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by Walter E. Williams

      Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, leading to President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, has thrown progressives, the Democratic Party and the news media into an out-and-out tizzy. The online magazine Slate declared, "Anthony Kennedy Just Destroyed His Legacy as a Gay Rights Hero." The New York Times' editorial board said about a second Trump court appointment, "It is a dark moment in the history of the court and the nation, and it's about to get a lot darker."
        It's indeed a "dark moment" for those who've for decades used the courts to accomplish what would have been impossible through federal and state legislatures -- such as same-sex marriage, abortion and preferences with regard to race and sex. With this Supreme Court pick -- and possibly another during his term -- President Trump can return us to the Framers' vision of the judiciary -- a vision that's held in contempt by many liberals and conservatives.
        The U.S. Constitution represents our "rules of the game." Supreme Court justices should be seen as umpires or referees, whose job is to enforce neutral rules. I'll give a somewhat trivial example of neutral rules from my youth; let's call it Mom's Rule. On occasion, my sister and I would have lunch in my mother's absence. She'd ask either me or my younger sister to divide a last piece of cake or pie. More often than not, an argument would ensue about the fairness of the cut. Those arguments ended when Mom came up with a rule: Whoever cuts the cake lets the other take the first piece. As if by magic or divine intervention, fairness emerged, and arguments ended. No matter who did the cutting, there was an even division.
        That's the kind of rule we need for our society -- the kind whereby you'd be OK even if your worst enemy were in charge. By creating and enforcing neutral rules, we minimize conflict. Consider one area of ruthless competition where that's demonstrated -- sports. The 52nd Super Bowl featured the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. A lot was at stake. Each player on the winning team would earn $112,000; losers would get half that. Plus, each winner would get a Super Bowl ring that might cost as much as $40,000.
        Despite a bitterly fought contest and all that was at stake, the game ended peaceably, and winners and losers were civil to one another. How is it that players with conflicting interests can play a game, agree with the outcome and walk away as good sports? It's a miracle of sorts. That "miracle" is that it is far easier to reach agreement about the game's rules than the game's outcome. The rules are known and durable. The referee's only job is evenhanded enforcement of those rules.
        Suppose football's rules were "living" and the referee and other officials played a role in determining them. The officials could adjust the applications of the rules. Suppose the officials were more interested in the pursuit of what they saw as football justice than they were in the unbiased enforcement of neutral rules. In the case of Super Bowl LII, officials might have considered it unfair that the Eagles had never won a Super Bowl and the Patriots had won five. If officials could determine game rules, team owners, instead of trying to raise team productivity, would spend resources lobbying or bribing officials. The returns from raising team productivity would be reduced. Also, I doubt that the games would end amicably. The players probably wouldn't walk off the field peaceably, shaking hands and sharing hugs, as they do now.
        We should demand that Supreme Court justices act as referees and enforce the U.S. Constitution. If they don't and play favorites with different groups of Americans, as we've seen, the potential for conflict among the American people is enhanced. Who is appointed to the high court becomes the all-consuming issue. The question is not whether a justice would uphold and defend the Constitution but whether he would rig the game to benefit one American or another.
        Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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by John Stossel

      Want to sip a refreshing beverage this summer?
        If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, you won't be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw.
        Actress Nina Nelson and other celebrities made a video claiming that plastic straws kill sea life: "In the USA alone, over 500 million straws are being used every single day, most of which are going into our oceans."
        "I will stop sucking," vowed the celebrities.
        In obedient response, Seattle banned plastic straws, and other places plan to follow. Starbucks, Hyatt and Hilton are all abandoning straws.
        Katy Tang, of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, says, "We are no longer going to allow for plastic straws here."
        New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees: "Their time has come and gone."
        But before politicians ban things in the name of saving the world, I wish they'd take the trouble to actually study what good the ban would do.
        Plastic garbage in oceans is a genuine problem. But most of the pollution comes from Asia. A small amount does come from America, but only a tiny fraction of that is plastic straws.
        Banning straws "might make some politicians feel good," says the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Angela Logomasini in this week's Stossel TV video, "but it won't actually accomplish anything good."
        But what about that scary "500 million" figure that celebrities, politicians and news anchors constantly cite? It turns out that number came from a 10-year-old who, for a school project, telephoned some straw makers.
        Because the boy is cute, the media put him on TV. Now the media, environmental activists and politicians (Is there a difference?) repeat "500 million straws used daily ... many end up in oceans," as if it were just fact. The real number is much lower.
        Still, activists like talk show host Ethan Bearman tell us, "If we can reduce something that easy -- something that gets stuck in turtles' noses and damages the environment -- let's do that. Sometimes, we do need a little gentle guiding hand from government."
        But government's guiding hand is neither "little" nor "gentle." Government action is force. In this case, the politicians will either ban straws or order us to replace plastic straws with more expensive ones made of paper or bamboo.
        Bearman calls that an advantage, telling us, "Plastic doesn't actually biodegrade, unlike paper, which breaks down into other components."
        But that's exactly the problem. Paper straws don't only break down in dumps, they also break down while you're using them. They get soggy. They leak.
        "That's the beauty of plastic. It's enduring," says Logomasini.
        She also points out that paper and bamboo straws aren't environmentally pristine. "Paper products take more energy and effort to produce. And paper doesn't degrade in a landfill, either. Everything (in landfills) is essentially mummified."
        Also, paper straws cost eight times more to make than plastic straws.
        The activists and politicians don't worry that their ban will raise costs for businesses and their customers. New York City Councilman Barry Grodenchik told us, "Maybe people won't use straws."
        Ethan Bearman added, "If it's $1.79 to get the fountain drink at Joe's Corner Deli (and) now it's $1.83, I don't see that being a huge difference."
        "This is what environmentalists say about (SET ITAL)every(END ITAL) policy they put out -- a few cents here, a few cents there," says Logomasini. "But eventually, it begins to be a burden. Banning straws isn't going to do anything for the environment. So what they're trying to do is take away my freedom for nothing in return."
        Taking away freedom for nothing in return is now a specialty of the environmental movement.
        After our environment got cleaner -- thanks to technological innovation and some useful government-imposed requirements (like scrubbers in smokestacks and pollution limits on cars) -- the zealots moved on to demand bans on pipeline construction, mining and oil drilling. They require lots of pointless recycling (though often garbage you separate is never recycled) and all sorts of feel-good policies that make no real difference.
        EPA should stand for "Enough Protection Already!"
        John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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by Walter E. Williams

    The Canadian government, lining the pockets of its dairy producers, imposes high tariffs on American dairy imports. That forces Canadians to pay higher prices for dairy products. For example, Canadians pay $5.24 for a 10.5-ounce block of cheddar. In Washington, D.C., that same amount of cheddar sells for $3.64. Canadians pay $3.99 for a 1-pound container of yogurt. In Washington, D.C., you can get nearly twice as much yogurt for a little over $4. It's clear that the Canadian government's tariffs screw its citizens by forcing them to pay higher prices for dairy products.
    What should the U.S. response be to Canada's screwing its citizens? If you were in the Trump administration, you might propose imposing tariffs on soft wood products that Americans import from Canada -- in other words, retaliate against Canada by screwing American citizens. Canadian lumber -- such as that from pine, spruce and fir trees -- is used in U.S. homebuilding. Guess what tariffs on Canadian lumber do to home prices. If you answered that they raise the cost and American homebuyers are forced to pay higher prices, go to the head of the class.
    This retaliation policy is both cruel and not very smart. It's as if you and I were in a rowboat out at sea and I shot a hole in my end of the boat. What should be your response? If you were Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross or Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, you might advise retaliating by shooting a hole in your end of the boat. If I were president, I'd try to persuade officials of other countries not to serve special producer interests by forcing their citizens to pay higher prices. But if they insisted, I'd say, "Go ahead, but I'll be damned if I'll do the same to Americans!"
    The ruse used to promote producer interests through tariff policy is concern about our large trade deficit. It's true that we have a large current account trade deficit. However, that's matched exactly by a very large capital account surplus. Translated, that means Americans buy more goods from other countries than they buy from us; that's our current account deficit. But other countries find our investment climate attractive and invest more in the U.S. than we invest in other countries; that's our capital account surplus.
    Have you ever wondered why foreigners are willing to invest far more money in Texas and California than they are willing to invest in Argentina and Venezuela? Do you think it's because they like North Americans better than they like South Americans? No. We've always had an attractive investment climate, and we've had current account deficits and capital account surpluses throughout most of our nation's history (http://tinyurl.com/jczqrhu). In fact, the only time we had a sustained current account trade surplus was during the Great Depression, when we had a surplus in nine out of 10 years, with 1936 being the lone exception.
    Let's delve a bit into the politics of trade tariffs. Whom do we see spending the most resources lobbying for tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum? Is it American users of steel and aluminum, such as Harley-Davidson and John Deere? Or is it United States Steel Corp. and Alcoa? Of course it's U.S. Steel and Alcoa. They benefit from tariffs by being able to sell their products at higher prices. Harley-Davidson and John Deere lose by having to pay higher prices for their inputs, steel and aluminum, and their customers lose by having to pay higher product prices.
    There's a lot of nonsense talk about international trade, which some define as one country's trading with another. When an American purchases a Mercedes, it does not represent the U.S. Congress' trading with the German Bundestag. It represents an American citizen's engaging in peaceable, voluntary exchange, through intermediaries, with a German auto producer. When voluntary exchange occurs, it means that both parties are better off in their own estimation -- not Trump's estimation or General Motors' estimation. I'd like to hear the moral case for third-party interference with such an exchange.
    Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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by John Stossel

    Warren Farrell was once considered a feminist leader. He hung around with Gloria Steinem and wrote about why men and women should break out of rigid old gender roles.
    But then, as he learned more, he started to disagree with parts of modern feminism.
    "I don't agree with the part of feminism that says men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed," he says in our latest Stossel TV video. "That part of feminism is sick."
    In Farrell's new book, "The Boy Crisis," he argues that hostility toward males undermines boys' psychological development. "Boys are a third less likely than girls to get college degrees, twice as likely to commit suicide."
    We pushed back, pointing out that men make more money, run most companies and run most of the government.
    "Our dads and grandpas," he responded, "made sacrifices to make more money! Then the feminist movement turned all of that sacrifice against men."
    He says he wishes once in a while feminists would say, "You (men) were discriminated against in your own way. You were obliged to earn more money or we wouldn't even think about marrying you and having children with you."
    In "The Boy Crisis," Farrell notes that dads routinely get passed over when it comes to custody of kids, even though kids benefit enormously if they have male role models. Boys without fathers suffer more, he says.
    Why does a same-sex role model matter more for boys?
    "Boys tend to not have as many skills at developing friendships and emotional connections," answers Farrell. "So when the family connection breaks apart, it affects boys more profoundly than it does their sisters. Boys are then far more likely to be disobedient, delinquent, drop out of school."
    One reason fathers are critical, says Farrell, is because men tend to parent differently. For example, men roughhouse more with kids.
    "Roughhousing creates so many skill sets," said Farrell. "It creates a bond with the child, so the children don't mind discipline ... (T)he discipline is the price they pay for more fun with dad."
    But aren't mothers more attentive to children's needs?
    "As a rule, mothers are more empathetic, but an empathetic parent does not create an empathetic child," answers Farrell. Instead, "It may just teach children to expect others to think of their needs."
    Real empathy, by contrast, is created "by the father or mother requiring the child to think about the father's needs, the mother's needs, their brother's needs."
    Fathers often fulfill that role by being a little more demanding of kids.
    "Moms are filled with love, and they want to make sure their children do well, so they often do for the children," says Farrell. "Dads are also filled with love, but the way that dads love is to think, 'I need to love the children by having the children learn how to do for themselves.'"
    Studies consistently find that having both an involved mother and father leads to the best outcome.
    A government summary of studies on parenting concluded that "children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, to avoid drugs, violence and delinquent behavior."
    Yet government policy simultaneously discourages fatherhood. Welfare programs give more money to households in which the father is absent. Even now, although teen birth rates are down, the percentage of kids who don't live with fathers is up.
    In a world with more fragmented families, Farrell argues that we should think about ways to reintroduce masculine role models in boys' lives. He wishes there were more male teachers.
    "Not just males who are imitation females, but males who have some background in doing more traditionally masculine stuff. Then the children would have role models of a female, and a male who's softer and also a male who is more traditionally male," he says.
    "Currently, many boys go from all-female homes to all-female schools, and then we go, gee, I wonder why they were vulnerable to a gang leader saying, 'I'll show you what being a man really is.'"
    John Stossel is author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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By Taylor Kovar, KovarCapital.com

Hi Taylor - I don’t have an emergency fund, and everyone tells me I need one. I do have debt, and everyone tells me I need to get rid of it. So… help? It feels like I can’t do both and I can’t skip either. - Cody

Hey Cody - I know exactly what you’re going through. This is a real chicken-or-the-egg scenario, as one thing has to come before the other but no one will give you a clear answer about which.

    I’m guessing you haven’t started putting money toward an emergency fund because you can’t see your way around monthly debt payments. Debt will keep piling up if you try to save instead of paying it down, right? If saving money means ignoring your debt, are you really saving anything?

    The issue is, are you actually getting your debt paid down? Debt has a nasty habit of sticking around, and it can remain the reason your savings don’t grow for a long time. Eventually, you have to shift your focus - do you not have savings because you have debt, or is your lingering debt the result of insufficient savings?

    I would imagine you’re thinking it’s the former - outstanding debt is keeping you from saving. I’m going to try to explain why it might actually be the opposite. This has a lot to do with how you budget, so bear with me as I break this down.

    Every month, you have necessary expenses - rent, groceries, utilities, gas, etc. You also have monthly loan and credit card payments. I assume these categories, plus maybe some travel and entertainment expenses, take up all your available funds. This is normal for a lot of people.

    The issue arises when irregular-but-necessary expenses arrive, like owing taxes or fixing a blown radiator. If you don’t factor these costs into your annual expenses, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’re going to use a credit card to cover them.

    In this case, the solution is to focus on saving before you put all your energy toward tackling your debt. In the short term, you won’t pay down your debt as quickly. In the long term, you’ll stand a better chance of ending the endless debt cycle that currently dominates your finances.

    When you’re fighting debt, an emergency fund feels like a luxury; must be nice to have money that’s there just in case. In reality, you should have several small “emergency funds” that can cover insurance payments and car registration, things that aren’t actual emergencies, but which shouldn’t be put on a credit card.

    I would recommend changing your perception of an emergency fund to view it as money that helps you avoid future debt. In any case, it’s definitely worth setting money aside even as you pay down those pesky credit card bills. Good luck, Cody!


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