Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Taking a Stand by Rand Paul (Book Review #5 of 2016)

Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America

I live in Kentucky where Rand Paul is my Senator. I'm writing this review after his 5% finish in the Iowa caucus, and I'm glad his Presidential star has long faded because I'd rather he build his brand as a Senator. This book raises important points about liberty, privacy, and public policy that are not being heard much on the political stage. He can further his positions best by remaining in the Senate. Ironically, Paul believes in the information conveyed by the free market but ignores his poor poll numbers that suggest very few people want him to be President.

I think it's important for all constituents to monitor their elected representatives' thoughts and policy preferences-- be an informed voter. I finished this book while the Kentucky General Assembly was in session, where one of Paul's policies, restoring voting rights for felons, was passed by the Legislature with support from the Governor (the measure failed last after Paul came to testify on its behalf). Paul touches on several aspects of Kentucky-related policy, the state is featured throughout the pages. Hence, I recommend it to all Kentuckians.

Paul begins with criticism of Obama's overreach by bypassing Congress with unconstitutional executive orders, including ones regarding legislation like the ACA, targeting at least one American citizen without a trial, etc. Much of this book seems written just after Paul's filibuster to get an answer from AG Holder regarding drone strikes. Later in the book, Paul makes his criticism bipartisan, where "Clinton stomped on the Third Amendment, Bush trampled the 4th."

The Senator then goes into his biography. His grandmother's occular degeneration inspired him to become an ophthalmologist. He tells of the courtship of his wife and their marriage in her Kentucky hometown. He even claims to have rooted for Kentucky in the 1992 Duke-UK game, even though he was a recent Duke alum at the time (and writes of how he enjoyed their championships, right). He notes the problem of red tape in professions like his own. He formed a group of ophthalmologists to form their own accreditation body to compete with the ruling one, which was passing regulations that would have held older doctors to more lenient standards than new doctors who were competing for their business. He tells of his charity work in Kentucky with the Lions Club, free surgeries, and trips to Guatemala.

The book has a strong libertarian defense of the price system, Paul quotes Von Mises and Hayek and explains the basics of The Fatal Conceit in layman's terms. Paul cites many books throughout this work, including several biographies and many works on the NSA. (I'm glad my Senator reads.) Paul applies the logic of The Fatal Conceit to America's healthcare system and Obamacare, writing that the ACA quells competition, discourages transparency, and encourages wide spread price controls via the Medicaid expansion. He seems to believe encouraging voluntary indigent care would have been better than Medicaid expansion.

As a Kentuckian, he's familiar with his forebear Senator Henry Clay. Paul notes several strengths and weaknesses of Clay, including his waffling on abolition. Paul considers Cassius Clay, Henry's abolitionist brother, to be the greater Kentuckian. He is clearly currying favor with the coal vote in Kentucky, hyping he "war on coal." He writes that "The coal industry is not destroying the natural beauty of Kentucky," writing that mountaintop clearing is not so bad and criticizing environmentalists: "They make it sound as if miners are laying waste to the land." Activists I know aren't critical of miners; they're critical of mines and infringement on the property rights of those who live downstream-- those whose groundwater gets contaminated with slurry and streams contaminated by lead. Nevertheless, Rand Paul proclaims himself an "actual tree hugger" who even composts.

Paul has a list of policy prescriptions as the basis of his Presidential campaign: Eliminate "corporate welfare," establish term limits, a balanced budget amendment, require an aloud reading of all bills in Congress (no more "we have to pass it to learn what's in it"), have computers draw districts to abolish gerrymandering, audit the Fed (the CFPB is also unaudited, why not both?), and basically abolish or dramatically scale back the NSA. Paul cites no fewer than four books on the NSA and hearkens back to the Church hearings. He writes that he "knows how many" people the CIA kills based on metadata, but it's classified so he can't say. There are "hundreds of thousands" of FISA warrants, and the government can essentially justify a warrant for anything. He writes that the media has been complicit in all the government overreach, there is sort of a media-industrial complex. He does not seem to fault the readers who implicity choose what the media publishes with what they click on or tune into.

Of government failures, Paul puts prisons at the top. Prisons are a "waste of money," and I am sympathetic to his argument that prisons are local boondoggle projects to get federal dollars and jobs into communities. This then justifies more laws being passed, or local law enforcement aiming for harsher sentences in order to fill those prisons. Paul would push to abolish mandatory minimums, push for greater expungement, and look at programs to better integrate prisoners back into society. Local police departments seem to care little about the Constitution and more about jobs. Rand Paul agrees with President Obama's alarm about the increased militarization of the police force, questioning why police need rifles with scopes that can kill from 400 yards away. Paul was one of the first from Washington to visit Ferguson, MO, he takes a swipe at other Congressional reps that didn't bother. He highlights much of the tension and unfairness related to race and relates it back to unfair housing policy and other ills. Civil asset forfeiture is another concern.

No Child Left Behind is the great unfunded mandate. Sen. Paul writes that the pubic school system in Washington, D.C. spends $18,000 per child per year with little to show for it. Paul would push to utilize MOOCs to provide free quality education to students, and school vouchers with school choice. Worse than education policy, perhaps, is the federal housing policy, which Paul blames for much of the segregation and racial tensions we see today.

What are some of Rand Paul's specific policy prescriptions? For places like Detroit and Eastern Kentucky, Paul would establish "economic freedom zones" where there would be a lower or eliminated personal income and payroll tax rate. Paul proposes a payroll tax of just 2% and an income tax of just 5% in any county with unemployment greater than 1.5 times the national rate. He proposes a flat 17% income tax across the board. He claims to be working with Sen. Boxer to lower the corporate repatriation tax and move it to the road fund to shore up US infrastructure. He also proposes ending foreign aid to any country who supports policies or groups that are hostile either to America or to Christianity. In this, he is targeting countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq which get large amounts of military and humanitarian aid but tolerate or encourage open persecution. He gives many "war on Christianity with your tax dollars" examples, he seems to neglect persecution of Jews and other minorities in these same countries, but does take up the issue of women's rights, having met with one of the female survivors of Boko Haram kidnappings. Paul writes that he is "hesitant" to talk about his faith, but that he is a Christian who, like Dostoevsky, suffers from doubts about God's goodness while observing so much suffering in the world.

His foreign policy is largely centrist "neither an interventionist nor an isolationist, but a realist." He believes in a strong military but one that does not go searching for demons abroad to fight. Congress, as stipulated by the War Powers Act, would have to authorize any prolonged military engagement. Paul is a firm believer in free trade and believes in opening trade with Cuba, China, and Russia-- trade, but not aid. Paul blames Hillary Clinton for the Libyan debacle, generally, and Ambassador Steven's death, specifically. (Having read Bob Gates' memoir, I'd agree Hillary is to blame for much of the desire to engage in Libya without much strategy other than overthrow of Qaddafi.) Paul reminds the reader that Mike Mullen's own independent review blasted Hillary's management of the State Department. Paul writes of CIA gun running through Benghazi to Syrian rebels and potentially secret cover-up. Paul would definitely limit the militarization of foreign policy, citing Bob Gates on this point.

Paul also concludes with a defense of capitalism-- rich capitalists like Rockefeller and Bill Gates are the greatest humanitarians and environmentalists. Capitalism is no enemy of the environment. He even finds praise for Donald Trump's work in New York City projects, his environmental concern and improvement of property values. This finds odd placement in this book, given the forthcoming campaign as he was writing it.

In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Paul explains his observations and policy prescriptions clearly. Whether you agree with them or not, they are at least intelligible. Kentuckians should read this book to understand who they have elected and where his priorities are.

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