Montgomery County Socialism

For readers in or around the DC area, the Washington City Paper has a nice cover story on the draconian Department of Liquor Control in the People’s Republic of Montgomery County, Md. The DLC is a government agency that controls the supply and distribution of every drop of alcohol sold in MC.

The piece sketches out some of the nightmarish experiences that business owners in MC have to go through to procure otherwise widely-available wines, and how the county outrageously cranks up the prices and provides godawful service to the business owners. (For example, a bottle that sold for $240 at a shi-shi DC restaurant is available for MC restaurant owners to purchase from the county for $260. They’d then have to mark it up themselves, again, to make a profit.)

Finally, the author of the piece interviews the director of the DLC, George Griffin, and asks him, “What gives?”

Griffin then proceeds to reel off some impressive statistics on how control jurisdictions have lower rates of underage drinking and fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities for people under 21 than open jurisdictions. (An independent study forwarded to me by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association seems to confirm his stats.) But then Griffin pauses briefly and delivers a disarmingly direct kicker to his list of justifications for MoCo’s system: “And that’s in addition to the $22 million that we give the county in unrestricted funds.”

Since taking over the DLC in 2001, after disgraced director Howard L. Cook Jr. was forced to leave for misusing a county credit card (among other misdeeds), Griffin will be the first to admit the contradictory nature of his job. It’s both to promote the “moderation and responsible behavior in all phases of distribution and consumption”…and to make a buttload of money to dump into the county’s budget. In the last five and a half years alone, the DLC has transferred more than $100 million to the general fund.

It isn’t just fine wines, either. When I was in college, I worked at a Bethesda pizza place to pay the bills. I recall during one of our busiest seasons, we ran out of all draft pilsner beer — Bud, Bud Light, Miller Light, etc. We begged, pleaded, beseeched the county to bring us more. Business had gone into the toilet, with no beer to serve with the pizza. The response from the DLC? ”We’ll be there when we get there.” They got there about a week later.

Meanwhile, DC restaurant owners are laughing all the way to the bank:

Some drinkers are already laughing at the wine choices in MoCo. “Nobody can think of a single restaurant that’s in Montgomery County that has anything approaching a noteworthy wine list,” says Mark Slater, chef sommelier at Citronelle, who once co-owned a restaurant in the county. “I don’t know why the citizens of the county even let that stuff go on. It’s punitive.”

Get the whole sorry scoop here.

Blacks Used Gun Ownership to Fight the KKK

Ken Blackwell’s Townhall.com column favorably comments on how 2nd Amendment rights enabled oppressed blacks to defend themselves in the Jim Crow south:

In his 2004 book, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, Tulane University history professor Lance Hill tells their story. Hill writes of how a group of southern working class black men advanced civil rights through direct action to protect members of local communities against harassment at schools and polling places, and to thwart the terror inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan. He argues that without the Deacons’ activities the civil rights movement may have come to a crashing halt.

…Following a KKK night ride in Jonesboro, the Deacons approached the police chief who had led the parade and informed him that they were armed and unafraid of self-defense. The Klan never rode through Jonesboro again. Local cross burnings ceased when warning shots were fired as a Klansmen’s torch met a cross planted in front of a black minister’s home. The initial desegregation of Jonesboro High School was threatened by firemen who aimed hoses at black students attempting to enter the building. When four Deacons arrived and loaded their shotguns, the firemen left and the students entered unscathed. It was this series of efforts by the Deacons that caused the Klan to leave Jonesboro for good.

Similar work in Bogalusa, Louisiana drove the KKK out of that town as well, and led to a turning point in the civil rights movement. Acting as private citizens in lawful employment of their constitutional rights, the Deacons demonstrated the real social impact of the freedoms our nation’s founders held dear.

…Gun control measures, from the slave gun bans of the 1700s South to the Brady Bill regulations of the 1990s, have unfairly targeted black Americans and have worked to curtail a disproportionate number of their constitutional rights.

The School Choice Revolution Continues

The teacher unions are not having a very good year. Utah is on the verge of a sweeping school choice plan, and South Carolina may be next.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

South Carolina could be next. Legislation is now being drafted to allow nearly 200,000 poor students to opt out of failing public schools by giving them up to $4,500 a year to spend on private school tuition. Middle class parents would be eligible for a $1,000 tax credit.

Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, also wants to create more choice within the public system by consolidating school districts so students who can’t afford to live in a certain zip code aren’t forced into the worst public schools — a system that now consigns thousands of African-American students to failing schools. In his State of the State Address last month, Mr. Sanford branded the current districts a “throwback to the era of segregation.” The comment drew hardly a flutter in the legislature, he told us, because “everyone knows it’s true.”

Despite a 137% increase in education spending over the past two decades and annual per pupil spending that exceeds $10,000, South Carolina schools trail the nation in performance. The state ranks 50th in SAT scores, only half of its students graduate from high school in four years and only 25% of eighth graders read at grade level. The Governor’s budget puts it this way: “The more we expose students to public education, the worse they do.”

In last year’s elections three legislators paid for their opposition to school choice with their seats. One freshman reformer is Representative Curtis Brantley, an African-American Democrat from rural Jasper County who defeated a white incumbent in a June primary. He told us he supports school choice because something must be done to shake up the status quo.

Flat Tax in Romania

Romania’s flat tax is generating results that would make French politicians delirious with joy — huge increases in tax revenue. Income tax collections jumped 44.7 percent in 2005, the year the flat tax was introduced. (Sadly, the increased revenue isn’t keeping pace with Romanian government spending; as the country works to meet the various conditions for EU membership, its budget deficit is growing, which has led to complaints from Brussels.)

Rather than learn from this “Laffer Curve” example, the high-tax nations that dominate the EU are complaining about Romania’s “harmful tax competition.” A Hungarian news service reports:

Romania increased spending on roads, railways, pensions and other areas last year, mainly in December, to bring standards closer to those in the EU, which it joined on January 1.

…The Finance Ministry said today the government boosted revenue to 31.8% of GDP last year from 30.3% the previous year, helping meet a key EU recommendation. EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last year that budget revenue as a proportion of GDP was lower than in any EU nation and recommended the country increase it. Economic growth, which the government has estimated at about 8% last year from 4.1% in 2005, also stimulated revenue collection, the finance ministry said.

…Romanian government spending increased 25% last year in nominal terms and accounted for 33.5% of GDP, from 31.2% in 2005, the ministry said. Income tax collection rose 44.7% to 9.8 billion lei ($3.8 billion). Romania has said income tax revenue has consistently increased since January 1, 2005, when it introduced a flat tax of 16% on corporate and personal income, the lowest in eastern Europe. It replaced a corporate tax rate of 25% and a personal income tax rate of as high as 40%.

More Evidence of FEMA Incompetence

Failure is rewarded in Washington, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is a prime example. Its squandering of money after last year’s hurricane season was astounding even by government standards.

If Republicans had a shred of principles, they would have used the fiasco to argue that responding to natural disasters is not a proper role of the federal government. Instead, FEMA gets a bigger budget.

The Associated Press reports on new evidence of FEMA’s reckless stewardship of taxpayer funds: 

In the neighborhood President Bush visited right after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government gave $84.5 million to more than 10,000 households. But Census figures show fewer than 8,000 homes existed there at the time.

…The pattern was repeated in nearly 100 neighborhoods damaged by the hurricanes. At least 162,750 homes that didn’t exist before the storms may have received a total of more than $1 billion in improper or illegal payments, the AP found. The AP analysis discovered the government made more home grants than the number of homes in one of every five neighborhoods in the wake of Katrina.

…[T]he AP’s findings are similar to those of a February report by the Government Accountability Office, which found hurricane aid was used to pay for guns, strippers and tattoos. The GAO concluded that between $600 million and $1.4 billion was improperly spent on Katrina relief alone. In one neighborhood GAO scrutinized, at least one person gave an address as a cemetery. Records show FEMA gave 27,924 assistance grants worth $293 million in that neighborhood. The AP’s analysis shows only 18,590 homes existed, meaning up to $98 million in aid could have been disbursed improperly or illegally.

War Is Swell

In his post below, Justin Logan outlines some of Max Boot’s howlers on Iraq, and asks: “why should anyone be listening to him now?”  It’s a good question.  However, I think Boot serves a useful function.  If you find yourself arguing that neoconservatives are empire-hungry, war-mad, and contemptuous of civil liberties–and your opponent accuses of you of setting up a straw man–point him to Boot.  He’s the real deal.   

As Justin noted, here’s Boot making ”the Case for American Empire.”  And here he is telling us that “Empire” is the right term:

“No need to run away from the label,” argues Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York: “America’s destiny is to police the world.”  

Here’s Boot offering America’s occupation of the Philippines–with its 200,000 dead civilians–as a success, and as reason for hope that Iraq will be a success as well.  Here he is suggesting that China may be looking into “creating man-made earthquakes” as a way of fighting an asymmetric war against the United States.  (There’s a threat to keep you up nights.)  So threatening is the world we live in, in fact, that it’s time to ”Forget privacy, we need to spy more.” 

But for classic Boot, you can’t beat this LA Times column from last summer, in which he declares that General Curtis LeMay was one of the “greatest peacemakers in modern history,” a proper candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize.  It’s an odd choice.

  As head of the air war in Japan during WWII, LeMay ordered the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 civilians; as well as the bluntly named “Operation Starvation” designed to destroy Japanese food supplies.  “I suppose if I had lost the war I would have been tried as a war criminal,” LeMay said later.

Well, “they” started it, some will say.  But if deliberately killing large numbers of civilians doesn’t disqualify one from “peacemaker” status, then how about trying to start a nuclear war?  As head of Strategic Air Command in the ’50s, it was LeMay’s view that the United States should strike the Soviet Union while America retained nuclear superiority.  If the weak-willed civilians wouldn’t sanction preventive war, he hoped to provoke an incident that would allow him to deliver his “Sunday Punch,” unleashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and causing an estimated 60 million Russian dead.  Without authorization, in 1954 he ordered B-45 overflights of the Soviet Union, commenting to his aides, “Well, maybe if we do this overflight right, we can get World War III started.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, LeMay repeatedly challenged President Kennedy’s courage, urging him to approve airstrikes.  That action might well have led to the nuclear exchange LeMay dreamed of.   All in all, it’s not surprising that some people identify LeMay as the model for General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, a movie that according to Fred Kaplan, author of Wizards of Armageddon, got a little too close to the truth for comedy. 

In the column linked above, “Messed up Are the Peacemakers,” Boot suggests that modern-day peace activists have questionable priorities and bizarre affections.  Maybe so.  But he’s hardly in a position to criticize them.

Unsurprising News from the Pentagon

The Washington Post reports yesterday on cost overruns for weapons procurement. “It is not unusual for weapons programs to go 20 to 50 percent over budget, the Government Accountability Office found.”

That’s for sure. As I’ve documented, it’s not unusual for weapons to more than double in cost. I’m talking about the F/A-22 Raptor, the V-22 Osprey, the CH-47F helicopter, the Patriot missile, and on and on. See here, and see the discussion in Downsizing the Federal Government.

The same pattern occurs in federal highway projects, energy projects, and many other government endeavors.

Part of the reason this occurs is that contractors and government officials have a quiet understanding that the initial cost numbers that are used to get projects launched should be low-balled. Both sides know that later on, after projects are underway, excuses can be found to raise the price tag. “The scope of work has expanded.” “We couldn’t have foreseen those additional problems.” “The mission requirements have changed.” “There are new regulatory requirements.”

It doesn’t really matter. Once the money is flowing to certain states and jobs are at stake, no member of Congress has an incentive to be frugal with taxpayer money.