Grassroot Perspective: Absolute Power at UH, Guilt Taxes and A Dissenting View On The Nobel Peace Prize

University of Hawaii-Manoa Campus
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by Danny de Gracia, II

University of Hawaii-Manoa Campus

A weekly liberty briefing and news guide to keep you informed and prepared on what’s UP to more freedom or DOWN to bigger, more intrusive government.


Quote of the Week:

“Responsibility is a unique concept … You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you … If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you never had anyone really responsible.”
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

Local News

University of Hawaii Board of Regents Aim to Silence Peers, Media, with ‘Confidentiality Covenant’ (Hawaii Reporter, 10/11)

Malia Zimmerman reports “University of Hawaii Board of Regents could face criminal or civil penalties if they disclose to media or the public information they learned in closed door meetings. That is according to a new “Confidentiality Covenant” regents must sign if they serve on the Advisory Task Group on Operational and Financial Controls Improvement, a team of five regents and four accounting and auditing professionals recruited in recent weeks to examine the University’s management and fiscal control systems.”

ANALYSIS: Most rational observers might look at that and say “How can they arbitrarily decide something like that? Isn’t that a violation of the First Amendment? Shouldn’t we allow whistleblowers?” and the answer to that is the Hawaii State Constitution establishes the University of Hawaii under Article X and stipulates in Section 6, “The board shall also have exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management, and operation of the university” (italics added).

Can we say “whoah!” or what? As a former Legislature committee staffer, to me the two scariest words that you could possibly put together in one sentence are “exclusive” and “jurisdiction.” For lack of a better explanation, the University of Hawaii is essentially a government all to itself. Now while the State Constitution reserves for the Legislature the right to enact laws of statewide concern that involve the UH, Article X, Section 6 is essentially a blank check for the University to do whatever they want.

As is similarly the case with the U.S. Constitution, the local conflicts and enduring arguments over the right and proper role of Hawaii government are a result of the framework of our State Constitution. While anyone interested in transparency and public accountability should rightfully view this as a DOWN to the pitfalls of potential government abuse, it should also spark an argument for Hawaii to have a constitutional convention to review this and other areas of state authority vested in the compact. If we the people of Hawaii want UP to more freedom, we urgently need to have a constitutional convention.

Birth Of The Public Land Development Corporation (Civil Beat, 10/12)

Former legislator Gary Hooser writes in Civil Beat of the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC), “There are many very bad elements to Act 55 and the powers granted to the PLDC but to me, the exemption power is the clearest example of why this new law should be repealed. How did this happen? How did it slip through the checks and balances of our legislative process? A better question is how did it sneak through the process? Because that is what happened. IMHO.”

ANALYSIS: Yes, the former Senator is absolutely correct, just how did the State Legislature possibly let that one go? When I look at the text of Act 55 which talks about land development and steering economic growth, immediately Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964) comes to my mind: “Citizens, not history or economic interests cast votes. Considerations of area alone provide insufficient justification for deviations from the equal population principle.”

Whenever the government wants to be in charge of using land for the economy I worry about liberty. More often than not even the most well intentioned plans end up serving special interests and giving preferential treatment to people and entities that can “pay to play” and win government favors. When government steers development and economics – that is, as Hayek says, the more government plans – the harder it is for private individuals to make plans of their own.

Call me crazy but the PLDC is a serious DOWN towards bad government and reeks of what I call “aristocratic socialism” – the belief that government knows best for the people and should make economic judgments for the people. Anyone who is a small business owner or a private individual who makes money from private work knows that flexibility and an equal playing field is the key to success. When government makes rules for some and exemptions for others, it keeps old money in control and hamstrings new ideas and new money from being made. Act 55 should be repealed at once.

The Great Cigarette-Tax Lie (Cato Institute/New York Post, 10/8)

Patrick Basham and John Luik write “the public-health establishment insists that every hike in cigarette taxes results in fewer people smoking. But it’s not true: Extensive research shows that high “butt taxes” are a major public-health mistake that punishes the poor without reducing smoking. Today, smokers are mostly low income and younger people. But neither of these overlapping groups is smoking less – and both groups are poorer, thanks to cigarette taxes.”

ANALYSIS: Hawaii, like so many other states, has a tax on cigarettes. I remember once sitting in a conference committee many years ago when a hike on cigarette taxes was being debated and overhearing two concerned individuals in the room argue with each other on the side. “This tax is a good idea, it will help raise revenues and allow financing of critical projects,” one said. “I thought the whole point of this tax was to cause people to stop smoking, not to finance projects?” the other shot back angrily.

The point here is that government loves to find places to harvest revenues. The real issue here is not cigarettes but government spending. Government loves to spend money but legislators know that raising income taxes to pay for their appetite for “projects” generally reflects badly on their careers. The solution they often resort to is to use the cover of public safety or public health to sneak in new revenue streams. Alcohol and tobacco are an easy tax target and issue diversion because there are so many (rightfully) concerned citizens about their health impacts. This is not to say that there aren’t legislators genuinely concerned about health, but the strategic nature of a “sin tax” is that its designed to evoke legislative guilt so as to allow all of its contents to pass.

“So-and-so voted against raising the taxes on cigarettes! I guess they want our children to die of lung cancer!” is often the hyperbolic accusation leveled against anyone that would dare to stop a tax increase designed not so much to stop smoking but to start more government spending. Like Congress’ tactic of sneaking bill riders into an emergency appropriations bill or more cunningly into bills concerning the Defense Department so as to pressure people into supporting their policies, the cigarette tax is an evil device for public and legislative manipulation.

Forget cigarettes. The issue is spending. If you’re going to spend more, why not just be transparent about it and tell the public outright, “Hey, we want to spend more, so we’re going to raise your income taxes, what do you think about that?” – and you can be darn sure that the public will revolt and keep government in check. So when government blows smoke in your face that cigarette taxes need to be hiked to “save” the public from “billions of dollars lost from medical problems caused by smoking” don’t inhale. They’re hiding their real motives: more spending. This is a serious DOWN to more government.


National/International News

Vice Presidential debate touches on foreign policy, defense, entitlements and abortion (10/11)

In case you missed last night’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, both transcripts of the debate and the video in full are available. Definitely make it a point to watch this revealing perspective on the candidate’s view of government with absentee ballots and early voting soon to start here in Hawaii.

ANALYSIS: It is not my place to make partisan judgments or to tell you how to vote but I will say America needs to be cut some slack when it comes to all these great “plans” of candidates and incumbents alike. It’s nice that politicians of both major parties have grandiose visions for the future, but I too as a private citizen have my own vision and I need the flexibility to be able to do it without someone in office saying, “Now wait a minute, I think you should be doing this instead, so I’m going to slap a law or a tax on you to prevent you from doing that.”

When it comes to my view of government, I like to keep it simple: leave me alone, don’t tell me what to do or how to live my life, let me use my hard-earned money however I please and on whatever I please and just stick to doing the mission statement of the Constitution’s Preamble. Anything more than that – in my opinion – is a serious DOWN to less freedom.

Security in Benghazi (New York Times, 10/12)

The tragic attack on Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi continues to reveal new shockers as each day passes over the failure of our government to protect its own people. New York Times writer Juliet Lapidos remarks, “Mr. Biden fumbled somewhat discussing Libya, and may have added to the impression that the administration has been less than transparent about what happened.”

ANALYSIS: I love how no matter what goes wrong in American foreign policy, no matter who or what party is in office the default response is blame the intelligence community and pin all the fault on a lack of communication between the White House and Langley. Like sacrificial lambs, the intelligence, military and law enforcement community is always made to take the brunt of a failure of Washington D.C. to do pay attention to detail and do due diligence regarding basic security protocols.

“Supposedly” the reason we have a government is to provide the core function of providing for the common defense and ensuring domestic tranquility. Yet for all the taxes we pay, our leaders never take responsibility when they screw up.

U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover – a man credited with being the founder of the nuclear navy – once remarked, “Responsibility is a unique concept … You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you … if responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else.”

It’s time for our elected officials to man up and take the blame when blame is due. (They certainly love to take credit for things that at best, their involvement was peripheral in.) Anything less is a DOWN to bad public administration and a DOWN to more incompetence in office.

2012 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the European Union (Washington Post, 10/11)

In case you missed it, this year’s peace prize goes to the EU. The Washington Post reports, “The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a choice that celebrates Europe’s post-World War II economic and political integration but comes as the 27-nation body confronts widespread criticism over its handling of a massive debt crisis that has become the biggest challenge of its existence.”

ANALYSIS: Giving government officials and, in this case, governments a “peace prize” always seems a bit bizarre, if not crudely ironic to me. More often than not, states perpetuate conflict rather than resolve it. In the case of the European Union, the forced bureaucratization of their continent has resulted in less democracy, less free market and more government power. That’s not peace, that’s tyranny.

I had the chance in August of this year to interview a member of the EU’s legislative body, the European Parliament, Nigel Farage. In our interview, I asked MEP Farage whether or not the EU actually keeps the peace. He responded to me that “Those who advocate the EU’s anti-democratic system of government advocate it also for the world as a whole. If Americans do not wake up to this danger, they too will be submerged in a mud-slide of utterly unaccountable global governance. The EU has never kept the peace. NATO does that. It does not promote harmony and friendship, it promotes the collusion of big business and big government in the construction of tyranny over the people. Once the subject states start rejecting the EU – de jure and de facto ­-  we can all heave a sigh of relief and get on with tackling the real challenges of our times. Supranational organizations are not the answer. Democratic control is.”

Personally, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the Nobel Peace Prize has any credibility these days based on the sort of individuals and organizations that keep winning it. The types of things they do and support are a serious DOWN to less peace and freedom.

Danny de Gracia is the Economic Policy Adviser for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii or the author.

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