If you thought California's fiscal situation -- a structural deficit of $20 billion a year and growing, bankrupt cities, accelerating flight of business and human capital -- had forced the state's leaders to get serious about reining in spending, have we got a multibillion-dollar project to sell you.
First up: The city' most connected movers and shakers want Los Angeles taxpayers to cough up $1 billion in matching funds for the project that never fails to bring prosperity: a spiffy new stadium for an NFL franchise to be named later.
"This is simple," AEG president Tim Lieweke said at a meeting of developers Tuesday. "If the private sector is going to step in and spend a billion -- and we're going to have to do that, that's only way it's going to happen -- then shouldn't we as a community spend a billion dollars where it has the greatest impact." Who can argue with that? Certainly not Eli Broad, the practiced expropriator of public funds who is bent on remaking L.A. into an echo of New York with "millions of people navigating a cleaner, denser and more pedestrian-friendly urban fabric via bicycle, light rail, streetcar, subway and bus."
For the record, Los Angeles is beyond bankruptcy, and its banana republic political leadership is desperately shuffling expenses to make the city's balance sheet look less dire. Former L.A. Daily News editor Ron Kaye looks at the City of Angels' unfortunate history with pigskin boondoggles:
This is a town that has twice fumbled the NFL ball and lost the Rams and Raiders to other cities, a town that lost hundreds of millions of dollars on its debt-burdened Convention Center, invested untold billions in building a skyline and is now in a class with such NFL losers Detroit and Cleveland for poverty and unemployment.
This is a town with a rotting infrastructure of roads, sidewalks, pipes and power lines, a town that can't pay its bills and guts basic services, a town whose leadership has lost all credibility and now want us to believe $1 billion of our money would have the greatest impact if we spent it for a football stadium.
How many lower income tenants could become homeowners with that billion dollars? How many deteriorating neighborhoods could be revived? How many small businesses could thrive with a little help if their vision, not the vision of billionaires and fat cats, were driving city policies?
Is a stadium not grand enough for you? Then how about a magical train? We already knew Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came away from his recent Asia junket with a conductor's cap full of big ideas for the California High Speed Rail project. But he also seems to have picked up a taste for open government policies modeled on those of the People's Republic of China.
The governor recently vetoed a set of reporting and accountability requirements that were a direct response to the CHSR Authority's long history of shoddy research and murky disclosure. Schwarzenegger at least expressed a sense of shame about the move, noting in his signing statement, “While the Administration supports these reporting requirements, making the appropriation contingent upon receipt and approval of this report by the Legislature could result in project delays, jeopardize the Authority's ability to meet already tight federal deadlines and result in increased state costs.”
The High Speed Rail project is 14 years old and has yet to drive a single spike in the ground, so you can understand the governor's hurry. The project needs to break ground by September 2012 or lose $2.25 billion in federal funds for the project.
But the governor picked up something else in China, a taste for corn dogs and funnel cakes. Last week Schwarzenegger announced his plan to bring the World Expo to California in 2020. "Shanghai has demonstrated that when you host the World Expo, the world comes to you, and I want the world to come to California," Schwarzenegger said.
At TheChinaBeat.com, Jeffrey Wasserstrom explains why this idea belongs more to 1910 than to 2010:
One problem with his plan has to do with audience. The Shanghai Expo will soon become the most attended World’s Fair in history, but will do so because of its appeal to a very particular audience. The vast majority of the people going to this World’s Fair, as was often the case with earlier ones, have been citizens of the host country who have not had the opportunity to travel extended distances. They go to the fairgrounds partly to get a glimpse of futuristic technologies, but largely because they are curious about what distant lands (and indeed, when held in big countries like the U.S. and China, what far-off parts of their own nation) look like, how people live there, what foods are eaten there, and so on.
The virtual travel aspect of an Expo would have little appeal in contemporary America—for the same reason that some of the more cosmopolitan Shanghainese I know were blasé about the mega-event currently taking place in their city. In earlier periods, holding World’s Fairs in the U.S. made sense. But not when so many Americans can go abroad (even if lots of us never do), and when Epcot, Las Vegas, and the food courts at megamalls, international airports and other locales so readily provide us with a vicarious sense of journeying or eating our way around the world.
A second problem with Arnold’s idea is that California currently can’t make ends meet.
Problem? At this point, not making ends meet is a value-add.
What’s offensive is not the individual boondoggles – though they’re all pretty bad – but the fundamentally unserious attitude of politicians and rent seekers. We are out of money. Stadiums built to enable NFL crap shoots, trains nobody will ride, and World’s Fairs are bad ideas when times are flush. When the state is bankrupt they are impeachable indulgences.
This morning I was on MSNBC to discuss the anti-smoking posters that New York City is forcing tobacco retailers to conspicuously display in their bodegas, newsstands, and convenience stores. The regulation was approved by the New York City Board of Health a year ago, and the federal lawsuit challenging it was filed in June, so I'm not sure what prompted Jansing & Company to tackle the subject today. But this was the first time I had read the lawsuit (PDF), which was brought by retailers and three major tobacco companies with help from First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams. Their complaint raises three strong constitutional and statutory objections to the poster mandate:
1) It violates the First Amendment by compelling cigarette sellers to promote a message they do not endorse. The posters, which feature icky pictures of diseased lungs, brains, and teeth, urge customers to "QUIT SMOKING TODAY." They are not aimed at informing cigarette buyers about the risks posed by the product, a function already served by the federally mandated warning labels on every package and ad (not to mention information about smoking from myriad other sources). Rather, the posters are aimed at grabbing people's attention and persuading them not to buy what the retailers are selling.
2) The regulation violates the First Amendment by commandeering valuable point-of-sale advertising space for the government's propaganda, thereby interfering with the ability of retailers and tobacco companies to communicate their own messages.
3) The rule violates the federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, which bars states and municipalities from imposing any "requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health...with respect to the advertising or promotion of cigarettes."
My MSNBC debating partner, anti-smoking activist Patrick Reynolds, made little attempt to rebut those points, although he did argue that the posters constitute "education" rather than "advocacy," a claim you can judge for yourself. Reynolds also pined for the day when a properly "liberal" Supreme Court will take an enlightened view of the First Amendment and uphold censorship of tobacco advertising.
The Boston Globe reports that health officials in Massachusetts are awaiting the outcome of the New York case before imposing similar anti-smoking messages on tobacco retailers there. Another tobacco-related First Amendment case involves advertising restrictions imposed by Congress in last year's Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which are likely to be overturned.
As Adam Smith once sort of wrote, "Never do downtown power brokers gather to dazzle us with their plans for the future of the city core without conspiring against the general public."
And Los Angeles's "Downtown 2020" summit this week presented the city's richest and most well connected, from Tim Leiweke of AEG to Eli Broad, announcing plans for new cultural centers, football stadiums, and transportation money, all thanks in at least some degree to the beleaguered citizens of this bankrupt town.
Quotes, details, and context, including from our own Tim Cavanaugh on Broad's previous sweetheart rental deals for his relentless need to crush downtown with officially certified culture, at my Southern California news and politics blog "City of Angles."
During a debate yesterday, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) had this to say about Citizens United v. FEC and other Supreme Court decisions overturning restrictions on political speech (emphasis added):
No one has fought harder for campaign finance reform in the United States Congress [than] me. I've come put for public financing of campaigns. I've come out for restrictions on campaigns. But here's the problem: We have a lousy Supreme Court decision that has opened up the floodgates, and so we have to deal within the realm of constitutionality. And a lot of the campaign finance bills that we have passed have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. I think the Constitution is wrong. I don't think that money is the same thing as human beings. I don't think money equals free speech. I don't think corporations should have the same equality as a regular voter in this district.
McGovern probably meant to say, "I think the Supreme Court is wrong" (just as he probably meant to deny that a corporation, as opposed to money, "is the same thing as human beings"). It is a revealing slip in any case. McGovern clearly is frustrated by having to "deal within the realm of constitutionality." Too bad. That's what the Constitution is for: to frustrate politicians who are so focused on the virtue of their goal that they cannot see the rights they are violating by pursuing it.
I'll have more on that subject in the December issue of Reason. In the meantime, is McGovern right that Citizens United "opened up the floodgates"? The evidence to support that view is thin. But it is telling that critics of Citizens United from the president on down insist on comparing a less restricted political debate to a deadly, disastrous deluge.
By now, after two feature films and of course the spawning series that ran on MTV for three seasons, the Jackass sensibility—wildly violent, jaw-droppingly gross, and state-of-the-art stupid—has become familiar. But as Kurt Loder argues in his review of the new movie Jackass 3D, the individual crazed stunts and antics remain unpredictable, and frequently unbelievable. You might never have wanted to see some loon ride a Jet Ski down the side of a rocky hill or offer his face up to a scorpion attack, Loder writes, but when you do, you may find yourself chortling uncontrollably before good taste has a chance to intervene.View this article
The Yes on Proposition 19 campaign today welcomed a petition by more than 65 law professors–including six who blog at the Volokh Conspiracy, and other notables such as David Friedman, Erwin Chemerinsky, and Nadine Strossen–urging a "wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country," and a yes vote for the popular and much-maligned proposition. Excerpt from the open letter:
For decades, our country has pursued a wasteful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition. As with alcohol prohibition, this approach has failed to control marijuana, and left its trade in the hands of an unregulated and increasingly violent black market. At the same time, marijuana prohibition has clogged California's courts alone with tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders each year. Yet marijuana remains as available as ever, with teens reporting that it is easier for them to buy than alcohol across the country.
Proposition 19 would remove criminal penalties for private use and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana by adults and allow California localities to adopt—if they choose—measures to regulate commerce in marijuana. Passage of Proposition 19 would be an important next step toward adopting an approach more grounded in reason, for California and beyond.
Our communities would be better served if the criminal justice resources we currently spend to investigate, arrest, and prosecute people for marijuana offenses each year were redirected toward addressing unsolved violent crimes. In short, the present policy is causing more harm than good, and is eroding respect for the law.
Moreover, we are deeply troubled by the consistent and dramatic reports of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against young people of color. Marijuana laws were forged in racism, and have been demonstrated to be inconsistently and unfairly applied since their inception. These are independent reasons for their repeal.
Especially in the current economic climate, we must evaluate the efficacy of expensive government programs and make responsible decisions about the use of state resources. We find the present policies toward marijuana to be bankrupt, and urge their rethinking.
This country has an example of a path from prohibition. Alcohol is subject to a regulatory framework that is far safer in every respect than the days of Al Capone. Just like the State of New York did when it rolled back Prohibition 10 years before the nation as a whole, California should show leadership and restore respect for the law by enacting the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative this November.
Amen to that. At the Volokh Conspiracy, signatory Ilya Somin adds this wisdom:
[P]assage of Prop 19 would be a major political setback for drug prohibition. A victorious Prop 19 would likely be imitated in other states with referendum initiative processes. That in turn would put the federal War on Drugs under increasing stress. If several large states withdraw state resources from marijuana enforcement, the feds would either have to massively increase their own enforcement efforts or consider giving up the fight.
Meanwhile, California's second-largest daily, the San Jose Mercury News, has joined the newspaper consensus against, as have the Daily Breeze, the Stockton Record, Santa Maria Times, and Christian Science Monitor. The Economist is in favor, though.
I’ve frequently expressed skepticism of the Tea Party—here for its frequent indulgence of lazy economic populism and here for the widespread historical illiteracy on display at the rallies I attended—and defended it against hyperventilating columnists like Frank Rich and Eugene Robinson, who reduce a complex movement borne out of complex motives to one animated primarily, if not solely, by race hatred.
It was an anecdotal observation, but at the Tea Party rallies I attended with my comrades from Reason.tv, we didn’t spot any racist signs or talk to many people that could be obvious classified as racists. (Of all the people we spoke with at four or so separate protests, only one interviewee was borderline—and she opens this video.) Obviously this doesn’t mean that there aren’t Tea Partiers bothered by the president’s race, but it suggests that the dominant media narrative—that race is an important component of the Tea Party movement—might need revising.
Today the Washington Post reports on a study of Tea Party signs conducted by UCLA graduate student Emily Elkins.
A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government's economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events...
Ekins's conclusion is not that the racially charged messages are unimportant but that media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does.
I wrote about the Tea Party and race here.
Federal District Judge Roger Vinson has just refused the federal government’s request to dismiss the ObamaCare challenge filed by Florida and 19 other states. From today’s ruling:
The individual mandate applies across the board. People have no choice and there is no way to avoid it. Those who fall under the individual mandate either comply with it, or they are penalized. It is not based on an activity that they make the choice to undertake. Rather, it is based solely on citizenship and on being alive. As the nonpartisan CBO concluded sixteen years ago (when the individual mandate was considered, but not pursued during the 1994 national healthcare reform efforts): “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.” Of course, to say that something is “novel” and “unprecedented” does not necessarily mean that it is “unconstitutional” and “improper.” There may be a first time for anything. But, at this stage of the case, the plaintiffs have most definitely stated a plausible claim with respect to this cause of action.
Over the past five years, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has published two bestselling books on constitutional history and interpretation. If his colleague Justice Antonin Scalia is the country’s most famous and influential judicial conservative, it’s safe to say that Breyer has nominated himself for the liberal spot. But as Associate Editor Damon Root argues, Breyer’s new book Making Our Democracy Work suggests that the legal left should look elsewhere for its standard bearer.View this article
“CVS did not set out to be part of the meth trafficking trade but they made a poor decision,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana Mintz. “Rather than choosing to over-comply like their competitors did, they knowingly under-complied with the law.”
So what, specifically, was CVS's offense? They weren't sufficiently suspicious of customers who purchased cold medicine. For that, the company will pay a $75 million fine, the largest civil penalty ever imposed for a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.
More info at the Independence Institute.
Earlier this week, I posted on a settlement in the case of the Pennsylvania public school accused of illegally spying on its students. Noting that the bulk of the settlement will go the students' attorney, I wrote:
So public school officials get caught illegally spy on students. But no one gets fired. And none of the offending parties will be fined. Instead, a municipal insurer (which will ultimately affect taxpayers) will pay a decent settlement to one student, a small settlement to another, and a small fortune to their lawyer.
After reading some analysis by Max Kennerly and Scott Greenfield, I'm persuaded that I was off-base with my snark (in other words, I was wrong).
If the Lower Merion case had gone to trial, and the plaintiffs had won on any of those claims — and they definitely would have won on the first — then the school district would have been liable for all of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees in litigating the case.
The settlement of the case reflects that eventual reality: if the School District had not paid the plaintiffs' lawyer now, they were going to pay them later...
But why did this case, where liability was obvious, cost so much? There's a simple answer for that: because the School District litigated the heck out of the case. Their own lawyers, as of the end of July, had already billed $743,000 to the school district. I bet the final bill will exceed $1 million.
Viewed through that lens, Mr. Haltzman was downright frugal in accepting less than half what his opponents charged to fight him.
And here's Greenfield:
While the wrong in this particular case seemed abundantly clear, especially since it received broad attention and near-universal condemnation, the deprivation or violation of constitutional rights that seem so obvious to the victims often fails to get to trial. Sure, getting your "day in court" is a fine platitude, just like so many that make us feel warm and comfy even though they defy reality in the trenches. The hard fact is few civil rights cases are ever heard, and fewer still recover damages, whether for some variation of governmental immunity or some banal rationalization which makes the wrong "good enough for government work."
That means that the efforts of a lawyer to pursue the violation of rights may not only fail to result in a payday, but leave the lawyer out of pocket for whatever unreimbursed expenses accrued in the process. This can be a very risky business, trying to protect our constitutional rights by representing a person whose rights were deprived.
So Mark Haltzman "made" more money from this case than did his clients. Was he supposed to eat the cost of this litigation, as if he, rather than the school administrators, committed the wrong?
These are all great points. As someone who would like to see a heck of a lot more civil rights suits against government officials who abuse their power, I was wrong to direct scorn at an attorney who actually brought one (even in an obvious case like this one). It would be even better if the responsible parties actually had to pay out for their actions, and not have the taxpayers bail them out. But that's beside my point here, which is that Haltzman shouldn't be blamed for getting compensated for his time and expense in bringing this lawsuit.
Brendan O'Neill describes the recently rescued Chilean miners' struggles with the therapists charged with managing their mental health:
One of the medical experts at San Jose - part of a team of 300 people that oversaw the men's health and needs - said there was a 'daily arm wrestle' between the miners and the psychology team. That isn't surprising. The mental-health experts overground used a system of 'prizes and punishments' to try to control the men's behaviour - for their own good, of course. So when the men assented to hour-long phone calls with the mental-health team, as they did when they were first found to be alive 17 days after getting trapped, they were rewarded with prizes such as access to TV shows. But when they refused to talk to the psychologists, as they started to do in mid-September when their health and body weight were improving as a result of sent-down food and they insisted that 'we are well', the psychology team would deprive them of luxuries. As one on-site doctor put it: 'We have to say, "OK, you don't want to speak with psychologists? Perfect. That day you get no TV, there is no music - because we administer these things."'
The psychology team became judge and jury of what the men could do for enjoyment and even how they could communicate with their families. When the men asked for cigarettes and alcohol, saying that these small pleasures would help them cope better than their daily phone call with the experts, the psychology team begrudgingly agreed to send down cigarettes but not booze - because 'the average miner consumes large quantities of alcohol', one of the psychologists said, and there is no telling how they will behave when inebriated in hot, cramped conditions. The men were furious. But only because they don't understand the dangers of drinking, one of the on-site doctors snootily declared. 'These are not PhD scientists, they are rough-and-tumble miners', he said, giving a glimpse into the experts' deep disdain for the men they were supposed to be helping.
But the thing that really tore the miners and their mental-health betters apart - the thing that ensured 'the honeymoon was over', as the lead on-site psychologist put it - was the psychology team's 'widespread censorship' of family letters to the men. Early on, every time a family member wrote a letter it had to be submitted for psychological evaluation first, before being sent down the so-called umbilical cord to the men underground, so that any material judged 'psychologically inappropriate' could be removed. There was uproar when the families discovered that there was a backlog of letters waiting to be okayed. One of the miners had asked his wife during a video link-up: 'Why don't you write to me anymore?' In fact she had been writing everyday, but her letters were awaiting 'psychological approval'. Eventually government officials stepped in and ended the vetting of the letters.
The men rebelled against these measures in any way they could. At one stage they delayed taking vaccines that had been sent down until they got something they wanted. And as they regained weight courtesy of the food sent down the umbilical cord, 'their antagonism to the daily psychology sessions increased', as one report put it. That is, the healthier they got, the closer they became through their own methods of bonding, the more they looked upon the psycho-sessions as an unnecessary irritation.
This week's Sports Illustrated has a chilling expose on a cancer that threatens the sanctity of student athletics, and perhaps even the very moral fibre of society at large. In an article entitled "Confessions of an Agent," former NFL agent Josh Luchs explains how he paid over 30 college players over a period of ten years in violation of NCAA policies. This wasn't only typical, the article says. It also served a mutually beneficial purpose: Money could help an agent add a potentially-lucrative athlete to his slate of clients. For the athlete, money could do what money normally does, i.e. feed you or save your mother from eviction. For shame!
Look, the argument for paying people to play what's just a mindbogglingly dangerous yet richly entertaining and highly profitable sport is simply too straightforward to make here (and it's being made elsewhere anyway). Just a couple observations:
Firstly, how much less sleazy are Luchs' "dirty" years compared to his supposedly clean ones? When he was paying college players, Luchs was behaving as all investors do, sinking money into a commodity which may or may not be profitable, and allocating scarce resources in the interest of some maximal future return. This is more or less how a lot of labor markets work: Every year on college campuses across America, banks and consulting firms pour millions of dollars into recruiting potential employees who may or may not choose to work for them, taking them out for expensive dinners and dangling huge signing bonuses in front of them. Such enticements are only illegal in college sports, since the NCAA is deeply afraid of a labor market driven by rational economic decision-making.
This leads to a classic unintended consequence, created both by the NCAA and state governments willing to sue or prosecute allegedly unscrupulous sports agents. Paying prospective clients is discouraged and even illegal. The solution: Use respected ESPN draft analyst and probable shut-in Mel Kiper, Jr. to mess with their heads!:
Gary also used his contacts in the media to help him recruit. In 2000, before a meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howard, Gary arranged for ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper to call. Gary and I were talking to Willie in Gary's office when Gary's phone rang, and he put it on speakerphone.
"Viper, how are you?" Gary said. That's what he called Mel, Viper or Vipe. "Viper, I'm sitting here with the best defensive lineman in college football. Do you know who that is?"
"You must be with Willie Howard," Mel said.
Gary used Mel like that all the time. In the agent business, people know Gary and Mel are close, and some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary's clients.
See, the legal way of getting at broke and impressionable student athletes is arguably sleazier than various illegal alternatives. Money doesn't lie, but Mel Kiper, Jr. certainly can.
Second, it seems that five of the 30 players mentioned in this article are dead. Is this some kind of crazy statistical fluke? Maybe, but consider the story of first-round draft pick Chris Mims, who played eight seasons in the NFL:
On October 15, 2008, Mims was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment by police officers conducting a welfare check. Cause of death was an enlarged heart. Mims was 456 pounds at the time of his death.
Football can have tragic consequences for the people who play it. It doesn't seem unreasonable to allow college kids to get paid for playing it well. And nobody—agent or player—should be stigmatized or punished for behaving like employers, employees, and investors do in virtually every other industry.
Donald Abrams, M.D. is chief of Hematology and Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and the co-author—with Andrew Weil—of Integrative Oncology (Oxford University Press). Abrams has extensive experience working with cancer and HIV/AIDS patients and is a pioneer in the field of medical cannabis research.
The U.S. government classifies cannabis—along with heroin and LSD—as a Schedule I drug, the most tightly restricted category of drugs in the United States. According to the federal government, Schedule I drugs are unsafe and have "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."
However, as medical cannabis proponents have pointed out since the Controlled Substances Act was passed by Congress in 1970, cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and there has never been a reported case of a marijuana overdose. Moreover, in recent years clinical researchers around the world have demonstrated the medicinal value of cannabis.
Reason.tv's Paul Feine sat down with Dr. Abrams to learn more about the science of medical cannabis.
Approximately 10 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.
Ron Hart on the upcoming election:
As I type my column on my Word document program, I notice that it shows "Ayn" in "Ayn Rand" as misspelled with no corrections suggested. It's like Word does not want to acknowledge one of the most admired writers of modern times. Interestingly enough, Word does correctly spell both "Kucinich" and "Dukakis."
Do not fall for campaign promises. Remember, Obama was going to get us out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, be a post-partisan president, heal racial divides, and go line-by-line to make budget cuts. He has done just the opposite. Do not base your vote entirely on campaign promises; they last about as long as appliance warranties. Vote on the person, on his or her personal beliefs and actions as they relate to the role of government. The less government does, the better off we all are.
And now on to the headline allusion, which proves irrefutably that the '60s weren't all that:
Politico points out a new report from Richard Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary, noting that seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans will see reduced benefits as a result of the recent health care overhaul:
A Medicare official concedes that seniors may have to dig deeper into their wallets next year thanks to the health care law.
The new analysis obtained by POLITICO finds the health care overhaul will result in increased out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare Advantage plans.
Richard Foster, the actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, also tells Senate Republicans that the overhaul will result in “less generous benefit packages” for Medicare Advantage plans next year. Foster is independent from the administration and non-partisan.
Politico frames this as a concession. It’s not much of one. Last year, a different Foster report indicated that, as The Washington Post summarized, the health care overhaul “would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others.” And the Congressional Budget Office has said that an early draft of the law "would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans."
Now, some recent changes to Medicare Advantage have been mistakenly attributed to the PPACA. For example, health insurers in both Massachusetts and Minnesota recently announced that they would be dropping tens of thousands of seniors from their current Medicare Advantage plans. Those changes appear to be at primarily a result of a 2008 law requiring fee-for-service Medicare Advantage plans to create networks of doctors. Rather than build those networks, some insurers have simply opted out of the market.
But the fact is that despite the Obama administration’s attempts to tell seniors that Medicare wouldn’t be negatively affected by the new health care law, both Foster and the CBO have made it pretty clear that seniors will see fewer benefits and/or higher costs. Obama may have promised seniors at an AARP panel last year that “nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits.” But at least for seniors on Medicare Advantage, official government sources have been talking about reducing those benefits since roughly the time that the first drafts of the bill were released.
Are cuts to Medicare a bad thing? Not at all. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that major changes are necessary in order to hold down the program's spending growth. But the Obama Administration has repeatedly misled the public about how the new law will affect the program. More context on ObamaCare and Medicare here.
Here are three recent TV appearances by Reason's Nick Gillespie.
On October 13, Gillespie appeared on RT's The Alyona Show to discuss an Ohio high school's ban on school dances after learning that students were "dirty dancing" at school functions. Approximately 7 minutes:
On October 12, Gillespie appeared on Fox Business Channel's Varney and Co. to discuss the Midterm elections and what, if anything, will change with more Republicans in congress. Approximately 5.30 minutes. Take a look, whydontcha:
On October 11, Gillespie appeared on Fox News' Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld along with Carrie Keagan of VH1's Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp and former Reasoner and current Daily Caller Mike Riggs. Among the topics covered: NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's homophobic comments, Ohio congressional candidate Rich Iott's Nazi dress-up routine, and the censoring of the Non Sequitur comic that didn't feature Muhammed. Approx. 30 minutes:
The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom lowers the ranking of the United States to eighth out of 179 nations—behind Canada! A year ago, it ranked sixth, ahead of Canada. But as John Stossel explains, don't say it's Barack Obama's fault. Half the data used in the index is from George W. Bush's final six months in office. This is a bipartisan problem.View this article
The WSJ chart next door lays out spending increases over the last two years. About the only increase that makes sense is the one on unemployment benefits, seeing as the economy has been in the crapper for so long (yes, I know there's a serious argument - or at least one made by Larry Summers - that extending and re-extending unemployment benefits keeps people from going back into the labor force).
What more do you need to know about why we're stuck with huge deficits? Well, maybe this: These increases are barely out of line with previous years in the 21st century.
The Journal writes:
The costs of TARP declined by $262 billion from 2009 as banks repaid their bailout cash, payments to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were $51 billion lower (though still a $40 billion net loser for the taxpayer), and deposit insurance payments fell by $55 billion year over year. "Excluding those three programs, spending rose by about 9 percent in 2010, somewhat faster than in recent years," CBO says.
Somewhat faster. You've got to laugh, or cry, when a 9% annual increase qualifies as only "somewhat faster" than normal.
What did Washington spend more money on? Well, despite two wars, defense spending rose by 4.7% to $667 billion, down from an annual average increase of 8% from 2005 to 2009.
David Brooks, October 2010:
[W]hat nobody seems to be asking is: Why are important projects now unaffordable? Decades ago, when the federal and state governments were much smaller, they had the means to undertake gigantic new projects, like the Interstate Highway System and the space program. But now, when governments are bigger, they don't.
The answer is what Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal once called demosclerosis. Over the past few decades, governments have become entwined in a series of arrangements that drain money from productive uses and direct it toward unproductive ones. [...]
All in all, governments can't promote future prosperity because they are strangling on their own self-indulgence. [...]
We have an immobile government that is desperately overcommitted in all the wrong ways.
David Brooks, August 2004:
[T]he size-of-government debate will not be the organizing conflict of the 21st century, the way it was for the 20th. Just as socialism will no longer be the guiding goal for the left, reducing the size of government cannot be the governing philosophy for the next generation of conservatives, as the Republican Party is only now beginning to understand. [...]
[I]f the party is going to offer a positive, authoritative vision for the post-9/11 world, which is a world of conflict and anxiety, then it is going to have to develop a strong-government philosophy consistent with Republican principles. It will have to embrace a progressive conservative agenda more ambitious and fully developed than anything the Bush administration has so far articulated. [...]
[C]onservatives have it in their power to refashion the political landscape. American politics is now polarized, evenly divided and stagnant. It has become like World War I. Each party is down in its trench, lobbing the same old arguments, relying on the same old coalitions. Neither party is able to gain a lasting advantage. Neither party is able to accomplish much that it is proud of.
Trench warfare finally ended because somebody invented the tank. It is time for one party or another to invent the tank, some new governing philosophy that will broaden its coalition and transform the partisan divide. For Republicans, the progressive conservative governing philosophy is the tank. It is the approach to politics best suited to the emerging suburban civilization, best suited to life during a war on Islamic extremism. It is the way Republicans can build a governing majority and leave a positive mark on the nation and its destiny.
Better late than never, I suppose, but Brooks' clear track record–underlined by the closing two paragraphs of today's otherwise sensible column–is to reserve his distaste not for the people who made government too expensive and unwieldy to do anything useful, but for those damned ideologues who keep trying to trim it back. It is precisely progressive conservatism, along with progressive progressivism and "pragmatic" statism, that got us into this mess.
Link to the better column via Instapundit.
A few weeks ago, I noted a proposal by the group Third Way to give taxpayers a receipt showing how their taxes were being spent. I argued—and still believe—that the idea has some potential to focus taxpayer attention on the high cost of entitlements and defense spending. But as I noted at the time, compiling a receipt in a way that would be clear and meaningful to the average taxpayer would require some simplification. And the simplification process would almost certainly prove contentious.
The folks at OMB Watch have put together a helpful primer on both previous state-level efforts to provide such information to taxpayers and the thorny interpretive questions that would have to be resolved in order to do so. As is almost always the case, effective implementation is the most difficult part of any program:
Another challenge would be trying to summarize the complex federal budget in an accessible yet comprehensive way. Although the Third Way brief asserts that preparing a taxpayer receipt would be "really very easy," many subjective decisions would be involved. Deciding how to describe and categorize federal spending could be challenging. For example, the Taxpayer Right-to-Know Act mandates nine broad categories and 19 sub-categories, while independent calculators by What We Pay For and Kareem Shaya use entirely different categories.
Should the receipt list agencies (e.g. Department of Defense) or particular activities (e.g. war in Afghanistan)? Listing the budget per agency would be simple but not necessarily informative. For instance, besides knowing the overall budget for the Department of Education, many taxpayers might wish to know how much spending goes to K-12 education, early childhood education, or postsecondary education. Government activities as seen by the taxpayer do not necessarily correlate to budget lines, and many activities cross agencies (such as educational programs conducted by the National Science Foundation). Because the way that spending activities are described can influence taxpayers' opinions, if a receipt were widely viewed, the descriptions could be manipulated for political purposes.
Another difficulty is how to provide appropriate context to spending information while keeping that information accessible. For instance, rather than merely learning the dollar figure for last year's spending, taxpayers might wish to know how the number compares to recent years or historical trends. In addition, spending does not exist in a vacuum but is meant to address needs or produce outcomes; however, information on merit or performance of the activities is outside the scope of Third Way's proposal.
Right. It’s not just how much money is being spent that matters, but how effectively it’s being used. Still, given how little most taxpayers know about how their money is being spent (surveys show that many taxpayers believe we spend more on foreign aid than entitlements), simply providing them better information about how their dollars are being distributed across various spending categories would be a good start.
Earlier this week, Gizmodo provided these two awesome photos—along with a little analysis:
There's something really wrong in the world if we can see scenes like this.
At the risk of taking a quick, funny photo post and over-analyzing it: I actually think these images are a sign of something really right in the world. Don't get me wrong—homelessness blows, and I'd guess the life stories of these guys are not all rainbows and lollipops.
But if Gizmodo is right that the second guy has WiFi and some speakers, then he has access to more information and entertainment than even the richest, most powerful men could imagine for most of human history—and he can share it with whomever he likes. When he's bored of beans straight from the can, he can research for-the-homeless, by-the-homeless cooking tips. He can read about the latest in funny cardboard signage. He can watch this week's episode of Glee. He can look at porn (or maybe he doesn't need porn because he's keeping an eye on forums like this one.)
Pew reports that one-third of Americans consider high-speed Internet access a necessity, not a luxury. And that's good news.
Would-be New York gov Carl Paladino's apology for anti-gay comments prompts this reaction from Rabbi Yehuda Levin:
"I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich," Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."
Back in 1996, I published a little rant in Liberty [pdf] about porch furniture. Here's the core of it:
When I was a college student, I lived in a house with a sofa on its porch, and life was grand. People could gather there to talk, or smoke, or drink, or play music, or make out, or just watch pedestrians wander by. It was both an adjunct to the house -- an extra room smokers or loud talkers could be sent to without feeling banished -- and an opening to the outside world. Random passers-by could stop for a second, stay for an hour, and end up our newest friends. The couch was ripped-up, dirty, and comfy. And our landlord made us get rid of it.
He was a good landlord in every other respect. But after he took away our couch, our house's social life took a bit of a dive....
[C]ouchnapping our favorite furniture is a landlord's prerogative, I suppose. The house is his property, after all, and I don't remember demanding any special sofa rights in our lease. But the city council of Indiana, a small town in western Pennsylvania, has no such excuse. In December, the Indiana Borough Council banned residents from using furniture outside if it is "not specifically constructed for outdoor use." Offenders will be fined $50-$100 for a first offense, and up to $300 if they keep sinning. The law was specifically designed to get couches off porches. According to the Associated Press, "The idea came from Councilman John Morganti, who has campaigned to clean up things he regards as eyesores."
Well, that's America: one man's way of life is another man's eyesore. Except in this case, the latter is a powerful prig, and he doesn't mind forcing everyone else to conform to his sterile social vision. Don't be surprised if this latest affront to civil society catches on in other cities. There is something about a happy porch that drives a busybody mad.
Fourteen years later, the story has arrived at its sad punchline. In a dual attack on the social lives of students and the property rights of landlords, the town where I went to college -- Ann Arbor, Michigan -- has now banned porch couches. It's a city with no shortage of busybodies, but I never dreamed it would assault its own indigenous culture so ruthlessly. Next thing you know they'll start locking people up for smoking pot.
[Hat tip: Clark Stooksbury.]
With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, we can't be certain who will emerge with control of Congress. But as Steve Chapman writes, we can be certain about what the party that wins will do with its power: pander to geezers.View this article
Soul great Solomon Burke died at a Netherlands airport over the weekend. Burke is one of my favorite vocalists, so I'm going to indulge in a bit of appreciation.
Depending on whom you believe, Burke was either 70, 72, 74. Given his 400+ pound frame, that he lived that long is something of a blessing. Good for us that he did. Thanks to a late-in-life career resurrection, Burke has over the last decade released three of the best soul albums in a generation. I'll also argue that he had the best voice in American popular music, and it only improved with age. Burke's weight gave his characteristic timbre more heft and depth, while age added a warm, weathered texture you don't hear in the more polished sound from earlier in his career. His last five albums (with one more posthumous release on the way this month) showcase his incredible range, and an artist with with an innate ability to phrase and inflect to animate the words he's singing. He was kind of a Sinatra of soul (not that he didn't have enough nicknames, many of them self-bestowed) in that like Sinatra, Burke wasn't merely a great technical singer, he was also a master interpreter.
Signed to Apollo records in his teens (a great story in itself), Burke got his start in the music business with a series of country recordings (his first record was a Pasty Cline song), eventually moving on to gospel, blues, jazz, and of course soul. He embodied Americana music as well as anyone else I can think of, in part because he made great records in all of its component styles (save, as far as I know, for bluegrass). Here's Burke's first big hit, "Cry to Me", released in 1962.
After a series of minor hits, Burke followed the now-cliched plight of the 60s R&B vocalist. He was exploited by managers and labels, toured endlessly, and found himself in financial straits after unknowingly signing away the rights to many of his songs. But the cliches stopped there. Burke never bottomed out. Instead . . . he started businesses. He sold concessions at his own shows, eventually expanding to prepare and sell meals to other touring black musicians barred from eating at segregated restaurants in the south. He'd later run a drugstore, and eventually own and run several California mortuaries. He was also ordained as a minister in the 1970s, and also preached part-time for much of the rest of his life. He lingered on the fringes of the R&B charts for most his career, but continued recording, starting businesses, preaching, . . . and propagating. The man died with 21 children, and 90 grandchildren.
Burke's resurgence began in 2001 when he signed singer/songwriter Joe Henry to produce his next album. A fan of Burke since childhood, Henry recruited music titans like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Brian Wilson, and Elvis Costello to write songs tailored for Burke. The result was the 2002 release Don't Give Up On Me, which I'd submit is the best soul album of the last 25 years. Henry's spare production gave Burke wide latitude to interpret the words of rock's greatest songwriters, material much more suited to his rich voice than the Lieber and Stoller-style puppy love songs he'd recorded for the better part of his career. Burke recorded the entire album without rehearsal. He showed up at the studio, sat down with the band, and churned out a Grammy-winning album. No Depression called it an "almost entirely seat-of-the-pants improvisation." It's a stunning collaboration.
From that album, here's "Fast Train," a Van Morrison-penned song that fans of The Wire will recognize from the montage that ended Season Three.
Burke's next great album, Nashville, returned him to the old-school country that launched his career. The 2006 release is a collection of country standards (and a few new songs) produced by Buddy Miller, and features Burke with backing vocals from country icons like Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Patti Griffin. A neo-soul singer recording a modern album of country standards sounds at first like a tough sell. But Nashville worked. The styles converge rather beautifully. Here's Burke and Welch performing "Valley of Tears" at a concert at Nashville's Belcourt Theater to celebrate the album's release.
I only saw Burke perform live once, in 2003 at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. He was an ostentatious, almost cartoonish showman. He performed all his shows as you see him above, in three-piece suits, under hot lights, dabbing his brow with silk hankerchiefs, even as his weight ballooned and his health deteriorated. He sang from a giant wooden throne, sometimes holding a scepter, and managed to turn the mere act of standing up, which he only did a couple times per night, into an emotional statement that brought the audience to its feet. Between songs he'd sermonize, hand out roses to women in the audience, give lovemaking tips, and boast of his copious offspring. He closed his shows by inviting the women in the audience on-stage to dance behind him. But it was hard to be put off because of that damned voice. It's still probably best vocal performance I've ever heard in person.
Burke didn't have the name recognition of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, or Jackie Wilson, but he outsang them all. Probably more important for his own place in music history, he outlived them all, which allowed him to collaborate with the likes of Henry and Miller to turn out some remarkable work toward the end of his life.
Given that this is a libertarian forum, I'll close with "None of Us Are Free," a moving, modern-day civil rights anthem from Don't Give Up on Me, featuring Burke and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Rest in peace.
As an advocate of libertarianism in the public sphere for over two decades, I know full well most Americans get really annoyed by its consistent application. But something about Ron Paul seems to trigger some recognition in even journalists that this is a guy with a serious, well-intentioned, and possibly vitally important message.
Some excerpts and comments:
“I’m so confident in my philosophy that I think I could run a pretty good race in San Francisco,” he told me in his Washington office recently. “What I’d talk about there wouldn’t be so much about deficit spending as about personal liberties, military engagement overseas, and the financial crisis. That used to help more in conservative districts. But everybody’s worried about it now.”....
Paul is also a loner because his ambitions lie mostly beyond Washington. He wants to inspire a national movement, but from the outside. Demonstrating purity of conviction is more conducive to that goal than acceding to ordinary political compromises. Paul’s presidential campaign drew a large grassroots following, even while he was being dismissed as a kook, and it made better use of the Internet than any campaign besides Obama’s. Like Obama, Paul inspires people of widely varying beliefs to see him as the vessel of their desires. His opposition to the Iraq War, strident criticism of the Federal Reserve, and early warnings of financial collapse, which he derived from the theories of semi-obscure Austrian economists, brought all sorts of people into the fold.
But it’s what has happened since the election that has carried Paul from the fringe of American politics toward the center—or, really, carried the center toward him. Two years of economic trauma have fed a nationwide resentment. The clearest sign of this is the loose affiliation of angry conservatives, disaffected independents, Glenn Beck disciples, strict constitutionalists, and assorted malcontents who gather under the Tea Party banner. This heterodox mass distrusts the political establishment and believes the federal government has grown dangerously large. Some believe that it has usurped powers rightfully reserved for the states, rendering many of its actions illegitimate (the Constitution is the sacred Tea Party text). Above all, Tea Party followers share a profound objection to unchecked spending and expanding credit, as successive administrations and the Federal Reserve have done to the tune of trillions of dollars. This effort to stimulate the economy, they believe, has not only failed to end the recession but made it worse.
To address these grievances, Paul was ready and waiting. He is not the Tea Party’s founder (there isn’t one), or its culturally resonant figure (that’s Sarah Palin), but something more like its brain, its Marx or Madison. He has become its intellectual godfather....The Tea Party has overrun the Republican Party everywhere from Alaska to Kentucky to Maine, and a version of Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve just passed the Senate unanimously en route to becoming law. Today, on matters of economic politics, Paul is at least as significant as any of the Republicans he shared the stage with in the 2007 South Carolina debate. And has anyone noticed that he’s a fixture on Fox News?...
In February, Paul startled the Republican establishment by handily winning the presidential straw poll at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a big event for party insiders. As the Republican Party swings into line behind him, it has upended the consensus that has prevailed around fiscal and monetary policy since the Great Depression, pressuring the Fed and blocking any additional stimulus. With the Tea Party gathering force, Paul is at last where he has always wanted to be: in the vanguard of a national movement.
I think author Joshua Green is highly overestimating the actual influence of Paul, or willingness to act, if and when in actual power again, in Paulian manner, of the mainstream GOP. That said, I've underestimated the power of the resurgent Ron Paul phenomenon a bit since he first announced his presidential run in January 2007 (when I was, I'm pretty sure, the first national journalist to interview him about it).
Paul is a prolific introducer of bills, usually ones that don’t go anywhere. But a few have been prescient. Before the positions were widely popular, he advocated setting term limits and abolishing the income tax. Less popular ideas have included eliminating most federal agencies, ending government funding of education, repealing federal laws against drugs and prostitution (he favors state laws), and cutting military spending.
Ron sometimes pulls the "not federal issue but state issue" thing on drugs when he doesn't want to fight to the death at that moment on libertarian root issues, but the man who told the Conservative Political Action Conference the following earlier this year deserves better drug war cred than Green gives him:
But I do not believe freedom can survive and I do not believe we as conservatives can contribute much if we still think freedom only comes in pieces: that you can protect economic liberty but not personal liberty. Sure, I imagine everybody in this crowd would say, “Yes, protect our right of free speech. Protect our right to our religious values.” But as soon as it comes to putting something in your mouth or in your lungs, you say, “You don’t have enough sense to decide what you should do, so we are going to use the heavy hand of government, come down and protect you against yourself”.
Back to Green:
Paul’s independent streak put him at odds with a Republican leadership that ran Congress like a Tammany Hall machine and punished anyone who strayed. Paul strayed habitually. In 2003, his seniority put him in line to chair the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve. To deny him, Republican leaders merged two committees. In 2005, he was again set to assume the top spot. With another merger impossible, a senior colleague was pressured onto the subcommittee so that she, and not Paul, would take the gavel.
“They look at him as a problem,” says Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Financial Services Committee and co-sponsored bills with Paul legalizing marijuana and Internet gambling. “Ron said to me in 2005, ‘I guess I’ll have to wait for you to be chairman, because we never get anywhere around here.’”
I'm cherry picking the good parts. Green does feel it necessary to say he finds Paul sounding "unhinged" when discussing economics--serious feature writers about politics for major national magazines never say things like that about politicians with actual serious national power or prestige (see any number of bipartisan profile rim jobs of "major political players" in mags like Esquire, GQ, and yes, The Atlantic).
The notorious racist bits in his old newsletters get mentioned, but as a parenthetical aside. Green's discussion of Paul's role in a rally in his district at the start that mostly features people annoyed that government isn't doing more for them shows he doesn't really get what Paul is really selling (or that Paul's constituents don't, which actually seems like a rich possibility but not one Green explores). Green repeats the standard story that Keynesians, not Paul's beloved Misesians, are right about the causes and cures of economic downturns.
Still, Green comes to a conclusion that I only hope is accurate in its implied expectations:
Paul says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for president again. But it’s hard to believe he won’t. He has emerged as a force at the kind of insider events that once ignored him. After winning the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, he came within a single vote of repeating the feat two months later at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. In June, he traveled to Iowa to raise money for local politicians, which is what you do when you’re thinking about running for president. He was greeted with PRESIDENT RON PAUL 2012 signs.
It does not seem at all far-fetched to think that Paul could have a much greater impact on the race than last time. The Republican primaries are sure to be about economic and size-of-government issues. The subject that hurt him last time, foreign policy, will probably take a backseat. Paul will not lack for resources, thanks to his legion of online donors. Reagan, the Republican hero, once endorsed him. And the party’s energy right now is at the grass roots, which also bodes well for him. If his economic message connects in Iowa and New Hampshire—well, who can say?
My February 2008 Reason magazine cover story on Paul's presidential campaign.
Isaacs says she's boycotting Apple after the company's PR department ignored her calls and Jobs told her to "leave us alone" in a heated email exchange over Isaac's attempts to collect information on Apple for a journalism school assignment. Isaacs told CNET reporter Ina Fried, "I wouldn't be comfortable giving [Apple] a dime. If that's the way you treat consumers, that's not right." She added "I hate Apple, but I don't hate Apple," and will be objective in covering the company.
Isaacs spoke from the New York launch of Windows Phone 7. The Long Island University student's travel expenses to the event were paid by Microsoft after she won a contest sponsored by the software company, which issued the award after her spat with Jobs. Nevertheless, added CNET, "the group's adviser told them to be tough and hold Microsoft's feet to the fire while meeting with various company executives and learning about the company's products."
"...after she won a contest sponsored by the software company, which issued the award after her spat with Jobs…" I don't think I could write a more opaque phrase if I tried, and regular readers know I try pretty hard. Best wishes to Isaacs, and congratulations to Microsoft and Apple, still hanging on as the Kang and Kodos of American technology after three decades.
Amity Shlaes uncovers a lesser known anti-business move by the Obama administration, begins the long process of rediscovering Warren G. Harding's greatness, and upholds the sanctity of contracts in her Bloomberg column.
At issue: the president's unheralded pocket veto of the unheralded Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act, which would have required courts to recognize notarized documents signed in other states.
There are good reasons to object to IRNA, but the administration managed to find the bad one. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, Obama wants to increase the paperwork headaches involved in foreclosing on bad borrowers, and says the bill could create “unintended consequences on consumer protections.”
Shlaes takes the wayback machine to the 1920s, and shows how prosperity presidents steer clear of the high-handed approach to contract law the Bush and Obama administrations have taken:
Harding well understood the importance of stability for commerce and contracts. In his inaugural address, Harding promised the country a predictable environment for business deals in language far different from the current political discourse: “Any wild experiment,” Harding warned, “will only add to the confusion.”
There was no “change” in the Harding plan. “Our best assurance,” he said, “lies in efficient administration of the current system.”
Once president, Coolidge repeatedly made sure that contracts and property were honored. Coolidge did this first of all by keeping government out of the way and curtailing government expansion. His favorite vehicle for blocking Congressional plots was the one that President Obama used: the pocket veto, when a president vetoes legislation by allowing it to go into a Congressional recess unsigned.
Coolidge likewise denied bailouts when he could, sometimes in a manner that would appall today. The Greece of those days was Germany, which had been forced into a horrendously unrealistic reparations contract: the Versailles Treaty. Germany’s terms were rewritten, but Coolidge was skeptical.
As Time magazine reported, Coolidge said of the agonizing Germans: “They hired the money, didn’t they?” Time commented: “He did not want the U.S. taxpayer to cover German reparations.” Banks failed routinely in the 1920s, and by the thousands. As for the dollar, the Fed and Treasury of those years protected it so well that Cole Porter included these lines in a famous song: “You’re the top. You’re an arrow collar. You’re the top. You’re a Coolidge dollar.”
The result of this callous inhumanity was highly humane: The economy grew an average of more than 3 percent a year -- 4 percent or more under Coolidge. Unemployment fell below 5 percent and stayed there.
So, sure, contracts may be necessary casualties in recessions. Still, it’s possible that ours has been a contracts recession.
Shlaes' big idea is that political uncertainty acts as a depressant on economic growth. While I suspect emotions-based economic theories eventually lead to the Keynesian cesspool, this is a case where the depressive effects are clear. Banks' internal investigations of paperwork screwups have already caused a de facto national foreclosure moratorium. The issue in foreclosuregate isn't that there was something wrong with notarized documents but that lenders and borrowers both may have failed in their due diligence. That's something a notary -- who is just there to make sure of who is signing the documents -- wouldn't catch. Notarization isn't a guarantee against fraud by the signers. Creating new uncertainty around signed contracts makes the mess harder to sort out and dishonors the brave notary publics who are risking their lives for our freedom.
Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward talks with The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz on Bloggingheads.tv about whether a Nobel Prize qualifies you for a government job, how to disqualify current holders of government jobs, and what it's like to be unbanked.
She was the superintendent of 168 dysfunctional schools in a mid-sized city, but Michelle Rhee managed to become awfully famous. She began her tenure posing for a controversial Time magazine cover with a pushbroom, a symbol of her intent to clean up D.C. schools. When she resigned today, the reformist ballbuster went out on the heels of the premiere of Waiting for Superman, an Oscar-fodder documentary by the director of An Inconvenient Truth which features Rhee declaring that D.C. schools are giving kids “a really crappy education.”
In recent weeks, a narrative has congealed around Rhee’s chancellorship and the Democratic primary defeat of her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty. The story Fenty and Rhee lovers and haters alike are telling themselves is that while the dynamic duo of reformers had a lot of the right ideas, they had the wrong personalities. Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward explains why that narrative misses the mark.View this article
The Consumerist sets the interview up.
Vincent Ocasla says that in fashioning the "Magnasanti" metropolis, he has "beaten" SimCity by creating the max stable population of six million. It consists of four grids of identical 12 x 12 grids with everyone's workplace within walking distance. There are no roads, the city runs entirely on subways. There's zero abandoned buildings zero congestion, and zero water pollution.
Sounds utopic! But wait...
Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don't need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it's like going to the same place....
...The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don't rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
Also, no one lives past the age of 50. Bright side: Low health care expenditures!
A report in Politico suggests that state races may be a bigger factor than national races in determining how implementation of the new health care law plays out.
While congressional Republicans won’t be able to repeal health care reform with Barack Obama in the White House, Republican governors and their appointees have the power to throw major roadblocks in the way of reform plans.
Governors who oppose the legislation can refuse to set up pieces of the law, such as the state-based insurance exchanges where most Americans will purchase coverage beginning in 2014. In many cases, they also can appoint insurance commissioners and Medicaid directors with directives to refuse to participate in implementing the law or the federal funding associated with it.
That's basically right. Even if they manage to nab control of the Senate in November, Republicans will still have to contend with a presidential veto and thus won’t be able to repeal the law outright. A legal challenge might overturn the law at some point, but it will take a while for the various challenges to work their way through the court system (although. That means that between now and 2012, the health care policy battle is going to play out mostly through a series of politically driven policy skirmishes at the state level. Some state governments will pick fights with insurers. Others will fight back against federal dictates for the design of the exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid. Elected officials who oppose the law will have to decide whether to set up insurance marketplaces under strict administration oversight or whether to refuse and give the federal government the power to directly create some of the exchanges. It’s going to be a long, drawn-out implementation squabble, and there probably won’t be a clear winner. For a preview of some of the issues likely to get a lot of play, read my piece on ObamaCare and the states from the October issue.
Commonsense Ten, a Democratic political action committee, is running a TV ad that criticizes Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky, for being soft on drugs. This theme echoes criticism from Paul's Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, whose campaign produced a similar ad. The American Prospect's Adam Serwer calls such attacks "the sort of thing one really hates seeing from the left," adding, "I guess knowing that a 'libertarian' is running for Senate, Democrats are back to being drug warriors." Did they ever stop? Serwer is more on target when he writes, "The basic problem with criminal-justice reform is that both parties are very used to being the same kind of stupid about crime-related issues."
The new ad, like Conway's, includes an excerpt from a panel discussion on Kentucky Educational Television in November 2008, when Paul was chairman of Kentucky Taxpayers United. During a discussion about gambling toward the end of the show, Paul says:
I'm against legislating morality…I'm for having laws against things that are violent crimes, but things that are nonviolent shouldn't be against the law.
The ads use the part where Paul says "things that are nonviolent shouldn't be against the law." This formulation is imprecise, since I'm sure Paul does not think it should be legal to pick people's pockets or burglarize their homes. But in context, it's clear he's referring to laws that criminalize consensual activities, and this is exactly what both Conway and Commonsense Ten find objectionable. "Like other libertarians," says the Commonsense Ten ad, "he says drug laws are 'too harsh.'" Defending his ad, in which a sheriff calls Paul's view "crazy," Conway says, "Rand Paul said that nonviolent crimes, including prostitution and selling drugs, are not crimes." What a lunatic!
Detroit has become a place Hollywood directors come for great wreckage shots. One quarter of the city's 140 square miles are deserted. Detroit public school students boast the nation’s worst reading scores, the products of a corruption-ridden school system that recently flirted with bankruptcy. Detroit bested Baltimore in 2009 to take the dreaded “murder capital” title. It may also be the worst place in the country to have a heart attack: prepare to wait half an hour for an ambulance.
In a town lacking essential services, what do local leaders and federal politicians have in mind for helping the city? What's needed to hoist Detroit back to its 1950 heyday, when it was America's fourth largest city, with more than double its current population?
Why, light rail, of course!
The Motor City is moving ahead with a plan to build a 9.3-mile light rail line that will run from downtown Detroit to the edge of the suburbs. It’ll cost an estimated $500 million. Three-quarters of the bill will be paid by federal taxpayers, with the rest picked up by a consortium of foundations and businesses.
If built, the project will end up on the Mackinac Center's list of government-subsidized white elephants touted as “crucial to Detroit’s comeback,” its “rebirth,” and pivotal to “turning things around." In reality, it’ll just be another train to nowhere, much like Detroit’s existing light rail line, the unfortunately named "People Mover,” which operates at 2.5% of capacity.
For more on Detroit’s light rail folly, check out Reason Foundation’s Adrian Moore and Shikha Dalmia's rebuttal to PBS’s recent documentary, “Beyond the Motor City,” which laid out the case that light rail can, yes, "revive" Detroit.
Produced by Jim Epstein. Approximately 5.45 minutes.
I was all set to declare this letter to the Ventura County Star as the Lefty Prohibitionist Brainfart of the Day.....
Reasoning in favor of legalizing marijuana seems pretty strong to me, but there is a problem with Proposition 19. It cannot legalize marijuana because a federal law makes marijuana illegal. So, that is a stupid law, because it is not being enforced.
The history of the Prohibition period, 1918-1933, provides assurance that prohibition of marijuana cannot be enforced, just as laws against adultery cannot be enforced. The violations are so abundant as to make attempts at enforcement only a waste of dollars. Any morally justified law that cannot be enforced is a stupid law.
The answer to the stupidity is to get the law repealed, as Prohibition was repealed. It is bad enough to have a law flouted, because this breaks down respect for the rule of law, but for California to thumb its nose at the law of the land by voting approval of Proposition 19, would be a much more severe flouting of the rule of law. This I declare as a lifelong liberal.
— Gilbert S. Bahn
... when I encountered this lead pargaraph in The Huffington Post:
As a father of three children -- Cooper 9, Greer 6, and Chase 3 -- I'm faced with the dilemma of discussing with them how marijuana is as safe as aspirin when they turn 18 years old. If Proposition 19 passes, the state of California is telling me that it's okay for my children to get loaded on drugs as often as once a week or every day and all day.
Though in fairness, it's really the names that seal the deal.
Got the munchies for some bad newspaper headlines to go with your Prohibitionism? Here ya go, kafacklers!
BTW, with La Opinion and my hometown Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram now weighing in against, we now have at least 18 of the top 23 California dailies, and 22 of the top 34, on record about Prop. 19. All 22 are opposed.
Me on the Democratic way of Prohibition here.
The world is atwitter over Google's ambitious plans to invest in the $5 billion Wind Connection Project. When completed, a 350 mile long network of underwater electricty cables capable of transmiting 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy would stretch from New Jersey to Virginia. And so far no government money has been mentioned.
The Google proposal reminded me of Energy Crisis era plans to moor as many as eight floating nuclear power plants off the Jersey shore. The idea was that the plants could be moored close to cities and use copious amounts of seawater to cool their reactors. In fact, Public Service Electric and Gas Company had ordered four reactors that were to be installed on a man-made island just north of Atlantic City. The project was canceled in 1978.
More recently the Russians have launched a controversial floating nuclear power plant to supply electricity to oil and gas operations in the Arctic. Back in 2007, Indian researchers suggested floating nuclear power plants could not only supply energy, but also use their excess heat to produce freshwater through desalination.
On Friday the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are challenging President Obama's claim that he can order the killing of anyone he unilaterally identifies as an enemy of the United States, responded to the Justice Department's arguments for dismissing the lawsuit. The government argues that Obama's policy of "targeted killings" is a "political question" unsuited for judicial review and that allowing the case to proceed would risk revealing "state secrets." Hence Obama is not only claiming a license to kill; he is asserting that the license can never be revoked, suspended, or even examined by the courts. ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer sums up the situation:
If the government's arguments were accepted, the current administration and every future administration would have unreviewable authority to carry out targeted killings of Americans deemed to be enemies of the state. While that power would be limited to contexts of armed conflict, the government has argued that the armed conflict against al Qaeda extends everywhere, indefinitely. This is an extraordinary and unprecedented claim, and one that we urge the courts to reject unequivocally. The courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the government's counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.
Glenn Greenwald notes that even David Rivkin, a Bush I administration lawyer who routinely defends executive power in the service of the War on Terror, thinks Obama is going too far by claiming his summary executions must remain secret. "I'm a huge fan of executive power," Rivkin told The New York Times last month, "but if someone came up to you and said the government wants to target you and you can't even talk about it in court to try to stop it, that's too harsh even for me."
The government's motion to dismiss is here (PDF). The CCR/ACLU reply brief is here (PDF). Last week David Harsanyi criticized Obama's use of the state secrets privilege to bar litigation over targeted killings. Last month I discussed Obama's use of the privilege to block lawsuits by torture victims.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the hip and happening business and econ theory book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, wants to see more accountability in...well, not exactly sure...in loaning your prestige to an idea that might have influenced someone into committing an act that led to the value of an asset falling? At any rate, he's full of the sort of vim, vigor, and outrage that's as rare as...hm, not sure what metaphor I'm groping for here.
Anyway, Bloomberg has the scoop:
“I want to make the Nobel accountable,” Taleb said today in an interview in London. “Citizens should sue if they lost their job or business owing to the breakdown in the financial system.”
Taleb said that the Nobel Prize for Economics has conferred legitimacy on risk models that caused investors’ losses and taxpayer-funded bailouts.....
“People are using Sharpe theory that vastly underestimates the risks they’re taking and overexposes them to equities,” Taleb said. “I’m not blaming them for coming up with the idea, but I’m blaming the Nobel for giving them legitimacy. No one would have taken Markowitz seriously without the Nobel stamp.”...
“If no one else sues them, I will,” said Taleb, who declined to say where or on what basis a lawsuit could be brought.
Wired did an interesting cover feature on high-end math and financial risk last year.
Politically speaking, election time is when you retrofit your positions. But as David Harsanyi writes, the Obama administration's preposterous attack on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does nothing to help Democrats and everything to reinforce the moderate voter's perception that the president's party has gone bonkers.View this article
In the past 11 months, New York’s highest court—the Court of Appeals—has had two perfect opportunities to perform its basic constitutional duty and carefully review the highly controversial use of eminent domain by the state’s powerful Empire State Development Corporation. It failed both times. First, in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, the high court rubber stamped New York’s land grab on behalf of real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards basketball stadium project. In that opinion, the majority actually admitted that eminent domain abuse might be occurring, but then declared that it had no business second-guessing the state officials who had made the dubious blight determination:
It may be that the bar has now been set too low -- that what will now pass as "blight," as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses. But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.
So much for an independent tribunal of justice. Then, in the case of Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, the court followed this ridiculous precedent and rubber stamped the Empire State Development Corporation’s corrupt partnership with Columbia University, once again refusing to perform any sort of judicial review on the bogus blight findings that will allow the state to seize private property and hand it over to the elite private university.
All of which brings us to yesterday’s unanimous appellate court ruling in Matter of Uptown Holdings v. City of New York. As befits a lower court, the judges consider themselves bound by the precedents set by the state’s highest court. What does that mean in practice? Here’s the entirety of Judge James Catterson’s depressing and all-too-accurate concurring opinion:
In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp. (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp. (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority.
As I noted in a column last month, the victimized property owners in the Columbia University case have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review New York’s actions (the Court refused to hear the Atlantic Yards case in 2008). Judge Catterson’s opinion is yet more evidence why the Supreme Court needs to start paying attention to New York’s eminent domain abuse.
My favorite campaign ad so far comes from the Illinois governor's race. I don't care who wins, but I want to see more ads like this one, in which one of two cartoonishly Irish-named candidates (Brady and Quinn) is blasted for supporting the mass "euthanization" of puppy dogs and rubber ducks:
Quinn's stark ad is right that the bill was sponsored two days after the primary but it incorrectly suggests that it was Brady's first act after winning. Quinn is close on the substance of what the bill would have done. But the ad oversteps somewhat in suggesting that the bill would have required mass euthanizations, rather than just allowing them, and it glosses over the fact that Brady dropped his sponsorship and that the bill has been moot for most of this year. On balance, we rate the claim Half True.
USA Today via Cincy Enquirer reports on what happens after Race to the Top Initiative solves all K-12 education problems:
Photos appearing to show suggestive "dirty dancing" at a high school's recent homecoming have prompted an Ohio school district to suspend dances. The Bellevue Gazette says photos from the event on the newspaper's Facebook page prompted an angry phone call from Bellevue Superintendent Kim Schubert, who called the pictures "a shock."
Schubert issued a statement Tuesday saying inappropriate dancing at school events would not be tolerated. She says no further dances will be held in the district 45 miles southeast of Toledo until students are given some rules on behavior expected from them.
When will teachers learn? If Kevin Bacon could defeat John Lithgow's repression in Footloose, if the dancing paperboys could defeat Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, and if jazz-dancing teens could defeat the Nazis in Swing Kids, what hope does Kim Schubert have in defeating the dirty dancers of Bellevue, Ohio?
Reason.tv and Drew Carey reported on a Footloose situation in Arizona a while back. Even in Barry Goldwater's home state, it seems, uptight squares are always trying to clamp down on the god-given right to shimmy and shake. Even in the middle of the desert after a steak dinner with the spouse and kids.
As Radley Balko noted in yesterday's Morning Links, the Washington Post and other newspapers pulled Wiley Miller's syndicated "Non Sequitur" cartoon from their comics pages two Sundays back, because Miller pulled a familiar-to-Reason-readers "where's Waldo?" gag with the Prophet Muhammad, satirizing the new 21st century taboo on the depiction of even jokes about the fear of depicting a historical figure who really existed.
As is typical of the genre, Washington Post editors tried to play their own "where's Waldo" with the censorship process:
Style editor Ned Martel said he decided to yank it, after conferring with others, including Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, because "it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message." He added that "the point of the joke was not immediately clear" and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.
If the Post's new standard for comics is to make jokes "immediately clear," then it might be time to kill the comics page altogether. No, Martel/Brauchli, you pulled the cartoon because your fear of Muslims outweighs your commitment to free expression, period.
Now comes L.A. Times media critic James Rainey, who, even while concluding that the cartoon should have run (the L.A. Times, to no one's surprise, suppressed it), makes sure we understand that fear was not a factor, nosiree:
That's not to agree with some commentators who have called the refusal to run the comic a cowardly retreat from radicals. I'd say the ax that fell on "Non Sequitur" had more to do expediency. Moving in a hurry, with many other decisions that seemed more pressing at the time, editors probably killed the item rather than face the possibility of a furor for a piece they honestly felt was not of high quality.
Uh-huh. This is really how these gut-checks work. A boundary-stretching case comes before you, and suddenly everyone's an art critic. (Rainey: "I didn't find the panel especially powerful or witty.") I'll never forget how many people reacted to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by saying that, the thing is, Satanic Verses really isn't a very good book, and it's understandable that Muslims would take offense, etc. Faced with the fear of being blamed for (or the target of) a mysterious cartoon dog whistle that sends 1 billion of the planet's humans into a homicide-bombing frenzy, editors bring to the table levels of scrutiny literally never used on the media in question. As is underlined by Rainey's own reporting:
[Boston Globe] Deputy managing editor Christine Chinlund said via e-mail: "When a cartoon takes on a sensitive subject, especially religion, it has an obligation to be clear. The 'Where's Muhammad' cartoon did not meet that test. It leaves the reader searching for clues, staring at a busy drawing, trying to discern a likeness, wondering if the outhouse at the top of the drawing is significant — in other words, perplexed."
Said Alice Short, an L.A. Times assistant managing editor: "If they had produced a 'Non Sequitur' cartoon that said 'Where's Jesus?' I probably wouldn't have wanted to run that either."
Is that the least believable media quote of 2010? Why yes, I think it is. This exchange at the end of the piece gets closer to the matter:
At the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman a senior editor named Drew Marcks told me when I asked about the cartoon, "I'd rather not talk about it."
I pressed. He hung up.
Advice for my newspaper friends: Listen to Penn Jillette. "[W]e haven't tackled Islam because we have families," he says. "[A]nd I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you're afraid to talk about it." There, that wasn't very hard, was it?
I wrote about trying to convince the L.A. Times to reprint Danish cartoons of Muhammad in this piece from May.
A new website dedicated to underground music from the Arab and Islamic world hopes to be a MySpace for musicians pushing for social change.
Fans of hits like "I Shot You Babe" -- an Iraqi ditty based on the Sonny and Cher tune -- can find the songs on the Bahrain-based Mideast Tunes site.
Esra'a al-Shafei, 24, founded the English-language site and is also director of the group Mideast Youth.
She tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that the group's music site -- a sort of regional iTunes, but free of charge -- is intended to allow musicians and listeners to connect in a part of the world where many young people feel helpless.
It's an English-language site with Western funding (private funding, that is: Al-Shafei's group wisely won't take money from the U.S. government); I have to wonder whether its core audience is located in the Mideast or here in the States. Either way, it's right to see a connection between "vulgar" pop culture and Middle Eastern dissent, a topic we've been covering here at Reason for a while now. That coverage will continue in our December issue, which will include a feature on the region's heavy metal and hip hop scenes.
If you want to hear "I Shot You Babe" for yourself, here you go:
And from the same musician, DJ Foundation, here's a little ditty about jihad:
- Rescue of Chilean mine workers began last night. So far, 11 have been brought to the surface.
- Federal judge orders global injunction on enforcement of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Obama administration goes to court to stop it.
- Michelle Rhee will resign as D.C. schools chancellor.
- Obama administration lifts ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf.
- California gubernatorial debate gets ugly.
You can’t really be surprised when some of Washington’s perkiest boosters of war and defense pork put up a flashing neon sign announcing that, yes, they’re still in favor of spending as many taxpayer dollars as possible on massive missiles, nasty nukes, and fancy flyin’-and-killin’ machines. Cutting government down to size might be important, sure, but it ain’t that important—not when there are precious defense dollars on the line. Or, to put it another way: Are you saying you don’t support the troops?
More to the point: What do the hawks have to worry about? President Obama, despite speaking out against “dumb wars” on the campaign trail and knocking a Democratic rival for supporting the war in Iraq, isn’t all that interested in paring back the war-bucks either. The total yearly bill for America’s war bling current stands at at super-shiny $680 billion—a figure that’s only going to increase in coming years. And for what? Maybe that’s just what’s necessary to give our missile systems a “serious scrub”? (Can’t we just run them through a 10 dollar car wash?)
Whatever the rationale for Obama’s defense spending, it’s depressingly familiar, especially for a guy who ran on the idea that change was a-comin’. As the Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble points out in Foreign Policy, when it comes to defense spending, Obama is following in the footsteps of his big-spending predecessors:
Unfortunately, the president has shown no real interest in cutting military spending or in revisiting the purpose of U.S. military power. Why not? For all his talk of change, Obama has continued on the path set by his predecessors. Like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, he sees the U.S. military as the world's sole policeman, and its armed social worker. It is this all-encompassing mission that requires a large military—and a very expensive one. Americans today spend more on their military, adjusting for inflation, than at any time during the Cold War, even though the threats that they face are quite modest.
What would a serious reduction in the defense-spending tab look like? Earlier this summer, a bipartisan group of defense wonks tallied up $960 billion in potential cuts over the next decade. And Preble, along with Benjamin H. Friedman put together a plan to slash $1.2 trillion. You might think that in a time of near-universal worry about the growing deficit, a Democratic president might take the opportunity to trim the defense budget by a few bombs. But holding military spending at its current levels—much less trimming it by the trillion-or-so dollars that experts say could be cut—apparently isn’t on the table. Obama wouldn’t even include military spending in his proposed spending freeze. As an influential critic of military spending once said about the country's ongoing indulgence in defense pork, "Twenty years after the Cold War ended, this is simply not acceptable. It's irresponsible. Our troops and our taxpayers deserve better." That's true, and could be pretty good guidance for a willing politician. And all it would take for the president to follow it would be for him to listen to his own advice.
Someday we'll all raise a glass of Sterno, pour out a 40 for our dead brothers, and remember how we survived the nightmare that was the 2010 midterm election. (For the umpteenth time, people: removing the head or destroying the brain is the only way to put them down permanently.)
Until then, enjoy the comic relief provided by Krystal Ball and ex-husband Douche Bag.
Ball, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Virginia's First Congressional District, vamped with her then-spouse for a series of photos at a costume party of yore. Though the pics (view them all!) reveal nothing more scandalous than a tolerance for feeble, British-type kink and the hard reality that women's Halloween costumes range from "sexy" to "sexier," the usual gang of yuksters have had their fun, and with the wisdom of half a decade, Ball claims to have been victimized.
Specifically, Ball makes an argument from sisterhood. In this clip, she labels public interest in the pictures "incredibly sexist" and "outrageous" -- apparently unaware of previous general-lasciviousness scandals involving such less-than-hot males as John Tower, Gary Hart and John Jenrette (the last of whom was pilloried for having sex with his own wife in the days before Ball's parents conceived her).
The brilliance of Ball's outrage is that she's gotten a few of the rubes to believe it.
But it turns out even square Chesapeake Basin society has progressed to the point of taking clothed indiscretions lightly. The reindeer affair has run its course, which Ball acknowledges in a followup statement that confuses plural and possessive:
I believe that I was treated fairly by the media and able to answer to the voters of Virginia. Now they deserve a discussion regarding issues such as reforming government, getting people back to work and improving our education system. I feel deeply blessed to be interviewing for the job of Congresswoman in front of the citizen's of the first district of Virginia.
The rapid social liberalization most of us grew up with produces anomalies like this one, where Ball gets to claim feminist solidarity while also getting the benefit of hotness. The Fox of Fredericksburg (whose grammar is less alarming than her econ degree from the University of Virginia) is not expected to win her race against Rep. Rob "supporting homeowners affected by Chinese drywall" Wittman. The First District has been whittled into a Republican stronghold. That's why Wittman's predecessor Jo Ann Davis was able to brave the patriarchy and win four elections, with massive majorities, in this century.
Last week President Obama repeatedly insinuated that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using "foreign money" to fund ads criticizing Democrats. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says Obama's attempt to discredit his opponents by linking them to sinister outsiders reminds us that neither major party has a monopoly on xenophobia. Sullum argues that crying "foreigner" reflects not only the president's desperation in the face of the Democrats' looming midterm losses but also a long-term rhetorical strategy that belies his image as a sophisticated cosmopolitan eager to promote international cooperation and restore America's reputation.View this article
At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabbarok reports on a survey of ignorant factual errors on the part of polled macroeconomic principles students at SUNY-Oswego (and hold the SUNY-Oswego jokes):
the median student believes that 35% of workers earn the minimum wage and a substantial fraction think that a majority of workers earn the minimum wage (Actual rate in 2007: 2.3% of hourly-paid workers and a smaller share of all workers earn the minimum wage, rates are probably somewhat higher today since the min. wage has risen and wages have not).
When asked about profits as a percentage of sales the median student guessed 30% (actual rate, closer to 4%).
When asked about the inflation rate over the last year (survey was in 2009) the median student guessed 11%. Actual rate: much closer to 0%. Note, how important such misconceptions could be to policy.
When asked by how much has income per person in the United States changed since 1950 (after adjusting for inflation) the median student said an increase of 25%. Actual rate an increase of about 248%, thus the median student was off by a factor of 10.
The full survey results.
Bryan Caplan wrote a Reason cover story back October 2007 in on some of the theoretical misunderstandings most people have about economics, "The Four Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters (And We're All Stupid Voters)."
Over at National Review's The Corner, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy documents just how rotten the 21st century has been for job creation in these United States. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is telling a whopper about how President Obama's job creation numbers are better than President Bush's.
De Rugy helpfully charts monthly job numbers for Bush and Obama and there's no question that Obama has been a disaster. But Bush looks good only by comparison. Take a gander and then doublecheck to make sure you haven't been pink-slipped during the time that it took to read this post:
De Rugy notes that there's no way to easily compare jobs under a guy in office for eight terrible years and a guy in office for less than two really terrible years. But the raw numbers tell a tale that neither president nor party should be proud of:
Under Bush, private employment shrank by 673,000 jobs, federal employment grew by 50,000 jobs, and government employment grew by 1,753,000 jobs.
Under Obama, the private sector has shed some 2.9 million jobs while the federal government has grown by 40,000 (after growing massively, the federal workforce shrank throughout the summer). Total government jobs, however, shrank by 357,000 jobs, mainly because of cuts at the state and local levels.
Reason's Nick Gillespie was on CNN's Parker Spitzer last night. His first segment is online here. And below is the show's "political party," where Gillespie mixed it up with three other guests. Among the topics discussed: Are today's candidates worse than those in the past?; whether markets or government created monopolies; and whether Gillespie is a mouthpiece for "plutonomy" (whatever that is).
Bonus: Working blue on CNN leads to bleeping (circa 2.30 mins in).
About 9 mins.
My column tomorrow is about President Obama's recent attacks on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for 1) collecting money from foreign affiliates (totaling about 0.05 percent of its budget) and 2) sponsoring ads that criticize Democrats. White House Counsel Bob Bauer insists the president did not mean to suggest any connection between those two points, even though he repeatedly put them in the same sentence, since that would amount to accusing the group of violating the federal ban on election-related spending by foreign nationals. Obama admits he has no evidence to support that charge. But neither does he have any evidence to refute it! Which, according to presidential adviser David Axelrod, is the whole point—i.e., the president feels no compunction about making shit up without full disclosure, who can say whether the Chamber of Commerce is violating the law? What is it trying to hide? Yesterday ABC Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper, whose terrier-like tenacity puts his allegedly dogged predecessor Sam Donaldson to shame, pressed Axelrod on this line of innuendo reasoning:
TAPPER: So the Chamber says no foreign money is paying for any of their political activities.
AXELROD: And I guess my answer to the Chamber is just disclose where your money is coming from and that will end all the questions....
TAPPER: Their answer would be why should they disclose. No one's disclosing.
AXELROD: Right, and they have a point there. We tried to pass a law in the Congress -- every Democrat in the Senate voted for it, every Republican in the Senate voted against it -- that said everyone has to disclose....The Republicans blocked that bill, and the question to them and their allies is: what are they hiding that they don't want the American people to see?
TAPPER: But you're asking the Chamber to prove a negative. "Prove that you're not doing such and such accusation."
AXELROD: It’s not proving a negative, Jake, because all you have to do to clear up the questions is reveal who your donors are from....
TAPPER: But there's a difference between the Chamber and some of these other organizations, right? The Chamber -- we know what it stands for, we know basically the money is coming from big business and corporations. These other groups...they have names like "Americans For Prosperity," [and] we don’t know what they stand for or who’s behind it. But the Chamber is different, isn't it?
AXELROD: Well, we certainly do know about the Chamber, that they have foreign affiliates and they do raise money for the organization that way....
TAPPER: But what do you say to people who argue you are demonizing an organization for a charge that nobody knows if it's true or not?
AXELROD: Well I’m not demonizing the Chamber of Commerce. I’m simply suggesting to them that they disclose the source of the $75 million that they are spending in campaigns and put to rest...the questions that...have been raised.
TAPPER: Isn't that like the whackjobs that tell the president he needs to show them his full long-form birth certificate so he can put to rest the questions that have been raised?
AXELROD: The president's birth certificate has been available to people.
TAPPER: The long form?
Axelrod conspicuously dodged that last question. What is he trying to hide?
More on the lopsided, blatantly partisan DISCLOSE Act, to which Axelrod refers in his second response, here.
A great unpublished Los Angeles Times Blowback article once took the paper to task along the following lines:
"I'm sick of your paper whining about everything! Waahh, unemployment is high, we have to do something for job seekers! Waahh, unemployment is low, we have to help employers find skilled laborers! Waahh, real estate is too expensive, the poor buyers! Waahh, real estate is too cheap, the poor owners!"
And so on. I'm going from memory but I am sure about the waahhs, the topics, and the series of disjunctions, all of which were deemed too amateurish for posting by my esteemed fellow Tribune paycheck collectors. But I still think it was a wonderful critique of the do-something-do-ANYTHING-no-don't-do-that school of journalism.
Case in point: In 2008, 2009 and through this summer, only locust-eating fanatics like me were saying the foreclosure crisis was not a crisis at all. Many states, applauded by their local media outlets, instituted foreclosure moratoriums. Distinguished members of congress spent hundreds of billions of dollars to mitigate the foreclosure epidemic. A large and growing chunk of ARRA Stimulus debt was issued toward an effort to keep people in their homes.
Then last month, the foreclosure epidemic went into remission. The spasms were arrested not by any new regulations or toxic assets purchases or taxpayer money for loan modifications. Instead the temporary cure for the foreclosure epidemic took a form known only to the few and happy band of sisters who had been following the "show me the note" craze since 2009. ‘Twas paperwork killed the foreclosure beast.
In late September Ally Financial (the witness-protection-program alias of GMAC) suspended evictions because of the shadiness of thousands of documents signed by an employee in the company's GMAC mortgage unit. GMAC has now expanded its foreclosure moratorium to all 50 states, not just the 23 where court approval is required for a foreclosure. (Questionable affidavits are an issue in many of these cases.) Chase Home Mortgage began a review of its own foreclosure portfolio, and froze operations in the 23 court-approval states, following a similar auto-signature scandal by one of its employees. PNC Financial followed suit. Wells Fargo is doing a similar review, and last week Bank of America suspended foreclosures in all 50 states. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (the Bebe Rebozo of “show me the note” conspiracy theories) continues to get defensive about its role as a clearinghouse for electronic changes of mortgages and MBS.
I'm sorry, I know this material is enough to give you heartburn of the ass. How, for example, did GMAC, a company designed to provide financing for Government Motors car purchases, end up being the country’s fourth-largest mortgage lender? Why wasn't Bank of America allowed to fail two years ago, and have its mortgage portfolio taken over by discount buyers with much higher incentives to find the correct paperwork and renegotiate bad mortgages? These stories are too grim for a family publication. The important thing is that Foreclosuregate, though it may not roll off the tongue, is in full swing in these here United States.
Should be good news, right? If anything will help bad borrowers get back on their feet, it's an indefinite reprieve during which they won't have to pay any money for their housing.
But think of the poor buyers! Or the poor sellers – we’re not sure which. From David Streitfeld and Andrew Martin:
With home sales this past summer at the lowest level in more than a decade, real estate is ill-prepared to suffer another blow.
But as a scandal unfolds over mortgage lenders’ shoddy preparation of foreclosure documents, the fallout is beginning to hammer the housing market, especially in states like Florida where distressed properties are abundant.
“This crisis takes a situation that’s already bad and kind of cements it into place,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist for MFR, an economic consulting firm.
Three major mortgage lenders — Bank of America, GMAC Mortgage and JPMorgan Chase - have said they are suspending foreclosures...
They are also waving off Fannie Mae from selling any of the foreclosed homes whose loans they sold to Fannie.
If only we could all wave off Fannie Mae.
It's worth noting that this time the doomsayers are right, broken-clock-style: The foreclosure paperwork problem is bad news. But that's because anything that delays the process of getting bad borrowers out of their homes and cheaper houses back on the market lengthens the time until real estate hits bottom. Unfortunately, every newspaper, every politician, and every saltwater economist has been telling us for about three years that we need to slow the foreclosure avalanche. Now that that's actually happening, of course, it's a new emergency. When will the government do something about it?
White House flack Stephanie Cutter got her fact check on this morning, explaining to the many devoted readers of the cleverly named White House Blog that, despite rumors on the Internetz, the health benefit information that might show up on your employer-provided tax form next year won’t make your income taxes go up. But fact checking is so much fun that it’s easy get too excited and go a little overboard. As Julian Pecquet notes at The Hill:
The White House seems to have taken the rebuttal a bit far. Cutter goes on to make a general statement that suggests the new law will never tax health care plans, which isn't true either.
"For months," Cutter writes, "opponents of health reform have falsely claimed that the Affordable Care Act would lead to the taxation of health care benefits. The claim wasn't true when the rumor first surfaced, it isn't true today and it won't be true tomorrow."
While the W-2 rumors are demonstrably false, the law does create an excise tax on high-cost healthcare plans. Starting in 2018, so-called "Cadillac plans" will be subject to a 40 percent tax on excess benefits.
The White House now says it only meant to address the W-2 rumor, but that just isn’t clear from the post. Now, it's possible that Cutter's claim will actually turn out to be right: Given the strong union opposition to the Cadillac tax, it may be that the provision is cut before it comes into effect. But despite Cutter’s claim, the PPACA explicitly calls for the taxation of health care benefits starting in just a few years.
It’s open season on Carl Paladino, the homophobic, racist email-forwarding Republican candidate for governor of New York. And much to the delight of the Cuomo campaign, everyday seems to bring a new scandal. Now Paladino stands accused of using salty language about Attorney General Eric Holder, apparently telling a voter that he would say “fuck him” if he attempted to try terrorists in a Manhattan court.
National Journal broke the story, with reporter Jeremy Jacobs stating categorically that the tape shows Paladino saying “fuck him.” CBS News correspondent Lucy Madison says “a video has surfaced that will force New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino to confront his own delivery of a different kind of message—to Attorney General Eric Holder.” Mediaite writes of Paladino’s ”expletive-filled assessment of Holder.” The Atlantic’s Chris Good declares, in a headline, “Paladino on Eric Holder: 'F**k Him,'” but hedges in his post, noting that the Republican hopeful “appears to respond” with an expletive. And so on.
The only real skepticism (that I have seen) comes from AOL News contributor Steven Hoffer, who spots (as I did!) “the discrepancy in voice when the camera pans away from the questioner back toward Paladino. The second utterance of 'F--- him' clearly conflicts with Paladino's actual voice as he begins his response.” After repeated listens, it seems pretty clear that Hoffer is right. And that the media simply expected this to be true.
So, Hit & Runners, is Paladino getting a bum rap on this one? And if National Journal et al., turn out to be wrong, as I think they will, can we expect a) a raft of corrections and b) something like this Dave Weigel post, ripping those in the media who went with the story before nailing it down.
The exchange starts at about 2:03.
Today, David Brooks argues that without its crippling pension obligations, the state of New Jersey might have had enough cash to build the Hudson River tunnel that governor Chris Christie killed last week. Public sector unions—and public sector union lobbies—have a stranglehold on the state coffer, he says, forcing successive governments to pay retired state employees at the expense of essential, long-term projects.
William Galston doesn't talk about the Hudson tunnel in this New Republic column, but he suggests a second possible tunnel killer: ObamaCare. Galston argues that because Obama spent all of his political capital on the health care debate, he was less willing to push for the establishment of a federally-managed infrastructure bank, which might have kept the Hudson project alive.
How would a national infrastructure bank work? The idea might be thought of as an attempt at a compromise between free-market funding and centralized infrastructure planning. It would be privately-capitalized but government-managed, and could allow for a combination of private and public input in granting loans in support of massive domestic projects. Galston says an infrastructure bank "could attract private capital, create a merit-based selection process for projects, and finance the kinds of infrastructure investments—multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional—that get short shrift in the congressional appropriations process."
The hope is that an infrastructure bank would help facilitate private investment in major projects that government is simply too broke to undertake on its own, while the whole "merit-based selection process" could crack down on the cronyism and inefficiency that make huge infrastructure projects such expensive, drawn-out affairs. Because private investors would be playing with their own money, the idea is that the bank would only grant loans to the most urgent yet cost-effective and best-run programs. And because it would be extremely discriminating in how it loans out money, taxpayers would, at least in theory, assume a relatively low level of risk.
But there are also drawbacks to the idea. An infrastructure bank has the potential to increase the deficit if those loans aren't repaid. And it might lead to ruinous Fannie Mae-style public-private entanglements. The Reason Foundation's Samuel Staley explained that an infrastructure bank could be successful only if it minded its balance sheet, and if Congress prevented it from functioning as an ATM for cosmetic, pork-barrel "stimulus" projects. He wasn't hopeful on either count:
Samuel Staley, director of urban growth and land-use policy for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian research group, said the best way to spend money efficiently would be to establish the bank as a revolving loan fund so that money for new projects would not become available until money for previous projects had been repaid.
Mr. Staley expressed concern that in their zeal to spur growth and create jobs, Congress and the Obama administration would not impose such limits.
“With the $800 billion stimulus program, they were literally just dumping money into the economy,” he said. “There was little legitimate cost-benefit analysis.”
That's a huge problem. In the hands of a more fiscally responsible presidential administration than the current one, a national infrastructure bank might bring private-sector money and know-how to major infrastructure decisions. But that would require a level of fiscal restraint that neither party seems ready to commit to.
Alex Knapp flags this paragraph from a New York Times profile of Muslim-baiting blogger Pamela Geller.
She spent the next year educating herself about Islam, reading Bat Ye’or, a French writer who focuses on tensions over Muslim immigrants in Europe; Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym for a Pakistani who writes about his rejection of Islam; and Daniel Pipes, whom she ultimately rejected because he believes in the existence of a moderate Islam.
This is grotesque to me. It’s like saying that that someone spent a year educating themselves about Christianity, reading Chrisopher Hitchens, an English writer who wrote articles focusing on the “crimes against humanity” of Mother Teresa, Friedrich Nietzsche, a former seminary student who wrote at length about his rejection of Christianity, and Sam Harris, whom they ultimately rejected because he believes in the existence of moderate Christianity.
If you put that in a profile of an anti-Christian blogger, you would know immediately that they’re a fraud and simply not worth listening to.
If you want to listen the fruits of Geller's self-education, check out her interview with 60 Minutes from a few weeks ago. Note, though, that after the interview, Geller helpfully provided some important context in which to watch the segment: 60 Minutes "is part of the Islamic supremacist agenda."
My all-time favorite Geller moment is still the time she published proof that Barack Obama is the illegitimate love child of Malcolm X. (She now disclaims the theory, but says she published it because "the writer did a spectacular job documenting Obama's many connections with the Far Left.")
Geller would be easy to dismiss and not take seriously...if it weren't for the fact that a disturbing and growing number of people take her seriously.
In June the Food and Drug Administration warned the leading direct to consumer genetic testing companies that their tests were subject to the agency's premarket review because of the unreasonable risks they possibly pose to consumers. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains why FDA premarket approval is unnecessarily burdensome and how it would end up depriving consumers of information that they clearly want.View this article
It took the Log Cabin Republicans filing suit—not action from President Obama—to put a (temporary) stop to the ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. CNN has details:
A federal judge ordered that the U.S. military stop enforcing the don't ask, don't tell policy on Tuesday.
Judge Virginia Phillips ordered the military "immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"."
The judge had previously ruled that the policy regarding gays serving in the military violated service members Fifth Amendment rights but delayed issuing the injunction.
The military was sued by Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group.
An appeal by the Department of Justice is anticipated.
Last week's endgame over the California budget prompted Los Angeles Fox affiliate Channel 11 to run a budget miniseries on the 10 O'Clock News, with Tim Cavanaugh (Reason's Richard Chamberlain) in the lead bloviator role. Here are the last two of Cavanaugh's Cable/Ace-nominated appearances opposite anchorwoman Christine Devine:
"It's beyond what you can think of as bankruptcy," says documentary filmmaker Ray Griggs of the current state of U.S. debt. "In our world, you go bankrupt. In the government world, they just keep writing checks."
In his new documentary, I Want Your Money , which opens nationwide in more than 400 theaters on October 15, Griggs examines the fiscal crisis the U.S. faces today by comparing two iconic presidents—Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan—and their views on the proper role of government.
Griggs talked with Reason.tv’s Ted Balaker about our nation’s mounting debt, his controversial iPhone app, Bobble Rep , and the difficulties he faced making a conservative documentary in Hollywood.
Run time approximately 7:30 minutes.
Interview by Ted Balaker. Shot by Alex Manning, Paul Detrick, and Zach Weissmueller. Edited by Weissmueller.
The Weekly Standard l-o-v-e-s itself some Republican payback in the 2010 midterms (pictured). Lovity-loves it! There has even been some awkward embrace of a Tea Party movement (and a Rand Paul candidacy) that is as far removed from Bill Kristol's universe as David Brooks is from mine.
But don't you go getting serious about government reduction while winning one for the home team, grassrootsies! Whereas last week saw Kristol co-proposing a lockbox on the money-suck of defense spending; this week the new Standard sports a lead editorial warning incoming Republican avalanchists from going too hog-wild on that whole austerity thing. Excerpt from the Matthew Continetti column:
What might trip up the GOP? It's not that the public's demands are impossible to meet. It's that belt-tightening all too easily becomes an unhealthy obsession. Numbercrunching is a valuable skill, but it also has a tendency to crimp the political imagination. So Republicans must be careful as they trim expenses. Otherwise they'll fall into the austerity trap.
In the austerity trap, Republican congressmen get so outraged over earmarks to fund studies of the mating patterns of red-bellied newts, they neglect legislation that would foster long-term growth. Deficit anxiety causes conservative lawmakers to rule out sensible policies like a payroll tax cut. A myopic focus on government spending causes Republican leaders to short-change the defense budget and renege on America's global responsibilities. The entitlement nightmare frightens GOP candidates into framing their economic agenda in strictly negative terms.
What should Republican lawmakers do instead? Roll back "nondefense discretionary spending to pre-TARP levels" (thereby locking in George W. Bush's 60 percent hike). Maybe plug in "a simple formula to contain spending" (so advanced–it's simple!). Add in a vague "tackling the entitlement problem," spiced with a promising if politically inconceivable "tossing Obamacare onto the scrap-heap and replacing it with policies that emphasize portability, choice, and competition," and voila! You can move on to the serious and more detailed business of cutting taxes.
I've got nothing against cutting (and especially simplifying) taxes. But we tried taxcut-and-spend already, and it sucked. It's 2010, we're out of money, and it remains a curious thing that the forces who are making the Republican revival possible are one helluva lot more focused on cutting government spending than the forces who want to play once-and-future-kingmaker for the GOP.
If you want to get serious about cutting government, I've got a different magazine to recommend.
There's a new online magazine/foundation/book thingie called The Good Men Project, which aims to be a new type of men's publication with the nonprofitty goal of helping at-risk youth, and they have just come out with a list of their Top 10 Good Politicians (stop snickering!). I contributed to their selection and description of Number 6 (coincidence??), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.):
"Jeff Flake is that rare creature in Washington," said Matt Welch, editor of Reason. "He's someone who elevates principle over party, choice over control, and good governance over doling out goodies to his constituents." [...]
"When today's Tea Party bandwagon was busy supporting every Republican power grab in Washington," Welch said, "Flake was admitting as early as 2006 that there's 'nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record.' He's a serious man in an unserious town."
Yeah I know, that second graf doesn't make much sense, time-space continuum-wise. Sue me! The GMP goes on to interview El Flake-o. Excerpt from that:
If you were making a list of politicians you respect for both their integrity and their dedication to the ideas they believe in, what man—from a party other than your own—would you be sure to put on the list? And why?
Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin). Over the years, I've watched Ron stand up to both his party and his constituents—his party when he has sponsored or voted for ethics measures that his leadership hasn't been fond of, and his constituents when they pine after farm subsidies that Ron does not believe in providing.
From the Reason archives: The GOP purging of Jeff Flake, Flake's 2008 list of three particularly bad laws, Flake vs. Ron Paul on earmarks, and two Reason.tv videos: How the GOP can get it's groove back (from December 2008), and why the Cuban embargo is wrong:
Emily Troutman reports from the hills near Port-au-Prince:
Six months ago, this land was nothing but crickets in the grass. Now, it's Haiti's new frontier, a landscape of squatters whose greatest hope is a home of their own. Gray and blue shacks and shanties extend for miles. Small gardens and homemade fences break up each plot. There are no trees or water. At the region's eastern end, a small herd of emaciated, confused horses wanders between the tents....
"President Preval says anyone can take this land," [one of the builders] says.
That's not the truth, of course. Which Kiln certainly knows, since his government has never given him anything of real value. But it is some version of the truth, and more than enough to hang his hopes on.
In March, President Rene Preval declared that all of this land, 20 miles of hills and meadows -- from Bon Repos all the way to Cabaret -- could be taken by eminent domain.
What the president actually said was that the land could be purchased. Eminent domain is a way to force the sale of land that owners would prefer not sell. For a moment, Haitians and foreigners alike entertained this thought -- a new city outside of Port-au-Prince. They talked about new neighborhoods, with real roads. They talked about sewage systems and wi-fi.
But 10 months later, few landowners have come forward, and when they do, land prices suddenly skyrocket. Determining land ownership in Haiti is incredibly complex. When an owner dies, land rights fall equally to all of the owner's children. After a generation or two, one single acre could have hundreds of owners. In a country where the average person earns $2 a day, even comparatively small, inexpensive lots can be mired for years in family disputes.
For the international community and aid organizations, Preval's decree soon became meaningless. It was a big gesture with no backbone. Nonetheless, news of the decree trickled down to the people. While bigger minds began to sort it out in meetings, Kiln, and thousands of men like him, went ahead and decided what's theirs....
Ask people along this winding highway: Who owns the land they're living on, and the answers soon become an exercise in imagination. The land belongs to a pastor, to the mayor, to their friend. A group of 21 owners donated it. The white people gave the land to us. Rule No. 1: Never admit you don't know who owns it.
The full article is here. It's an interesting account of what happens when it isn't clear who owns what, leaving ordinary people without much to do but to head out into the no-man's-land and stake a claim.
New York Times business writer Robb Mandelbaum recently highlighted a new rule from the federal Small Business Administration expanding the definition of “small business” to include some 18,000 businesses “that until now have been unable to take a government-backed loan or to get assistance winning federal contracts.” In other words, some not-so-small businesses have successfully persuaded the feds to change the rules on their behalf. It’s not exactly a shocking story and Mandelbaum reports it in a fairly straightforward manner. At least until he drops this little nugget:
Political pressures inexorably push up small-business size definitions. That, at least, is the theory of Jonathan Bean, author of a history of the S.B.A. provocatively titled “Big Government and Affirmative Action.” As the name suggests, this is not exactly a work of scholarship; it’s a polemic offered by an ideologue staunchly opposed to any S.B.A.-style intervention in supposedly free markets. Nonetheless, the events of the last several weeks suggest Mr. Bean has a point.
Can’t you just feel Mandelbaum’s pain as he typed that unforgiving last sentence: “Nonetheless...Mr. Bean has a point.” And indeed, Professor Bean does have a point, as any reader of his scholarly work would already know. Political pressures do in fact “inexorably push up small-business size definitions.” As for Mandelbaum’s breezy dismissal of Bean’s book, The Journal of American History praised Bean's "careful analysis, his all-encompassing bibliography, and his inclusive endnotes,” which together made Big Government and Affirmative Action “the definitive monograph.” That’s high praise from a serious academic journal, which hardly corresponds to Mandelbaum’s erroneous labeling of it as a “polemic.” Though perhaps Mandlebaum just scanned the title and promotional copy on Amazon in order to make a cheap point. Whatever the cause, it’s sloppy journalism.
Food trucks need customers. For many of L.A.'s newer entrants in the meals on wheels scene, this means building up Twitter followers—via prominently posted Twitter addresses on the sides of the trucks and other forms of advertising—and then pinging diners about their whereabouts regularly. While some trucks have regular routes, others prefer to cover new territory every day. Some of those trucks stay on the move, not because they crave a change of scenery or because they want to bring the gospel of kimchi tacos to a new neighborhood, but because they are forced to keep changing spots by hostile local restaurants or overzealous neighborhood cops.
Today, The New York Times covers the new regulatory regime about to fall on the heads of Los Angeles food truck owners, which includes health inspections identical to those undergone by restaurants, complete with letter grades, and mandatory filing of route maps:
Food trucks...will have to file route maps (route maps!) with the health department, to facilitate at least one field inspection a year, beyond the single annual inspection now required.
As with restaurants, health inspectors will be empowered to shut down a truck that scores less than a C for not enough attention to basic safety and food hygiene practices — for example, dirty counters, food left out, unwashed hands.
Because how could health inspectors possibly find trucks that broadcast their locations every day without a route map on file in a city basement somewhere?
While the food trucks previously joined together to fight new rules that would have limited where they could park and do business, they are mostly accepting the health inspection regime. Some have even found a way to see the bright side:
“It brings more legitimacy to an industry that is fairly new in the mainstream,” said Matt Geller, vice president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, which represents 86 food trucks.
But government veteran Gloria Molina, a member of the Board of Supervisors, knows better:
“Everyone is going to support it — until they get a B or a C,” said Ms. Molina, who has previously battled with food truck owners over attempts to regulate them. “And then they are going to be opposed to it.”
Here at Reason, we've written a lot about the ways that vested interests—community and local business associations, restaurants with multiple locations, and other longtimers—have shaped the system for their own benefit.
Be on the lookout for a followup story soon, in which hundreds of food trucks receive failing letter grades because of their inability to comply with rules written for bricks-and-mortar food establishments. Rules the health department will be unwilling to tweak to accommodate an new business model, probably on the tried-and-true justification that "if we make an exception for you, we'll have to make an exception for everyone."
Reason.tv took on the L.A. truck crackdown earlier this year:
Over at Splice Today, Russ Smith has a thoughtful little essay on liberal elitism in the run-up to the midterms. The last graf is not representative of the piece, but I liked it enough to share:
One last note about my own brushes with liberal elitism. In the summer of 1973, as an 18-year-old anticipating college that September, I worked in a biology lab at Princeton University. My duties including mopping the floor, feeding the rats, emptying the trays of fecal matter and, once the students were finished with their animal experiments, disposing of the critters. One afternoon, I had to dispatch a bunch of monkeys and cats—using chloroform—outside the building near the garbage containers. It caused a stir among students milling about, and a number of them harassed me, yelling, "Animal killer!" It was a very weird moment: young men and women, just a few years older than myself, attacking a minimum-wage worker for doing his job, rendered further ironic by the fact that some of the protesters were, in fact, the very same people who were conducting the experiments on the animals. That's elitism.
Similar thoughts (not about monkey-murdering, but escalating liberal loathing pre-November) from James Bowman and Trevor Butterworth. A different but also interesting take from Anne Applebaum, with dissent from Jonah Goldberg.
All kinds of interesting meditations on populism and elitism in the Reason archive.
The so-called middle class has been a target of politicians ever since it became a recognizable voting block. Unfortunately, writes Reason Foundation Director of Urban and Land Use Policy Samuel R. Staley, the term is less and less meaningful for understanding the nation's political dynamics, particularly in a nation whose core values are grounded in an organic concept of economic opportunity rather than a static concept of security. And as U.S. citizens go to the voting booths in November, Staley explains, the core political fight might not be over protecting the middle class but over which candidates are most likely to provide better opportunities for a newly defined middle class.View this article
Remember that Pennsylvania school that was spying on its students through their laptop computers? The school has agreed to pay out a $610,000 settlement.
But check out how that figure breaks down:
The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.
So public school officials get caught illegally spy on students. But no one gets fired. And none of the offending parties will be fined. Instead, a municipal insurer (which will ultimately affect taxpayers) will pay a decent settlement to one student, a small settlement to another, and a small fortune to their lawyer.
Score one for Rand Paul, son o' Ron and GOP candidate for Senate in Kentucky: The eye doctor, unlike virtually every other politician in either major (read: worn-out) party, is at least willing to talk about changing the way Medicare works. Given that Medicare, a.k.a. socialized health care for seniors, is the entitlement most likely to destroy the U.S.'s future, this amounts to a rare display of courage.
Paul's Democratic challenger, Jack Conway, is showing clips of Paul in 2009 suggesting that Medicare come with a $2,000 deductible. Conway suggests that this is among the most heartless things he's ever seen. Paul insists that the comments have been taken out of context (boo) but continues:
"Now people say 'don't talk about this, don't talk about this,' Paul said. "People are crazy that I'm talking about the solution.
"If you don't, are we going to just devolve to the dumbest of the dumb or the blandest of the bland, and have no debate in our country until we have chaos? That's what happened in Greece — chaos. They couldn't pay their bills, they couldn't pay for their debt. We're having some of that coming in our country if we don't do something."
Paul said that Conway has ignored looming financial problems for Medicare.
"Will we just simply elect people who will pander and say 'here's some money, I'll give you some more money?'" Paul said. "I think people are waking up across the country. I think people realize we can't keep doing things the same way.
"I think people truly are concerned that the tea party is about how do we pay these bills, that we're concerned about passing the debt to our kids and our grandkids."
More from Cincinnati Enquirer here. Sadly, if Paul wins the election (and he's likely to), his interest in changing Medicare will likely fall on deaf ears. His fellow Republicans blasted ObamaCare mostly on the grounds that it would cut into Medicare's uninterrupted tradition of fiscal profligacy.
Medicare is on autopilot to consume more and more tax money. There are obvious fixes - raise the eligibility age, means test benefits, kill the prescription drug benefit (the worst sort of vote-buying exercise) - and better ones - scrap the program, which has consistently overspent generous estimates.
Paul is right to be talking about Medicare reform. If anything, he's too apologetic about it. In many ways, Medicare is the last gasp of the New Deal. Yes, it was passed in the 1960s, but it comes from the same mind-set as Social Security and addresses a problem - poor old people - that doesn't exist in the same way anymore. Overall, seniors do quite well for themselves, having amassed assets over their lifetimes. They should not be getting a free ride at the expense of younger and relatively poorer Americans. Toss poorer seniors into Medicaid (which needs its own overhaul) and have those who can afford it pay for their own health care. In the name of faux compassion for our elders, the U.S. is systematically robbing youth of an economic future.
What's next? Retirees taking twentysomethings' organs?
Speaking at a conference of liberal activists Wednesday morning, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero didn't mince his words about the administration's handling of civil liberties issues.
"I'm going to start provocatively ... I'm disgusted with this president," Romero told the America's Future Now breakout session, according to blogger Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake.com.
In an interview with POLITICO, Romero confirmed the gist of the quote, though he emphasized it wasn't intended as an ad hominem attack.
"I'm not disgusted at President Obama personally. It's President Obama's policies on civil liberties and national security issues I'm disgusted by. It's not a personal attack," Romero said....
Asked why he's so animated now, Romero said: "It’s 18 months and, if not now, when? ... Guantanamo is still not closed. Military commissions are still a mess. The administration still uses state secrets to shield themselves from litigation. There's no prosecution for criminal acts of the Bush administration. Surveillance powers put in place under the Patriot Act have been renewed. If there has been change in the civil liberties context, I frankly don't see it."
Update: D'oh! The story's from June.
Tune in to Fox Business Channel's Varney and Co. at 10AM to catch Reason's Nick Gillespie chatting about the 2010 midterm elections and other depressing topics.
- Google announces plan for massive, $5 billion wind farm off the East Coast.
- Al-Qaeda releases second issue of Inspire magazine, which includes articles like, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
- L.A. County expected to impose new regulations on food trucks today.
- Washington Post pulls a comic strip that doesn't depict Muhammed.
- Carl Paladino clarifies: He's not against gays, he just doesn't want them marrying, having parades, or wearing Speedos and "grinding".
- Group of 40 attorneys general to announce probe of the mortgage industry.
- Doctors begin first embryonic stem cell treatment.
In an era of frightful budgets and frightened politicians, cutting government may seem like a flatly impossible task. But a look around the world—and at our own recent economic history—turns up a few inspirational examples of knife work that not only trimmed back budget deficits but created the conditions for unprecedented prosperity. From our November issue, Arnold Kling, David R. Henderson, and Maurice McTigue explain how New Zealand, Canada, and the postwar United States all managed to slash the state on a grand scale.View this article
Reason's Nick Gillespie will appear on CNN's new yakfest Parker Spitzer and Fox News' old chestnut Red Eye With Greg Gutfeld tonight.
Gillespie's bid to to do a cable TV Triple Crown fell short when his planned boxing match with MSNBC's Ed Schultz and a kangaroo fell through due to the occult influence of an unpredendented infusion of billionaires' money into the formerly pristine American political landscape.
As a consolation prize, watch Gillespie chat with Al Sharpton, Charles Rangel, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory - and Ed Schultz, who really has to think about whether the Tea Party crazies are racists or not:
Aficionados of militia-panic articles will enjoy Time's cover story "The Secret World of Extreme Militias." Here's a typical passage:
A small but growing number of these extremist groups, according to the FBI, ATF and state investigators, are subjects of active criminal investigations. They include militias and other promoters of armed confrontation with government, among them "common-law jurors," who try to make their own arrests and convene their own trials, and "sovereign citizens," who respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law. In April, for example, Navy veteran Walter Fitzpatrick, acting on behalf of a group called American Grand Jury, barged into a Tennessee courthouse and tried to arrest the real grand-jury foreman on the grounds that he refused to indict Obama for treason.
Over at Cliopatria, Chris Bray comments:
Members of these groups "respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law," regularly gunning down cops on the street! For example, uh, some guy yelled at a grand jury. 1.) Lethal force, 2.) Routine encounters, 3.) For example (thing that isn't lethal force in routine encounters.) Yes, I see that he also talked about people who "try to make their own arrests." But it's awfully clever to drop in that "who respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law" along the way, and to follow it with "for example" when you don't have any.
They harvest fruit, bake pies, and engage in mass murder. For example, cherries.
Bray has fun with several other passages in his post, including the priceless sentence "In a reversal of casting, the armed antigovernment movement describes itself as heir to the founders." (Bray's response: "A coalition of armed militias that express a desire to resist government power claims, in a 'reversal,' that it's the heir to the revolutionaries who waged war against British sovereignty for eight years.") Here's one sleight of hand that Bray missed:
Threats against Obama's life brought him Secret Service protection in May 2007, by far the earliest on record for a presidential candidate. At least four alleged assassination plots between June and December -- by militiamen in Pennsylvania, white supremacists in Denver, skinheads in Tennessee and an active-duty Marine lance corporal at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune -- led to arrests and criminal charges before Obama was even sworn in.
If there were already four conspiracies "before Obama was even sworn in," the number of threats must have become abnormally high once he was in office, right? Well, no. In the spring I had a conversation about that with Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the Secret Service. I was trying to confirm the claim, first made by Ronald Kessler in his 2009 book In the President's Secret Service and repeated since then in much of the press, that the Obama era had seen "a 400 percent increase in the number of threats against the president, in comparison with President Bush." Wiley wouldn't give me the actual figures, but he denied that Kessler's number was correct. According to Wiley, there was a period while Obama was still a candidate when he received more threats than the sitting president. "But since he became president that has leveled off," he continued. "The number of threats he has received has been consistent with the number received by Bush, Clinton, Reagan, and others."
Bonus reading: "The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years."
He’s chums with Carlos the Jackal and Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, has declared himself a Maoist on a state visit to Beijing, and has stumped for the FARC, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez backed the Chinese dictatorship in its spat with the Norwegian Nobel committee.
Last week, in a rare moment of moral clarity, the Nobel jury awarded the peace prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11 year prison sentence for “subversion.” (According to fresh reports from Beijing, Liu’s wife is now under house arrest.) From his jail call, Liu dedicated his prize to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Naturally, the Chinese government was unhappy with the choice. And Chavez, fresh off of an electoral thrashing, is backing Beijing, a large investor in Venezuela’s oil sector.
Speaking in his weekly radio and television program, Chavez scoffed at his Venezuelan political opponents who praised the giving of the peace prize to Liu.
Chavez said the opposition's support for the prize showed that "they are lackeys" of the West. "They are worse than the Yankees."
"Our greetings and solidarity go to the government of the People's Republic of China," Chavez said, adding: "Viva China! And its sovereignty, its independence and its greatness."
The Cuban state media also denounced Liu as a paid lackey of the United States—and then reported on yet another documentary about the indefatigable and handsome Che Guevara. But Soviet x-ray machine is free, compañero!
In related news, a women celebrating Liu’s prize in Hong Kong was arrested for assault after “accidentally splashing champagne on a security guard.”
I wrote about the politics of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel last week.
Wonkette: Aren't they great?
We here at this blog are not “normal humans” because we do not understand how wrenching it is to have yet another one of your children taken away from you because you are terrible, neglectful, abusing parents who go around blaming your own faults as a person responsible for taking care of children on Big Government hating your little “militia” club. Yes, it must be very wrenching for this man to have to be so unaware of the harm he is doing when he abuses his children over and over. That man is certainly the hero of this story, and so we are not allowed to make fun of Teabaggers for taking his side.
The author and commenters goes on [sic] with some incredibly mean-spirited class-based mockery that is actually kind of extraordinary–especially in the monolithic ability of people to laugh at baby snatching as long as it occurs to those kind of people. We don’t like those kind of people. There is even an incredibly un-self-aware, head-up-the-ass comment…
Yes, we apologize, Brian Doherty, for not always blogging about other people’s babies being “snatched.” That should be the primary focus of a political blog.
And really, we should definitely ignore a mass of idiots with real political power, ESPECIALLY if those idiots say people who like The Dukes of Hazzard or Jeff Dunham are somehow more American than the rest of us. If you try to criticize those people at all, you are only doing so because you hate their income level, obviously.
But, of course, when you’re a hack libertarian writer sweating to get the Teabaggers to read you and be your friend, it’s important to create a dichotomy between political humor bloggers and Teabaggers. Whereas everything Teabaggers do is correct and in the interest of freedom, political humor bloggers are a strange “other” who are not even “normal humans.” That’s why, when a political humor blogger tries to politely defend himself in the comments of the pro-Teabagger blog post, the libertarian hack’s far-right mouth-breathing commenters should tell him “I still hope you die in a fire” and send him e-mails saying, “Maybe you should go stick your arm down the drain and turn on the garbage disposal, it would be a good start.” And they should say, “But to the Wonkette commenters, they’re below us.” You see, people you disagree with are not even human or anything like that, so it’s okay to lust for their grisly deaths.
Wonkette minsunderstands--I had no intention of saying they should spend their time proving their objectivity by making fun of other people for having their baby's snatched, merely suggesting that just possibly there are some circumstances in which they might have some sympathy for someone for having their baby taken from them. Guess I was wrong!, and glad to hear that no mother anywhere deserves any sympathy for having their baby taken from them, as long as someone accused the dad of something.
And thanks for not sticking with the politeness, boss. It doesn't suit you.
Hey guess what, readers? Wonkette is capable of finding unflattering photos of people on the web! Not my best skill, I'm afraid.
To see what this is all about, see this highly updated post on a woman who had her kids taken from her because their father was accused of doing some bad stuff, as well as of being associated with Oathkeepers. A group whose highly objectionable policies include vowing as government agents to not cooperate with or enforce unconstitutional orders, an opinion so outrageous that no human consideration is due them.
I haven’t always been thrilled with state-level attempts to experiment with heath care policy. But as Tennesse’s budget-busting Medicaid expansion showed, those experiments are easier to undo than federal policies. And even the failures can encourage small-scale policy innovation. The PPACA, in contrast, is going to force some states to give up their local policies in favor of federally-defined standardization. Case in point, Utah: Currently the state runs a streamlined health insurance exchange that state officials would like to keep. But they may be forced to scrap it in favor of a bulkier, costlier, federally approved model:
Utah is pushing HHS to allow its health exchange—a relatively bare bones purchasing portal—to serve as the federal bare minimum. The state argues that assigning the exchange too many functions would be too cumbersome for states, deterring many from participating..."We're concerned that they're not only going to want us to facilitate the purchase of health insurance, but also provide a direct venue for accessing public benefits and enforcing the mandate," Robert Spendlove, Gov. Gary Herbert's policy director, tells PULSE. "We don't know yet what they intend to require but what we would like is for Utah to be defined as the federal minimum standard."
The Utah exchange is much smaller than the country's other exchange, the Massachusetts Connector, which is an online resource for purchasing coverage. Utah's has four dedicated employees and a yearly budget of $500,000; and leaders in Utah want to keep it that way. They wrote in comments to HHS last week that the federal agency "needs to resist the temptation to expand federal authority over state exchanges so long as the functions described in federal statute are met."
State government officials are working to implement the law in many cases because they have little other option; better to go ahead with planning rather than wait for the political battles to play out before acting. But there are a number of governors and gubernatorial candidates who have been fairly vocal about their opposition to the la and their frustration with the way it’s likely to affect the states.
Back in August, The Wall Street Journal reported Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ take on the law as follows: "The bill raises almost 1,000 questions and so far they have zero answers...This is going to be a nightmare, and you would think [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’] gubernatorial experience would have given her a good intuition for that." That same month, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty called the law “an intrusion by the federal government into personal health care matters and...an explosion of federal spending that does nothing to make health care more affordable.”
And even Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic candidate for governor of Nevada, is now worrying that the law’s Medicaid burden could end up negatively impacting the state’s budget.
As the Galen Institute’s Grace-Marie Turner told me earlier this year, when it comes to implementing the health care overhaul, states can expect to be told what to do and how to do it. “States will not be able to do it their way,” she said. “They’ll have to do it Washington’s way.”
Much more on ObamaCare and the states here.
From our November issue, Alex J. Pollock of the American Enterprise Institute explains how to carve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into pieces.View this article
There is much to-do in California about legalizing one risque activity, but another previously scandalous activity is about to get the nod in Santa Monica, after officials concluded it was "no longer seen as sleazy."
After careful deliberation, Santa Monica officials are preparing to get with the times by repealing a 1954 ordinance that prohibits "personal introductory service, marriage bureau, lonely hearts club, or other business of a like nature" from operating within the city limits....
"With the advent of computer technology, personal introduction and dating services have expanded and become a common and reputable way to meet others for social interaction," a City Hall report stated.
And that's not all: "Permitting bona fide matchmaking and dating services to operate within the city will benefit city residents and also benefit the city's economy," the report continues.
Escort services, however, remain unacceptably sleazy in the eyes of the city.
Via Courtney Knapp.
In today's Los Angeles Times, Joe Mathews, co-author of California Crackup and an essential commentator on Golden State politics, uses this year's slate of ballot initiatives to demonstrate his view of what's broken.
Mathews' diagnoses are always worth a look, though I agree with few of his recommendations, and I think one claim here -- that the 2/3-vote requirement to pass a budget leads to "minority rule" by the Republicans -- is strong evidence of cranial-rectal inversion syndrome. If you believe the Republicans (who control 27 out of 80 seats in the Assembly and and 14 out of 40 seats in the Senate) have too much power (at least relative to the Democrats), well, you're smoking something.
Speaking of which, dig Mathews' strange case against Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize and tax cannabis:
Proposition 19, unlike many initiatives, includes special provisions that permit the Legislature to make some changes to the measure (as long as those changes further the purpose of making it easy to sell weed). The measure also grants local governments discretion in regulating cannabis.
But Proposition 19 also establishes a specific method for legalizing and taxing marijuana that, under California's Constitution, can't be altered without another vote of the people.
This is problematic when it comes to legalizing marijuana, because if California were to become the only state to legalize the drug, there undoubtedly would be a host of new issues that might require altering the fundamental structure of Proposition 19. And that would require more action by voters. If the Legislature had created the underlying law, it would be easier to make changes.
And if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'. The legislature will never create the underlying law, any more than it would have approved medical marijuana in 1996. Prop. 19 is on the ballot because it has no hope of getting through the legislature, because the major organs of the political and cultural establishment can't treat seriously the idea of not imprisoning people for consuming a naturally occuring variety of produce, because popular will is once again being thwarted by government. That's not the problem with the initiative process; it's the whole point of the initiative process. If California's ruling class had shown any seriousness on this issue, Prop. 19 would not exist.
Mathews' argument against 19 is a more informed version of the "Legal confusion is worse than criminalizing non-violent personal activity" sections Matt Welch includes in his extensive catalogue of anti-19 scaremongering. Mathews concedes that 19 is more reasonable than the average initiative in defining a regulatory role for politicians, but then objects that that role isn't broad enough. Why is a guy with extensive knowledge of the state's gruesome political class afraid of placing constraints on the authority of the state?
This is a goofy attitude for free people anywhere, but it's especially odd in California, where we now get annual demonstrations of state paralysis, with no ill effects. Long delays in passing a budget have occured in all but five of the past 30 years, and during those delays the state government effectively goes into sleep mode: reduced hours and limited public services, furloughs and layoffs of government employees, hiccups in corporate and personal welfare payments, delays in paying contractors. And you know what impact the annual government shutdown has on working Californians? Bupkes. A temporary reduction in government services is a small price to pay for keeping power out of the hands of politicians. In fact, it's no price at all.
L.A. Times extra: George "I Thought He Died Years Ago" Skelton objects that legalization will make California a "laughingstock" and could allow "folks" to "make millions" (as opposed to letting other folks make tax-free billions, as the situation stands now).
To the campaign to make “progressive” a slur, Wilson is useful. Much as many people admire aspects of his presidency, he has no natural constituency any more, right or left. He was opposed to female suffrage. He supported Jim Crow. He wrote about Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy. He makes a good bad guy. He was also an intellectual, the first U.S. president to hold a Ph.D., and not just any intellectual: he had a law degree, but, before he became president, he was an American historian, with a special interest in constitutional history.
This professor-president has convenient similarities to our current chief executive — a scholar of constitutional law, professorial, intellectual, even, in some people’s eyes, effete (as, for instance, T.R. and F.D.R. were not). Also, given that Tea Party populism, at least as represented by remarks made by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin over the last two years, is dedicated to the proposition that American history — the very study of the nation’s past -- has been stolen by elitist, leftist intellectuals, discrediting Wilson, broadly, as an intellectual and, specifically, as an American historian, is tactical.
Finally, of course, Wilson was indeed a progressive; he pursued progressive policies, and nominated progressives like Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, targeting Wilson is, to some degree not only arbitrary but also counter-intuitive; much that he wrote aligns very well with today’s far right (“America was born a Christian nation,” Wilson once said).
I can't speak for Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, or conservatives, but I'm not the least bit bothered by the fact that Wilson was an intellectual (it's the content of his academic writing that I find objectionable), and I don't really think he has all that much in common with Obama. But while the animus toward Wilson from the right is relatively new, or at least more pronounced than it's been in the past, Wilson has always drawn the ire of libertarians. Among the many reasons why:
- He dishonestly led us into a pointless, costly, destructive war, and assumed control over huge sectors of the economy to wage it. He seized railroads, food and energy production, and implemented price controls.
- He suppressed dissent and imprisoned war critics. Said Wilson, "Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty." He signed the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a criminal offense to "oppose the cause of the United States." He retaliated against critical newspapers, and directed the U.S. Postal Service to stop delivering mail determined to be critical of the war effort.
- Wilson not only continued existing racial segregation of federal government workers, he extended it.
- He instituted the first military draft since the Civil War.
- He signed the first federal drug prohibition.
- He reinstituted the federal income tax.
A few more, from Gene Healy's book, The Cult of the Presidency:
- Wilson believed in an activist, imperialist presidency. In his 1909 book Constitutional Government, he made the case against checks and balances and the separation of powers. The government, Wilson argued, is a living organism, and "no living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live."
- He ordered unconstitutional, unilateral military interventions into Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. (He also oversaw military interventions in Panama and Cuba, and instituted American-favored dictators throughout Latin America.)
- Wilson believed God ordained him to be president, and acted accordingly, boasting to one friend in 1913 that "I have been smashing precedents almost daily every since I got here." Every president since Jefferson had given the State of the Union in writing. Wilson reinstituted what Jefferson derided as the "speech from the Throne," and ordered Congress assembled to hear him speak, giving rise to the embarrassing spectacle the SOTU has become today.
- He oversaw a massive domestic spying program, and encouraged American citizens to report one another for subversion.
Lepore is correct that some of these libertarian objections are actually points of similarity between Wilson and modern conservatives. But I think a more interesting question than Why does the right hate Wilson? is, given all of this, along with his belief in white racial superiority and opposition to women's suffrage, why do presidential historians seem to like him so much? Similarly, why do historians seem to be most smitten with the presidents who most exceed their constitutional authority?
Is it actually possible for Washington to get the federal budget under control? A story from Politico this morning illustrates the difficulty of the situation nicely: Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Cangressional Budget Office and a former Clinton administration budget director, is expected to release a proposal to put the budget on a bath to sustainability before the end of the year. But the plan is rumored to contain changes to Social Security benefits. And for many Democrats, that makes it unacceptable.
Nor are Republicans making responsible budgeting a priority either. The Politico story comes just a few weeks after John Boehner declared that he wasn’t interested in proposing “solutions” to the out-of-control growth of entitlement spending.
As University of Rochester poli-sci professor David Primo argues in a paper for the Mercatus Institute, the incentives for responsible budgeting—and in particular for budget trimming—aren’t very strong. Indeed, thanks to the diffuse costs and concentrated benefits of many government programs, elected officials have a fair amount on incentive to vote for proposals that cost more than the total value they provide. Intensifying the problem is that Congress gets to write its own rules. That means that Congress can also ignore the rules it sets. It's like the game of Calvinball from Calvin and Hobbes; the players can both make and change the rules more or less as they go. And as Primo writes, “due to this constitutionally granted freedom, successful enforcement of budget rules from within will be rare.”
But that doesn’t mean successful budgeting rules aren’t possible. Primo suggests three principles for designing effective budget rules. And his final suggestion is arguably the most important: Rather than simply focusing on balancing the budget, legislators should instead craft rules that focus on spending:
One of the most popular budget reforms is a balanced budget rule. It is simple and has intuitive appeal. (“My family has to live within its means, why shouldn‘t the government?”) And, it undoubtedly helps prevent massive deficits (though as the states have learned, not all balanced budget rules are created equal). The problem is, a budget that comprises 40 percent of GDP can be as balanced as a budget that consumes 10 percent of GDP, so long as sufficient revenues are raised. In other words, if a legislator‘s goal is to bring spending levels down, a balanced budget rule may not be enough. To be sure, tax increases are politically unpopular, so balanced budget rules tend to have a downward effect on spending. My research on state governments has shown that states with effectively enforced balanced budget rules spend about percent less than states with balanced budget rules that are not as effectively enforced.
A balanced budget rule would probably have a larger effect at the federal level because no restrictions are currently in place regarding deficit spending (in the state-level study the comparison was between different types of balanced budget rules). Still, given the size of deficits at the federal level, a balanced budget rule in isolation would probably lead to hefty tax increases alongside spending cuts, and in the long run, spending reductions are more beneficial than tax increases for two reasons.
First, once enacted, a tax increase has a greater potential to produce permanent increases in government spending, compared with a spending cut. To see why, we only need to return to the logic of concentrated benefits and distributed costs. Suppose that a deficit is closed by increasing taxes. Those taxes pay for government programs that typically have narrow constituencies willing to lobby for them. Any attempt to reduce the scope of government will have to overcome this lobbying. Moreover, legislators are unable to use the budget rule to justify the cuts, since the budget was balanced in through tax increases.
Now suppose that a rule is structured to focus on spending. Surely, there will be a fierce lobbying battle over what gets cut, but something will have to be cut.
One can hope.
Who the hell's against economic progress?
Author Daniel Ben-Ami tackles that question in his new book, Ferraris For All, which looks at how concerns over inequality, the environment, and excessive greed slow economic growth and hurt the poor. A regular contributor to the British online magazine Spiked, Ben-Ami believes these rationales are partially a cover for the real agenda of the super rich: keeping all the wealth (and Ferraris) for themselves.
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie sat down with Ben-Ami to talk about the repercussions and ulterior motives of growth skepticism.
Approximately six minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg. Edited by Josh Swain.
Go to Reason.tv for HD, iPod and audio versions of this video and subscribe to Reason.tv's Youtube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.
Reuters is reporting that, after years of unreasonable FDA delays, the stem cell company Geron has begun a Phase 1 clinical trial to check the safety of using its human embryonic stem cells as a treatment aimed at repairing crushed spinal cords. According to Reuters:
U.S. doctors have begun treating the first patient to receive human embryonic stem cells, but details of the landmark clinical trial are being kept confidential, Geron Corp said on Monday.
Geron has the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration license to use the controversial cells to treat people, in this case patients with new spinal cord injuries. It is the first publicly known use of human embryonic stem cells in people....
Geron's stem cells come from human embryos left over from fertility treatments. They have been manipulated so that they have become precursors to certain types of nerve cells.
The hope is that they will travel to the site of a recent spinal cord injury and release compounds that will help the damaged nerves in the cord regenerate.
The Phase I trial will not be aiming to cure patients but to establish that the cells are safe to use. Under the guidelines of the trial, the patients must have very recent injuries.
This first clinical trial is being launched in the midst of the renewed legal battle over federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. As Reuters notes:
Geron is not subject to limitations on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, as it has done all its work with its own funding.
Whole Reuters article here.
Disclosure: Many years ago, I purchased and have been holding several hundred shares of Geron stock. I haven't made any money yet, but I still have my hopes. Keep in mind that my risk threshold for investing is, well, let's just say, a bit high.
The Commonwealth Games concluding in New Delhi this week were supposed to do for India what the Beijing Olympics allegedly did for China: Prove to the world that it had truly arrived. But as Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes in her her latest Forbes column, the games accomplished the opposite: It showcased India’s dysfunctional side while masking its real strengths. That's because such extravaganzas require an efficient state—which India has never had and shouldn't want—and downplay the nation's entrepreurial ability—which India has in abundance and should nurture more to beat back poverty, its core challenge. As Dalmia writes:
These public extravaganzas, in striving to convey an impressive collective national image, detract from the issues that affect the ordinary lives of ordinary individuals that determine the true worth of a nation. Western countries too vie to host the Olympics and other similar mega-events. But they do so more in the original Greek spirit of celebrating individual excellence. Countries like India and China with a more nationalistic agenda, by contrast, use such exercises in the Roman fashion to trumpet their state’s capacity for grand public works...
If India wants to escape its image as a poor country, it has to stop being poor – just as if China wants to stop being viewed as a repressive country, it has to stop being repressive. Sporting extravaganzas – successful or not — won’t change that simple truth.
Here's last night's grim intro to the The Simpsons, directed by the graffiti artist Banksy. It's not unusual for the show to take shots at its parent company, but Banksy's couch gag also takes aim at the show itself. Pretty incredible that it made it on the air.
Last week The New York Times ran yet another story that tries to blame Citizens United for the Republican advantage in political ads sponsored by independent groups, a theme that Democrats have latched onto as pre-emptive excuse for their impending midterm losses:
The dominant story line of this year's midterm elections is increasingly becoming the torrents of money, much of it anonymous, gushing into House and Senate races across the country....
Skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans over the spending, which has overwhelmingly favored Republicans, reached a fever pitch this week, with charges and countercharges, calls for investigations and calls to block them....
The explanation for how these interest groups have become such powerful players this year includes not just the Supreme Court's ruling in January in the Citizens United case that struck down restrictions on corporate spending on elections, but also a constellation of other legal developments since 2007 that have gradually loosened strictures governing campaign financing and the regulation of third-party groups.
Add in the competitive political environment, with Republicans ascendant, the Obama administration struggling to break the perception that it is hostile to business, and the resulting stew is potent.
In the end, though, it is the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that remains the touchstone.
Why is Citizens United "the touchstone"? Mainly because news outlets such as the Times insist on portraying it that way, notwithstanding the evidence to the contrary:
Interestingly, the legal changes directly wrought by the case have turned out to be quite subtle, according to campaign finance lawyers and political operatives. Instead, they said, the case has been more important for the psychological impact it had on the biggest donors.
"The difference between the law pre- and post-Citizens United is subtle to the expert observer," said Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and a critic of the ruling. "To the casual observer, what they have heard is the court has gone from a world that prohibited corporate political speech and activity, even though that isn't actually the case, to suddenly for the first time that it's allowed. It's that change in psychology that has made a difference in terms of the amount of money now being spent."
It is pretty interesting that Citizens United did not make a dramatic difference in the restrictions facing partisan hacks like Karl Rove, especially because the Times keeps implying that it did. According to the new, revised "story line" (who is it that comes up with these story lines, anyway?), Citizens United was not that big a deal in legal terms, even though critics of the decision from President Obama on down portrayed it as the end of our democracy. The problem is that some donors—possibly including corporations as well as wealthy individuals—mistakenly thought it was a big deal and increased their giving based on that erroneous impression. And where is the evidence to support that thesis? The Times offers this:
"The principal impact of the Citizens United decision was to give prospective donors a general sense that it was within their constitutional rights to support independent political activity," said Steven Law, head of the Republican-leaning group American Crossroads and its affiliate Crossroads GPS, which have emerged as major players in this election. "That right existed before, but this Supreme Court decision essentially gave a Good Housekeeping seal of approval."
Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a campaign finance lawyer at the Washington firm Patton Boggs who has advised a long list of Republican-leaning groups over the years, described the ruling as a kind of "psychological green light" for donors.
Nevertheless, Fred Malek, a longtime Republican operative who is helping to lead fund-raising for the Republican Governors Association and is chairman of a new nonprofit advocacy group, American Action Network, said the ruling had seldom come up in his conversations with donors.
"I don't find anybody who is contributing based on that ruling," he said. "People are contributing because they have deep reservations about the policies and direction of this Congress and this administration. That's what's bringing them in."
One reason Citizens United did not make as big a difference as its critics warned, according to the Times, is that the Supreme Court had already (in the 2007 case FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life) narrowed McCain-Feingold's ban on "electioneering communications" to exempt "genuine issue ads" and cover only "express advocacy" or its "functional equivalent." But there was no election cycle after McCain-Feingold took effect in 2002 when politicians on both sides of the aisle didn't complain about nasty ads sponsored by shadowy groups. And the ban on "electioneering communications" supposedly was necessary because issue ads had rendered the pre-existing ban on express advocacy, also overturned in Citizens United, utterly ineffectual. Maybe the real impact of Citizens United is to be found elsewhere, among organizations that lacked the resources and legal sophistication needed to evade the government's obstacles to freedom of speech.
Harvard's Greg Mankiw turns his economist's microscope back on himself in the New York Times to uncover truths about productivity and taxation. To wit, if you tax something, you'll likely get less of it:
AN important issue dividing the political parties is whether to raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year....
I have to acknowledge that the Democrats are right about one thing: I can afford to pay more in taxes. My income is not in the same league as superstar actors and hedge fund managers, but I have been very lucky nonetheless....
Nonetheless, as Republicans emphasize, taxes influence the decisions I make. I am regularly offered opportunities to earn extra money. It could be by talking to a business group, consulting on a legal case, giving a guest lecture, teaching summer school or writing an article. I turn down most but accept a few....
Suppose that some editor offered me $1,000 to write an article. If there were no taxes of any kind, this $1,000 of income would translate into $1,000 in extra saving. If I invested it in the stock of a company that earned, say, 8 percent a year on its capital, then 30 years from now, when I pass on, my children would inherit about $10,000. That is simply the miracle of compounding.
Now let’s put taxes into the calculus. First, assuming that the Bush tax cuts expire, I would pay 39.6 percent in federal income taxes on that extra income. Beyond that, the phaseout of deductions adds 1.2 percentage points to my effective marginal tax rate. I also pay Medicare tax, which the recent health care bill is raising to 3.8 percent, starting in 2013. And in Massachusetts, I pay 5.3 percent in state income taxes, part of which I get back as a federal deduction. Putting all those taxes together, that $1,000 of pretax income becomes only $523 of saving.
And that saving no longer earns 8 percent. First, the corporation in which I have invested pays a 35 percent corporate tax on its earnings. So I get only 5.2 percent in dividends and capital gains. Then, on that income, I pay taxes at the federal and state level. As a result, I earn about 4 percent after taxes, and the $523 in saving grows to $1,700 after 30 years.
Then, when my children inherit the money, the estate tax will kick in. The marginal estate tax rate is scheduled to go as high as 55 percent next year, but Congress may reduce it a bit. Most likely, when that $1,700 enters my estate, my kids will get, at most, $1,000 of it.
HERE’S the bottom line: Without any taxes, accepting that editor’s assignment would have yielded my children an extra $10,000. With taxes, it yields only $1,000. In effect, once the entire tax system is taken into account, my family’s marginal tax rate is about 90 percent. Is it any wonder that I turn down most of the money-making opportunities I am offered?....
Now you might not care if I supply less of my services to the marketplace — although, because you are reading this article, you are one of my customers. But I bet there are some high-income taxpayers whose services you enjoy.
Maybe you are looking forward to a particular actor’s next movie or a particular novelist’s next book. Perhaps you wish that your favorite singer would have a concert near where you live. Or, someday, you may need treatment from a highly trained surgeon, or your child may need braces from the local orthodontist. Like me, these individuals respond to incentives. (Indeed, some studies report that high-income taxpayers are particularly responsive to taxes.) As they face higher tax rates, their services will be in shorter supply.
....don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that when the government taxes the rich, only the rich bear the burden.
I have found that these sort of arguments have absolutely no impact on most people who want to soak the rich to help the state, but there it is, and it seems true.