Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pascal’s Wager (Climate Change Edition)

Hmm. I wrote this a few weeks ago and just noted that I never actually posted it… Anyway, with the temperature expected to his 105° today, it seems the perfect time…

Back in the 17th Century, philosopher Blaise Pascal posited the notion that there was more to be gained by wagering on the existence of G-d. He concluded that a rational person should live life as if G-d exists. Essentially, the premises was that if G-d exists and you live your life accordingly, then you will reap rewards in the afterlife. If G-d does not exist, there will be no downside to having lived a good life. On the other hand, if you were to live a “bad” life, again there would be no downside if G-d doesn’t exist but there would (so the theory goes) be a huge downside if G-d did exist.

Of course, there are some tremendous logical problems with Pascal’s Wager (as this argument has come to be known), but that isn’t the point of this post.

Instead, I want to suggest a similar premise but in the realm of climate change. And yes, I know that I’m not the first to have tied these two concepts together.

So let’s start by looking at the possibilities: First, either the climate is changing … or it isn’t. And second, we either try to do something about it … or we don’t. Whether you “believe” in climate change or not really isn’t the question; rather, the question is what you (we) choose to do that matters.

To analyze the interplay of these possibilities, let’s start with the premise that climate change is, indeed, a great big hoax. In that case, the choice to do nothing will obviously have no negative consequences. If I make no effort to prevent something that isn’t going to occur anyway, then my failure won’t make that event that wasn’t going to occur suddenly become real.

What if we decide to do something about climate change, even though it’s a hoax? Well, then I guess it’s possible that we’ll waste lots of resources and money trying to find solutions to a non-existent problem, although it does stand to reason that at last some of those resources expenditures will result in beneficial developments (more fuel efficiency, for example). So it seems that the only real downside to trying to prevent this “hoax” from coming true would be an drain on resources and capital. (And as an aside, to those who suggest we shouldn’t do something about a non-existent problem, I’d ask them about their support for laws to prevent non-existent voter fraud…)

But what if climate change isn’t a hoax? What if it’s real and the consequences that the scientific community have been warning about are real, too? Well, if we put those resources and expenditures into trying to stop climate change (or reduce its effects), then perhaps we’ll succeed; perhaps we’ll actually be able to prevent climate change that will alter the planet in potentially irreversible ways. And that would certainly be good, wouldn’t it?

Finally, what if climate change is real … and we decide to do nothing. What if the planet really does warm significantly and sea levels rise? If, in 100 years, the east and west coasts are both under water, how much money would it, in hindsight, have been worth spending to stop that result? If the change in temperatures turned the American breadbasket into infertile, hostile soil such that we had to become an food importer, would we be kicking ourselves at not having had the foresight to try to prevent that situation from coming to pass? If more and more severe storm systems begin to cause more and more significant damage to both people and infrastructure, would we bemoan that we hadn’t tried to do something to prevent changes to our planet?

As I see it, if we do nothing and climate change is a hoax, then everything’s just peachy. If we do something and climate change is a hoax, then we’ve (maybe) wasted resources. But if we do something and climate change is real, then perhaps we can prevent catastrophe. If we do nothing and climate change is real, then catastrophe is almost certain.

You pick. Are you willing to take the risk that climate change is a hoax and therefore elect for us to do nothing? That’s fine … if you’re right. But if you’re wrong, if climate change is real, then where will that leave us? Where will that leave our children and our grandchildren? Are you so certain that climate change is a hoax that you’re willing to do nothing at the possible risk to the lifestyle — or even life! — of your children and grandchildren?

For a similar analysis, please take a few minutes and watch this video explanation:


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

President Obama, Immigration Reform, and Republican Bullsh*t

As readers of this blog most likely know, I was (and remain) a strong supporter of the DREAM Act. I’ve gone so far as to express my belief that Opposition to the DREAM Act Is a Racist “F-You” to the American Dream. And I was very critical of soon-to-be-former Sen. Lugar for dropping his support for the DREAM Act (of which he had been a sponsor for years) because, he claimed, Democrats had “politicized” the issue of immigration (I’m Losing Respect for Sen. Lugar (update)).

Now that President Obama Secretary of Homeland Security has issued her memo suspending deportations of certain undocumented immigrants, many Republicans have become almost apoplectic in their anger and dismay. So it’s no great surprise the extent to which they have decided to lie and demagogue and simply bullshit their way around the issue. The most common things you’re likely to hear Republicans say (over and over and over) are that President Obama violated the Constitution (or, perhaps, for those who prefer to be a bit less bombastic, the claim may be that President Obama overstepped his authority), that his action creates an amnesty or a “pathway to citizenship”, that the “amnesty” will encourage more illegal immigration, and that his action makes comprehensive immigration reform more difficult to accomplish. I want to (briefly, I hope) tackle each of those points. But first, it’s worth doing something that most of the Republicans and Faux News “journalists” can’t be bothered to do: Look at what President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security actually did.

So, for starters, you might want to read the memo that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano actually wrote to the Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Read her memo and let me know which parts you disagree with:

By this memorandum, I am setting forth how, in the exercise of our prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should enforce the Nation’s immigration laws against certain young people who were brought to this country as children and know only this country as home. As a general matter, these individuals lacked the intent to violate the law and our ongoing review of pending removal cases is already offering administrative closure to many of them. However, additional measures are necessary to ensure that our enforcement resources are not expended on these low priority cases but are instead appropriately focused on people who meet our enforcement priorities.

The following criteria should be satisfied before an individual is considered for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion pursuant to this memorandum:

• came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

• has continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and is present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

• is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

• has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety; and

• is not above the age of thirty.

Our Nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. They are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways. Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.

As part of this exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the above criteria are to be considered whether or not an individual is already in removal proceedings or subject to a final order of removal. No individual should receive deferred action under this memorandum unless they first pass a background check and requests for relief pursuant to this memorandum are to be decided on a case by case basis. DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases.

1. With respect to individuals who are encountered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

• With respect to individuals who meet the above criteria, ICE and CBP should immediately exercise their discretion, on an individual basis, in order to prevent low priority individuals from being placed into removal proceedings or removed from the United States.

• USCIS is instructed to implement this memorandum consistent with its existing guidance regarding the issuance of notices to appear.

2. With respect to individuals who are in removal proceedings but not yet subject to a final order of removal, and who meet the above criteria:

•I CE should exercise prosecutorial discretion, on an individual basis, for individuals who meet the above criteria by deferring action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, in order to prevent low priority individuals from being removed from the United States.

• ICE is instructed to use its Office of the Public Advocate to permit individuals who believe they meet the above criteria to identify themselves through a clear and efficient process.

• ICE is directed to begin implementing this process within 60 days of the date of this memorandum.

• ICE is also instructed to immediately begin the process of deferring action against individuals who meet the above criteria whose cases have already been identified through the ongoing review of pending cases before the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

3. With respect to the individuals who are not currently in removal proceedings and meet the above criteria, and pass a background check:

• USCIS should establish a clear and efficient process for exercising prosecutorial discretion, on an individual basis, by deferring action against individuals who meet the above criteria and are at least 15 years old, for a period of two years, subject to renewal, in order to prevent low priority individuals from being placed into removal proceedings or removed from the United States.

• The USCIS process shall also be available to individuals subject to a final order of removal regardless of their age.

• USCIS is directed to begin implementing this process within 60 days of the date of this memorandum.

For individuals who are granted deferred action by either ICE or USCIS, USCIS shall accept applications to determine whether these individuals qualify for work authorization during this period of deferred action.

This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights. It remains for the executive branch, however, to set forth policy for the exercise of discretion within the framework of the existing law. I have done so here.

Whew. Sorry. I know that’s a mouthful. Just out of curiosity, now that you know what the Obama administration really did, was the news coverage, punditry, or political posturing that you heard even close to accurate? If not, you might want to think about who you’re listening to, what agenda they might have, and whether you should trust other things from that “news” source. One point to chew on: This wasn’t an executive order at all and if you hear that it was … well, someone either hasn’t really looked at the facts, is playing fast and loose with those facts, or isn’t quite telling you the truth.

Now, on to the substance.

The first point that I want to make is on the subject of prosecutorial discretion. That’s not a phrase that has been used in the public sphere very often prior to this matter. In essence, the idea is simply that the government, acting through its prosecutors, has the discretion of which crimes to prosecute and which alleged criminals to bring to trial. Prosecutors exercise this sort of discretion all the time. Obviously, they may choose not to prosecute a case when the evidence is weak. The prosecutor may be convinced that the alleged criminal is, indeed, guilty, but without compelling evidence the prosecution would be a waste of limited resources. Similarly, and probably more importantly, prosecutors don’t have to prosecute every single crime. Does every teen caught with a beer go to jail or even appear before a court? Of course not. What about every person who gets pulled over for speeding or running a red light? Does every single shoplifter get prosecuted? And it isn’t just minor crimes that are sometimes ignored. How many Wall Street bankers have been prosecuted for the actions that led up to the financial meltdown? How many members of the Bush administration have been prosecuted for advocating, ordering, or permitting torture? With regard to immigration, we know that prosecutors have routinely elected not to bring deportation proceedings against certain illegal immigrants for a whole host of reasons, from economic hardship, to family obligations, to, well, the list is probably endless. And, until now, that has never really been a problem.

We have a limited number of prosecutors, a limited number of courts, and finite resources available. Thus, not every crime is, can be, or should be, treated identically. Prosecutors have to decide which cases are the most important ones to prosecute. They have to decide who to deport. And that is prosecutorial discretion.

So, in essence, Secretary Napolitano has simply instructed the prosecutors working under her (and President Obama has essentially directed the Justice Department’s prosecutors, who it is worth mentioning are political appointees) to focus their attention on other, more important crimes and “criminals” and not to waste those precious prosecutorial resources on this small subset of people who have otherwise not committed any crimes and who are valuable members of society.

One quick tangent: Let’s say for the sake of argument that a 14-year-old commits a non-violent felony. Possession of a marijuana joint, for example. When that child turns 18, absent aggravating circumstances at the time of the conviction, doesn’t that crime get expunged from the child’s record? Of course. But that isn’t true in the case of a child brought to the US illegally by his or her parents. When that child turns 18 he or she is still deemed to be a criminal, I guess because the continued act of being in the US is a crime, even though the “bad act” was not really committed by the child, but by his or her parents. OK. Tangent over.

Now, given what I’ve described about prosecutorial discretion and now that you’ve read what the Department of Homeland Security has actually done, could you please tell me how President Obama has either violated the Constitution or overstepped his authority? Recall, of course, that it is the President who is in charge of the Executive branch of which both the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are a part. If Congress wants to pass a law that requires each and every undocumented immigrant to be deported, I suppose they could (of course, they’d also probably have to increase funding for prosecutor’s offices, public defenders, and courts). Or, they could pass immigration reform.

As for those who say that President Obama has issued some kind of amnesty (like, for example, Sen. Jim DeMint [R-South Carolina] or Rep. Lamar Smith [R-Texas]; see Politifact’s analysis of whether President Obama’s action grants amnesty), they would do well to re-read (presuming that they’ve read the memo in the first place) the last paragraph (emphasis added):

This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights. It remains for the executive branch, however, to set forth policy for the exercise of discretion within the framework of the existing law. I have done so here.

One quick issue to note about this paragraph. The statement that the memo “confers no substantive right” is likely only meaningful to lawyers, but it is extremely important. In essence, that paragraph means that someone cannot sue the Department of Homeland Security or US Government to force compliance with this memo or to prevent a prosecutor from using prosecutorial discretion to go ahead with a deportation proceeding. In other words, the memo doesn’t grant any rights to undocumented immigrants; rather, is just tells prosecutors how to handle certain situations.

Anyway, given that the memo specifically notes that it is not conferring immigration status or a pathway to citizenship and noting further that “[o]nly the Congress” can do so, if you hear a “journalist,” pundit or politician tell you that President Obama either conferred immigration status or created a pathway to citizenship, please recognize that they are lying to you.

Another of the charges leveled against President Obama is that the decision to not deport certain people will encourage additional illegal immigration. First, it’s worth remembering that the Patron Saint of the Republican Party, Saint Ronald of Reagan, granted amnesty to over 3,000,000 illegal immigrants. Hmm. Anyway, with regard to the current claim that the policy will encourage illegal immigration, it is worth recalling this part of the memo (emphasis added):

has continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and is present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

I’m not exactly sure why a policy that requires presence in the US today will encourage future illegal immigration. And just to show you how crazy some Republicans are when it comes to their need to demonize illegal immigrants and President Obama, it’s worth noting the claim made by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) in an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien:

“You’re talking about people that came over at 16 years of age. At that point, you had a say in it. And that looks kind of more like amnesty,” the congressman said.

O’Brien was skeptical of this remark, challenging the congressman: “You think a 16-year-old whose parents are coming across the border has a say in whether or not they’re just going to stay behind in their country?”

“They’re certainly in a position to have a conversation with their parents about it,” Farenthold replied.

Right. So the 16-year-old child should prevent the parents from immigrating illegally. What about a 12-year-old? 4 year-olds? Are they getting “amnesty” Congressman?

Finally, I want to look at what Speaker John Boehner had to say:

I think we all have concerns for those who are caught in this trap, who — who through no fault of their own are here. But the president’s actions are going to make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.

Do you have any idea what he’s talking about? I mean let’s think about it for a second. Under Boehner’s leadership, the House of Representatives refused to take up the DREAM Act (it was passed in December 2010, before the new Republican majority came to power). The Senate, meanwhile, passed the DREAM Act … oh, wait. That’s not actually true. A majority of the Senate (55 Senators) voted for the DREAM Act … but in the Senate, a mere majority, even a 5-vote majority, is not enough to override a filibuster, and thus, though supported by a majority of the Senate, the DREAM Act failed. One of the principal objections to the DREAM Act repeatedly voiced by many Republicans was that it granted amnesty and a path to citizenship. Some said that they would support the DREAM Act if it didn’t include amnesty or a path to citizenship (which, is, of course, the whole point of the DREAM Act). But think about it for a minute: Isn’t what the Republicans wanted of the DREAM Act exactly what the Obama administration did? It’s kind of like healthcare reform: Republicans wanted an individual mandate until President Obama agreed with them and gave them what they wanted; then it became unconstitutional.

So anyway, how is it that deciding not to deport children — but not granting them amnesty or path to citizenship — makes it harder to work in a bipartisan way (as if Speaker Boehner has worked in a bipartisan way since taking the speaker’s gavel…)? Remember what Secretary Napolitano’s memo said:

Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.

But somehow, in Speaker Boehner’s world, that makes it more difficult to act in a bipartisan way.

No, the truth is much simpler. Republicans don’t want immigration reform. And, maybe even more importantly, they don’t want President Obama to have any sort of a success that he can point to. The Obama administration did something that will be popular with many Americans (not just Hispanics Latinos). And that sort of success and popularity is anathema to many on the right. So now, to act in a bipartisan manner or to work on immigration reform might, in some circles, look like a victory for President Obama. And the Republicans can’t have that now, can they?

Oh, and isn’t it interesting that Mitt Romney refuses to say whether he would overturn this decision should he become President?

Update (June 22, 2012)

I wanted to add three quick items to this post.

First, yesterday (a week after President Obama’s new policy was announced), Mitt Romney spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. Here is part of what he said:

Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.

In other words, Mitt Romney wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform … but he won’t say what that would look like and he won’t say whether he will rescind the instruction not to deport certain undocumented immigrants. And don’t forget that President Obama also wanted to pass immigration reform but was stymied by Republican filibusters and refusal to consider proposals.

Second, since publishing the original post, I’ve read several discussions about the scope of prosecutorial discretion. I’ve seen some interesting arguments as to why President Obama’s action is or is not within the scope of his powers and prosecutorial discretion. I’m still convinced that it was within his powers and is a legitimate example of prosecutorial discretion. But as always, my mind is open and I’m willing to consider arguments to the contrary.

Also, on this point, I also read one analogy of a further example of prosecutorial discretion that I think is quite apropos to the issue of deciding not to deport a particular group of undocumented immigrants. We all know what speed limits are. And we all feel comfortable going at least a little bit faster than the speed limit. Would you have any problem if the Governor, mayor, police chief, or similar official, told police officers not to write tickets for speeding on an Interstate highway unless the person was going at least 10 miles over the posted limit or was driving in a dangerous manner? I suspect that this is already the case. It seems a decent analogy to the deportation issue.

Finally, last night I recalled something I learned when I attended the first Indianapolis Latino-Jewish dialogue last month, namely that use of the term “Latino” was probably a better choice than “Hispanic”. I’ve corrected the the usage in the original post.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are You in Compliance With Indiana’s New Smoking Ban? Probably Not.

In my ongoing (though occasional) series of posts examining new Indiana statutes, the time has come to take a look at Indiana’s new smoking ban. First, two caveats: I was in favor of the smoking ban and I didn’t really pay all that much attention to it as it was making its way through the Indiana General Assembly. I’d had no real need to read the statute until I was asked a question about it yesterday.

Once I read the new statute, my initial response was essentially one of befuddlement. How, I wondered, could a legislature composed of many lawyers utilizing the services of the highly competent Legislative Services Agency craft a bill that was so poorly drafted. And before I get into the weeds of what I mean, let me note specifically that I’m not talking about the decision to exclude casinos, taverns, or fraternal clubs from the ban. Sure, I’d like to see the smoking ban be more rather than less inclusive, but that isn’t my primary problem with the bill as written.

For those who want to read the enrolled act (i.e., the new statute as passed by the Indiana General Assembly) in its entirety, it can be found on the website of the Indiana General Assembly. And for those few who care, the new statute is Indiana Code § 7.1-5-12.

So let’s take a look at some of the pertinent parts of the new statute.

Section 4.

    (a) Except as provided in section 5 of this chapter, smoking is prohibited in the following:

        (1) A public place.

        (2) A place of employment.

        (3) …

        (4) The area within eight (8) feet of a public entrance to:

            (A) a public place; or

            (B) a place of employment.

    (b) An employer shall inform each of the employer's employees and prospective employees of the smoking prohibition applying to the place of employment.

    (c) An owner, operator, manager, or official in charge of a public place or place of employment shall remove ashtrays or other smoking paraphernalia from areas of the public place or place of employment where smoking is prohibited under this chapter. However, this subsection does not prohibit the display of ashtrays or other smoking paraphernalia that are intended only for retail sale.

    (d) An owner, operator, manager, or official in charge of a public place or place of employment shall post conspicuous signs at each public entrance that read “State Law Prohibits Smoking Within 8 Feet of this Entrance” or other similar language.

Now, those of you who are lawyers or who have read my critiques of statutes in the past should immediately be asking what, exactly, does the statute mean by a “public place” or a “place of employment”.

Section 1. As used in this chapter, “place of employment” means an enclosed area of a structure that is a place of employment. The term does not include a private vehicle.

Section 2. As used in this chapter, “public place” means an enclosed area of a structure in which the public is invited or permitted.

Hmm. Got that? And did you catch the circular reference in the definition of place of employment?

Just for the record, the broad list of places that are exempt from the smoking ban include horse racing facilities, riverboats, casinos, bars, cigar bars, tobacconists, and fraternal clubs (and similar types of places all of which must meet a number of further conditions to be exempt). Oh, and there is one more important exemption:

Section 5(a)(11): The premises of a business that is located in the business owner’s private residence … if the only employees of the business who work in the residence are the owner and other individuals who reside in the residence.

Now, consider, if you will, the following scenarios, and for each, tell me whether employees must be told of the smoking prohibition (per Section 4(b), whether ashtrays must be removed (per Section 4(c)), and whether the “no smoking” sign must be posted at the public entrance (per Section 4(d)):

  • A law firm occupying a suite that consists of a portion of the 23rd floor of a high rise building;
  • A doctor’s office occupying a suite in a single-story office building;
  • A dentist’s office in a free-standing building;
  • A food truck parked on a public street;
  • A cell phone case kiosk in an enclosed shopping mall;
  • A hair stylist that rents a chair in a larger salon;
  • A parking garage;
  • The enclosed restrooms at a neighborhood swimming pool;
  • A gazebo in the common area of a residential subdivision;
  • A church, synagogue, mosque, or other house of worship;
  • A sukkot (a small tabernacle built by Jews as part of a harvest festival) built by a synagogue that is open to the public;
  • A carnival funhouse or midway arcade;
  • An artist’s booth at a local art fair;
  • A tent erected in a park for a wedding or similar gathering; or
  • The sales office of an apartment project.

Oh, there are a few that I forgot. And think about yourself for these:

  • A private residence at which a maid or plumber or contractor provides services to the homeowner;
  • A private residence from which a homeowner conducts a Mary Kay, Avon, or Tupperware business if that homeowner’s mother or a friend sometimes come to the home to help with the business;
  • A private residence where a home healthcare worker comes to provide certain healthcare or physical therapy services;
  • A private residence from which a homeowner conducts a web design business and to which a photographer or graphic designer occasionally comes; or
  • A private residence where the homeowners pay the neighbor’s high school student to come and babysit.

See the problems?

If the law simply said that smoking was prohibited in these places, there probably wouldn’t be much of an issue. But the law doesn’t stop there. Instead, it requires that employees be notified, that ashtrays be removed, and that signs be posted.

Thus, as I read the statute, an argument can be made that if you hire a babysitter to watch your kids while you go to a movie, you will be in violation of Indiana law if you don’t inform her that smoking is prohibited in your home, if you don’t remove all ashtrays from the rooms that she is allowed to go into (unless, of course, you are trying to sell the ashtray to her…), or if you fail to post a conspicuous sign near your front door.


Now, perhaps that reading is too broad. Perhaps because the babysitter owns her own business rather than being an employee or your business (as opposed to you), then the statute doesn’t really apply to that situation. That’s the argument that I’d make. But is it clear enough for you that the homeowner who hires a babysitter isn’t employing the babysitter in a business within the home? And what about the Avon lady?

And if the law really does want a “no smoking” sign to be displayed at each of the types of businesses and structures that I’ve mentioned in the first group of scenarios, won’t those signs quickly become both a visual nuisance and essentially meaningless? We don’t require businesses to post “no drinking” signs if they don’t have a liquor license or “no gambling” signs if they don’t have a gambling license. For that matter, we don’t require businesses to post “no murder” or “no burglary” or “no insider trading” signs, either. The statute also requires “smoking permitted” signs at facilities at which smoking is, indeed permitted. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that you can’t smoke anywhere that doesn’t have a smoking permitted sign? Maybe all doors behind which smoking is permitted should be green and those behind which smoking is prohibited should be red.

There is yet another point of confusion worth considering. Let’s say that you own an office building or maybe a shopping center or strip mall. Individual spaces within your building or mall are leased to tenants. Remember that the obligation to post signs and remove ashtrays is imposed upon the “owner, operator, manager, or official in charge of a public place or place of employment”. So who is responsible for posting the notice on the door of each tenant’s space? Is it your job? Is it the tenant’s responsibility? Or is the responsibility incumbent upon some public official? And if you post a notice at the main entrance to your building or mall, do we really need additional notices on the door to each office or store within the building or mall?

And while I’m thinking about it, does each separate “structure” at an amusement park have to have a separate “no smoking” sign? Maybe I should start a business making Indiana-compliant “no smoking” signs as it looks like there may be a need for millions of them to be posted across the state.

It seems to me that the idea of the smoking ban is a good one. But the implementation (even setting aside the extensive list of exclusions) seems hopelessly flawed, The statute is too narrow in where it bans smoking but way too overbroad in its coverage of who needs to comply with its notice requirements. And I think that we can all agree that most businesses aren’t going to post these sorts of signs or warn employees. Certainly homeowners won’t think that they need to post warning or remove ashtrays. A statute that we all know will simply be ignored is clearly not an effective statute.

Yes, I understand that the response may be that the statute isn’t intended to apply in some of these sorts of situations (especially to things like a homeowner hiring a babysitter or the Avon lady). But if that’s the case, then the statute should be much, much more clear. There is a skill in drafting well-crafted legislation. It isn’t necessarily easy to do. But when there is a statute of this broad of applicability and for which even a quick reading reveals numerous potential problems and questions, then it seems that the drafters — not to mention the legislators that passed the bill — needed to take a step back, think carefully, and make the revisions that may have been necessary to eliminate as many potential problems and definitional issues as possible. And that was the failing with this bill.

Oh, and two more queries: Is a lighter a type of smoking paraphernalia? And do I have to remove an ashtray that is a work or art that I display even though I don’t smoke? I mean, does my law firm really have to get rid of the decorative ashtray that was given to us by a relative when we first opened for business in 1993 and into which no ash has ever fallen? The law says yes.


Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 11, 2012

Will You Create Jobs With Your Tax Reduction?

I think I’ve mentioned repeatedly on this blog that I’m neither an economist nor an expert on tax policy. As anyone who reads this blog regularly will recognize, I’m driven more by social issues. But it does appear that “the economy” (whatever that may really mean) is going to be the primary issue in the upcoming election. And so I want to take a brief look at one of the ongoing memes of the current political debate: The notion that giving tax breaks to “job creators” will help to spur job growth.

You see, I don’t think that this is really true. Oh, sure, some people may decide to create jobs. But will those jobs be created because the business owner got a tax break? That’s the real question isn’t it?

Look at this way: Let’s say that you’re the owner of a widget factory and you’ve been making a few million dollars each year (your own income, not the income of your company). And now let’s say that President Romney gives you a tax break. Are you taking that money, reinvesting it in your company by hiring a new employee or three … or are you taking the family to Cabo or on a cruise? Here’s what I think: You might use that money to hire a new employee … but only if you thought that there was going to be an increased demand for widgets. Just because you get a tax break and get to put more money in your pocket doesn’t equate to the idea that more people will be buying your widgets, especially if the widget purchasers are still looking for work or paying more so that you could have your tax break. And why would you hire more widget builders if you’re not going to actually sell any more widgets?

Or think of the plastic surgeon. Will he hire more nurses to help him perform more rhinoplasties or breast enlargements because he now has more disposable income? Or will his decision to hire more people be almost entirely dependent upon whether there will be more demand for his services? I mean, why would he want to hire more nurses if he isn’t going to, you know, need them?

Certainly home builders aren’t going to hire more guys with hammers until there’s more of a demand for new homes and stores won’t hire more sales clerks until there are more people shopping.

And a law firm isn’t going to hire more lawyers unless it has work to put on their desks.

You see, just hiring people doesn’t actually create work for those new employees to do.

So just where is it that these so-called “job creators” are going to be creating new jobs?

Perhaps tax breaks for the wealthiest will lead to new jobs as first class flight attendants (or in private plane production) or at high-end hotels. I suspect that the company that makes residential car elevators will be able to thank Mitt Romney for the uptick in business. Maybe manufacturers of other high end products (Rolls Royce, Rolex, and so forth…) will need to gear up production. But will tax breaks for millionaires (or billionaires) really spur job growth in the manufacture of most consumer goods or foodstuffs? Will it have a direct impact upon the demand for new housing construction or the auto industry? Will pharmaceutical companies see a sudden surge in hiring just because their top shareholders now get to keep more of their incomes? Will the banks suddenly be willing to lend more and correspondingly need to hire more tellers and loan officers?

I don’t think so.

Try this: If you know someone who makes enough money that they would see a tax break under President Romney (or a Republican Congress), ask them precisely how many new jobs they will create because of that tax break. And then ask them why that tax break will spur them to create new jobs. Ask why a tax break is more important to job creation than demand for their goods or services. Ask if they created new jobs during the 90s when taxes were higher than they are now. Why then but not now? And ask them if they’re willing to pledge to create those new jobs with the money that they save in taxes. See how they respond to that.

Thinking just about those whom I know personally and who would benefit from a tax break, I’m not sure that any of them would create jobs just because of that tax break. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to hear from them and hear about the jobs that they’d create if only they didn’t have to pay so darn much. Um, right.

Finally, and most importantly, if you hear a politician tell you that it is important to give tax breaks to “job creators”, don’t just accept that claim without more. Ask the politician to explain precisely what sorts of jobs will be created and why. Ask whether those jobs will be created here in the US or in Chinese or Mexican factories. And then ask the politician for empirical evidence that supports their claim that this sort of hyper-trickle down economic theory will work. Because all of the data that I’ve seen suggests that, in fact, it doesn’t work.

I think that we need to find ways to put more money in the pockets of consumers. With more disposable income, they’ll be more interested in purchasing goods and services. And the businesses that supply those goods and services will need more employees to help produce and provide the goods and services. And those new employees will, in turn, consume goods and services themselves, and so on and so forth. Millionaires and billionaires don’t need the aid; the poor and working class families, by contrast, do.

The point is to grow the size of the pie, not grow the size of the piece of the pie enjoyed by the wealthiest.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Not AWOL but Depressed

Sorry for the lack of recent posts. I’ve had various other things going on that have occupied my time and kept me from blogging. But if truth be told, I will say that I’m a bit depressed, too. You see, as I read about what’s going on in the world of politics and as the election campaign begins to take shape, I realize more and more that rationale discourse, dialogue, debate, and discussion are worth very little, if anything. Rather, all that really matters is the ability to spend outrageous sums of money. And even that wouldn’t be so bad if the money was spent in a way that actually educated voters. But far too much of the expenditures are used, at best, to do nothing more than attack a candidate and, at worst, are replete with outright lies.

And, I’d note, it seems more and more that the media seems almost complicit in allowing candidates, their surrogates, and their Super PACs lie with impunity or, in the rare cases where a lie is noted, it is contextualized with a “both sides do it” framework but without any concept of scope, scale, or meaning, or impact.

What is the point of trying to write about the issues, to point out factual inaccuracies or hypocrisy, or to explain reasoning for a position, when a handful of billionaires can anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money to drown out any sort of reasoned discussion? And when they have their own “news” network devoted to their cause…?

There have been a bunch of things that I’ve wanted to write about recently but I keep having this sinking feeling that it’s just not worth my time. Those who I really want to try to convince seem almost immune from facts, reason, or logic; if they heard it on Faux News or Limbaugh’s program (or Glenn Beck or Laura Ingraham or any of a bunch of other shows) then it must be true and nothing that I or anyone else (who actually thinks that facts matter) does seems to make any kind of dent.

Don’t worry. I’m not giving up. I’m just venting and maybe catching my breath. Because I’m sure that as the election draws nearer and the lies begin to fly even thicker and uglier then I’ll have plenty to say. And even if I’m feeling a bit (well, more than a bit) powerless in the face of millions of dollars spent to lie to people, I still recognize that our democracy is premised upon people expressing their opinions, something I’m clearly not shy about doing.

OK. End of pity party.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Newer›  ‹Older