All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Election 2016: Scott Walker vs. “Government Dependence”

English: Scott Walker on February 18, 2011
Scott Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Announcing his presidential candidacy on July 13, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker touched on a familiar theme: “Helping adults who are able to work transition from government dependence to true independence,” he said, “will help more people live [the American Dream].”

I call the theme “familiar” because Google returns more than 5,000 results on Walker’s name and the phrase “government dependence.” He seems to have focused on it for many years. And on a quick read of his biography, I doff my cap to his stature as world-class expert on the topic.

Apart from some part-time sales work in college and a short stint at the Red Cross, Scott Walker seems to have spent his entire adult life as a “government dependent.”

He made his first run for political office in 1990 and was elected to Wisconsin’s state legislature in 1993. From there, he moved on to become chief executive of Milwaukee County, and after that (on his second try) governor of the state.

For 22 years, this political careerist has suckled continuously — not to say tenderly — at the taxpayers’ breast. When he gets up in the morning, the taxpayer buys his bacon and eggs and the hot water in his shower. When he goes to bed at night, the taxpayer pays for the pillow upon which Walker doth rest his weary head. In between, the taxpayer provides the chair which cradles his entitled posterior.

Now he’s asking  the taxpayer to move him into the big house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for four (or better yet, eight) years and pay him, per Wikipedia, “a $400,000 annual salary, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment.”

After that he expects the taxpayer to provide him with, per the Former Presidents Act, a $200k+ annual pension, $20,000 per year for his spouse (if she relinquishes any political positions she holds), money for the “transition” from life as president to that of mere mortal, nearly $100k per year for personal staff, lifetime Secret Service protection, and exclusive use of a “presidential townhouse” when visiting Washington, DC.

OK, I say uncle: Scott Walker is indeed the world’s living authority on “government dependence.” Whether or not he makes the best poster boy for a platform of ending such dependence is another question entirely. I’m going to go out on a limb here and answer “probably not.”

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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The Iran Deal: What You Need to Know

Foreign Ministers of Germany, the US, Great Br...
Foreign Ministers of Germany, the US, Great Britain, France, Russia and China in Berlin discussing Iran nuclear program March 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At last, the P5+1 (the US, the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China) have announced an agreement with Iran limiting that country’s nuclear research program. Supporters of the deal proclaim “peace in our time.” Opponents cry “Munich!” Which side should you believe? Neither, really. But the deal’s supporters have the better case.

Here’s what you need to know about the deal:

First, it’s not about peace or war. War with Iran isn’t a viable option for the United States, which would necessarily do the heavy lifting. An air war wouldn’t cow Iran or destroy its nuclear capability. And having lost two ground wars against less populous and less well-armed opponents since 2001, the US is in no shape to undertake a third.

Second, it’s not about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Why? Because Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The International Atom Energy Agency has found some discrepancies in Iran’s Non-Proliferation Treaty reporting, but Iran’s religious “supreme leader” has declared development of such weapons a sin against Islam, and western intelligence agencies (including those of the US and Israel) say there’s no evidence of such development.

Since it’s not about war or nuclear proliferation, what is it about? Two things: International trade and US prestige.

Iran boasts huge oil reserves and a population of more than 75 million. They want to trade with other countries. Other countries want to trade with them. Decades of sanctions have left everyone poorer than they ought to be.

US prestige as “leader of the free world” is at stake because at least three of the P5+1 nations — Russia, China and France — will likely make their own deals with Iran even if the US bucks out. The UK and Germany might or might not stick with the US in that event. The choice for the US is to jump to the front of the parade and continue to “lead,” or else to find itself on the sidelines.

So, why the opposition among congresspeople and Republican presidential aspirants? Again, two reasons.

The first is simple power politics. American politicians and Iranian politicians have a lot in common — both groups want to run Iran. American politicians got used to doing so after the CIA overthrew Iran’s government and replaced it with a puppet regime in 1953. They’ve been throwing a temper tantrum ever since Iranians revolted in 1979. The tantrum continues.

The second reason is Israel. The Israelis fear Iranian dominance in the region and want the US to keep a lid on Iran. The Israeli lobby exerts a powerful force on US politics, both because evangelical Christian voters attach religious importance to Israel and because Israeli patrons like billionaire Sheldon Adelson write big checks to politicians who reach for the sky when Benjamin Netanyahu says “jump.”

Neither of these reasons are GOOD reasons. Peace and trade are better than cold war and sanctions. The US is better off running its own foreign policy than subordinating itself to Israel.  This deal is good for America.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Redistricting for Dummies: How to End the Gerrymander

 

English: Gerrymander diagram for four sample d...
English: Gerrymander diagram for four sample districts. Created in Adobe Illustrator by Jeremy Kemp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Every ten years, based on the latest census data, the states receive new apportionments of seats in the US House of Representatives. The state legislatures begin mapping out revised districts to accommodate changes in population, population distribution, and increases or decreases in the number of seats.

And five years later, some state legislatures (at the moment, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia top the list) are still fighting over how to divide the spoils. Districts are re-drawn to protect powerful incumbents, give each major party at least token representation, and preserve the political power of labor lobbies, racial and ethnic communities, and other special interests. Each redistricting scheme ends up in court with multiple trips back to the drawing board.

This process is called “gerrymandering,” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed a state senate redistricting map in which one district resembled a salamander.

It’s an ugly process. Everybody claims to hate it. But nobody seems interested in ending it, though it would be simple to do so.

Judge Robert Bork, later a failed nominee to the US Supreme Court, was once tasked with submitting a redistricting plan. He suggested starting in one corner of the state and drawing roughly square districts by population, without regard to special interest factors. His suggestion wasn’t accepted. But it would be easy to implement. Just plug the map and census data into a computer program and voila — uniform districts, fairly drawn.

Even better, why not transition to “at-large” elections for all US Representatives?

The district concept was implemented before the invention of the telegraph, at a time when most Americans got their news from a local paper and never strayed more than 50 miles from their birthplaces. Local elections made sense then. Today we cross the continent in hours and read worldwide news seconds after it happens (or watch it AS it happens).

Why not just have a statewide election for (for example) five seats, in which the five top vote-getters are elected? This would not eliminate sectional interests, pork barrel earmarks and other maladies of supposedly representative government entirely, but it would make members of Congress more accountable to large, mixed constituencies and less beholden to the insular coalitions controlling gerrymandered districts.

Switching to “at-large” elections might also mitigate the power of the two-party “duopoly” in favor of more proportional representation, especially if  better voting systems — approval voting, single transferable vote and instant run-off are three interesting ideas — were implemented as well.

Which is why it will ever happen. The American political system is brittle. Our politicians would rather break it than bend their will to ours. So maybe we should instead start thinking about what comes next.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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