J. KARL MILLER: Proposition B violates individual rights

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I do not smoke, I prefer to avoid the presence of smokers, and I have little sympathy for those who have allowed themselves to become addicted to tobacco. That said, I oppose the passage of Proposition B, the added tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, because I more strongly believe in an individual's rights and freedoms.

James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S., father of the Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights, warned of the unintended consequences of voter initiatives such as Proposition B in the Federalist Papers. Describing a "Tyranny of the Majority," Madison wrote, "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. ... If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."

In a nutshell, decisions may not arbitrarily be decided by mere numerical majorities but require agreement or acceptance by the society as a whole. Accordingly, a coalition of a temporary majority may not steamroll a significant minority interest by sheer weight of numbers. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, "ochlocracy" or mob rule.

Madison eschewed using the word "democracy," fearing citizens would confuse it with a republican form of government. A republic elects representatives as legislators to make its laws and the U.S. and its republican states have a system of "checks and balances" with legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The first voter initiative was authorized in South Dakota in 1898 and was followed by 23 others including Missouri. Although passed by well-meaning legislatures as a vehicle for more direct citizen participation, these ballot initiatives have become virtually a fourth branch of government.

Consequently, and quite often, a turnout of 15 to 20 percent of the electorate is enabled to legislate for all of us — a "revoltin' development" as described by William Bendix as radio's Chester A. Riley.

Proposition B, the proposed 760 percent increase in cigarette tax, is a glaring example of Madison's "Tyranny of the Majority" or "mob rule." A coalition of perhaps well-meaning do-gooders, anti-tobacco activists, intrusive health addicts and the usual "we are saving you from yourselves" crowd have ganged up on the 25 percent of the population who still smoke.

The programmed "Health and Education Trust Fund" allocates 80 percent of the expected revenue to help fund the state's elementary and secondary schools and  colleges and universities and the remaining 20 percent is saved for anti-smoking programs.  The "coalition of the enlightened majority" essays to justify this bullying of a pariah minority by citing both the boon accrued by the tax and the health benefit of curbing the evil smoking habit.

This a "sin tax," aimed at not only a minority but also, historically, at the least affluent segment of our society — the least able to pay it and without the means to fight back.  The notion that it is "for the greater good" is false on both fronts — most will not stop smoking but, if they do, what will be the source of the lost revenue?

The feeling of moral superiority among reformed and non-smokers offers a conveniently easy argument to raise revenue from the societal lepers of the tobacco set. After all, is it not a fact that smoking is harmful/offensive to the user as well as to the public at large? Is it not also obvious that the anti-smoking crowd knows best and actively serves smokers' interests in punishing them and their pocketbooks by pricing tobacco products beyond their ability to pay?

The voters should oppose these sin taxes — there is absolutely no justification for the state to regulate or punish behavior by taxing a minority sector of society or by taxing an otherwise legitimate product out of existence. An impost of this type is morally wrong — if the intent is to ban use of tobacco products, that is a legislative responsibility.

Finally, the responsibility to raise needed revenue is vested in the legislature and should remain so rather that in a coalition of special interest functionaries.  I am generally opposed to voter initiatives and referendums inasmuch as we elect legislators to represent our interests, unlike that of a democracy.

Accordingly, as Missouri is one of the 24 states that allow this process, the chances of its repeal range from non-existent to never happen. Nevertheless, taxation and the raising of revenue is a function of the legislature.

It must not be entrusted to any so-called well-meaning majority or mob to be wielded against a helpless or hapless minority.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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James Krewson October 17, 2012 | 7:34 a.m.

Quote: "The notion that it is "for the greater good" is false on both fronts — most will not stop smoking but, if they do, what will be the source of the lost revenue?"

Excellent point that most people who support the tax refuse to acknowledge. What happens to those schools that become dependent on the revenue stream when smokers decide to quit or die off? Bottomline, Prop B is a huge tax increase on the working poor. Supporters of Prop B should simply be honest and admit it.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote October 17, 2012 | 11:37 a.m.

I'm happy to see Mr. Miller's full throated endorsement of liberalism:
"It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. ... If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."
Hope he applies his new found love of liberalism to other issues such as voting rights (opposition to onerous laws meant to disenfranchise the poor), gay rights (freedom to marry anyone you like), pollution controls (an individual's right to clean air and water), first amendment rights (support of protesters arguing minority positions, such as protesting the Columbia Air Show or even the noxious Westboro fools), etc...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 17, 2012 | 1:48 p.m.

"...opposition to onerous laws meant to disenfranchise the poor"

That's just so much BS. The fact is, except for a few among us that truly need help because of physical affliction, the ONLY way a person can be disenfranshised in the US today is to do it to their own damn selves.

I have little sympathy.

I guess a person can be disenfranchised if we allow voter fraud (which seems the general intent of Democrats), an act that might disenfranchise some other voter.

Like me.

I remain convinced that for every dollar of tobacco money that goes into education, another dollar will come out the arse end. I remain convinced because, although I have noted this opinion several times, not even one person in a position of authority has attempted to allay my fears or rebut my contention either herein or in another venue. Missouri history has at least 2 past and recent examples of such a thing: (1) casino money, and (2) tobacco settlement money for smoking cessation that was diverted.

Supporters can't sell their snake oil as additional money for state general revenue. So, they blabbermouth the "It's for the kids" emotional tug.

Liars all.

I agree with the Colonel.


PS: As for the Colonel supporting a so-called liberal position, are we not discussing...once again...the taking of money from one unfavored group and giving it to a favored one? The Colonel is against that, so how is he supporting a liberal position?

And if it's a liberal position, why isn't Chris on board?

Probably because it isn't.

PSS: In response to this initiative, go ahead and put a 700+% tax increase on ALL liquor, including fine and delicate wines, on the ballot. I triple-dog dare you. You can even tell the truth and say it's for additional state revenue. I'll be happy to help fire a voter broadside into you PC folks and I'll even support the initiative with hard cash.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble October 17, 2012 | 2:47 p.m.

Presumably, Col. Miller also supports gay marriage rights and marijuana legalization, because the criteria he outlines here are exactly the same as in those cases.

The only difference I can see offhand is that cigarettes create a significant health and financial burden on the rest of society. Between the added costs to the health-care system and the dangers of second-hand smoke to everyone near a smoker, the rest of society is paying a very high price for the "rights" of smokers. Is there no appropriate mechanism for recouping that cost?

I understand the opposition to this tax idea, but we have to move past the idea that "rights" have no price and no accountability. As soon as one's "right" impacts another person, formal management of those rights is necessary.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 17, 2012 | 3:57 p.m.

"The only difference I can see offhand is [progressives] create a significant financial burden on the rest of society."

[] = changed a bit

Your argument that smokers cause a burden on the rest of society is, of course, correct. Question is: What do we do about it?

The problem is that fat people, people who do not exercise, people who eat unwisely, people who drive too fast, cyclists on narrow, shoulder-less roads, people who drink too much, people who abuse pharmaceuticals and other drugs, people who are sexually promiscuous, people who did not pay attention in high school, people with philosophies of life/culture incompatible with financial success in society, and people (well, ok....just men) who clean out their ears with car keys do the EXACT SAME DAMN THING!!!!!!

What is your solution for these miscreants? Please be detailed in your explanation.

PS: I did have to chuckle at your " that 'rights' have no price and no accountability" line. Jimmy Bearfield is correct; why should folks be supported when they have kids they cannot afford? Why do those folks have NO price or accountability?

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle October 17, 2012 | 4:05 p.m.

I hope Colonel Klink enjoys getting called out on the rank hypocrisy of supporting individual rights for this activity, one of the most costly to our society, while he ardently opposes so many other individual rights, many of which have miniscule social costs. There's no other way to describe this wildly schizophrenic approach to policy: it just plain stinks.

However, Michael is absolutely right: "...for every dollar of tobacco money that goes into education, another dollar will come out the arse end."

Truth. We've already been fooled by this bait-and-switch twice or more. The schools never get more money, they just get a different revenue source (and has been pointed out, a supposedly self-defeating one this time). The governor's mansion gets renovated again. Any questions?

Just don't expect me to have any sympathy for smokers. The true overall cost to society is staggering. Smokers do not have an automatic "right" to impose the costs of their choices on the rest of society. This particular tax doesn't even come close to costing them, what they ultimately cost us.

If you vote for this proposition, please do so with the understanding that you're not going to get any more money for education. That's a lie. You're just going to financially punish smokers for their poor choices, by forcing them to pay for a larger share of the overall cost of government. That's the truth.

This screed by the Colonel is just one more bizarre example of duplicity in conservative thought: poor choices should punished, Punished! discourage that choice. Except, of course, *this* poor choice - one of the most costly and damaging choices in our society - by an equally duplicitous invocation of individual rights. It's like a mobius strip of hypocrisy.

Quite frankly, when all is said and done, I think the smokers need to pay.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 17, 2012 | 4:17 p.m.

Actually, Derrick, I think you will find that having kids you can't afford is a far greater financial burden on us all than any smoker could EVER hope to achieve.

They need to pay.......

(Report Comment)
Ashley Hughes October 17, 2012 | 4:47 p.m.

What about the tan tax that Obama enforced? People who use tanning beds have a ten percent tax now. Tanning is something that is only harming the tanner. You can't give people "secondhand melanoma" and it isn't bad for the environment.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote October 17, 2012 | 5:52 p.m.

The liberal tradition seeks to protect individual liberties, including the liberties of minority populations (cigarette smokers in Mr. Miller's example). It is in that sense he is adopting the liberal position. Perhaps you should not let those morons at Fox define words for you. As to the tax, I think it should be equal to the externalized costs of the product being sold. I'm not exactly sure what that number is, but I'll go with Mr. Fogle in opining that it is far greater than the proposed tax. It is not unreasonable for the government to attempt to partially recoup those externalized costs. Maybe if it was called a personal responsibility tax you would support it?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 17, 2012 | 6:30 p.m.

Chris: Except for a select few shows, I don't watch TV. Why would I watch TV when I can sit on a tractor, prune walnut/pecan trees, or fix a lunch of biscuits and gravy over an open fire?

Dude, there's no comparison.

So, your "snark" about a close relationship between Fox and me falls flat. You'll have to fill us in on your own outside informational relationships; I won't presume to know where you get your erroneous information.

As for "Maybe if it was called a personal responsibility tax you would support it?"

Almost certainly, yes. But only if the "personal responsibility tax" concept was extended to ALL other forms of human self-abuse, including those noted in my 3:57pm post to which no one has yet responded....probably because a few oxes got too close to getting gored.

My main arguments against this particular initiative are: (1) the destination of the money is a lie by omission, (2) the "selling point" infers MORE money for education which will be proved a lie, (3) it is selective in that it is based upon a current, favored political correctness to the exclusion of all others, and (4) you and Derrick support it.

PS: You and Derrick do not get to pick and choose which human foibles must pay and those which do not pay. I do not trust you to do this fairly or logically and will fight you on it. By choosing your own pet PC to the exclusion of all other foibles, I think the both of you mirror the "mobius strip of hypocrisy" of which you accuse the Colonel.

Fact is, Derrick's statement "I think the smokers need to pay" is absurd and utterly illogical unless he extends that sentiment to all other human frailties that cost us all, including any to which he is susceptible or engaged.

You, too.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller October 17, 2012 | 9:18 p.m.

Leapin Lizards Sandy, it is good to be back in print and see that nothing ever really changes. As always, the message is ignored by the "progressives" who gleefully attack the messenger instead. You cannot imagine the rapture I feel at being missed:)

By the way, those of you who continue to support the myth that smokers cause egregious harm to society and should be forced to pay...the do pay for it by dying early. Most of these "studies" that you fall in line to support cannot be quantified and are similar to the "scientific consensus" that climate change is caused by human actiovity. Junk Science is the proper term.

(Report Comment)
frank christian October 17, 2012 | 9:36 p.m.

Chris, Derrick, etc. - Only know, and most generally only profess to know, what is good for Government. People either benefit government or cost it.period.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 17, 2012 | 9:46 p.m.

Welcome back Colonel.

Lots of progressive moths were lost for want of their flame.

(Report Comment)
Cecil Caulkins October 18, 2012 | 4:06 a.m.

I think the perspective here is not liberalism, but libertarianism. I tend to subscribe to the same view. People should be free to do things that are legal without being punished for doing those things. If the use of tobacco is morally reprehensible, then maybe it should be outlawed. That'll probably work just as well as Prohibition did. If we aren't prepared to do that, then we should leave smokers alone. I don't have any problem with having any business ban smoking on its premises. It is quite a different matter for a nanny-minded governmental unit to forbid smoking someplace. [Disclosure: I don't smoke cigarettes, but I enjoy the occasional cigar.]

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates October 18, 2012 | 9:12 p.m.

LOL...liked your comment about the moths Michael. J. Karl Miller certainly knows by now that regardless of what he says, there are some that will argue it, specifically of who he is. Oh, welcome back Colonel. Glad there were enough left of your basic school class to have a reunion!

(Report Comment)

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