Author Archives: Christopher White

Proposition 1 is a Stinker: Give It the Royal Flush

What’s that smell and where is it coming from? Is it the sewer backing up? Nah. The malodor is emanating from a Columbia, Mo sewage-leak-releasesewer bond proposal, which seeks to place the city’s sewer system on terra firma—or, at least, that is the justification for the bond. While some say the bond proposal is a boon to the city because it helps pay for an improved sewer system, others say it is a massive waste of important resources and, ultimately, baneful to Como citizen’s wallets and pocketbooks.

Nonetheless, if Como citizens vote for the bond on the Nov. 5 ballot, which is a debt owed, rates will increase, fees will be enacted, and a multitude of taxes will follow in order to pay down the loan.

Before talking about bonds in general, let’s take a trip back in time: Columbia voters passed a $77 million sewer bond issue in 2008 that was supposed to allocate $4 million to cutout Columbia’s ” private common collector sewers.” Not only was this 2008 iteration of today’s sewer bond proposal a waste of taxpayer dollars (“private common collector sewers” split the cost of maintaining sewers with the taxpayer 50/50, lowering the cost to the taxpayer), as highlighted by Columbia Heartbeat’s Mike Martin, but it was also a promise that went unfulfilled because this year’s proposal is making the same promise: eradicating the “private common collector sewers.”

Instead of repackaging a turd from 2008, maybe Como’s City Council could flush these ridiculously expensive bonds down the toilet. After all, turds were meant to be flushed.

But I guess the Columbia City Council wants to act consistently: They say, well, we wasted $4 million in 2008, we might as well stay consistent and waste approx. the same amount in 2013.

What is worse, it appears as though inequitable utility billing practices have plagued Columbia for years.

Indeed, four years ago it was revealed that former Columbia sewer superintendent Bill FOURTHWARD_032113_Bill_Weitkemper_RP048Weitkemper—a man with an absolute stranglehold on sewer spending in Columbia—found that utility bills were more expensive for individuals in residential households than for large utility users like the University of Missouri, apartment owners and strip malls; Weitkemper, in a letter to the City Council, said “master meters,” which measure sewage usage at several apartments and buildings, are the reason why individuals residents have higher utility bills than MU, strip malls and apartment complexes.

I guess it is true: shit really does roll down hill.

The master meters, he admonished the Council, should, for purposes of making utility bills more equitable, be abolished in favor of individual meters, which measure individual units and buildings.

As for bonds in general: It is easy to see why they are so attractive; a bond’s immediate input of revenue into public coffers allows local governments, state governments and the federal government to avoid increasing taxes.  But like most personal loans, which are oftentimes frivolously spent by the borrower with nary a consideration for repayment in the long run, the issuance of bonds becomes easier and easier to undertake.

To wit, the issuance of bonds, by dint of the fact that they are easier to stomach than tax increase, can easily become part of normal operating procedure. To that point, the potentates in Congress and in state legislatures suggest bonds for myriad things: Does our local police force need a tank? Issue a bond; do we need a new, modern national airport? Issue a bond.

In short, bonds tend to stack up on top of another, making them nearly impossible to pay off.

Apparently, spending other people’s money is habit forming.

For example, as explained by the Show-Me-Institute’s Michael Rathbone during testimony before the Missouri Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Missouri’s Missouri’s FY 2013 budget showed that the state completed payments for the Third State Building Bonds, but the state is still paying for the Fourth State Building Bonds, and Water Pollution Control Bonds.

Moreover, according to Missouri FY 2013 budget, the state, along with its pending bonds, is also facing nearly $5 billion in unfunded liabilities. These unfunded liabilities and the excessive selling of  bonds portend bad things for many Missourians going forward, and many Columbia citizens especially: we are all going to face massive tax and fee increases to pay off these bonds.

In the end, a bond issuance is not free money–nothing is free. Taxpayers will be asked to pay out the butt for these bonds in the coming years.

Keep Columbia Free, if you have not gathered, thinks that Proposition 1–the initiative that, if approved, would sell bonds for sewer work–stinks.

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Small, Homey College Towns: Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, Mo Have Armies? But Why?

This post originally aired at The College Fix.

We should be asking the Columbia, Mo City Council why it feels the need to militarize its police force. Hopefully the University of Missouri refrains from purchasing an “urban assault vehicle.” But who knows. Those college students can be a rowdy bunch. Maybe a gun turret blast into their dorm rooms will quite them down.

While some universities, in attempts to keep a lookout for lone-wolf shooters, have spent millions of dollars on a vast array of campus security cameras, other campuses have considerably beefed up their police force tools with urban-warfare tanks—in effect creating little armies.

Ohio State University and Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, are two such examples.

The Daily Caller reported that the Ohio State University campus police recently obtained what appears to be a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle to add to their security detail. Critics of campus security ask why such a tank-like vehicle, built primarily for urban warfare, would ever be needed in a small college town, let alone on a campus.

The massive vehicle is capable of holding 10 passengers within its bulky frame. It is also armed with a turret, gun ports and a battering ram for those hard-to-get-into dorm rooms. Needless to say, that is a lot of artillery for a small town police department tasked with the unenviable job of corralling young college students.

Not to be outdone, Columbia, Mo.—a small town compared to most other expansive cities with large SWAT forces–picked up its own $200,000, ground-pounding behemoth this past April. The vehicle is called a “Bearcat” which is an acronym for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.”

To that point, universities and college towns are, under the guise of safety, taking security several steps further, opting to step up the full militarization of their police forces; it remains to be seen whether or not the increasing militarization of the police is an effective tool to use to combat episodic shooting tragedies.

The Daily Caller contacted OSU media director Gary Lewis who bragged that “OSU’s campus cops are the first agency in the state to acquire such a vehicle.”

The vehicle may be used for officer rescues, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluations or campus shootings, according to campus officials.

After Lewis’ comments, and Reason Magazine’s investigations on the story, OSU and its PR department shut out all media inquiries, admitting to reporters only that the university has borrowed other law enforcement vehicles in the past. The admission appears to contradict Lewis’ claim that the OSU campus police were the first in the state to own an urban assault vehicle.

In the same vein, Lt. Geoff Jones of Columbia, Mo., SWAT told The Fix that the Bearcat was meant to replace the police department’s older armored response vehicle that had become aged and worn-out. “The vehicle needed to be replaced,” Jones said. He refused to justify why the police department needed an armored vehicle at all, only saying that it can be used in hostage situations and to break up riots.

As if the “Bearcat” was not enough to keep the crime in check, the Columbia city council in early September filled out a purchase order for more than 40 M4 Semi-Automatic rifles and a set of 25 night vision goggles, according to City Council documents. Again, the purchasing of the rifles and an armored vehicle prompted some to question the city council’s decision to arm to the teeth the city’s police department.

After the 2007 Texas Tech shootings, many universities have acted quickly, and, some say, too hastily to protect their students from episodic acts of violence—forgetting that schools are schools, not warzones.

One of the most outspoken critics of the militarization of all police forces, not just campus police departments, is former Reason Magazine editor Radley Balko.

Balko told The Fix that “schools and police officials will cite Virginia Tech or Columbine as reason for needing SWAT teams or armored vehicles, but the average campus can expect to see a homicide once every several thousand years.” Moreover, Balko said, once these Columbine/VT incidents do not transpire, which they rarely ever do, they then can use these militaristic vehicles for more mundane purposes.

In short, police departments appear to use the public’s fear of lone shooters as a way to acquire armored toys.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: Policing for Profit in Columbia, Mo Is Grinding To A Halt

In these tough economic times, how do law enforcement officers find the cash for nifty gadgets such as new militarized swat vehicles or fancy, little video cameras?

Why, they steal it.

Principally, civil asset forfeiture tactics have been abused by law enforcement agencies across the nation for decades – and it’s only getting worse.

A 2000 reform act passed by Congress seems to have had little effect, as recent stats by the Department of Justice show $4.22 billion was seized through federal forfeiture laws in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2011 – an increase of a whopping 248 percent.

While national nonprofits and law firms  dedicated to fending off such cash-seizing techniques continue to grow, and investigative news reports exposing the fraud pile up, the process continues unabated.

Here’s how the racket is unfolds.

Criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a caveat. The feds can seize the assets of an individual for the mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Called “civil asset forfeitures,” they’re in stark contrast to criminal asset forfeitures, which allow police to seize cash and property from those convicted of a federal crime.

While criminal asset forfeiture cuts legal muster, civil federal forfeiture laws are heralded by many as entirely unconstitutional. Meanwhile, examples of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement are easily found.

Typically after such seizures, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies split the loot, using legal loopholes that allow them to collude, although they call it “equitable sharing.”  Local agents are temporarily deputized as federal ones, which helps them get around civil asset forfeiture laws and procure the assets.

Take, for example, a case out of Nashville chronicled by NewsChannel5 in late April. An Indian-American New York businessman on his way to purchase a convenience store with a large sum of cash lost $160,000 after a routine traffic stop in December 2011.

Ultimately officers were forced to return the money – but more than a year later, and after the man proved it was for businesses purposes, not drug trafficking. In essence, he had to prove his money’s innocence. And the feds still kept $5,000 of it as part of a settlement.

Peter Strianse, a former federal prosecutor, told NewsChannel5 “he often hears from people who’ve had $10,000 or more seized through federal forfeiture laws — and he has to tell them to kiss their money goodbye.”

“It becomes just a real losing proposition,” Strianse said. “You are going to spend three times that amount of money to try to get the $10,000 back that was taken from you.”

In another example, as reported exhaustively by Keep Columbia Free (KCF) among others, the Columbia, Mo. Police Department was able to recently purchase a $200,000 armored police vehicle—a military style SUV—with the help of $36,505 in civil asset forfeiture funds.

Perhaps some of that $36,505 came from Kevin Bay, the owner of a Columbia apparel store called BoCoMo Bay. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Bay was arrested on suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms and selling synthetic marijuana, but the prosecutor in the case dropped all charges; it was, at the time, not illegal to hold and sell synthetic marijuana.

Unfortunately, however, the dropped charges came after Columbia police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property from his house. He asked for it back. Local authorities refused. Bay’s case remains entangled in federal courts.

What’s worse about the Columbia case is that, any asset forfeitures – whether civil or criminal – are required under the state constitution to be given to the state’s schools and public universities – not to police departments to purchase military-style tanks.

But the following may illustrate police motives, their zeal to seize such assets.

In November 2012, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s told the Columbia Police Review Board that civil asset forfeiture is “kind of like pennies from heaven — it gets you a toy or something that you need is the way that we typically look at it to be perfectly honest.”

KCF and civil asset forfeiture reform advocates Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR) want to keep the Columbia Police Department from getting its pennies from heaven.

As many readers of this blog know, KCF has kept vigil over the issue of civil asset forfeiture, both in Columbia, Mo and around the country since its inception in 2010.

Progress on civil asset forfeiture reform has been long and grinding, but it looks like the tide starting to pick up speed, building into a crescendo.

As I write this blog, AFR is preparing an ordinance that would ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture in Columbia, Missouri. Furthermore, AFR maintains that if Columbia’ City Council is not receptive to the ordinance, then the group plans on taking the issue directly to Columbia’ citizenry via a ballot initiative. The initiative will, presumably, appear on next year’s ballot.

Here is the ordinance that will be presented to the Columbia City Council. Read over it.

 petition

Read this, this and this to find out more about civil asset forfeiture.

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Action in Syria could lead to moral crisis for US

With the Obama administration beating the drums for another war of choice on Syria, it is time for Missourians of good conscience to take notice.

The specter of weapons of mass destruction is once again being trotted out to frighten us into going to war, based on a hodgepodge of YouTube videos, the conflicting reports of various factions in Syria’s civil war, and intelligence of dubious origins. But is there really a case for this war that can justify the stark human and moral costs, the high likelihood of future blowback and escalation, and the grave risk of widening a narrow civil war into a global conflict, which would follow from such an attack? That case has yet to be made effectively.

This much is certain; once the gears of war are set in motion, the inherent costs and dangers will be virtually impossible to avoid.

Even limited strikes on Syria will no doubt come with a significant human toll.  Beyond the combatants, collateral damage inflicted on civilians by raining Tomahawk missiles and airstrikes down is inevitable, particularly if highly volatile and intrinsically hazardous chemical weapons stockpiles are targeted.

Moreover, the weight of recent research into the effects of military interventions into other countries’ internal conflicts strongly suggests that a United States attack on Syria would likely lead to an escalation of atrocities against the civilian population by a cornered Assad regime: exactly the opposite result that the Obama administration claims to be seeking.

Going ahead with military action against Syria in the face of growing opposition in Congress, widespread disapproval of the American people, and discord among the international community would constitute a moral crisis for the United States.  Lawlessness replacing Constitutional checks and balances, autocracy replacing the consent of the governed, and international isolation replacing respect for international norms and the laws of war. A nation that we have historically upheld as one of laws and limited government will have become just another callous, cynical power player on the world stage of realpolitik.

After decades of American military intervention in the Middle East, the phenomenon of blowback has become all too familiar. Adding fuel to the fire of volatile and deadly conflicts that plague this region has come back to bite us again and again, with both innocent Americans and the civilian populations of the region suffering the brunt of the United States’ recurrent policy blunders.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is not the definition of a prudent and realistic foreign policy.

Escalating international tensions over the possibility of unilateral military action by the Obama administration pose a far greater threat to the American people and the entire world than anything Assad’s embattled regime could possibly muster. To risk touching off a broader war in the Middle East would be to endanger millions of innocent lives. Such a conflict could involve regional powers known to possess substantial nuclear arsenals, or potentially even spark a direct conflict between the United States and other world powers.

The stakes are high, and clearly the burden of proof is on those urging a headlong rush to war. No amount of credibility or national prestige can justify the deadly game President Obama is playing with the lives of the people of Syria, the United States, and the world.

Jim Chappelow: president of Keep Columbia Free

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Tony St. Romaine’s Insatiable Lust for Other People’s Money

Columbia, Mo Mayor Bob McDavid, after some clamoring from Columbia citizens, came out in support of a 20 cent increase in personal property tax—which is another tax proposal in a seemingly never ending litany of tax proposals, the most recent of course being the 3/8 sales tax increase to pay for an $11 million 911 call center, a facility that is projected to have an annual cost upkeep of nearly $9 million—as a conduit for the hiring of an extra 35 Columbia, Mo police officers.

 

Mayor McDavid, after sensing the animus against a personal property tax increase, and noting the Columbia Police Officer’ Association’s (CPOA) assertion that a $3.5 million tax increase is simply not necessary to stem Columbia’s criminal element, made the snap quick, but perspicacious decision to split the scenery at Bugsy’s beanery; in short, he backed off of his initial support for the tax increase, breaking the news of his about-face on an August 13 Facebook post:

                 

                    “Based on comments made by the Columbia Police Officers Association, I no longer

                     support an increase in property tax to fund an increase in police staffing.”

 

One would think that the sensible minds on the City Council would follow suit, but such thoughts, apparently are unfounded. 

 

As if to buck reality, and to solidify the “most unpopular city managers in Columbia” title, Tony St. Romaine has decided to draw a line in the sand on behalf of tax increases. He is throwing his full weight and support behind the personal property tax increase. Somebody has to stick up for unwanted, unwarranted tax increases, no?

 

Romaine, some might remember, was the same city manage who backed universally disliked policies and ideas like the red light cameras, the use of $3 million in city reserve funding to buy up property for private developers (the worse kind of corporate cronyism), and the erection of an opulently expensive 10 story parking garage downtown (given the sobriquet, Garagezilla), which is more popular among those wishing to commit suicide (two people, in one year’s time, have leaped to their death off of the structure) then it is among the general public.

 

So the CPOA and the mayor are on the same side. They both believe that extra police officers, and the expense that comes with them, can easily be paid through funds filtered through the 911 sales tax and from the cutting back on overtime that current police officers receive; the increase in police force would, necessarily decrease the amount of forced overtime that police officers have to log every day, giving the Mayor and City Council the requisite money to pay for a extra police officers. 

 

The bottom line—according to Mayor McDavid, the CPOA and liberal Missourian columnist and professor George Kennedy, who oftentimes cuts vigorish on behalf of tax increases, is that a personal property tax increase is unnecessary at best, and a terrible idea at worse.

 

What is more, Romaine, and Mayor McDavid before sobering up, appears more than willing to default to the tax increase position on seemingly every issue of importance. If it is not his wanton adherence to a 911 sales tax, then it is his absolute, full-throated love for tax increases—regardless of iteration. A lover of zapping personal income from Columbians, Romaine, based on superfluous facts, is hell-bent on taking other people’s money purely for the purposes of funding future 10 story, 15 story and 20 story parking garages and 25 more red light cameras.

 

As a side note, Columbia residents are tired of the tax increases, and the rumors of tax increases. They want security and safety, but they are not willing to have their personal property or money pilfered and tossed down a cosmic bunny hole in order to keep up appearances. Give them real solutions, not reflexive tax increase proposals.

More on St. Romaine’s past antics HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE

Christopher W.

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CIA Drone Strikes Kill More Civilians than Terrorists

Foreign Policy contributor Micah Zenko fleshed out a few interesting tidbits of info culled from internal, top secret intelligence reports.

In short, as should be obvious by now, the drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, which have increased 200 fold since the Bush administration’s use of them, are not on the up and up. And President Obama, at least in regards to stifling the flow of information, appears to have a lot in common with Richard Nixon.

Here are some of the most provocative data highlighted by Zenko: ”Yet, for all of the historical accounts and professed concerns over the CIA’s detention and extraordinary rendition program, which involved “136 known victims,” it is time for an accounting of the CIA’s drone strikes, which have killed between 3,000 and 4,000 people in Pakistan and Yemen.”

*Indeed, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, you would have had to double and triple the number of CIA detention and rendition victims in order to equal the number of victims of drone strikes–both al Qaeda targets and civilians. For the record, there have been more civilian and “other” deaths by drone strikes than there have been of al-Qaeda combatants.

and:

“Finally, based on the Obama administration’s patterns of behavior, the Department of Justice will assuredly target Landay and his sources for leaking classified information. While the DOJ has refrained from plugging the many selective leaks by anonymous administration officials that praise the precision and efficacy of drone strikes, it has sought more criminal prosecutions of leaks in Obama’s first term than during all previous presidential administrations combined. Like almost everything else we know about targeted killings, these latest revelations come from an investigative journalist who served the public interest by reporting new information on a highly controversial policy — a policy that the government absurdly insists remain secret.”

If President Bush was a war criminal for his use of secret CIA detention centers, rendition, interrogation procedures, and extralegal, constitutionally dubious foreign policy adventures, was does that make President Obama?

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Missouri College Republicans (and protesters in general): Denied Access to Obama Speech

My article in the College Fix about Missouri’s College Republicans being denied access to an Obama speech at Warrensburg, Mo struck a cord in the Cave of Winds. In light of the kerfuffle, which emanated from Missouri, I thought it prudent to republish the article on Keep Columbia Free’s blog.

The issue does not fall into the parochial left/right political spectrum–far from it. In point of fact, it is about freedom of expression, it is about being able to exercise your constitutional right to freedom of speech without being shunted off to the hearth were your words and protestations will die, never having hit ears.

Indeed, previous presidential administrations–Bush 43 and Clinton to name just a couple– have, like President Obama earlier this week, created “free speech zones” at universities as a means of shutting down political dissent.

And moreover, at least in regards to President Obama’s security detail this past Wednesday in Warrensburg, Mo, “public free speech zones” are becoming quite chic among, not just Missouri universities, but universities from all around the country.

“Ten College Republicans were dubbed a security threat and refused admittance to President Barack Obama’s speech at the University of Central Missouri on Wednesday.

Despite the fact that the students had tickets to the event, security personnel turned them away at the door to the recreation center where Obama gave a speech on economic policy, telling the group it wasn’t about their politics but the president’s safety, State Treasurer of the College Republicans Courtney Scott told The College Fix.

The students, some of whom donned Tea Party T-Shirts and others who wore patriotic or Republican-inspired clothing, had protested the president earlier in the day on campus, but had put away their signs and said they were ready to simply listen to Obama when security shut them down – and even told them to leave the vicinity and stay several hundred yards away from the rec center.

The students had waited in a long line and under the hot sun to wind their way to the front of the line two hours in advance of Obama’s scheduled 5:30 p.m. remarks. Still, they were rejected.

“It just didn’t make any sense,” Scott told The Fix. “A lot of us traveled several hours to watch the speech. We were very disappointed not to be able to attend.”

The small group of College Republicans were confused as to why such extreme security precautions were directed at them – but not at the 2,500 other audience members who were granted admission to the event, Scott said.

The speech, the start of Obama’s national tour to tout his latest plan to revive the sluggish national economy, drew a crowd to the university’s recreation center, creating a crowded, stuffy and stifling environment, some observers said.

The intense heat of the day, coupled with the late arrival of Obama, prompted some audience members to suffer heat exhaustion – a few even fainted. Plenty of people left the venue early, prior to Obama’s speech, generating seats to be filled regardless of whether the students had tickets.

The students’ protest earlier in the day was a peaceful one, consisting of holding political speech signs and talking to passersby throughout the morning, Scott said. They were asked to protest at the “public speech area” on campus, not anywhere near the rec center. They were not allowed within eyesight or earshot of people who were waiting in line.

The Mizzou Republicans were among about sixty protesters, half of whom were college students, who had voiced concern Wednesday over Obama’s economic policies in the wake of the country’s ongoing recession.

Some of the signs called for capitalism, others illustrated discontent with Missouri’s 16 percent unemployment rate among college student youth, and the increasing share of national debt students are saddled with year by year.”

Christopher W.

 

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