The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's community columnist panel

In July, 2003,  the Star-Telegram published a notice, "Calling all wannabe Op-Ed columnists" and challenged its readers, "Think you can do better than Molly Ivins or George Will?"  I submitted one of my Loose Cannon articles and was chosen from a field of over 200 entrants to join 12 other writers who contributed four articles throughout the year in 2004.

Article 1 - 3/20

De-politicize business and de-business politics

Article 2 - 6/19

The four-wheeled lions of the Cowtown Serengeti

Article 3 - 9/18

Let's call the whole thing off

Article 4 - 12/18

Speaking of chaos

Posted on Sat, Mar. 20, 2004

De-politicize business and de-business politics

By Garry Reed

Special to the Star-Telegram

When exactly did cities cease to be cities and become taxpayer-subsidized holding companies?

It used to be that cities provided services that couldn't be provided any other way -- infrastructure stuff like roads and sewers and asphalt traffic humps with reflectors and ziggy lines. Now they think they have to build hotels.

Fort Worth spent 75 million tax bucks to expand the taxpayer-owned convention center to attract more conventioneers and then discovered that it didn't have enough hotel rooms to put them in. So now the city wants to build a 600-room, $120 million taxpayer-funded hotel.

Back in 2002, City Manager Gary Jackson and a posse of hired consulting guns claimed that a publicly owned hotel would more than pay for itself by spawning additional convention business. Convention business for downtown businesses, that is.

How many plungers will Paulie the Plumber in Poly sell to International Curtain Rod Designers conventioneers? How many National Macaroni Art Convention attendees will hop The T to Bubba's Beach Street Beer & Bar-B-Q? How many Bean Sprout Growers Association members will visit Hannah's Hair Hut in Hulen Heights?

But never mind that. Jackson had a good feeling. "I feel confident that this is a safe project," he reassured us.

The feel-good plan was to finance the project by hawking certificates of obligation, which -- and this may explain the feel-good part -- do not require voter approval.

One person who didn't feel good was Sam Staley, a policy analyst with the libertarian Reason Foundation. In 2002 he said, "The truth is, the private sector won't touch this with a 10-foot pole because they don't think it will be a very good deal."

Jackson may have thought that his confident feelings trumped the private sector's 10-foot pole, but many residents disagreed. A 16,000-signature petition drive demanded a public vote on the issue. Perhaps amid fears that Paulie in Poly and Beach Street Bubba might be inclined to vote for the 10-foot pole rather than Jackson's feelings, the plan was quickly quashed.

The current scheme is to hoist the hotel on the back of revenue bonds, which don't use taxpayer plunder to repay debt. The bonds are repaid by taxes levied against the new hotel's direct competitors -- private hotels and motels -- and from the project's future profits.

Future profits?

The newly renovated convention center and the new hotel, along with the inevitable taxpayer-provided parking garage for the new hotel, must compete for convention business with a hundred other cities that litter the landscape with their own convention centers and luxury hotels and parking garages. And some of that landscape is very close to home.

Like Dallas. Big D yearns to tap its own taxpayers for a luxury hotel next door to its own convention center.

Meanwhile, right up the street on the shores of Lake Grapevine, poised to open in April, is the privately financed, privately built and privately operated Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center -- 400,000 square feet of meeting and convention space and 1,511 luxury hotel rooms.

And let's not forget Jerry Jones. The newest member of the Forbes billionaire club and King of the Cowboys desperately wants to build a palatial stadium complex for his millionaire football players that will include -- guess what?! -- a convention center and luxury hotel.

So what if, with all this competition going around, the Grandiose Fort Worth Convention Center Luxury Hotel and Money-Generator for Cowtown commercial concerns can't turn a profit?

Who makes up the shortfall? The city. And where does the city get its shortfall money? From us -- the taxpayers.

Business people make business decisions. Politicians make political decisions. Put politicians in charge of a business, and they still will make political decisions. It's their nature.

Politicians don't operate on a profit-and-loss basis -- they operate on a tax-and-spend basis, no matter what they say about profits. In short, beware of visionaries bearing "the vision thing." Inevitably, they expect their grandiose gambits to be subsidized by taxpayers.

It's time to seriously consider the libertarian view: De-politicize business and de-business politics.

The city should get out of the convention center business and the hotel business by privatizing both and go back to what it's supposed to do: Build stuff like roads and sewers and asphalt traffic humps with reflectors and ziggy lines.

And maybe fill a few potholes.

Garry Reed, a member of the Star-Telegram's community columnist panel, is a longtime libertarian and Fort Worth resident.

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Posted on Sat, Jun. 19, 2004

The four-wheeled lions of the Cowtown Serengeti

By Garry Reed

Special to the Star-Telegram

My eyes were grazing the open pages of Reason, a libertarian 'zine, when they stopped to chew on these words, taken from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"Police officials in Bel-Ridge, Mo., say department officials are pressuring them to spend less time catching robbers and more time writing tickets.

" 'When it comes down to it, money is what counts,' says a department memo obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 'State cases do not generate money for the department. Municipal tickets do.' "

Bel-Ridge, Mo., eh? The same article could have been written about almost any community in America -- including Fort Worth.

Fort Worth tax collectors, you see, have a gold mine in the Mixmaster.

For those of you new to the Metroplex (maybe you've recently moved here from Bel-Ridge) the Mixmaster is the name of the Gordian knot of freeway lanes and ramps and flyovers and underpasses and transition roads that swallows up a huge hunk of downtown Cowtown real estate.

The pockets of gold being worked by the city are located in the pants and purses of Fort Worth drivers. The method of mining the gold is not panning or sluicing but issuing speeding tickets. The miners are city police officers, who are reduced to serving as glorified tax collectors in uniforms.

If ever there was a speed trap, the Mixmaster is it. I know, because I drive the gantlet of Radar Rangers every workday morning. This charge, therefore, is not based on statistics or interviews with facile city officials. It's based on direct observation.

My morning commute is a straight-line westward shot on Interstate 30. For miles, the speed limit is 60. Then, almost without warning, it's 50.

Yes, there's a standard-sized REDUCED SPEED sign. Yes, there's a standard-sized 50 MPH sign. It's not that the signage is hidden -- it's just "well-placed," interspersed with off ramps where drivers need to be watching one another, not searching for signs.

Driving through the predawn Mixmaster is a surreal deal. It has the feel of an undulating stretch of Serengeti Plain, with herds of zebra and antelope and wildebeest hoofing across the landscape where lions suddenly leap from their hiding places to pounce on unsuspecting individuals.

I know how the wildebeest feel.

I slow to below 50 at the sight of flashing blue and red on my right: a cruiser with its prey pinned to the highway shoulder. More colors glint in my periphery from the left as a white predator moves in for the kill, grill snapping at the quarry's rear bumper, separating it from the herd.

Those of us who were spared keep moving, rolling silently, watching warily every dip, curve and shadow ahead.

The gold extractions are not limited to the westbound lanes. According to drivers' sightings on SpeedTrap Exchange (, they're everywhere:

I-30 east- or westbound at the I-35W bridge.

I-35W north and south at the I-30 ramps.

The east and west sides of I-30 between I-35W and Summit Avenue.

The Cherry Street exit from I-30 eastbound.

Nor, it seems, do the gold-diggers constrain themselves to the Mixmaster. At last look, SpeedTrap Exchange exposed 29 speed traps within the Fort Worth city limits alone.

Enjoy these actual driver comments from SpeedTrap Exchange:

"They line one guy on a bridge and he shoots everyone and then his buddies come after you (about 12 motorcycle cops.)"

"I don't know what or whom they are trying to protect, except maybe revenues for city hall."

"We should call them the Ft. Worth Tax Collectors."

"It's a stinkin' four-lane freeway and the speed limit is 50."

Police departments across America have lost their way. Created to protect the public, the only thing they protect today is their own budgets.

Traffic fines are just an alternate means of mining the seams of gold from our billfolds. Speed traps are legalized highway robbery.

I'll leave you with another kind of citation -- this one from an article by libertarian writer/author/editor Vin Suprynowicz in which he quotes Chad Dornsife of the Nevada chapter of the National Motorists Association:

"But enforcement of inappropriate speed limits is big business for courts and police, of course. 'The courts live off this revenue,' Dornsife confirms. 'In Mina, halfway between Las Vegas and Reno near Hawthorne, it turned out the judge owned the radar unit that the county sheriff was using there.'"

They'd love these guys in Bel-Ridge. And maybe in Fort Worth, too.

Garry Reed, a member of the Star-Telegram's community columnist panel, is a longtime libertarian and Fort Worth resident.

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Posted on Sat, Sep. 18, 2004

Let's call the whole thing off

By Garry Reed

Special to the Star-Telegram

By now you've been bombarded repeatedly with reasons to vote for one of the nation's two great Lesser Evil brand names, Republicans or Democrats. I'd like to tell you why I'll be punching a proverbial chad for the Libertarian label.

I still remember a mildly amusing cartoon from my youth, probably published in the old mildly amusing Saturday Evening Post.

A citizen is standing in the lobby of the U.S. post office, dutifully sliding his letters through different slots in a wall labeled "Local," "State," "Out of State" and so on. Then we're shown the other side of the wall, where all of his mail is falling from the various slots into a single box.

This depicts American politics today. We have only one political party, and it's a snake with two heads. Its name is Republicrat.

No matter which head gobbles the most ballots, the one on the Left or the one on the Right, both gullets feed the same gut. The name of that gut -- the belly of the beast -- is Big Government.

Keep feeding the gut through either gullet, and Government gets bigger -- more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive.

In my youth, I was told that Democrats believed in civil rights. Great, I thought -- I believe in civil rights, too.

And I was told that Republicans believed in economic freedom. Great, I thought -- I believe in economic freedom, too.

Today, the two-headed Republicratic Party believes in whatever will get it elected. Democrats ditched civil rights for group entitlements. Republicans dumped economic freedom for corporate welfare.

Both belly up to the pork-barrel buffet, each trying to out-pig the other. And no matter which head controls the power, Government gets bigger -- more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive.

Whichever head bags your ballot, you'll be wasting your vote. Neither side will give you what you want.

Think otherwise? When that major bill that you so fervently fought for comes up for consideration, sit back and watch it get sliced and diced and twisted and tweaked and watered down and then bulked up again with a half-billion dollars worth of your tax bucks in the form of special-interest pork to benefit the re-election of Republicrats.

And Government gets bigger -- more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive.

Still insist that your snakehead is better than their snakehead?

Consider this simple story. John McCain and Russ Feingold, a Republican head and a Democratic head, induced Congress (consisting of Republicans and Democrats) to make a law that abridges freedom of speech.

It's called "campaign finance reform," and it stifles political speech during the latter legs of national campaigns. The Supreme Court upheld this law even though our Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech."

It is clear. There is no confusion. There is nothing to interpret. Yet Congress abridged freedom of speech, and the court upheld the abridgement.

The Supremes who did this were "conservatives" and "liberals" appointed and confirmed by members of the party you vote for and the party you hate. Your favorite snakehead helped take away more of your rights and freedoms and helped Government get bigger -- more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive.

If it weren't so tragic, I'd find your devotion to partisan politicians mildly amusing.

I still believe in civil rights and economic freedom. That's why I'll be voting for the only U.S. party that believes in both, the only party that consistently believes in freedom -- real freedom, not just rhetorical words like "Government is not the solution, government is the problem" (Ronald Reagan, Republican) or "The era of big government is over" (Bill Clinton, Democrat).

Libertarians are clear. There is no confusion. There is nothing to interpret. If a law extends freedom, we're for it. If not, we're not.

And, no, I won't be wasting my vote. That's because voting is not like placing a bet at Lone Star Park. Voting is giving your sanction to someone who represents your beliefs. The only way you can possibly waste your vote is to give it to someone who doesn't.

If you want to waste your vote, give it to the Republicrat snakehead of your choice. No matter what you really believe, you'll be supporting conservative socialism or liberal socialism.

It'll all end up in the same gut anyway: Big Government's gut -- more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive.

Garry Reed, a member of the Star-Telegram's community columnist panel, is a longtime libertarian and Fort Worth resident.

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Posted on Sat, Dec. 18, 2004

Speaking of chaos
By Garry Reed

Special to the Star-Telegram

"Libertarians are always bashing government. If it weren't for government, we'd have nothing but chaos."

Fair enough. Maybe it's time for us libertarian types to take another look at this government-vs.-chaos thing.

Let's say that a major component of your retirement plan is to buy a house and have it paid off by the time you're ready to extract your nose from the grindstone.

The idea is that you can afford to live on a reduced income sans monthly house payments. But what if you end up sans house as well?

While your savings are being munched by the Pac-Man of inflation, your property taxes are feeding the Hungry Hippo. Your city, county, fire, hospital, school, parks and recreation, metro planning, special crime-fighting, rapid transit, stadium, water, sewer, recycling and garbage collection tax assessment boards all need money so they can hire more civil servants to figure out more ways to tax your property until your tax bill becomes as bloated as this sentence.

Once you retire, you'll discover that your property taxes are higher than that first house payment you made 30 years ago. If you're lucky, you'll be able to sell the house for enough to cover the taxes and still be able to move into your grandson's '82 minibus.

That's economic chaos courtesy of your various friendly homegrown governments.

Of course, the wrecking ball of eminent domain could get you first. "Eminent domain" is a bureaucratic legal term that means "We can take any house anywhere any time and give you whatever price we say is fair."

This ain't your grandfather's eminent domain, which was used only for public works like roads, sewers and various rights of way. Today it's a tool of the infamous public-private partnership ploy.

That's where local politicians conspire with money moguls against individual citizens to take their homes (expansion of North East Mall in Hurst, construction of baseball and football Taj Mahals in Arlington).

Everybody has to move. Period.

But how do you box up a lifetime of memories? How do you pack the door frame with your children's penciled-in growth marks?

Politicians take "campaign contributions" from corporations to condemn property so they can get re-elected so they can get more "campaign contributions" to condemn more property.

That's government property rights chaos for you.

Or would you prefer asset forfeiture? If the narcs get an anonymous tip that might even conceivably associate you in any way with officially disapproved chemical compounds, you're a goner.

Based solely on that suspicion -- not being charged, not being arrested, not being convicted -- everything you own can be seized.

Your house, your cars, your furnishings, your bass boat, your Pac-Man-nibbled retirement account, your boxer shorts with the little red hearts and Cupids. They need to seize your property and auction it off so they can afford to hire more cops to seize more assets.

Welcome to the government's right-to-a-fair-trial chaos.

And I haven't even gotten to the government's War on Private Health Care, or its War Against Educational Freedom, or its War against Handguns.

But let's say you're lucky. You've somehow managed to keep your house. And you're cozied up snug and warm in your bed. It's after midnight.

You don't know there are a dozen very large people gathered on your front lawn, trampling your petunias. They're festooned in paramilitary Kevlar from jack boot to tinted helmet visor, and they're stoned on adrenaline and testosterone.

They bash in your door with a custom door-basher. They scream letters from an alphabet-soup can like "FBI!" and "DEA!" and "BATF!" and challenge you to the children's tag game of "Freeze!" They point muzzles of seriously lethal weaponry in your face.

They drag you out of bed, dressed only in your boxer shorts with the little red hearts and Cupids, and cuff your wrists behind your back. Then they spend the next three hours ransacking your house from soap dish to breadbox.

Eventually, someone with keys and bad breath removes your handcuffs with a muttered "Oops, wrong house."

It's at this precise moment that I want you to turn to your partner in home ownership and say:

"Libertarians are always bashing government. If it weren't for government we'd have nothing but chaos."

Garry Reed, a member of the Star-Telegram's community columnist panel, is a longtime libertarian and Fort Worth resident.

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More print articles from the Star-Telegram and Libertarian Party News: Loose Cannon Op-Eds

And here are five really old : letters to the editor from the Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News