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by John Stossel

       Is America the world's freest country? Sadly, no.
        When researchers first started doing detailed international comparisons, the USA came in second or third. This year, however, we ranked 17th.
        The comparison I cite is the newly released Human Freedom Index, compiled by the Fraser and Cato Institutes. They compared economic freedoms such as freedom to trade, amount of regulations and tax levels, plus personal freedoms such as women's rights and religious freedom.
        Their new report concludes that the world's freest countries are now:
        1. Switzerland.
        2. Hong Kong.
        3. New Zealand.
        4. Ireland.
        5. Australia.
        "The United States used to have one of the freest economies in the world," Index co-author Ian Vasquez says. "It used to be a two, three or four, and then government started to grow (and) spend more."
        Republicans and Democrats, under Presidents Bush and Obama, voted for increases in spending and regulation. Obama tried to make tax increases sound harmless. "Those who are more fortunate are going to have to pay a little bit more."
        The result was that we fell farther from the top of the freedom ranking. Switzerland now takes first place. It has comparatively little regulation, low taxes, a free press and personal freedoms such as same-sex marriage.
        A good ranking matters, not just because freedom itself is a good thing, but because economic freedom allows people to prosper.
        Consider the story of Hong Kong, No. 2 on the overall freedom list (but No. 1 in economic freedom). In just 50 years, people in Hong Kong went from being among the poorest in the world to among the richest.
        Prosperity happened because Hong Kong's government puts few obstacles in the way of trying new things. It took me just a few hours to get legal permission to open a business in Hong Kong. In New York, it took months. In India, I didn't even try -- it would have taken years.
        That's a reason India stays poor. Bureaucrats have the power to review and reject most any new idea. Fewer new ideas get tried.
        The absolute worst places to live are countries that lack both economic and personal freedom.
        Those are the places at the bottom of the freedom ranking:
        155. Egypt.
        156. Yemen.
        157. Libya.
        158. Venezuela.
        159. Syria.
        (Totalitarian North Korea wasn't ranked because the researchers couldn't get accurate information.)
        Syria ranked so low mostly because of the war. You aren't free if you worry you might be killed.
        Second-to-last place Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America. Then socialists promised to spread the wealth.
        The next three: Libya, Yemen, Egypt -- well, the Arab Spring didn't turn out as well as some hoped.
        On the top of the list, I wasn't surprised to see New Zealand and Australia. They always do well.
        But Ireland? I associate Ireland with poverty. For 150 years after English rulers caused the Potato Famine, Irish people left Ireland to search for a better life.
        But Ireland recently changed, says Vasquez.
        "They reduced taxes ... spending, reduced regulations. They opened up to trade."
        Now people want to live there.
        You can read the full freedom rankings on the Cato Institute's and Fraser Institute's websites. If you plan to move or start a business in another country, the Freedom Index is a good guide.
        Greece is beautiful, but it ranks 60th, mostly because the country lacks economic freedom. China got richer, but because personal freedom is so limited, China ranks 130th.
        How do you summarize a free country? I asked Vasquez.
        "You can lead your life any way you want as long as you respect the equal rights of others, he answered. You (decide) what job you want to take, what kinds of things you want to do, who you want to marry, what you want to do on your free time, where you want to live."
        I suggested that countries don't regulate your free time, but Vasquez set me straight.
        "They do." Some countries, he says, "regulate everything!"
        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

        The government is open again. That's too bad.
        One day, one of these shutdowns should be permanent. We would still have far more government than the Founding Fathers envisioned.
        That's because even during so-called shutdowns, a third of federal employees -- nearly a million people -- remain on the job, declared "essential" government workers. Military pay continues, too, although political commentators, eager to make a shutdown sound scarier, repeatedly claimed that military families were being cut off.
        Here's a list of functions that kept going during the "shutdown":
        --Law enforcement.
        --Border Patrol.
        --The TSA.
        --Air traffic controllers.
        --The CDC.
        --Amtrak.
        --Power grid maintenance.
        --Social Security checks.
        --Medicare checks.
        --Medicaid.
        --Food stamps.
        --Veterans hospitals.
        --The U.S. Post Office.
        --U.S. Treasury debt auctions.
        --Federal courts.
        --The EPA.
        Do we need more government than that? Do we even need that much?
        If you love the FDA, the Agriculture Department or government websites, you might be frustrated, but the private sector (Underwriters Laboratories? Consumer Reports?) would do drug testing faster; much of what the Agriculture Department does is harmful; and private websites update information faster than government websites.
        And don't forget there are still 50 state governments, plus thousands of local governments. We're buried in governments.
        Fortunately, since most of life goes on in the private, voluntary sector, Americans didn't show much sign of freaking out last weekend, despite the hysteria spewed by politicians and the press.
        Monday's New York Times front page carried the headline "Shutdown Crisis Deepens." Crisis? What crisis? Most Americans didn't even notice.
        The federal government was shut down for 16 days under Barack Obama, 26 days under Bill Clinton, three days under George H.W. Bush. Almost no one remembers.
        We don't need government to live.
        Because the 1995 shutdown was blamed on Republicans, the press searched for people who were killed or injured by lack of government. They couldn't find any.
        The best they did was finding a few people who were inconvenienced or annoyed. TV news crews reported on people who needed passports on short notice but couldn't get them because passport offices, though still open, were slow.
        This is not a crisis. The next shutdown, which may come in three weeks, won't be a crisis either.
        The real solution to most of our problems is to let the private sector do more. Instead of reopening government programs, use a shutdown as a time to privatize them.
        Sell some monuments to private groups so we don't need federal workers to maintain them.
        This shutdown, national parks stayed open. Good. During an Obama administration shutdown, politicians were so eager to convey "crisis" that they put barricades in front of parks. Absurd. It cost more to block access than allow it.
        Instead of politicians blaming the shutdown on the "other party," this is an opportunity -- a chance to ask how much government we really want.
        I'll bet at least half those "essential" government workers are no such thing -- let the market sort out whether they're useful.
        Privatize airports so they run more efficiently and compete to see how much security screening the public really wants, instead of leaving us in the hands of the TSA.
        Privatize Amtrak and the post office, too. Let private companies build and maintain toll roads.
        Even though America is $20 trillion in debt, people still expect our government to be all things to all people.
        In the private sector, companies shed workers and unpopular products all the time. It lets them reinvent themselves and stay useful to customers.
        In slow times, AT&T cut 40,000 workers. Sears cut 50,000. IBM cut 60,000. That was tough in the short term for those laid-off workers, but most eventually found more productive work. The layoffs made the companies more efficient -- and sustainable. Consumers liked their products and prices more than when the company was bloated and inefficient.
        Government shutting down -- partially -- is not a disaster.
        The real disaster is paying $4 trillion a year to keep it running and getting such poor service in return.
        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

    President Donald Trump said, "We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts." The president was responding to statements made in Michael Wolff's new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."
    Our nation does not need stronger laws against libel. To the contrary, libel and slander laws should be repealed. Let's say exactly what libel and slander are. The legal profession defines libel as a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation. Slander is making a false spoken statement that is damaging to a person's reputation.
    There's a question about reputation that never crosses even the sharpest legal minds. Does one's reputation belong to him? In other words, if one's reputation is what others think about him, whose property are other people's thoughts? The thoughts I have in my mind about others, and hence their reputations, belong to me.
    One major benefit from decriminalizing libel and slander would be that it would reduce the value of gossip. It would reduce the value of false statements made by others. Here's a Gallup Poll survey question: "In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media -- such as newspapers, TV and radio -- when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly -- a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?" In 1976, 72 percent of Americans trusted the media, and today the percentage has fallen to 32. The mainstream media are so biased and dishonest that more and more Americans are using alternative news sources, which have become increasingly available electronically.
    While we're talking about bad laws dealing with libel and slander, let's raise some questions about other laws involving speech -- namely, blackmail laws. The legal profession defines blackmail as occurring when someone demands money from a person in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information. I believe that people should not be prosecuted for blackmail. Let's examine it with the following scenario. It's 5 o'clock in the morning. You see me leaving a motel with a sweet young thing who's obviously not Mrs. Williams. You say to me, "Professor Williams, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees me the right to broadcast to the entire world your conduct that I observed." I believe that most would agree that you have that right. You then proposition me, "If you pay me $10,000, I will not exercise my right to tell the world about your behavior."
    Now the ball is in my court. I have a right to turn down your proposition and let you tell the world about my infidelity and live with the consequences of that decision. Or I can pay you the $10,000 for your silence and live with the consequences of that decision. In other words, blackmail fits into the category of peaceable, noncoercive voluntary exchange, just like most other transactions. If I'm seen voluntarily giving up $10,000, the only conclusion a third party could reach is that I must have viewed myself as being better off as a result. That's just like an instance when you see me voluntarily give up money for some other good or service -- be it food, clothing, housing or transportation. You come to the same conclusion.
    What constitutes a crime can be divided into two classes -- mala in se and mala prohibita. Homicide and robbery are inherently wrong (mala in se). They involve the initiation of force against another. By contrast, blackmail (mala prohibita) offenses are considered criminal not because they violate the property or person of another but because society seeks to regulate such behavior. By the way, married people would tend to find blackmail in their interest. Extra eyes on their spouse's behavior, in pursuit of money, would help to ensure greater marital fidelity.
    Those who would like to dig deeper into blackmail can go to http://tinyurl.com/ybvxzaan.
    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 Walter E. Williams

    Hillary Clinton blamed the Electoral College for her stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election in her latest memoirs, "What Happened?" Some have claimed that the Electoral College is one of the most dangerous institutions in American politics. Why? They say the Electoral College system, as opposed to a simple majority vote, distorts the one-person, one-vote principle of democracy because electoral votes are not distributed according to population.

    To back up their claim, they point out that the Electoral College gives, for example, Wyoming citizens disproportionate weight in a presidential election. Put another way, Wyoming, a state with a population of about 600,000, has one member in the U.S. House of Representatives and two members in the U.S. Senate, which gives the citizens of Wyoming three electoral votes, or one electoral vote per 200,000 people. California, our most populous state, has more than 39 million people and 55 electoral votes, or approximately one vote per 715,000 people. Comparatively, individuals in Wyoming have nearly four times the power in the Electoral College as Californians.

    Many people whine that using the Electoral College instead of the popular vote and majority rule is undemocratic. I'd say that they are absolutely right. Not deciding who will be the president by majority rule is not democracy. But the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that we were a republic and not a democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or any other of our founding documents.

    How about a few quotations expressed by the Founders about democracy? In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wanted to prevent rule by majority faction, saying, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." John Adams warned in a letter, "Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide." Edmund Randolph said, "That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy." Then-Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

    The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule, and throughout our Constitution, they placed impediments to that tyranny. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. That is, 51 senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and if an amendment is approved, it requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. Finally, the Electoral College is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule. It makes sure that the highly populated states -- today, mainly 12 on the East and West coasts, cannot run roughshod over the rest of the nation. That forces a presidential candidate to take into consideration the wishes of the other 38 states.

    Those Americans obsessed with rule by popular majorities might want to get rid of the U.S. Senate, where states, regardless of population, have two senators. Should we change representation in the House of Representatives to a system of proportional representation and eliminate the guarantee that each state gets at least one representative? Currently, seven states with populations of 1 million or fewer have one representative, thus giving them disproportionate influence in Congress. While we're at it, should we make all congressional acts be majority rule? When we're finished with establishing majority rule in Congress, should we then move to change our court system, which requires unanimity in jury decisions, to a simple majority rule?

    My question is: Is it ignorance of or contempt for our Constitution that fuels the movement to abolish the Electoral College?

    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

        Who will warn Americans about hate groups? The media know: the Southern Poverty Law Center.

        SPLC, based in Alabama, calls itself "the premier" group monitoring hate. Give us money, they say, and they will "fight the hate that thrives in our country."

        I once believed in the center's mission. Well-meaning people still do. Apple just gave them a million dollars. So did actor George Clooney.

        They shouldn't.

        Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in Somalia, where she suffered female genital mutilation. So now she speaks out against radical Islam. For that, SPLC put her on its list of dangerous "extremists."

        Maajid Nawaz was once an Islamic extremist. Then he started criticizing the radicals. SPLC labels him an "anti-Muslim extremist," too.

        While launching hateful smears like these, SPLC invites you to donate to them to "join the fight against hatred and bigotry."

        SPLC once fought useful fights. They took on the Ku Klux Klan. But now they go after people on the right with whom they disagree.

        They call the Family Research Council a hate group because it says gay men are more likely to sexually abuse children.

        That's their belief. There is some evidence that supports it. Do they belong on a "hate map," like the Ku Klux Klan, because they believe that evidence and worry about it?

        I often disagree with the council, but calling them a hate group is unfair. In my YouTube video this week, the group's vice president, Jerry Boykin, tells me, "I don't hate gay people. And I know gay people, and I have worked with gay people."

        But once you're labeled a hate group, you are a target.

        One man went to the Family Research Council headquarters to kill people, shooting a security guard in the arm before he was stopped.

        The shooter told investigators that he attacked the FRC because he found them on SPLC's hate list.

        Calling the council a "hate group" made its employees the target of real hate.

        SPLC also smears the Ruth Institute, a Christian group that believes gays should not have an equal right to adopt children. The institute's president, Jennifer Roback Morse, says they're not haters.

        "I like gay people. I have no problem with gay people. That's not the issue. The issue is, what are we doing with kids and the definition of who counts as a parent."

        The institute doesn't argue that gays should never adopt. "There could be cases where the best person for a particular child would be their Uncle Harry and his boyfriend," Morse told me. But the institute wants preference given to "a married mother and father."

        For that, SPLC put the Ruth Institute on its hate map. That led the institute's credit card processor to stop working with them. In a letter to the institute, the processor company said that it had learned that the "Ruth Institute ... promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse."

        "We went and checked our website," Morse told me, "and we were already down."

        I suspect SPLC labels lots of groups "haters" because crying "hate" brings in money.

        Years ago, Harper's Magazine reported that SPLC was "the wealthiest civil rights group in America, one that now spend most of its time -- and money -- on a fund-raising campaign." People in Montgomery, Alabama, where SPLC is based, call its elegant new headquarters "the Poverty Palace."

        "Morris Dees' salary is more than my entire annual budget," says Morse. "Whatever they're doing, it pays."

        Dees, SPLC's co-founder, promised to stop fundraising once his endowment hit $55 million. But when he reached $55 million, he upped the bar to $100 million, saying that would allow them "to cease costly fundraising."

        But again, when they reached $100 million, they didn't stop. Now they have $320 million -- a large chunk of which is kept in offshore accounts. Really. It's on their tax forms.

        In return for those donations to SPLC, the world gets a group that now lists people like Ben Carson and Fox commentators Laura Ingraham, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Jeanine Pirro as extremists -- but doesn't list the leftist militant hate groups known as antifa.

        SPLC is now a hate group itself. It's a money-grabbing slander machine.

        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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