Silence is Okay

My infrequent blogging has less to do with a paucity of subjects to write about than a distinct lack of time to write about them. Twitter is a useful outlet to vent a little steam, so I might post there in short bursts, and every now and then I will even take to facebook.

That being the case, I’ve never been one who has subscribed to the “every thought I have in my head must be published in one form or another on the internet” school of thought.At my peak I probably posted no more than three our four times per day, and that rarely. And one thing I certainly never did, or at least tried not to do, was to post about something where I admittedly knew nothing about the subject. For instance, I didn’t even hear about the Casey Anthony trial until the day the verdict was delivered. (I’m not sure I managed to cocoon myself off that effectively aside from the fact that even when I did have cable, I rarely watched cable news.) It never occurred to me that I had some sort of obligation to post my thoughts on the case.

Yet reading social media sites over the past few days it seems that every person feels some sort of moral compunction to deliver some kind of opinion about the George Zimmerman trial and verdict. I was struck by this initially by a series of tweets published by Eric Erickson. Among the first tweets was the following:

I’m not sure why people seem to think I’m a Zimmerman fan. I think when the police told him not to follow he should have listened.

This is perhaps the most oft-repeated trope of the trial, but it fundamentally misreports the facts. Zimmerman was on the phone with a 311 operator, describing Zimmerman and his actions. When asked if he were following Martin, Zimmerman replied in the affirmative, to which the dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that.” Anyone who had been paying more than scant attention to the case knew that, but yet it still gets reported as fact that the police told Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Now this might seem like wrangling over a technicality, but it does reveal how informed a person really was about the circumstances surrounding this case.

Errickson’s next tweet, after getting yelled at by both sides:

Sorry folks on both sides, not going to re-litigate the trial. The jury did its job ably and competently whether or not u like the outcome.

Followed by:

There are a whole lot of people emotionally invested in this trial. No offense, but I’m glad I’m not one of them. Let justice be blind.

Then why say anything at all? If you express opinions based on shaky facts, don’t get snippy when people call you to account.

In another response, Erickson seemed to intimate that he hadn’t been following the trial all that closely. Then why get on your high horse all of a sudden and launch a series of largely generic tweets, and then cop an attitude with people who had been reading accounts and/or watching the trial? Just because you’re a professional pundit doesn’t mean you are required by law to opine on every single thing that happens in America.

Erickson is just one example of many I’ve seen in recent days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something to the effect of “I didn’t really watch the trial, but . . .” followed by some authoritative sounding opinion buttressed by “facts” contradicted at some point in the preceding 15 months. What’s most infuriating is that these are the very people who have written the most sanctimonious, “pox on all your houses” drivel in the aftermath of the trial. There is nothing more insufferable in the age of the internet than the “middle-ground” guy who dismisses all strong opinions on a subject. Sure people lost their heads and reacted viscerally and emotionally, that doesn’t mean they were all wrong or that their opinions were invalid. And in many cases they were acting strongly because they had bothered following the trial you didn’t have any interest in, but yet now feel compelled to pontificate about.

It’s okay to not take a keen interest in every major public controversy. We probably would have done well had fewer people involved themselves so much in this trial. But if you’re not going to take an interest in a matter, can you just shut up about it then? We honestly don’t need to hear your every opinion on every subject matter under the sun.

The Unrelenting Stupidity of Big Government

So let’s say you’re on the City Council of an economically stratified city. A large chunk of your residents are either employed by the federal government or are dependent on the federal government indirectly for their employment. Despite recent budget “cuts,” these folks have tremendous job security. On the other hand, a significant portion of the populace lives in economically depressed parts of the city with obscenely high unemployment rates. Thousands of these residents are looking for secure employment. A major box retailer is proposing to come in and open several new franchises in your city, a pair of which will be in the economically depressed areas of the city. Do you encourage this big box retailer and help them set up shop so that they could begin the process of employing hundreds, if not thousands of local citizens?

Well if you’re on the City Council Washington, DC, you do the precise opposite and craft legislation clearly aimed at said retailer that all but drives them out of town.

The world’s largest retailer delivered an ultimatum to District lawmakers Tuesday, telling them less than 24 hours before a decisive vote that at least three planned Wal-Marts will not open in the city if a super-minimum-wage proposal becomes law.

. . .

The D.C. Council bill would require retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger to pay their employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The city’s minimum wage is $8.25.

While the bill would apply to some other retailers — such as Home Depot, Costco and Macy’s — a grandfather period and an exception for those with unionized workforces made it clear that the bill targets Wal-Mart, which has said it would open six stores, employing up to 1,800 people.

Alex Barron, a regional general manager for Wal-Mart U.S., wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece that the proposed wage requirement “would clearly inject unforeseen costs into the equation that will create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.”

As a result, Barron said, the company “will not pursue” stores at three locations where construction has yet to begin — two in Ward 7 and one in Ward 5. He added that the legislation, if passed, will also jeopardize the three stores underway, pending a review of the “financial and legal implications.” While precise terms of its agreements with developers are not known, the company’s leases could be difficult to break without major financial penalties.

Good job, City Council. Instead of being paid $8.25 per hour, the would-be employees will continue to make their current wage: $0.00 per hour.

These are the wages (pun intended) of left-wing paternalism. Do-gooders insist on manufacturing legislation they think will ameliorate the conditions for the poor, but instead only make things worse by backwards economic and social engineering. What the DC Council fails to appreciate is that in a free market, a company will not simply wage raises for jobs at a point well beyond what they are worth if they have good options.

What’s particularly is that this type of legislation seems less to be about raising the living conditions of the working poor and more about punishing big bad Walmart, as blog posts like this indicate.

Walmart is using hardball tactics in their effort to force D.C. government to scrap their super-minimum-wage law.  They said that if the bill were to become law, they may not build 3 of their proposed stores going in in D.C.  That would cost the area low quality jobs and access to, well, low quality crap.

The author, no doubt one of the city’s countless young, white hipsters, safely ensconced in a neighborhood like Dupont or in a gentrified locale in the northwest, just finds Walmart so gauche. Better that 1,800 of his fellow residents – residents who probably live on the other side of the Anacostia and who he won’t have to interact with too much – remain unemployed rather than nasty Walmart open its doors.

Of course things are just as bad over the Bay and in the Maryland state capital of Annapolis. Governor O’Malley, a man who actually thinks he has a chance to be the next president of the United States, has just overseen a series of massive tax hikes, including a “rain tax” – yes, a rain tax. Included in these tax hikes is a relatively modest four cent per gallon  increase in the gasoline tax, which will be followed up by a pair of eight cent increases in 2015, 2016, effectively doubling the overall tax applied to a gallon of gasoline in the state.

These moves have been applauded in certain quarters. One resident even took to a neighborhood list-serve to praise the increased gas tax, noting how much the extra revenue will be necessary. No doubt the new revenue will help fund vital infrastructure development such as the Silver Spring Transit Center. But how much extra revenue will be raised?

Well a decent proportion of Maryland residents live pretty close to other jurisdictions such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, or DC. Many residents work outside of the state, or pretty close to it. In other words, we don’t have to pay a lick of the gas tax. I sure as hell won’t be filling up in the state if I can avoid it.

Let’s do a little math. As a conservative estimate I use about 25 gallons of gas per month driving to work. Multiply that by 12, and we arrive at 300 gallons per year. At 20 cents per gallon, the state loses on $60 per year in new gas revenues, and a total of about $150 per year. Now that’s just what the state loses on my gas tax revenue. The retailers in the state lose out on at least $1,000 or so per year in revenue depending on the price of gas. So Maryland’s decision to “only” raise the gas tax about 20 cents per gallon will lead to a reduction in the state’s coffers and local retailer’s coffers of over a thousand dollars per year. And that’s a conservative estimate, and it also doesn’t include my wife’s fuel usage. My wife is not as petty as me, so the state might lose out on only about half that amount.

Now if I’m the only person engaging in this little tax protest, that’s meaningless. But what if others decide to do the same? I have no idea precisely ho many Maryland residents live on the border, but it’s a decent chunk. If even ten percent fill-up where they work or just even drive a few miles on the weekend, then that little tax increase won’t lead to the kind of anticipated revenue increase needed to fund those oh so vital programs.

You see, people have choices, and as long as people have choices, they will make choices that cost them less money in the long-run. And people in charge of northeastern and western governments wonder why millions are fleeing to places like Texas – places that don’t impose ridiculous tax and regulatory burdens on businesses and residents.

If nothing else these actions demonstrate the value of federalism. It should also serve as a caution against increased centralization.

 

 

Illegal Immigration and Injustices

Last week Jason Hall posted a column at the Catholic Stand that somewhat snarkily takes on the question of why illegal immigrants don’t just come here legally. Jason rightfully points out that it’s not exactly a piece of cake to legally immigrate to the United States. The process is terribly cumbersome, and it takes years for most people to finally gain legal residence, and that’s the case for people who have more connections and resources than the typical migrant worker.

That being the case, while Hall’s column does a good job at highlighting the inefficiencies of the immigration system, what it does not do is provide justification for the comprehensive immigration reform proposal being discussed in the Senate. As I said in the comments to his post, the question of whether the current process of legal immigration is cumbersome  is not germane to the question of what to do with those individuals who have nonetheless entered the country illegally.

Now some have addressed this by stating that the current system is unjust, and therefore those who have entered the country illegally should not be punished for breaking an unjust law. I should emphasize right up front that Hall himself does not state this, at least in the column, but I have heard other immigration reform supporters make this claim. There are a couple of problems with this argument.

First of all, as admittedly burdensome as the immigration process is, that alone does not make the system unjust. Yes, it’s a bureaucratic mess, but unjust? I am not quite sure that an excess of red tape is an injustice that justifies blatant disregard for American laws and the violation of our sovereign border.

Furthermore, if our system were unjust, those who have immigrated illegally are in fact themselves guilty of committing an injustice, and any legislation that effectively rewarded their behavior would be an even graver injustice. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have begun the process of legally immigrating. The current proposal would effectively grant legal status to millions of people who cut in line, and would do so with minimal punishment. So now some ten million people would have been granted legal privileges ahead of those who respected the laws of this country. Moreover, the already over-loaded immigration bureaucracy would undoubtedly be stretched to even greater degrees in the process of legalizing or normalizing the statuses of those here illegally. I have a hard time believing that the overall immigration process would be smoothed out by such a dramatic change.

There are no easy solutions to this mess, and there are legitimate arguments to be made on behalf of some kind of comprehensive immigration reform plan. Of course it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re being sold a bill of goods by disappointingly dishonest politicians. But if we’re going to lament having a broken system, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that those we are trying to help played a large part in breaking it in the first place.

Lowry on Lincoln

Rich Lowry has written a brilliant article (and also evidently a book) defending Abraham Lincoln from his critics on the right. He meticulously goes through the charges that certain people on the fringe right level at Lincoln and rebuts them one by one. For example, on the charge that Lincoln was a great centralizer out to destroy the states, Lowry notes that Lincoln’s view of the nation was little different than James Madison. Madison, like Lincoln, fought against the ideas of the likes of John Calhoun, who had defended the doctrine of nullification and asserted the supremacy of the states. As for secession, Lowry makes a point that I have often made regarding the right of the confederate states to rebel:

In his anti-Lincoln tract The Real Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo argues that secession is as American as apple pie. “The United States were founded by secessionists,” he insists, “and began with a document, the Declaration, that justified the secession of the American states.” No. The country was founded by revolutionaries and the Declaration justified an act of revolution. No one denies the right of revolution. Madison said that revolution was an “extra & ultra constitutional right.” Even Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address, concedes the point: “If, by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution — certainly would, if such right were a vital one.”

The friends of secession aren’t eager to invoke the right to revolution, though. For one thing, when a revolution fails, you hang. For another, the Declaration says a revolution shouldn’t be undertaken “for light and transient causes,” but only when a people have suffered “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” What was the train in 1860 and 1861? Seven southern states left the Union before Lincoln was inaugurated. The South had dominated the federal government for decades. Abuses and usurpations? It’s more like lose an election and go home.

He also takes on the likes of Ron Paul, who has asserted that Lincoln could have used the power of the purse to free the slaves rather than fighting a bloody civil war. Lowry writes:

They come up with fanciful alternatives to military conflict. Ron Paul wonders why Lincoln didn’t forestall the war by simply buying up and freeing the slaves. With his usual sense of realism, Paul ignores the fact that Lincoln repeatedly advanced schemes for just such a compensated emancipation. Lincoln argued for these proposals as “the cheapest and most humane way to end the war.” But except in the District of Columbia, they went precisely . . . nowhere. The border states weren’t selling, let alone the South. Even little Delaware, which was selected as a test case because in 1860 it had only 587 slaveholders out of a white population of 90,500, couldn’t be persuaded to cash out of slavery. One plan proposed by Lincoln would have paid $400 or so per slave and achieved full abolition by 1893. A version of the scheme failed in the state’s legislature.

Lowry addresses Lincoln’s war measures, and notes that Lincoln simply used the legitimate powers that were prescribed in the Constitution.

When it comes to the idea that Lincoln’s administration birthed the welfare state, Lowry destroys that argument.

Yet another favorite count against Lincoln on the Right is that he was the midwife for the birth of the modern welfare state — a false claim also made by progressives bent on appropriating him for their own purposes. The war necessarily entailed the growth and centralization of the state, but this hardly makes Lincoln a forerunner to FDR or LBJ. The income tax required to fund the war, instituted in 1861 and soon made into a progressive tax with higher rates for the wealthy, was a temporary measure eliminated in 1872. Wars are expensive. In 1860, the federal budget was well under $100 million. By the end of the war, it was more than $1 billion. But the budget dropped back down to $300 million, excluding payments on the debt, within five years of the end of the war.

To see in any of this the makings of the modern welfare state requires a leap of imagination. In the midst of the war, the State Department had all of 33 employees. The famous instances of government activism not directly related to the war — the subsidies to railroads, the Homestead Act — were a far cry from the massive transfer programs instituted in the 20th century. The railroads got land and loan guarantees but were a genuinely transformational technology often, though not always, providing an economic benefit. The Homestead Act, as Lincoln historian Allen Guelzo argues, can be viewed as a gigantic privatization of public lands, which were sold off at a cut rate to people willing to improve their plots.

In the North during the war, historian Richard Franklin Bensel points out, the industrial and agricultural sectors ran free of government controls. The labor force, although tapped for manpower for the war, was relatively unmolested. The government became entangled with the financial system, but that system was also becoming more modern, sophisticated, and free of European influence. Given its vitality and wealth, the North could wage the war without subjecting itself to heavy-handed command-and-control policies. Compared with the overmatched Confederacy, it was a laissez-faire haven.

Indeed federal government spending as a percentage of GDP increased to approximately 15 percent at the height of the Civil War, but came crashing down to about a 5 percent level immediately after its conclusion, where it remained until the Wilson administration.

If anything Lincoln was a Hamiltonian conservative. He believed in a strong national government to be sure, but one essentially limited in scope. It’s rather fitting considering that it was Hamilton’s political enemy – Thomas Jefferson – who Lincoln held up as a hero. It is also rather ironic that often those on the right who deride Lincoln are the same who glorify Jefferson. Perhaps that is a subject also worthy of deeper study.

A Death That Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

It was natural for conservatives and Republicans to take stock of where they stood culturally and politically in light of the results of the presidential election last November, as well as the losses sustained in otherwise winnable Senate races. That being said, the incessant navel gazing that has been going on for the better part of seven months has reached a breaking point.

While it’s true that there are ill portents stemming from the election, the post-election analysis implying the imminent demise of the GOP made more sense in 2008 than in 2012. In 2008 the GOP was coming off of a second consecutive thrashing in a national election, with Democrats in full control of both chambers of Congress, and Barack Obama having won the presidency by a comfortable (though hardly historical when compared to bigger blowouts) margin. In the past few months I’ve read a lot of eulogies coming from both the left and right. On the comments to this post from Stacy McCain one individual chimed in thusly.

If he’s wrong, why are Republicans always losing and the Republican-led Congress has it’s lowest approval rating in history now?

The second part of the sentence isn’t really germane to this post – though I would suggest that Congressional approval ratings are ultimately meaningless and have proven to have no value in assessing the electoral landscape.

As for the first part of the sentence, I wonder – have people forgotten the results of just about every election between 2008 and 2012? Republicans never win elections? Well, other than winning gubernatorial races in both Virginia and New Jersey in 2009, a special Senate election in Massachusetts in 2010, a truly historical landslide blowout in the 2010 midterms, and retaining a majority of House seats in 2012, yeah the GOP just never wins elections.

A party that is on its deathbed should not have the electoral record that the GOP has had in recent years. We’re not talking about the Whigs circa 1852 or even the GOP circa 1934 here. Consider for the moment that currently 30 of 50 state governors are Republicans, and that the GOP has outright legislative majorities in both Houses in 28 states, and control of at least one house in several others. Oh, and there’s that pesky House of Representatives where the GOP currently has a majority that isn’t going anywhere fast.

The problem with viewing electoral politics completely through the prism of presidential elections is that it neglects a view of the country as a whole. 

Only a fool would suggest that there aren’t reasons for the Republicans to be concerned, particularly when one looks at shifting demographics. But the narrative that the GOP is completely and irrevocably hopeless electorally is simply wrong.

How We Think

This might be one of the more obscure posts I’ve written, but hopefully you’ll bare with me.

After 36 years of living on this planet I’ve had a bit of an epiphany about my thought processes and how the fact that humans process information differently makes a big difference in our communications. This is probably nothing that psychologists and other smart people haven’t figured out already, so pardon me for being late to the party.

I’m one of those people who thinks, for lack of a better word, logically. I’m no Vulcan, but I’m more of an a-b-c thinker. I tend to place things in categories and think through matters in sort of a progression. When I was practicing for the GRE I regularly scored perfect or near-perfect scores on the logic portion of the exam, and then on the actual test I scored either a 790 or a perfect 800. I say this not to brag or to say that “HA HA I’m smarter than you,” but to show that my brain works on that sort of wavelength. Other people think in more of a circular pattern, abstracting to a greater level than I am capable of. There are probably other categories, and no one (or few people) belong to any one category, but there is a dramatic difference in how our brains process information. Again, no particular way is superior, it’s all just different.

This certainly influences our given professions, and why some of us are more mathematically inclined while others might excel at engineering, and others still at poetry and art.

I also think this influences our reading habits, or at least it certainly influences mine. I recently re-read The Great Gatbsy for the first time since high school. I certainly enjoyed it and do think it is an excellent book; however, to me it does not belong to the pantheon of greatest books ever. This is of course a subjective value judgment, but what influences my impression of the book is how my brain works and what stimulates it. Gatsby is all about the style and the prose. The plot is naturally important, but what seems to draw people to it is Fitzgerald’s quasi-poetic style. He paints a beautiful picture with lots of subtext. That’s great, but I’d rather read Dostoevsky. It’s not that Dostoevsky’s prose style is bland – far from it – but his novels move in a much more a-b-c direction. Sure there’s subtext and all the qualities of great fiction, but he works on a different level than Fitzgerald, and it’s a style that is more appealing to me.

This works similarly for non-fiction. I admire Chesterton but much prefer C.S. Lewis. The latter’s writing style is much more straightforward. It perhaps lacks the art of Chesterton’s prose, but as a reader Lewis leaves a greater impression. I feel the same way about Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They are both incredible theologians, but the latter is more accessible, and I think it’s because he writes in that a-b-c logical style, whereas the former tended to be a little more abstract. Yet I’m sure there are others who feel quite the opposite, and that’s fine.

I’m genuinely curious if anyone else has thoughts to share on, well, thinking.

A Hero or A Criminal

Last week Kevin Williamson did something I have often dreamed of doing, although to people talking or texting on cell phones while driving and not in a movie theater.

The show was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which was quite good and which I recommend. The audience, on the other hand, was horrible — talking, using their phones, and making a general nuisance of themselves. It was bad enough that I seriously considered leaving during the intermission, something I’ve not done before. The main offenders were two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical. But my date spoke with the theater management during the intermission, and they apologetically assured us that the situation would be remedied.

It was not. The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business.

So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.

The reaction has been fascinating. While a great many have applauded Williamson for his bit of cell phone vigilantism, others have been far less sympathetic and indeed think he should be brought up on charges. Personally, I called him a hero on facebook.

But is he really a hero? Technically this was destruction of personal property. While the woman was certainly rude, lack of social grace does not negate the right to property.

On one level, it’s difficult to disregard that Williamson did act in an almost (or maybe not even almost) illegal fashion, and he himself was guilty of causing a disturbance. At the same time, the absolute lack of proper etiquette is becoming a growing concern in modern society. My wife and I rarely attend movies largely due to the fact that we have small children and babysitting is expensive. Yet were it not for the children we still would likely have cut back on our movie-going as it had become something of a tedium. I vividly recall attending the third installment of the Pirates of Caribbean franchise. The sheer awfulness of the film was compounded by the sheer awfulness of the crowd attending, largely populated by shrieking girls gawking at Orlando Bloom. Cell phone abuse was hardly the biggest issue with this crowd.

All the same, the reason that so many view Williamsom with admiration is that he confronted rudeness head-on. Instead of bellyaching later in a blogpost about the obnoxious woman sitting next to him, he actually did something about it. Though the action itself is of dubious ethical value, it was an action, and in world of words any actions taken to tackle social problems seem much more meritorious.

There are obvious concerns with Williamson’s actions being replicated on a larger scale, so we should probably not completely encourage such behavior. That being said, I have a difficult time not applauding Williamson for doing what so many of us have yearned to do.

The Myth of the Scientifically-Minded Leftist

Folks on the left love to castigate conservatives as being “anti-science.” It’s a mindless trope that nonetheless is often repeated, often with shrieking glee by a generation of young urbanites who think Jon Stewart is the apex of journalism in America. As it turns out, leftists are just as guilty – if not more so – at ignoring scientific findings that don’t suit their ideological agenda.

The policy world was rocked recently by a New England Journal of Medicine study showing that Medicaid doesn’t improve the health care outcomes of uninsured individuals.

The study compared the health status of adults who were randomly enrolled in Oregon’s Medicaid program with those who weren’t. It found that two years after patients received Medicaid, “no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes” such as hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes resulted. Coverage did, however, lower depression rates and reduced financial strain.

How should a scientifically-inclined liberal have reacted? By acknowledging that if the findings hold in subsequent years, Obamacare’s plan to use Medicaid to achieve its universal coverage goal — at half-a-trillion-dollar price tag over a decade — would need to be reconsidered.

Some liberals such as Ray Fisman of Slate did just that — but they were the exception. Most liberals either dissed the study’s methodology after praising it previously (Kevin Drum, Mother Jones) or ignored its core findings and reported the good news (Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic) or attacked Obamacare’s opponents as heartless fools (Paul Krugman of The New York Times).

Dalmia brings up global warming climate change and other issues where the left shows a penchant for refusing to believe the evidence that is before their eyes. One issue is left out of the discussion, though this being Reason I can understand why: abortion. Leftists and all pro-aborts, for that matter, have to deny all understanding of human biology (or at least severely twist it) in order to justify abortion. But this will do.

In a similar vein, leftists like to mock dumb-dumb conservatives, all the while demonstrating that they aren’t exactly up to speed on all the issues. James Taranto catches Timothy Egan calling Senator Ted Cruz all but an imbecile and notes that it is Egan who demonstrates a manifest lack of knowledge on the issues.

The only problem is that Egan has completely misunderstood how sales taxes work.

A sales tax is a tax on the consumer, not the retailer. Just as the federal government requires employers to collect income and payroll taxes by withholding them from workers’ paychecks, state and local governments require retailers to collect sales taxes by adding them to the customer’s bill.

In theory, a consumer is supposed to pay sales tax on purchases from out-of-state retailers. In practice they usually don’t, because states lack the legal authority to compel out-of-state retailers to collect the tax. Only Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution has sole authority to regulate interstate commerce, can do that.

Egan has it exactly backward, whereas Cruz gets it right. If the bill became law, Texas retailers would have to collect sales taxes on behalf of California, Illinois and New York from customers ordering merchandise to be shipped to those states. If Cruz made purchases from businesses in those states, they would have to collect Texas sales taxes.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the sales-tax debate, but really, if you’re going to make fun of somebody for being a know-it-all, you ought to make sure you know what you’re talking about.

 

Hoping for Incompetence

Charles Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal has a rundown of the recent spate of Obama administration scandals, and closes with a sobering thought.

Here’s where we are.  The United States of America is in serious trouble when the kindest explanation for stories like these is that Barack Obama’s presidency is the most dangerously incompetent administration that this country has ever known.

I will hopefully have more if time permits, but there really isn’t any room for even a bit of schadenfreude-ish joy. This is just pathetic.