Seattle mayor drops re-election bid amid sex abuse accusations

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who has been accused by four men of sexually abusing them as teenagers, dropped his bid for re-election on Tuesday, saying that the scandal would be a distraction from more important issues.

In a news conference at a waterfront park near his childhood home, an emotional Murray denied the claims against him, which he has called politically motivated, according to a video posted on the mayor's Facebook page.

Murray, a Democrat and the city's first openly gay mayor, also suggested that the accusations were rooted in stereotypes of gay men.

"The mayor's race must be focused on... issues, not on a scandal, which it would be focused on if I were to remain in this race," Murray, who became mayor in 2014, said in announcing his withdrawal from the race.

As a senator in the Washington state legislature, Murray championed gay rights and legalizing same-sex marriage. During his term as mayor, Seattle sued President Donald Trump over his executive order cracking down on sanctuary cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agents.  

A primary election for mayor will take place Aug. 1 and the two candidates with the most votes will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.  

In April, a 46-year-old man sued Murray, claiming that the mayor paid him for sex when he was a homeless, drug-addicted teenager in the 1980s, according to the lawsuit.  

The Seattle Times newspaper said that in 2008 two other men had accused Murray of abusing them when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Murray has denied those claims, which did not become public until last month.

A fourth accuser in a sworn court declaration made similar allegations against Murray, according to the Seattle Times.

Murray consistently denied the claims, calling the accusations politically motivated, but also garnered criticism for questioning the trustworthiness of the accusers, which the Seattle Times said had criminal records.

An attorney for the first accuser, Lincoln Beauregard, said on Twitter that his client saw the mayor's withdrawal from the race as "one step towards justice."

 (Reporting by Tom James; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

Which of these 12 people will be the next FBI Director?

There’s no shortage of familiar names floating to be the next FBI director, after President Donald Trump’s controversial firing of James Comey earlier this week.
“The president shouldn’t nominate anyone who has a clearly partisan background,” Ron Hosko says.
But it appears former Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan could be an early favorite among current and former agents.

Other names in the mix are Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Judge Merrick Garland; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The FBI Agents Association, or FBIAA, a group of more than 13,000 current and former FBI agents, endorsed Rogers to replace Robert Mueller for the post in 2013, but President Barack Obama instead nominated Comey.

While the agents group hasn’t made another official endorsement, members “still believe” Rogers meets the principles of what the association is looking for, said Joshua Zive, outside general counsel for the FBIAA, to The Daily Signal.

Rogers was a former FBI special agent from 1989 through 1994. After serving in the Michigan state Senate, he was elected to the U.S. House in 2000. While serving in House of Representatives, he was the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He didn’t seek re-election in 2014. He has also been a regular commentator on CNN.

Zive said he believes Rogers would have credibility with the bureau’s agents. Additionally, he would know how to communicate effectively to the public about the scope of issues the FBI deals with, according to Zive.

Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director who was the deputy director under Comey, testified on Capitol Hill Thursday. He is also reportedly a contender for the job, but could be challenged due to potential conflicts.

McCabe served as an FBI special agent since 1996, and was elevated to the No. 2 spot in 2016. However, while he was moving up in the FBI during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, his wife Dr. Jill McCabe ran for the Virginia state Senate in 2015, with a financial boost of almost $500,000 from Common Good VA. The political action committee is controlled by longtime Clinton ally Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal last year, the FBI said, “Months after the completion of [his wife’s] campaign, then-Associate Deputy Director McCabe was promoted to deputy, where, in that position, he assumed for the first time, an oversight role in the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails.”

“It needs to be somebody independent,” said Ron Hosko, the FBI’s former assistant director of the criminal investigative division and now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “With McCabe, this day and age, even the appearance of impropriety is a problem … An appearance can be fatal—maybe not to a career—but to advancement.”

This is certainly true of political figures being rumored for the job, Hosko said.

One big name who has taken himself out of the running is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter in the 2016 race. Giuliani was formerly a U.S. attorney and was known for reducing crime as mayor.

Christie, also a former U.S. attorney known for prosecuting public corruption cases, is reportedly in the running. After ending his own presidential campaign in 2016, Christie quickly endorsed Trump.

“It’s no disrespect to these individuals, but the president shouldn’t nominate anyone who has a clearly partisan background,” Hosko said. “A Christie or Giuliani pick could give the impression that it’s cooked and they will not find anything on Russia.”

Here are other names being discussed as a potential replacement for Comey, according to former FBI agents and news reports:

John Pistole: Not a household name but prominently talked about, Pistole is getting mentioned by news accounts and by former agents as a contender with potentially bipartisan backing. He also has close ties to Vice President Mike Pence, said Nancy Savage, executive director of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, a separate organization from the FBIAA.

“He was a deputy director of the FBI, head of the TSA, and president of a college in Indiana, and maybe close to Pence,” Savage, an agent for more than three decades, told The Daily Signal. “He would be very familiar to all of the issues.”

Pistole, now the president of Anderson University, formerly served in top law enforcement roles for both parties. He was the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration for President George W. Bush and deputy FBI director for Obama. He served for more than 20 years in the FBI before the Senate confirmed him as TSA chief in July 2010.

Condoleezza Rice: The former secretary of state and national security adviser under Bush would seem unlikely, but Savage said her name is being talked about. Such an appointment could come at an interesting time, while the FBI is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

“She is a Russian expert, and fiercely independent,” Savage said. “It would be a different move for her.”

Merrick Garland: Another longshot is the D.C. Circuit Court chief judge whom Obama nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, opposed Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, but has touted Garland for FBI director.

Savage said the name was being floated, with the thought it would be a consolation for Garland.

“There is a sentiment about Garland after the Supreme Court, and he does have a strong record as a prosecutor,” Savage said.

President Bill Clinton named Garland as deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division in 1993. In 1995, Garland led the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing, and other domestic terrorism cases. Clinton nominated him to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997.

Patrick Fitzgerald: The former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois became famous and somewhat controversial for investigating both the Valerie Plame leak case as a special prosecutor during the Bush administration and later for his prosecution of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, on charges of corruption.

Hosko immediately brought up Fitzgerald’s name as a top choice because of his track record for going after both parties.

“Prosecuting Democrats and Republicans is a badge of honor,” Hosko said.

Chuck Rosenberg: The acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2015 would also be a strong candidate with bipartisan appeal, Hosko said. Over his career, he was a federal prosecutor in both Texas and Virginia. He previously served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, and later was named as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia before working as chief of staff and senior counselor to Comey as FBI director.

Rep. Trey Gowdy: The South Carolina Republican was a former federal prosecutor and is reportedly under consideration. Gowdy chaired the House select committee investigating Benghazi and he has been a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Ray Kelly: Kelly served as the New York City police commissioner following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He held that job longer than anyone else, and is reportedly under consideration for the FBI job. He backed policies such as stop-and-frisk to reduce crime.

It's time for US taxpayers to cut off the UN gravy train

A consistent theme from the earliest days of the Trump administration was the intent to lower the amount that America pays for United Nations peacekeeping.

During her confirmation hearing, Ambassador Nikki Haley repeatedly said that the U.S. contribution to the peacekeeping budget was too high and should be lowered to 25 percent. The current U.S. budget is at 28.5 percent. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint also stated that “the U.S. would not contribute more than 25 percent for U.N. peacekeeping costs.”

Congress seems to have gotten the message based on the 2017 budgetthat enforces U.S. law, capping U.S. contributions at 25 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. It also reduces appropriations by about $500 million compared to 2016.

Congress should be applauded for deciding to enforce U.S. law and policy that dates back to the 1990s. But this is only the start of the process. The tough task of changing the U.N. scale of assessments lies ahead and will require a collaborative effort in New York, in foreign capitals, and on Capitol Hill.

But first, Americans should care about reducing America’s peacekeeping dues for two reasons:

1.) The U.S. is paying far more than other states. U.S. demands for lower U.N. assessments are nothing new. Dating back to the founding of the U.N., U.S. politicians were opposed to being held excessively responsible for the expenses of the organization and used various means, including withholding, over the past 70 years to lower America’s U.N. assessment.

The issue of funding for U.N. peacekeeping became prominent in the early 1990s after an unprecedented surge in the number and size of peacekeeping operations dramatically increased U.S. payments. As President Bill Clinton stated before the U.N. General Assembly in 1993, “United Nations operations must not only be adequately funded but also fairly funded … [O]ur rate should be reduced to reflect the rise of other nations that can now bear more of the financial burden.”

In 1994, Clinton signed a law capping U.S. peacekeeping payments at 25 percent of those expenses. Because the U.N. charged the U.S. more than 30 percent at the time, this led to large arrearages. The resulting financial stress forced the U.N. and the other member states to agree to a new peacekeeping assessment formula and other reforms in return for payment of U.S. arrears as stipulated in the Helms-Biden legislation.

Although the U.S. rate did not go down to 25 percent immediately, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke testified to the Senate in 2001 that “[t]he U.S. rate will continue to progressively decline, and we expect that it will reach 25 percent by roughly 2006 or 2007.”

The U.S. paid its arrears, but that goal was never reached. By 2009, the U.S. share had fallen to less than 26 percent, but under the Obama administration the trend reversed and the U.S. assessment climbed.

Currently, the U.S. peacekeeping assessment is about 28.5 percent. This is more than 185 other U.N. member states combined and more than all of the other permanent members of the Security Council combined.

Although the U.N. assessments are supposed to be based on the “capacity to pay,” current disparities in assessments have some governments paying $8,000 for U.N. peacekeeping while the U.S. is charged over $2 billion. Although it is reasonable for wealthier countries to pay more, the privilege of U.N. membership should cost more than an inexpensive car.

Beyond fairness, this situation is not healthy for the U.N.

When countries pay a pittance to the U.N. budget, it undermines their incentive to fulfill their oversight role and make sure that contributions from all countries are used well and not squandered.

2.) Cost savings. Although it does not sound like much, the 3.5 percentage point difference between 25 percent and 28.5 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget actually translates into hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Under the current peacekeeping budget of $7.87 billion, America would save more than $270 million. The failure to reduce the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent by 2007 as Holbrooke promised has cost American taxpayers well over a billion dollars. This is because Congress has repeatedly adopted legislation temporarily overriding the 1994 U.S. law capping U.S. payments.

While the peacekeeping budget will hopefully go down under Haley, who has made clear her intent to review the size and mandates of U.N. operations and close unnecessary missions, the demand for expensive U.N. peacekeeping missions will continue into the foreseeable future. Thus, pressing the U.N. to reduce America’s peacekeeping assessment has the potential to save American taxpayers billions of dollars.

U.N. peacekeeping is important and can serve U.S. interests. But it also serves the interests of other U.N. nations and it is not unreasonable for the U.S. to ask them to step up their commitment—especially since the U.S. would still be paying 25 percent of the bill.

But convincing other governments will not be easy. Cajoling U.N. partners is unlikely to be successful without additional pressure.

How do we know this? Because the pro-U.N. Obama administration pursued that course unsuccessfully for eight years. The Obama administration came into office insisting that using financial leverage to press for U.N. reform was counterproductive.

It worked with Congress to pay U.S. arrears to the U.N. and adopted a conciliatory diplomatic approach to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment via direct diplomacy with other governments in New York and in the U.N. Committee on Contributions.

The result? America’s peacekeeping assessment was raised repeatedly.

This happened for two reasons.

First, the U.N. scale of assessments is a zero-sum game: In order for the U.S. assessment to fall, the assessments for other countries must rise. Thus, pressure must be applied to overcome the disincentive of other countries to pay more, which the Obama administration eschewed.

Second, the U.S. actions signaled to other countries that it was not serious. Every time the Obama administration and Congress appropriated funds over the 25 percent cap in order to avoid arrears, the other member states saw that the U.S. was not committed to the limit, and would go along with increased peacekeeping assessments.

There are a number of paths to offset the reduction in America’s assessment, but all involve costs for other nations.

To avoid the failure of the past eight years, a different approach is necessary. The new scale will be debated and adopted over the next 18 months. Other member states and the U.N. leadership need to know now that the U.S. is serious. Thus, the decision to enforce U.S. law capping peacekeeping payments at 25 percent comes at a perfect time to supplement America’s diplomatic efforts.

The short-term result will be arrears. But, as we saw in the 1990s, leveraging payment of arrears in return for reform of the U.S. assessment can be an effective tactic when combined with a determined and creative diplomatic effort in New York and by our diplomats around the world.

Engineer Fined for Criticizing Government without a License

Mats Jarlstrom’s trouble all began with a red-light camera.

In April 2013, Jarlstrom’s wife, Laurie, received a ticket after driving her Volkswagen through an intersection in Beaverton, Oregon, that was equipped with a traffic camera.

His wife paid the fine, but the timing of the traffic lights at the intersection piqued Jarlstrom’s interest, so he decided to look into a formula created in 1959 to calculate the length of yellow lights.

Jarlstrom says he realized the original formula failed to take into account the extra time it takes for a car to slow before making a right-hand turn safely.

“Currently, people are getting tickets for running red lights because they’re slowing down when they’re making turns,” he tells The Daily Signal. “It’s a safety issue because any time we run a red light, we’re in the intersection for the wrong reason, and there is cross traffic, and especially pedestrians are in danger.”

Jarlstrom, an electronics engineer from Sweden, revised the formula to take the deceleration into account, and decided to take his findings public.

But doing so, he quickly learned, came with a risk, and a costly one at that.

Fined for Learning

Jarlstrom shared his findings with local media, policymakers, the sheriff, and Alexei Maradudin, who helped craft the original mathematical formula in 1959. He also emailed his theory to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, in hopes it would take a look at his research.

The Oregon panel said it didn’t have any jurisdiction over traffic lights. But it did have jurisdiction over the state’s engineering laws. And it decided to open an investigation into Jarlstrom because of “his use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer,’” according to an order from the board.

After investigating Jarlstrom for two years, the board fined him $500.

The reason?

Jarlstrom, according to the board, practiced engineering without a license each time he “critiqued” the traffic-light system and identified himself as an engineer in correspondence with the panel.

“You don’t need to be an engineer to understand this,” Jarlstrom says in an interview with The Daily Signal, adding:
I read something that was already public and understood it, and I wanted to share that information with the public talking about it. I felt completely shocked when I contacted them that they weren’t interested in listening to the problems that I presented to the board. They accused me of being illegal by saying I was a Swedish electronics engineer.
Jarlstrom paid the $500 fine, and the board closed its investigation. But now, the public-interest law firm Institute for Justice is fighting alongside the Oregon man in federal court to challenge the state’s engineering laws.

“The issues are classic First Amendment issues,” Sam Gedge, an Institute for Justice lawyer who is representing Jarlstrom, tells The Daily Signal. “The government can’t punish people for expressing their concerns. The government can’t take words and redefine them and then punish people for using them in a way the government doesn’t like.”

Jarlstrom does have education and experience in engineering.

He has a degree in electronics engineering from Sweden, which is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in engineering in the United States.

Jarlstrom, 56, also worked for Luxor Electronics before immigrating to the United States in 1992.

But in Oregon, anyone who engages in “creative work requiring engineering education, training, and experience” under the state Professional Engineer Registration Act is required to be licensed as a professional engineer.

Nearly every state requires professional engineers to have a license. However, those licenses typically are reserved for engineers who build skyscrapers or design electrical plans for buildings.

The Institute for Justice is challenging the vague definition of what constitutes a professional engineer in Oregon, which in effect allows the board to regulate the exchange of ideas and of the word “engineer,” Gedge says:
What makes Oregon so unusual is they’ve taken the licensing regime for professional engineers and are applying it to people like Mats, who are talking about issues that concern them. That’s unusual.
There are two issues for Jarlstrom, Gedge says: He used the word “engineer” to describe himself, and he talked about technical topics.

“There have been a number of instances about the board going after people simply because they used the word engineer to describe themselves,” the lawyer says. “There are also examples of the board going after people who have never used the word engineer to describe themselves, but are nonetheless going out in public and speaking about technical topics.”

“That word isn’t off-limits to people,” he says. “The laws can’t be used to stop people from sending an email to his sheriff for safety.”

Other Incidents

Indeed, Jarlstrom’s experiences with Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying aren’t exclusive to him.

Last year, the board opened an investigation into Allen Alley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, who stated in campaign ads: “I’m an engineer and a problem solver.”

Alley received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and worked as an engineer for Ford and Boeing. But he isn’t a licensed professional engineer in Oregon.

The board’s investigation into Alley is ongoing.

In another instance, the panel investigated a woman profiled in Portland Monthly’s “Oregon Woman 2015” edition.

Included in the magazine was an article about Marcela Alcantar and a headline about “the incredible story of the engineer behind Portland’s newest bridge.”

The board opened a “law enforcement case” against Alcantar based on the line, since she wasn’t a registered professional engineer.

Ultimately, the case was closed after the board’s staff spoke with the journalist who wrote the article. The board determined “engineer” was a designation given not by Alcantar, but by the article’s editors.

“The definition of the practice of engineering is so broad according to the board, and the board has shown itself to be so aggressive,” Gedge says. “Expressing your concerns on technical topics certainly leaves you at the risk of being investigated.”


Although Jarlstrom ultimately paid the fine, he says he believes the board’s decision violated his freedom of expression.

And while he does have engineering experience, Jarlstrom contends the skills he used to craft his revised formula relied on 6th- and 7th-grade math:
It’s interesting that just because students here in Beaverton or elsewhere are using math and looking at some traffic-flow issues in school, they would be considered practicing engineering according to the board. We can’t have laws having that kind of power or overreach.
Jarlstrom says he considers himself a whistleblower and is surprised something like this could happen in the United States. But he vows to continue working to “improve our civil rights and freedom of speech so individuals like myself can share ideas, whether they’re good or bad.”

“We still need to be able to express them,” he says. “If we can’t, there won’t be any ideas to choose from.”
Republished from The Daily Signal.
Melissa Quinn

Melissa Quinn
Melissa Quinn is a senior news reporter for The Daily Signal.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Occupational Licensing is a Scam

What word best describes the actions of government? Would it be greed? How about thuggery? Or cronyism?

Writing for Reason, Eric Boehm has a story showing that “all of the above” may be the right answer.

But I Am an Engineer

At first it seems like a story about government greed.
When Mats Järlström’s wife got snagged by one of Oregon’s red light cameras in 2013, he challenged the ticket by questioning the timing of the yellow lights at intersections where cameras had been installed. Since then, his research into red light cameras has earned him attention in local and national media – in 2014, he presented his evidence on an episode of “60 Minutes”…on how too-short yellow lights were making money for the state by putting the public’s safety at risk.”
Three cheers for Mr. Järlström. Just like Jay Beeber, he’s fighting against local governments that put lives at risk by using red-light cameras as a revenue-raising scam.

But then it became a story about government thuggery.
…the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying…threatened him. Citing state laws that make it illegal to practice engineering without a license, the board told Järlström that even calling himself an “electronics engineer” and the use of the phrase “I am an engineer” in his letter were enough to “create violations.” Apparently the threats weren’t enough, because the board follow-up in January of this year by officially fining Järlström $500 for the supposed crime of “practicing engineering without being registered.”
Gasp, imagine the horror of having unregistered engineers roaming the state! Though one imagines that the government’s real goal is to punish Järlström for threatening its red-light revenue racket.

But if you continue reading the story, it’s also about cronyism. The Board apparently wants to stifle competition, even if it means trying to prevent people from making true statements.
Järlström is…arguing that it’s unconstitutional to prevent someone from doing math without the government’s permission. …The notion that it’s somehow illegal for Järlström to call himself an engineer is absurd. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Sweden… it’s not the first time the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying has been overly aggressive…the state board investigated Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman in 2014 for publishing a campaign pamphlet that mentioned Saltzman’s background as an “environmental engineer.” Saltzman has a bachelor’s degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell University, a master’s degree from MIT’s School of Civil Engineering, and is a membership of the American Society of Civil Engineers.”
Limited by Licensing

In other words, this is yet another example of how politicians and special interests use “occupational licensing” as a scam.

The politicians get to impose “fees” in exchange for letting people practice a profession.

And the interest groups get to impose barriers that limit competition.

A win-win situation, at least if you’re not a taxpayer or consumer.

Or a poor person who wants to get a job.

Some of the examples of occupational licensing would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that people are being denied the right to engage in voluntary exchange.

Such as barriers against people who want to help deaf people communicate.
If you want to help a deaf person communicate in Wisconsin, you’ll have to get permission from the state government first. Wisconsin is one of a handful of states to require a license for sign language interpreters, and the state also issues licenses for interior designers, bartenders, and dieticians despite no clear evidence that any of those professions constitute a risk to public health in other states without similar licensing rules. …It’s hard to imagine any health and safety benefits to mandatory licensing for sign language interpreters, which is one of eight licenses highlighted in a new report from Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty, a conservative group. …Since 1996, the number of licensed professions in the Badger State has grown from 90 to 166 – an increase of 84 percent, according to the report. Licensing cost Wisconsin more than 30,000 jobs over the last 20 years and adds an additional $1.9 billion annually in consumer costs.”
Or restricting the economic liberty of dog walkers.
…according to the Colorado government, people who watch pets for money are breaking the law unless if they can get licensed as a commercial kennel – a requirement that is costly and unrealistic for people working out of their homes, often as a side job. This is not simply a case of an outdated law failing to accommodate modern technology. There are more nefarious motives – those of special interests who want to protect their profits by keeping out new competition. …it is time to add “Big Kennel” to the list of special interests that support ridiculous occupational licensing schemes.”
Or trying to deny rights, as in the case of horse masseuses.

The Risk of Rogue Interior Designers

The good news is that there’s a growing campaign to get rid of these disgusting restrictions of voluntary exchange.

The acting head of the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved. On the right side of the issue!
Maureen K. Ohlhausen, the new acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission, thinks it’s high time that the FTC start giving more than lip service to its traditional mandate of fostering economic liberty. And the first item in her crosshairs is the burgeoning growth in occupational licenses. Over the past several decades, licensing requirements have multiplied like rabbits, she noted. Only 5 percent of the workforce needed a license in 1950, but somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of all American workers need one today. …depending on where you live, you might need a license to be an auctioneer, interior designer, makeup artist, hair braider, potato shipper, massage therapist or manicurist. “The health and safety arguments about why these occupations need to be licensed range from dubious to ridiculous,” Ohlhausen said. “I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows.”
Hooray for Ms. Ohlhausen. She’s directing the FTC to do something productive, which is a nice change of pace for a bureaucracy that has been infamous in past years for absurd enforcement of counterproductive antitrust laws.

A column in the Wall Street Journal highlights Mississippi’s reforms.
State lawmakers in Mississippi are taking the need for reform to heart. Two weeks ago Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law H.B. 1425, which will significantly rein in licensing boards. …H.B. 1425 explicitly endorses competition and says that the state’s policy is to “use the least restrictive regulation necessary to protect consumers from present, significant and substantiated harms.” Under the law, the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general must review and approve all new regulations from professional licensing boards to ensure compliance with the new legal standard. This should be a model for other states. …Mississippi’s law…covers all licensing boards controlled by industry participants, spells out a pro-competition test, and requires new rules to be approved by elected officials accountable to voters. Mississippi has smartly targeted the core problem: Anticompetitive regulations harm the economy, slow job growth, and raise consumer prices.”
Here’s some of the national data in the WSJ column.

Keep in mind, as you read these numbers, that poor people disproportionately suffer as a result of these regulatory barriers to work.

Opportunity for Low Wage Workers
In the 1950s only about 1 in 20 American workers needed a license, but now roughly 1 in 4 do. This puts a real burden on the economy. A 2012 study by the Institute for Justice examined 102 low-income and middle-income occupations. The average license cost $209 and required nine months of training and one state exam. …Even the Obama administration saw the problem. A 2015 report from the White House said that licensing can “reduce employment opportunities and lower wages for excluded workers.” In 2011 three academic economists estimated that these barriers have result in 2.85 million fewer jobs nationwide, while costing consumers $203 billion a year thanks to decreased competition.”
Professor Tyler Cowen explains in Time that licensing laws explain in part the worrisome decline in mobility in America.
Some of the decline in labor mobility may stem from…the growth of occupational licensure. While once only doctors and medical professionals required licenses to practice, now it is barbers, interior decorators, electricians, and yoga trainers. More and more of these licensing restrictions are added on, but few are ever taken away, in part because the already licensed established professionals lobby for the continuation of the restrictions. In such a world, it is harder to move into a new state and, without preparation and a good deal of investment, set up a new business in a licensed area.”
Last but not least, we have a candidate for the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame. Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains for Reason that a paper pusher in Florida managed to use occupational licensing fees as a tool of self-enrichment.
In Palm Beach County, Florida, all topless dancers are required to register with county officials and obtain an Adult Entertainment Work Identification Card (AEIC), at the cost of $75 per year. The regulation is ridiculous for a lot of reasons, but at least applicants – many of whom are paid exclusively in cash – were able to pay the government-ID fee with cash, too, making things a little more convenient and a little less privacy-invading. But not anymore, thanks to the alleged actions of one sticky-fingered government employee. …Pedemy “diverted” at least $28,875 (and possibly an additional $3,305) from county coffers between October 2013 and mid-November 2016. The money came from both adult-entertainer fees – approximately 70 percent of which were paid in cash – and court-ordered payments intended for a crime Victims Services Fund.”
At the end of the article, Ms. Brown looks at the bigger issue and asks what possible public purpose is being served by stripper licensing.
Demanding strippers be licensed in the first place is a problem… There’s no legitimate public-safety or consumer-protection element to the requirement – strip club patrons don’t care if the woman wriggling on their laps is properly permitted. Government officials have portrayed the measure as a means to stop human trafficking and the exploitation of minors, but that’s ludicrous; anyone willing to force someone else into sex or labor and circumvent much more serious rules with regard to age limits isn’t going to suddenly take pause over an occupational licensing rule they’ll have to skirt. The only ones truly affected are sex workers and adult-business owners. Not only does the regulation drive up their costs…, it gives Palm Beach regulators a database of anyone who’s ever taken their clothes off for money locally – leaving these records open to FOIA requests or hackers – and gives cops a pretense to check clubs at random to make sure there aren’t any unlicensed dancers. Those found to be dancing without a license can be arrested on a misdemeanor criminal charge.”
Though I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. If you peruse “Sex and Government,” you’ll find that politicians and bureaucrats like to stick their noses in all sorts of inappropriate places. Including the vital state interest of whether topless women should be allowed to cut hair without a license!
Reprinted from International Liberty.
Daniel J. Mitchell

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

Venezuela's nightmare is where all redistributionist economies lead

As Venezuela descends into a nightmare of starvation and violence, the long-standing debate over the feasibility of socialism takes on new relevance. Years of explicitly socialist policies from the Chavez and Maduro regimes have taken their toll, as nationalization and a variety of other attempts to abolish or subvert market processes have destroyed what was once one of South America’s richest countries.

Even with the wealth of their oil reserves, redistribution and price controls have brought production, and therefore consumption, to a halt. Once they exported grain to the rest of the world, now they can’t even feed their own people.

Who Is at Fault?

This humanitarian disaster has raised the question of who or what to blame. That question puts self-proclaimed socialists and their progressive sympathizers in a difficult spot. After all, one can easily find lots of examples (from Michael Moore to Bernie Sanders) of people on the left praising or endorsing Chavez’s economic policies. So what can people who took that position say in the face of this disaster? And what can the defenders of free enterprise say as well?

Many on the left will start by denying that socialism is at fault. Sometimes they’ll deny that the Chavez-Maduro policies were “real” socialism. In other cases, they’ll argue that while their intentions might have been good, corruption and poor implementation doomed good policies to failure.

Both of these arguments have real problems.

If those policies were not “real” socialism, then why did so many sympathetic to socialism express so much support for them and argue that they would be transformative in ways socialists value? Chavez himself made such claims.

Do all of them not understand what socialism is? The variety of attempts Chavez made to prevent markets and prices from working and to substitute some form of economic planning in the name of the people have been broadly consistent with socialism since Marx. If that’s not socialism, what exactly is meant by that word anymore?

Real Socialism

For many on the left, the answer to the last question is “the Scandinavian countries.” The problem, however, is that the Scandinavian countries have, by some measures, freer markets than the US, which the left sees as the archetype of capitalism. At the very least, they are not significantly different from the US in their degree of economic freedom.

Historically, socialism has broadly been defined as the elimination of the private ownership of the means of production and the substitution of common or public ownership and economic planning for what Marx called the “anarchy of production” of the market.

Doing away with private ownership, exchange, prices, and profits would, in Marx’s view, end the alienation, exploitation, and crises that characterized capitalism. In addition, rationalizing production through planning, rather than leaving matters to the trial and error method of the market, would eliminate waste and bring on a burst of productivity that would enrich us all.

Abolishing markets does not describe the Scandinavian countries, though it does capture a lot of what was going on in Venezuela. Socialism, at least historically, did not simply mean “a large welfare state” as we see in Scandinavia. In fact, the only way countries can afford larger welfare states is to have economies productive enough to produce the wealth that can be taxed away to support such programs. This is why the Scandinavian countries deregulated (and lowered tax rates) so much in the last decade or two: only through freer markets could they afford their transfer programs.

If you love the Scandinavian model, you don’t love socialism. You love market capitalism, because that’s what makes that model possible. (Whether large welfare states are necessary or desirable is a matter for another column.)

What of the argument that well-intentioned policies were frustrated by corruption and poor implementation? The problem here is that this seems to happen every time socialism has been tried. The Bolsheviks began to implement Marxian socialism within a year of taking power and a decade later they had Stalinism. Cuba quickly turned to a dictatorship. China. North Korea. The list goes on. At what point are these not all coincidences?

Every. Single. Time.

Economists have long understood the dynamic at work here. Marx and other socialists thought that those in charge of the planning process, and for Marx that was the whole community, could rationally determine what to produce and how best to produce it in the absence of markets, exchange, and prices. Since Mises’s famous essay in 1920, however, we have known that doing so is not possible.

Genuine market prices are necessary for people be able to make determinations of value in anything larger than a household. Without prices, there is no way to know, not just what people value but (more importantly) how to make what they value using the least valuable resources possible.

In other words, rational production decisions are impossible without market prices, and market prices can’t exist without exchange and therefore there has to be private ownership, especially of the means of production.

But what happens when those given the power to make such decisions realize they cannot achieve their perhaps well-intentioned goals? The power does not go away. More often than not, the first reaction is precisely what we’ve seen in Venezuela: crack down harder on producers for not living up to impossible demands and ration goods to punish consumers for “hoarding.” And when that doesn’t work, go to more draconian authoritarianism, and do whatever it takes to hold on to power.

After a while, these exercises of brute power have consequences. They attract those with a comparative advantage in exercising such power (and perhaps those who have a high consumption value for doing so) into positions of power. Marxism is not Stalinism, but the inability of Marxian socialism to live up to its promises creates the conditions that make Stalinism possible and likely. In other words, Stalinism is an unintended consequence of Marxian socialism.

In addition, as state control becomes more clearly ineffective, people start to work around it by establishing distorted forms of market exchange. Bribery of politicians and bureaucrats, threats to producers, cronyism, and nepotism all become the ways of getting things done. Scarce resources have to be allocated somehow, and markets are like weeds in that they will grow in the cracks left by the failures of planning.

Intellectual Negligence

To the outside world, corruption and poor implementation caused socialism to fail. But that gets matters completely backward: corruption and ineffective political actors are not the cause of socialism’s failure, but a result of that failure. When you make real markets illegal and when your attempts at planning inevitably fail, what you get is the bribery and corruption of black markets. Once again, these are not what Marxism intends, but they are an inevitable unintended consequence.

So what does this say about those who supported the policies of Chavez and Maduro? It’s easy to say that they are evil for wishing starvation and destruction on the Venezuelan people, but I think that’s too easy. I do believe that many who supported those policies genuinely believed they would have good results. In that sense, they did not act immorally.

However, they are guilty of a severe intellectual error that has real moral consequences. Though they may not have intended the humanitarian disaster that we now see, they do bear responsibility for not being aware of the long-standing criticisms of socialism that have given us reasons to expect such a disaster.

Our friends on the left who supported Chavez’s policies are by and large not guilty of the intentional evil we broadly call “vice.” What they are guilty of is something more like intellectual “negligence.” They didn’t mean “that” in the case of Venezuela, but there’s no doubt that they should have known better.

Those of us who understand the power of markets to improve the lives of all of us won’t be very effective in persuading others of that truth if we write off those sympathetic to socialism as evil-doers. It’s better to engage them gently and intellectually, and offer them an alternative narrative, than to write them off as irredeemable.

Moral condemnation ends productive dialogue – offering an alternative narrative can start it. The human cost of socialism is too high to not engage those sympathetic to it in the most effective ways possible.

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz
Steven Horwitz is the Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University, where he also is a Fellow at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. He is the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. and is a Distinguished Fellow at FEE and a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

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Why are these eleven US senators defending George Soros?

That nature abhors a vacuum is a cliché but also a postulate about the immutable laws of nature. And once again, we’re seeing the unchangeable rules of the physical world being replicated in human action—especially in foreign policy.

Exhibit A is Europe east of the Fulda Gap, where Obama appointees are still dictating American policy and a group of senators had a testy exchange with the combative leader of Hungary.

To be clear, there is no power vacuum when it comes to hot spots like Afghanistan, North Korea, and Syria, where the Trump Defense Department has acted decisively. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also personally handled the Russian front.

The world is vast, however, and Tillerson is only one man. The absence of assistant secretaries for Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Western Hemisphere has left these areas with a lack of direction.

The void will be filled by others.

Eleven senators (two Republicans and nine Democrats) on April 19 wrote a letter to Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, expressing their concern about a law they say aims to close Central European University, an accredited U.S. university in Budapest.

“Central European University has become one of the highest-ranked universities in Europe, bringing new opportunities and prestige to Hungarian citizens, wrote the senators. “… This legislation threatens academic freedom and disregards the longstanding relationship Central European University has with the Hungarian people.”

What the group of senators—including such powerful personalities as John McCain, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.—didn’t mention is the nub of the problem: The university was founded and funded by the U.S. billionaire George Soros, a Hungarian-born hedge funder who uses his vast fortune to advocate progressive causes around the world.

Orban, in his response to the senators, did not mince words about Soros, whom he mentioned six times in a short, one-page letter.

“In our country, laws are passed by elected representatives, based on our constitution,” began Orban’s brush-back missive, which I have seen.

After reassuring the senators that the Hungarian Constitution guarantees freedom of education and research, the prime minister added, “therefore, any assumption that presumes the breach of these principles by the Hungarian National Assembly is unreasonable.”

“I would like to reassure you that no one wants to close the University of George Soros,” he wrote, adding that “Soros’ network of Central European NGOs are at the heart” of what Orban referred to as an “international disinformation campaign against Hungary.”

“The university is just a pretense,” Orban added. “The real issue,” he said, was Soros’ desire for Hungary to open its borders to immigrants.

Hungary, Orban wrote, would soon draw up legislation mirrored on the United States’ Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires agents representing the interests of foreign governments in a “political or quasi-political capacity” disclose this link.

Universities, especially foreign ones, are heavily regulated around the world, and liberals have never shied away from regulating schools, especially religious ones. At the same time, it is true that many U.S. scholars have echoed the senators’ concerns about whether Orban’s moves will have a chilling effect on academic freedom.

Orban himself is hard to pin down. He is rightly trying to salvage Hungarian independence from encroachment by the European Union. But he has also flirted with friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an adversary of America and the West.

Backing the left-wing causes advocated by Soros, however, does anger potential U.S. allies. Among other things, Soros supports decriminalizing prostitution and drug possession and changing Ireland’s Constitution to allow abortion.

Being seen on the side of that can and does cannibalize political support from foreign politicians, and cause political parties in these regions to turn increasingly to Putin’s opportunistic diplomacy.

Six GOP senators have written to Tillerson to ask him to investigate whether under President Barack Obama the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development worked with groups funded by Soros “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.” Their letter never got to Tillerson, and their request for a probe was ignored.

Having an assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia who can set down the Trump administration’s policies, appoint his own deputy assistants, and transmit information to Tillerson would help all this.

Right now, European policy for this region appears to be run by Hoyt Brian Yee, an Obama-era deputy assistant secretary of state who seems to have gone rogue with regards not just to Hungary but also Macedonia and Albania. Yee continues to give his support to leftist politicians and causes throughout the region, without the approval or blessing of the White House, the National Security Council or, apparently, even Tillerson.

Appointments appear to be delayed because a reorganization of the State Department is coming. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Trump administration told Politico last month that “the president will not name a special envoy for climate change.” So, yes, some of it can be good.

But we need political appointments in top places. Lest we forget, World War I began in the Balkans.