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by John Stossel

    Soda will cost you more in Philadelphia, Seattle, Boulder, Colorado, and a bunch of California cities because politicians in those places voted to tax it.
    The social engineers claim soda taxes will "reduce obesity," "lower diabetes rates," "reduce medical costs," etc. But the politicians' main goal is to bring in money.
    Philadelphia city council members applauded wildly when their tax passed.
    But store owner Melvin Robinson says, "It's a bad tax." Robinson, who runs Bruno's Pizza, says the soda tax punishes his business.
    His customers quickly agreed. One I interviewed for my new YouTube/Facebook/Twitter video angrily said, "Who should pay $3 for a drink that they used to get for 99 cents?"
    Now, instead of buying soda at Bruno's, she buys from a store in the next town. That's easy to do because Bruno's is located right on an outer edge of Philadelphia. Customers just cross the street to save money.
    Do the politicians ever think about that?
    "(The tax) is for what we feel is a good reason," Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee told me.
    I thought he would talk about saving people from obesity. That would still be obnoxious and intrusive, but Greenlee gave another, simpler reason.
    "We need the money. Nothing else that we could come up with could raise that kind of funding."
    But the tax hasn't brought in as much money as they expected. Soda sales are down by more than 50 percent. That happens when people can escape taxes by crossing a street.
    Or by buying other, even less healthy things. Taxes often have unintended side effects. Although soda sales are down in Philadelphia, liquor sales are up.
    That surprised Greenlee. "I don't know about that," he laughed, "'cause we have a liquor tax, too!"
    Another problem: soda taxes are regressive. They hurt poor people most. Even Bernie Sanders campaigned against Philly's soda tax, shouting, "You don't have to fund child care on the backs of the poorest people in this city!"
    "I didn't know Bernie opposed it!" Greenlee replied. "But remember, we're raising enough money to put 2,700 kids in pre-K."
    That was the city's justification for the new tax. Activists said thousands of kids would attend "high quality" preschool.
    I doubt that the schools are "high quality." Government work rarely is. It is expensive, certainly -- Philly spends more than $6,000 per child; Catholic schools charge less than $5,000.
    Greenlee laughed at that, too, replying, "Priests and nuns don't work for that much money."
    Politicians love taxes on unhealthy things, and so do the media. Both applauded when Denmark taxed fatty food a few years ago.
    "Today Show" host Matt Lauer was thrilled. "Buy food that has a certain level of fat, they charge you extra! Do we like that?" His panel did. They clapped gleefully.
    But Danes behaved a lot like Melvin Robinson's customers do. They crossed a border to avoid paying more. Denmark quickly repealed its fat tax.
    But Philadelphia isn't repealing its taxes. People there already pay 44 different ones, including a nearly 4 percent city income tax.
    I said to Greenlee, "How can the city government not have enough money? They should be rolling in it!"
    "But there's a lot to do!" he replied.
    Politicians do love spending other people's money. Philadelphia gave $4 million of its new soda tax funds to the Office of Arts and Culture. That bureaucracy spent the money on things like "hip-hop dance...to teach youth empowerment and social issues."
    "Like we need that!" shouted Robinson, sarcastically. "People are trying to live!"
    Then he added, politicians should "stop stealing."
    I don't think they're stealing, but city council members make $121,000 a year, three times Philadelphia's median income. The mayor makes $218,000. That's not unique to Philadelphia. Politicians routinely make much more than people they allegedly serve.
    "Citizens should make more money," Greenlee said.
    They should.
    Of course, they'd make more if politicians didn't tax them to death.
    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

    Here's a question for you: In 1950, would it have been possible for anyone to know all of the goods and services that we would have at our disposal 50 years later? For example, who would have thought that we'd have cellphones, Bluetooth technology, small powerful computers, LASIK and airplanes with 525-passenger seating capacity? This list could be extended to include thousands of goods and services that could not have been thought of in 1950. In the face of this gross human ignorance, who should be in control of precursor goods and services? Seeing as it's impossible for anyone to predict the future, any kind of governmental regulation should be extremely light-handed, so as not to sabotage technological advancement.
    Compounding our ignorance is the fact that much of what we think we know is not true. Scientometrics is the study of measuring and analyzing science, technology and innovation. It holds that many of the "facts" you know have a half-life of about 50 years. Let's look at a few examples.
    You probably learned that Pluto is a planet. But since August 2006, Pluto has been considered a dwarf planet. It's just another object in the Kuiper belt.
    Because dinosaurs were seen as members of the class Reptilia, they were thought to be coldblooded. But recent research suggests that dinosaurs were fast-metabolizing endotherms whose activities were unconstrained by temperature.
    Years ago, experts argued that increased K-12 spending and lower pupil-teacher ratios would boost students' academic performance. It turned out that some of the worst academic performance has been at schools spending the most money and having the smallest class sizes. Washington, D.C., spends more than $29,000 per student every year, and the teacher-student ratio is 1-to-13; however, its students are among the nation's poorest-performing pupils.
    At one time, astronomers considered the size limit for a star to be 150 times the mass of our sun. But recently, a star (R136a1) was discovered that is 265 times the mass of our sun and had a birth weight that was 320 times that of our sun.
    If you graduated from medical school in 1950, about half of what you learned is either wrong or outdated. For an interesting story on all this, check out Reason magazine (http://tinyurl.com/ydalh37g).
    Ignorance can be devastating. Say that you recently purchased a house. Was it the best deal you could have gotten? Was there some other house within your budget that would have needed fewer extensive repairs 10 years later and had more likable neighbors and a better and safer environment for your children? What about the person you married? Was there another person available to you who would have made for a more pleasing and compatible spouse? Though these are important questions, the most intelligent answer you can give to all of them is: "I don't know." If you don't know, who should be in charge of making those decisions? Would you delegate the responsibility to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Donald Trump, Ben Carson or some other national or state official?
    You might say, "Stop it, Williams! Congressmen and other public officials are not making such monumental decisions affecting my life." Try this. Suppose you are a 22-year-old healthy person. Rather than be forced to spend $3,000 a year for health insurance and have $7,000 deducted from your salary for Social Security, you'd prefer investing that money to buy equipment to start a landscaping business. Which would be the best use of the $10,000 you earned -- purchasing health insurance and paying into Social Security or starting up a landscaping business? More importantly, who would be better able to make that decision -- you or members of the United States Congress?
    The bottom line is that ignorance is omnipresent. The worst kind of ignorance is not knowing just how ignorant we are. That leads to the devastating pretense of knowledge that's part and parcel of the vision of intellectual elites and politicians.
    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

    In the movie "The Matrix," swallowing a red pill reveals the truth, while downing a blue pill leaves you trapped in illusion.
    Today, in the parlance of some political activists, "taking the red pill" means seeing the lies of mainstream media -- and learning the truth.
    "People don't care to watch CNN anymore: People pay attention to YouTubers," says Candace Owens. Owens is a young black woman who created a YouTube site she calls Red Pill Black. "My second video went trending worldwide with 80 million views."
    My new internet videos sometimes reach 10 million people; I consider that a lot. This woman's video reached 80 million?
    She released it shortly after a man at a Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing a woman.
    At that time, media coverage of racism was everywhere. Cable news talked about "America's lack of racial progress" and threats to minorities posed by white nationalists.
    "CNN was trying to sell to me, as a black person, that the KKK was alive and well," Owens added. "That was ridiculous."
    In her video, she sarcastically shouts, "OMG, Charlottesville! White supremacy is alive and well!" Then she goes on to argue, "Black people have scarier things on the horizon than the almost-endangered species of white supremacy."
    Owens also objects to the way the media cover police brutality. It leads some people to believe that the biggest threat to young blacks is the police.
    "Fact No. 1: Approximately 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other black people," she says.
    I pushed back, pointing out that there still is plenty of racism, and some innocent people have been tortured by police.
    "That's absolutely right. Some innocent people have also been struck by lightning. Sixteen unarmed black men were killed by police officers in 2016. If you are watching CNN you would've thought it happened every single day. OK? That's a problem."
    Owens (correctly) said thousands of young black men were killed by other black men, whereas "sixteen represents .00004 percent of the black community."
    Media coverage of Black Lives Matter, she says, also creates a distorted picture of what's going on.
    "Black Lives Matter actually resulted in more black deaths across the country, because police officers don't want to answer the call." (Some authorities dispute that. Killings nationwide did rise after the shooting in Ferguson, but more recently they dropped.)
    But Owen's main argument is that the media mislead. The biggest issue facing blacks today is not racism or police shootings, she says, but dependence on government that began 50 years ago with Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs.
    "They incentivized mothers not to marry fathers. That's why single motherhood is up. The government would give you more if you didn't marry him."
    That's a fairly common view among conservatives, but among blacks, says Owens, it's easier to tell your family you're gay than to reveal that you're a conservative.
    "My entire family's on welfare, save a couple people. What (welfare) does is essentially offer you some money and then say, 'Whenever you work, you don't make enough, so we're gonna give you this much money on top of that.'" As a result, she says people think, "I don't want to make more because the government is already giving me $500 that I don't want to lose."
    Saying such things brings Owens criticism from social justice warriors of the left.
    "What people don't understand," though, she says, "is how many black people are excited about what I'm doing ... how many are very aware that they have been duped by the left."
    Owens is far from the first black conservative. But, she says, others "have not been successful in the past because they cared too much about what people thought. ... We're doing it differently ... talking a lot of trash." Giving out red pills.
    Having an edgy sense of humor is one way she does it. So is knowing history and literature better than her critics.
    "You can feel free to call me an Uncle Tom. You can feel free to call me an Auntie Tom. It does not affect me," she says. "Do you want to know why? Because I actually read the book. Uncle Tom was the hero."
    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 John Stossel

   President Trump's pick to be the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is not a fan of the Paris climate agreement, the treaty that claims it will slow global warning by reducing the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Politicians from most of the world's nations signed the deal, and President Obama said "we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet."
    That's dubious.
    Trump wisely said he will pull America out of the deal. He called it a "massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries."
    Unfortunately, Trump often reverses himself.
    The climate change lobby has been trying to change Trump's mind. Al Gore called his stance "reckless and indefensible." Most of the media agree. So do most of my neighbors in New York.
    That's why it's good that Pompeo opposes the Paris deal. Such treaties are State Department responsibilities. Pompeo is more likely to hold Trump to his word than his soon-to-be predecessor Rex Tillerson, who liked the agreement.
    The Paris accord is a bad deal because even if greenhouse gases really are a huge threat, this treaty wouldn't do much about them.
    I'll bet Al Gore and most of the media don't even know what's in the accord. I didn't until I researched it for this week's YouTube video.
    Manhattan Institute senior fellow Oren Cass is the rare person who actually read the Paris accord.
    Cass tells me it's "somewhere between a farce and a fraud." I interviewed him for a video project I am doing with City Journal, a smart policy magazine that often makes the case for smaller government. "You don't even have to mention greenhouse gases in your commitment if you don't want to. You send in any piece of paper you want."
    The Paris accord was just political theater, he says. "They stapled it together and held it up and said, 'This is amazing!'"
    The media announced that China and India made major commitments.
    In truth, says Cass, "They either pledged to do exactly what they were already going to do anyway, or pledged even less. China, for instance said, 'we pledge to reach peak emission by about 2030.' Well, the United States government had already done a study to guess when Chinese emissions would peak, and their guess was about 2030."
    In other words, China simply promised to do what was going to happen anyway.
    "China was actually one of the better pledges," says Cass. "India made no pledge to limit emissions at all. They pledged only to become more efficient. But they proposed to become more efficient less quickly than they were already becoming more efficient. So their pledge was to slow down."
    It's hard to see how that would help the planet.
    "My favorite was Pakistan, whose pledge was to 'Reach a peak at some point after which to begin reducing emissions,'" says Cass. "You can staple those together, and you can say we now have a global agreement, but what you have is an agreement to do nothing."
    However, Cass says one country did make a serious commitment. "The one country that showed up in Paris with a very costly, ambitious target was the United States. President Obama took all the zero commitments from everybody else but threw in a really expensive one for us."
    Obama pledged to reduce emissions by 26 percent. If that ever happened, it would squash America's economy.
    Nevertheless, when Trump said he was leaving the Paris accord, he was trashed by politicians around the world.
    The UK's Theresa May was "dismayed," and Obama said, "This administration joins a handful of nations that reject the future."
    Cass counters that if "the future is worthless climate agreements ... we should be proud to reject."
    Don't get me wrong: The Earth has been warming, and humans probably contribute to it.
    But the solution isn't to waste billions by making emissions cuts in America while other countries do nothing.
    Trump was right to repudiate this phony treaty. It's good that Pompeo is around to remind him of that.
    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

    One of the unavoidable tragedies of youth is the temptation to think that what is seen today has always been. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in our responses to the recent Parkland, Florida, massacre. Part of the responses to those murders are calls to raise the age to purchase a gun and to have more thorough background checks -- in a word, to make gun purchases more difficult. That's a vision that sees easy gun availability as the problem; thus, the solution is to reduce that availability.
    The vision that sees "easy" availability as the problem ignores the fact of U.S. history that guns were far more available yesteryear (http://tinyurl.com/y73sw4ev). With truly easy gun availability, there was nowhere near the gun mayhem and murder that we see today. I'm tempted to ask those who believe that guns are today's problem whether they think that guns were nicer yesteryear. What about the calls for bans on the AR-15 so-called assault rifle? It turns out that according to 2016 FBI statistics, rifles accounted for 368 of the 17,250 homicides in the U.S. that year. That means restrictions on the purchase of rifles would do little or nothing for the homicide rate. Leaders of the gun control movement know this. Their calls for more restrictive gun laws are part of a larger strategy to outlaw gun ownership.
    Gun ownership is not our problem. Our problem is a widespread decline in moral values that has nothing to do with guns. That decline includes disrespect for those in authority, disrespect for oneself, little accountability for anti-social behavior and a scuttling of religious teachings that reinforced moral values. Let's examine elements of this decline.
    If any of our great-grandparents or even grandparents who passed away before 1960 were to return, they would not believe the kind of personal behavior all too common today. They wouldn't believe that youngsters could get away with cursing and assaulting teachers (http://tinyurl.com/ya5zhyu6). They wouldn't believe that some school districts, such as Philadelphia's, employ more than 400 school police officers. During my primary and secondary schooling, from 1942 to 1954, the only time one saw a policeman in school was during an assembly period where we had to listen to a boring lecture on safety. Our ancestors also wouldn't believe that we're now debating whether teachers should be armed.
    There are other forms of behavior that would have been deemed grossly immoral yesteryear. There are companies such as National Debt Relief, CuraDebt and LendingTree, which advertise that they will help you to avoid paying all the money you owe. So after you and a seller agree to terms of a sale, if you fail to live up to your half of the bargain, there are companies that will assist you in ripping off the seller.
    There are companies that counsel senior citizens on how to shelter their assets from nursing home care costs. For example, a surviving spouse may own a completely paid-for home that's worth $500,000. The costs of nursing home care might run $50,000 a year. By selling her house, she could pay the nursing home costs, but her children wouldn't inherit the house. There are firms that come in to shelter her assets so that she can bequeath her home to her heirs and leave taxpayers to foot the nursing home bill. In my book, that's immoral, but it is so common that most of us give it no thought.
    There is one moral failing that is devastating to the future of our nation. That failing, which has wide acceptance by the American people, is the idea that Congress has the authority to forcibly use one American to serve the purposes of another American. That is nothing less than legalized theft and accounts for roughly three-quarters of federal spending. For the Christians among us, we should consider that when God gave Moses the commandment "Thou shalt not steal," he probably didn't mean thou shalt not steal unless you get a majority vote in the U.S. Congress.
    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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