Atlas Shrugged Part I opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow. In his latest movie review, Kurt Loder weighs in on the long-awaited adaptation of Ayn Rand's classic novel.View this article
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan offers some great things, writes John Stossel: less spending than President Obama wants; a path to a balanced budget; repeal of ObamaCare; an end to corporate welfare. And it would make the social safety net sustainable rather than open-ended and going broke. But as Stossel notes, there are also some problems with it.View this article
In Guernica magazine, liberal journalist Bill Moyers conducts a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with David Simon, creator of the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which touches on everything from drug decriminalization to Simon’s argument that “a lot of the people who end up voting for that kind of laissez-faire market policy are people who get creamed by it.” Here’s a snippet:
Bill Moyers: Many people could see what you saw simply if we opened our eyes. And yet the drug war keeps getting crazier and crazier, from selling guns to Mexico’s drug cartel to cramming more people into prison even though they haven’t committed violent crimes. Why don’t the policies change?
David Simon: Because there’s no political capital in it. There really isn’t. The fear of being called soft on crime, soft on drugs. The paranoia that’s been induced. Listen, if you could be draconian and reduce drug use by locking people up, you might have an argument. But we are the jailing-est country on the planet right now. Two million people in prison. We’re locking up less-violent people. More of them. The drugs are purer. They haven’t closed down a single drug corner that I know of in Baltimore for any length of time. It’s not working. And by the way, this is not a Republican-Democrat thing, because a lot of the most draconian stuff came out of the Clinton administration, this guy trying to maneuver to the center in order not to be perceived as leftist by a Republican Congress.
Update: Seems like the perfect time to post this collection of The Wire's 100 best quotes.
University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett has a new book out called Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Over at Slate, he looks at two causes of wrongful convictions, false confessions and bad eyewitness testimony and makes some pretty simple suggestions for reform.
On false confessions:
The only way to accurately document who says what during an interrogation session is to record the whole thing. Such a record would also increase the reliability of confessions as evidence. More than 750 law enforcement jurisdictions across the United States are voluntarily recording entire interrogations. You might imagine that police investigators would resent such documentation of interrogations, yet studies have shown that once recording becomes standard practice, police officers and prosecutors become strong supporters of the reform.
And on eyewitness testimony:
Eyewitnesses should always be told the attacker might not be present in the lineup. Their initial confidence level should be documented (because, like in Ronald Cotton's case, by the time of trial it may change). The most crucial proposed reform is double-blind administration. The officer administering a photo or live lineup should not be aware who the suspect is, and the witness should be told the officer does not know. Such changes simply require updating the identification procedures and better documenting the results.
These are pretty simple changes that cost very little to implement. Yet you'd be surprised how much resistance they can get. Back in 2006, for example, a panel of former judges, prosecutors, cops, and defense attorneys in California came up with some basic suggestions to better prevent wrongful convictions. Their three main suggestions were these two, plus a sensible-sounding proposal that would require prosecutors to independently corroborate jailhouse snitch testimony before using it in court. Both state houses passed bills implementing the reforms. But after some late push-back from police and prosecutors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed all three.
Garrett was also the author of a fascinating study a few years ago in which he looked at how appeals courts handled cases were the defendant was later proven innocent by DNA. Here's what I wrote about his findings at the time:
Garrett found that of the 200 people convicted for crimes for which they were later exonerated, just eighteen were granted reversals by the appellate courts.
Of the rest, 67 had their appeals denied with no written ruling at all. In 63 cases, the appellate court's opinion referred to the defendant's guilt. In 12 other cases, it referred to the "overwhelming" evidence of guilt.
In the remaining cases, the appeals courts either found the defendant's appeal without merit, or found some merit in his claims, but found that the trial court's errors were "harmless," or unlikely to have affected the jury's verdict.
Keep in mind, these are all cases in which the defendant was later determined to be actually innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. More alarmingly, Garret found in his research of these 200 cases that "even after DNA testing became available, courts and law enforcement also posed obstacles to conducting DNA testing, and then denied relief even after DNA proved innocence."
Many were convicted despite DNA testing pointing to their innocence, and 41 had to rely on the mercy of a governor's pardon power because, despite their proven innocence, they had already exhausted their appeals and post-conviction options, and could make no further claims in court.
Coming to your mailbox in June: a criminal justice-themed issue of Reason.
Behold the awesome power of my words: On the very same day that I condemn the bewildering complexity of our tax code and recommend swapping credits, deductions, and exemptions for lower rates, President Obama gives a speech in which he calls upon Congress to "reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple—so that the amount of taxes you pay isn't determined by what kind of accountant you can afford." Coincidence? Well, yeah, but the lip service to reform does seem to reflect a consensus that might actually result in action. The president's fiscal commission, the budget plan that House Republicans are considering this week, and the president himself all support the goal of cutting tax rates while "broadening the base" by curtailing or eliminating so-called tax expenditures. But while the Republicans want reform to be revenue-neutral, Obama's debt reduction plan (such as it is) relies on revenue from limiting deductions for wealthier taxpayers, and his vision of tax reform probably includes additional money grabs.
Tellingly, The New York Times defines "tax expenditures" as "payments to taxpayers for deductions for charitable donations or home mortgages," as if letting people keep more of their own money is the same as giving them subsidies.* The Times notes that "the use of the phrase 'tax expenditures' allows the administration to lump tax-related issues into the spending category"—i.e., to describe tax hikes as spending cuts, which is a pretty neat trick. Similarly, it reports that "Mr. Obama attacked the demand by Republicans to make the lower tax rates permanent as emblematic of their plan to enrich the wealthy on the backs of the elderly and poor." This description of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's fiscal plan reflects the president's view that people have whatever money they have only by the grace of government, which has the legal and moral authority to rearrange it at will. Hence declining to raise taxes to pay for open-ended, ruinously expensive health care entitlements is the same as robbing the poor to pay the rich. These dueling perspectives have a Randian ring.
Philosophy aside, there is a pragmatic case for keeping the tax reform issue separate from the question of whether dealing with deficits requires additional revenue. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson puts it this way in her latest report to Congress:
We cannot pretend that broadening the tax base means eliminating someone else's tax break while preserving our own. everything must be put on the table, and we must make clear that, in exchange for lower rates, some tax breaks will be eliminated immediately and others will be phased out. But it is equally important to make clear that, assuming revenue neutrality, the average taxpayer will not pay more tax and the tax code will be much easier to understand and comply with....
We are mindful that leaders of both parties have expressed deep concerns about the long-term structural imbalance between government revenues and government spending, and that in addition to spending cuts, tax revenues at some point may have to be increased. We are also mindful that the question of whether and to what extent to raise revenue is extremely contentious.
If structural tax reform and revenue levels are considered together as part of a package, we are concerned that the debate over revenue levels could overshadow and derail meaningful tax reform. therefore, we suggest that congress consider addressing these issues separately. First, Congress could enact structural tax reform on a revenue-neutral basis. Second, Congress could decide on appropriate revenue levels and adjust the tax rates as it deems appropriate.
I would prefer that Congress skip Stage 2 altogether. But even those who share Obama's fiscal preferences have to recognize the political reality that Olson highlights: It is hard enough to persuade people to give up their cherished deductions in exchange for a promise that their tax bill won't go up as a result. If reform is tied to tax hikes from the beginning, as Obama already is doing, what hope is there for selling it to the public?
I commented on Obama's view of tax deductions in a 2009 column.
*Addendum: While refundable tax credits are tantamount to subsidies, since you can get them even if your tax bill is zero, deductions are not, since they simply reduce the amount of money the government takes from you. That does not mean they are good policy (they're not), but the distinction is important for anyone who rejects the view that all resources belong to the collective. For a more detailed consideration of deductions vs. refundable credits, see Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge's recent testimony to the House Budget Committee.
President Barack Obama attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare by giving seniors means-tested vouchers because, in Obama's view, that would balance the budget by shortchanging seniors. But Obama's fellow liberals have attacked the voucher idea for the opposite reason: It won’t contain Medicare’s runaway spending. In her latest Daily column, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes that these critics are right. But that’s because the Nanny State politics they espouse, and which RyanCare has bowed to, won’t let the voucher idea work. “The problem is not GOP economics,” Dalmia writes, “it is liberal politics.”
The time for action is over, the time for bullshit is now.
President Obama talking today:
"We've got to look at everything, including our security spending, in order to achieve the goals that we need."
White House and Pentagon officials later confirmed that Obama was proposing another $400 billion in cuts on top of the savings projected over the next decade in the administration’s fiscal 2012 budget. The already-detailed cuts would produce more than $400 billion in savings through fiscal 2021, officials said.
And in his 2012 budget proposal (table S-3) lays out security spending that rises from $815 billion in 2012 to $1.039 trillion in 2021.
Now, I realize that I'm just simple English major, but what part of "already-detailed cuts" am I missing? I look foward to a decade in which my salary gets "cut" by 27 percent.
Obama's words yesterday about the deficit (to call them a speech is really giving them far more credit than they merit) was precisely what we should have expected from a president who took an incomplete last year on what is arguably the single-most basic task of that office: pushing a budget through. That he failed to do while his party controlled both houses of Congtress is not simply historic (only time it's happened since new budgeting rules were put into place in 1974) but getting right up there with NPSM of the past.
I am no fan of the Paul Ryan budget alternative and I hope that doesn't come into reality either (largely because of its basic unreality when it comes to a mismatch between outlays and revenues). But even his leave-security-alone budget only raises that line item to $838 billion in 2021.
Did my grandparents emigrate to America so their grandkids could live in an America where a Republican spendthrift proposes spending less money that we don't have on "security" that we don't need than a Democrat? I hope so, cuz this is America in 2011 and, apparently, 2021.
If you don't mind sweat, dirt, or the smell of manure, this is a great time to be a farmer. Incomes are up, land values are high, and global demand is growing. And as Steve Chapman notes, if you're one of the lucky farmers, there's a bonus: a tap on the federal treasury.View this article
Are the media ignoring Syria's widespread rebellion and the Assad family's violent response? If so, are they doing it it just out of fatigue with the Arab Spring or for Byzanto-Levantine political reasons?
It seems like it was just one issue of Vogue ago that President Bashar Assad and his dazzling wife Asma were singing "Jingle Bell Rock" with Catholics and showing their grateful subjects a glamorous, young, very chic style that contrasted refreshingly with the "couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power."
That Vogue article — which unlike most of what was published this past February is still a must-read — was one of many bullish takes on the Assad dynasty. Assad became a person of Western interest in part due to his public relations strategy. The Syrian president effectively talked up reform while reinforcing his police apparatus and giving it more power over the citizens. The game kept even Reason correspondents guessing. A few months ago I proposed that by deftly stoking mutually negating group hatreds and maintaining a policy of enforced hopelessness, the Alawite inner circle had guaranteed that Damascus would go down last, if at all.
Now that's all gone kerblooey, and at the Weekly Standard, Lee Smith says we'd be hearing more about it if Arab media could get over their own vogue for the Assads:
The social media galvanized Egyptian and Tunisian protestors, but for the Syrian opposition it is the main source of media they have to show the world what’s happening.
As Washington, D.C.-based Arab journalist Hussain Abdul Hussain notes:
Arab satellite channels dedicated more air time to Syria than in the previous weekdays. The first 30-minutes of Al-Jazeera's news coverage were dedicated to clashes in Syria. However, Al-Jazeera, which has been exceptionally silent on Syria, perhaps because of the good alliance between Assad and Al-Jazeera's owner the Sheikh of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, cherry-picked its coverage of Syrian rallies.
Of course, Al Jazeera broadcast those earlier revolutions and boasted of the role it played in bringing down Zein Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. But the Doha satellite network is much less present in Syria, as Michael Young explained in his Beirut Daily Star column:
Syria is part of the “resistance axis,” and the downfall of its regime would only harm Hezbollah and Hamas. The same lack of enthusiasm characterized the station’s coverage of Lebanon’s Independence Intifada against Syria in 2005. It is easy to undermine Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi, and Hosni Mubarak, each of whom in his own way is or was a renegade to the Arabs. But to go after Bashar Assad means reversing years of Al-Jazeera coverage sympathetic to the Syrian leader. Rather conveniently, refusing to do so dovetails with the consensus in the Arab political leadership.
So the Syrians find themselves largely abandoned today, their struggle not enjoying the customary Al-Jazeera treatment – high in emotion and electric in the slogans of mobilization. The televised Arab narrative of liberty has not quite avoided Syria, but nor has it integrated the Syrians’ cause. As the Arab stations weigh what to do next, they may still hope that the Syrian story will disappear soon, and their duplicity with it. Shame on them.
Young also faults Al Arabiya, the majority-Saudi-owned network, founded in 2003 for no other purpose than to deter its Qatari rival, Al Jazeera, which came to prominence through its attacks on Riyadh and other Arab rivals, including Cairo.
To toss Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya into the same basket is entirely justified here, because both Saudi Arabia and Qatar share a desire to avert a breakdown in Syria, fearing that chaos might ensue. Their views are echoed by a majority of Gulf states, whose leaders have called Assad lately to express their backing.
It’s true that the Saudis, who have been at loggerheads with Syria ever since they suspected Syrian involvement in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, don’t want to see Assad fall. They fear that the wave of Arab uprisings is likely to reach them next, and this is a good place to block a domino.
Again we see how a Middle East narrative that seemed clear from a distance melts in air as we get closer to it. The lack of western attention to the Syrian uprising (Smith notes that The New York Times is covering Syria from Cairo and New York; the Washington Post and the L.A. Times are reporting from Beirut) is just a proxy for an overextended, penniless America that can spare nothing — no attention, no money, no pills, no planes, no artillery pieces — for another Arab uprising.
Courtesy of Iyad El-Baghdadi.
A number of folks have floated the idea of a “do-nothing” plan to balance the budget: If we stay on the course set by current law, revenues and expenditures basically balance out over time. Slate’s Annie Lowrey writes that it’s “meek, cowardly effort to wrest the country back into the black.” All Congress has to do is “leave everything as is.”
Is it really that easy? Not really. The most important thing to understand about the idea is that no matter which party is in charge, it’s not going to happen. The most obvious reason why it’s not going to happen is that it would require the president and members of Congress to agree to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire—all of them. The Obama administration has already made it fairly clear that it wants to make tax cuts for the middle class permanent, and most Democratic legislators agree that the Bush tax cuts should only be rescinded for high earners. Republican leadership, meanwhile, has flatly ruled out raising taxes on anyone.
Following current law with no changes would also mean allowing physicians’ Medicare reimbursements to drop by about 30 percent at the end of this year, when the current temporary extension of the “doc fix” runs out. As with the middle class tax cuts, that’s simply not going to happen. Regardless of the merits, neither party wants to be blamed for dramatically cutting doctors’ Medicare pay—and seniors’ doctor access with it.
So it’s not remotely plausible given both party's current political commitments. But if it were, would it be desirable? It’s not necessary to be a limited government fanatic to say no. Anyone who’s wary of a radical transformation of the role of government in American life should similarly be wary of this idea.
The plan balances the budget primarily by calling for tax revenues to grow with government spending. In particular, it allows the Alternative Minimum Tax, originally designed to tax just 155 ultra-wealthy earners, to eventually hit half the country. And since spending is projected to grow at a much faster rate than the economy, so would taxes. Over the long term, then, government would account for a much, much higher percentage of the overall economy than it ever has before, eventually eating up more than 30 percent of projected gross domestic product.
There’s no historical precedent for collecting revenue at even close to that level. The federal government has never once collected revenues in excess of 20.9 percent of GDP and has averaged about 18 percent since World War II. This would mean increasing tax revenue—and the overall size of government—by more than 50 percent relative to GDP. And as The Examiner’s Philip Klein notes, the plan also ignores the effects of taxation on economic growth. According to the Congressional Budget Office: “Raising revenues significantly relative to GDP (as under the extended-baseline scenario) would harm the economy through the impact on people’s decisions about how much to work and save.”
The do-nothing plan is illustrative in certain ways, and makes for an interesting thought experiment. But it is not a simple plan for balancing the budget. It’s a fundamental transformation of the role of government in America.
The "Internal Revenue Service" is such a bland name for an agency that stirs so much passion.
With Tax Day just around the corner, the time is right to consider what the initials "IRS" really stand for.
WARNING: Immature Subject Matter. Viewer discretion is advised.
Approximately 1.40 minutes
Produced by Ted Balaker. Written by Balaker, Meredith Bragg, Tim Cavanaugh, Paul Feine, Nick Gillespie, Hawk Jensen, Damon Root, Peter Suderman, Josh Swain, Zach Weissmueller, and Matt Welch
Donald J. Luskin, chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics (now that's a name), has a sharp piece in the Wall Street Journal about the prickly, non-conservative politics of Ayn Rand. Interesting stuff even (especially?) for those of us who haven't yet made it past page 71. Excerpt:
Today, Rand is celebrated among conservatives: Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) insists that all his staffers read "Atlas Shrugged." It wasn't always this way. During Rand's lifetime—she died in 1982—she was loathed by the mainstream conservative movement.
Rand was a devout atheist, which set her against the movement's Christian bent. She got off on the wrong foot with the movement's founder, William F. Buckley Jr., when she introduced herself to him in her thick Russian accent, saying "You are too intelligent to believe in God!" The subsequent review of "Atlas Shrugged" by Whittaker Chambers in Buckley's "National Review" was nothing short of a smear, and it set the tone for her relationship with the movement ever since—at least until now.
Rand rankled conservatives by living her life as an exemplary feminist, even as she denied it by calling herself a "male chauvinist." [...]
Rand was strongly pro-choice, speaking out for abortion rights even before *Roe v. Wade*. In late middle age, she became enamored of a much younger man and made up her mind to have an affair with him, having duly informed her husband and the younger man's wife in advance. Conservatives don't do things like that—or at least they say they don't.
These weren't the only times Rand took positions that didn't ingratiate her to the right. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam war, once saying, "I am against the war in Vietnam and have been for years.... In my view we should fight fascism and communism when they come to this country." During the '60s she declared, "I am an enemy of racism," and advised opponents of school busing, "If you object to sending your children to school with black children, you'll lose for sure because right is on the other side."
More, including Rand's rejection of Ronald Reagan and embrace (!) of Richard Nixon, here. Luskin's got a relevant new book coming out, called I Am John Galt: Today's Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It. He also participated in our October 2009 roundtable discussion on the prospects for inflation.
Re-read Senior Editor Brian Doherty's December 2009 cover feature on whether Rand's new fans are radical enough for capitalism, and then go order his book already. Reason's voluminous Rand archive here.
When Congress reached its midnight budget deal last week, the finished product didn't include the GOP's measure barring federal funds for National Public Radio, let alone the party's earlier proposal to zero out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting entirely. (I told you so.) In the aftermath, over at Bloomberg Government, I've done a point-counterpoint with Kinsey Wilson of NPR about the future of public broadcasting subsidies. Wilson thinks the government's money is a "relatively modest but essential stake." I disagree, but I also argue that the funding isn't likely to go away until we can forge a left/right alliance between the people who don't like being forced to pay for media they dislike and the people who don't think their favorite broadcasters should have to answer to a bunch of politicians.
The whole thing is behind a paywall for now, but if you're a Bloomberg subscriber you can read our exchange here.
Every year the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville, Va., awards "Jefferson Muzzles" to organizations that stifle free speech. This year's first place award goes to the attempt at stifling speech by the Obama administration and the BP oil company. As the Center explains:
#1 Following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 10, 2010, the wellhead continued to spew oil for three months. As journalists attempted to document the impact of the oil plume, BP employees and various government authorities—including local law enforcement, the Coast Guard, and Homeland Security—repeatedly prevented them from viewing public areas. Whether these incidents were collectively intended, or the incidental by-products of an ambiguous policy that allowed BP and government agents too much latitude, the Obama Administration and BP share responsibility for having prevented the media from fully documenting the spill.
One other notable Muzzle went to the Transporation Security Administration for arresting Aaron Tobey at the Richmond, Va. airport when he protested the TSA full body scanning procedures by baring his chest on which he had written the Fourth Amendment. As the Center explains:
#2 Aaron Tobey broke no laws when he removed his sweatpants and shirt at the Richmond airport. His peaceful protest of disrobing and displaying the Fourth Amendment on his bared torso could be characterized as “passenger theater,” in the same manner that airport security has been characterized as “security theater” by its critics. For this expression of dissent, he was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor that can result in up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. On January 11, 2011, the Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney responsible for prosecuting the case announced that Tobey’s actions did not constitute a crime, and that the charge against him would be dropped. Clearly, the TSA has an important and difficult job in keeping our airways safe. Yet the arrest of Aaron Tobey was an extreme overreaction to an individual exercising his First Amendment right to protest in a peaceful and non-disruptive manner. For failing to recognize that Americans do not have to surrender their Constitutional rights along with their shoes and metal objects when they wish to travel by air, the Transportation Security Administration earns a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.
And it's not just government agencies that try to shut people up. The Center awarded a Muzzle to the administration of Hamilton College in New York for imposing extreme political correctness by requiring all male students to attend the "She Fears You" orientation. The Center describes the orientation session as "an ideologically based program that assumes the complicity of men in maintaining a culture of rape." The Center does note:
As a private college, Hamilton is not bound by the dictates of the First Amendment. Yet, as an institution of higher learning that promotes itself as being committed to teaching students to “think for themselves,” it fell short of its promise in this instance. Requiring first-year men to attend a presentation billed as a “cognitive and emotional intervention” speaks of forced indoctrination that is the very opposite of freedom of conscience and thereby earns the Hamilton College Administration a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.
Go here for the list of the 2011 Muzzle "winners."
I wasn't too impressed by Obama's debt speech yesterday, but I thought he got two things right: First, mounting long-term debt is a serious problem. Second, the debt problem can't be solved simply by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse or unpopular but relatively tiny expenditures like foreign aid. The American public has a lot of fundamental misconceptions about the budget, and they need to hear this sort of thing from the president regularly.
But the president's proposed solutions weren't up to the size of the problem he described. Indeed, as Clive Crook, who is no fan of Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget plan, argues, it's not entirely clear what specific solutions he supports at all.
My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.
There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found—domestic non-security spending, defense, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own.
His rebuttal of the Ryan plan was all very well—I agree it's no good—but the administration still lacks a rival plan. That, surely, is what this speech had to provide, or at least point to, if it was going to be worth giving in the first place. His criticisms of Ryan and the Republicans need no restating. And did the country need another defense of public investment in clean energy and the American social contract? It wanted to be told how fiscal policy is going to be mended: if not by the Ryan plan, with its many grave defects, then how?
...The speech was more notable for its militant—though ineffectual—hostility to Republican proposals than for any fresh thinking of its own. It was a waste of breath.
Given the nation's debt trajectory, refusing to course correct is not an option.
My take on the speech here.
- U.S.: Iran is actively participating in, influencing Mideast protests.
- Quadaffi assets will go to Libyan rebels.
- Pakistan condemns latest CIA drone attack.
- Barry Bonds convicted on one count of obstruction of justice.
- Rick Santorum announces presidential exploratory committee.
- New from Reason.tv: "Three Steps To Get Our Highways Moving Again"
“From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity,” President Obama declared in a speech at George Washington University yesterday. “More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.” Judging by yesterday’s speech, writes Associate Editor Peter Suderman, that’s a skepticism that Obama doesn’t share. The president’s solution to the growing cost of government, Suderman notes, turns out to be more government.View this article
The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara (a great interviewer and very funny guy) talks with Reason contributor David Harsanyi, who is leaving the Denver Post to join up with Glenn Beck's Mercury Ink and The Blaze as well as continue his excellent syndicated col.
Yesterday, I noted that the GOP's budget cut promises sank from $100 billion to $61 billion and then resulted in a deal party leaders claimed cut $38 billion but really cut just $14 billion. I ended the post with a question: "Any bets on how many days before the cuts disappear entirely?" I didn't intend the question to be taken literally. Perhaps I should have: The Congressional Budget Office now says the deal will reduce this year's budget deficit by just $352 million.
The Cato Institute’s Gene Healy has some sharp words for the Obama administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, which just rubber stamped the president’s undeclared war on Libya:
Last week, the Obama Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel released its formal opinion on the President’s “Authority to Use Force in Libya.” OLC is the professional corps providing advice to the president on the legality of his actions, and it’s a much-coveted berth for ambitious lawyers. But, reading the memo over (it’s officially dated April Fool’s Day—make of that what you will), it occurred to me that, personally, I’d sleep better at night as in-house counsel for Fannie Mae or Archer Daniels Midland.
Though the Office is supposed to help the president “take Care that the laws be faithfully executed,” OLC lawyers typically end up telling their immediate employer, “why, yes: the action you’ve already decided to take turns out to be perfectly constitutional.” The Libya memo perfectly illustrates that dynamic.
While researching today's column, I came across a 2010 report (PDF) from the National Taxpayers Union that summarizes various experiments showing that professional tax preparers disagree about the proper way to file returns for hypothetical families. Worse, the people conducting the experiments—including the Government Accountability Office, which consulted with experts at the Joint Committee on Taxation—could not definitively say who was right and who was wrong. The report describes a 1998 study by Money magazine:
All 46 tested tax professionals got a different answer, and none got it right. The professional who directed the test admitted "that his computation is not the only possible correct answer" since the tax law is so murky. The tax computed by these professionals "ranged from $34,240 to $68,912." The closest answer still erred in the government's favor by $610.
Discrepancies also show up in returns completed on different tax preparation sites. "As the Tax Code turns ever more unwieldy," USA Today noted in 2007, "deciphering it has become more art than science."
As I argued in a 2006 column, this indeterminacy undermines the rule of law. Since it is so hard to know when you are complying with the law and when you aren't, even the most conscientious taxpayer cannot contemplate an audit with equanimity. Odds are you've done something wrong, even if you don't know what it is.
In a special breeder edition of Bloggingheads, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward and Time's Amy Sullivan talk about their new babies at the beginning of the chat and abortion at the end. In between, they ask whether Obama's problem is that he's just too darn reasonable and whether Donald Trump's problem is that he has abandoned reason entirely.
Last month, lawmakers in Florida's House of Representatives introduced a bill that would remove the licensing requirements for 20 occupations, including hair braiders, auctioneers, ballroom dance studio operators, and interior designers. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has thrown his support behind the measure, as has a coalition of small-business groups. But Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos isn’t so keen on the modest deregulatory bill, telling the Palm Beach Post, “We're not libertarians. We’re Republicans. And we recognize the role for government.” Associate Editor Damon Root says it’s time for Haridopolos and his GOP allies to put economic liberty before government power.View this article
Did Patty Duke appear in an episode of Star Trek? If not, what is she doing alongside George Takei in these painfully awkward PSAs for the Social Security Administration, wearing Starfleety pajamas in front of a blue-screen simulation of the USS Enterprise's bridge? Maybe she's a Trekkie. Or a bad investor (which would make shilling for Social Security especially appropriate).
My favorite line: "Patty, let me be honest with you. Won't filing for Social Security benefits online be confusing?" (To which Patty replies that it's a snap compared to navigating through an asteroid belt.) Note that the SSA apparently did not have permission to use the Starfleet chest insignia, a detail that, along with Patty's anachronistic wristwatch, ruined the suspension of disbelief for me, although I've always been a Sulu fan.
[Thanks to Michele Sullum for the tip.]
When rush hour traffic routinely turns a twenty minute commute into an hour and a half nightmare, we know we have a transportation problem. But how can we fix it? What can we do to get our cars -- and economy -- moving again?
Samuel Staley, Director of Urban Growth and Land Use Policy at Reason Foundation, has outlined three quick steps to improving mobility: (1) increase capacity, (2) support market oriented thinking and (3) employ comprehensive pricing.
Approximately 2 minutes.
Produced by Josh Swain, Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.
If we still measured inflation the way we did during out last CPI inflation crisis, we'd say it is now at an annualized 9.6 percent rate based on February figures, reports CNBC's Fast Money:
Since 1980, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has changed the way it calculates the CPI in order to account for the substitution of products, improvements in quality (i.e. iPad 2 costing the same as original iPad) and other things. Backing out more methods implemented in 1990 by the BLS still puts inflation at a 5.5 percent rate and getting worse, according to the calculations by the newsletter’s web site, Shadowstats.com.
“Near-term circumstances generally have continued to deteriorate,” said John Williams, creator of the site, in a new note out Tuesday. “Though not yet commonly recognized, there is both an intensifying double-dip recession and a rapidly escalating inflation problem. Until such time as financial-market expectations catch up with underlying reality, reporting generally will continue to show higher-than-expected inflation and weaker-than-expected economic results in the month and months ahead.”
Reason magazine's January 2009 feature from Robert Samuelson on how the last great CPI inflation was defeated in the early 1980s. Hint: it did not involve keeping federal funds interest rates near zero to create "stimulus."
It's like 1995 all over again.
WNYC is live-chatting President Obama's budget speech, and Reason Senior editor is in da house.
Speech should be starting shortly.
You are invited to join in.
Click here for the WNYC chat site.
I love Perry Farrell---I really do, even got him to blurb my first book and remain grateful to him he did, and for all his greatness as a performer and impresario--and he wrote one of my very favorite interestingly sophisticated (for a rock song taking on politics) libertarian rock tunes, "1 %."
But alas, now the failures of industry and government lead him to regretfully call for a government-music industry partnership, as reported on LAist.com:
Farrell also wants to go federal, seeking government help to regulate online music distribution. In doing so, he believes a cut of the increased revenue could go to the government with a chunk allotted toward music education.
Says the Jane's Addiction frontman,"Let's try to organize something. It should be a case where the touring music industry, the recording music industry, distribution, all should sit down with government to figure out how we can get music to be really healthy again and recycle that money back into music, back into education, back into the city's parks and recreations where we have these great parties. I think it's a system that could absolutely work."
From the last time I saw, or doubtless will ever see, the real Jane's Addiction, a great performance of "1 %":
Bonus Jane's gossip: Eric Avery complains about his old partner Perry. Not about being soft on government, but still...
Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey returns to the Libertarian Dime. From the LD website:
The main topic of the show was climate change, and a number of things were covered. Each person on the show explained where the stood on the issue, and then the panel went on to talk about such issues as “Climategate”, The Copenhagen Consensus, Al Gore, and the environmental movement in general when it comes to policy versus science. A must listen show for any libertarian still on the fence about climate change.
Go here to listen.
A few longtime listeners may recall that I am no fan of the Great White Hope of Euro-skepticism, green-baiting, and Schumpeter-quoting, the one and only President Václav Klaus of the Republic Czech. (See here and here and here for examples of why.) So it is with some admittedly juvenile glee that I present you with The Great Pen Stealing Caper of 2011:
Hat tip: about seven different people.
Nick Gillespie and I write about both Klaus and that other
Václav guy in our forthcoming,
The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can
Fix What's Wrong with America.
Last year California passed legislation banning the sale of "offensively violent" video games to minors. As my colleague Jacob Sullum pointed out in his column, The Terminator vs. the Constitution, the new law does considerable violence to the First Amendment. Amusingly, Sullum cites the State of California filing that defends the new law while simultaneously claiming that the state
...cannot reasonably be expected to supply "empirical proof of how expressive material impacts such nebulous concepts as one's ethics or morals."
As Sullum notes California
...could avoid this problem if it stopped using such nebulous concepts to justify censorship.
So in what direction does "empirical proof" point when it comes to the impact of video games on the morals of players? There's lots to consider. A new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking by researchers in Singapore looked at the effect of playing three weeks of Grand Theft Auto IV on kids. As the researchers note:
Although >100 studies have been conducted to examine the impact of violent video games on aggression, no clear consensus has been reached, particularly in terms of their long-term impact on violent behavior and aggressive cognitions.
Indeed. So what did they find when Singaporean kids took on the role of fresh Liberty City immigrant Niko Bellic fighting his way through a criminal underworld filled with assorted shysters, thieves and sociopaths? The study's abstract reports:
One hundred thirty-five participants were assigned either to the treatment condition where they played a violent video game in a controlled laboratory setting for a total of 12 hours or to the control group where they did not play a game. Participants in the treatment group played Grand Theft Auto IV over a period of 3 weeks and were compared with a control group on the posttest measures of trait aggression, attitudes toward violence, and empathy. The findings do not support the assertion that playing a violent video game for a period of 3 weeks increases aggression or reduces empathy, but they suggest a small increase in proviolence attitudes.
But remember that there are studies that find that violent video games do promote violence in real life. For example, a new study [link to downloadable file] published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology had some participants play a violent video game and others a non-violent game. Afterwards, the players were told that they were participating in a reaction time test with an [fictitious] opponent. To test reaction times, the players would blast the opponent with a loud noise whose level and duration they could pick. The abstract reports:
Participants low in previous exposure to video game violence who played a violent (relative to a nonviolent) game showed a reduction in the P3 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP) to violent images (indicating physiological desensitization), and this brain response mediated the effect of video game content on subsequent aggressive behavior.
In other words, violent game players were initially more likely to blast reaction time opponents with louder noises. It turns out though that eventually tit-for-tat takes over and reaction time participants start to modulate their responses to the levels of noise that the opponent is blasting them with.
Another study in the journal Psychological Science by two European researchers bluntly declares in their abstract that they found:
Past research has provided abundant evidence that playing violent video games increases aggressive behavior. So far, these effects have been explained mainly as the result of priming existing knowledge structures. The research reported here examined the role of denying humanness to other people in accounting for the effect that playing a violent video game has on aggressive behavior. In two experiments, we found that playing violent video games increased dehumanization, which in turn evoked aggressive behavior. Thus, it appears that video-game-induced aggressive behavior is triggered when victimizers perceive the victim to be less human.
Really? Interestingly, yet another study in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy suggests that playing violent video games may have another beneficial effect on the propensity toward real world violence:
Psychological studies find that video game play is associated with markers for violent and antisocial attitudes. It is plausible that these markers indicate either whetted or sated preferences for antisocial behavior. I investigate whether a proxy for video gaming is associated with the prevalence of various crimes and find evidence that gaming is associated with significant declines in crime and death rates. These results are robust to various alternative specifications. Other youth-related leisure activities - sports and movie viewing - generate smaller or no effects. These results cast doubt on the desirability of proposed restrictions on video game marketing.
Whetted or sated? I am going with sated. As I pointed out in my column, Video Violence = Real Violence?, more than five years ago, the rise of video gaming has more or less coincided with plummeting crime rates. Video game sales have quadrupled since 1996 while violent crime rates have fallen by nearly 60 percent. Yes, I know it's just a correlation, but it's a pretty damned suggestive correlation. So perhaps California's busybody legislators ought to ponder the effect that censoring violent video games might have on the state's crime statistics.
I end by noting that the reported rape rate has fallen by 86 percent since 1991. Consideration of the possible effect of the proliferation of internet porn on rape statistics will have to wait for another time.
According to liberals like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, all of you yahoos who support Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plans aren't just misguided anymore; you're nihilists. Sen. Chuck Schumer called it "extremism" to support modest cuts to the federal budget. As David Harsanyi notes, these critics are the allegedly reasonable, the self-styled moderates, and the grown-ups. That's enough to make any "extremist" proud.View this article
One of the most significant proposals in the Republican budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan is a plan to block grant Medicaid. The idea is simple: Rather than give states an incentive extract endless amounts of money from the federal government through the program's system of matching funds, put states on a budget. Then give those states the flexibility to spend their Medicaid dollars however they'd like.
Probably the most common criticism aimed at the plan is that it would decimate health care for the poor. In today's Wall Street Journal, Peter Ferrera and Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity argue that just the opposite is true:
Medicaid reform would especially benefit the poor. In its current form, Medicaid underpays doctors and hospitals so badly that the poor face major difficulties gaining access to essential health care under the program, and they suffer worse health outcomes as a result. Under block-grant reform, states would be free to provide financing to the poor to purchase private health insurance. This would empower the poor to enjoy the same health insurance as the middle class.
The other thing to keep in mind when thinking about Medicaid is that, while the costs are quite high (and rising), the value in terms of health outcomes is quite low. The poor are already served badly by the program, and restructuring it to give states more flexibility could be a way to provide somewhat better service while simultaneously holding down spending.
I wrote about Medicaid reform in The Wall Street Journal here.
Last week, a Congressional subcommittee approved a series of bills designed to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that were taken over by the Treasury Department three years ago. In Canada's National Post, Reason intern Jesse Kline writes about the lessons that Canada can learn from the effects of government intervention in the housing market:
Three years after the global financial crisis started, due in large part to troubles in the U.S. housing market, the American government is just now beginning to address the issue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government sponsored enterprises that helped fuel the housing crisis.
By purchasing and insuring risky mortgages, backed by an implicit guarantee from the federal government, Fannie and Freddie created perverse incentives for mortgage originators to give out bad loans. A new study by Anthony Randazzo at the Reason Foundation found that these guarantees always underprice risk, drive mortgage investment into unsafe markets and inflate housing prices by distorting the allocation of capital -all of which eventually created a U.S. housing bubble that burst in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
When the bubble burst, the mortgage giants were taken over by the federal government, and have since been suckling on the taxpayer's teat to the tune of $154-billion and counting. As a result, even the Obama administration has come out in favour of reducing the government's role in the housing industry.
A similar situation in Canada would put a significant strain on the treasury, because the Canadian government explicitly guarantees a significant portion of outstanding mortgages through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the crown corporation that insures and securitizes mortgages.
More from Reason on Fannie and Freddie here.
Reason's Nick Gillespie appeared on The Glenn Beck Show featuring guest host Judge Andrew Napolitano to discuss Barack Obama's and George Bush's unconstitutional war-mongering - and Congress' absolute fecklessness.
This may be the first and only time that Fox News viewers heard Congress described as a bunch of "lily-livered sapsuckers" and worse for not standing up to bomb-happy presidents.
Air date: April 12, 2011.
Go to Reason.tv for more vids.
In 2006 the nation's vast army of postal clerks, letter carriers, and facer-canceler machines processed and distributed 213 billion pieces of mail. By 2010 that number had dropped to 170 billion, and according to forecasts commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the total will sink to 150 billion by 2020. In March 2010, postal administrators announced that the USPS could run up a cumulative deficit as high as $238 billion during the next decade. As Greg Beato reports in our May issue, the USPS is struggling to stay self-sufficient in our increasingly post-postal society.View this article
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Glenn Instapundit Reynolds writes about correcting (yet another!) Reagan-era policy mistake - the tying of federal highway dollars to raising a given state's to 21 years of age. Reynolds notes that current policy proposals to let active-duty military kids down shots as well as take them isn't enough. There's just no good goddamn reason that 21 is the age. Certainly not from any safety standpoint:
Defenders of the status quo claim that highway deaths have fallen since the drinking age was raised to 21 from 18, but those claims obscure the fact that this decline merely continued a trend that was already present before the drinking age changed—and one that involved every age group, not merely those 18-21. Research by economist Jeffrey A. Miron and lawyer Elina Tetelbaum indicates that a drinking age of 21 doesn't save lives but does promote binge drinking and contempt for the law.
It's simply pathetic that here we are in the 21st century - a time of Hover Cars and Cloud Cities - and we're still stuck in a Just Say No moment that demonstrably fails to deliver precisely what it claims to: less destructive behavior on the part of kids.
Must-watch video: Reason.tv's Is It Time to Lower the Drinking Age from 21?
- Japan upgrades nuclear crisis to Chernobyl level.
- Obama administration to push for new Israeli-Arab peace talks.
- Egypt detains Mubarak, his two sons.
- Fourth opposition leader in Bahrain dies in government custody.
- Sen. James Inhofe praises Ivory Coast dictator.
- New at Reason.tv: "Sandy Springs, Georgia: The City that Outsourced Everything"
We've got Thomas Friedman all wrong. He's no button-down pundit trying to explain the outside world -- he's a gonzo madman who downs unlabeled pills & describes his hallucinations. Or at least that's one way to explain this lede:
When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: "Do you have a corporate rate?" I said, "I don't know. I work for The New York Times." There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: "Can I ask you something?" Sure. "Are we going to be O.K.? I'm worried."
I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We're just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her -- in Egypt and elsewhere.
God only knows what really happened in that conversation. Maybe he called room service. Maybe the phone wasn't plugged in at all. Maybe the exchange did happen, but he accidentally called a Marriott in Miami. Whatever Friedman experienced, he processed it from deep in Inner Space: some private world where helpless natives -- even the ones who sound modern! -- beg the Great White Father from The New York Times to tell their fortunes. And in that world, what the Arabs need is a strong guiding hand, the sort of firm paternal leadership that will ward off civil strife:
The Arab world desperately needs its versions of South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk — giants from opposing communities who rise above tribal or Sunni-Shiite hatreds to forge a new social compact. The Arab publics have surprised us in a heroic way. Now we need some Arab leaders to surprise us with bravery and vision. That has been so lacking for so long.
Another option is that an outside power comes in, as America did in Iraq, and as the European Union did in Eastern Europe, to referee or coach a democratic transition between the distrustful communities in these fractured states. But I don't see anyone signing up for that job.
A coach. The Arabs need a coach. Or a referee. They're pretty much the same thing, right?
Although professional help and clever software help shield Americans from the tax code's infuriating, nerve-wracking complexity, they do not change the underlying reality. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum argues that trading credits and deductions for lower rates would produce a simpler, fairer, more efficient, and less intrusive tax system.View this article
Curious Washington Post profile today of Obama's gun regulation lead man, Steve Croley. He refused to be interviewed, and the upshot is, thankfully, that even post-Giffords shooting, the Obama administration has little interest in putting much energy behind tougher gun laws, and thus this reputed tort and reg genius has little to do on this topic.
Croley is said to be for forcing all gun sales to run through a federal database (not just those from licensed gun dealers) and not interested in banning high-capacity ammo magazines. But mostly, he is painted as representing an administration mostly hiding from the gun regulation issue.
Cato's Tim Lynch sees media lack of interest in harping on guns as a big part of Obama's and Croley's political equation.
Reason's cover package for April was on the various media and political reactions to the Giffords shooting.
I blogged on Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)'s particularly crazy legislative reaction to those shootings.
For background on the current shape of Second Amendment law, consult my book Gun Control on Trial early and often.
See Reason.TV's latest Atlas film coverage:
...and read my May Reason magazine feature on the making of the movie.
A list of theaters where you can see the movie.
Deficits getting worse in first half of new fiscal year:
The US budget deficit shot up 15.7 percent in the first six months of fiscal 2011...
The Treasury reported a deficit of $829 billion for the October-March period, compared with $717 billion a year earlier, as revenue rose a sluggish 6.9 percent as the economic recovery slowly gained pace.
The Treasury argued that the pace of increase in the deficit was deceptive because of large one-off reductions in expenditures made during the first half of fiscal 2010, compared with previous and subsequent periods.
Those included a $115 billion reduction in funds spent on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) -- the financial institution bailout program -- in March 2010.
But 2011 so far has also seen significant increases in spending on defense, Social Security, health and debt service, while receipts have not grown as fast.
"The jump in outlays mostly owed to a smaller estimated reduction in TARP outlays this year versus 2010," said Theresa Chen at Barclays Capital Research.
TARP! Reason's Tim Cavanaugh has had a lot of smart things to say about it, and you should listen.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) sees Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget-cutting plan as being merely feckless adjustments within a larger vision of government that is unaffordable. As summed up at the Republican Liberty Caucus's blog, Paul slammed Ryan for not recognizing that:
"We are dealing with a problem in Washington as a budgetary accounting problem and that’s not it. It’s a philosophy problem. What is the philosophy of government? What should the role of government be?”
The Congressman went on to question the role of government in the economy and welfare system. “(Paul) Ryan doesn’t reject (the) notion (of a government-run welfare system). I do.”
Congressman Paul also criticized spending on “maintaining our empire” and “being the policeman of the world.”
The Hill also reported on Paul's critique of Ryan.
Reason's Nick Gillespie with Veronique de Rugy had their own critique of Ryan's budget.
Behold the GOP's incredible shrinking budget cuts: Republicans claimed victory last week after striking a deal with Democrats to cut $38 billion from this year’s budget. But according to National Journal’s Tim Fernholz, the numbers don’t add up:
The final cuts in the deal are advertised as $38.5 billion less than was appropriated in 2010, but after removing rescissions, cuts to reserve funds, and reductions in mandatory spending programs, discretionary spending will be reduced only by $14.7 billion.
An Associated Press report comes to the same conclusion:
The picture already emerging is of legislation financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially "score" as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit. As a result of the legerdemain, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber passed a bill slashing this year's budget by more than $60 billion.
...Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can't be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.
The numbers just keep getting smaller, don’t they? Republicans started the year demanding $100 billion in cuts. But it quickly turned out that when they said $100 billion, they were just talking hypothetically. Instead, they meant $100 billion on an annualized basis. The next we heard, Republicans were aiming to trim $61 billion. And not one penny less! Eventually, they agreed to a deal that they claimed cut $38 billion. But of that $38 billion, it turns out, the real cuts only add up to about $14 billion. Any bets on how many days before the cuts disappear entirely?
The former governor and forever-tanned man-about-Florida Charlie Crist pays a heavy price for using a mediocre Talking Heads song in his failed re-election campaign.
I'm all in favor of humiliating politicians on YouTube and elsewhere, but can we save some ritual abuse for musicians who agree to be used by politicians? For instance, I nominate Melissa Etheridge, for her performance of "Give Peace a Chance" at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, a moment that will not soon unsear itself from my brain-plate:
Previously, on geez-rockers vs. Republicans:
Do we pay too much to avoid minuscule risks? A new study by Cass Sunstein, Obama's new regulatory czar and Harvard economist Richard Zeckshauser argues that we do. Why? Because people overreact to scary stories and demand that politicians and regulators "do something." But as Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains, that "something" is all too often regulations that cost more than the benefits they offer.View this article
For those of you interested in additional libertarian reflections on today’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I encourage you to check out the current issue of The Freeman, which includes very interesting essays on the Civil War and its legacy from economic historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, who calls the war “the simultaneous culmination and repudiation of the American Revolution,” Hillsdale College historian Burton Folsom, and Freeman Editor Sheldon Richman, among others. You can read it right here.
At The Economist, Will Wilkinson responds to a recent essay Vanity Fair essay on inequality by economist Joe Stiglitz:
As Gabriel Sherman writes in a new New York Magazine article on Peter Orszag and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, "The close alliance among Wall Street and the economics departments of the major universities and the West Wing of the White House is the military-industrial complex of our time." Not to say that the military-industrial complex is not the military-industrial complex of our times, nor that the confluence of government and health care is not the military-industrial complex of our times. The problem is that we are multiplying military-industrial complexes. But this explosion in public-private "partnerships", and the inevitable political corruption and economic distortion they produce, is not at bottom due to a plot of the top 1%. It is due in no small part to the success of progressive ideologues like Mr Stiglitz in arguing for ever greater government control over everything.
A political system that enshrines governments' power to grant monopolies and other barriers to economic competition, whether they be direct subsidies to government's chosen champion firms, or less direct subsidies by way of taxes, tariffs, and regulations that disproportionately harm less-favoured firms, inevitably attracts money to politics. Under close inspection, the progressive master narrative is revealed as a tail-chasing, self-consuming progressive Ouroboros. It is an argument against money in politics that argues for precisely the sort of government power that draws money to politics. The progressive master narrative runs on the fuel of class interest, but it makes an arbitrary exception for members of the progressive technocratic elite.
This can’t be said often enough. Involving politics in industry is a surefire way to involve money in politics. The more that government seeks to influence the economy, the more that individuals with means will seek to influence the government. This often leads progressives to push for better regulators on one hand and tighter controls on the other. Taxes become tools to alter behavior rather than raise operating revenue. Industries become regulated to the point that they are quasi-public utilities. Public-private partnerships pile up, as do their costs; just this morning, the Obama administration announced it would spend a billion dollars on partnerships designed to reduce medical errors. It’s an endless feedback loop, in which progressive reformers are perpetually trying to fix the problems they helped create.
Reason's Nick Gillespie will appear on Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck show tonight. The show is being guest hosted by Judge Andrew Napolitano and starts at 5pm ET. Go here for more details.
Gillespie discussed the chic legacy of Che Guervara on Beck's 2010 special The Revolutionary Holocaust. Take a peek below:
"The calls are coming in," former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells the Los Angeles Times’ Geoff Boucher in a tease for the celebrated actor’s return to the movie business.
Blimey, Guvnah! A bunch of those calls are from me, trying to get a new take on the pension crisis that continues to cloud California’s future and your successor’s administration.
The news here isn’t particularly new. Schwarzenegger has not settled on his next project, but he’s been suggesting he’ll be back on the silver screen for some time. Here's how the voice of Stan Lee's animated hero The Governator responded when the Austrian paper Kronen Zeitung asked in January if he was thinking about returning to movies:
"Sure. Currently I'm reading three scripts! A pitch that I didn't have time to consider when I was governor intrigues me most. I would play an older German officer who gets an order at the end of the war to kill dozens of children. He disobeys, and life-and-death adventure ensues. The plot is based on a true story."
Boucher's short list of possible Arnold projects – which includes a policier and a puzzle movie – doesn’t include that picture. The surest bet seems to be that of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, who predicts Schwarzenegger will “make a smart choice very soon and he’ll dominate again.”
Why shouldn’t he? Without consulting any reference, I can name five Schwarzenegger pictures that deserve inclusion in the Great Films section at the tera-library of the giga-Vatican: True Lies, Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, Stay Hungry and Total Recall. I can also name many others that are hugely entertaining (the Terminator sequels, Commando, Predator, Kindergarten Cop a.k.a. Devil King of Children, Jingle All the Way, etc), one of the great sports documentaries (Pumping Iron), and a bunch of other movies I haven’t seen, which I’m sure have their moments. (I seem to recall there’s even one with Jim Belushi, where Arnold plays a Soviet Army officer.) All of these depended on his still-intact humor and fractured eloquence as much as or more than on his physical strength. Weirdly, given his two-term executive adventure, Schwarzenegger has barely any directing credits, so there’s always Christmas In Connecticut II. Finally, his famous business sense comes through in this assessment of the current action-adventure market:
Still, last summer's "The Expendables," directed and starring Sylvester Stallone, pulled in $274 million in worldwide box office with its old-school commando fantasy and aging action-hero cast, including a fleeting cameo by Schwarzenegger. The 38th governor of California watched those receipts with considerable interest and he also smiled as he watched Liam Neeson, now 58, "kicking in doors" in the surprise hit "Taken" three years ago.
"The whole industry has not come up with a new line of action heroes so [people say] let's go see the mature ones — that's what I call them, the mature ones — because there's nothing new around," Schwarzenegger said. "That's good news for me."
In any case there’s something telling in seeing Schwarzenegger’s career in politics come to resemble Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Birmingham Barons. If the presidency were still on offer he would probably still be making political noises, but as it is he is returning whence he came.
And that's a rational move. What made Schwarzenegger a rarity in politics was not the outsider purity he bragged about. (His creepy friendship with a thug like Fabian Núñez easily puts that perception to rest.) It was that he is a truly interesting person with recognizable talents, able to get rich in both the relatively free market of entertainment and the completely gamed economy of California real estate. His rejection of politics, and his smiling return to the private sector, say something not just about politics but about the instinct that first brought Schwarzenegger to this country, where in his own words, "the government wasn't always breathing down your neck or standing on your shoes."
One of the most common criticisms of plans to convert Medicare's unlimited commitment into a voucher or premium support system is that the value of the vouchers wouldn't rise fast enough to cover the cost of health inflation. In the long run, then, seniors would be stuck with a voucher that covered less and less of their health care costs.
To some extent, this criticism misses the point. The federal government is barreling toward a debt crisis, and increases in health spending are the biggest cause. So the primary objective is to restructure the system so that government spending on health care does not increase at the currently projected rate. Capping spending through vouchers or premium support payments is one way to do that.
The other thing this criticism misses is the role that government subsidies have played in making health care so expensive. Cato's Jagadeesh Gokhale does a nice job of explaining the basics:
Government subsidies to health care consumption, in the form of such programs as Medicare and Medicaid as well as employer tax exclusions for health insurance benefits, contribute to the rapid growth in health care costs. That is, by flooding the health care market with government money, the market ends up with many dollars chasing few worthwhile health care products, which results in rising health care prices. Moreover, the subsidies siphon away health care resources from the private-payer health care market, causing cost in that sector to increase rapidly as well.
Subsidies aren’t the only government policies contributing to rising health care costs. Government restrictions on the supply of health care services also play a role. Among those supply restrictions are the ban on drug importation, a very costly and difficult new-drug testing regime, and unnecessarily restrictive licensing of health care professionals.
The rapid rise in health care costs is primarily the consequence of government policies.
A voucher system combined with a more competitive health insurance market obviously wouldn't get rid of those subsidies. But it would put limits on those subsidies, and, as a result, help contain the market distortions they cause.
While cities across the country are cutting services, raising taxes and contemplating bankruptcy, something extraordinary is happening in a suburban community just north of Atlanta, Georgia.
Since incorporating in 2005, Sandy Springs has improved its services, invested tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure and kept taxes flat. And get this: Sandy Springs has no long-term liabilities.
This is the story of Sandy Springs, Georgia—the city that outsourced everything.
Approximately 8 minutes.
Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.
Democrats who like ObamaCare, that’s who, according to Chris Moody at The Daily Caller:
In anticipation of the anniversary of the state health-care law Mitt Romney signed in 2006, the New Hampshire Democratic Party is planning a tongue-in-cheek celebration for the former Massachusetts governor’s plan, which health-care policy experts argue bears a striking resemblance to the federal health-care law President Obama spearheaded into law last year.
“Without Romney, it’s hard to see how President Obama would have been able to provide quality, affordable health care for every American,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley in an email to supporters Monday. “Take a second today or tomorrow to thank Mitt Romney for providing the critical momentum necessary to get President Obama’s vision of health reform through Congress and signed into law.”
Calling him the “founding father of health-care reform,” the group is urging supporters to send Romney a thank-you tweet.
Watching Democrats tease Romney like this continues to be amusing. But I wonder if it might not backfire slightly, at least for those who continue to be genuinely happy with the precedent set by the Massachusetts health care overhaul. After all, the more that liberals celebrate RomneyCare, the less appealing he becomes to the conservative base that dominates Republican primaries. Sure, Romney isn’t going to come out swinging in favor of ObamaCare, but so long as he doesn’t disavow the Massachusetts plan completely—which doesn’t seem likely—he’s going to be a lot more amenable to mandate-driven state reforms. And in general, he’s a lot closer to liberals on health care policy than any other potential GOP candidate. But liberal activist community, aided by the White House, seems intent on taking him out of the running, mostly, I suspect, because they can. No matter what, though, it's pretty fun to watch.
This is not an article you should read if you're having a bad government day.
At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.
Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.
"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona said. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke.["]
Hmmm. I wonder if there are any interesting incentives involved?
Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
But at least the kids like it, right?
At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad. [...]
"Some of the kids don't like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast," said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. "So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something."
So is there any hope for the future? Mercifully, yes:
"They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," said student Yesenia Gutierrez. "It's really lame. If we could bring in our own lunches, everyone knows what they'd bring. For example, the vegetarians could bring in their own veggie food."
You go, Yesenia. And you go to hell, Chicago.
When critics of government subsidies complain about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, friends of NPR, PBS, Sesame Street, Frontline, and the rest say the government stipend is just a drop in a very large funding bucket. When critics then say in that case the stipend would not be missed if it were stopped, supporters say funding cuts would be devastating. The truth, writes A. Barton Hinkle, is that Elmo and his public-broadcasting friends could do just fine without a government subsidy. They might even be better off.View this article
On Monday, April 11, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch joined a panel discussion on Fox Business Network's Freedom Watch to discuss the winners and losers of last Friday's last-ditch non-government shutdown. Seven-plus minutes:
The 50 states, as we have seen recently in Wisconsin and elsewhere, are in serious fiscal trouble. Total state debt is estimated at more than $1 trillion, and that doesn't include another $3 trillion in unfunded liabilities from pensions and other obligations. As Reason economics columnist Veronique de Rugy explains, we can afford neither a federal bailout of this sum nor the precedent it would set. But how about giving states the option of filing for bankruptcy, as municipalities can do via Chapter 9?View this article
As Tim Cavanaugh pointed out last night in a great post about stimulus rain-dancers, "The argument for Keynesian spending has been defeated in the court of your own two eyes. That will take some re-adjustment for believers." Perhaps slowing that re-adjustment process is the fact that the journalistic establishment often portrays Keynesian theory as an immutable law of nature, called into question only by the insane and corrupt. Take, for instance, this article in the Business section of today's New York Times, under the headline "Budget Cuts Raise Doubt on Course of Recovery." Here's how it begins:
The budget deal struck last week amounts to a bet by the Obama administration that the loss of $38 billion in federal spending will not be the straw that breaks the back of a fragile economic recovery.
Economic conditions can determine the outcome of elections, and growth remains tepid and tentative just 18 months before voters decide if the president gets a second term.
The proposed federal spending cuts, which were decided late Friday, do not amount to much by themselves, about 0.25 percent of annual domestic activity. But they join a growing list of minor problems impeding growth, economists said,
I'm actually surprised that the article goes on to acknowledge the existence of people who disagree with the notion that government spending boosts growth.
Read how "It Can Happen Here," three case studies of government cuts leading to growth in Canada, New Zealand, and these United States, from our November 3D issue on How to Slash Government. Then just start scrolling through the archive of our economics columnist, Veronique de Rugy.
Fifty years ago today, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first person to orbit the earth. The 27-year old Gagarin circled the earth in a 108 minute flight in a 5-ton Vostok capsule. Then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson admitted: "I felt uneasy and apprehensive. In the open West, you learn to live with the sky as part of your life. But now, somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien."
In catchup mode, NASA launched astronaut Alan Shepard into a 15 minute suborbital flight on May 5. Stung by this Soviet technological success, President John Kennedy announced in a speech before Congress on May 25, 1961 the goal that the U.S. would send an American safely to moon before the end of the decade. The space race was on.
Space became an arena for national competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, four cents of every tax dollar was devoted to the space program and the Apollo moon program cost approximately $25 billion ($170 billion in 2010 dollars). Fifty years later, space will perhaps now become an arena for commercial competition.
Whatever the politics, Gagarin's trip was an amazing technological triumph that deserves commemoration.
In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries under the command of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Three days later, President Abraham Lincoln began mobilizing the North for war. “If the shot fired at Fort Sumter ‘was heard round the world,’” observed Ulysses S. Grant in his 1885 Memoirs, “the call of the President for 75,000 men was heard throughout the Northern States.” In addition to requesting those 75,000 state militia volunteers, Lincoln ordered an increase in the size of the regular army, instructed the Navy to erect a blockade of the Confederate coast, and suspended habeas corpus in certain areas—all without seeking the approval of Congress. Meanwhile in Montgomery, Alabama, the provisional capital of the Confederate States of America, Secretary of War LeRoy Pope Walker reportedly bragged, “before the first of May the flag of the Southern Confederacy will wave from the dome of the old Capitol in Washington and within a short time perhaps also from Faneuil Hall in Boston.” And so the war came.
A century and a half later the Civil War continues to fascinate and divide Americans, libertarians included. To mark today’s 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter and the start of the bloodiest war in American history, Reason presents a selection of our best writing on the Civil War and its legacy:
Southern Nationalism: Exploring the roots of the Civil War. By Charles Oliver.
The Confederate Leviathan. By Ronald Bailey.
The Outsiders: How D.W. Griffith paved the way for Ed Wood. By Jesse Walker.
Wrong Song of the South: The dangerous fallacies of Confederate multiculturalism. By David Beito and Charles Nuckolls.
- 150 years ago today, the American Civil War began.
- The details of the budget deal come out.
- Japan's nuclear disaster gets a new INES rating.
- Libya's rebels reject the African Union's peace plan.
- Bart Stupak lands a job on K Street.
- "Naked Man Shoots Police Robot."
The latest from Reason.tv: "Why Aren't the Rich Paying 50% in Taxes?"
Controversy erupted in March when conservative groups requested access to the emails of pro-labor state university professors under state open records laws. There is plenty of hypocrisy on all sides of this blowup. But as Shikha Dalmia writes, if conservatives are interested in protecting individual liberty, they sure have a weird way of going about it. Not only do the means they are deploying not justify their ends—they actually impair those ends.View this article
A few years ago only members of the radical goldbug fringe were asking whether the government should stop dumping money into a giant hole. Now the idea has become so mainstream that billionaire currency speculator George Soros had to take a break from reorganizing the world's financial system at the New Bretton Woods Conference to address deficit concerns.
Soros told Bloomberg news Friday that the deficit hawks may "abort the very fragile economic recovery you are currently enjoying and push the economy once again into a slowdown or recession."
“In my opinion the country could actually absorb some more debt in order to get the economy going,” Soros told Bloomberg. “But it's a question of how to use that money. If you just use it to reinforce consumption you don't really get any benefit of it. But if you were to use it for building infrastructure or to improve productivity, then I think it would be a very wise thing to do.”
Not so, says the Wendy the Snapple Lady of blogging, Duncan “Atrios” Black. Here’s the Eschatonian path to prosperity in a nutshell, cited with seeming approval by Brad DeLong:
All Spending Is Good Spending
At least from the perspective of the economy and unemployment. This isn't true in normal times, but we are not in normal times. If we can't act think of anything better to do with the money, we should be paying people to dig holes and other people to fill them up again. Or, perhaps, in more modern terms, pay people to build freedom bombs and other people to conduct controlled explosions of them. There are better or worse ways to spend money, but it still the case that if you cut spending on basically anything it will be a drag on the economy.
I never like to bigfoot a conversation, but this discussion is over. Ezra Chaitglesias and company can continue thumping the tub about low inflation and continuing federal solvency, but the fact that President Obama and the Republicans are now – however unpersuasively – competing to be seen as more fiscally responsible gives the game away. If you’re still trying to get another stimulus rain dance going, you’re just not in the debate anymore.
In the eight days preceding the $38.5 billion deficit reduction deal, the national debt of the United States increased $54 billion. The prices of gold and corn have never been higher. Even the L.A. Times has figured out that inflation is upon us (though strangely the paper had to send a reporter to Virginia to get the news). One in four U.S. households can now claim zero or negative net worth. Nationwide student debt is closing in on the $1 trillion mark. Even if we cut all defense and domestic discretionary spending to zero, we would just barely balance the current federal budget. Nobody has wanted our debt for quite some time now.
Like, I suspect, many of the folks who spend their days contemplating the bottomless evil of George Soros, I have only a vague idea what he actually does. But it makes sense that a wealthy-but-mortal man who deals in currency markets would focus on GDP while ignoring the actual U.S. economy’s slow grind to a halt. For more local actors like DeLong, Paul Krugman, Black and the rest, there’s a more immediate problem, and it’s not coming from lunatics like me but from observable reality. The argument for Keynesian spending has been defeated in the court of your own two eyes. That will take some re-adjustment for believers. The title of this post comes from one of DeLong’s commenters, who is concerned about the long-term discrediting of economic intervention. But it’s too late to do anything about that; to make Keynesianism look ridiculous would be like blacking the chimney.
Yesterday's New Yawk Times carried a house editorial about Bill Steigerwald's recent Reason article documenting the lying and dissembling at the heart of Nobel Prize-winning writer John Steinbeck's supposedly non-fiction book, Travels with Charley (1962). Steinbeck, best known for the novels Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, set out to tour the country on the cheap with his pet dog but, as Steigerwald documents pretty brilliantly, the famous author misrepresented his itinerary and clearly made up many, if not all, of the book's memorable moments. The Times editorial board agrees, writing "Steinbeck’s 'Travels With Charley in Search of America' is shot through with dubious anecdotes and impossible encounters":
This might not flabbergast anyone who has read the book lately. It is full of improbably colorful characters and hard-to-swallow dialogue straight out of a black-and-white 1960s TV show. “What’s the matter with you, Mac, drunk?” says a red-faced New York cop. “You can just rot here,” says a forlorn young man in the Rockies who wears a polka-dot ascot and dreams of being a beautician in New York. “Flops. Who hasn’t known them hasn’t played,” says a traveling Shakespearean actor in North Dakota.
One especially incredible melodrama is set in New Orleans. It is a meditation on racism with a scary white bigot, a white moderate and two emblematic African-Americans: a timid, weather-beaten field hand and a bold young student who is tired of the boycotts and sit-ins.
It is irritating that some Steinbeck scholars seem not to care. “Does it really matter that much?” one of them asked a Times reporter.
Steinbeck insisted his book was reality-based. He aimed to “tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.” Books labeled “nonfiction” should not break faith with readers. Not now, and not in 1962, the year “Travels With Charley” came out and Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature.
A Nobel laureate being totally full of shit? Who'da thunk it!
An earlier Times piece quotes Steigerwald himself sounding like a Steinbeck character:
"Other than the fact that none of that is true, what can I tell you?" He added, "If scholars aren't concerned about this, what are they scholaring about?"
But the scholars are a depressingly jaded bunch, especially when it comes a fairly clear-cut line between non-fiction and fiction:
Susan Shillinglaw, who teaches English at San Jose State University and is a scholar in residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., said in a phone interview: “Any writer has the right to shape materials, and undoubtedly Steinbeck left things out. That doesn’t make the book a lie.”
Talking about the authenticity of the characters in “Travels With Charley,” she said, “Whether or not Steinbeck met that actor where he says he did, he could have met such a figure at some point in his life. And perhaps he enhanced some of the anecdotes with the waitress. Does it really matter that much?”...
Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini tells the Times:
"Does this shake my faith in the book? Quite the opposite. I would say hooray for Steinbeck. If you want to get at the spirit of something, sometimes it’s important to use the techniques of a fiction writer."
I must say that I question the Times account here, because I think the last person who says they "would say hooray" for anything died even before Travels With Charley was published. I'm a die-hard postmodernist, but let's not be retarded here: If a narrative's power pulls directly from its facticity rather than its fabulism, then it better be a defensible version of reality. Defensible in the sense of this pretty much happened the way I've tried to capture it.
When you think of the New Journalism, which is often accused of destroying objectivity in news, Tom Wolfe at his best wasn't bringing fictional techniques to reporting in order to make shit up; he was using them to better get at social reality. An essay like "Radical Chic" would be completely devoid of merit or meaning if it turned out that Wolfe simply made up quotes by Leonard Bernstein or Otto Preminger. If a novelist wants to write a non-fiction book and then makes stuff up "to get at the spirit of something," more power to 'em. Just don't call it non-fiction. The real insight of postmodernism is that we should show "incredulity toward metanarratives" and that our ability to understand reality without distortion is provisional and limited even when we're trying our best to get things right. That's got nothing to do with the grift that Steinbeck pulled and what his critical enablers are defending here.
Jesse Walker blogged the Times' coverage of Steigerwald's piece here.
In the comments of a previous post rounding up some Atlas Shrugged Part I reviews, roystgnr asked, "to avoid wasting everyone's time, could we just post reviews by people who dislike Rand's politics but liked the movie and reviews by people who like Rand's politics but disliked the movie?" Since I aim to please, here's the New York Post's libertarian-leaning film reviewer and underrated columnist, Kyle Smith:
[T]he movie's chief flaws — on-the-nose-dialogue, a cheesy score, no-name actors — are fixable, and it is alive with the potency of Rand's convictions. "Atlas Shrugged" is a rough draft of a movie, but one that's good enough to renew interest in the story's cinematic possibilities. [...]
"Atlas Shrugged" is like the Bible (the only title that outscored it in an unscientific 1991 survey that asked readers which books had most influenced them). Neither is to be taken literally. Each makes a lot of valid points. [...]
Most movies, even movies that earn many times what "Atlas Shrugged" will make at the box office, don't matter. "Hop" and "Sucker Punch" are not going to create any activists, stir any conversation, make people want to read more about the subject. Despite playing on only a couple of hundred screens (and only covering the first third of the novel), "Atlas Shrugged" is going to have an impact. It'll make kids want to read the book, it'll get argued about on widely read blogs, it'll make some viewers question their assumptions: Why is it, exactly, that we are supposed to hate successful businessmen? [...]
This is Rand's moment: Her demon vision, despite the odor of brimstone and the screech of axe-grinding that envelops it, seems less and less unimaginable. For all its stemwinders, its cardboard capitalists and villainous bureaucracy, "Atlas Shrugged" makes ringing statements: that wealth has to be created before it can be divided up, that government isn't necessarily your friend, that the business of America is business.
Libertarian-leaning current events funnyman P.J. O'Rourke, in the Wall Street Journal:
Atlas shrugged. And so did I.
The movie version of Ayn Rand's novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they've wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe. [...]
In "Atlas Shrugged–Part I" a drink is tossed, strong words are bandied, legal papers are served, more strong words are further bandied and, finally, near the end, an oil field is set on fire, although we don't get to see this up close. There are many beautiful panoramas of the Rocky Mountains for no particular reason. And the movie's title carries the explicit threat of a sequel.
But I will not pan "Atlas Shrugged." I don't have the guts. If you associate with Randians—and I do—saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand. What's more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I'm not sure she's dead.
The woman is a force. But, let us not forget, she's a force for good.
Are there libertarian-agnostic non-Rand-fans who've liked the movie? I haven't found any yet, though Preview Week is still young. There were some notable savagings by Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, though. Plus this newspaper editorial from the apparently existing Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record, headlined "Objectively Evil: The Truth About 'Atlas Shrugged.'" Sample from that:
A staple of modern libertarian thinking in some ways codified into the law, Objectivism is radically anti-Christian, denies the natural and moral law and assumes that man exists solely as an individual whose highest goal is satisfying his cupidity and concupiscence. It suggests that mankind is a collection of aimless atoms that bounce off of each other occasionally, but otherwise bear no selfless reciprocal duties or imperatives. Indeed, Rand thought selfishness was a virtue.
Such an ideology denies reality. For one thing, history teaches us that mankind everywhere has always lived under some political authority. As well, men and women are not just individuals, but members of families, communities and towns who work and live together. The natural and moral law, as well as revelation, commands them to be good members of society and to love one another as they love themselves. The law commands this not because a neighbor demands it, but because God expects it as a matter of charity and justice, although he leaves men free to disobey him. Rand vigorously and viciously rejected these simple Christian injunctions.
Objectivism, then, is objectively evil, the merits of Rand’s arguments about collectivism regardless. [..]
So perhaps the conservatives ought to stop buzzing about this film and learn something about the atheist rationalism Rand espoused and the torment it has visited upon the world.
You'll definitely want to click through that last link....
Reason.tv's latest Atlas Shrugged vid here; our Ayn Rand page here. Read the behind-the-scenes Brian Doherty feature that everybody's now catching up to, then wash it down with his December 2009 chronicle of Rand's post-TARP resurgence. Cathy Young's "Ayn Rand at 100" remains a lightning rod of controversy, and this Manuel S. Klausner tale of how Rand almost sued Reason is one of my very favorite things.
Here's Reason.tv's run of Tax Day-inspired videos. Take a break from cursing out the Turbo Tax call center folks and watch, laff, learn, and...love.
Our most-recent release is here:
For a playlist of our Tax Day vids, go here now.
Who is Peter Orszag? In a thoroughly reported, super-sized profile of the former White House budget director and newly recruited high-salaried Citibank somethingorother, New York magazine’s Gabe Sherman gives a lot of potential answers to that question. He’s an “ambitious economist” with “a gilded resume,” a “deficit hawk,” who claims he quit his job “upset by Washington’s refusal to get serious about the deficit,” and a symbol of populist animosity who's been “branded a sellout” for taking a big-bucks banking gig. At the White House, he was “one of the most visible faces on Team Obama”—“a rock-star egghead” and “an unlikely hunk” who “[embodied] everything that was cool about the technocratic braininess of Obama’s Washington.”
Those are the answers Sherman gives us. Here’s my answer to the question: He's a pretty-boy pencil pusher whose business, as the top budget braniac in the administration, was to mislead the public about the budget.
But what about now? What exactly is ladies' man Orszag up to at Citibank? Apparently, he’s been given the title of “vice-chairman,” whatever that means. The best clue we have is the role given to Bob Rubin, one of Orszag’s mentors and in some ways the original Washington-to-Wall Street power player. Rubin went to Citibank after working on Bill Clinton’s economic team, and the bank created the job of “Chairman” specifically for him. That gig, apparently, did not involve “managing or trading or doing deals” or any sort of “direct responsibility in running Citi’s sprawling operation.” It did leave plenty of time for Rubin to pursue memoir writing and fly-fishing—which is even more impressive considering the job also paid Rubin $33 million per year and gave him “access to Citi’s fleet of private jets.” Is Orszag’s “vice-chairman” job a junior version of the same thing?
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what Orzag is doing for Citibank. His primarily job duties are intangible. Mostly it seems he's there to cast his sexy geek-boy light on the institution and serve as a conduit to Washington’s power centers.
According to Sherman, Orzag is a trophy hire of sorts, an open line to the hallowed halls of financial regulation at the bottom of the Acela, and an outward sign that the bailed-out Citibank is now on a straight-and-narrow path to rehab and renewed status as a good corporate citizen. Corporate entities can’t exactly check into therapy after crashing at taxpayer expense, but they can connect with their feelings (and perhaps some new friends in the administration) by hiring a White House wiz kid. Who needs clear job responsibilities when you’re Washington’s unofficial Wonk King?
For Citi, hiring a man like Orszag, like Rubin before him, signaled that Citi would be invested in the intellectual marketplace, no mere profiteering bank but a significant American institution. Orszag’s wisdom about markets is certainly valuable; but even more valuable is his role as an impeccable ambassador for the bank, a kind of rainmaker, but at the stratospheric level. Just about anyone will take the call of a former White House budget director.
A “rainmaker” at “the stratospheric level,” eh? That sounds pretty awe-inspiring. But what does it actually mean to make it rain? You might think of witch doctors and mystical dancers, but according to Urban Dictionary, it’s “when you have a wad of cash and throw it in the air in a strip club. It's also a song by Fat Joe.” Now, there are no strip clubs mentioned in Sherman’s story, but I’m guessing the effect is basically the same, except that it’s Washington raining money on Citibank (already the recipient of a taxpayer-funded $45 billion bailout). That sounds great. If you’re Citibank. Or if you’re Orszag. According to Sherman’s sources, the former public servant is likely collecting in the neighborhood of $2 or $3 million for his rainmaking services. Fat Joe would be proud, I’m sure. As for the rest of us, well, that's tougher to say. In the end, we may not ever find out who Orszag really is. But it’s clear enough what all the elite connections he made on the public dime are currently allowing him to become: rich.
Conservatives have long fantasized about seizing Hollywood and other bastions of pop culture away from liberals. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, attendees were treated to panel discussions on such topics as "Pop Culture: An Influence or a Mirror?" and "Engaging Conservatives Through Pop Culture." Attendees seemed simultaneously infatuated with pop culture’s glamour, outraged at its moral and political leanings, drawn to its power, and jealously angry at liberal successes, reports Associate Editor Peter Suderman. Mostly, though, the right-wing culture mavens speaking before their ideological brethren seemed determined to reshape and repurpose the entertainment industry into a tool for conservative political evangelizing, creating not mere entertainment but conservatainment.View this article
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Reason editor in chief Virginia Postrel explains how survivalism can undermine support for markets and “encourage misleading conclusions about reality.” As she writes:
The survivalist instinct mostly plays to a perverse fantasy. It's both comforting and thrillingly seductive to imagine that you're completely independent, that you don't need anyone or anything beyond your home, that you can master any challenge. In the survivalist imagination, a future disaster becomes a high-stakes opportunity to demonstrate competence and superiority....
In focusing on extreme situations, [survivalism] forgets about the capacities built up during less-stressful times. Self-sufficiency limits knowledge and productive skills to whatever a single individual or locality can comprehend. Specialization and trade allow the system to expand those capabilities almost without limit. What looks like ignorance permits the growth of knowledge.
Carried to their logical conclusions, survivalist arguments would sever the very connections that make modern societies like Japan prosperous and resilient.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 see it in theaters April 15th!!!
"Who is John Galt?"
On the week Atlas Shrugged Part 1 hits the theaters, Reason.tv goes behind the scenes to speak with the people both on and off the silver screen to explore the mysterious question that haunts the world of Ayn Rand's epic, Atlas Shrugged.
Approximate length 3 minutes. Produced by Hawk Jensen, Senior Producer Ted Balaker, Camera by Alex Manning, Zach Weismueller, Austin Bragg. Edited by Hawk Jensen.
Music by Jason Shaw @ Audionautics.com
To see Reason.tv's exclusive behind-the-scenes video of Atlas Shrugged Part 1 go here.
To see Reason.tv's exclusive behind interview with the producer and screenwriter of Atlas Shrugged Part 1 go here.
To see all our Ayn Rand videos go here.
To see the original Atlas Shrugged Trailer go here.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Stuck with Virtue conference at Berry College in Rome, Ga. I found the conference intellectually enjoyable and the hospitality wonderful. The conference series aims to deal with the moral consequences of technological progress.
At the beginning of my talk, "For Enhancing People," I suggested that I had been invited in order to prove to skeptics in the audience that, unlike unicorns, extreme libertarians actually do exist. Extreme, in this case, meaning that I argue that people should be allowed to use a wide variety of technological enhancements in the future (biotech, infotech machine/human interfaces, etc.) with the goal of boosting their intellectual and physical capacities. Such enhancements, I think, would help people live more flourishing lives, and perhaps, even to improve their practice of virtue.
I think it is fair to characterize my fellow participants as believing that such enhancements pose considerable moral dangers. But just how far our thinking diverges on this issue startled me. During the formal sessions, bioethicist Benjamin Mitchell from Union University offered some penetrating counterpoints to my talk. During a coffee break, I was talking with Mitchell about his concerns and he told me that he thought that people who want to take advantage of enhancements must suffer from a great deal of self-loathing.
I was shocked by his comment. Why? Because, as I explained to Mitchell, in my experience when I talk to people who want to use technologies to enhance themselves, they express their desires as seeking after excellence. Self-loathing versus the pursuit of excellence. No wonder biopolitics is so vicious.
The conference papers including mine will be published in a future issue of the journal, The New Atlantis.
In The American Conservative, heartland meth user Nick King hits some myths about meth. High points:
Taking meth is like joining a secret society. Most users don’t talk about those activities to outsiders, but we can communicate all we need to each other, even when surrounded by the uninitiated, with knowing smiles, quick head bobs, subtle sniffs of the nose. Once I became at least a semi-regular consumer of the drug, I discovered that users extended well beyond the speed freaks at Wal-Mart buying lithium batteries at three in the morning. I could read the signs perfectly—the teeth grinding, chain-smoking, darting eyes, and omnipresent bottles of water—and could even spot those members of my town’s upper crust who happened to enjoy a rush.....
most of my town’s good, God-fearing folk....substituted hysteria for real knowledge of the drug. We walked among them as their employees—or employers, for that matter—neighbors, and friends, but if they had known who we were, they would have descended upon us like a screech owl on a vole. Anyone arrested for meth got his face splashed across the front page of the paper. Within days, even hours, formerly respected members of the community could have their lives ruinedby the drug but by people’s perception of it. But regardless of how shocking the upstanding citizens of town found it when one of their own was exposed as a fiend, the revelation never made them question their presumptions.....
For the most part, however, we were not the stereotypical burnouts that people expected this behavior from, nor did we think of ourselves as such. Several of my closest friends and I were in the top decile of our class despite being intoxicated half of our waking lives—frequently including school hours. We were almost all athletes and participated in a number of activities and clubs. For two years, every one of my class’s officers was a multiple drug felon.
We were also, by and large, neither poor nor neglected by our parents. Our mothers and fathers were solidly middle-class or, in a few cases, upper-class. They worked as doctors, bankers, teachers, contractors—very few lawyers, oddly—and owned some of the most respected small businesses in town.
King debunks the popular notions that economic woes or boredom led him and his friends to their non-life-destroying drug use, and delivers some well-observed tales of heartland American teens and postteens living a life that just happens to include a lot of drug use--a whole lot more than most people consider normal, but as King tells it he and his buddies just dealt with it as part of life. He concludes:
I didn’t fully comprehend how warped my little town was until I moved away for college. I attended an elite Midwestern university, and many of my classmates came from supercilious locales like New York and L.A. For the most part, they thought of my friends and me as half-mad provincials with minds twisted from the tedium of small-town life and adulterated methamphetamine. The same attitude pervades the journalists who cover drug use in rural America. (Reding is exceptional in that he has a small-town pedigree and makes a noble attempt to see through his subjects’ eyes. Still, despite his best efforts, he remains an outsider in the places he describes.) They come to find madmen, who are admittedly easy to find, confirm their prejudices, and file their stories confident that they’ve made a difference. True, they have told the rest of the world more than it ever wanted to know about rural America’s underbelly. But they can’t tell us the whole truth because they don’t know it and never will.
Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote a wonderful book on the matter of normal people leading normal lives that happen to include illegal drug use, Saying Yes. I blogged back in November for Reason on surveys indicating overabuse of meth among rural kids is a myth.
While my Reason magazine feature from our May issue on the Atlas movie--which due to the necessities of print production schedules was written and went to press many weeks ago--discussed the producers' then-current 11-city debut plan for the movie on April 15, the movie will in fact be opening on at least 277 screens in at least 42 states and the District of Columbia. A complete list of theaters playing Atlas, many of the theaters with advanced "buy tickets" links.
Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate and a former staffer for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). His organization's mission: to persuade America's soldiers and cops to refuse to carry out orders that violate the Constitution. On its website, Oath Keepers lists 10 orders its members will always refuse, including commands to conduct warrantless searches, to disarm the public, blockade an American city, or do anything that infringes "on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances." According to Rhodes, the group has about 30,000 dues-paying members.
Unlike the ACLU, the Oath Keepers are staunch defenders of the Second Amendment. They are also federalists, vowing to disobey orders that violate state sovereignty. Most of their members are conservative or libertarian. These latter positions have drawn suspicion and, at times, outright contempt from liberal groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lumps Oath Keepers in with militias and hate groups. Senior Editor Radley Balko spoke with Stewart Rhodes about these criticisms and more in January.View this article
I've been meaning for a while now to blog about the disgusting effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to tarnish the good folk over at the libertarian nonprofit Goldwater Institute for attempting to disrupt the flow of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of a freaking hockey team in Arizona, but instead I'll just invite you to read George Will:
After the [Phoenix Coyotes] team entered bankruptcy in 2009, the NHL bought it for $140 million and has lost at least $30 million operating it. It might decamp to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This would enable Glendale, which spent $180 million on the hockey arena, to cut its losses. Glendale, however, not wanting its eight-year-old arena to sit vacant, wants to sell up to $116 million of municipal bonds so that it can give $100 million to a wealthy Chicago business executive to help him buy the team. With the $100 million, the city would supposedly purchase the right to charge parking fees at the arena the city owns, with the fees going to pay off the bonds. But the city already owns the right it is purchasing: It already imposes a ticket surcharge for parking.
If future fees are insufficient, Glendale's taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall. Furthermore, Glendale would pay the new owner an additional $97 million under a contract, awarded without competitive bidding, to manage the arena through the 2014 season.
Fortunately, this folly may be illegal. The Arizona constitution's "gift clause" may block Glendale’s booster socialism [...]
The Goldwater Institute, a think tank and advocacy organization dedicated to the limited-government principles of its namesake, plans to sue, if necessary, to see that Arizona's constitution is respected. So the city, which has been dilatory regarding documents sought by the institute, is threatening to sue the institute, which warned bond rating agencies and others about its possible constitutional lawsuit. Glendale correctly says that the lawsuit will add a risk premium to its cost of borrowing. [...]
John McCain who holds the Senate seat once occupied by Barry Goldwater but does not hold Goldwater's views about governmental minimalism, calls the institute's actions "disgraceful" and "basically blackmailing": "It's not their role to decide whether the Coyotes should stay [here] or not." Well.
Constitutions do not impress the co-author of the McCain-Feingold assault on the First Amendment (his law restricts political speech). But the institute's job — actually, it is every Arizonan's job — is to protect the public interest. A virtuoso of indignation, McCain is scandalized that the institute, "a non-elected organization," is going to cause the loss of "a thousand jobs." McCain's jobs number is preposterous, as is his intimation — he has been in elective office for 28 years — that non-elected people should not intervene in civic life.
Whole thing, well worth a read, here.
This is yet another weird and vulgar chapter in McCain's long and contentious relationship with Barry Goldwater, a subject on which I wrote at length in McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.
Will sacred cows be slain in the federal government’s ongoing budget battles? The Wall Street Journal reports that corporate welfare for farmers, long untouchable by politicians in either party, are being targeted:
With the farm economy booming and Washington on a diet, a program set up in the 1990s that cuts checks to farmers could be trimmed or eliminated next year when Congress writes a new five-year farm bill. A group of conservative lawmakers has set its sights on these direct payments, and even farm-state Democrats who like the program say high crop prices make the outlays of about $5 billion a year harder to justify. Recently, the National Corn Growers Association, an industry lobby group, urged Congress to revamp the program, fearing it would be eliminated altogether.
Hold on a minute. Why do we need to do anything at all to get rid of these payments? Weren’t they supposed to be temporary?
Oh right. They were. But then, well, not so much:
The farm payments at risk were supposed to be temporary. Lawmakers designed the program in the 1996 farm bill to wean farmers of rice, feed grains, cotton and later soybeans off years of subsidies tied to keeping portions of land fallow.
Here’s the thing about “temporary subsidies” in Washington: They usually end up lasting to infinity and beyond. Anyone who wants to get rid of them ends up answering angry questions like: Don’t you support the nation’s hard working farmers? Of course, as with a lot of Washington rhetoric, that requires some unpacking. “Support” means “subsidize with taxpayer funds"; “hard working” means “doing record business"; and “nation’s...farmers” refers to “your constituents, hint, hint.”
The direct payments have endured and are now a cornerstone of American farm subsidies. The $5 billion in direct payments to farmers accounts for a third of the roughly $15 billion in total farm subsidies last year, according to government data.
Benefiting are about one million farmers on 260 million acres of land spread around 364 of 435 congressional districts, according to the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Working Group, a organization that wants to eliminate some farm subsidies and use the money to protect natural habitats.
With the farm sector booming—the USDA estimates net farm income this year will be the second-highest in 35 years—direct payments have become an easy target. Iowa State University economist Chad Hart notes that the payments go to farmers regardless of crop price or quality—a way to provide assistance without violating international trade rules.
I’d be thrilled to see direct payments put through the wood chipper. But I’m still skeptical that it will happen. When Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, the Republican head of the House Agricultural Committee, was asked by Reuters to comment on the fact that the GOP budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan calls for saving $30 billion by cutting direct payment to farmers, he basically chuckled and gave the reporter a pat on the head. Ryan’s proposed cuts were merely “suggestions,” according to Lucas. "At the end of the day, members of the House Agriculture Committee and I will write the next farm bill." It’s hard to slay a sacred cow when the priests who made it powerful are still determined to protect it.
The always perspicacious and frequently depressing Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson has a particularly downbeat column today. In the print edition the title is "Suicidal Politics," while online it's "Government on the Brink." Just a few highlights (lowlights?) below:
By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.
Few Americans realize the extent of their dependency. The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies. The census list doesn’t include tax breaks. Counting those, perhaps three-quarters or more of Americans receive some sizable government benefit. For example, about 22 percent of taxpayers benefit from the home mortgage interest deduction and 43 percent from the preferential treatment of employer-provided health insurance, says the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center....
Polls by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago consistently show Americans want more spending for education (74 percent), health care (60 percent), Social Security (57 percent) and, indeed, almost everything. By the same polls, between half and two-thirds of Americans regularly feel their taxes are too high; in 2010, a paltry 2 percent thought them too low. Big budget deficits follow logically; but of course, most Americans want those trimmed, too.The trouble is that, despite superficial support for “deficit reduction” or “tax reform,” few Americans would surrender their own benefits, subsidies and tax breaks — a precondition for success.
Government is suicidal because it breeds expectations that cannot be met. All the partisan skirmishing over who gets credit for averting a shutdown misses the larger issue: whether we can restore government as an instrument of progress or whether it remains — as it is now — a threat.
It appears that acute 19th century political observer Alexis de Tocqueville's prescient warning that unfettered democracy would lead to this sorry state is coming all too true:
I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world ...
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
However, Tocqueville missed one point--the immense tutelary power would become bankrupt.
Perhaps there is a way to avoid doom. My colleagues at Reason have been doing excellent work in analyzing the manifold problems posed by our current fiscal mess. For just one example, see "The 19 Percent Solution: How to balance the budget without increasing taxes," by Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy.
The whole Samuelson column well worth reading.
This Wednesday, April 13th, at 12:15 pm, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko will speak about police militarization at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. The speech will be at 625 S. State St. in room 220.
Balko's speech is sponsored by the Federalist Society and the American Civil Liberties Union. It is open to the public.
Joe Strupp at Media Matters interviewed me the other day for a story about Glenn Beck's departure from Fox. Here's the opening:
Conservative writer Jennifer Rubin isn't sad that Glenn Beck's Fox show is ending.
Rubin, who writes The Washington Post's Right Turn column, told Media Matters in an email: "It is good news for the conservative movement, especially at a time when serious and innovative individuals like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio are demonstrating leadership and far-sightedness while maintaining a tone of civility."
Other conservative and libertarian journalists contacted by Media Matters reacted similarly.
Jesse Walker, managing editor of Reason magazine, pointed to Beck's repeated falsehoods, as well as his loss of viewers and advertisers:
"Beck was always someone who went off the reservation and he got criticism from other conservatives ... he got a lot of his facts wrong," Walker said. "Controversy is fine when you are bringing in a lot of viewers, but controversy is not fine when you are losing viewers and dropping advertisers."
I did say all those words, but those ellipses elide a lot. While I don't like the fact that Beck gets a lot of his facts wrong, I do like the fact that he goes off the reservation. The guy broke with the conservative mainstream in some of the right places: He's for legalizing pot, he doesn't feel threatened by gay marriage, and he has backed off a bit from Bush's hawkish foreign policy. As I told Strupp, I suspect that a lot of Beck's conservative critics are offended more by his heterodoxy than by his factual errors.
As for the final sentence, about stirring up controversy: That isn't my view of what is or isn't fine. It's my speculation about what Fox was thinking when it dropped the show.
You may judge for yourself how similar my views are to Rubin's.
Update: I'm pleased to see that Strupp has corrected the story.
- Obama to give debt reduction speech this week.
- Quadaffi agrees to African Union peace plan.
- New 7.1 earthquake hits Japan. Nuclear evacuation zone expands.
- France begins enforcing ban on face veils.
- Steve Jobs authorizes a Walter Isaacson-penned biography.
- Recently at Reason.tv: "Final Countdown to Government Shutdown!"
After the 2008 election, Barack Obama was pondering the growth of presidential power. So, ABC News reported, he met with former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher "about how to achieve more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on the use of military force." Perhaps he did, writes Steve Chapman. Then he went home and laughed till his ribs hurt. Today, Chapman notes, we know exactly what Obama's idea of "meaningful consultation" with Congress on such matters is: First, he goes to war, and then he makes a rude gesture in the direction of Capitol Hill.View this article
I don't have a lot to say about Sidney Lumet, who died this weekend at age 86. Just that he directed one movie that's just about perfect -- Dog Day Afternoon -- and a bunch of others that haven't simply colonized my imagination; they've seized it and remade it in their own image. If I'm reading about New York in the '70s, the associations that jump to my mind are probably recycled from one of Lumet's pictures: if not Dog Day, then Serpico or Prince of the City or maybe even The Wiz. (*) And if I'm hearing about a trial, my mental images are apt to come from 12 Angry Men or The Verdict.
He made other worthy films too. The Pawnbroker is a vivid character study. Equus is one of my favorite stage-to-celluloid adaptations. Network is filled with funny scenes, not to mention one of the greatest Ned Beatty supporting roles in the long, rich history of great Ned Beatty supporting roles. Running on Empty won me over to the point that I somehow even enjoyed the sequence where the cast sings along to James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," a song that under any other circumstances I would despise. Lumet's best movies feature complex characters, a strong sense of place, and stories that aren't afraid to take some unexpected turns before depositing the audience at the end. The man put his stamp on the second half of the 20th century, and it's hard for me to imagine it without him.
* Yes, I know Prince of the City came out in 1981. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be set in the '70s, and at any rate it feels like the same world.
There are many, many left-wingers whose primary motivation for their left-wing political stance is the very libertarian impulse to protect people who are being pushed around. These left-wingers look at contemporary society and see an economy dominated by mammoth, impersonal corporations with enormous and seemingly unaccountable power; they see lower-and middle-income people disempowered in the workplace and struggling to make ends meet; they see institutions and social practices rigged against blacks, women, gays, immigrants, and other oppressed groups – and they turn to government to redress these inequities, viewing the democratic state as an institution in principle accountable to the public, and thus able to serve as a bulwark against private power and privilege. Call this variety of left-wingers the anti-privilege Left.
And this is the Left we can reach. The anti-privilege Left is already largely on our side when it comes to civil-liberties issues and to war; these are the folks who didn’t switch their positions on those issues when the White House turned from red to blue. I say they’re only “largely” with us on civil liberties because this group still tends to be bad on (at least) one civil liberty: gun rights. But otherwise their chief sticking points are economic; thus we need to show them that a freed market can actually achieve the goals of the anti-privilege Left better than government regulation can – and that, thanks to public-choice problems on the one hand, and what Mises calls the “economic democracy of the market” on the other, markets are actually more, not less, accountable to the public than governments are.
Long wants to disambiguate the anti-privilege left’s confuzzlement on the difference between an actual free market and the government-sustained economy of present-day America. He distinguishes between the reachable anti-privilege left and the unreachable aristocratic left – a step in the right direction after the nasty, brutish and short life of the “liberaltarian” movement, which seemed set up specifically to court the sensibilities of the aristocratic left. Examples of how to win the anti-privilege left include explaining why the monopolization leftists see as the natural result of the free market can in fact only be achieved with government support:
Thus when left-wingers complain of an economy dominated by a few large, hierarchical corporations with global reach, crowding out smaller and more local production, they are complaining about a situation created and sustained by government – and we should be pointing that out to them, rather than leaping to defend those corporations as though they’d achieved their bigness under market discipline.
And the ancient imperative to help a brother out:
As libertarians we are often unsympathetic to left-wing concerns about discrimination by employers against blacks, women, or other groups, as we think such practices cannot survive on a free market.
I’m skeptical of advice on how to do better evangelization. The history of efforts to position libertarianism as a natural fit with certain tendencies on either the left or the right does not inspire confidence. The reason to posit free-market economic ideas is that they are useful and accurate. That’s very different from – and maybe the opposite of – being persuasive to a certain political school. I can spend all day explaining my rational reasons for choosing my set of politics – many of them very close to the anti-privilege left sensibilities Long describes. But I suspect my decision really comes down to my nostalgia for the great American tendency ta fuck shit up – which seems to me less present than it was when I was a lad, and to which the libertarians seem closer than either end of the left/right continuum. I suspect most people on the left and right are driven by similarly non-rational motivations, and thus are similarly not susceptible to rational persuasion on political matters.
That said, it’s a great article, full of red meat and including a meditation on whether Dilbert is a legitimate source of economic data. The topic is also an evergreen: Brian Doherty suggested a left-libertarian reader a while back. And in a Reason TV interview, the San Diego Union Tribune's Chris Reed boils the left-libertarian dialogue into one simple question: Are progressive policies producing the results progressives want?
As someone who's only a week away from retirement - just like Robert DeNiro in the incredibly shitty movie The Score, I plan to pull one last job and then retire to Montreal (or was it Quebec City?) to run a jazz club (or was it a Pilates studio?)! - I don't know how I keep getting pulled back into this shit. But here you go, a quick rundown of the various federal budget plans out there:
President Obama wants to spend $3.7 trillion next year and $5.7 trillion in 2021.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to spend $3.6 trillion next year and $4.7 trillion in 2021.
The Republican Study Committee (RSC) wants to spend $3.6 trillion next year and $4.2 trillion in 2021.
Rand Paul wants to spend $3.7 trillion next year and $3.4 trillion in 2016.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has a "People's Budget" outline that, in keeping with representing a math-averse nation, doesn't include anything as straightforward as a series of annual-outlay numbers, though it does promise that outlays and revenues in 2021 will each equal 22.3 percent of GDP.
Then there's the plan that Veronique de Rugy and I cooked up: The 19 percent solution, in which federal spending is kept at 19 percent of GDP, which is what the CBO alternative scenario (known for its realism) said federal revenues would equal in 2020. We started writing about this last year, so our time frame is a bit different than the above. Given our druthers, we'd spend $3.3 trillion next year and $3.7 trillion in 2020 (in current 2010 dollars). That would mean total expenditures and total revenue would be in rough alignment though spending as a percentage of GDP would still be higher than it was in Bill Clinton's last budget (the cheapskate Clinton spent just 18.2 percent of GDP in his last year!).
When you look at the above figures, one thing seems pretty clear (to me, at least). Most of these scenarios are Sears Wish Books, plain and simple. Start at the top, with Obama's. By his own count, that $5.7 trillion of spending amounts to 23.1 percent of GDP in 2021. The CPC comes in at 22.3 percent of GDP. Paul Ryan comes in at 19.9 percent. Gillespie-de Rugy comes in at 19 percent. Rand Paul comes in at 18.7 percent and the RSC comes in at 18 percent.
The historic average of revenue from all sources from 1950 through 2010 was 17.8 percent. As noted previously, the CBO's alternative scenario projects that if taxes stay basically the same as they are now, revenue will equal 19 percent of GDP a decade down the road. To put that in perspective, the single highest year of revenue in the 20th century was 2000, when revenue came in at 20.6 percent of GDP and the best five-year average for revenue (1997-2001) comes in at 19.8 percent of GDP.
If balancing the budget is important (and it is), there's a strong argument for not spending more (and preferably less) than about $3.7 trillion come the start of the next decade. That's for everything - debt, entitlements, defense, you name it. A short while ago, it was common to talk about pushing a "reset" button when it came to foreign policy. That would be swell, but the same thing has to happen when it comes to government spending. There is simply no way to pay for budgets that spend, on average, 20.5 percent (Ryan's average over 10 years) or 22.3 percent or 23 percent of GDP. If there was, somebody would have found it already. That's the historical record speaking: In basically the best economic year of the 20th century, under a tax system that had hiked rates on high-income earners and cut rates on capital gains, we were able to pull one year at 20.6 percent.
And you can't stress enough that after that historic five-year average in the second Clinton term, even Al Gore was calling for tax cuts (and, incidentally, less new spending than Candidate Bush). Revenue surges, real and imagined (and they are mostly the latter) get pissed away pretty quickly. And even borrowed dollars just don't go that far in covering what people need: Federal outlays have increased over 60 percent in real dollars since Bill Clinton left office and what do we have to show for the splurge? How is it that we were able to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and care for the sick back when Bubba was in office and spending far fewer dollars relative to GDP?
While the Rand Pauls and RSCs of the world are considered draconian and out-of-hand and nihilistic by many not just on the left but in the center of politics, they are still spendthrifts relative to Bill Clinton. Jesus Christ, what a world we live in that a return to 2000's standard of living is seen as the equivalent of going back to Hooverville, USA.
NPR interviewed me for the weekend edition of All Things Considered. The show aired today and audio is up. Go here for a transcript and sound.
Veronique de Rugy and I discussed Ryan's budget plan on Stossel last Thursday. Here's a clip:
When Mubarak was teetering but had not yet toppled, the question in Egypt was whether we would see a full-fledged revolution or just a palace coup. After last night's events in Tahrir Square, it's clear that thus far they've achieved a mere coup -- though there's hundreds of thousands of Egyptians pushing hard for a real revolution.
On Friday, April 7, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch duked it out with InternetSafety101.org's Cris Clapp Logan over whether it's a good idea to have the feds lock up pornographers. Enjoy the 7+ minutes of uncomfortable body language below, and have a nice weekend.
Hoo boy, President Obama is telling us that Congress and he compromised so the government could get back to work.
Obama hit all the high (read: low) lights possible: The Washington Monument (it will stay open!), Winning the Future (which you really can't spell without WTF), and, yes goddammit, the children (for whom DC leaders care so much that they are giving the kids a shitload of debt).
This new short-term continuing resolution lasts all the way to next to next Thursday, so why don't those pols sleep in for a couple of days. Before they fund the rest of this fiscal year and then get started on looking at FY2012 budgets that raise spending by as much as $2 trillion over the next decade (as Obama's bold and austere plan does).
We dodged a bullet this time. Here's what might happen if we're not so lucky the next time a president whose party controls both house of Congress can't pass a budget on time:
Reason Senior Editor will talk about drug legalization with the San Diego Union Tribune's Chris Reed tonight on San Diego's KOGO 600 AM.
Topic: Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has been traveling El Norte calling for the United States to end the increasingly violent drug war by legalizing drugs. Here's what he told the SDUT recently:
Q: You and many other Mexicans have said Mexico is facing an unfair burden as it fights drug-trafficking groups supplying the U.S. market. Why?
A: Why are we trying to stop the drugs from crossing to the United States? Wouldn’t it be easier for the U.S. government, for President (Barack) Obama to give instructions to U.S. enforcement agencies and tell them stop drugs from moving freely within the United States? ... The United States is sending a few dollars to Mexico for the Merida agreement and some instructions, “Please Mexicans hold the drugs down there, we don’t want it here in the United States.” How many lives are we going to be sacrificing?
Q: You have been calling for drug legalization for the past two years. Why not during your presidency?
A: If I would have seen 40,000 people die during my term, believe me, I would have changed things. ... I see the process in the United States — how it’s advancing quickly toward legalization. I see cases abroad, like Portugal, and see a solution there.
Q: Last month, major Mexican news organizations agreed to guidelines for more restrained coverage of the drug-related violence in Mexico. Why are you against this pact?
A: Freedom does not have a degree. Freedom has to be all the way, even if in the name of freedom you make mistakes, even if in the name of freedom you affect others. This was done wrongly by the media in Mexico. I would like to hear their explanation of why they were forced to, either by the group or some leaders, to act like that. By taking out crime coverage from the papers, it’s not going to solve the problem in Mexico, that’s for sure.
Cavanaugh and Reed will roll up these ideas and smoke them, for your listening pleasure.
Time: Tonight, 7:33pm Pacific, 10:33pm Eastern
Place: San Diegans (Diegolians? Diegans and Diegettes?) can tune their Marconi sets to 600 on the AM dial.
Others can listen live on the worldwide cybertubes.
From our May issue, Senior Editor Brian Doherty reports from the set of the Atlas Shrugged movie. It was the culmination of a 38-year struggle to film Ayn Rand’s famous novel, Doherty writes, a battlefield on which many of Hollywood’s mightiest forces fought and died, from Godfather producer Albert Ruddy to Lion’s Gate Pictures’ Michael Burns.View this article
Australian filmmaker Peter Weir, director of Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander, and The Truman Show, tells Radio Free Europe about his new movie, The Way Back (reviewed in these pages by Kurt Loder), a film tells the story of three prisoners of the Soviet gulag who escape to India. Asked about the anti-communist politics of the film and why there were so few films detailing the horrors of communism, Weir offered a few theories about why anti-communism is still considered gauche, despite its horrifying track record:
Because for my generation growing up through the '60s, when you're a part of, particularly, the antiwar movement in Australia, and as it was in America, you came to distrust your own side's version of what was going on.
And in some ways obviously you came to realize this had been the result of clever dissembling on the part of communists or communist sympathizers or apologists, and partly because of the ineptitude of the McCarthy hearings, with the House un-American Activities [Committee] -- that might as well have been a communist organization, it so brilliantly turned people against them -- that you grew up really thinking it wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. And that's a shock. I know many of my friends from that period -- we were all vaguely leftish as all young people often are -- idealistic. I can't believe how gullible we were in looking back
I think in the world of creativity and even in the academic world to a degree, those who had their leftist sympathies when they were young, or communist sympathies, and the romance of it, found it very hard to give it up. They still sell the Che Guevara T-shirts like he was John Lennon or something. No one really wants to criticize Castro.
We do! Weir should watch this Reason.tv classic, “Killer Chic.”
Weir says that he did a significant amount of reading about communism in preperation for the film (he references Anne Applebaum's brilliant book Gulag); enough to notice that the old Stalin-betrayed-Lenin's-legacy, the standard pre-1991 argument about Soviet totalitarianism, is bullshit.
It's almost impossible for a lot of people to admit that this experiment of communism went so disastrously wrong and face the facts. Whether its Stalin or Lenin, for that matter, I can't let him off the hook, he was all for the terror. Through to Pol Pot, through to North Korea. What can you say? It's just dreadful, appalling.
But there's still resistance. I've noted that, even amongst friends to this day. When I said I was making this film and what it was about, there was just that moment, just that flicker across the face: "Oh, you're going along a right-wing road." And that fascinated me that that was still possible, to have held onto that romance from youth.
Way back in 2000, Ken Billingsley explored why American films have ignored life under communism.
New York City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) wants to emulate San Francisco by banning Happy Meals. Like the ban that will take effect in the City by the Bay this December, Comrie's bill would prohibit toys tied to kid's meals unless the food meets specific nutritional guidelines. Comrie says he wants to save kids from the evil machinations of fast food chains that "target and lure in the most vulnerable members of our society." But who will save Comrie? As his vegetarian wife informed the New York Post, he does not go to McDonald's for the toys:
If you want a big example of how not to eat, just take a look at City Councilman Leroy Comrie, his wife told The Post.
The super-sized Queens Democrat seeking a ban on McDonald's Happy Meal toys is himself a cautionary tale on the consequences of scarfing down too many Big Macs, Marcia Comrie said.
"He doesn't do it in front of me -- he knows it's the bane of my existence," she said of her 335-pound husband's fast-food-devouring ways. "But the results are there for anyone to see."
Comrie's wife, 54, a vegetarian who "does yoga and watches every morsel" she eats, said the councilman eats healthy at home but cheats when he's out.
"He's not averse to healthy eating," she said. "He actually enjoys when I make him a wholesome breakfast, and he likes when I cook him tofu.
"But by lunchtime he could be having spare ribs -- or a Big Mac."
Comrie, 51, who counts Slurpees among his weaknesses, once shed 100 pounds eating a diet of nothing but salads and water, said his wife, a writer.
"Unfortunately, no man can live on salads and water alone, and he ends up going in for those quick meals -- which I hesitate to even call meals."
The councilman's weight has fluctuated over the years, but the toy-ban bill is important to him because he knows that "once you lay down a foundation of bad eating habits as a child, it's very hard to shake them," she said.
Presumably New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would say the same thing about his salty, salty ways.
Remember that Recession they keep telling you is over, and how we all suffered from a panic nobody could have predicted? While we were all sharing equally in the pain, nearly 200 California government agencies increased their employee benefits packages.
This isn't new news; it's from the February Little Hoover Commission report Public Pensions for Retirement Security [pdf]. My next Reason print column will be on this report – which comes solidly from the Democratic Party consensus and yet is the most radical and sweeping set of recommendations for the pension crisis from any agency. On the front page of today’s L.A. Times, Evan Halper and Catherin Saillant do some entertaining follow-ups on the commission’s data:
A state oversight panel has identified about 180 local governments that increased pension benefits at a time when the state's unemployment rate was rising, housing prices were falling and the nation's banking system was in crisis. The enhancements covered thousands of public employees, adding tens of millions of dollars of new debt to local governments, analysts say.
Cities are now paying the price.
Costa Mesa boosted the retirement benefits of 84 firefighters, at a cost of $694,000 per year. At the time, officials thought the deal made financial sense because the firefighters union agreed to forgo more raises in exchange for new pensions rules that would allow them to retire at age 50 with 85% of their salary if they'd been on the job 28 years.
And in a welcome bit of benefits fairness for my fellow lifeguards...
Officials in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach...recently awarded their lifeguards the same lucrative pension plans that had previously been reserved for police officers and firefighters. They defended the benefits as having been put in motion as part of an extensive contract negotiated before city revenues shrank with the economy. And despite big budget shortfalls, they say the lifeguards have earned the handsome retirement payouts.
"You should see them when there's a huge swell at the Wedge in Newport Beach," Newport Beach City Manager David Kiff said. "I wouldn't want to be risking my life like that."
How can this be, when you keep hearing about the major concessions public sector unions have made, totaling hundreds of millions, in a spirit of cooperation and shared sacrifice? Even better than the just-can’t-cut-another-penny benefits giveaways are the dog-ate-my-homework excuses of local officials:
“At that time, the unsustainability of pensions was not a front-burner item..."
“Other cities were doing it…”
“[E]xtra pensions were underway ‘long before the economy went over a cliff…’”
Last week police in Plainville, Massachusetts, detained what Boston Globe reporter John M. Guilfoil describes as "dozens of underage partygoers." Did you know there was a minimum age for going to a party? Evidently there is in Massachusetts, provided alcohol is served at the party, even if you don't drink any. Police said the party's host was Tyler Rowley—who, at 19, is considered a legal adult in pretty much every respect except beer drinking. The attendees reportedly ranged from 15 to 22, but most were 17 or older. "All 53 partygoers," Michael Tracey notes, "were arrested, loaded into vans, and processed as criminals." He adds that "MyFoxBoston.com courageously posted the names of everyone who was arrested, including several minors." Guilfoil, the Globe reporter, says "the case was especially alarming because it involved some young people from the same school district as 17-year-old Taylor Meyer of Plainville, who wandered away from a Norfolk house party in 2008 and drowned in a swampy area." Janet Wu, a local TV reporter, agrees that "what makes this case most disturbing is the tragic history this town has with these kinds of parties." Tracey comments:
To recap, here's the logic: Anytime anyone between the ages of 15 and 22 drinks at a party in Plainville, Massachusetts, it should be considered an affront to the memory of Taylor Meyer.
Without minimizing the dangers of drinking too much or in the wrong context (it really can kill you!), it should be noted that alcohol consumption is normal among high school and college students and has been for as long as the government has been collecting data on it. So normal that it's a good bet Guilfoil and Wu, who shake their heads in disbelief at the very idea of people drinking before they reach the magical age of 21, had a sip or two back in the day. Instead of treating every "underage" drink as a crime, perhaps adults should be trying to minimize the damage by teaching teenagers the difference between responsible and reckless consumption. The prohibition regime that prevails for Americans younger than 21 is not conducive to this goal.
While the political debate heats up over the effect of spending cuts on the American economy, there is actually a wide academic consensus that such cuts are a major factor for achieving lasting debt reduction. Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy explains the truth about spending cuts by separating economic myth from economic fact.View this article
Who's worried about a government shutdown? Not the small business community. CNBC's John Carney reports on a new study by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. It finds that amongst small business owners and their lenders, nearly half—48 percent—actually support a government shutdown. Just 39 percent are opposed. Even more telling? A much larger percentage isn't terribly worried about potential effects on their business, either: "84.4 percent of small business owners believe there will be no impact on privately-held companies from a one-day shutdown; tapers to 75.7 percent for one week; 60.6 percent for two weeks," writes Carney. In other words, they're pretty sanguine about the shutdown so long as it's a relatively brief affair, which, if a shutdown occurs, is probably the most likely outcome.
At this point in the afternoon, it's not even clear whether or not there will be a shutdown at all. A spokeperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) just told The Washington Post that the Republican leader is "hopeful" there will be a deal within a couple of hours. Seems as if all of Washington is watching, but I don't think there's a lot of real drama here. A shutdown may not be a great idea, and I think Republicans were foolish to make a stand over a relatively minor package of cuts. But at least in the short term, it also wouldn't exactly be a catastrophe. We can do without non-essential government functions for a few days. There's just not that much at stake, in the grand scheme of things, and small business owners seem to understand that a shutdown won't drastically change the way they do business.
Over at CNN.com, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that shutting the federal government down today, no matter how tasty, could have potentially negative effects on the long-term prospects for fiscal and budget reform. The piece begins like this:
Please don't get me wrong: As an American, I would swell with patriotic glee if the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development were unable for a few hours or even weeks to do their dirty business. As a resident of the federally funded District of Columbia, I would be relieved if my cartoonishly corrupt local government missed out on a few direct deposits. And as a libertarian, I relish the prospect of a demonstration of how inessential most government services are.
But as someone who has been making the case since George W. Bush's first term that the federal government is growing at a rate that is literally, even admittedly, unsustainable, I fear that taking the keys from the Winnebago of state will redirect the national conversation away from the urgent business of long-term reform and toward the short-term theatrics of a political cage match.
The following video contains shocking scenes of the dire consequences of a federal government shutdown. Viewer discretion is advised.
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie.
It has been nearly three years since the Treasury Department essentially took over the mortgage monsters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Since then, little has been done to reform these government-sponsored enterprises that have, so far, devoured a taxpayer bailout of more than $150 billion. But as Reason Foundation Director of Economic Research Anthony Randazzo reports, during a 10-hour House Financial Services subcommittee debate earlier this week, House Republicans finally began the reform process.View this article