Judge Scalia and the Problem with Government

Government always wants more power, and it is served by people who do not understand that danger. Judge Antonin Scalia, of the US Supreme Court recently said:

…Thursday in an interview conducted at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg talked about their views of the First Amendment. Moderator Marvin Kalb questioned Scalia about whether the NSA wiretapping cloud be conceivably be in violation of the Constitution:
Justice Antonin Scalia said, “No because it’s not absolute. As Ruth has said there are very few freedoms that are absolute. I mean your person is protected by the Fourth Amendment but as I pointed out when you board a plane someone can pass his hands all over your body that’s a terrible intrusion, but given the danger that it’s guarding against it’s not an unreasonable intrusion. And it can be the same thing with acquiring this data that is regarded as effects. That’s why I say its foolish to have us make the decision because I don’t know how serious the danger is in this NSA stuff, I really don’t.”


I find his opinion, especially as a “supreme, final arbiter” of the US Constitution, to be ridiculously dangerous.  Moreover, I think by now he should already recognize that danger.  It is an unreasonable intrusion for government to run its hands on me without probable cause. The problem with airline crime can be solved by private means that do not eviscerate the Constitution. Not reining in the NSA is a clear invitation to a police state. Scalia, who I one time thought was a responsible justice, makes it clear that he thinks there are no limits to government power. The individual takes a back seat in his world to the desires of government. His way always leads to privilege, corruption, injustice, lack of public trust and ultimately violence when people feel the effects, personal and economic, of losing their liberty.

I thought Judge Scalia went off the rails a few months ago when he said unfortunate happenings such as the government internment of Japanese US citizens in World War Two, without charge, would “probably” happen again. He said it almost like “Well, whatcha gonna do?” as if he was discussing the bad behavior of children. He should have stood up and said “As long as I’m alive I will fight crimes perpetrated on US citizens such as happened to the interned Japanese.” These matters are not merely intellectual exercises.  At Manzanar concentration camp, in California, in 1942 a group of young interned Japanese had had enough of their imprisonment in the desert, watching their lives and property being taken away by an omnipotent government. They thought they were citizens, like any other, who were incarcerated unjustly, and that there was no reason to hold them. They saw nothing but hardship for their families, economic ruin, and government theft. As good citizens, they marched against the camp gates. The US Army guards opened fire killing two of them and wounding eight more. There were no more uprisings at Manzanar. Nowadays, the whole country is becoming a Manzanar.

Scalia does not know that the purpose of government is to defend individual rights. Or it could be he knows, but does not care. Both are frightening in one so high.



The Lowdown on the Shutdown

On October 17th the Northwest Florida Daily News published opinions about the government shutdown from Committeemen Steve Czonstka and Ellen Holt representing, respectively, the Republican and Democrat parties.  Although not invited, I offer my Libertarian observations on the matter.

The shutdown was nothing of the sort.  It was always more threat than action.  It threatened a more fiscally responsible course that the Democrats took advantage of to seed the public with fear over how indispensable the government is.  The Republicans used it to show they really meant business when even they knew they didn’t.   In the end, it proved to be merely a delay on the road to more government intervention.  Government again functions spending more than it takes it, abusing the rights of individuals, and finding every excuse possible to avoid limits to Federal power as per the Constitution.

Who created the bru-ha-ha really is immaterial.  The shutdown supposedly put a halt to the non-essential 17% of the government, but who asks how did that 17% get there in the first place, or was there any doubt that the non-essentials would start work again after the shutdown? In the cynical calculus of Washington D.C., the major parties know they live or die by using the power of government to hand out benefits to their friends while progressively confiscating the wealth and rights of all.   That is how those non-essentials were created in the first place.  That is how both major parties stay in power.

The shutdown shows the major parties have far more in common than they care to admit. Both advocate compelling you with the force of law to do things with your life and property that you otherwise would not do.  Both major parties have grown the State and Federal governments to the point they are fiscally unsustainable.   The Affordable Care Act is a great case in point.  The Democratic Party bankrupts individuals with mandatory, monopolistic insurance and fines, while Republicans conveniently forget their own enthusiasm for the massive Medicare Part D, or that their candidate for President, Mitt Romney, oversaw his own massive State run healthcare system in Massachusetts.  The Republican motto is “repeal and replace” not just repeal.  Neither of these parties truly wants to reduce government.

I am not the only one saying this.  Every day one can read how Americans see what is going on.  On the surface, the major parties profess commendable values such as caring for the welfare of their fellow human beings, fighting for civil liberties, fiscal accountability and standing by their principles.  In reality, their policies have made their fellow citizens more dependent on government, limited civil liberties, amassed debt, and generally paid attention to their principles only in press releases.  There isn’t a single aspect of American life that is free from government intervention thanks to Republican and Democrat policy.

Even in the field of political competition Americans must struggle with a thumb on the scales.  Both Steve Czontska and Ellen Holt have the privilege to be elected on a publicly funded election ballot, yet I am prohibited by law from doing the very same thing specifically because I am a Libertarian (FS103.091(4)).   Not only do those of us outside the major parties have to fight for people’s minds, we must also fight those who would rather outlaw us than deal with us.

Libertarians know our nation is on an unsustainable course.  We cannot continue accumulating debt.  We cannot allow lawmakers to reduce people’s rights to the level of serfs.  Government intervention must be stopped.  If not, the laws of fiscal mathematics and public outrage will eventually take over.  Stopping these trends has been the Libertarian message for decades.

In her column Ellen Holt expressed fear that a government shutdown could collapse the economy.  If so, it is an abject lesson for us all to not allow government to rule our lives.

Steve Czontska quoted Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction…”

I prefer Reagan’s quote, “…I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party, and an At-Large Rep for the Libertarian Party of Florida

It’s Not About Fairness

Senate President Don Gaetz took pains in an editorial last week (‘Revolving Door’ editorial fails fairness test, Northwest Florida Daily News, 22 Sep13) to defend his Chief of Staff, Chris Clark, who earned $400,000 working as a political consultant during his time off from working for the Senate President.

He made it clear he considered such a relationship neither illegal nor unethical, and welcomes future criticism.  “It’s a practice that Democrats and Republicans have used without any serious problem that I’m aware of,’’ said Gaetz.

Indeed, no one can object to a person using their wits to earn a living, especially when it is neither unethical nor illegal.  Of course, in this case we are talking about someone who is supposed to deal with people as a chief of staff of the Senate President that at other times of the year he may deal with as clients.  That’s a tough trick to pull off and not be doing special favors for someone.  In addition, it begs the question, but for his connections to the Senate President and as Chief of Staff would Mr. Clark make the hefty sums he does consulting?  I speculate that he would not.

Senator Gaetz is ignoring an obvious problem between government, access to power, and money. In the public eye behavior like this leads to a range of questions about government service as a means to private wealth, impartiality in government, and whether it is who you know not what you know that counts in this world.  Should Mr. Clark benefit financially both being an active public servant and at the same time privately consulting using the knowledge and contacts he makes as a public servant?  Most people, instinctively, would say no.

There is little doubt Senator Gaetz thinks he should.  The relationship between Gaetz and Clark is a close one.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, 31 August 13, he was Don Gaetz’s campaign manager in the 2005 Florida Senate race (paid a salary of $128,000 too), was given large chunks of the year off from 2009 to 2012 to consult for other Republican campaigns in the State, and immediately thereafter had his state salary increased from $76,068 to $150,000, “making him the highest paid staff member of the Florida Legislature.”  The Senator said the increase was justified because Clark “took a significant pay cut when he came to work for me six years ago.”  The favors go further.  After Mr. Clark returned to the Senate from his latest political consulting trail in 2012, Don Gaetz gave him $10,000 as a “win bonus.” He might argue good people are hard to find, and this is the way to get them keep them.

Clearly, Mr. Clark is using his position as a means to private wealth.  For him, working for the Senator is both a public service and a private business that generates as much private revenue as the demand in the market will allow.  Speculating again, I think that can be a lot of money.

Impartiality is also out the window.  Since Mr. Clark seems primarily involved with getting other Republicans elected to office, can anyone that opposes his political clients be sure that they are getting fair treatment when they meet him doing his job in the Senate?  Then again, Senator Gaetz might not have hired him to be impartial, but simply get the administrative job done the way the Senator likes.

Lastly, we see the old adage confirmed, once again, that it is who you know that counts.

Overall, this controversy has said more about Senator Gaetz than it does about Mr. Clark.  Clark works for Gaetz, and the Senator can pay him whatever he wants to pay him. Clark is also a public servant with current and exceptional access to legislative decision makers that he can pass off to clients. He is taking advantage of it with the Senator’s blessing.

Just because the law allows you to do something does not mean you should do it.

One thing is for sure. This isn’t about fairness.

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party and an At-Large Rep for the Libertarian Party of Florida.



The More Things Change

Let’s face it, the elections of 2012 show that going against the grain is not in the nature of those elected to office.

Take a look at Okaloosa County. This county was wracked by scandal at the Tourist Development Commission (TDC) and the County Commissioners were thoroughly embarrassed by their apparent lack of oversight of both money and employees. In 2012 two new Commissioners were voted into office. This was a superb opportunity for the new Board to reevaluate the nature, purpose, or need for a TDC, and even eliminate it. In the course of time, however, everything seemed to be blamed on one bad apple, despite the Florida Auditor General saying that the problem was much deeper. The auditors said contracts were given without paperwork, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars went to people or organizations unknown. One bad apple couldn’t do that. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, the Commissioners have made nice and actually voted to give the TDC a boost of $300,000 for some special project earlier this year.

Then there is the matter of county taxation. Okaloosa County Commissioners recently voted for a 4.3% property tax hike along with a 3 cents per gallon gas tax. It was a close vote (3 to 2) and Nathan Boyles, one of the new guys, decided it is better to tax his neighbors than to figure out how to make government smaller. Of course, this is how things have always been done. Government gets bigger and you pay more. What makes this pinch my mind especially hard is the County Commission recently unanimously voted for an ad valorem tax break to a company that by law is secret to the public (FS 196 and FS 288). They gave a preferential tax break to one company at the expense of all others, and the law prevents them from telling us who it is. Secret tax breaks fly in the face of open, accountable government. This very same Board then votes to raise taxes on everybody else in the County. No change here.

At the State level, who can ignore the Medicaid flip flop of our Governor Rick Scott? You could say he was elected as an opponent to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and was quoted as saying he would never lift a finger to help its implementation. Despite high sounding rhetoric, the Florida legislature is no stranger to growing government either, and voted this year for a 6% increase in the state budget for 2013-2014. More and more of that money is coming from Federal sources, 36.93% of the total state budget as of 2011, according to the census bureau. How independent can a state be when its bills are paid by the Feds?

In national matters, our “conservative” Congressman Jeff Miller, has shown he likes the growing list of laws that restrict your liberties and feed the “all seeing all knowing” central government. In at least two public appearances he said the government is not listening in on your communications. Trust him, he says. Of course, Lt-Gen Clapper, Director Of National Intelligence, was forced by the Snowden revelations to publicly admit and apologize for lying to Congress about government surveillance of all citizens (where are the perjury charges?). Plus, an NSA internal audit said the agency violated their own rules about surveillance several thousand times in the past year. Despite this contrary testimony to what Mr. Miller thinks, and the lessons of history, he voted against the Amash Amendment to the Patriot Act, which would have limited government investigations to people actually under suspicion using probable cause. His reason? It would have affected some unspecified secret surveillance program Mr. Miller likes. The erosion of the Fourth Amendment proceeds apace just as it did before. None of this fits the moniker “conservative.”

I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s clear that the leadership of 2013 is shaping up to be the same as 2012 or any other year. Those who have been elected love government power, and that is what the trend of the last 100 years has been all about.

I dared to hope for better.

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

IRS – You’re Surprised?

IRS – You’re surprised?

The blatant targeting by the IRS of groups opposed to the President clearly deserves prison time for those responsible.  The odious revelation that the power to tax was used to hinder free expression for partisan purposes rightfully shakes public confidence that the government protects the Bill Of Rights.  The IRS can, and should, be abolished.  But I must ask, why are so many surprised when this kind of abuse happens?

I would not be exaggerating if I said every day there are examples of even worse abuses by government.  It has routinely conducted warrantless searches of American citizens. For a long time it was a crime to tell anyone that a warrantless search had been committed.  In Boston we saw the fourth Amendment thrown to the winds for tens of thousands of citizens in the pursuit of two armed men.  The mortgage scandals, the LIBOR scandal, and the apparent immunity of big bankers, such as John Corzine, who blatantly steal investor funds but never come to trial, leaves the public with puzzled looks on their faces about the rule of law.  Worst of all, American Presidents have executed American citizens overseas without trial, or even without public evidence.  And this is the short list!

To Libertarians none of this comes as a surprise because we know big government is bad government.  It’s a pity so many of our fellow citizens cannot see the dingy forest of government abuse until their particular tree is chopped down.

Pete Blome, Chair, Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

Arresting Swimmers

The Okaloosa Sheriff, Larry Ashley, announced that he both can and will arrest swimmers if they venture out when a double red flag is posted on the beach.

This is a typical, but wrong, reaction to the problem of people drowning at the beach.

People own their bodies and must be held responsible for their own actions. People who swim when it is dangerous are making a personal decision to assume risk. For government to say they cannot accept another’s personal risk is the height of the nanny state. To imprison people for swimming at their risk is morally abhorrent. It leads to limitless government.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the Sheriff is shovel ready.

Better to present drowners with the bill. A foolish person who must be rescued and then pay the hefty monetary cost would make a far better deterrent, and less costly to the taxpayer, than marking them forever in the prison system, limiting their future job opportunities and exposing them to the never-ending dangers and costs that living as a lawbreaker brings nowadays.

Clearly, Larry Ashley does not like libertarian concepts. He arrests swimmers doing a personal, voluntary activity, but condones government agents at the airport forcing old women to remove their adult diapers for inspection. Go figure.

It is even more incredible that the law doesn’t like them either.

Pete Blome

Chair, Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

Keeping the LP Down

There are certain ideas that keep America going.  Ideas like every kid can grow up to be President, all you need is hard work and a dream, and America is basically fair to everyone.

It’s this last idea that I’d like to talk about.

I am a member of a third party, the Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF).  It always seemed odd to me that 318 million Americans all have different opinions, but when it comes time to vote, everyone falls into line behind one of two the major parties.  What gives?

Part of the reason, no doubt, is our winner take all voting system.  If you get 50.1% of the vote, your guy wins.  This makes people vote for the lesser of two evils instead of what they want because they are afraid the “other guy” will get into office.  Of course, with time, things get worse and no one understands why.  

The rest is more subtle.  A recent case with the LPF is a good example.  The LPF had a $70,000 fine levied against it after the 2012 elections for allegedly not filing $1700 in campaign donations with the State.  It took six months for the case to come to a hearing, and all the while we sweated how $70,000 could break us.  For six months it was tough committing to plans or instilling confidence when Florida held a hammer over our heads. In the end, the LPF was completely exonerated.  We filed correctly after all.  The State said “sorry,” but in the meantime, the system pretty much kept us in limbo. 

It goes further.  Most people think campaign contribution limits control big money and spur political competition.  On the contrary, they limit competition.  I was manager of a Congressional campaign where our opponent spent $450,000 to keep his seat.  We raised $15,000, but the law limits state parties to a total donation of $5000, and individuals to $2500 for such races.  This inherently favors big parties that already have long lists of donors, and financially limits new party networks.  If the big parties today had nothing but a dream and hard work, they couldn’t organize political opposition with the laws as they are now.  The advantage lies with the major parties, and not those trying to build new ones.

How about ballot access?  In Florida a candidate needs simply 1% of the district voting population to sign a petition, or about 130,000 petitions to run for Governor.  In my campaign it took six months of continuous hard work to get around 3000 valid petitions, and we had 33 volunteers.  Our Republican opponent tried to get petitions and failed, so he simply paid the ballot access fee of about $10,000.  Officially counting petitions also costs 10 cents apiece or $13,000 for Governor, assuming they are all correct.  

Even local parties have hurdles.  One thing that I keep an eye on in our local affiliate is not to be liable to Federal Election Commission reporting.  Such reporting easily requires professional filing assistance, and it begins with just $1000 in federally reportable expenses.  If there is a problem, the local party has to plead its case (lawyer anyone?) before the FEC.  In addition, once you report, you are always liable to report until they say you can stop.  No kidding.  Try getting neighbors together when they realize they may have to be accountable for years.  Of course, local parties must also report to the state or be criminally liable.  

On top of all this, Republican and Democrat party officials get to be on the ballot every four years, but not “minor” parties.  Candidates for Governor can get government matching funds (something Libertarians are against), but you have to raise $150,000 in donations first, and the two major parties even removed the ability of minor parties to control who can run under the minor party name, so anyone with a checkbook big enough to pay the ballot fee can take the Libertarian name regardless of party support.  Everything favors the established parties while appearing to be equal and above board. 

Basically fair? No.  It just looks that way, which is just fine with the Republicans and Democrats. 

Pete Blome is a retired military officer and an At-Large Representative for the Libertarian Party of Florida

Congressman Jeff Miller and CISPA

Once again, Jeff Miller voted to limit your rights. This April 18th, he voted for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the US House.

This Act encourages private companies (such as email providers) to share their information with government agencies. The bill neither mentions due process, nor talks about government obtaining a warrant, but it does induce cyber communication companies to willingly and secretly provide private information about you to the government via immunity. As said in HR624, page 8, line 24, “…no criminal cause of action shall be maintained in Federal or State Court… [for cyber entities providing information.]” If these firms turn your life upside down by disclosing what may be totally innocent information, you have no legal recourse.

It is curious that a former sheriff’s deputy, like Mr. Miller, doesn’t understand the terms secure in papers and effects or due process. Giving legal immunity to private business to reveal information without cause, sometimes against private contracts, so government can then massively pick through private lives is against the Fourth Amendment and opens the doors to corruption. Do you honestly think nameless, faceless bureaucrats protected by anonymity and the law won’t steal from you if they have a chance? They do in the TSA. Worse still, it gives the government power to blackmail those it doesn’t like.

The “conservative” Jeff Miller certainly is no libertarian. If he was he’d see just how dangerous this kind of shallow legislating is, and quit saying how he is protecting us.

Pete Blome

Chair, Northwest Florida Libertarian Party (NFLP)

Secret Tax Votes By Our Commissioners

The famous publisher Joseph Pulitzer once wrote that there is not a crime, not a dodge, not a trick, not a swindle, not a vice that does not live by secrecy.

Well the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners took advantage of the laws of Florida (FS196) and gave a company a ten year ad valorem tax break and the company name must remain secret.  This means there can be two identical businesses in Okaloosa County, with the same amount of income, and one can go under while the other prospers because it got a secret tax break courtesy of our County Commissioners.  Does the BCC know or care about the free market or open government?

There was only one voice, the Chair of the local Libertarian Party, who spoke out against this blatant injustice enabled by bad law from Tallahassee.  Not only do the County Commissioners get to decide who wins and who loses in the economy  (as if they have a special ability to do so), it was also done away from the prying eyes and embarrassing questions of the companies who lose in this deal. They will never know they were discriminated against while they pay taxes.

First the Florida Auditor General’s report, now secret tax deals?

Kudos to Nathan Boyles for being the only Commissioner to vote against this nonsense.

Lee Jackson

The Mid Bay Bridge – Who Loses?

 The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners (BCC) will soon perform the annual chore of unanimously approving the Mid Bay Bridge Authority (MBBA) Budget for 2013. It is a pity that this important county government function has become nothing more than going through the motions.

It is routine for MBBA budgets to get rubberstamped every year without critical questions of any kind. Even though the Mid Bay Bridge and bypass is by far the largest public works project in the County, none of the past Commissioners, and maybe some of the current ones, think there is anything for them to question. To them, the Mid Bay Bridge and bypass are an absolute good. Even the scope of the budget review has been limited by how the County Attorney has interpreted controlling legislation. The MBBA budget is currently around $15 million, but only about $700,000 of that (the administrative budget) gets presented to the Commissioners to approve. The rest remains under the exclusive control of the MBBA. The matter is put out of sight, out of mind, and out of public scrutiny quickly and efficiently.

Ask yourself who benefits from our County Government being run like this?

The companies involved in building the bypass benefit. A large chunk of the $280 million dollars of MBBA debt (on its way to $350 million) is for construction.

Real estate companies along the new bypass benefit. They get access to a publicly paid highway that allows the development of relatively inaccessible land in the Northern part of Niceville. Local homeowners benefit from higher land value.

The Mid Bay Bridge Authority certainly benefits. Their salaries are good (Jim Vest, the Executive Director, makes $200,000+ per year) and their job security is second to none because there is little to no competition for them to face of any kind. They get autonomy that would make royalty jealous, since even royalty had to contend with a peasant revolt every now and then.

The Board of County Commissioners benefit. They look like they are managing a successful project. This is very much in the BCC’s self- interest because, as we have recently seen with the Florida Auditor General’s report, they have problems keeping County government accountable. For them, the fewer areas of public contention the better. Nor do debt or high tolls for their neighbors worry them. Paraphrasing Commissioner Wayne Harris, if people think tolls are too high, they don’t have to use them.

Are there any losers?

You bet there are. The public is the big loser. The BCC and the MBBA forgot that Government management is always about providing the most services at the least cost to the public. There are 20,000 people who need the bridge and bypass daily. They will soon pay $9 round-trip, or about $2000 a year. Had bridge authorities paid attention to paying off debt, instead of expanding, we might have had a bridge with a 50 cent toll. That would have been a real boost to economic development, and real assistance to Okaloosans when times are tough.

Poor strategic planning caused this. The MBBA built its future on the idea of unlimited growth; that expansion was justified because more and more cars would use the bridge and bypass every year. Since 2005 there have been fewer and fewer cars paying tolls. In short, the MBBA is spending more and taking in less. The BCC, unquestioningly, went along with this.

Objective observers see the problem. Fitch’s bond rating agency rated MBBA bonds one step above junk. The State legislature is making rumblings about taking away the MBBA autonomy. Unfortunately, this is all too late as the money has been spent, and the debts will be unsustainable. Eventually, these massive costs will be spread out to all Florida taxpayers. They will then be hoisted on the Federal Government who will print money to pay for them. Meanwhile, the travelers and workers in the county will keep on paying high tolls forever.

The BCC can’t make up for 20 years of neglect, but it would be nice for once if they’d stop just going through the budget motions, and come to understand what they’ve done to the citizens they serve.

Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party