Thursday, October 30, 2014

Canada Will Be Intimidated



Heroic acts often have cowardly echoes. That is, selfless conduct is celebrated in the moment, held high as an example of the human ideal, only to be followed by mass timidity.

We have witnessed this throughout the interminable and ubiquitous “War on Terror.”

9/11 had many heroes. Todd “Let’s Roll” Beamer, for example, famously rallied his fellow passengers on Flight 93 to prevent their plane from being used as a missile. Emergency workers in New York ran into burning buildings to save civilians, many of whom sacrificed themselves to help one another.

In the days and weeks that followed, stirring speeches were given, American flags were hung from millions of homes, bellicose country-western songs were written and recorded. The message of all of these was robust, virile and explicit: Those who harmed us will be punished, we will not be intimidated, and we will continue to live in freedom.

Thirteen years on, we see what stuff and nonsense that was. As Americans shuffle through the dystopia of the modern security state – their communications monitored, their bodies groped and scanned, their enemies undeterred – the bravado of those early days is revealed as just so much chin music.

The recent terrorist attacks in Canada are, thus far, following a similar pattern. Shortly after two uniformed military personnel in Quebec were deliberately struck by a car driven by a disaffected Muslim, Martin Couture-Rouleau, another Islamic radical, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, opened fire at the War Memorial in Ottawa. Zehaf-Bibeau murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, then raced into the Parliament buildings, where he was shot and killed by the normally ceremonial Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.

Cpl. Cirillo has been mourned by the nation, and Vickers has been lauded for his quick-thinking and bravery. Both reactions are suitable and just.

But, like Beamer and the firefighters at Ground Zero who personified heroism, Vickers will be praised but not emulated by his countrymen.

If anything, Canada’s reversion to cringing pusillanimity has been even swifter than that of the United States. Immediately after the attack, much of downtown Ottawa was “locked down,” as was the Canadian Embassy in Washington and, for reasons that obtain only in this age of hyper-security, police appeared at street corners, transit stations and public events in Toronto and elsewhere.

Shortly thereafter, General Tom Lawson, Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, ordered members of the military to avoid wearing their uniforms in public.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to the airwaves to insist, “Canada will never be intimidated.” Politicians love to tough-talk our enemies in this way, assuming they have the temerity to identify our foes and the ideology they all seem to share.

But as cowering citizens are ordered about by police and security officers, submitting to searches and seemingly endless indignities in the name of “safety,” and the nation’s top soldier tells troops to shed their once-proud uniforms, one wonders – what, exactly, do they think intimidation looks like?

In his speech to the House of Commons, Harper called for an increase in the government’s surveillance powers. But if you can’t get a handle on maniacs like Messrs. Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau, whose criminality and radicalization were evident through existing means like police records, how does it help to access the recipe-exchanging emails of grannies in Owen Sound?

Incidentally, how disquieting that the term “in lockdown” has passed so seamlessly into modern usage, as though to be sequestered by government agents were as natural and commonplace as to be “in the shower” or “out to lunch.” Compare, say, the denizens of Churchill’s Britain thumbing their noses at the Blitz to the duck-and-cover reflex of today’s coddled masses.

This is both a matter of politics and of culture. Culturally speaking, modern citizens are content to surrender personal sovereignty in the shallow hope that the authorities will protect them. As to politics, Canadians have no saviour on the horizon.

Misbegotten as Harper’s reaction may be, Canada’s Prime Minister in Waiting, Justin Trudeau, is the most ridiculous major party candidate in North American history. The Derek Zoolander of Canadian politics, Trudeau is of the hippy-dippy, drum-circle school of thought that contends a radical Muslim is no more likely to commit terrorism than, say, a devout Methodist. The result, again, is blanket surveillance and proctological investigation of innocent people as we pretend we haven’t the foggiest clue what quarters may give rise to the next attack.

Columnist Mark Steyn is fond of saying that government always goes for the soft target, and that target is always you. This is why each terrorist incident is an excuse for more oversight of your life and person, even as the identities and motives of actual terrorists are obscured and denied.

Before noon on September 11, 2001, America had already inoculated itself against hijackings of that kind. As Beamer and his cohort demonstrated, anyone attempting to seize an airliner in that way would be stopped. When cockpit doors were reinforced, this completed the precautions necessary to prevent another such attack.

And yet, not only do the grotesque absurdities of transportation security continue at America’s airports, they have expanded to train stations, subways, and sporting events across the so-called home of the brave.

Vickers, like Beamer, showed that there is no substitute for personal courage and willingness to act when faced with extreme circumstances. If the intervening days since the Ottawa attack are any indication, however, Canadians recognize heroism, but will accept yet more supervision of their daily lives.

Make no mistake (to borrow a phrase), this is not our enemies’ doing; it is our own. It is we who have prioritized safety over liberty, who have countenanced the expansion of police powers and security measures and, when there is no freedom left to defend, it is we who will be to blame.

Theo Caldwell is a broadcaster and investor in the United States and Canada. Contact him at theo@theocaldwell.com

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Lost" Emails Should Be the End of the IRS



There is a double indignity to being on the receiving end of a bad lie. The insult of being served with obvious dishonesty is compounded by the liar's presumption that you are stupid enough to swallow it.

Claims by the Internal Revenue Service that they’ve “lost” emails from Lois Lerner and a half-dozen other employees pertinent to the agency’s targeting of conservative groups represent just such dual scorn.

As is well known to anyone who runs a business – or, heck with it, anyone who's rushed their laptop to a strip-mall repair shop – there is almost always some way to recover emails and hard drive data. This is especially true of networks with backup protocols and storage requirements, such as the IRS requires of the private entities and individuals they audit.

From the outset, the IRS has responded to this matter in ways they would never accept from taxpayers. Starting with Lerner’s absurd contention to Congress that she had done nothing wrong, followed instantly by her invocation of the Fifth Amendment, to the agency’s year-plus of stonewalling and prevarication in the face of legitimate inquiry, this ridiculous outfit has held itself to a lower standard than it demands of the citizens it purports to serve.

Now, with this laughably convenient lie, that the very emails Congress is requesting have somehow vanished into the bowels of Lerner’s Commodore 64, the IRS has defied satire to such a degree that it can never be taken seriously again.

Consequently, we who advocate the abolition of the IRS must continue to highlight its institutional dysfunction, rather than focus on a few individuals.

Inasmuch as this scandal is personalized, its potential as a catalyst for change is diminished. If, however unlikely, Lerner were to go to jail, or President Obama were to be directly implicated, a satiated public could suppose the responsible parties had been served their just desserts. But this problem is systemic, not personal. It is the bureaucracy itself that must be eviscerated.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, the incrimination of a president is small potatoes compared to the import and opportunity this moment provides. America's decline is not a function of a particular chief executive, no matter how mendacious or incompetent. Rather, it is hastened by the nation's ubiquitous and permanent bureaucracy, of which the IRS is emblematic.

Alas, it was inevitable that the IRS imbroglio and its attendant investigations should become partisan affairs. This is not because Republicans hope to take down Barack Obama as Democrats seek to protect him – this president has proved impervious to scandal, or even basic scrutiny – but because the bureaucracy and the Left are one.

For all their self-labeling as agents of "progress" and "liberal" ideals, the Left are guardians of ossified, statist, liberty-squelching systems across the globe.

Like the guy in the office who tries to give himself a nickname ("From now on, could I get you to call me T-Bone?"), they insist they're about freedom and fighting for the little guy, even as they ensure he remains little.

It is axiomatic that the bigger a government gets, the smaller citizens become. This column has previously noted that in modern America, there is a tax consequence to every undertaking, literally from cradle to grave. In this way, the IRS is the vanguard of the nation’s regulatory juggernaut.

Little wonder, then, that the Democrats, the party of government, reflexively leap to the defense of the IRS, and left-leaning sympathizers roll their eyes at the suggestion of disbanding it, as though America could not survive without this malignant agency, which has existed for less than half of the nation’s history.

But this has to be the last straw.

Yes, as the most officious, militant and corrupt tax authority in the world, the IRS maintains the threat of force against citizens. But that is all it has. How can anyone – left, right or indifferent – respect them again? Transparent dishonesty and blatant corruption have stripped the IRS of whatever legitimacy it once possessed.

What, then, to replace it with? Of the two most conspicuous alternatives – a consumption tax or a flat tax – the former is furthest from the current mandate of the IRS, thereby facilitating the outright dismantling of that hideous structure.

Remove taxation entirely from the realms of income, health, religion, speech, charity, and the myriad other aspects of daily life infected by its touch. Under a consumption tax, when you buy something, you pay a tax on that transaction, and that is the end of your obligation to finance the federal government.

Critics refer to such a system with the deliberately provocative and misleading moniker of “regressive,” meaning it affects rich and poor alike in equal proportion. Besides that a flat tax does precisely the same, the result of a consumption tax is that those who earn and spend more will be taxed at higher amounts. In this way, wealthier individuals and organizations shoulder a higher portion of the tax burden than those with less, and arguably a higher portion than they do under today’s so-called “progressive” system.

President John F. Kennedy, an aggressive tax-cutter, was fond of pointing out that the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis”: one stands for danger; the other for opportunity. America is in crisis, prominently represented by the corruption of its tax authority. This is, however, an opportunity to change the country for the better.

theo@theocaldwell.com

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Put Cameras on Police



“The first rule of police work,” Sean Connery intoned to Kevin Costner in his Oscar-winning turn in The Untouchables, is this: “When your shift is over, you go home alive.”

Actually, the first rule of police work, as generally understood by those of us who pay police to do it, is to protect the property and persons of the citizens they serve. Unfortunately, too many among the modern constabulary have internalized Connery’s fictionalized, Prohibition-era Chicago way, while adding a streak of militaristic zeal, such that today’s police seem utterly anathema to what they were a generation ago.

Concerned more with self-preservation and control than with public service, modern police stalk city streets like an occupying force tasked with quelling an unruly population. This mindset is manifest in urban centers across the ostensibly free world, and evidence squeaks out in furtively recorded video and tearful testimony from those who have been on the business end of contemporary policing.

It should not require bystanders with camera phones or a lucky dash-cam angle to exonerate a suspect and expose police misconduct. Therefore, as the nature of policing has evidently changed (and not for the better), and since the technology exists, a partial remedy is apparent: Put cameras on police.

Specifically, police officers interacting with the public, apart from narrowly defined undercover circumstances, should be required to wear cameras that record their actions. The footage from these devices should be obtainable through freedom of information and subpoena procedures, with the identities of private citizens obscured unless they give consent.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” bleat nincompoops who defend the surveillance state. Their logic is sound, but they invert the application of rights and obligations in a free society. To wit, while they are misbegotten in supposing government has a right to monitor the actions of private citizens, their “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” admonition would be perfectly apt if directed toward police or others invested with public trust.

Put it in purely semantic terms, if you prefer. Absent a compelling reason, the behavior of private citizens should remain just that: private. Likewise, the conduct of officers operating in a public capacity should, as the default procedure, be public.

This is a qualitative matter of common sense, for which a quantifiable case can also be made. For example, in the city of Rialto, California, the use of force by police dropped 60% and complaints against officers dropped by 80% in 2013, the first year body-worn police cameras were deployed.

Whether the knowledge they were being recorded curbed police excesses, or people consequently chose not to launch unfounded complaints, or both, the result affirms Justice Brandeis’ assertion that sunlight is, indeed, the best disinfectant.

My antipathy toward modern law enforcement has not been fundamental to my assimilation of public policy. I am not a reflexive, cop-hating anarchist. You’ve never seen me smashing a Starbuck’s window or storming a police barricade in a balaclava (though I submit I could sell that look). I even played as a ringer for a New York Police Department hockey team, as some drinking companions were officers from the local precinct and, on hearing I grew up in Canada, assumed I would be a stellar addition to their roster (a harmless stereotype, of which I disabused them on my very first shift).

If I were to identify a turning point in my assessment, it would be the G20 summit in my hometown of Toronto in 2010. During that disgraceful episode, police assaulted and rounded up innocent citizens en masse and held them in brutal conditions without charge.

The police chief responsible is precisely the sort of impenetrable cop you may have encountered, who speaks as though he is reading from a manual and, when confronted with hard questions, mumbles inanities about “safety.” As of this writing, he is still on the job and in good standing.

Purely anecdotally, while my lifelong circle of acquaintances includes no violent criminals (at least, not that I am aware), more people I know have been subjected to assault and brutality by police officers than by criminals.

This is a simple fact, albeit subject to the bounded rationality of my personal life, but it is sufficient for me to roll my eyes every time police mouth the desperately obsolete silly-bears about “putting their lives on the line each and every day” to protect the public.

The unfortunate police interactions of those known to me have occurred in cities across North America – with one egregious instance in Europe – and are sufficient that I, as a well-intentioned citizen who would never knowingly break the law, view police less as an ally than a threat.

To this, society’s reliable cadre of cop-affirming anachronists might reply, “Yeah, well next time someone’s breaking into your house, who ya gonna call, tough guy?” On that, a couple thoughts:

First, in the immediacy of a break-in, it seems less practical to make a phone call than to deal with the matter one’s self. One hopes that, even in today’s pansified culture, a man defending his home can still summon formidable force. Further, readers who maintain a confidence in police to stop crimes in progress have perhaps seen too many movies.

Second, and most important, if someone breaks down my door in the dead of night, as a law-abiding person but a student of current events, I suspect the police would be the ones most likely to do it. News reports may not refer to “home invasions” when the perpetrators are police officers, but the effect is the same – or worse.

In fact, given the choice, I would much prefer my door to be breached by unofficial thugs than the badge-carrying variety.

In a pajama-clad flurry of fists, profanity and weapons of opportunity, I expect I could subdue, or at least dissuade, a criminal intruder. An invading police officer, however – even if I have committed no crime, or if he simply has the wrong address – can call for backup, surround the premises, apply deadly force, then spout some nonsense to compliant media about there being “drugs” in the home or suspicion of “terrorist activity” in the residence. (To be clear, neither exist at my house.)

In either case, if one believes in the sanctity of private property and the Castle Doctrine as enunciated by William Pitt the elder, the law would be on my side. In the real world, however, the law has a funny way of coinciding with what forceful state agents say it is – that is, unless their actions are recorded for all to assess.

Warming to our theme of equating police with criminals out of uniform, police should be punished more harshly than civilians who commit the same crimes. Unlike private-sector criminals, police who transgress the law compound their offense by abusing the public trust, and using taxpayer-funded equipment to do so. Unfortunately, the opposite is largely the case.

Earlier this year in London, a police officer was convicted of assaulting a 30-year-old woman, Sarah Reed, accused of shoplifting (she was later convicted).

The actions of the officer, PC James Kiddie, were captured on the closed circuit television of the store Ms. Reed was accused of robbing. He was shown grabbing Ms. Reed by the hair, throwing her to the floor, and aiming repeated strikes at her head.

Officer Kiddie may be a brute, but if we assume he is not an idiot, it is doubtful he would have acted as he did if he realized he was being recorded.

His punishment consisted of 150 hours of community service and fines totalling several hundred dollars. Could a private citizen, acting without the auspices of law, expect such lenient treatment for an assault of this nature? Certainly, private citizens may not be called upon to contend with a shoplifter, but neither could they claim the legitimacy of law when acting violently.

Most unsettling about the incident is this – to whom could Ms. Reed call out for aid? “Help, police!” would be the reflex in an earlier age but, since it was a police officer himself committing the assault, one imagines that would only make things worse.

And it is this betrayal of public trust, this upending of social norms, that demands full disclosure of police conduct and harsh consequences for abuse.

There are two ways to do this, as TV cops have been advising for decades, “the hard way, or the easy way.” It says here, so long as police view their employers as the enemy, opting for militarized solutions to mundane situations, we should make them do things the hard way.

theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Great Wall of Canada



Unlike the United States, which often makes presidents of its governors, Canada has no tradition of elevating its provincial premiers to the office of prime minister. But, as the Romans used to say, Exceptio regulam probat (“The exception proves the rule”) – and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall might be that exception.

Last week, Premier Wall was in Washington, DC, to talk about a bevy of issues with congressional leaders. I spoke with him during his trip and asked, of the many topics he was in town to address – energy, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, country-of-origin meat labeling – which was most important?

Refreshingly, unlike many politicians, Wall gave a straight answer: the Boundary Dam and Saskatchewan’s revolutionary carbon capture project.

The $1.35 billion undertaking, which is set to go online this summer, will become the world’s first post-combustion, coal-fired carbon capture and storage facility. In converting the Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan, the project integrates a rebuilt coal-fired generation unit with carbon capture technology to create low-emission power.

Coal is copious in Saskatchewan, and Wall is convinced Boundary Dam can make the best of that resource.

“Clean coal is not an oxymoron,” he avers, and he hopes to establish a model from which other economies, including the United States, can learn.

In this way, and not for the first time, tiny Saskatchewan, with a population of just over 1 million, is showing larger jurisdictions how to do things well.

The cradle of Canadian socialism, a place so flat you can watch your dog run away for days, Saskatchewan was for decades shunned and scorned, even by those who were born there.

“We used to give luggage as a graduation gift,” Wall recollects of provincial tradition. But in recent years, a burgeoning economy, fostered by a government with the good sense to get out of the way, has reversed that. “We have net in-migration from every province in Canada,” Wall reports, “with the occasional quarterly exception of Alberta.”

Speaking of Alberta, Wall is one of many voices, Canadian and American, advocating the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from that province to Texas. After years of studies and reports, Keystone is the most scrutinized conveyance in the history of running liquid, yet its approval remains elusive.

Wall contends there is a window to get Keystone approved before the November congressional elections, for one reason: “Democrats don’t want to lose the Senate.” This reverses the rationale of many conservatives, including Charles Krauthammer, who think the Keystone’s approval is a fait accompli after the election, but not before, as Democrats’ opposition is a purely political stance, to motivate their voting base among the environmental left.

In either case, Keystone would be one of 75 oil pipelines criss-crossing the Canada-US border, and Wall is bemused that this particular project has become a cause celebre. During his DC trip, Wall speculated on concessions Canada might make in order to expedite the approval. His comments were misconstrued by the Canadian media to suggest he favors a carbon tax – which he most certainly does not – perhaps as an honest mistake, or wishful thinking by liberal-minded reporters, hoping to co-opt a popular politician to their cause.

The United States needs Keystone more than Canada does, and even the most verdant Democrat understands this. If there’s one metric that affects federal politicians, including presidents, it’s the price of gas, and a steady, affordable supply from a neighbor and ally will be beneficial in this regard.

As to being misquoted, Wall is not exactly angry (and honestly, what is an angry Saskatchewan Premier going to do – swat you with his curling broom?), though he does evince some frustration. For the benefit of American readers, a Canadian politician admitting to being “frustrated” is the rough equivalent of a president going to DEFCON 2.

Back home, Wall is having undeniable success in his second term. Saskatchewan unemployment is at 3.8% and as Premier, Wall enjoys an approval rating of 66%.

Even those of us who are not professional politicians, and who cannot count on 66% approval in our own living rooms, have to be impressed by such numbers.

As a pundit, one is privileged to interact with leaders in various fields, including and especially politics. Sometimes, one is grateful the conversation is at an end. That is, an interlocutor may be important, erudite and newsworthy, but something about them is irksome, and one gets the feeling of being played.

With Brad Wall, the opposite is true. While he is plainly intelligent, and discusses policy at a high level, he is at ease with himself, and a free trader in the marketplace of ideas. He is outcome-oriented, yet simultaneously and invariably pleasant.

This puts him in contrast to the prime minister many hope he will replace. Canada’s current leader, Stephen Harper, has something of a following among American conservatives but, as his critics point out, he has never been embraced by a majority of Canadians. This seems, at least in part, a function of Harper’s bloodless demeanor.

Harper’s attempts to seem genial, which are clearly unnatural to him, result in a discomfiting incongruity, like a nursery rhyme in a horror film.

During his DC sojourn, Wall noted numerous photos of Ronald Reagan in congressional offices. “Reagan was not interested in the whole left-right thing,” Wall notes, “but up and down.”

To Wall, an effective leader will defend his ideas or improve them, placing purpose ahead of ideology. Most of all, he understands that progress is achieved by the citizens he serves.

“Government is not going to take credit for the economy,” Wall says, speaking of Saskatchewan and of successful stewardship in general. It is a refreshing philosophy, from which a nation would benefit.

Theo Caldwell, an author and broadcaster, is a dual US-Canadian citizen. Contact him at theo@theocaldwell.com


Monday, March 3, 2014

Dave Camp's Tax Reform Shows Why We Should Abolish the IRS



As Congressman Dave Camp’s big line goes, the United States’ tax code is ten times the size of the Bible, but with none of the Good News.

When someone whose signature riff laments the length of tax laws attempts to remedy the situation, you’d expect his fix to be the soul of brevity.  The fact that Camp’s newly released proposal clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages makes one wonder if the right problem is being addressed.

As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp has undertaken a worthy task in issuing a new discussion draft on tax reform.

But in slogging through the document’s 979 pages (for those with lives to lead, a 32-page Executive Summary is also available), what becomes apparent is the ubiquitous, soul-crushing influence tax considerations have upon every aspect of American life.

From education to adoption to health care to religion – literally, from birth to death – there is a tax consequence to almost every action, no matter how intimate or picayune.

Camp’s ambition is to simplify the system and eliminate many of the politically driven incentives within the code.  This is laudable, but in finding offsets and attempting to help families or charities or other worthies, he ends up with slightly less of the same – a regime wherein almost anything you do is some of the taxman’s business.

Whether the tax implication is good or bad is beside the point.  What matters is that the conduct of civil society becomes influenced and distorted by tax considerations.

Camp has attempted to improve the system by working within it.  To see a dedicated and diligent public servant achieve such an underwhelming  result through this approach yields an inescapable conclusion: The system itself must be scrapped.

To his credit, Camp spends considerable energy attempting to reform the Internal Revenue Service, enumerating rights for targeted taxpayers and calling a halt to the agency’s lavish spending on itself.  But this merely addresses symptoms.

To wit, if you have to write a law saying agency employees should not squander money on conferences while abusing the taxpayers they purport to serve, the rot is already too deep.

As its recent, infamous conduct reveals, the IRS is a malignant outfit, for which America has no need.  The United States survived and thrived for the majority of its history before this absurdly titled “Service” was spawned barely 100 years ago.  Despite its arrogant, institutional insistence that it embodies  that necessity of civilized society spoken of by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the IRS has shown itself to be unscrupulous and unworthy to gather the nation’s financing.

It is an abiding challenge to make Americans understand things can be different, and this is not how taxes are handled in other parts of the world.

Officious though they may be, the tax authorities of other developed nations do not infest every aspect of private life, nor do they operate as political enforcers  for the party favored by the bureaucracy – and they most certainly do not treat their citizens abroad as tax subjects, requiring them to file and pay taxes regardless of where they reside (with the exception of Eritrea).

As columnist Mark Steyn often notes, Americans’ cringing fear of their tax department is a disgraceful anomaly among liberalized nations, and unbecoming supposedly free citizens.

If, then, we lance the boil that is the IRS, how do we fund the government?

You may choose one of the following options (but not both): a consumption tax on goods and services (Fair Tax), or a single, small rate of tax on income (Flat Tax).

There is ample support  for each of these in Congress and across the nation.  Administered by a new, small agency, with no other mandate and separate from the IRS (which would be permitted to melt like Margaret Hamilton), either approach would provide ample funding for the business of government, while minimizing the influence of taxes on Americans’ personal choices.

No one, not even Camp, expects there to be much movement on his proposal during this Congress, if ever.  This is partly a function of political reality, but also of the timidity of his plan, notwithstanding its intended comprehensiveness.  A truly comprehensive reform of America’s tax system would start by throwing the whole thing in the ocean.

Simply put, it is impossible to get excited about Camp’s plan, much less explain it in terms that are politically appealing.  For all its foofaraw about closing this loophole and eliminating that special interest incentive, we are still left with a tax policy that inserts itself into almost every area of human existence, and which starts at 1,000 pages.

Instead of an ever-present influence, make the tax code an afterthought.  To unleash America’s potential, to allow her citizens to pursue happiness and go boldly in the direction of their dreams, get the taxman out of the way.


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com


Friday, February 21, 2014

Rand Paul's Righteous NSA Lawsuit



Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is suing the federal government on behalf of everyone who has a mobile phone. For this, he should be thanked. Paul’s spirited opposition to the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ electronic communications, which his lawsuit seeks to curtail, is consistent with the ideals of individual liberty on which America was founded.

Even so, Paul’s lawsuit has been denounced as self-promoting and frivolous by his many detractors. Prominent among these is Andrew C. McCarthy, prosecutor and columnist of note. An accomplished man, worthy of respect, McCarthy is out where the buses don’t run on this particular issue. His defense of government surveillance has been eloquent and wrongheaded, much like his criticism of NSA opponents in general and Paul in particular.

Typical of our over-lawyered age, McCarthy offers a legalistic rejoinder that does violence to common sense. Specifically, he and other proponents of NSA surveillance point to the 1979 Smith v. Maryland case, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that telephone records belong to the phone company, rather than the person using the phone.

Consequently, the NSA’s collection of so-called metadata – records of which phone numbers call each other, for how long, etc. – does not trespass the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches, since these are property of a third party.

McCarthy displays this argument more brazenly than most, waggling the Smith precedent about in the breeze as though the sheer majesty of this court decision from the era of rotary phones completely overwhelms any modern dispute. With exasperation, he laments that he has not yet received an adequate response on this point, daring anyone to disagree with his cocksure reasoning.

Challenge accepted, Counselor.

In particular, McCarthy demands to know how phone records can be considered among the “persons, houses, papers, and effects” protected by the Fourth Amendment, in light of the Smith decision.

Even if one concedes the Smith decision to be so impeccable that it is beyond question, a phone record is nowhere near the same thing today as it was in 1979. McCarthy acknowledges this facet of the Paul suit, only to dismiss the personal, identifying nature of mobile phone use by saying the NSA “generally” does not seek cell-phone records, claiming “strict” rules require their decoupling from location information, and citing a Wall Street Journal report that the NSA collects only 20 percent of call data anyway.

This is at odds with other reports and defiant of common sense. Are we to believe that a massive government surveillance program, capable of electronic omniscience, ostensibly designed to stop terrorism, opts to focus on landlines, as though the next suicide bomber is waiting for orders beside the wall phone in his mum’s kitchen?

Even if that were true (and when have they lied to us before?), and the NSA “generally” eschews cell-phone records, the instances where such records are sought can identify your location, your personal and business contacts, and most or all of your private communications.

Today’s argument, therefore, is rather different from that of 35 years ago, such that while Smith may relate to the Paul suit, it is far from dispositive.

And Smith is, of course, not beyond dispute (or, as McCarthy puts it, “settled”), just as any decision can be revisited and revised. By McCarthy’s logic, for example, would a Supreme Court decision in 1973 mean that the right to partial-birth abortion is “settled”?

Indeed, in considering America’s legacy of liberty from its genesis to today, it is Smith that is the outlier.

That is, from the 1791 ratification of the Fourth Amendment, to the 1979 Smith decision, to the Paul suit of 2014, the first and the third are consistent in their respect for personal privacy, while the second is out of place.

Remember that the Fourth Amendment, as part of the Bill of Rights, represents the supreme law of the land, whereas the 1979 Smith decision is an interpretation thereof. Isn’t it just possible that James Madison had it right, but the Burger Court got it wrong?

That McCarthy will not even countenance this possibility reveals why ostensible conservatives like him (and, frankly, the publication for which he writes) are losing the support of personal sovereignty advocates across America.

Again and again, as the Bill of Rights itemizes negative liberty – things the government may not or must not do – its bias is toward maximizing individual freedom while thwarting the state’s ability to interfere. Whose actions are more consistent with that philosophy – Rand Paul’s or the NSA’s?

McCarthy’s willful blindness to this, preferring to re-state the Smith principle through ever more abstract analogies, evinces the disconnect between the modern legal caste and the plain sense of everyday people.

Moreover, his unblinking faith in the benign strength of the state and America’s security apparatus demonstrates why prosecutors often make poor interpreters of public policy (Chris Christie, please call your office).

Beyond the Smith precedent (which, as demonstrated, is far from the Hulk Hogan leg-drop finishing move he imagines it to be), McCarthy’s secondary arguments become weaker still. In what McCarthy calls a “devastating” admission, the Paul brief notes that the NSA program collects phone numbers, but not the names associated with them.

On what temporal plain do McCarthy and other NSA proponents reside, wherein our policy on phone record proprietorship remains “settled” from a few decades past Pennsylvania 6-500 and the space between getting a phone number and finding out who owns it is like the Great Gulf between the Old Testament Lazarus and the rich man in torment?

Are we to believe that, while the NSA can collect and track every phone number in the country, when it comes to finding out who each number belongs to, they will cluster at an impasse like the marching band at the end of Animal House?

Or do McCarthy et al. insist the NSA will stop short of applying names to collected phone numbers because, well, that’s what the rules say they should do?

In either case, the argument is preposterous, and it is dispiriting to see estimable men like McCarthy, Charles Krauthammer and others advancing it.

Remember, we are speaking of a program which, apart from its antipathy to personal privacy, has been found on a bi-partisan basis never to have thwarted a single terrorist plot.

In McCarthy’s case, it is not even that he favors the letter of the law over its spirit. Rather, he relies upon an outdated interpretation of the letter of the law to justify a willful disregard of its spirit.

Let us start from scratch, asking one simple and honest question: Do you believe the Framers of the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, would be content with the tracking and storage of the private communications of every American by the federal government?

In launching his lawsuit, Rand Paul is doing two things that are very American: suing, and standing up for freedom. The latter, at least, is worthy of commendation.


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Canada's FATCA Capitulation



As of this past week, the Canada Revenue Agency works for the Internal Revenue Service. The subordination of Canada's tax authority to its American counterpart came in the form of a euphemistically named "Intergovernmental Agreement" pursuant to the US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The result is that starting Canada Day (July 1), Canadian banks and other financial institutions will be required to comb through client accounts containing $50,000 or more to determine if they are “US Reportable.”  They must then inform CRA, which will pass the information along to the United States.

Notwithstanding that Canada’s leaders have subjected their citizens to the most rapacious and malevolent tax department in the world in the form of the IRS, they have committed a craven surrender of national sovereignty.

FATCA, passed by the US Congress in 2010, is an extension of America’s anomalous and larcenous practice of demanding taxes from people, regardless of where they reside in the world.  The United States is one of only two countries that engage in this disgraceful conduct (Eritrea being the other).

Let us eliminate a deliberate misconception: This agreement is not about catching "tax cheats" as its proponents aver and journalists obediently repeat.

It is about expanding America’s oversight of global commerce, while increasing its ability to confiscate funds to which it has no legitimate claim.

Indeed, the only apparent cheating is that of the United States, which assumes the power to demand taxes from people who do not live in that country, do not use any of its public services, and in many cases have never been there.

This is international theft, effected by the threat of fines, prosecution and imprisonment.

Most people, including Americans, are unaware of the United States' criminal practice of worldwide taxation. Consequently, when breast-beating yahoos proclaim "America, love it or leave it," they evince ignorance that, as a practical and financial matter, leaving is not an option.

Renouncing US citizenship is no clear solution (although record numbers have done so in recent months), since the American government broadly defines its tax subjects as "US Persons."  This may include people who have studied or worked in the United States, or who have never set foot on American soil yet have family or business associates with roots there.

Why, then, would Canada acquiesce to such an absurd arrangement?

Some might suggest the deal was struck as a political quid pro quo, to convince President Barack Obama to approve the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas.  But the prevailing politics of the president’s hesitation have always been domestic, rather than international.

After years of studies and reports, Keystone is the most scrutinized conveyance in the history of running liquid, and its delay persists to appease the environmental left of Obama's Democratic base, not to force Canada to sell out its own people to the IRS.

If, after November’s congressional elections, Obama at last approves the pipeline, Canadian politicians might claim credit.  But this would strain credulity.

More likely, Canada caved to America’s overt threat that nations not complying with FATCA would face a 30 percent withholding tax on all US-based investments.  Herein lay a true test of character which, for the moment, Canada’s leaders have failed.

It's easy to be tough with Eritrea, but when the world’s largest economy demands submission to its will and quantifies a sobering sum for non-compliance, real courage is required.

Herewith, therefore, a policy for estimable Canadian leadership: When another country comes along and says their laws will henceforth be your laws, tell them to cram it with maple syrup.

That goes for Eritrea, the United States, and all imperious interlopers in between.

As a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, I appreciate and have benefited from the unique trading relationship of these two countries. But in this case, the United States is being a bully and, like many bullies, needs a smack in the nose.  Canada, meanwhile, needs a leader with the sand to deliver it.

A simple no would suffice. Call America's bluff, if indeed that's what it is. If, however, the US means what it says and really were to begin slapping a 30 percent withholding tax on Canadian investors, Canada should respond by granting an immediate tax credit in that amount to affected individuals and institutions.

This may take a bite out of federal tax receipts, but right is right. If America's largest trading partner were willing to stand up against such preposterous demands, other countries would have the courage and blueprint to do the same.

It also bears mentioning that such a move could make Canada more attractive to international investors. That is, those wanting access to North American markets, yet wary of US tax overreach, would be pleased to see Canada will not go along with it.

Every country has the right to craft and enforce its own laws within its borders.  But when a nation insists that its laws must apply in other countries – as the United States does in this and other instances – that’s a problem.

Through this agreement, Canada has shown the world it lacks the courage to govern itself.  This cannot stand.

Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  He can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  He can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com