new storm drain system for the downriver area to comply with the order of federal Judge John Feikens.

It seems that on those two or three occasions a year that we get a lot of rain in a short time, the water treatment plant is overwhelmed by the combined volume of both normal wastewater and excessive rainwater. To avoid having raw sewage back up into people’s homes when that happens, the rainwater is shunted directly into the Detroit river.

Now, this may seem quite sensible; obvious, even. However, because the rainwater picks up various and sundry chemical byproducts of our very mobile society as it makes its way off the streets into the storm drains and down to the river, it means that a few stormy days every year our downriver communities go out of compliance with federal EPA limits on how many “parts-per-million” of this or that are permitted to enter the Great Lakes watershed — on the theory that such excessive amounts of same might be harmful to those who live downstream.

Of course, raw sewage in your basement is no theoretical harm. And I maintained that the traditional approach to handling these exceptional conditions is the rational one, that a quarter billion dollar upgrade of our storm drain system is a sledgehammer solution to a flyspeck problem when we had far more immediate needs, that the design of local drainage is none of the federal government’s business in the first place and that, even if it were a federal concern (i.e., assuming the good people of Cleveland or Buffalo or somewhere else along the way to the Atlantic could show actual rather than hypothetical damages), a judge cannot unilaterally impose a new tax without putting it to a vote of the people in any event since, under the 1978 Headlee Amendment, such would violate our state constitution.

I regularly waxed eloquent at my city council meetings on the point that while there were numerous instances in which the “Supremacy Clause” of our national constitution had been taken much farther than the drafters could have ever imagined in their worst nightmares, surely stretching it to the point where a federal administrative rule can trump a state’s constitution has to be beyond the breaking point.

I even threatened to assert in court my right not to be handed my “fair share” of the enormous bill for this boondoggle without ever having been afforded the opportunity under Headlee to vote on the question. Everyone on the council, the mayor, our city engineer and city attorneys looked at me as if I were speaking in Martian. It seemed obvious to everyone in the room (except me) that the property tax increase was not a Headlee-limited tax increase but rather an exceptional one necessary to satisfy a judgement, and that, of course, a federal judge could order our city to do anything he deemed appropriate to force us to comply with federal regulations.

Now comes word that in fact a class action lawsuit has been brought on behalf of the residents of six of the communities affected by the Super Sewer scheme challenging the financing plan in the Consent Decree as — surprise! — a violation of the Headlee Amendment. (The exceptions are Romulus and Brownstown which are about to be added, Belleville and Dearborn Heights from which plaintiff/citizens have yet to come forward, and Van Buren, Wyandotte and Riverview — all of which complied with the Final Judgement without violating Headlee, apparently not an impossibility after all.)

It turns out that a part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure says: “The execution of any judgement shall be governed by the laws of the state in which the federal district court sits.”

There is a 1995 Illinois case called Perkins v. City of Chicago Heights that says: “While parties can settle their litigation with consent decrees, they cannot agree to disregard valid state laws, and cannot consent to do something together that they lack the power to do individually.” And there is a 1997 Michigan case called American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. v. City of Hamtramck that says: “Defendants, in levying the judgement tax, are required to comply with the dictates of the Headlee Amendment and submit the proposed tax increase to a vote of the People.”

It also turns out that my city officials had in 1994 agreed to a clause in the Consent Decree wherein they “assured this Court that none of them will hereafter object to the proposed treatment of such Judgement Payments as being in excess of charter, statutory or constitutional limitations.” In other words while acting as though they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about with regard to Headlee restrictions on this tax increase, they had already explicitly promised the court not to assert those very rights! Fortunately, the cities that entered into this agreement are only municipal corporations and as such do not have the authority to waive the constitutional rights of their citizens. Thus, the whole thing will be back in court again on Monday. Though, unless someone has a sudden burst of common sense, the issue will only be finally resolved on appeal.

There is an ironic postscript for me in this whole situation. It turns out my house does not even connect into the downriver system I’m being tagged $108 a year to upgrade. The wastewater of the northern third of Allen Park — where I live — is processed through the Detroit water treatment plant.

Now you might think I could go into court and petition on behalf of myself and the rest of us living in the unaffected portion of the city to be exempted from this property tax increase on that basis alone. You’d be wrong. Judge Feikens has issued another order enjoining “the parties and their citizens from instituting, appearing in or carrying on any litigation or any administrative proceeding in any court, tribunal or administrative agency which would have the effect of preventing or delaying compliance with the 1994 Financing Plan and Final Judgement,” completely barring our access to any forum at all to redress this inequity.

We were taught from our earliest school days that our republic was founded on the idea that there are limits to all power.

Checks and balances, remember? They say even the Lord took six days to create the world. But then, God isn’t a federal judge.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: “None Of The Above” for Governor

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 5/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
May 1998

Delegates to the Libertarian Party of Michigan nominating convention in East Lansing last month selected “None Of The Above” as the party’s candidate for Governor.

Though the LP platform includes a proposal to add such a choice to every election ballot (giving voters the opportunity to express their displeasure with the candidates offered in a way that cannot be misinterpreted for mere apathy), the delegates knew full well that current election law prohibits voters this option even if it is proffered by a recognized political party in place of an actual person. The tongue-in-cheek, unofficial nomination came in a moment of frivolity, a welcome respite from long hours of the serious business of nominating what ended up being a total of 93 individuals for public office in the partisan elections this November.

Only “minor” party faithful could appreciate the irony. Putting up “None Of The Above” as an alternative to the other parties’ candidates for governor was at once an expression of both consternation and amusement.

Under Michigan election law the ballot status of a political party — that is, whether it is regarded as “major” or “minor” and, indeed, whether it may remain on the ballot at all — depends entirely on the level of success of what is called its “principle candidate,” defined as the one “nearest the top of the ballot.”

A party whose principle candidate garners votes equal to 5% or more of the total vote cast in the secretary of state’s race in the preceding election is automatically qualified to remain on the ballot as a “major” party for the next election. A well-financed, high-profile personality (such as Ross Perot) can, by virtue of this peculiarity in the law, single-handedly create the appearance of an entire “major” political party.

A party whose principle candidate garners votes equal to at least 1% of the total vote cast for the successful candidate in the secretary of state’s race in the preceding election is automatically qualified to remain on the ballot as a “minor” party for the next election. The Libertarian Party consistently falls into this category.

“Major” parties and “minor” parties operate under complicated and entirely different election rules which do not bear detailing here. Why qualifications for one should be based on “total votes cast for all candidates” and the other on only “the successful candidate” for secretary of state — or, indeed, why it should be based on that particular race at all — is anybody’s guess.)

A party whose principle candidate does not meet even the “minor” party threshold is officially dissolved and removed from the ballot for subsequent elections. All so-called “third” parties such as Libertarian, Natural Law, Green, Socialist Workers, and so forth, must struggle to clear this hurdle again at every election. Most, however, trip over the requirement.

Individuals must then gather petition signatures equal to 1% of the total vote cast in the governor’s race in the preceding election to “form a new political party,” even if it is actually just a reincarnation of an old one. (Why this calculation should be based on the governor’s race is, like so much of Michigan election law, also unclear.)

When considered in light of the pervasive mythology that our’s is “a two party system” — though I would defy anyone to find such a description anywhere in our constitution or election law — this top-of-ticket rule, the standard by which parties are measured, works to significantly under-represent the overall popularity of alternatives to the slate of candidates offered by the two, old parties who (no surprise here) wrote the rules.

During the last presidential campaign Libertarian fortitude and forbearance were constantly put to the test by a seemingly endless stream of well-meaning folks singing different verses of the same tune: “I’m voting straight-ticket Libertarian… except I have to vote for Dole to stop that philanderer, Bill Clinton,” or “I’m voting straight-ticket Libertarian… except I have to vote for Clinton to stop that dinosaur, Bob Dole.” But the refrain was always the same: “I really like you Libertarians and what you stand for — but when it comes to president your guy can’t win and I don’t want to waste my vote.”

This is, of course a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy — made possible by the popular, though mistaken, perception that the United States, unique among the western democracies, has “a two party system.”

In any case the result was that from state board of education all the way on down the ballot, state-wide Libertarian candidates in the ’96 election got anywhere from 82,000 to 154,000 votes. Unfortunately, the LP’s presidential candidate, Harry Browne, (who was, of course, the party’s “principle candidate”) got a grand total of 27,980 votes. Barely enough to even keep the party alive and on the ballot for the ’98 elections.

Now, voters are, by and large, completely unaware of this arcane “top-of-ticket” rule — which is why the Michigan LP made a conscious decision to make the state board of education race the highest one on the ’98 ballot in which the party would nominate candidates. At this level the LP routinely garners nearly enough votes to elevate it to “major” status, many times the number of votes required to stay on the ballot. In other words the delegates simply did not wish to put at risk the opportunity for Michigan voters to consider the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2000 by running someone for governor in 1998.

Inevitably, the next presidential race will once again jeopardize the party’s very existence. But, the party faithful figured, the presidential election provides the best and widest possible forum to promote Libertarian ideas. Better to risk ballot status in exchange for that greater exposure than for the more limited opportunities of the current gubernatorial contest.

So, in a moment that brought some chuckles and even a few outright guffaws, the delegates to the 1998 Libertarian Party of Michigan convention took a break from the arduous work of selecting candidates for everything from state house and senate to U.S. Congress, from county commissioners to state board of education, to nominate “None of the Above” for governor.

What was so amusing about being caught between this political block and philosophical hard place?

Simply this: everyone knew that even if the Bureau of Elections could certify “None Of The Above” for the ballot, they wouldn’t dare. After years of manipulating election law to guarantee it for themselves, the Republocrats are, after all, well acquainted with the term “shoo-in.” And none of them wants to find out how state government would work without a governor.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Airport Insecurity

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 3/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
March 1998

A few weeks ago I found myself at the Tampa airport more than four hours ahead of the scheduled departure time for my return flight to Detroit. After checking my luggage through, I went in search of one of those temporary lockers to safely stow my two cumbersome carry-ons until boarding time. After ten or fifteen minutes of wandering through various wings and levels of the terminal, I finally asked a security guard where I might find the self-serve lockers.

“Oh, we don’t have those anymore,” he answered.

“What?” I was incredulous. “Why not?”

“Terrorism,” he responded matter-of-factly.

“Terrorism?” I asked innocently. “Was there a terrorist incident here?” I continued, feigning naivete.

A look of puzzlement spread over his face. “Well, no.” This was clearly the first time that it ever even occurred to him that the question might be relevant. “But,” he added triumphantly, “someone might put a bomb in one of those lockers.”

“Right,” I said with barely concealed exasperation. “Tell me, has anyone ever put a bomb at any airport anywhere in the United States?”

Just as he was beginning to get the hapless expression of someone unavoidably confronted by his own unthinking assumptions I decided to let him off the hook. Mumbling something about the fact that there was, on the other hand, someone standing right in front of him with an obvious need for a temporary locker, I took my discomforting questions and my carry-on luggage and went in quest of some place to while away the next four hours.

The need not having arisen before, I never noticed that the self-serve lockers were gone. And in view of the near hysteria over “terrorism” that has gripped the country, I’m guessing that Tampa is probably not unique in having taken this particular preventative measure.

Detroit Metro Airport officials recently announced a plan to spend half a million dollars to upgrade security systems here. The proposal comes on the heels of an incident in which a Chicago-bound passenger who had set off one of those walk-thru metal detectors, already late and frustrated at the pointless additional delay as she was asked to step aside for a more individualized scan, simply walked away from the security checkpoint in order to catch her flight. Naturally, a state of panic ensued. Entire terminals full of travellers were compelled to resubmit to security procedures. Even those who had already boarded airplanes were forced to disembark and prove to officials that they were not armed terrorists.

This was the fourth such incident in less than a year, hence the plan to enhance surveillance using additional personnel and remotely controlled cameras. (It occurs to me that a less expensive solution would be to simply imply that very sophisticated and ever vigilant video equipment already surrounds passengers. For a tiny fraction of the cost airport officials could merely post a few dozen signs that read: Big Brother is Watching You!)

Meanwhile, Wayne county officials had what county Executive, Ed McNamara, called “a knock-down, drag-out” discussion with Northwest, by far Metro Airport’s largest carrier, regarding complaints about slow service — both in passenger check-in and baggage handling.

“Northwest is very sincere about wanting to improve service in Detroit,” Mr. McNamara said following the meeting. And in fact airline officials made what they’re calling a “25-minute baggage pledge,” apparently assuring customers even faster service than Domino’s pizza stores (though I’m guessing the airline won’t be offering a money-back guarantee.)

I have a few humble suggestions as to how Northwest could actually accomplish their goals, while saving money rather than having to make additional investments in high-tech gear.

First, end the silly baggage check-in third degree. “Did you pack your bags yourself?” and “Have you had your bags since you packed them?” and “Has anyone asked you to…” &c., &c.; You will recall that this routine was put in place by a hyperventilating congress right after TWA flight 800 out of New York exploded shortly after take-off a couple of years ago, ostensibly as a result of a terrorist bomb. We have, of course, since learned that all indications are that the disaster was caused by some kind of mechanical failure, probably having to do with explosive vapors in a mostly empty fuel tank, and that there are no indications whatever that the plane was destroyed by terrorists. But government regulation is a ratchet going in one direction only. Once in place, new restrictions are virtually never undone, even when it is subsequently shown that they were based on false information to begin with.

Second, skip the photo I.D. verification — another of those “minor inconveniences” most people assume is needed to combat terrorism. I suspect it actually has more to do with airlines policing their own ‘frequent flier’ programs than with passenger safety.

Third, take out all of the metal detectors and x-ray machines, as well as all of the security personnel needed to operate them. In a moment of unprecedented common sense and candor former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, Mary Schiavo, recently observed that “Professional terrorists are not going to try to smuggle bombs and weapons through the x-ray point.” Gee, do you think?

No one has even threatened an airplane in the U.S. since our federal officials announced more than three decades ago that they had come to the astonishing insight that it was probably not prudent to refer to those who seize our commercial planes and force them to go to Cuba as “hijackers” while calling those who did the same thing coming from the opposite direction “freedom fighters.” A reciprocal agreement with the Castro regime ended the problem back then. Yet every airport in the country has been operating as though in a state of siege ever since, coming up with ever more absurd ways to inconvenience millions of travellers.

Like taking out all of the temporary storage lockers, for instance.

After having left that security guard behind and wandering through the Tampa airport, bags in hand, for another ten minutes, I finally settled in a small cafeteria-style restaurant, propped my burden in a couple of chairs, and sat down to watch CNN on the overhead TV and drink a half dozen cups of coffee.

President Clinton and various state department officials, as well as several pundits and some highly-placed Republicans (in a show of bi-partisan support) were solemnly castigating Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and rattling metaphorical sabres. There seemed to be unanimity of opinion that the logic of the situation was inescapable:

1.) Iraq may still possess and/or be in the process of manufacturing chemical or biological “weapons of mass destruction.”

2.) The Iraqi government is under the absolute control of a person of questionable stability who has already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons against his own civilians and, therefore,

3.) Though there is little hope of eliminating either the Iraqi leadership or their weapons-making capacity, we should, nevertheless, go give them a good swift kick in the pants.

Well, if I’m going to be forced to put up with all of these airport inconveniences, I thought to myself as a listened to the official bluster, it’s good to know that at least my government is busily justifying all of this paranoia.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Drug War Casualties

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 2/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
February 1998

Detroit police officers Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers have something in common with Malice Green — the young man in whose death the two officers were convicted of second degree murder by a Detroit jury in 1993.

The three met for the first and last time in the early morning hours of November 5, 1992 on a near westside Detroit street. The officers, on routine patrol, became suspicious as soon as they spotted Mr. Green.

What was the 35-year-old black man doing that prompted the veteran, white officers to investigate his behavior? What was the “probable cause” to suspect he may have committed a crime?

He was sitting in a parked car which, contrary to their initial suspicions, a quick check confirmed was not stolen.

“Doing what?” one might well ask. Struggling with another person, perhaps? No. Brandishing a weapon? No. Screaming obscenities at passersby, then? No, he was just sitting there quietly. It wasn’t so much his behavior as his location. The vehicle was parked outside a known crack house.

One can’t help but wonder what the framers of our constitution would have thought of our contemporary definition of “probable cause.” And it isn’t just sitting quietly in a parked car, either. Courts have also recently ruled that merely matching a police profile can justify being subjected to scrutiny by the authorities. If you are Hispanic and like to dress nicely, be advised you ought not purchase an airplane ticket with cash. You may well find yourself detained and questioned.

Think you have the right to be protected from warrantless intrusions into your private property? No longer. This little “technicality” had to give way to the possibility that you may be destroying evidence in your home or transporting it in your vehicle. Well, okay, but at least your financial privacy remains, right? Sorry. Banks are now required to record all cash transaction of $3,000 or more and report to the government any that exceed $10,000. You could be a drug dealer trying to launder money.

And it’s not just the Fourth amendment, either. Our government has managed to throw out (officials prefer to say “make exceptions to”) major portions of the Bill of Rights in the quixotic quest to protect adult Americans from the consequences of their own bad habits.

Were you under the impression that your freedom of religion is guaranteed under the First amendment and that Congress can make no law “prohibiting the free exercise thereof”? Ask the Rostafarians who wish to use marijuana in their ceremonies. The courts have ruled that the holy cause of the Drug Jihad trumps the free exercise of religion. Had Catholics been a similarly small sect at the time one can’t help but wonder what might have happened to their sacraments during our previous “noble experiment.”

How would the drafters of the Fifth amendment prohibition against taking “life liberty or property without due process of law” have felt about the circumventing of this protection by the simple device of charging the property itself (which, of course, has no constitutional rights) instead of its owner (who does) under the new asset forfeiture rules? State of Michigan vs. one 1977 Pontiac. If it wasn’t so tragic for the people involved, it would be laughable.

Then there’s the Eighth amendment. Wouldn’t losing the family home for the crime of not noticing that your teenager had a marijuana plant growing in the backyard be the kind of thing George Washington and Thomas Jefferson –hemp farmers, themselves — had in mind when they prohibited “excessive fines”? Wouldn’t the founders have considered it “cruel and unusual punishment” to impose the same penalty for possessing less than two pounds of certain refined plant produce as is imposed for first degree murder?

The common thread behind this evisceration of the individual rights that have historically distinguished Americans from all other peoples on earth is this: The only way to have even half a chance of enforcing any kind of prohibition is to eliminate the presumption of innocence. People must be presumed guilty and treated as such in everything from their banking to where they sit in a parked car until they can prove their innocence.

What do Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers and Malice Green have in common? All three have become casualties in the War on Drugs. Along with millions of others. And, most tragically of all, the United States Constitution.

After four years in prison the courts have overturned the convictions of both police officers because the emotionally charged setting, compounded by errors by the trial judge and some bizarrely inflammatory remarks by the mayor of the city, effectively denied them a fair trial. Budzyn’s retrial has already begun. Prosecutors are expected to retry Nevers, as well.

But, at least for Malice Green, the War on Drugs was an unqualified success: he no longer takes cocaine and never will again.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: The High Cost When Life is Priceless

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 1/1/1998

Article: by Tim O’Brien
January 1998

More than 150 people in Michigan died last year while waiting for the organ transplant that might well have saved their lives.

As of New Year’s Day this year there were over 2,000 more men, women and children desperately hoping to win what is literally the lottery of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, the odds are only about one in five that a donor will be found for them by year’s end — and about one in 13 that they will die first.

The Transplantation Society of Michigan, the non-profit organization that coordinates the whole organ donor system, is struggling valiantly to expand the pool of potential organ donors.

They have faced a recent, additional hurdle when the State of Michigan, in making us national ID compatible, added bar-coding to the back of operators licenses. This new data, of course, has nothing whatever to do with the already infrequently utilized organ donor stickers that can appear there.

The group is now in the process of building a computer database to supplement the existing system. But the opportunity to register via this method is much less widely available, much less convenient, and much less well known. Consequently, they currently have only about 14,000 volunteers.

No one likes to talk about it, but the biggest hurdle for the Transplantation Society to overcome in filling their new database with the names of potential organ donors is that, aside from pure altruism, there is simply no incentive for anyone to join the list.

There is an obvious answer to this problem: pay them.

Begin by offering something to qualified donors to register with the database. Since allowance has to be made for those who might subsequently change their minds and withdraw from the program, this initial consideration probably shouldn’t be cash. Making organs available to donors and, perhaps, their immediate family members at no charge or, at least, a reduced rate would probably suffice.

Once registered, the commitment to be an organ donor would amount to a simple instruction to an individual’s estate (and a de jure addendum to any will.) Should some tragedy — usually but not always a traffic accident — befall a registered donor that would make him or her a suitable candidate for a particular donation the transplant, having been pre-authorized, would proceed immediately with compensation then paid to his or her heirs.

As to determining the specific monetary value of various organs, left to itself, the market will reach an optimum compensation based on scarcity in terms not only of kind but also any other limiting factors such as unusual blood types, etc.

Fortunately, demand is relatively static so, as the supply rises, prices will necessarily fall.

Aside from the obvious tragedy of the circumstances for the registered donor, this is a win-win situation for all concerned. A critically ill person receives the gift of life. The heirs of the deceased receive some additional compensation for their loss. And the donor goes to his grave having exchanged organs that are no longer of any use to him anyway for not just one but two good deeds — helping both a desperate stranger and his own family.

Unfortunately, this whole scenario is impossible because it is currently illegal.

There is little doubt that such a system would end the shortage of transplantable organs, so why does the law stand in the way?

One might assume that the reason for the prohibition is to prevent a black market in organs that were not given voluntarily but rather stolen. Not so. Due to the constraints of matching blood antigens and other specific, screening requirements transplants cannot be made from utterly anonymous donors. And transactions in stolen goods do not generally include disclosure of the legitimate owner.

Or one might assume that such a system would lead to a situation in which only the rich can get transplants. Also not so. Of course, the rich have first and easiest access to the best medical care, just as they do the best homes, automobiles and everything else. But increasing supply in a market with limited demand cannot help but reduce prices for everyone. Just as that metaphorical “rising tide lifts all boats,” so falling prices benefit all consumers.

And it ought to be noted that cost is not currently the obstacle to anyone, rich or poor, anyway. As with so many other egalitarian-minded policies the ultimate effect of current law is not to elevate the impoverished to the same level of opportunity as the prosperous but rather to equally condemn everyone.

In any case, there would, of course, still be nothing to stop the more charitably inclined from simply donating their organs as they do now or starting a fund to cover the costs for the indigent.

The only real impediment here is the moral indignation of those who find our market system inherently offensive and insist that organ donors must not be compensated in any way (though their insistence on absolute altruism does not seem to extend to the doctors and hospitals who charge millions for performing the actual transplants.)

I suspect that there were over 150 families in Michigan last year that would have gladly traded liberal sanctimony for their loved ones’ lives.

One can’t help but wonder how many more will join them this year.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.
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1997 Opinion / Editorial Columns

Title: Gothic Foreign Policy

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 12/1/1997

Article: by Tim O’Brien
December 1997

“Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” It is hard to imagine a more inspiring blessing or a loftier goal — at any time of year. But, as with so many oft repeated words, the meaning of this holiday greeting has been lost in its sheer repetition, any attempt to actually realize it never even considered.

Libertarians, finding no great mystery in what is required to either bring “peace one earth” or “goodwill towards men,” actually wish to make this lofty ideal a reality. We the people of the United States, sovereign citizens of what is far and away the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth, are clearly best situated of any people to bring the fruits of liberty to a troubled world.

Let us lead the way in creating “peace on earth” by first recognizing and proudly proclaiming that, while we will maintain every ounce of our strength, we will, henceforward, confine the use of our military forces only to the defense of the United States from foreign attack.

Though we need do nothing that would compromise our own security, the rest of the world would be stunned by this abrupt ‘about face’ from a century of foreign meddling. And, if the early history of our republic is any guide, they will be inspired, as well.

Our military is neither a moral nor an effective tool for changing the internal political structure of other countries. The attempt, however, has proven to be very effective at destroying our good name and provoking the resentment and even hatred of people all over the world.

Neither should we use our awesome power to either promote or hinder international commerce — in oil or anything else. The hand-wringing of posturing politicians notwithstanding, even a billion barrels of the sweetest crude is not worth a single drop of our brave servicemen and women’s blood. Our armed services volunteers signed up to defend our country, not the price of gasoline.

Without compromising our own security one iota we could withdraw from all military alliances, so-called “mutual defense treaties” (the “mutual” aspect of which is of dubious value to us in any case) ending this perpetual subsidy to our wealthy trading partners. As for one world government organizations such as the United Nations, to paraphrase the astute movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, “Include us out.”

We should immediately withdraw from all military engagements and occupations, eventually closing all of our foreign military bases and bringing all of our troops and equipment home to defend our own country.

We should scrap our entire stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons — unilaterally, if no one else is willing to follow our lead. Unlike the tactical variety (in the kiloton range) that have some theater utility, these megaton monstrosities can have only one function: the incineration of entire cities and their civilian populations. These “weapons” are now and always have been of no practical, military value, useful only as a terrifying bluff or for unimaginably devastating, after-the-fact revenge.

Just as confining the use of our military forces to only defending the United States from foreign attack will promote peace on earth, so confining the use of our police forces to only defending citizens from criminal attack will promote “goodwill towards men.”

Government simply cannot protect individuals from the consequences of their own bad habits through “vice laws.” Lack of self-control is a personal, moral problem, the proper realm of church and family. It is certainly not a legitimate object of criminal law. Attempting to protect people from themselves is a fool’s errand and the consequences of prohibition are as inevitable as they are horrific: tainted, black market products and services, gang warfare by suppliers who are necessarily denied access to the normal systems of dispute resolution, court dockets and prisons overcrowded with pathetic people who never harmed anyone but themselves, corruption of law enforcement, and on and on.

As has been so amply demonstrated in countries throughout the world, using government to centrally plan the economy cannot more efficiently allocate resources than a free, competitive marketplace. Instead, we get not only ubiquitous, bureaucratic inefficiency but, worse, a regulatory system that is essentially for sale to the highest bidder. Giant corporate interests find it far easier and cheaper to subsidize the campaigns of elected officials willing to use their authority to strangle infant competitors in the crib rather than have to deal with new competition in the marketplace.

Government can only be a perverse caricature of genuine charity. There is no evidence whatever that we Americans are unfeeling scrooges who will dismiss the plight of our less fortunate fellows as an opportunity to “decrease the surplus population.” There is absolutely no reason to believe that in the absence of schemes for forcible redistribution of wealth we will all stand around and watch while the truly needy go without food or shelter or health care. However, there is plenty of evidence of what happens to the work ethic when government provides a dole which can be claimed as an “entitlement,” what happens to families when government replaces fathers as the household provider, what happens to education when government funds and operates a one-size-fits-all, monopoly school system.

Libertarians hold to the simple belief that people who are peaceful and honest have an absolute right to control their finances, raise their children — in short, to live their lives — however they see fit so long as they do not infringe on the right of everyone else to do the same. We believe that the only legitimate purpose of government is to protect us from anyone who would violate this most fundamental right.

A society built upon the premise that the only legitimate use of force is in self-defense is the only one that will ever have a chance to truly bring peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Shall Issue

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 11/1/1997

Article: by Tim O’Brien
November 1997

With more than 800,000 hunters stalking the Michigan woods this month we will be fielding a larger armed force than can be mustered by all but two nations on earth. Most will be carrying high-power, semi-automatic rifles functionally indistinguishable from the recently banned, so-called “assault weapons.” A good many will be more hung over than a Russian private after a weekend pass.

To Sarah Brady and her gun-controlling compatriots the stage is set for chaos, the scene inevitable:

On a crisp, clear, autumn morning in the middle of ‘a beautiful peninsula’ with nary so much as a four-pointer in sight, the crack of a dry twig alerts all within earshot.

“Michigan,” comes a call from out of the wild. “Michigan State,” someone shouts back across the open field.

“Go Blue!” persists the orange-clad partisan. “Spartans!” cries the arch-rival fan — punctuated by a couple of gun shots just for emphasis.

According to organizations like Handgun Control, Inc., hunting season in Michigan provides all of the conditions to turn our state into a free-fire zone. This scenario and ones like it ought to be inevitable. It is the primary rationale for their opposition to the idea that law-abiding people be permitted to carry the means to defend themselves in their daily lives.

Unfortunately for the gun control crowd, the whole notion is not only intuitively silly, there are growing volumes of hard research to prove it.

In 1987 Florida became the first of a string of states to radically change the procedure for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon to what has come to be called a “Shall Issue” system. Essentially, the burden of proof was put back on the state to show why an application ought to be denied rather than requiring an honest, sane, adult citizen to come to the government on his knees begging for permission like a teenager trying to get dad’s car keys.

There were the inevitable predictions of carnage in the streets. The Dade County Sheriff appeared on network newscasts invoking “Wild West” metaphors and prophesying shootouts over traffic accidents.

Lucky for the sheriff we no longer follow the biblical injunction to put false prophets to death.

In the decade since then Florida has issued 300,000 carry permits under the new system. They have revoked 24 — less than one tenth of one percent — and half of those revocations were for nothing more than carrying a weapon into places, such as airports, where it is still prohibited. No licensee has either killed or been killed in a shootout with another ordinary citizen. Over a traffic accident or anything else.

Nor has any of the other predicted mayhem among the otherwise law-abiding ever materialized as a result of their having a gun handy.

The story of the armed citizen shooting a hapless family member mistaken for an intruder may be popular with the press, but the fact is that such incidents account for only 2% of accidental shootings. By way of comparison, police have an error rate roughly 11 times higher.

And, lurid TV ads notwithstanding, neither are young children dying every day after finding a parent’s handgun. 1991 National Safety Council figures show that handgun accidents killed 10 to 15 children under the age of 6 — roughly the same number poisoned by finding and ingesting iron supplements.

The fact is that anti-gun advocacy groups have engaged in a systematic disinformation campaign, claiming, for example, that “most murders are committed by previously law-abiding people.” Study after study has shown that this is simply not true. In fact 90% of murderers have prior adult criminal records with an average criminal career of six or more years that includes four major felony arrests.

Contrary to a couple of other popular myths, handguns are taken from armed citizens and used against them less 1% of the time, and victims who meekly submit are injured twice as often as those who resist with a firearm.

All of this is not to suggest that the change to a “Shall Issue” system has not had any effect. In an exhaustive study released earlier this year out of the University of Chicago law professor John Lott and economist David Mustard studied the affect on crime right down to the county level in states that have liberalized their concealed carry laws.

The correlation between allowing honest people to carry the means to defend themselves and a noticeable drop in violent crime is undeniable. The murder rate dropped 8%, assaults 7%, forcible rape 5%, and robbery 2%.

The Dade County Sheriff is no doubt chagrined by the fact that the affect on robbery in his jurisdiction would probably have been greater except that the crooks, not being complete fools, have taken to picking on tourists.

After a century of strictly rationing concealed carry permits, a total of 30 states have now switched to the “Shall Issue” system. (One state, Vermont, never did require a permit to carry a concealed weapon; strange that all these years we never heard Burlington compared with Dodge City.)

Michigan is one of the 19 holdout states, though three county prosecutors, including Macomb’s Carl Marlinga, have now instructed their representatives on county gun boards to adopt a de facto “Shall Issue” position.

Legislation to bring Michigan into the mainstream, bottled up in committee last year by a supposedly pro-gun Republican who, courtesy of the BrassRoots lobbying group, found himself looking for other opportunities after the fall election, should come up again this session.

Barring some high profile incident the Brady Bunch could use to forestall it, chances for passage are fairly good. And, if the results in other states are any indication, Michigan should realize a significant drop in violent crime as a result. But I suppose there is always the possibility that some hunter, trudging through the backwoods somewhere across our state may shout out “Notre Dame!” and get caught in a cross-fire.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Insuring Police

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 10/1/1997

Article: by Tim O’Brien
October 1997

Damita Morton of Detroit was killed last month in a collision with a stolen car fleeing police. The 43-year-old mother of seven and grandmother of five was on her way to a niece’s birthday party.

Her tragic death brings the toll of innocent bystanders killed in these kinds of circumstances to more than 100, so far this decade — in Michigan alone. Nationwide the number is over 2400.

This growing carnage demands a solution.

Some have called for ending the practice of what police call “hot pursuit” altogether.

Others, like State Representative Kirk Profit, have called for the development of a “standardized police pursuit policy” throughout the state.

Both approaches attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all type of response that clearly cannot address every possible situation.

We cannot allow murderers, bank robbers and others who pose a continuing threat to our peace and security to go merrily on their way merely because pursuing them might lead to collisions with uninvolved motorists.

Neither can we have police engaging in high speed chases through residential neighborhoods in order to enforce traffic laws.

Unfortunately, there is such a wide range of situations between these two extremes that it is simply impossible to provide definitive rules that can be applied to every circumstance that may confront law enforcement. The brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us must be permitted to use their own, individual best judgement in dealing with the wide variety of criminal activities that plague our streets.

A police officer should not have his or her response to a fleeing criminal either prescribed or proscribed by standardized rules. As in so many other volatile situations, each officer must be allowed to use his or her own best judgement with regard to which circumstances warrant “hot pursuit” and which can be dealt with by less drastic means.

Taxpayers, by the same token, ought not be saddled with the responsibility of compensating those who are harmed by a police officer’s poor decision.

Like so many other problems that confront our society, we have painted ourselves into a corner by ignoring the libertarian approach of individual choice coupled with individual responsibility.

The solution is with us every day, applied in virtually every other profession.

When doctors, for example, set up a practice, in addition to providing offices, staff and all of the other necessities of their profession, they also take account of the possibility that an error in judgement may result in harm to a patient by purchasing insurance against just such an eventuality.

No one has ever suggested that we attempt to precisely define how every doctor should proceed in treating every kind of medical situation. It is obvious to all that such a written code could not possibly be exhaustive. Substituting a standardized policy for the good judgement of each, individual doctor in each, individual case would be disastrous.

Instead, we rely on the malpractice insurance system to weed out the reckless from the medical profession. Given the particular specialty, cost for this coverage is pretty much the same for all new practitioners. But it doesn’t take insurers long — generally, a lawsuit or two will do — to assess the relative risk in insuring each and adjust their premiums accordingly. Or cancel coverage altogether if the potential liability looms too large.

When police officers are hired to protect us they likewise provide for their own uniforms, sidearms and all of the other accoutrements of their profession. However, they are not required to purchase any kind of malpractice insurance to indemnify their employers — us — against any harm they may cause by a mistake in judgement.

This situation results in a disconnect between actions and consequences. As in every other aspect of life in which individuals are insulated from the consequences of their actions — some few, at least, end up using questionable judgement.

We must not attempt to substitute some kind of precisely predetermined collective opinion on which kinds of circumstances merit “hot pursuit.” Neither should we accept collective liability for individual, poor decisions.

Requiring police officers to carry their own insurance would put both the freedom to choose and the responsibility for those choices where it belongs — on the person who has to make them.

Only a jury hearing the details of what led to the “hot pursuit” decision that ended in Damita Morton’s tragic death can determine whether or not the officers used poor judgement in that case. However, if there is any liability, the burden of compensating for it should not fall on taxpayers who were not, indeed, could not be consulted on the decision to pursue that particular stolen car.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: Highway Robbery in the Dead of Night

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 9/1/1997

Article: by Tim O’Brien
September 1997

A group called Michigan Taxpayers United has filed suit to reverse the 30% increase in the state’s gas tax enacted — by 56 votes in the 110 member House — at 4:30 in the morning on July 16 and, following the signature of Gov. John “Taxcutter” Engler, put into effect less than two weeks later.

Raising the tax without a popular vote at the very least violates the spirit of the Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment to our state constitution which prohibits state and local tax increases “without direct voter approval.”

Most people are not particularly surprised when taxes are raised without their approval, anyway. They have grown accustomed to such legislative shell games as, for instance, calling a tax a “fee” and claiming that it, therefore, does not come under any of the Headlee restrictions.

However, many don’t realize that the 1978 Headlee amendment also includes a formula establishing “a limit on the total amount of taxes which may be imposed by the legislature in any fiscal year.” Michigan Taxpayers United is arguing in court that, since the total take for Michigan government now exceeds that cap, the gas tax increase violates the letter of the law, as well.

Even less widely known among those of us who have been the victims of this highway robbery is that the legislature also violated the spirit, if not the letter, of another clause, unrelated to Headlee, in the Michigan Constitution.

Article IV, Section 27 states: “No act shall take effect until the expiration of 90 days from the end of the session at which it was passed, but the Legislature may give immediate effect to acts by a two-thirds vote of the members elected and serving in each house.”

That seems clear enough. So how could the state gas tax go up four cents a gallon less than a fortnight after it passed by a bare one vote majority in the House, instead of next April 1 as required by our constitution?

According to the leadership of both major parties, the ‘immediate effect’ provision was part of the earliest draft of the legislation which did receive better than 2/3 support. The bill was then amended, albeit by the slimmest of majorities, to include the gas tax increase. Cute, eh?

One state representative, David Jaye (R-Washington Township), was so outraged he collected 25 signatures from his fellow representatives demanding a roll call vote on the final, amended bill. “It’s dishonest for politicians to say ‘we are giving the bill immediate effect’ before it’s in its final form,” said Jaye. “That’s like a meat inspector giving hamburger a clean bill of health after just looking at the cow!”

In an even more appropriate comparison with magician Harry Houdini and his untimely demise Jaye called the procedural sleight-of-hand a “suckerpunch” to taxpayers. But the House leadership deftly parried his attempted counterpunch and the ‘immediate effect’ provision stood.

Governments are often finding constitutional limitations on their powers inconvenient. This is not particularly surprising since limiting the powers of government is, after all, the whole purpose of constitutions. But a bit of clever legislative legerdemain can usually remove the impediments to their progressive plans. In the side-stepping of Article IV, Section 27 we have a perfect case in point.

According to our public masters, this kind of ‘hand is quicker than the eye’ (or ‘House procedure is better than the Constitution’) maneuvering is justified because the gas tax increase was desperately needed.

Look at the condition of our roads!

In fact, it’s very important to them that you keep your eye on the roads. They wouldn’t want you to look at where the gas tax revenues they were already getting were actually going.

Nearly $5 million a year is subsidizing the Trolley and the People Mover in downtown Detroit. Another $5 million is subsidizing passenger and freight trains. Another $5 million — you environmentalists better sit down for this one — is going to build and maintain private logging roads so timber companies can cut down trees which would otherwise be unprofitable to harvest.

These are just a few highlights. The list goes on and on. And on. In fact, almost half of the money raised by the state gas tax goes to projects and subsidies that have nothing to do with providing you and me with roads that don’t resemble moonscapes.

It should be entertaining to see how state officials respond if a judge makes them roll back this tax increase. It’s always a joy to watch real artists at work. The problem with your average con man is simply a lack of vision. Our state officials know how to play Three Card Monty on a grand scale. See? Nothing up their sleeves — while they’re reaching into your pocket. Again.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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Title: A Cure for the Common Politician?

Author: Tim O’Brien

Date: 7/1/1997

Article: by Tim O’Brien
July 1997
Someone once observed that, when legislation is for sale, the first thing that will be bought and sold is legislators. It seems that everyone has finally come to realize that something needs to be done about it.

In Washington the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has begun hearings looking into various campaign financing practices by the two major parties. Meanwhile, here in Michigan a coalition of public interest groups including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters is planning a petition drive to ask voters if they would like to have state House, state Senate and gubernatorial campaigns financed by taxpayers.

But public financing proposals, or any other kind of campaign reforms, are merely treating the symptoms of the problem instead of its cause.

The founders of our republic never intended the government to have the power to meddle in the economy. “A wise and frugal government,” observed President Jefferson, “which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government.”

Once government goes beyond its only legitimate function, protecting its citizens from foreign armies and domestic criminals, and begins taxing some products and services, subsidizing others, and regulating the rest, there will simply be no way of stopping those who are affected from seeking to influence the process. The handmaidens of overreaching government are as predictable as they are inevitable.

Like a cartoon character trying to cope with a leaky dike by sticking fingers and toes into each new hole only to have another leak spring somewhere else, reformers persist in their futile quest to plug up the money leaks in our political system. How can they remain so blissfully oblivious, for instance, to the fact that the PAC, or Political Action Committee, they now seek to control is a child of their own previous, post-Watergate efforts at campaign finance reform?

The special interests and their wholly-owned politicians always have and always will stay one step ahead. Recently, for example, an Indonesian businessman, after visiting the White House several times, gave former Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbel half a million dollars in cash and contracts. Mr. Hubbel then suddenly developed amnesia with regard to President Clinton’s involvement in Whitewater. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clinton reversed himself on granting China “Most Favored Nation” trade status — a change eagerly sought by the businessman who began this quid-pro-quo-once-removed. Reformers are no doubt already preparing new proposals to address this kind of situation.

There is nothing mysterious here about either the problem or the solution.

Restrict our government, at all levels, to its only legitimate function: protecting good and honorable people from bad and dishonorable people. Then you won’t have to worry about Archer-Daniels-Midland financing politicians who then promote corn subsidies, or Chase-Manhattan Bank supporting other politicians who favor propping up the Mexican peso with loans guaranteed by American taxpayers, or a thousand other examples, large and small, that have become the stock-in-trade of politicians.

Attempting to remedy this problem with campaign finance reform, on the other hand, is like trying to treat tuberculosis with cough medicine.

Tim O’Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

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