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by John Stossel

  We've fought in Afghanistan for 16 years now. Are we making progress?
    After 9/11, we invaded, overthrew the Taliban, killed Osama Bin Laden and -- stayed. Afghanistan is now America's longest war, ever.
    President Trump's solution? He'll send several thousand more soldiers.
    Erik Prince says he has a better idea -- fight terrorists with only 2,000 American Special Operations personnel, plus "a contractor force" of 6,000.
    Prince is the founder of Blackwater, the private military contractor.
    The military uses contractors to provide security, deliver mail, rescue soldiers and more. Private contractors often do jobs well, for much less than the government would spend.
    "We did a helicopter resupply mission," Prince told me. "We showed up with two helicopters and eight people -- the Navy was doing it with 35 people."
    I asked, "Why would the Navy use 35 people?"
    Prince answered, "The admiral that says, 'I need 35 people to do that mission,' didn't pay for them. When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it."
    Prince also claims the military is slow to adjust. In Afghanistan, it's "using equipment designed to fight the Soviet Union, (not ideal) for finding enemies living in caves or operating from a pickup truck."
    I suggested that the government eventually adjusts.
    "No, they do not," answered Prince. "In 16 years of warfare, the army never adjusted how they do deployments -- never made them smaller and more nimble. You could actually do all the counter-insurgency missions over Afghanistan with propeller-driven aircraft."
    So far, Trump has ignored Prince's advice. I assume he, like many people, is skeptical of military contractors. The word "mercenary" has a bad reputation.
    But private contractors have fought for America since America began. Jamestown, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies all hired private security. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress authorized "privateers" -- privately owned boats -- to fight British ships.
    Before America officially entered World War II, some American pilots made money privately fighting the Japanese. Those "Flying Tigers" were called heroes. John Wayne made a movie about them.
    "Markets have a way of providing things when government can't," says Prince.
    But contracting is no panacea. The Congressional Budget Office says that although they save the government money during times of peace, during war "costs of a private security contract are comparable with those of a U.S. military unit."
    Economist Tyler Cowen points out that private contractors may make the real pain of war less apparent. In Iraq, says Cowen, "use of contractors may have helped to make an ill-advised venture possible."
    And in Iraq, Prince's employees killed civilians. Four Blackwater employees were eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
    Prince replied, "The guys did more than a hundred thousand missions, protective missions, in dangerous war zones. In less than one half of 1 percent of all those missions did the guys ever discharge a firearm."
    Government has its own record of mistakes, civilian deaths and war crimes, too.
    In 2010, Prince sold his security firm and moved on to other projects.
    He persuaded the United Arab Emirates to fund a private anti-pirate force in Somalia. The U.N. called that a "brazen violation" of its arms embargo, but Prince went ahead anyway.
    His mercenaries attacked pirates whenever they came near shore. His private army, plus merchant ships finally arming themselves, largely ended piracy in that part of the world. In 2010, Somali pirates took more than a thousand hostages. In 2014, they captured none.
    Did you even hear about that success? I hadn't before doing research on Prince. The media don't like to report good things about for-profit soldiers. Commentator Keith Olbermann called Blackwater "a full-fledged criminal enterprise." One TV anchor called Prince "horrible ... the poster child for everything wrong with the military-industrial complex."
    When I showed that to Prince, he replied, "the hardcore anti-war left went after the troops in Vietnam ... (I)n Iraq and Afghanistan they went after contractors ... contractors providing a good service to support the U.S. military -- vilified, demonized, because they were for-profit companies."
    If we don't use private contractors, he added, we will fail in Afghanistan, where we've "spent close to a trillion dollars and are still losing."
    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

   Politicians exploit public ignorance. Few areas of public ignorance provide as many opportunities for political demagoguery as taxation. Today some politicians argue that the rich must pay their fair share and label the proposed changes in tax law as tax cuts for the rich. Let's look at who pays what, with an eye toward attempting to answer this question: Are the rich paying their fair share?
    According to the latest IRS data, the payment of income taxes is as follows. The top 1 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted annual gross income of $480,930 or higher, pay about 39 percent of federal income taxes. That means about 892,000 Americans are stuck with paying 39 percent of all federal taxes. The top 10 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted gross income over $138,031, pay about 70.6 percent of federal income taxes (https://tinyurl.com/yddvee2o). About 1.7 million Americans, less than 1 percent of our population, pay 70.6 percent of federal income taxes. Is that fair, or do you think they should pay more? By the way, earning $500,000 a year doesn't make one rich. It's not even yacht money.
    But the fairness question goes further. The bottom 50 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted gross income of $39,275 or less, pay 2.83 percent of federal income taxes. Thirty-seven million tax filers have no tax obligation at all. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 45.5 percent of households will not pay federal income tax this year (http://tinyurl.com/h8ks4ge). There's a severe political problem of so many Americans not having any skin in the game. These Americans become natural constituencies for big-spending politicians. After all, if you don't pay federal taxes, what do you care about big spending? Also, if you don't pay federal taxes, why should you be happy about a tax cut? What's in it for you? In fact, you might see tax cuts as threatening your handout programs.
    Our nation has a 38.91 percent tax on corporate earnings, the fourth-highest in the world. The House of Representatives has proposed that it be cut to 20 percent; some members of Congress call for a 15 percent rate. The nation's political hustlers object, saying corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. The fact of the matter -- which even leftist economists understand, though they might not publicly admit it -- is corporations do not pay taxes. An important subject area in economics is called tax incidence. It holds that the entity upon whom a tax is levied does not necessarily bear its full burden. Some of it can be shifted to another party. If a tax is levied on a corporation, it will have one of four responses or some combination thereof. It will raise the price of its product, lower dividends, cut salaries or lay off workers. In each case, a flesh-and-blood person bears the tax burden. The important point is that corporations are legal fictions and as such do !
not pay taxes. Corporations are merely tax collectors for the government.
    Politicians love to trick people by suggesting that they will impose taxes not on them but on some other entity instead. We can personalize the trick by talking about property taxes. Imagine that you are a homeowner and a politician tells you he is not going to tax you. Instead, he's going to tax your property and land. You would easily see the political chicanery. Land and property cannot and do not pay taxes. Again, only people pay taxes. The same principle applies to corporations.
    There's another side to taxes that goes completely unappreciated. According to a 2013 study by the Virginia-based Mercatus Center, Americans spend up to $378 billion annually in tax-related accounting costs, and in 2011, Americans spent more than 6 billion hours complying with the tax code. Those hours are equivalent to the annual hours of a workforce of 3.4 million, or the number of people employed by four of the largest U.S. companies -- Wal-Mart, IBM, McDonald's and Target -- combined (http://tinyurl.com/y9dvbzja). Along with tax cuts, tax simplification should be on the agenda.
    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

  Did you happen to catch CNN's latest smear?
    Anderson Cooper's show recently featured a "two-part exclusive" that claims Donald Trump's EPA director had conspired with the CEO of a mining company to "withdraw environmental restrictions" so the company could dig "the largest open pit mine in the world in an extremely sensitive watershed in wild Alaska."
    The report was enough to horrify any caring person. CNN showed beautiful pictures of colorful salmon swimming in Bristol Bay, and the reporter intoned dramatically, "EPA staffers were shocked to receive this email obtained exclusively by CNN which says 'we have been directed by the administrator to withdraw restrictions' ... Protection of that pristine area was being removed."
    No! A "pristine" area and gorgeous salmon were about to be obliterated by a mine!
    I would have believed it, except I happened to report on that mine a couple years ago.
    I knew that the real scandal was not EPA director Scott Pruitt's decision to "withdraw the restrictions"; it was what President Obama's EPA did to the company's mining proposal in the first place.
    Zealots at the EPA had conspired with rich environmental activists to kill the mine before its environmental impact statement could even be submitted. This was unprecedented.
    The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform later concluded: "EPA employees had inappropriate contact with outside groups and failed to conduct an impartial, fact-based review."
    Now, appropriately, Pruitt undid that censorship of science.
    But CNN, implying devious secrecy said, "according to multiple sources, he made that decision without a briefing from any of EPA's scientists."
    Shocking!
    But Pruitt didn't require opinions from scientists. He didn't approve the mine. He didn't make a science decision. He simply followed the law and allowed a company to submit a proposal.
    Also, despite CNN's repeated depictions of salmon on Bristol Bay, it turns out that the proposed mine would not even be on the Bay. It would not even be 10 miles away, or 20 miles away, or even 50 miles. The proposed mine would be about 100 miles away.
    Did CNN mention that? No. Never. We asked CNN why. And why not point out that the mining company is just being allowed to start the EPA's long and arduous environmental review? They didn't get back to us.
    Of course, explaining that wouldn't fit CNN's theme: Evil Trump appointee ravages environment.
    Their reporter did at least speak with the mine's CEO, Tom Collier, who tried to explain.
    "It's not a science -- it's a process decision."
    But the reporter, Drew Griffin, wouldn't budge. He called Collier "a guy who wants to mine gold in an area that many scientists believe will destroy one of the most pristine sockeye salmon sporting grounds in the whole world."
    By the way, Collier isn't an evil Republican-businessman-nature-destroyer. He's a Democrat who once ran environment policy for President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. CNN never mentioned that either.
    Instead the reporter implied evil collusion: "This looks like the head of a gold mine went to a new administrator and got him to reverse what an entire department had worked on for years."
    Here at least the report was accurate. Obama's environmental department did try to kill that mine for years. They colluded with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America's wealthiest environment groups.
    The NRDC is mostly made up of anti-progress lawyers who want no mines built anywhere. Don't believe me? I asked NRDC spokesman Bob Deans:
    STOSSEL: There are some mines where NRDC says, great, go ahead?
    DEANS: It's not up to us.
    STOSSEL: Are there any?
    DEANS: It's not up to us to green light mines...
    STOSSEL: Are there any you don't complain about?
    DEANS: Yeah, sure.
    So I asked him for some names. He and the NRDC still haven't provided any.
    If these zealots and their sycophants in the media get their way, America will become a place with no mining, no pipelines, no oil drilling, no new ... anything.
    The acronym used to make fun of anti-development attitudes used to be NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard. Now it's BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody.
    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

    As George Orwell said, "some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them." Many stupid ideas originate with academics on college campuses. If they remained there and didn't infect the rest of society, they might be a source of entertainment, much in the way a circus is. Let's look at a few stupid ideas peddled by intellectuals.
    During the Cold War, academic leftists made a moral equivalency between communist totalitarianism and democracy. Worse is the fact that they exempted communist leaders from the type of harsh criticism directed toward Adolf Hitler, even though communist crimes against humanity made Hitler's slaughter of 11 million noncombatants appear almost amateurish. According to Professor R.J. Rummel's research in "Death by Government," from 1917 until its collapse, the Soviet Union murdered or caused the death of 61 million people, mostly its own citizens. From 1949 to 1976, Communist China's Mao Zedong regime was responsible for the death of as many as 78 million of its own citizens.
    On college campuses, the same sort of equivalency is made between capitalism and communism, but if one looks at the real world, there's a stark difference. Just ask yourself: In which societies is the average citizen richer -- societies toward the capitalist end of the economic spectrum or those toward the communist end? In which societies do ordinary citizens have their human rights protected the most -- those toward the capitalist end or those toward the communist end? Finally, which societies do people around the world flee from -- capitalist or communist? And where do they flee to -- capitalist or communist societies?
    More recent nonsense taught on college campuses, under the name of multiculturalism, is that one culture is as good as another. Identity worship, diversity and multiculturalism are currency and cause for celebration at just about any college. If one is black, brown, yellow or white, the prevailing thought is that he should take pride and celebrate that fact even though he had nothing to do with it. The multiculturalist and diversity crowd seems to suggest that race or sex is an achievement. That's just plain nonsense. In my book, race or sex might be an achievement, worthy of considerable celebration, if a person were born a white male and through his effort and diligence became a black female.
    Then there's white privilege. Colleges have courses and seminars on "whiteness." One college even has a course titled "Abolition of Whiteness." According to academic intellectuals, whites enjoy advantages that nonwhites do not. They earn higher income and reside in better housing, and their children go to better schools and achieve more. Based upon those socio-economic statistics, Japanese-Americans have more white privilege than white people. And, on a personal note, my daughter has experienced more white privilege than probably 95 percent of white Americans. She's attended private schools, had ballet and music lessons, traveled the world, and lived in upper-income communities. Leftists should get rid of the concept of white privilege and just call it achievement.
    Then there's the issue of campus rape and sexual assault. Before addressing that, let me ask you a question. Do I have a right to place my wallet on the roof of my car, go into my house, have lunch, take a nap and return to my car and find my wallet just where I placed it? I think I have every right to do so, but the real question is whether it would be a wise decision. Some college women get stoned, use foul language and dance suggestively. I think they have a right to behave that way and not be raped or sexually assaulted. But just as in the example of my placing my wallet on the roof of my car, I'd ask whether it is wise behavior.
    Many of our problems, both at our institutions of higher learning and in the nation at large, stem from the fact that we've lost our moral compasses and there's not a lot of interest in reclaiming them. As a matter of fact, most people don't see our major problems as having anything to do with morality.
    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

The United States was born when the Founding Fathers seceded from England.

    So why do so many people now see secession as a terrible thing?

    Recently, people in Catalonia voted to break away from Spain -- not to declare war on Spain or refuse to trade with Spain, just to control their own affairs.

    The Spanish government said they must not even vote. They sent police to shut down polling places and beat protestors into staying off the streets.

    Governments never want to give up power.

    The European Union was offended and American politicians shocked when the United Kingdom voted to exit the EU (Brexit). Pundits declared Britain's move a terrible mistake.

    But local governments can be more responsive to the needs of constituents.     No government is perfect. But keeping government close to home, keeping it local, makes it easier to keep an eye on it.

    The powerful prefer one big central government. Some want the whole world to answer to one government.

    President Ulysses S. Grant fantasized about countries becoming "one nation, so that armies and navies are no longer necessary."

    President Harry Truman wanted a World Court. Just as American disputes are settled by our Supreme Court, he said, "There is not a difficulty in the whole world that cannot be settled in exactly the same way in a world court."

    But central authorities aren't the best way to solve our problems. Competition is.

    In the U.S., state governments behave not because their politicians are noble, but because people can "vote with their feet" -- move to other states.

    If taxes get too high in New York, you can move Florida.

    As California tortures businesses, Californians move to Arizona and Texas.

    The more governments from which you can choose, the easier it is to benefit from competition between them.

    All Americans, however, must obey rules set by Washington, D.C.

    But what if most people in a state reject those rules and demand the right to govern themselves?

    There have been several secession movements in California -- a plan to break California up into smaller states, a push to make Northern California a breakaway state called Jefferson, and now the "Yes California" movement that wants to make California a separate country.

    Calexit's proponents say Californians shouldn't have to answer to that evil President Trump.

    If Calexit ever happened, I suppose conservative parts of the state would vote to separate from the leftists who dominate Sacramento. Maybe we'd end up with three countries where there used to be one.

    When I look at how badly Washington, D.C., governs, the idea of secession doesn't scare me.

    After the Cold War, Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. "Tensions between Czechs and Slovaks have disappeared," writes Marian Tupy, a Cato Institute analyst born in Czechoslovakia. "Czechs no longer subsidize their poorer cousins in the east, while Slovaks no longer blame their problems on their 'big brother' in the west. Everyone has won."

    Secession frightens some Americans because they associate it with slavery. Preserving that despicable practice was one reason southern states wanted to break away.

    But obviously, one can favor secession without supporting slavery. Even some abolitionists, anti-slavery activists in the 19th century, supported the right to secede.

    More recently, some black neighborhoods on the outskirts of Boston argued for turning the Greater Roxbury area into a new city called Mandela. They say it would be more responsive to locals' needs.

    In New York City, Republicans on Staten Island sometimes argue for breaking away from the Democrats who mismanage the rest of New York. During the Obama administration, some Texans wanted a vote on "Texit."

    None of those things is likely to happen, but I'm wary of any government that hates the idea of people escaping its influence.

    President Trump weighed in on Catalonian independence. He's against it. "I would like to see Spain continue to be united," said the president.

    It's easy to love a big central government when you're in charge of one. Also, national governments can inspire proud nationalist sentiments.

    But Catalans smarting from police batons probably feel differently.

    I say, let people go their own way.

    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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