Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax. As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse. She was convicted and served time in prison. She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids. But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest! She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine. Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers. In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing. But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model. Education works better than punishment. One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition. State legislatiors should take that up next session.
It may be good for the City of Des Moines to have a policy that, “…requires all city employees to perform their duties without regard to race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics…”, but that does not replace the need for a anti-racial-profiling policy specifically for the Des Moines Police Department.
For better or for worse, conscious and unconscious bias exist in most human beings. It is in our nature to look for norms, patterns, averages, etc., and to apply what we think we know to our everyday situations. But police officers are rightfully placed in a very special position: we allow them the legal use of force. So, police officers especially need to make sure they treat each person as an individual, presumed innocent, following due process procedures.
In this case, the City of Des Moines should give the Des Moines Police Department clear policy regarding what police officers can and cannot do as it relates of acting on their “feelings” or “hunches” in any given situation. Profiling or pretextual stops based on race should be prohibited. Suggestions by Iowa CCI, the ACLU of Iowa, and the NAACP should be given serious consideration as part of developing the policy.
Link to related articles in The Des Moines Register:
There has been a recent outpouring of letters to the editor and paid advertising in The Des Moines Register thanking President Trump for the EPA’s decision to allow E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) to be used year round. Many go on complain about the hardship waivers being granted to small refineries that exempt them from being forced to add ethanol to their gasoline under the Renewal Fuel Standard (RFS). They say the exemptions are costing corn farmers and ethanol producers billions of dollars and are undermining growth of the ethanol industry.
Since 2006, the RFS has required petroleum refiniries to add more and more ethanol to gasoline. (For 2019 the requirement is over 19 billion gallons.) Investment in and growth of the ethanol industry (and related corn purchases) have been greatly dependent on this use of government force. After 13 years, the industry has billions of dollars invested in over 200 production facilities, revenues of over $16 billion per year. Any yet, not only can it not wean itself off of government assistance, it continues to press government for more and more support.
Public Choice Theory tells us what to expect when government and special interests create an artificial market using government force. As investment and revenues reach billions of dollars, vested interests easily justify spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to make sure the support continues. At the same time, each taxpayer pays such a relatively small amount that it is very difficult to raise money to lobby in opposition to these government programs.
But we must do what we can, so now is the time to urge Presidential candidates as well as elected representatives to work toward ending government subsidies and special support for all forms of energy.
Thanks to The Des Moines Register for publishing the essay by Peter Funt about the misuse of the term “rights” by Democratic candidates for President. (See link to Register essay below.) The term “right”, without qualification, should be reserved for natural or fundamental rights that are also called “negative rights” – rights that place no burder or obligation on others. The most notable of these negative rights are those included in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. They include freedom of the press and of speech (You can print or say anything but I don’t have to read or listen it or pay for it.); and freedom of association (You can associate or not associate with whomever you please, but you can’t force me to associate with you.); among others.
On the other hand, we also have “civil rights” or “government granted rights”. These are called “positive rights” since they do impose a burden or obligation on others. These rights are granted by governments through our legislative processes, and may be taken away in the same manner. They are often granted based on the wealth of a society and its ability to pay the cost. Common examples of these government created rights include basic education, medical care, and food. In order for a person to receive these benefits, the force of government is used to make others pay the cost.
I would prefer that these government created positive rights be instead called “benefits” of a civil society. Positive rights can be granted by government only if and when society has the ability to pay, and society’s ability to pay is not unlimited. For example, I don’t think any reasonable person believes they have a right to unlimited health care paid for by taxpayers, So if our Democratic candidates for President want to be completely honest, they should talk about the benefits they believe should paid for by a civil society, not simply about rights that should be conferred without regard to cost or limits.
Recently, Gloria Mazza wrote, (and other Iowa Republicans signed), an essay in The Des Moines Register that urged President Trump and Iowa’s Republican Senators to oppose recent proposals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Serivces (CMS) that would have taken reasonable steps to reign in increasing drug cost under Medicare Part D. It has now been reported that CMS and the Trump administration have backed off of important parts of the proposed changes.
Currently, Medicare Part D regulations require patient access to “all or substantially all” medications within “six protected classes” of drugs regardless of price. (Protected classes include drugs for HIV, mental illness, cancer, epilepsy, and organ transplants.)
Among other things, the proposed new rule would have allowed Medicare Part D plans to exclude a drug from coverage, 1) for an existing drug if the price increased more than the rate of inflation, or 2) for a new drug if it was simply a reformulation of an existing drug. Apparently, lobbying efforts were successful in getting these two provisions removed from the final new rule.
We don’t have a free market for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. We should not allow drug makers to set their own price and still require coverage. It is unfortunate that the Trump administration caved-in to the lobbying pressure.
The Iowa Legislature made the correct decision when they passed the bill that prohibited Medicaid from covering gender transition surgery. One the one hand, it is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. On the other hand, that does not mean Medicaid or any other insurance should be required by law to cover gender transition surgery. Proponents of requiring such coverage say that it is medically necessary because of the mental distress that gender dysphoria may cause. But, cosmetic surgery of any type has not been required to be covered just because a person feels bad about the way they look physically.
I’m sure some people feel great mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean Medicaid (taxpayers) or other health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. Requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the makes the cost unaffordable to almost everyone. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
As reported in the Des Moines Register, a jury recently found the State of Iowa guilty of illegal discrimination against a transgender man. He had not been allowed to use the men’s bathroom or locker room, and he had been denied health insurance coverage for gender re-assignment surgery. (See link below to Register article.)
It is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. But refusal by government or private employers to cover gender reassignment surgery under their health insurance plans should not be considered wrongful discrimination, unless the plans cover other types of cosmetic procedures for people who feel similar dysphoria. People may feel mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. We have already seen that requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the premiums unaffordable for many people. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.