Tag Archives: Show-Me Institute

Hoppe Responds to Keep Columbia Free

Hoppe

Sunday evening I received an email from Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe in response to my last post on this site regarding her grumbling about Mark Jones being a spoiler. Read that post HERE.

The section from that post that prompted her response reads as follows:

But the local Columbia leftists won’t stop spitting sour grapes all over social media. Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.

Hoppe responds:

Hi Mark, Mitch and Dan, and Keep Columbia Free,

I just saw a post one or all of you did on Keep Columbia Free and it’s facebook book page.
I want to set the record straight on two things that you were totally wrong on about regarding my position and votes.

You stated:
“Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.”

1. I was not in favor of the downtown cameras and voted against them every step of the way and also spoke against them at the Keep Columbia free forum at the Blue Note before the public vote. After the City wide vote in favor of the cameras, I did vote to FUND the cameras, but only after they were approved by the public ballot process. I also made it clear when I voted for the funding, that I did not personally support them and the majority of the 6th ward did not support them either.

2. EEZ- The EEZ first vote came up very quickly, with only a few days notice before the council meeting.  I and Helen Anthony had many questions about the EEZ and  raised them as quickly as we could given the short notice, but in retrospect we were not provided accurate or full  information at the time of our first vote. Thereafter, I worked very hard to get additional answers to questions and concerns that I had, as well as those the public had.  I worked vigorously to get City staff, Council and the Mayor to have more dialogue and hear concerns from the general public who had been left out of the process. I worked to and voted to rescind the first EEZ Board and worked behind the scenes to get new members on that board who would ask tough questions and represent the public.  I attended many meetings with the public and continued raising concerns and questions, publicly and in many private meetings. I  was responsible for help opening up the process for dialogue and community involvement, that ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further. Your statement regarding this is ridiculous and unfounded. You are either uniformed or untruthful. I would like to think it is the former rather than the later.

Sincerely,
Barbara Hoppe

So let me explain why I still stand by what I wrote.

In a nutshell, claiming to be against something but voting in favor of it multiple times is a problem.

Let’s take a look at the first point from Ms. Hoppe’s email — government surveillance of peaceful citizens in Downtown Columbia.

It is true that she spoke against the camera plan and it is true that she voted against the camera plan when it first came before the council prior to being placed on the ballot for voter approval. Thanks for that.

What we must remember is that Proposition 1, the camera ballot initiative, merely authorized the Columbia Police Department to place cameras downtown. The CPD could have made this request at any time and were already authorized to do so. The ballot initiative, as successful as it was, did not mandate that the council provide funding for such a plan. In fact, all the council really could have done in any case is vote to fund the project and Ms. Hoppe voted to do exactly that.

In fact, Ms. Hoppe not only voted to fully fund the original plan for government surveillance in Downtown Columbia, she voted to expand the camera system with a remote control upgrade. Heck, even Fred Schmidt had the guts to offer a protest vote against the expansion.

I also find it alarming that, as Ms. Hoppe states, “the majority of the 6th ward did not support” the camera plan, yet she voted to fund the project. She was, after all, elected by the voters of the 6th Ward to be their representative.

Voting to fund a project that your constituents are against and that you have spoken against is like admonishing one’s alcoholic uncle for drinking too much and then giving him $20 with which to go to the liquor store.

Now let’s take a look at the second part of Ms. Hoppe’s email — the EEZ.

Yes, the original vote was thrust upon the council with very little supporting documentation and no public input. I will concede that she made a mistake that anyone could have made. I will also concede that when a grassroots groundswell of opposition arose against the EEZ, Ms. Hoppe attended public forums and worked to dissolve the original ordinance which allowed for some public comment. She also helped get Anthony Stanton and Jeremy Root on the new EEZ board.

In reality, this did nothing. Ms. Hoppe voted to establish the original EEZ board, voted to dissolve that board alongside the most fervent EEZ supporters, and then immediately ignored the public and voted to re-establish the EEZ board after hearing volumes of public testimony from the citizens of Columbia and several renowned experts including attorney David Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri and David Stokes, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute who specializes in tax incentives, specifically Enterprise Zones.

Voting to allow public input and then ignoring public input is not representative government — it is political theater.

This might all have something to do with the fact that Ms. Hoppe was in a difficult and rather dirty race against the extremely cantankerous Bill Tillotson. During the campaign, she hopped on the anti-EEZ wagon and cooperated with and listened to the EEZ opposition. After she defeated Tillotson, she went right back to voting in favor of the EEZ plan.

I had a feeling it would happen exactly this way. Here is an excerpt from an email I wrote to the CiViC email group in April of 2012:

It seems likely that the original resolution will be rescinded at the next Council meeting, but I have little doubt that a new map will be ushered in via ordinance. While the new blight map will likely be smaller than the original, any blanket blight designation is too much.

While the map was never finalized, it is true that the council rescinded the original EEZ resolution, allowed for a couple of weeks of public comment, promptly ignored that public comment, and created a new EEZ board within weeks.

It is also true that the council, including Ms. Hoppe, only voted to finally dissolve the second EEZ board when REDI made the request.

In her recent email to me, Ms. Hoppe also claims:

I was responsible for help opening up the process for dialogue and community involvement, that ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further.

Is she kidding?

Does she really think that she helped defeat the EEZ by voting for it —- TWICE?

Ms. Hoppe, your pressure on the council did lead to some public input, but ultimately, the EEZ process was simply renewed, and you voted for it. What “ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further” was the hard work and relentless dedication of folks like Linda Green, Monta Welch, Mary Hussman, etc. who kept the pressure on the EEZ Board and REDI. I have no doubt they would have done the same had the original EEZ Board been left in place.

Ms. Hoppe, please put your money – and your vote – where your mouth is.

Mark Flakne

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The Mike Mathes TIF Delusion

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — source unclear

 

When it comes to telling lies on behalf of Columbia City Government and its corporate masters, Mike Mathes is no slouch. Rumors surrounding the firing of Zim Schwartz aside, there is little doubt that Mathes is willing to say or do anything to bring large-scale Tax Increment Financing to Columbia. His rabid, pro-corporate welfare whirlwind of half-truths and lies has many Columbians wondering, “What is Mathes smoking?”

(For a quick wiki-breakdown of TIFs, click HERE. In a nutshell, instead of paying taxes to the government, the developer/business gets to collect tax, but pocket the proceeds to offset the cost of development.)

To tell you the truth, I really had high hopes for the guy when he was hired. He seemed reasonable, likable, and fiscally responsible and even expressed some ‘off the record’ opinions that had the civil libertarian in me almost giddy with delight. That, however, was before he stepped up as Columbia’s Champion of Corporate Welfare, weaving a web of lies so tangled it boggles the mind.

Mathes has been pitching his love of TIFs to anyone who will listen and he seems to have convinced Superintendent Chris Belcher that TIFs will actually bring funding to the Columbia Public Schools. This proposal is, of course, laughable to anyone who has studied the relationship of TIFs and school funding.

“I’ve said publicly you can’t have a strong community without strong schools,” he said.

Belcher said although there are several types of TIF proposals, this one makes “everyone have a little skin in the game.”

“Their success benefits us,” he said.

 

The only problem is, TIFs usually aren’t successful. It sure looks like the TIF for the Tiger Hotel has been a failure, while Laverick lives it up on the public dime.

When Mathes met with County leaders to peddle his TIF plan, he told the biggest doozy of a lie yet. He actually – I’m not kidding – made the claim that the Kansas City Power and Light District is an example of of great TIF success.

Benefits of TIF districts include the creation of a pool of money to invest in the district, the prevention of blight and an increase in property values, Matthes said. Improvements could be funded for infrastructure and aesthetic upgrades. He pointed to successful TIF projects such as the Power and Light District in Kansas City.

Mathes made this comment less than a month after the Wall Street Journal called the Power and Light District Kansas City’s “Budget Hole.”

Today, the project, which sits near the onetime headquarters of Kansas City Power & Light Co., generates less than one-third of what is needed to cover the debt service on the bonds. The city is setting aside $12.8 million in its budget for the fiscal year that starts next month to cover the gap, a notable hole in a $1.3 billion budget that calls for $7.6 million in cuts to the fire department.

As Mathes surely knows, Columbia is already having trouble funding an adequate fire department, let alone its pension fund. If he thinks Power and Light is an example of success, what on Earth might he consider a failure?

Heck, surely Mathes read the Show-Me Institute piece entitled, Revisionist TIF History From Columbia’s City Manager, in which policy analyst Audrey Spalding takes Mathes to task on his wild TIF claims and makes mention of the Kansas City Power and Light debacle. Regardless of reality, it seems to be full steam ahead for the Mathes TIF train. 

There is little doubt that giant TIFs are in the works for Columbia. During a February Council Meeting, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed an interest in applying a giant TIF to the entire First Ward.

Plans to develop a TIF district that would encompass the entire First Ward remain in their infancy. Schmidt, however, said the approach would allow the city to improve urban density, provide infill housing, bury power lines along Business Loop 70 and pursue a backlog of stormwater retention measures.

 

The bigger problem with these blanket TIF districts, besides the fact that developers often take the money and run leaving the taxpayers holding the bag, is that the TIF process is often used for “urban renewal.” In these urban renewal schemes, private property is often condemned and purchased for below-market value or seized by the government only to be handed over to developers. In Columbia, plans for a new hotel and convention center in the North Central Neighborhood area of the First Ward are rumored to have been discussed. Wouldn’t a blanket TIF make this plan more likely to come to fruition? While a new hotel and convention center might sound wonderful, it would require the removal of a great deal of North Central affordable housing.

The good news is that Columbia is waking up to the evils of these egregious corporate tax swindles. The proposed Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax abatement scheme currently being pushed by a few powerful, elitist business people is but the latest example. Fresh on the heels of Moberly’s Mamtek fiasco, REDI, a quasi-public/private entity with considerable influence at City Hall, has proposed a similar plan for Columbia: the EEZ.  This move has sparked strong grassroots opposition from across the political spectrum. The fight should be fun to watch as the people of Columbia wake up to the fact that their government is controlled by profit-seeking paternalists.

 

 

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When Bureaucrats Attack

If you follow Columbia politics you’ll know that, at the behest of REDI, the Columbia City Council recently passed a resolution declaring 60% of Columbia as “blighted” according to state statute. Being passed by resolution instead of ordinance effectively removed all public input from the process. A large, loud opposition quickly arose in opposition to this nefarious blight decree, the criminal process by which it came to fruition, and the tax abatement scheme it precedes which smacks of crony-capitalism. There has been much written here on this Keep Columbia Free blog and on Mike Martin’s Columbia Heartbeat blog.

While it is painfully difficult to discern whether the discussion is driven by simple, immoderate ignorance or planned, overt obfuscation on the part of REDI’s Mike Brooks, Mayor McDavid, City manager Mike Mathes, and City Attorney Fred Boeckmann, there seems to be a problem differentiating between the state statute governing the creation of an EEZ and the state statute defining the blight designation which is a legal prerequisite for forming an EEZ.

City staff, REDI, and members of the EEZ Board continually point out that the EEZ statute does not grant the city extra eminent domain powers and that the size of the original EEZ proposal has been winnowed down to a much smaller area. What they fail to realize is that the original map declaring 60% of Columbia blighted is still in place and is separate from the EEZ map. It is blight and not EEZ that opens the door for the abuse of eminent domain that has plagued many Missouri cities in recent years.  This is important because when the DED or REDI says that the EEZ does not use eminent domain, they are telling the truth. Most voters then look the other way and go back to watching American Idol without exploring the secondary dangers posed by a blight designation.

It is also true that the city can use its eminent domain powers without having declared a property blighted. What City Manager Mike Mathes is referring to when he says that the city can use its eminent domain powers without a blight designation or EEZ is the legitimate use of eminent domain for needed public projects. In these cases, the city must show a legitimate need for the taking of private property. When blight is thrown in the mix, removal of blight becomes a blanket justification for taking property and handing it over to private developers to expand the tax base. That is what we call eminent domain abuse and it stems from blight. It has happened time and time again in MO over the last few decades and is happening today.

Attorney and eminent domain abuse expert Dave Roland,  Director of  The Freedom Center of Missouri, explains how Columbia’s EEZ blight designation can lead to eminent domain abuse in this video.

When you hear… “EEZ’s don’t require eminent domain” or “The City has the power to use eminent domain,” I believe you are hearing open obfuscation. It’s like we are not even having the same conversation yet the media keeps printing and airing these verbal head fakes.

These are important distinctions to understand and share.

This video from a recent City Council meeting demonstrates either the City’s deep misunderstanding of the subject or the City’s desire to openly misinform the public.

 

 

This video brings to light another terribly troubling aspect of our city government. Notice how a paid, un-elected, city bureaucrat, City Manager Mike Mathes, effectively squashes a motion made by Helen Anthony, an elected City Councilperson and representative of we the people, while the Mayor, the rest of the council, and City Attorney Fred Boeckmann (another paid, un-elected city bureaucrat on whom we rely for legal advice) set idly by. 

Are we living under a Mathes Monarchy?

Why are these city staffers given veto power over our elected officials?

Why are bureaucrats, with lucrative salaries funded by our tax dollars, allowed a bully pulpit from which they circumnavigate the sacred democratic process that lies at the heart of our once free society?

When will the citizens of Columbia rise up and take back the reins of government from the corporatist rapscallions who grant themselves personal largess from public funds belonging to the hardworking taxpayers of Columbia?

The time is NOW!

Get involved with CiViC, Citizens InVolved and InVested in Columbia.

Call and email the City Council representatives who can influence this process.

Write letters to the editors of our local newspapers.

Call all media outlets and demand fair coverage of the issues.

Come to tomorrow’s City Council meeting, 4.16.2012 at 7pm, to stand and be counted! 

Speak up and speak out  or enjoy servitude.

 

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Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Since its inception, our local Citizens Police Review Board has garnered a great deal of media attention. Whether it is fielding an appeal from California marijuana activist and global pot guru Ed Rosenthal or defending the human dignity of local Derek Billups, the CPRB continues to end up in the news. The recent decree from Mayor Bob McDavid that the CPRB and the Columbia Police Department resolve their differences is no exception.

Seemingly in response to recent CPRB rulings with which he did not agree and no doubt with the help of the Columbia Police Officers Assiation, the local police labor union, Police Chief Ken Burton submitted a written request to the city asking for changes to the ordinance which governs the board. Each of the suggested changes in his five-pronged attack, if implemented, would serve to weaken the board both in appearance and reality.

The appearance of the CPRB, as it is perceived by the public, is important. The board’s reputation has already been tarnished as Chief Burton summarily ignores every ruling or suggestion made by the board. This, along with his front and center presence at CPRB meetings, jumping to the podium frequently, without invitation, but also without protest from the board, has given the impression that the CPRB is slowly becoming a branch of the police department or is, at most, an impotent bureaucratic ruse.

For the most part, but with a few respective exceptions, the individuals on the board have done a fair job of judging each complaint. The ordinance which currently governs the CPRB is already weak. If the changes recommended by Chief Burton are added, the CPRB may as well be dissolved.

Here are Chief Burton’s proposed changes along with a few more issues as identified by the Columbia Missourian:

1. The definition of misconduct

The Chief of Police had recommended a definition based on the Missouri Revised Statute. The review board had recommended misconduct to be defined as “any violation of federal law, state law, city ordinance, city regulation or police department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation or order.”

Regardless of how the State of Missouri defines “misconduct,” the fact remains that this is our local police force, sanctioned by our local community to use force when necessary and funded by our tax dollars. It is right and just that these public servant police officers, whom we have hired to protect and serve the citizens of our community, should be answerable to the citizens of our community, either directly or via a representative board like the CPRB. To suggest that the citizens of Columbia do not have the right to define “misconduct” as it applies to the actions of officers in our Columbia Police Department is not only wrong, it is obscene.

2. Who can make an appeal?

The police want to limit the right to make an appeal only to people directly involved in the incident or parents or legal guardians of people directly involved.

The review board maintains it should not be limited.

This suggestion is an obvious attempt to place another bitter bit in the mouth of the CPRB by further limiting who has standing before the board. This plank in Burton’s campaign of domination reeks of the prevailing paternal police perspective as it implies that the board cannot judge standing or the legitimacy of any case on its own. The board should decide what cases are legitimate and what cases are not.

3. Open records

Due to a section in the review board’s ordinance, the filing of a complaint causes opening of records that are otherwise closed by law, including police officer personnel files and closed criminal reports. Police recommend that this section be eliminated. This would allow the board to review the personnel files, but they will be off-limits for the public.

The review board disagrees with this recommendation.

4. Closed sessions and interviews

Police have recommended giving complainants the option to make a request for a closed testimony. In an earlier Missourian report, the board’s new chair, James Martin, had said the board’s sessions should not be closed.

These two points speak to the issue of transparency. The purpose of this board is to pierce the “Blue Shield” of police secrecy that has plagued Columbia for some time. Before the CPRB, complaints would often be swept under the rug or buried in department bureaucracy and red tape. While personnel and employee privacy questions may seem valid, we must remember that, as public employees, the police are employees of the public. As employees of the public entrusted to use lethal force in the line of duty, transparency is of even greater import.

5. Training recommendations

McDavid said the police have asked for “more defined” training standards for the review board members.

The Missourian missed the meat of this issue. The police and their labor union have repeatedly asked that the board submit to an increasing amount of police-directed training. Board members already do some training directly with police and can always request to voluntarily meet with police for a ride-along or any other investigative/learning session. It is also true that several members of the board are former police officers or have had some police training. The newest member of the board, Roger Dowis, is a longtime veteran of the LAPD who served during the Rodney King era and is surely well versed in the use of force in law enforcement. Carroll Highbarger is a retired, career police officer who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief of the CPD before retiring to teach criminal justice at Columbia College. Susan Smith, who sadly seems to represent the police more often than not,  is a former prosecutor who also teaches criminal justice. Also in the law enforcement mix is Steve Sheltmire who is the graduate of civilian police academies in both Kansas City and Columbia.

The public, especially the African American community, already sees the CPRB as somewhat weak and weighted heavily by former officers and law enforcement lackeys.  This requirement for more training, while certainly providing the opportunity for the department to directly influence board members, would send the undeniable message to the civilian citizens of Columbia that the CPRB is in bed with the CPD and the CPOA and is therefor useless. How’s that for some confusing acronym usage?

6. Police policies to be posted online

One of the differences is the review board’s recommendation that police post their policies online so that the public, the board and police can easily access them. The police department didn’t address this issue in its report.

Of course the police failed to address this issue just as they fail to address any issue brought to light by the CPRB. The Chief as thumbed his nose at the board since its inception and he will continue to do so unless reigned in by both the elected and appointed representatives of the public he paid to serve.

7. Regular reports on complaints

The review board has asked the police department to provide it with monthly and annual reports containing information on complaints.

It will be interesting to see if the department provides this report and if the report is thorough and accurate. I’ve not heard much discussion on this issue and it seems like a reasonable request.

At a recent CPRB meeting a discussion took place regarding these changes. Several attorneys and members of the public asked the board to deny the chief’s requests and stand their ground. Here are Mitch Richards’s remarks on behalf of Keep Columbia Free. His exchange with the newest appointee, former LAPD narcotics officer Roger Dowis, happens during the last half of the video.




During the meeting seen in this video, the CPRB opted to have a public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes. It is of vital importance that the citizens of Columbia take the time to come to this hearing and take part in democracy at the basic and most important level. There will be plenty of opportunity for public comment if you have something to say, but you don’t have to speak. Just show up and show support. Just show up and let the City Council and the CPRB know that it is important to you that our local police become and remain accountable directly to the citizens whom they serve. Please put this public hearing on your calendar. It is August 24th at 7:00 pm at the new City Hall building. Everyone is welcome.

Mark Flakne

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Rex Rebstock on Immigration

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Free Immigration: “Judge not lest ye be judged”

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“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”

The above was a complaint about the tyranny of George III, from a little document you may have heard about called the Declaration of Independence. This document also makes the outrageous claim “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How does the desire for a healthy level of immigration and a declaration of human equality jive with our current immigration policy? The unfortunate fact of the matter is that it doesn’t. How does vigorous defense of our borders and aggressive enforcement of demanding immigration laws jive with American ideals? It doesn’t.

I quote that document with the idea that perhaps some here might have some inkling of respect for the sentiments expressed within, and I contend that if one looks at the issue from a practical economic standpoint, or a moral standpoint, or the uniquely American natural law-based political philosophical standpoint, permitting free migration into this country is both beneficial and just. I further contend that our current system, as well as those changes most often proposed are on the other hand detrimental to both the economy and to the individuals excluded from that economy as so-called “illegal immigrants.” Finally, I contend that the arguments used against such free migration are illogical, counter-productive, anathema to traditional American ideals, and instead dependent on the kind of tribal, collectivistic and anti-individual ideology some of the opponents of free immigration find so abhorrent in other situations.

In answer to all the complaints that these immigrants are a drain on the economy because as non-citizens they don’t pay the same taxes but are beneficiaries of government programs, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. They want to work and pay rent and participate in our economy. That’s why they come here. If you stop them from participating in contributing, then it is your fault if their effect is a net negative. As a legal worker, they would contribute to and draw from the public coffers in the same ways that natural born citizens do.

In answer to the complaint that they take jobs from native workers and unfairly compete by accepting a lower wage, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. As citizens they will be subject to all the regulations that any other Americans are, and won’t be any more likely to accept a sub-standard wage than any other citizen in a comparable situation.

In answer to the complaint that they aren’t assimilated to our culture and don’t speak the language, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. It worked with the Italians, Irish, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans that flooded into the country in previous decades. Most of them didn’t speak the language at first, and by necessity gathered together into neighborhoods in which the culture of their home country was dominant. That phenomenon lasts about a generation, but it doesn’t last forever. Do you not see that “No Irish Need Apply” signs in windows were a shameful thing and that those people were ignorant and short-sighted? Why would you want to emulate them?

In answer to the claim that it their fault they’re not citizens, because there is a process, I say that the process is perhaps much more burdensome than you pretend. How many of we who have been blessed with birthright citizenship could deal with the hundreds of pages of bureaucratic nonsense and tens of thousands of dollars of expense required? Would you accept a reform of the law back, perhaps, to the standards and procedures used at Ellis Island, that worked so well in the past? How would that be different than a general amnesty?

In answer to the claim that you wouldn’t really mind if only they would follow the laws to enter the country, I say that among you are people for whom that clearly isn’t true. Have you heard of the term “anchor babies?” They are the manifestation of a legal solution to the problem of finding a way to enter the country. Families of anchor babies were using the laws on the books to accomplish their immigration, as requested, but the response wasn’t “There you go, thank you for entering legally” as one might expect, but is instead “They’ve found a loophole! Let us change not only our laws but the very constitution to prevent it!” One simply can’t, in good faith, argue that following the laws is all that is asked at the same time as increasing the burden of those laws.

In answer to the complaint that they bring drug violence over the border, I say that rather it is us exporting said violence. Without our misguided and self-destructive policies, and our demand that neighbors comply, the phenomenon simply would not exist. Such a claim could have just as easily been made against Canadians during alcohol prohibition. It’s not the people, but the counter-productive, nanny-state, “progressive” laws that make drug trade so profitable and forces disputes involving it out of the court system. Armed conflict, kidnapping, and gang warfare are a product of the drug laws and in no way connected to immigration.

In answer to the complaint that they are by definition illegal because they have already broken laws, and law breakers shouldn’t be permitted to enter our society, I say that some estimates indicate that the average adult citizen commits three felonies a day. Certainly almost everyone over the age of 18 could be convicted of some felony-level violation of the immense and perverse mountain of regulations with which we have been burdened by collectivist ideology. As a wise philosopher once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Only saints who promptly turn themselves in each time they exceed a speed limit can pretend that they don’t recognize the difference between the importants and value of different laws. To declare that laws must be obeyed and can never be immoral or misguided, mustn’t one also condemn the likes of Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Harriet Tubman, and Patrick Henry, who openly opposed and violated unjust laws? Isn’t that view akin to a blessing the perfectly legal atrocities committed by legitimate governments throughout history? Where do you draw the line? I know where I draw the line, and moving from one location to another without written approval is not in the same class as murder, kidnapping, and theft. The fact is that the laws on the books are outrageous and shouldn’t be used by themselves as a justification for any deprivation of the rights claimed in the Declaration and described in the Constitution.

In answer to the complaint that the supply of labor needs to be kept in check to keep wages at a certain level, I argue that policies that artificially inflate wages above the market value are an unfair burden on all of the other residents who aren’t necessarily protected by such policies. Even if everyone were, it is a simple task to show that wages are factored into the cost of products, and by raising wages one increases costs, which must be paid by consumers. When the costs of consumer products rise, there is a demand for higher wages, and the cycle perpetuates itself. The virtue or lack of virtue in the idea of centrally planning the economy can be addressed elsewhere, but allowing monopolies and cartels to prevent their own competition is generally understood to be detrimental to those not included in the cartel. Limiting competition in certain types of labor is no different.

In answer to the complaint that the supply of low-wage labor helps keep the price of certain foods low, I say shame on you. I haven’t heard this one in a while, but the idea that we shouldn’t allow, for example, migrant workers to become citizens because their current jobs pay the low wages that make produce so inexpensive was all over the news media for a few years. Legally forcing certain workers to accept a lower wage than others is oppressive in the clearest sense of the word, and akin to sweatshops and prison labor, and only a small step away from serfdom and slavery.

In answer to the complaint that during times of economic distress immigration should be curtailed, I say that perhaps the relationship between immigration and economic health aren’t quite as simple. Clearly arguments can be made that in a recession or depression where consumer spending is below what is desired, perhaps an increase in consumers might be beneficial. In a market with a glut of available housing, perhaps new residents eager to rent and buy would be a benefit. Perhaps unemployment isn’t only a product of too many people wanting jobs. A doubling of the unemployment rate in the last few years wasn’t a result of a doubling of the working population. Certainly if we look at the greatest economic booms and bust in the last century, the booms follow a loosening of immigration restrictions and the busts follow an increase in restrictions. If the relationship is what these complainants pretend, wouldn’t one would expect the opposite?

In answer to the claim that it’s really a matter of respecting property rights, that entering the country illegally is akin to trespassing and burglary, I say that this is the by far the most pernicious of all assertions discussed. Setting aside the inherent necessity of seeing the land as the property of the state and not the individuals, the argument clearly doesn’t apply to immigrants. They aren’t invaders laying claim to the property of U.S. Citizens. They are workers and consumers who upon arrival will rent housing or purchase property. A landlord who can’t rent his property isn’t helped by limiting immigration. He’s hurt by it, and doubly hurt because taxes are extracted to fund the damage to his livelihood. If an employee or a landlord want to do business with any individual, and that individual wants to do business with them, what right have third, unharmed, parties to interfere, on any basis? If you have a problem with the ways that your tax money is being spent, isn’t your problem with the system that extracts them? If a mugger uses stolen money to buy a sandwich, how much blame should be laid on the restaurant?

Invariably three types of illegal immigrants are talked about. Many talk of the wanton criminals who take advantage of the confusing and ineffectual policies on the border to commit crimes, or who fail to follow other laws because as fugitives there’s no reason to get minimum mandatory insurance or to avoid DUIs. Many talk about MS-13 and other drug gangs that bring military-level conflict over the border into southern states. These are easy targets. Few are willing to directly complain about the dishwashers and hotel maids and landscapers and other peaceful people who make up the vast majority of illegal immigrants. How many of these latter examples should suffer to try to prevent the former, especially when the efforts being made facilitate the true criminals. That itinerant central-american rapist is aided by immigration policy. Uninsured and unlicensed motorists aren’t uninsured and unlicensed because they don’t want to be, but because they can’t be. They are shut out of the system. Drug gangs draw their profits from the prohibition. Without that profit there would be no funding for all of those weapons and vehicles, and there would certainly be no incentive for anyone to risk their life smuggling legal substances and immigrants over the border. All of the rules that fail to stop these people are successful at one thing: forcing the peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people who want to come here to participate in our society and economy to live in the shadows, constantly in fear of ICE, unable to legally do the things that opponents of immigration demand they do. Conflating the profiteers and the victims together into an imaginary group simply because they arrive from the same cardinal direction, or share a common language, is dishonest.

    I’ve given a hint to the types of people who are harmed by restricting immigration: consumers, homeowners, the immigrants themselves. Who, then, benefits?

  • Clearly, true criminals are aided by the policy. They can commit horrendous crimes, and face no more punishment than merely being deported back into Mexico, who returns them to the border hoping to be rid of them.
  • Exploitative corporations, unwilling to compete in good faith, take advantage of the illegal status of immigrants to pay them slave wages.
  • Racist organizations can take advantage of the consequences of forced poverty and legal disenfranchisement to show what they pretend is an entire race in a poor light. By preventing assimilation they can foment fear and paranoia that would otherwise be difficult to demonstrate.
  • Drug cartels, human smugglers, and other organized crime are of course dependent on these policies. Without restrictions on the trade in drugs and the limitation on the right to migrate, these industry simply wouldn’t exist.
  • Finally, the immigration industrial complex, a confluence of public and private sector interests that profit from the industry of enforcing immigration laws, like so many other public-private partnerships, rely upon the creation and fueling of an otherwise non-existent problem to provide a raison d’être. Other corporations whose only customer is the security state follow right behind. Without irrational fear and oppressive regulation, their industry wouldn’t exist, either.
  • Certainly there are others, but these benefit the most. I can understand that there is a chance that your wage might drop if the legal labor market expands. I disagree that this is a real problem, but even if you’re right, how much of your wage would you be willing to give up to help stop these evil people? Is what you’re being paid enough to buy your support for them?

The practical consequences of laws like Alabama’s is to establish a Gestapo police state in which everyone must constantly prove that they are innocent, rather than the society envisioned by our founders in which free men were to free from such harassment, and left do as they liked until proven guilty. If your ideal is some fascist or communist collective, then by all means demand that a person should be required to maintain and present papers at every interaction with government officials and upon the entry of any contract. Demand that people should be stopped at every opportunity to prove that they have the right to walk down the street, or drive a car, or enter into trade with other peaceful people. But demand those things only if what you really want is that police state, because that’s what you’re going to get. Maybe you’re placated by the idea that they will demand such proof only from those who inspire a “reasonable suspicion.” I’ll refuse to play the “racist card” here, and instead ask you to imagine the kind of “reasonable suspicion” that might be acceptable to a government that issues MIAC reports and Homeland Security Bulletins to be on the look out for Veterans and Ron Paul supporters and Tea Partiers and people with 2nd amendment bumper stickers, a security state that tells its stormtroopers to be on the lookout for anyone flying an American flag a little too prominently, or who talks a little too passionately in favor of the Constitution, or who might be a “religious extremist” in the eyes of the left. You may not look Mexican, and you may keep such patriotic displays out of plain sight, and you may keep quiet about your respect for the 10th amendment, or your opposition to the Federal Reserve, but when you support these kinds of laws you are granting license to the kinds of people that some day might ask you for papers and will cite one of the thousands of esoteric laws you might have broken, or might claim that they have reason to believe that you might be giving material support to right-wing terrorists and haul you off. They’ve done it before, they are currently doing it, and if we cheer as they do it to some group just because we’re fortunate enough to not be in that particular group because of some irrational fear, then there is no reason to expect that they won’t ever do it to us.

I would much rather take the risk that I might have to participate in an active, free market full of vibrant competition than secure a little temporary protection from boogeymen by selling off my liberty.

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Who Really Wants to Pay for a Short Street Garage?

By Abhi Sivasailam

This piece originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian

For most people, it is easier to spend someone else’s money than it is to spend their own. This is a simple truth, but an important one.

It implies it is natural to expect that politicians and bureaucrats will not scrutinize public purchases made with public dollars with the same rigor and deliberation with which they would make purchases for themselves out of their own pockets. After all, politicians and bureaucrats are people, too.

In this light, it is not surprising that the Columbia City Council’s plans for a new parking garage at Short Street are as fiscally imprudent as they are.

The proposed garage, with an estimated budget of approximately $9 million, would be built in cooperation with a larger, private construction project to erect a new hotel at the current site of the existing Regency Hotel. The garage is expected to house a total of 300 parking spaces, with 100 of these spaces rented to the new hotel at a rate of $600 per year for each space. Additionally, 50 of these 300 spaces will be reserved for future residential development projects. In effect, a $9 million investment by the City of Columbia will earn it a net increase of 150 parking spaces.

This amounts to $60,000 spent on every spot that will be made available to the public. It should be noted that this figure is, of course, a simplification. It does not account for the $60,000 per year that the city will receive for renting spaces to the proposed hotel — which would decrease the per-space cost. Nor does the estimate account for the costs of servicing the debt the city will incur in financing the project — which would increase the per-space cost. Nevertheless, this number is a useful starting point and presents several important questions for the council to consider before moving further.

Most important of these questions: Do Columbia residents collectively value reliable downtown parking at $60,000 or more per spot?

If so, then there are profits to be had! Surely an entrepreneur should find it viable to proceed with the project independent of the city’s involvement. Are there compelling reasons why the private sector cannot or should not take on the task of planning, funding and constructing this project? Why hasn’t the private sector already recognized the demand and acted to cater to it? Are the members of the council more omnisciently aware of what residents are willing to spend their money on than are entrepreneurs and capitalists? Could it be that the government of Columbia possesses a comparative advantage relative to the private sector in development projects such as these? If so, why wasn’t this comparative advantage in display with the widely derided Fifth and Walnut garage?

Alternatively, if Columbia residents do not collectively value parking at $60,000 per spot, then the city would seem to be acting foolishly. The city would be misallocating resources into the production and provision of something that residents do not strongly value. Suppose residents only value downtown parking at $20,000 per spot. In effect then, the city would be subsidizing each spot to the tune of $40,000. The relevant question then becomes: Is there a compelling economic rationale to do so?

These are all questions that the council would do well to consider carefully. They are the kinds of questions that individuals and corporations who are making purchases or investments with their own money would ask themselves. Indeed, they are the kinds of questions that residents of Columbia, whose dollars would be spent on this project, should ask themselves. Unfortunately, they are also precisely the kinds of questions that members of the council, to whom – it seems – public dollars are like Monopoly money, are least likely to ponder.

Abhi Sivasailam is a student at MU. He is treasurer of the MU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and vice president of Keep Columbia Free.

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Cicada Ice Cream — it’s Natural, it’s in Demand, and it’s Illegal (by default)

Something is bugging Steve Spellman so it’s time for another installment of Steve Spellman, On Liberty. In this piece, part of which will likely be published in the Columbia Missourian, Steve takes on the pesky city government that seeks to limit the most basic of actions in an attempt to somehow save us from our snacks.

Columbia, Missouri might be famous for many things: the University of Missouri’s flagship campus, the MKT & KATY Trail, the nation’s best state games — the Show-Me State Games, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s boyhood home, and the SWAT raid video showing police shooting dogs last year.  If nothing else, it has now become known the world over for the place where cicada ice cream was produced, that is, until the makers were intimidated away by over-restrictive health code regulations.

“You Want Flies With That, Sir?”

Cicadas are often confused with locusts, but this batch only comes out of the ground every 13 years.  Columbia is one town that has them flying all over the place: in people’s hair, all over trees, etc. Their mating buzz is loud: it’s a combination of annoying and amusing, depending on one’s temperament. 

The novelty of the moment inspired a brainstorm among the staff at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, a local downtown hipster spot.  So when their creativity became reality, Cicada Ice Cream was born.  Once word of its existence and availability got out, the first (and only) half-batch sold out within an hour.  There’s also been a mixture of stories (now spread around the world) about how the local City of Columbia Health Department put the kibosh on it — only some of which is true. 

“No Ice Cream for you” 

It was reported by the store manager, that the cicadas were fully boiled, in keeping with standard sanitary food preparation – so not just dirty bugs thrown in a tub of Vanilla.  I went and talked with a guy I know who works there, Tony Layson, who clarified that after Sparky’s first made some and sold out of it, the owner became concerned about what the health code might say about using these non-standard ingredients. 

So he proactively called the City Health Department to inquire about the guidelines (if there were any) for preparing cicadas.  The Health Department staffer replied with a chuckle and something like “you know you can’t do that.”  The Health Department official wasn’t overly harsh, but made it clear that: 1.) all ingredients in commercial food must come from a certified source, and 2.) the Health Code does not specifically address how cicadas should be cooked. 

Beware the Naturally-Occuring Ingredients 

So wild, natural ingredients directly harvested from nature, especially natural ingredients not specifically on the government’s list of allowed foods, are not allowed. So by this logic, if a local restaurateur legally shot a deer, or grew his/her own tomatoes or lettuce, etc., and even if the food were fresh, and from a seemingly healthy animal or plant, and the food were fully and safely cooked, the food derived from natural processes could still not be served in a restaurant, unless the restaurateur had the proper certification.  I suppose if there were a certified collector of cicadas that met the food safety and inspection criteria, and then sold it to a restaurant, only then could the restaurant (or ice cream shop, in this case) use that material in its food served to voluntarily paying customers, who knew exactly what they were ingesting—and then only if the letter of the law addressed the lawful method by which the specific critter could be cooked for human consumption.  That’s because you must have permission from the authorities, whose regulations exist to keep you safe.  Hence the Health Department’s, “you can’t do that,” even for food that might be good for you.

So cicada ice cream appears to be illegal, but here’s the thing:  people bought it. Lots of people gladly went out of their way to rush to Sparky’s to purchase it with their own hard-earned money.  And they told their friends, and they were happy about it, and there have been no reports of any resulting sickness.  So the ice cream shop voluntarily made it and sold it, and the customers gladly, voluntarily bought it and ate it.  And it’s against the law.

You Can’t Trust Anybody, Even the Trustworthy 

Can’t we trust a local merchant who obviously cares about serving the members of his/her community with a product they clearly want?  Can’t we trust our fellow citizens to choose what they eat?  If the food were bad, the word would spread quickly and people wouldn’t buy it anymore.  If it actually hurt people, the law is sufficient to bring charges against the food service provider.  If the customer used the product and then went and hurt somebody under the influence of that product, there are already laws in place to handle such situations.

Even if the law could be set up to be responsive enough to accommodate new issues that arise (like how to prepare a specific variety of bug that appears for the first time in over a decade), the bigger issue is why we are so subservient to an authority that has the force of law — the guns of government — to enforce such petty restrictions on human behavior — an authority to which we are so trained to be subservient that even responsible people feel they must first ask for permission to peacefully live their lives and voluntarily interact with their fellow man.

The War on Some Foods

To be clear, the law claims jurisdiction over what food may be sold. If any part of the food product is not specifically detailed in the Health Code, it apparently defaults to being outside the bounds of the law. That is to say that cicada ice cream vendors and purchasers are outlaws.  We are so conditioned to observe this authority, even when it is so obviously unreasonable, that we are just thankful the police aren’t directed to arrest both the store owners and their customers who bought this contraband before its illegality was discovered.

Many people would not buy cicada ice cream.  I’m not sure I would.  People do a lot of things I wouldn’t do.  I surely do things other people might not want to do.  But I don’t support laws that unduly restrict human interaction and creativity, to restrict things I wouldn’t do, or don’t approve of, or don’t understand.  But I don’t believe the Health Code is purposefully sinister; it’s just dumb, or at least parts of it, and altogether is really complex — which might actually be worse. I’m glad Sparky’s at least tried to serve the community and it’s too bad our City government won’t allow them to.

PART II: RELATED EXAMPLES OF GOOD BEHAVIOR WHICH ARE ALSO AGAINST THE LAW 

“Normal” Organic Produce is OK to Sell, Just Not Where It’s Grown

Though, this is not the first limit on reasonable (even desirable) economic interactions here in Columbia in recent times, a local ordinance has limited where a local group can sell fresh produce.  The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture is a local not-for-profit coalition that advocates for local gardening of fresh produce while the group maintains a small urban farm and several community gardens around town. On one of several urban garden plots near the city center, they operate a simple street-side stand a few days a week, selling corn and tomatoes and radishes, etc.  I’ve bought a few things there myself.  This spring, it came to their attention that their urban farm was zoned for residential use only and did not allow for “commercial” selling of their produce.  In keeping with the demands of city government, the group relocated their stand a block or so away where a nearby business allowed them to set up in a (commercially-zoned) parking lot.  So they moved to be within the bounds of the law, but the rules are obviously outside the bounds of common-sense.  Hopefully they can get permission to sell on their own land in the near future. Desirable behavior is unduly restricted by red tape.  I’m glad they found a work-around to this over-regulation.

Downtown Redevelopment Welcomed, Except When It’s Not 

Just last January, a respected local developer submitted plans to the City Planning and Zoning Commission for permission to rezone a parcel for their “College and Walnut” apartment building project.  This would be an infill project to redevelop a surface parking lot and 4 older homes.  The plans looked great, and seemed to be exactly what many residents, college students, and even city planners have said for some time they wished developers would produce in the community.  But the Commission turned them down, in a close vote.  Former P&Z commissioner (and now elected City Council member) Helen Anthony was quoted as explaining, “the building itself was perfect for downtown — just the innovative development that we need. It was beautiful and multi-use. My issue was that they were asking for open zoning.”  I understand the zoning the commission desired would have given the City government more control over how the property is used. 

So the commission wanted to have additional control over the requested standard commercial zoning before allowing the builders to use their own money to build a very desirable building on their own land that would, of course, be constructed to the latest building codes.  And, unlike a number of other local downtown developers lately, they were not asking for any subsidies or tax discounts. 

Read the Missourian story HERE

The developers were trying to make a living by serving their community with an apartment building, but the system wouldn’t allow them to because it didn’t fit the established rules, or the preferences of the authorities.  At least Councilwoman Anthony admits, “We need to go back and change some of the ways we do zoning.”  The City Council wisely chose to override the Planning and Zoning Commission and grant the reasonable rezoning request, so this desirable improvement to the community can go forward.   I’m glad the standard government response did not scare them away, and they were allowed to improve the community.

Low-Income  Residential In-Fill OK, If You Jump Through The Hoops… And Wait a Few Years

A few years ago a local photographer, Amir Ziv, got an idea for an in-fill redevelopment near the city center.  He applied to the City to build three “cottage” homes on two adjacent vacant lots in a low-income neighborhood.  Though one City Commissioner said they “would like to give a developer who’s trying to do something outside of the box some leeway,” they didn’t likethe way he had the modest garages pointed.  The project also got classified as an apartment building, so he needed to pay tens of thousands of dollars to unnecessarily upgrade the sewer lines, etc.   Mr. Ziv responded that the extra sewer cost would break his budget — even responding that if the city requires it, the city should pay for it themselves.  The result was a 2 year standoff, until the City Council, though not making an exception from the rules for this case, ended up approving to blow $15,000of taxpayer money for a wasteful upgrade to a sewer line.  But that’s the rules.  What’s that again about “job creation?”  I’m glad Mr. Ziv was resilient enough to be allowed to provide more innovative low income housing in our community, in spite of an illogical authority that greatly delayed the project and added additional costs to be borne by the tax payer.

But It’s Not Really About The Cicadas 

Government exists to protect our rights and to bring to justice people who unfortunately choose to kill, steal, defraud, or poison their fellow citizens.  But when the law seeks to protect us from each other in so many complex ways, even with benevolent intentions, the collateral damage is often the stifling of human creativity, otherwise peaceful interactions, and diverse activities.  I admit the fact that cicada ice cream is not specifically provided for in the local Health Code, therefore you can’t put the things in ice cream, may seem trivial.  The story is silly, except that this case is so representative of endless other liberties – both in the civil and economic sense – that we have lost over time. 

Our individual and collective freedoms are subtlety lost to the endless laws and regulations on the books that no human can possibly keep track of.  These are regulations on autopilot – that assume to take our freedoms by default (even if in order to “protect” us) and are held up as seemingly gracious to give us at least some of the freedoms that were ours to begin with.  Therefore we are trained to feel compelled to ask for permission from authorities before living our lives peacefully and voluntarily with each other.  “Am I allowed to do that?” – well, you know you better ask for permission first. 

Any laws that prevent us from living as naturally and peacefully as we desire, are themselves unnatural laws. 

Steve Spellman is a life-long Boone County citizen and (among other things) hosts the Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum,” exploring the diverse concepts of human freedom each Tuesday 5:00PM-6:00PM, on local community radio station 89.5FM KOPN (streaming at www.kopn.org/listen) in beautiful downtown Columbia, Missouri.

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