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Racial Imbalance in Louisiana Murder Charges is ‘Systemic’

Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.

The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a  “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.

Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.

He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.

“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.

“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”

An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.

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Honoring Paris Accord Governors and Mayors Come Together in a Backlash to Trump’s Announcement

WASHINGTON — President Trump may be quitting the Paris accord on climate change — but forcing the rest of the nation to go along with him is proving more of a challenge.

Led by California, dozens of states and cities across the country responded Friday to Trump’s attack on the worldwide agreement by vowing to fulfill the U.S. commitment without Washington — a goal that is not out of reach.

The defiance is a signal to the world that the political forces behind America’s climate fight aim to outmaneuver this White House and to resume the nation’s leadership role when Trump changes jobs or changes his mind.

The pushback also reflects how far most of the country — including many Republican parts — already have moved in transitioning to cleaner energy, even as Trump works to slow that momentum.

“The American government may have pulled out of the agreement, but the American people remain committed to it — and we will meet our targets,” former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a special envoy for cities and climate change to the United Nations, said Friday after meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

It will be a heavy lift. States and cities would need to meet a pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, America’s self-declared target under the deal.

Even with buy-in from the federal government, there were doubts about hitting that nonbinding target. Trump has made it a lot more complicated by spurning the accord — but not impossible.

California, the nation’s leader in emissions reduction, has already joined with New York and Washington state to build an alliance of states that will guide the nation to Paris compliance in the absence of leadership from the federal government.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is leading cities in a parallel effort that already has enlisted 150 members.

“Cities and states are already where most of the action on climate is,” the Democrat said Friday. “Our message is clear to the world: Americans are with you, even if the White House isn’t.… Trump’s move is going to have unintended consequences of us all doing the opposite of what the president wants. It will in many ways greatly backfire.”

Garcetti estimated that 70% to 80% of the work on reducing emissions is happening at the state and local level, regardless of federal policy. That includes renewable energy mandates set by utility commissions, fuel mileage standards and efficiency rules for appliances.

While mayors and governors can’t sign onto to the Paris agreement — only heads of state can do that — they can prove effective shadow participants. Many of them have forged close relationships with the key climate players in other countries over the years, signing their own climate pacts abroad and participating in various capacities in landmark climate negotiations, such as those that took place in Paris and Kyoto, Japan.

Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist, has already pledged to cover the $15 million the U.S. is reneging on by personally paying into the operations fund of the U.N. agency overseeing the Paris accord. He announced Friday that he would officially inform the U.N. that the U.S. will meet its emissions obligations, noting it is already halfway there — thanks to better fuel economy standards, the shale gas revolution and more renewable energy sources — and is positioned to step up its efforts without any help from Washington.

None of this is new for California. It was amid the climate inaction of President George W. Bush’s administration that the state passed AB 32, one of the world’s most aggressive climate change laws at the time. Decades before that, California imposed vehicle emissions standards before the federal government had any. In recent years, many other states have begun to compete with California in the race to reduce emissions.

“We have more rivals, if you will, with other states stepping up to act in this area,” said Mary Nichols, the state’s top climate change regulator.

Now the success of the renegade effort to bring the U.S. in compliance with the Paris accord will probably hinge on how much further California can push the nation. Even there, the Trump White House is angling to insert itself.

It is threatening to block California from implementing aggressive new fuel mileage standards. If the White House successfully follows through, that could jeopardize the ability of states and cities to meet the Paris climate action commitments, according to Michael Wara, a professor of energy law at Stanford University. Vehicles account for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and California has unique authority under the law to set mileage standards lower than the federal government’s. Under the Clean Air Act, other states can adopt those standards, and several have.

The other massive source of greenhouse gases is power plants, and in that sector the U.S. continues to cut emissions significantly without the federal government.
Wara said natural gas prices had dropped so low that most states would probably meet the targets the Obama administration set for them through the Clean Power Plan — the signature federal climate action Trump has ordered dismantled.

Prices for solar and wind power are also plunging, leading to their proliferation even in states that are not aggressively mandating their use.
Experts caution that without the backstop of a federal commitment to Paris, the momentum could slow and the goal of defiantly meeting initial pledges in the accord could drift out of reach. An increase in natural gas prices or the price of solar panels, or a further drop in the cost of gasoline at the pump, could throw things off.

“I have no doubt we can achieve a lot,” said Jody Freeman, who advised former President Obama on climate change. “But it is challenging to match what would have been possible staying in Paris.”

Many politicians are trying. Among them is Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh — a city that Trump has said repeatedly he is putting ahead of Paris in his rebuke of the accord.

On the eve of Trump’s planned “Pittsburgh Not Paris March” on Saturday, Peduto announced a pledge to move his city to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
Trump’s “misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate [agreement] does not reflect the values of our city,” said Peduto, a Democrat.

Similar sentiments echoed across the nation.

“The City of Atlanta will intensify our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, work to cool the planet by two degrees, ramp up clean energy solutions and seek every opportunity to assert our leadership on this urgent issue,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement.

Even in areas elsewhere in the Deep South where Trump’s move was welcomed by Republican lawmakers, state policies that will spur significant emissions reductions are in place.

“Even the red state governments understand that the economic circumstances have changed and clean energy is at least as cheap as dirty energy,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed resolve to persevere with the Paris commitments by ordering, in Trump’s hometown of New York, One World Trade Center and the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens to be illuminated in green.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, was visiting a Brooklyn neighborhood devastated by Superstorm Sandy when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the climate pact on Thursday.

“All that occurred in that superstorm was because of climate change,” De Blasio said during the opening of a new ferry service in the low-lying Red Hook neighborhood. “We’ve already borne the brunt here in New York City. It’s only going to get worse if something is not done quickly to reverse the course the Earth is on.”

By Evan Halper
evan.halper@latimes.com

Times staff writers Barbara Demick in New York and Liam Dillon in Sacramento and special correspondent Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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If We Step Up the Drug War, You’ll Be a Victim

What word best describes the War on Drugs? Inane? Lunacy? Indecent? Harmful? Thuggery?

The right answer is All of the Above. Politicians have ruined lives and wasted money in a futile campaign to stop people from recreational drug use.

It may be true that people who use drugs are being stupid. Or even immoral. But the key thing to understand is that it’s a victimless crime.

Actually, that’s not true, there are victims. They’re called taxpayers, who have to finance the government’s drug war. And there are secondary victims thanks to bad laws (dealing with asset forfeiture and money laundering) that only exist because of the drug war.

Speaking of which, here’s another horror story from the drug war:

A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns … the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures.

Here’s the jaw-dropping part of the story:

… $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

In other words, the government took people’s money even if they weren’t charged with a crime, much less convicted of a crime.

Drug users also can be victims. Heck, sometimes people are victims even if they’re not users, as we see from this great moment in the drug war:

“They thought they had the biggest bust in Harris County,” Ross LeBeau said. “This was the bust of the year for them.” A traffic stop in early December led to the discovery of almost half a pound of what deputies believed to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested LeBeau and sent out a press release, including a mug shot, describing the bust. According to authorities, the arrest was due to deputies finding a sock filled with what they believed to be methamphetamine … After the arrest, LeBeau was fingerprinted and booked into a jail where he spent three days before being released. The problem came after two field tests, performed by deputies, came back positive for meth. Later a third test was conducted by the county’s forensic lab which revealed that the kitty litter was not a controlled substance. The case was later dismissed.

And more bad things like this are probably going to happen because the Justice Department now wants a more punitive approach to victimless crimes.

C.J. Ciaramella of Reason reports on the grim details:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and maximum possible sentences available, reversing an Obama-era policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug crimes … the overall message is clear: Federal prosecutors have the green light to go hard after any and all drug offenses … The shift marks the first significant return by the Trump administration to the drug war policies that the Obama administration tried to moderate. In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain low-level offenders with drug charges that triggered long mandatory sentences. The federal prison population dropped for the first time in three decades in 2014, and has continued to fall since.

Some Republicans are unhappy about this return to draconian policies:

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice … Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), although he did not directly criticize Sessions, wrote in a tweet Friday morning that “to be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

For what it’s worth, Sessions isn’t the only one who deserves blame:

While it’s easy to point the finger at Sessions … Congress ultimately passed the laws the Justice Department is tasked with enforcing. Lawmakers in Congress had a golden window of opportunity over the past three years to revise federal sentencing laws—with bipartisan winds at their back and a friendly administration in White House—and failed miserably.

And there is a tiny bit of good news:

… the Office of National Drug Control Policy … Trump plans to reduce the agency’s budget by 95 percent … there are plenty of actual harm reduction advocates who would be happy to see the agency close up shop.

Though don’t get too excited:

… you know what federal agency with drug policy ramifications is not dormant? The Justice Department … In the grand scheme of the drug war, who might occupy the ONDCP’s bully pulpit matters less than the army Sessions is building.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for better policy.

Here’s another reason why the war on pot is so absurd. As reported by the Daily Caller, people without access to marijuana are more likely to get in trouble with opioids:

Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ. The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.

Last but not least, an article in Reason explains how greedy politicians are undermining the otherwise successful pot legalization in Colorado:

Colorado … voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, transforming the popular stuff from a prohibited vice to a substance that could be produced, bought and sold without the hassle of hiding dealings from the authorities and the fear of arrest for voluntary transactions. Yet the marijuana black market is still going strong over four years later, with many sellers and customers willing to take a chance on legal consequences rather than make a risk-free deal … the driving force behind the black market … is taxes so sky high and regulations so burdensome that they make legal pot uncompetitive. “An ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars,” according to PBS correspondent Rick Karr. “At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.” Colorado also piles on expensive regulatory requirements to get a license.

This is not a surprise.

I wrote back in 2015 that the tax burden was excessive.

Indeed, I even wondered if legalization in Colorado was a good thing if the net result was a big pile of tax revenue that could be used to expand government.

The libertarian part of me says Colorado made the right decision, though the fiscal economist part of me definitely sees a downside.

And that downside may become an even bigger downer:

Governor John Hickenlooper wants to increase the marijuana sales tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. “It seems kind of odd that at the same time they’re trying to do something about the black and gray markets they’re going to ratchet up the taxes and drive more people to the black and gray markets,” state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) commented.

P.S. I wonder if Senator Steadman realizes he just embraced the Laffer Curve?

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that voices as diverse as John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, John McCain, and Richard Branson all agree that it’s time to rethink marijuana prohibition.

Daniel J. Mitchell


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

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A Confederate Statue Surrenders after 133 Year

ATLANTA — Gen. Robert E. Lee stood erect, arms crossed over his chest, as workers in masks and protective vests gathered with power tools Friday to oust the statue from its prominent 133-year perch in the heart of New Orleans.

Just after dawn, a removal crew had converged around Lee Circle, a traffic roundabout between the city’s bustling central business district and the wealthy Garden District neighborhood of antebellum mansions.

Slowly, they prepared to dismantle the 16 ½ -foot bronze statue of the icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” from its lofty 60-foot tall marble column.

Before long, the event took on the aura of a block party as residents settled in with lawn chairs, parasols, even mimosas. Some strutted and shimmied as a boombox blasted James Brown’s 1968 classic “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Public Enemy’s 1990 anthem “Fight the Power.”

The sculpture of Lee, dedicated with great fanfare in 1884, was one of the first Confederate monuments erected in the South and the last of four contentious Civil War-related structures targeted for removal by the historic Southern city.

“For me, this landmark has always been a symbol of exploitation and oppression and white supremacy,” said Malcolm Suber, an adjunct professor at Southern University at New Orleans and organizer of Take ’Em Down NOLA. “Today is a sign that we are forcing New Orleans to have a conversation about race and economics and politics that has honestly not happened here in the city before.”

Not everyone agrees the monuments should be removed, which opponents say are part of history.

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War — as fringe white nationalist groups have gained newfound prominence and activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups have stepped up to protest injustice — New Orleans is one of a string of Deep South cities and institutions moving to purge their public squares and streets of Confederate monuments.

About 700 Confederate-inspired monuments and statues remain on public property across the nation, with the majority dedicated or built before 1950, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While public scrutiny of such memorials has intensified since white supremacist Dylann Roof’s June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., the act of removing them is fraught with logistical, legal and ideological hurdles.

Relocating massive marble, bronze and granite monuments can cost tens and even hundreds of thousand dollars, money that some communities can ill afford. In many cases, cities and counties also face bitter resistance and lawsuits from historical groups and descendants of soldiers who accuse them of erasing history and disrespecting those who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy.

Bitter disputes have erupted on New Orleans streets in recent weeks as the city has proceeded with its deeply contested plan to take down an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a bronze sculpture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, a marble monument that celebrates the 1874 uprising of a white supremacist militia against Louisiana’s Reconstruction state government, came down in April.

“It’s a sad day for Louisiana history,” Republican state Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in an interview Friday. “People come to Louisiana for our rich culture and our history. Some of it is unpleasant, but it is history. You’re not going to right a wrong by taking down a monument.”

Many Louisianans, Nungesser said, would prefer to put up plaques offering a fuller, more contextualized history of the sculptures, many of which still feature plaques that glorify white supremacist interpretations of history, or erect alternative statues paying tribute to historical black leaders.

“Do we take down the Washington monument because he had slaves? Do we tear down the White House? It was built with slaves!” Nungesser said. “No one believes this will help race relations.”

Many Southern communities that have wanted to take down controversial monuments in recent years have found their efforts stall as they’ve struggled to find final resting places for symbols that many condemn as offensive.

Officials in Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis have resolved to remove public Confederate monuments only to fail to find museums willing to house them. Officials in St. Louis this week set up a GoFundMe page to raise $25,000 to remove a monument and place it in storage.

New Orleans’ removal of four of its prominent sculptures marks a significant moment in the South’s history, a determination to challenge long-standing white supremacist symbols, said Martin Blatt, director of public history at Northeastern University and a former president of the National Council on Public History.

“All this debate and the controversy points to a history that we still badly need to confront and unearth and interrogate,” Blatt said.

He said he favored the idea of grouping the monuments at a new site, away from highly visible public space, and offering new context and interpretation.

The New Orleans movement to relocate some of the city’s most visible Confederate monuments began in earnest in 2015, shortly after the Charleston massacre, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council declared they were “public nuisances” that did not reflect the city’s diversity or full history.

The process was delayed for nearly two years by a succession of lawsuits from historic preservation groups and monument supporters. The original contractor hired by the city backed out after his employees received death threats and his car was set on fire. Workers dismantled the last three monuments in the cover of darkness, protecting themselves with masks and protective vests.

In contrast, the city announced the removal of the fourth statue, of Lee, in advance, with Landrieu planning an afternoon address at a nearby historic building.

Throughout the years, the Lee monument has served as a focal point for Civil War reunions and a host of civic celebrations. In 1891, it was a gathering spot for the mob responsible for the largest mass lynching in American history: the killing of 11 Italian American men for their alleged role in the murder of the city’s police chief, David Hennessy.

The ultimate fate of the Jim Crow-era sculptures is uncertain. The city has stated the monuments will remain in storage until officials find a museum or facility where they can be displayed in proper context.

On Thursday, Landrieu’s office said in a statement that it had received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments and would solicit proposals only from governmental entities and nonprofit groups.

“This should guarantee that wherever the statues end up, they are interpreted as they should be: as historical artifacts from a time when white Southerners believed it was acceptable to memorialize a lost-cause interpretation of the Civil War and ignore the historical record,” said Blain Roberts, a professor of history at Fresno State, who is working on a book about the memory of slavery.

Yet questions linger about how far New Orleans and other Southern cities will go to memorialize the Civil War and the historic legacy of slavery.

New Orleans officials have announced that Lee’s statue will be replaced by a water feature and public art, while a U.S. flag will be placed at the site of the Davis statue. The City Park Improvement Assn. will help decide what replaces the Beauregard statue.

“Putting the American flag in the spot where the Davis statue stood is fine, but I would urge the city to do more,” Roberts said. “Whatever replaces the removed statues should acknowledge the historical facts that those statues were designed to suppress: that enslaved labor generated the wealth of white New Orleanians, and that defending slavery was the reason they and other white Southerners seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War.”

By Jenny Jarvie

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Chelsea Manning Speaks Out Ahead of Release from Prison

Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier has issued her first statement since former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence for leaking intelligence, saying on Tuesday she wants to help others after she is released from prison next week.

Chelsea Manning has served nearly seven years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, the biggest such breach in U.S. history.

Her case became both the focus of debate over government secrecy and a rallying cause for civil liberties advocates, who saw the punishment as too severe and an attempt to chill whistleblowers from speaking up about government misdeeds.

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” Manning said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others,” she added, giving thanks for her upcoming release.

Obama granted Manning clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers. Congressional Republicans criticized the commutation as a dangerous precedent.

Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a statement on Tuesday the sentence was “far too long, too severe, too draconian.”

Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.

Manning has previously said she released the files in the interests of transparency and accountability.

She twice tried to kill herself and has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the men’s military prison. In her statement, Manning said her time in prison included periods of solitary confinement and struggles with restricted healthcare.

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Americans Work Almost 4 Months Just to Pay Taxes

Tax Day 2017 has passed for individual taxpayers, but America’s tax bill is still due, and it’s a big one.

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more on taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.Taxpayers won’t pay off this year’s local, state, and federal tax burden totaling $5.1 trillion until April 23, or as the Tax Foundation calls it, Tax Freedom Day. That day, calculated annually, represents how long Americans work to pay local, state, and federal taxes for the year.

In 2017, it will take 113 days for taxpayers to pay the country’s tax burden, which includes $1.5 trillion in local and state taxes and $3.5 trillion in federal taxes, equaling 31 percent of America’s income. But that’s not all. If you include federal borrowing, which represents future taxes the government must collect to pay the bills, Tax Freedom Day would occur 14 days later this year on May 7.

To put this year’s total tax burden into perspective, the latest date for Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day took place during World War II almost three weeks later than this year’s date, occurring on May 25, 1945.

How Expensive is Government?

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more in taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.

The federal deficit is expected to shrink by $45 billion to $612 billion in calendar year 2017, but the track record over the past few decades is not comforting. The cost of the federal government has surpassed its tax revenues since 2002, racking up budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012.

According to the Tax Foundation’s data, Tax Freedom Day has changed dramatically over the past century. Notice how the date of Tax Freedom Day correlates with significant expansions of government since 1900, especially when considering the deficit-inclusive figures:

Focusing on Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day, economic liberty in America shifted abruptly in favor of the government while Woodrow Wilson was president. Wilson ushered in the Revenue Act of 1913 which re-imposed the federal income tax after the ratification of the 16th Amendment, followed soon after by the creation of the Federal Reserve in late 1913, and both led the way for deficit financing that enabled U.S. entry into World War I.

After a subsequent reduction in federal tax burdens in the 1920s, the trend began to worsen considerably and hastened in the 1930s. American taxpayers then saw a substantial spike in government spending, deficits, and state power during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency and World War II.

Taxpayers saw a dramatic improvement in their financial freedom following World War II when overall tax burdens decreased in the 1950s, similar to the trend in the 1920s in the aftermath of World War I. But this new norm in the 1950s meant an additional two months of work to pay the government’s tax burden when compared to just a few decades prior. The overall trend, unfortunately, has been in the direction of Tax Freedom Day occurring later over the past sixty years, and considerably later compared to the trend of the past century, meaning less freedom from onerous taxation for Americans.

Taxes Are Revolting, Why Aren’t You?

Tax burdens vary considerably state by state due to different tax policies and the progressive federal tax system. Each state has its own Tax Freedom Day which factors in local, state, and federal tax burdens for the taxpayers in their respective states.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, offering the ultimatum: your money or your life.States like Connecticut (May 21, #50), New Jersey (May 13, #49), and New York (May 11, #48) have higher taxes and residents earning higher incomes, so they celebrate Tax Freedom Day later than states like Mississippi (April 5, #1), Tennessee (April 7, #2), and South Dakota (April 8, #3), which bear the lowest tax burdens in 2017.

The introduction of the Wilson era federal income tax and the Federal Reserve allowed for expansive government power and deficit financing. This also shifted the primary means of funding the government to income taxes and away from tariffs, as had been the practice.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, essentially offering the ultimatum: your money or your life. Sheldon Richman wrote a book by that very title and argues that the income tax must be abolished altogether.

Reasonable people from various political viewpoints can disagree about how our tax dollars are spent or whether our earnings should be confiscated whatsoever, but Tax Freedom Day helps to put Americans’ overall tax burden into perspective. Furthermore, it highlights the paramount principle regarding the rights of individuals and government power:

If Americans are forced to work nearly one-third of the year just to pay taxes to the government, then how free are we?

Jared Labell


Jared Labell

Jared Labell is the Executive Director of The Libertarian Institute as well as Taxpayers United of America.

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The Elites in Washington, DC are Thriving

Every so often, I share an image that is unambiguously depressing. Usually, because it suggests that freedom is slowly eroding.

I now have another addition to that depressing list.

Just as the Minneapolis Federal Reserve has an interactive website that allows users to compare recoveries and recessions, which is very useful for comparing Reaganomics and Obamanomics, the St. Louis Federal Reserve has an interactive website that allows users to compare national and regional economic data.

And that’s the source of today’s depressing chart. It shows median inflation-adjusted household income for the entire nation and for the District of Columbia. As you can see, the nation’s capital used to be somewhat similar to the rest of the nation. But over the past 10 years, DC residents have become an economic elite, with a representative household “earning” almost $14,000 more than the national average.

By the way, I put quotation marks around “earning” in the previous sentence for a very specific reason.

There is nothing wrong with some people accumulating lots of wealth and income if their prosperity is the result of voluntary exchange.

It’s increasingly just a racket for insiders to get rich at the expense of everyone else.In the case of Washington, DC, however, much of the capital’s prosperity is the result of coercive redistribution. The lavish compensation of federal bureaucrats is a direct transfer from taxpayers to a gilded class, while the various lobbyists, contractors, cronyists, politicians and other insiders are fat and happy because of a combination of direct and indirect redistribution.

I should also point out that the entire region is prospering at the expense of the rest of the nation.

By the way, some people will be tempted to argue that rising income levels in DC are simply a result of gentrification as higher-income whites displace lower-income blacks. Yes, that is happening, but that begs the question of where the new residents are getting all their income and why the nation’s capital is an increasingly attractive place for those people to live.

The answer, in large part, is that government is a growth industry. Except it’s not an industry. It’s increasingly just a racket for insiders to get rich at the expense of everyone else.

Daniel J. Mitchell


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

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Conservatives Wants Law School’s Civil Rights’ Center to Stop Filing Civil Rights’ Lawsuits

The Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina’s law school will be barred from filing lawsuits if conservatives on the university’s policy-making board get their way.

Conservatives say lawsuits depart from the university’s educational mission, but former law dean Gene Nichol sees another motivation, The Associated Press reports. He tells the wire service in an email that the proposal is “strictly, certainly and undoubtedly ideological.”

Nichol, who remains a law professor at the school, had headed the university’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity before it was shut down about two years ago by the university’s board of governors. About two dozen other centers were also shut down.

Board member Steve Long denies an ideological motivation.

“Free enterprise, civil rights, protection of children’s rights—whatever the cause it doesn’t matter. Are you going to stay on mission as an educational institution or not?” he told the AP.

The issue isn’t money, however. The center is funded by grants, foundation money, and donations. It was founded in 2001 by civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, who died in 2013.

 

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Trump’s Troubling Pick to Head Mental Health

So far, Donald Trump’s appointments have been a mixed bag. From Jeff Sessions, who wants to ramp up the misguided and counterproductive war on drugs, to Ajit Pai, who is bringing a badly needed respect for liberty to the FCC. One appointment I’m particularly concerned about, though, is Ellie McCance-Katz for Assistant Secretary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

McCance-Katz has the support of the psychiatric community because she ascribes to the industry orthodoxy on mental illness, namely that it is the result of brain malfunction and should be treated with psychotropic drugs, irrespective of the wishes of the patients.

“Settled” Science

In a piece she wrote for the Psychiatric Times, she lambasted the agency she is about to join:

“There is a perceptible hostility toward psychiatric medicine: a resistance to addressing the treatment needs of those with serious mental illness and a questioning by some at SAMHSA as to whether mental disorders even exist—for example, is psychosis just a ‘different way of thinking for some experiencing stress?'”

But wait a minute, aren’t these the questions we should be asking? Isn’t the goal of science and medicine to seek truth and question authority? There’s an uncomfortable “settled science” element to her remarks that is reminiscent of the Climate Change movement. Any skepticism of official dogma is dismissed as heresy.

The goal of psychiatry should be to continue to advance our understanding of the mind.As recently as the 1970s, psychiatric orthodoxy held that homosexuality was a mental disorder to be corrected. Now it is regarded as a legitimate sexual preference. Might not the same mistake have been made for other forms of supposed-disorder?

It seems to me that the goal of psychiatry should be to continue to advance our understanding of the mind, not to purge anyone who questions the current state of knowledge.

Healthy Skepticism

It is fashionable in psychiatric circles to brand any skepticism with the loaded term “anti-psychiatry,” a movement with ties to Scientology. But this is basically ad hominem thinking, attempting to delegitimize the person as opposed to the idea.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of psychiatry’s current practices, with buying into the tenets of antipsychiatry.

For example, psychiatry holds that mental illness is like any other illness, that a disease of the mind is really a disease of the brain. But is there any conclusive evidence that gambling addiction is a brain disease? Is there any evidence that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder stems from a sick brain?

In fact, there isn’t. Excessive gambling and compulsive actions are observed behaviors, not medical pathologies.

Involuntary commitment is indistinguishable from kidnapping.Yet, the psychiatric profession bristles whenever anyone suggests that these behaviors may not be “an illness like any other” and insists that drugging patients is the proper course of treatment even when there is no chemical rationale for why a drug would help.

Dangerous Minds

McCance-Katz condescendingly mischaracterizes the opinions of the people she wants to replace, saying that they think “it’s abusive to impose our constructs of normal mental and emotional functioning even on seriously mentally ill people.”

In fact, what psychiatric skeptics define as abuse are those things which, without a doctor’s signature, would be unambiguous criminal activities.

Anyone concerned about liberty should be alarmed at the amount of power these laws give the state.

Involuntary commitment is indistinguishable from kidnapping apart from the legitimacy given to it by doctors and judges. Mandatory drugging is indistinguishable from assault apart from the fact that it has been made legal in certain cases.

The fact that these people, defined as the mentally ill not by themselves, but by others, are made to suffer such ignominious indignities, merely on the basis of a professional opinion should be worrying to anyone concerned with individual liberty.

Last year, SAMHSA opposed legislation that gave family members greater control over their relatives, to the point of violating their medical privacy and making decisions for them, even potentially having them committed, on the basis of some doctor deciding whether they are competent.

McCance-Katz worked at the agency at the time, and has not commented specifically on the law, but her comments in the Psychiatric Times indicate that she is unhappy with the way the agency has been run, and has expressed no concern for the potential rights violations the law creates.

Anyone concerned about liberty should be alarmed at the amount of power laws like these place in the hands of the state.

I’m not saying the status quo at the SAMHSA is a good thing; I am worried by any effort on the part of the federal government to meddle in the lives of people who have committed no crime.

But McCance-Katz’s approach to the treatment of mental illness is worrying in that she appears little concerned with individual rights, and unwilling to tolerate any diversity of thought.

To the extent that these offices should do anything, a question which is very much in doubt, they should focus on helping people who actually want help, and who ask for it, and not forcing drugs on those who do not want them.

Logan Albright


Logan Albright

Logan Albright is the Director of Research at Free the People. Logan was the Senior Research Analyst at FreedomWorks, and was responsible for producing a wide variety of written content, research for staff media appearances, and scripts for video production. Logan also managed the research and interviews with congressional candidates used for endorsements by FreedomWorks PAC. He received his Master’s degree in economics from Georgia State University in 2011, before promptly setting out for DC to fight for liberty.

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Georgia Lawmaker Gives Away Cannabis Oil on the Edge of the Law

Georgia State representative Allen Peake has been fighting for medical marijuana in his state for some time now, being instrumental in a recent expansion of Georgia’s cannabis oil law that made it through the state House and Senate.

The Associated Press recently sat down with Rep. Peake to talk about medical marijuana and his efforts to get cannabis oil to patients in Georgia who need it. Even though there are patients who are qualified for the medicine in the state, they have no way of accessing it.

So every month a box arrives from Colorado at Rep. Peake’s office, full of cannabis oil. Peake then distributes that oil to patients. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to be able to help get the product to these families, these citizens who have debilitating illnesses,” Peake told AP.

Peake gives away the oil, as selling it would be illegal in Georgia. The process that gets it to his office is a federal felony, but Peake maintains that he doesn’t inquire about that part. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how the product gets here,” Peake said.

When boxes arrive Peake makes donations to a foundation in Colorado that supports the research of medical marijuana, to the tune of about $100,000 a year (Peake is independently wealthy due to his ownership of more than 100 franchise restaurants). In this way, Peake stays (barely) within Georgia law.

He is also scrupulous when it comes to who gets the oil; patients must be among the roughly 1,300 that are registered with the state and are legally allowed to receive the oil. With the spotlight on his activities, Peake has to be careful. But he says it is worth it to be able to help sick people all over Georgia.

Rep. Peake even procured a medical marijuana card from the Georgia Department of Public Health to show to people as he promotes the state’s program. And even though he is not a qualified patient, “a card is a card, enabling Peake to legally possess the cannabis at his office,” according to AP.

From Peake the oil goes into an informal distribution network of patients and caregivers, people like Shannon Cloud, whose daughter suffers from the rare seizure disorder Dravet’s Syndrome. “It shouldn’t be this way,” she said to AP. “You shouldn’t be meeting at a gas station or a Target parking lot to get medicine to somebody. You should be going to the place where it is produced and tested to get it dispensed to you in a regulated manner, but this is what we’re forced to do.”