...and apparently thinks connecting gun users with marksmanship trainers isn't quite commercial enough. And now the Goldwater Institute in Arizona is suing. The details, from a Goldwater Institute press release:
Today, the Goldwater Institute filed a legal challenge to the removal of a business advertisement from 50 Phoenix bus shelters in October 2010, claiming the city’s rules are so vague that they allow city officials to violate business owners’ right to free speech.
The Phoenix Public Transit Department says posters for a website operated by TrainMeAz did not comply with city standards for advertising at bus shelters. But city officials cannot explain how the TrainMeAZ ads are substantially different than posters that appear on bus stops throughout the city for other businesses including jewelry stores, fast-food restaurants, and weekend gun shows, said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director.....
The Arizona Constitution protects free expression to a greater degree than the federal Constitution – it gives every person in the state the right to “freely speak, write and publish.” But the City’s ordinance permits only commercial speech at bus stops, prohibiting all other types of advertisements. This doesn’t comply with the state’s broad speech protections. In Arizona, the government may not favor one type of speech over other types.
The TrainMeAz website was created in 2010 to connect self-defense and marksmanship trainers with potential customers. To grow the new business, the website launched a promotion campaign that included roadside billboards. It also contracted for poster locations with CBS Outdoors, a private company hired by the Phoenix transit department to manage advertising at city bus stops. A week after the bus stop ads were in place, Phoenix transit officials ordered their removal. Negotiations to restore the ads failed, as the city claimed the posters did not propose “a commercial transaction.”
Jacob Sullum on the city of Boston's attempts to bar drug policy reform ads on its public transportation system back in 2002.
Today Delaware officially became the 16th state to allow medical use of cannabis. The bill signed by Gov. Jack Markell allows patients with doctor's recommendations to possess up to six ounces of marijuana at a time, which they can obtain at one of three state-licensed "compassion centers." Although the nonprofit centers are explicitly authorized by state law to grow and dispense marijuana, that does not mean they won't be raided by the DEA. According to the Justice Department's latest position, complying with state law offers no protection against federal prosecution, although that threat should not be construed as "using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," since the president promised he would not do that.
Texas A&M's Thomas Saving, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and a former Public Trustee of the Medicare trust fund, has put together a useful set of slides comparing the headline numbers from year's Medicare and Social Security Trustees Report with last year's: According to the official estimates (which almost certainly undersell the bad news) total unfunded liabilities for America's two big entitlements are a hair above $59 trillion. In the 75 year window, the total liability is just a shade over $33 trillion, up 10 percent from last year. And these projections assume that big cuts to provider payments to occur. How likely is it those cuts actually occur? Given that the Trustees say those cuts would almost certainly cause "Congress to intervene" on account of "severe problems with beneficiary access," I'd say the answer is "not very."
Last night the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill that would make TSA groping of passengers at airports in the state a misdemeanor punishable by a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The bill, which A.P. says was approved "with little opposition," applies to a government employee who, "while acting under color of the person's office or employment without probable cause to believe the other person committed an offense... performs a search for the purpose of granting access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation" and in the process "touches the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of another person including through the clothing, or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person."
The Tenth Amendment Center is celebrating the vote as an example of "what James Madison implored states to do when the federal government overreaches its constitutional authority—interpose on behalf of its citizens." It notes "several incidents [that have] brought the intrusiveness of TSA screening to the nation's attention in recent weeks":
In early April, a father videotaped a TSA agent in New Orleans running her hands all over his visibly upset 6-year-old. A few weeks later, former Miss USA Susie Castillo made a tearful video after agents touched her genitalia during a pat-down. She said she came away feeling violated. And just this week, a bystander snapped a photo of screeners in Kansas City patting down an infant.
The American Conservative's Daniel McCarthy is less excited about the bill, arguing that "the Texas legislature has just done [Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano and TSA a tremendous favor":
If the bill becomes law, Texas will be on its way to becoming the first state to deprive air travelers of the option not to go through TSA's pornoscanners. It's not as if the agency recognizes any fundamental right not to be subject to the scanners...The pat-downs began as a PR move, easing resistance to the introduction of the scanners by giving travelers a (conditional) choice. The ensuing outrage over "groping" is probably not what TSA was going for, but that too serves a purpose: it sensationalizes the problem and makes the scanners seem less objectionable by contrast....
Won't it be a wonderful victory for civil liberties when the problem of intimate searches is solved and we can all go back to being X-rayed whenever we fly?
McCarthy mentions an American Conservative piece by our own Brian Doherty, who "noted how quickly we forget the freedoms we once enjoyed when traveling." I made a similar point in a December column about the TSA's new screening procedures.
As this Politico piece notes, Mitt Romney didn't convince many critics of his Massachusetts health care overhaul in his speech yesterday. Those who didn't like RomneyCare before the speech still didn't like it afterwards—and quite a few folks seemed to like Romney even less for refusing to back away from his plan.
As a political play, then, it's hard to see the speech as anything but a disaster for Romney, who clearly would like to be the GOP's next presidential nominee: Few Republican primary voters will ever see the whole mid-afternoon speech, which wasn't even broadcast on the cable news networks. But they will hear quite a bit of loud criticism of it from those who remain unconvinced by Romney's continued defense of the Bay State's mandate-and-subsidy driven health care plan. At best, Romney's approach might play well with independents, who tend to like compromise. But that won't matter if he doesn't win the nomination, which now seems all but impossible. If opposing ObamaCare in any form is a priority for the conservative base that votes in GOP primaries, then I suspect voting against Romney will be too.
Still, Romney did manage to win plaudits from at least one influential political institution: The White House. Speaking to reporters earlier today, Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney had nice things to say about Romney and the Massachusetts health care overhaul he passed: "We have said before that health care reform that then Governor Romney signed into law in Massachusetts is in many ways similar to the legislation that resulted in the Affordable Care Act...we obviously feel that Massachusetts took a smart approach towards health care reform.”
Read my not-so-enthusiastic take on Romney's speech here.
This, from Agence France Presse, is just brutal:
US officials revealed Friday they had canceled an annual visa lottery for citizens of poor nations, after a computer program failed to make a random selection among some 20 million applicants.
"Regrettably, the results that were previously posted on this website are not valid, they were posted in error," a State Department official said, referring to the http://dvlottery.state.gov/website.
"They did not represent a fair, random selection of entrants as required by US law," he added.
Some 22,000 people, who had already been told that they could go ahead and apply for a coveted visa, have now been told that the results have been voided.
"We sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment," the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Set up in 1994, the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa program gives workers from poor countries the chance to travel to the United States on a work visa even if they do not have any relatives or an employer in the country.
The lottery is carried out by an electronic random selection among the millions of applications received every year.
For 2012, at least 100,000 hopefuls were due to be chosen out of the 14.7 million applications, comprising a total of 19.6 million people when family members are included.
The 100,000 then have the right to apply for one of the 50,000 visas which are ultimately granted, with authorities leaving room for those who drop out of the process, or are rejected by immigration officials.
"We sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment."
UPDATE: House Republicans are considering ending the diversity program altogether.
ABC News reports that the Navy SEALs who raided Osama bin Laden's house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, found a "huge" stash of pornography, including "electronically recorded videos," in a wooden box in his bedroom. Presumably this information is part of what former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke calls "the U.S. government's effort to discredit him after his death so... he doesn't become a martyr in the eyes of the Arab youth." That effort also has included the release of outtakes from Bin Laden videos that show the terrorist mastermind flubbing his lines and huddling under a blanket while watching himself on TV. Another revelation from the outtakes: Bin Laden's beard was not really black.
Do our government's propaganda specialists know what they're doing? Maybe, but what can you say about a target audience that considers watching dirty movies or dyeing your beard a bigger offense than murdering thousands of people?
What are the best ways to get America moving in terms of transportation?
At Reason Weekend 2011, Reason Foundation's annual donor event, Adrian Moore and Robert Poole spoke about the right ways to create a 21st-century transportation policy. Moore takes heavily documented aim at high-speel rail projects as tax-funded boondoggles that will certainly fail to hit ridership goals. Poole argues that pie-in-the-sky projects such as high-speed rail divert limited federal funds from much-needed infrastructure improvement and fail to tap into private capital funds that could help expand the nation's transportation network.
About 45 minutes. Filmed by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick; edited by Joshua Swain.
Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.
In the wake of a Government Accountability Office report that 247 people on the FBI's terror watch list were permitted to purchase guns last year, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) proposed an amendment to the PATRIOT Act that would prevent anyone on a terror list from buying a firearm. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committe voted down Quigley's amendment yesterday, arguing "that restricting sales to people on the watch list would violate the Second Amendment rights of those placed on the list by mistake." After you get your jaw off the floor, read Quigley's justification for his amendment:
“Surely, we cannot look our constituents in the eye and tell them in good faith that we have decided to enact public policy that restrains some of their civil liberties for the greater good but that we refused to ask the same of suspected terrorists. I know we are smarter than that.”
And then the testimony from Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign:
"Osama bin Laden is dead, but the war on terror is far from over," Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. "How can the Congress pretend to be serious about protecting the nation from terrorism, while voting to allow known terrorists to buy guns?"
Here’s the problem with calling everyone on the FBI's watch list a "terrorist": Many of them aren't.
In May 2009, a report from the Inspector General for the Department of Justice found many records "for individuals who had originally been appropriately watchlisted but should have been removed from the watchlist after the case had been closed." On average, nearly two months passed between the time a person was cleared and when his or her name was removed from the watch list. "In one instance," the report reads, "we identified a former subject who remained watchlisted for nearly 5 years after the case had been closed." The report also found that some people were added to the watch list for specious reasons.
Six months after the IG's report came out, the Washington Post reported that the FBI added roughly 1,600 entries to its watch list and ordered the removal of 600 names every single day. At one point, the ACLU hypothesized that there were more than a million names on the FBI's list.
In an odd turn of events, the GOP seems more aware of these types of problems than they ever have, which explains why House leadership is having trouble whipping up the votes necessary for extending the PATRIOT Act fully entact. Democrats, meanwhile, want to use the bill to pass Trojan gun control laws.
Ron Paul made his 2012 GOP presidential bid officially officially official today. Some reactions:
But unlike [Paul's] efforts in 1988 or 2008, the explosion of US debt along with the weakening of the US dollar have turned his fringe talking points into mainstream issues. Paul was a one-man tea party before the tea party movement emerged in 2009, and his consistency as a fiscal conservative certainly gives him major street cred.
* Michael Crowley at Time lamely defends leaving Paul out of official GOP oddsmaking, while pointing out that in fact he's got more objective juice behind him than most of the other wanna-bes:
Why, then, would an oddsmaker like [Mark] Halperin ignore Paul? Because for all the money and hype the man generated last time around, he barely made a dent at the ballot box. After peaking with a 10 percent showing in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, he finished in the mid-to-low single digits in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and other key primaries. In all, Paul wound up with 35 delegates at the convention–more than big boys like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, to be sure (both wound up with goose eggs), but a negligible fraction of the party’s nearly 2400 total delegates.
And how many delegates have most of the other candidates ever won?
* The Republican Jewish Coalition doesn't like his anti-foreign aid stance.
* Huffington Post sums up some of his best aspects:
He is known for holding unconventional views while keeping a smile on his face, espousing a sort of modern Republican populism without the fangs. The obstetrician has delivered more than 4,000 babies and is personally against abortion, but he doesn't think the federal government should regulate it. That's a function of state government, he says.
He has also said he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, favors returning the United States to the gold standard in monetary policy and wants the U.S out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
* The OC Weekly from Southern California lists 10 Reasons to Love Ron Paul:
1) He opposes capital punishment.
2) He supports expanding ballot access to third-party candidates.
3) He opposes the War on Drugs.
4) He opposes "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
5) He opposes the Patriot Act and torture.
6) He opposes government I.D. cards.
7) In 2009, he was one of two Members of Congress who pledged to reject U.S. government pensions.
8) He was one of four Republicans who last month voted against the GOP's so-called "Path to Prosperity" budget proposal.
9) He called Ronald Reagan a failure.
10) Nolan Ryan is a pal.
* CBS News with some good straight reporting on the announcement:
"The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building," he said. "Our time has come."
Pointing to the role of technology in spreading his beliefs, Paul suggested that an "intellectual revolution" is underway and has helped people understand that "government isn't the solution, government really has created the problem."
Paul said that the federal government should not be an "intervener," either in personal liberty or foreign policy. He said a president should show strength not by policing the world but by "standing up for liberty" and keeping the federal government from unnecessary interference.
"I take a strict constitutional position, that the government has very little authority to get involved in our economic or personal lives," he said.
Paul pointed to the question of drug use to make his point. He said Americans "have a freedom of choice with [their] bodies," calling the idea a "basic principle of liberty." He complained that while Americans take freedom of speech and freedom of religion as a given, they "have conceded way too much to the government to decide what we put into our bodies."
Paul said that pundits "wanted to paint me as this monster" because he has said that he believes heroin should not be illegal on a federal level. Saying that he "happen[s] to have a personal real disgust with the abuse of drugs" - both illegal and prescription - Paul said that didn't mean people shouldn't have the freedom to make their own choices.
"You also have to have responsibility for what you do, and if you do harm to yourself you can't go calling to the government to penalize your neighbor to take care of you," he said.
Watch some video of his announcement, where he sounds very federalist (and makes a nod to the "Codex Alimantarius" crowd by saying the U.N. should have no authority over nutritional supplements) and calls for an end to federal intervention in education, and any foreign intervention or inflation:
UPDATE: Video of the entire announcement speech, nearly 40 minutes:
I hope that others were as irritated as I that the New York Times chose Francis Fukuyama, a disciple of G.W.F. Hegel (via Alexandre Kojeve), to review the new edition of Friedrich Hayek's magisterial The Constitution of Liberty. Hayek spent a huge portion of his career explaining why such irrational rationalists as Hegel and subsequent philosophical mind-children as Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger are wrong and why because of their intellecutal errors, they end up worshiping the State. In his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama declared that Hegelian analysis shows:
The Universal History of mankind was nothing other than man's progressive rise to full rationality, and to a self-conscious awareness of how that rationality expresses itself in liberal self-government....Hegel was the philosopher of freedom, who saw the entire historical process culminating in the realization of freedom in concrete political and social institutions.
It is impossible for someone, even a philosopher as perspicacious as Fukuyama believes Hegel to have been, to discern the laws of history or where the "movement of the World-Spirit" is tending. As Hayek explained thinkers like Hegel and the founder of sociology Auguste Comte believed that
...they had reached a position where they were able to predict the course of the growth of Reason [and] it was only one step more to the still more presumptuous idea that Reason should now be able to pull itself up by it own bootstraps to its definitive or absolute state. It is in the last analysis this intellectual hubris, the seeds of which were sown by Descartes, and perhaps already by Plato, which is the common trait in Hegel and Comte. The concern with the movement of Reason as a whole not only prevented them understanding the process through which the interaction of individuals produced structures of relationships which performed actions no individual reason could fully comprehend, but it also made them blind to the fact that the attempt of conscious reason to control its own development could only have the effect of limiting its very growth to what the individual directing mind could foresee. ...
Hegel and Comte both singularly fail to make intelligible how the interaction of the efforts of individuals can create something greater than they know. While Adam Smith and the other great Scottish individualists of the eighteenth century -- even though they spoke of the "invisible hand' -- provided such an explanation, all that Hegel and Comte give us is a mysterious teleological force. And while eighteenth century individualism, essentially humble in its aspirations, aimed at understanding as well as possible the principles by which the individual efforts combined to produce a civilization in order to learn what were the conditions favorable to further its growth, Hegel and Comte became the main source of that hubris of collectivism which aims at "conscious direction" of all forces of society.
In his review, Fukuyama cites criticisms of Hayek from the left and the right. From the left the claim is that Hayek's conception of limited government permits freedom to
...be threatened by a variety of social actors, from wealthy elites to corrupt local governments to large corporations that hold a whip hand over their workers.
Apparently, Fukuyama (and the left he is characterizing) misses the fact that States (from Sumer to Rome and China to any number of European monarchies) until the rise of liberal political philosophy had always been the handmaidens of wealthy elites, corrupt, and hostile to workers. Have they never heard of "crony capitalism?" The rise of philosophical individualism and the concept that governments should be limited in their powers and enforce only general rules applicable to all equally enlarged the scope of freedom. This already-too-long blogpost is not the place to explain how this process got started and unfolded, but suffice it to say, the Hayek is better at it than someone whose explanation relies the "movement of the World-Spirit."
Next Fukuyama asserts:
A second critique of Hayek has tended to come from the right. He is necessarily a moral relativist, since he does not believe that there is a higher perspective from which one person can dictate another’s ends. Morality for him is more like a useful coordinating device than a categorical imperative. But surely the Western tradition that Hayek celebrates is as concerned with virtue as with freedom, whether from the standpoint of Christianity or that of classical republicanism. One searches in vain through this or any of his other books for a serious treatment of religion or the moral concerns that animate religious believers.
Actually, Hayek did recognize the importance of religion and morals in human life. He also argued that if social peace is to be maintained the State should be neutral with regard to those aspects of human life broadly speaking. Again enforce only general rules of tolerance rather than try to engage in some version of "statecraft as soulcraft."
A bit of Hayek on religion:
It may indeed prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations. It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depend. Historically, this has been achieved by the influence of the various religious creeds and superstitions which made man submit to those forces by an appeal to his emotions rather than to his reason.
The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the powers of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. This may well prove a hurdle which man will repeatedly reach, only to be thrown back into barbarism.
Fukuyama ends by arguing that there is a contradiction deep in the heart of the Hayekian thinking, that is, Hayek does not allow governments the same scope for innovation, planning, and experimentation that he does for individuals. Oddly, Fukuyama claims that Hayek makes this distinction based on abstract principle rather than empirical analysis. This is a serious misreading -- one of Hayek's chief points is that the consequences of a State's failed innovation or experiment are much greater than those made by individuals.
Bonus: Enjoy this Hip Hop rematch video of the Fight of the Century between Hayek and Keynes below.
Go here for my editor Matt Welch's take on the Fukuyama review.
Note: Hayek quotations taken from The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, Vol. 13. Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason.
Reihan Salam at The Daily is of course glad hedge fund villain Raj Rajaratnam was convicted for insider trading, blah blah, but spells out one of the perverse results of keeping those who know the most about companies (theoretically) from helping spread that knowledge and help bake it into the price of stock through the buying and selling of stocks in those companies:
The basic idea behind these [insider trading] rules is that officers, directors and stockholders that own at least 10 percent of a company should not be allowed to use inside information to influence their investment decisions. Say a senior executive knows that his company is about to post huge losses in the next quarter. He might use this information to dump the company’s stock before outside investors catch wind of the bad news and the stock price plummets. Similarly, investors who own a big stake in a company can bend the ear of directors or executives to gain the material nonpublic information, i.e., information that only insiders have that could affect the movement of the stock price. The SEC demands that insiders file statements that reveal all of the equity securities they own, to guard against just this kind of behavior.
The result of these regulations is that American investors, large and small, keep the executives running the big public companies they invest in at arm’s length. They don’t forge long-term relationships based in mutual trust. Instead, thousands of anonymous investors pump money in and out of these companies, knowing nothing more than what appears in annual and quarterly reports....
As a result, the executives and directors of big public companies can get away with almost anything, as their investors are widely dispersed and legally barred from profiting from any effort to get under the hood of the company. The corporate scandals that marked the Enron era — the headlong rush into toxic assets, the corruption of corporate boards — all can be traced to the resulting lack of accountability. Ironically enough, insider trading rules work all too well. They’ve not only restored confidence in the stock market. They’ve created the illusion that it is safe to invest in a company without doing any due diligence of your own.
Privately held companies understand the benefits of linking ownership with oversight and with the ability to act to profit on that oversight:
Contrast this with venture capitalists, who devote considerable energy to getting to know the entrepreneurs they back. It’s not unusual for VCs to offer advice to the startups they invest in, and to devour all of the information they can to keep their partners on track. The best VCs understand that this nitty-gritty engagement in their investments can make all the difference between success and failure.
In another case that should be of great importance in shaping the post-Heller and McDonald landscape of permissible regulation of Second Amendment rights, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) (which fought and won McDonald v. Chicago, the 2010 Supreme Court case that established that the Second Amendment applied to state and local governments as well as the federal one) is suing to challenge Illinois' statewide ban on carrying weapons in public.
From the SAF press release:
The lawsuit alleges that Illinois statutes that completely ban the carrying of handguns for self-defense are “inconsistent with the Second Amendment.” Joining SAF are two private citizens, Michael Moore of Champaign and Charles Hooks of Percy. Named as defendants are Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and State Police Superintendent Patrick Keen. SAF is represented by attorneys David Jensen and David Sigale. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
“Illinois is currently the only state in the country that imposes a complete prohibition on the carrying of firearms for personal protection by its citizens,” said SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “The state legislature recently stopped, by a thin margin, a concealed carry measure. After the 2008 Heller ruling and last year’s McDonald ruling against the City of Chicago that incorporated the Second Amendment to the states, one would think that Illinois lawmakers would act quickly to comply with court decisions and the constitution.”....
The lawsuit insists this case is not an attempt to force Illinois into some regulatory scheme, but only to clarify that the state’s current regulatory ban on firearms carry is impermissible under the Second Amendment.
“Every other state has some kind of regulatory scenario,” Gottlieb noted. “Even in Wisconsin, where there is no concealed carry statute, the state attorney general has recognized that open carry is legal. Only Illinois makes it statutorily impossible for average private citizens to carry firearms for self-defense.
The case is called Moore v. Madigan. SAF's complaint as filed with the District Court here. The legal root of the complaint:
This action for deprivation of civil rights under color of law challenges Illinois’ statutory prohibitions on “Unlawful Use of Weapons” (720 ILCS 5/24-1) and “Aggravated Unlawful Use of Weapons” (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6) to the extent that they prohibit otherwise qualified private citizens from carrying handguns for the purpose of self-defense. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees and costs.
As Mike Riggs noted the other day, the IRS is investigating at least five donors to 501(c)(4) organizations, asking whether their contributions were subject to the gift tax. The New York Times made this development its lead story today, emphasizing the possible impact on political spending during the 2012 election season (and including the obligatory reference to Citizens United):
Big donors like David H. Koch and George Soros could owe taxes on their millions of dollars in contributions to nonprofit advocacy groups that are playing an increasing role in American politics....
The timing of the agency's moves, as the 2012 election cycle gets under way, is prompting some tax law and campaign finance experts to question whether the I.R.S. could be sending a signal in an effort to curtail big donations.
But the Times never addresses a question that must have been on the minds of at least some readers: What the hell is a gift tax? Does the IRS, having taxed someone's income once, really expect him to hand over another chunk of it simply because he chooses to give it to someone instead of spending it on a new car, a home theater system, or a European vacation? Yes, officially it does. In practice, only wealthy people end up owing gift taxes, which are aimed at preventing them from avoiding estate taxes (another form of double taxation) by giving away their property before they die. But many people of more modest means are theoretically required to report gifts so the IRS can keep track of them.
What counts as a "gift"? Per the IRS, "any transfer to an individual, either directly or indirectly, where full consideration (measured in money or money's worth) is not received in return." That includes not only cash but "any property" that is given away or sold for less than its "fair market value" as well as interest-free or reduced-interest loans. When is a gift taxable? "The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift," the IRS says. "However, there are many exceptions to this rule." It notes that "the laws on Estate and Gift Taxes are considered to be some of the most complicated in the Internal Revenue Code."
If you give to a qualified charity, the donation is not subject to the gift tax. (In fact, it is tax-deductible, reducing your taxable income.) Gifts to spouses, payments for another person's tuition or medical expenses, and "gifts to a political organization for its use" are "generally" not subject to the gift tax. In most other cases, gifts, including gifts to your children or grandchildren, are subject to an annual limit per recipient, currently $13,000. Above that threshold, they are taxable. But there is also a "lifetime exclusion" of $5 million, meaning you can rack up that amount in taxable gifts before you actually have to pay taxes on them. That's why only the rich need to worry about paying the tax, although everyone is supposed to be reporting gifts that count toward the lifetime limit.
The exclusion for "political organizations" includes 527 groups, which Congress specifically exempted in 2000, but not 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations," which are tax-exempt but permitted to engage in lobbying and political campaigning, as long as the latter is not their primary focus. Unlike donations to 501(c)(3) organizations, whose political activity is subject to stricter limits, donations to 501(c)(4) groups are not tax deductible. In fact, assuming the IRS is serious about enforcing the gift tax, contributions to these organizations could be taxed twice. That's assuming the contribution exceeds $13,000 and the donor has hit his $5 million lifetime limit, which will probably be the case for anyone with a decent-sized fortune who is trying to minimize the taxes on his estate.
Addendum: In the comments, Alan Vanneman says the gift tax is not double taxation, because "if someone gives you money, dude, that's income," "so you pay tax on it." The gift tax is incurred by the donor, not the recipient. If George Soros gives $100,000 to Priorities USA, say, he's the one who owes any applicable gift tax.
Medicare’s finances are in even worse shape than previously thought, according to an annual report released by its Trustees today. The hospital fund is now slated to run out of coin in 2024, rather than 2029. Politico reports that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner explained that the new numbers are a result of “technical changes in the economic assumptions underlying the projections.” Translation: The economy still looks as ugly as the home of one of the Garbage Pail Kids, and that, in turn, means the Medicare's finances, which rely on the economy for their health, are more broken—and more broke—than Washington’s fiscal minders previously thought.
If anything, though, the Trustees are still overstating the studiness of program’s finances, which were “extended” with ObamaCare voodoo money. More from Politico:
In last year’s report, the trustees predicted the cost savings and tax increases in the Affordable Care Act would extend the life of the Medicare trust fund for 12 years. At that time, it was expected to run out of money in 2029, rather than 2017. That was a controversial conclusion, since most Republicans think the savings in the law can be used either to extend the life of the trust fund or to pay for the new health care reform programs, but not both.
That conclusion was “controversial,” but that's not the word I would use. Instead, I would say it was wrong. As I’ve noted on multiple occasions, it’s not just Republicans who’ve argued that the administration is double counting: The Congressional Budget Office has said so too:
To describe the full amount of HI [hospital insurance] trust fund savings as both improving the government’s ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings.
And so has Medicare’s chief actuary:
In practice the improved (Medicare hospital insurance) financing cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions) and to extend the trust fund, despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.
And you know who else agrees with them? Why none other than the Obama administration's Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. True, she's tended to stick to the line that ObamaCare made Medicare's finances healthier. But in a congressional hearing this year, she was pressed on the double-counting question. Asked whether ObamaCare’s Medicare cuts were “preserving Medicare or funding the health care law,” she replied with one word: “Both.”
Should you ever trust the headline estimates from an entitlement’s trustees? Perhaps not: Last year, Medicare’s Board of Trustees essentially warned that maybe you shouldn’t believe their own report.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin reports that retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of two major opinions upholding the rights of detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, believes the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden was perfectly legal:
In 2004 and 2006, Justice Stevens wrote Supreme Court opinions holding that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention before neutral judges, and that while in custody were entitled to the minimal protections of the Geneva Conventions. His rulings stressed that the laws of war—of which the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the U.S., form a principal part—cannot be ignored simply because the government found it “convenient” to do so.
But on Thursday, Justice Stevens indicated that those same laws of war permit the armed forces to kill an enemy commander who remains engaged in active hostilities against the U.S., as Navy Seals did on their May 2 operation inside Pakistan. “I have not the slightest doubt that it was entirely appropriate for U.S. forces to do,” Justice Stevens said, according to Ms. Amann’s account [of Stevens’ speech at Northwestern University].
But his track record on throwing good money after bad is hardly perfect. Christie is tossing $200 million of Garden State tax dough at a long-stinking shopper-tainment project once called "Xanadu" and now renamed the "American Dream" (because it's every developer's dream to get the state to pay most of the freight for private building). From an account by the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas:
Christie stood with the mall’s new developers and promised that “it’s finally going to move forward.” The governor offered $200 million in new support to the project, which has a new name — American Dream — and a not-so-dreamy new price tag: $3.7 billion.
Christie’s support is inconsistent with his values. The Republican governor should understand that there’s no place for public money in a mall, even one with indoor ski slopes.
If Xanadu’s new owners and lenders thought that American Dream’s prospects were stellar, they’d fund the thing themselves.
Of course, if they knew anything about literature or movies, they would never have named the damn thing Xanadu, as that guarantees its failure (forget Olivia Newton John's bomb flick for a moment; even in Coleridge's "vision"-poem "Kubla Khan," the place is a symbol of an unattainable goal that drives the dreamer to distraction). The project and most of the public subsidies started under Christie's predecessor, Jim McGreevy, whose administration unraveled when he made his own misstep in poetry by hiring and then allegedly harassing Israeli poet Golan Cipel as New Jersey's security czar.
But Christie is not blameless, as Gelina underscores:
It’s likely that Christie’s financial folks will design the subsidy as debt backed by future tax revenues. Many states, including New Jersey, have argued that this type of subsidy is better than cash because the future taxes wouldn’t exist without state support.
But giving away future tax revenues is no better than giving away today’s. Voters wouldn’t like it if Christie took $200 million out of this year’s budget to give to real-estate developers. Structured tax-supported financing is the same thing, in disguise, and pushes bigger deficits onto future governors’ watches.
Picking and choosing particular projects doesn’t “create” future tax revenues anyway.
Read Gelinas' whole piece here. It underscores the sad reality that even those who seem to know that We Are So Out of Money at every level of government can always find a few more nickels to rub together for well-connected pals.
And now, without further ado, Xanadu, which killed a thousand careers (rightly):
Given the red-team/blue-team dynamic of American politics, it was probably inevitable that discussion of energy policy would degenerate into a debate between drillers and renewers—between those who want more domestic oil exploration to the exclusion of other power sources, and those who want the U.S. to kick its petroleum habit entirely. But as A. Barton Hinkle argues, both sides are being unrealistic.View this article
Your Friday fun video, via Ted Gioia:
Doesn't matter whether it's a media scold using the analogy to declaim unpaid contributions to the Huffington Post, or the Senate Majority Leader criticizing opponents of ObamaCare, or the most interesting man in the Senate trying to make a point about the dangers of establishing a "right" to health care–comparing slavery to anything short of, well, slavery, strikes me in the best case as wildly, off-puttingly inaccurate. Here's Rand Paul:
"With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies. It's not an abstraction. I'm a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me," Paul said recently in a Senate subcommittee hearing.
"It means you believe in slavery. It means that you're going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses," Paul said, adding that there is "an implied use of force."
"If I'm a physician in your community and you say you have a right to healthcare, you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That's ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be," Paul said.
Watch him here:
Could slaves free themselves by changing professions? Do doctors in Switzerland get taken away at gunpoint? To treat the analogy with technical seriousness, even setting aside (as if you could) the colossal weight of America's most lasting shame, is to render it ridiculous, in my opinion.
Some relevant Reason reading:
* Rand Paul, the "Great Non-Compromiser"?, Brian Doherty, Feb. 4, 2011
* Stop Smearing Federalism, Damon W. Root, Nov. 10, 2010
* Paul and the Private Parts, Jacob Sullum, May 26, 2010
* Up From Slavery, David Boaz, April 6, 2010
* Who Wins Today's Godwin Award?, Matt Welch, Dec. 7, 2009
* Crying Wolf, Michael C. Moynihan, August 2008
* The Uses of Hyperbole, Matt Welch, August 2008
* The 'White Slavery' Panic, Joanne McNeil, April 2008
Nick Gillespie and I interviewed Paul in March:
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have conspired with Avenue Q lyricist Robert Lopez to create The Book of Mormon, an outrageously rude, irreverent, yet big-hearted Broadway musical. The show relentlessly satirizes Mormon doctrines about gays, blacks, coffee, golden plates buried in ancient upstate New York, and God’s home on the planet Kolob. But it also advances the notion that religious belief can enable people to behave better toward others. Stone has called the play “an atheist love letter to religion.” As Ronald Bailey explains in his review, that’s a pretty accurate summation.View this article
President Obama and his legal advisers are deliberating about how the United States military may lawfully continue participating in NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya after next week, when the air war will reach a legal deadline for terminating combat operations that have not been authorized by Congress.
Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a president must terminate such operations 60 days after he has formally notified lawmakers about the introduction of armed forces into actual or imminent hostilities. The Libya campaign will reach that mark on May 20.
Though Congressional leaders have shown little interest in enforcing the resolution, James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, was asked Thursday about the deadline at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
He said the administration was examining the military’s “role and activities as we move through the next period of time” and would consult Congress about evaluating “what we think we can and can’t do.”
“Mindful of the passage of time including the end of the two-month period, we are in the process of reviewing our role, and the president will be making decisions going forward in terms of what he sees as appropriate for us to do,” Mr. Steinberg said.
The administration apparently has no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign, and Mr. Steinberg said that Mr. Obama was committed “to act consistently with the War Powers Resolution.” So the Obama legal team is now trying to come up with a plausible theory for why continued participation by the United States does not violate the law.
The Obama administration threatened two weeks ago to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it proceeds with its plans to forge a unity deal with Hamas, a terrorist outfit in America’s book. The Palestinian Authority should get that promise in writing, counsels Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her latest column at The Daily.
Foreign aid is a curse that has ruined the Palestinians. Indeed, if the administration is seriously interested in Mid-East peace, it should also stop the massive amounts of military assistance it gives Israel. As Dalmia writes:
Contrary to half a century of conventional wisdom, foreign aid has fanned the forces of extremism on both sides, making the prospects for peace less, not more, likely. If money could buy peace, Israelis and Palestinians would now be holding hands and singing “Kumbaya,” instead of directing weapons at each other.
Read the whole thing here.
Well, not the complete opposite -- the NYPD comes off looking pretty bad. Still, this is the feel-good crime story of the week.
- Mitt Romney's advisors tell Byron York that their man has a "secret strategy" to salvage his small-government bona fides.
- Donald Rumsfeld uses Wikileaks to defend George W. Bush's torture program.
- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio knowingly bankrupted his agency, says CFO.
- The EU will end passport-free travel across Europe.
- Wire photographers admit President Obama's OBL announcement photos were staged.
- Mitch Daniels will make a decision about making a decision very soon.
- Bradley Manning supporter files suit to contest border seizure of his laptop.
- The Senate Ethics Committee's report on John Ensign is juicier than a drugstore romance novel.
The latest from Reason.tv: "Calculate YOUR Share of Govt Spending on War, Entitlements, & More: Q&A with Emily Skarbek"
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Henry Payne looks at how the U.S. government located Osama bin Laden.View this article
"Give administrators the power to fire teachers who deserve to be fired, whether or not it’s for not showing up for work/committing a felony/sexual abuse/drug use/discrimination, or for failing their students in the classroom."
"As I have said many times—as a mother—I have very strong, passionate feelings about protecting all children. But as a former small business owner, I know all too well how unnecessary regulations—even well intentioned ones—can destroy lives, too."
That's Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade at today's markup of a bill designed to fix a sloppy, badly-written consumer safety law that's been on the books since 2008. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was a mess from the get-go. Small toymakers, motorcycle manufacturers, secondhand book stores, and children's jewelers suddenly found themselves on the hook for prohibitively expensive testing—or out of business altogether—all because massive toy manufacturer Mattel failed to properly oversee its Chinese factories. (Of course, Mattel later finagled an exception to the rules requiring that expensive third-party testing.)
Bono Mack's proposed tweaks to the law, as part of the Enhancing CPSC Authority and Discretion Act of 2011, are impressively commonsensical: The new rules would require a cost-benefit analysis (wild!) to see if mandatory third-party testing of virtually anything a kid might come in contact with is actually cost-effective at improving safety. If the answer is "not always"—as it certainly will be—the law would empower the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to change the regulations.
Until now, the CPSC has complained that the way the original law was written gave them no leeway in enforcement. Only Congress could clean up its own mess.
A mere 4 years after the initial recalls, it looks like a semi-decent consumer safety law may finally be in the works.
Lots more CPSIA blogging here.
Bin Laden was bent on inflicting mass-casualty attacks on the West, the U.S. official said. At the same time, however, he criticized an online propaganda magazine edited by a young American in Yemen, saying the bloodthirsty tone of an article could harm al Qaeda's image among Muslims, according to the U.S. counterterror official.
The magazine, called Inspire, "apparently discussed using a tractor or farm vehicle in an attack outfitted with blades or swords as a fearsome killing machine," the official said. "Bin Laden said this is something he did not endorse. He seems taken aback. He complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what al Qaeda does."
In other news, Wernher von Braun would like to make it known that he would never ever build a killdozer.
[Via Mother Jones.]
Mitt Romney wants everyone to know just how much he hates ObamaCare: At a major speech on health care policy in Michigan this afternoon, the former Massachusetts governor told the crowd that the Obama administration is so anti-federalist that it “fundamentally doesn’t believe in the American experiment.” According to Romney, the Obama White House exhibits a pervasive “distrust” of states and state governments, “the most egregious example” of which so far is its health care overhaul: ObamaCare. Romney argues that the president's overhaul constitutes a “a power grab by the federal government” designed to put in place a one-size-fits-all solution that he firmly believes is a “government takeover of health care.”
But you know what Mitt Romney loves? RomneyCare—the suspiciously-similar-to-ObamaCare health care overhaul he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts—and, in particular, its individual mandate to purchase health insurance. No, he said, it’s not a perfect system, but compared to ObamaCare’s “government takeover,” RomneyCare is a “more modest proposal,” and he remains proud of it: “I in fact did what I thought was right for the people of my state,” he said.
Here’s the problem: ObamaCare, which includes a health insurance mandate, is a near carbon copy of RomneyCare: a hefty Medicaid expansion coupled to equally large middle-class insurance subsidies, new regulations that all but turn health insurance into a public utility, and an individual mandate to buy a private insurance plan. Indeed, the same Obama administration that Romney accused of being fundamentally anti-American has on multiple occasions explicitly cited the plan that Romney signed into law as the direct model for their plan.
Romney’s only real contrast between his plan and the president’s plan boiled down to a single, simple distinction: Obama’s overhaul was a federal overhaul; Romney’s was state-based. Romney would have us believe that the same system of mandates and regulations that constitutes an unconscionable imposition on individual liberty at the federal level is somehow a natural and great part of the American way of life at the state level. As for the mandate, well, it was a sensible way to enforce encourage “personal responsibility,” a conservative policy solution designed to fend off the “big-government approach” of making taxpayers cough up for uncompensated care while letting hospital emergency rooms crowd with uninsured.
Never mind the absurdity of the idea that complying with the government’s orders is somehow taking “personal responsibility.” The claim about uncompensated care is yet another way in which Romney effectively sides with the Obama administration, which these days is busy making the same point in favor of its health insurance mandate. It might be a more convincing argument if the mandate were successful in solving those problems: As The Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning:
Uncompensated hospital care [in Massachusetts] rose 5% from 2008 to 2009, and 15% from 2009 to 2010, hitting $475 million (though the state only paid out $405 million). "Avoidable" use of emergency rooms—that is, for routine care like a sore throat—increased 9% between 2004 and 2008.
Romney also decried ObamaCare for failing to lower health costs. He’s right. But the overbudget RomneyCare doesn’t either: Indeed, its designers have explicitly admitted that the state’s plan was to increase coverage first and hope to figure out how to control spending sometime later.
That Romney would rely on the same mistaken defenses of the mandate as Obama may seem surprising, but in the context of this deeply confused speech, it’s really not: Romney may want us to believe that he hates ObamaCare, but his speech resembled nothing so much as a defense of it. If anything, he made the case better than Obama did. And that’s why, in the end, the same criticisms Romney lobbed at ObamaCare apply to his own plan. If there’s a difference, it’s that Romney doesn’t distrust states. Instead, he distrusts individuals. It’s a distinction, to be sure, but not one that makes RomneyCare any more appealing.
Bridesmaids is a chick flick in the way that a Rolls-Royce is a ride, observes Kurt Loder. True, the movie is focused on female concerns. But it’s also a Judd Apatow production, directed by Apatow’s old Freaks and Geeks colleague, Paul Feig, and starring Apatow veteran Kristen Wiig, who also cowrote the script. So while a vein of sweet feeling runs through it, the movie’s distinguishing feature is its grenade-like blasts of breathtaking raunch.View this article
Here's California congressional candidate (and Michael Eisner favorite!) Dan Adler playing the race card to great comedic effect:
Previously: "Rep. Sanchez Apologizes for 'Vietnamese' Remark"
That's Technology Review Editor Jason Pontin's reaction to a piece about Wikileaks' draconian nondisclosure agreement by former Wikileaker James Ball. Now a Guardian employee, Ball leaked his NDA yesterday, and today, provides a glimpse of the working environment Julian Assange fostered:
Julian arrived with a copy of this document for everyone in the room, and asked all to sign it there and then, to demonstrate to all present they were trustworthy and decent. Unlike everyone else present – who were largely young activists with little or no professional training – I read the document first.
In addition to the aforementioned concerns, the document was backdated – in my case by seven months. I had given dozens of print and TV interviews, at Julian's instruction, often covering small behind-the-scenes snippets. Could this document now be used retrospectively to mount a legal challenge should Julian ever so wish? It could.
I refused to sign, and listed several reasons why. At this point, more than one person in the room asked for their copy of the agreement back. This was refused.
Julian then proceeded to spend two hours – shouting – explaining why I must sign the document, or else risk the lives and wellbeing of everyone in the room, and never be trusted again. Eventually, he departed.
The rest of the day, and long into the night, was spent with other WikiLeakers begging, reasoning, or cajoling me into signing the document. I later learned Julian had specifically requested they use every possible effort to "apply psychological pressure" until I signed.
Next morning the conversation resumed in private. In far more measured terms than the previous day, Julian acknowledged no one but him was in any personal danger. He said as I had already given notice I'd be leaving the organisation, surely I could understand that WikiLeaks would need "something to use against you" should I prove unreliable. At one point, getting nowhere, he even referred to the need to protect his intellectual rights in case it damage the profitability of his book.
Refusing to sign the document was, in large part, thanks to the healthy instinct of self-preservation. But there are much larger issues at stake. The existence of gagging agreements and clauses is one of the biggest challenges to public interest whistleblowing.
Further evidence that Julian Assange is, in John Cook's words, "an agent of secrecy, not its enemy."
Politico is reporting that Ron Paul will make an official announcement of his presidential bid for 2012 tomorrow morning in New Hampshire.
Politico is also reporting that Paul continues to be fearless about tweaking the national security jingos in his own party and out of it, casting aspersions on the official Greatest Thing That's Ever Happened to America®, the killing of Osama Bin Laden:
"I think things could have been done somewhat differently," Paul said this week. "I would suggest the way they got Khalid [Sheikh] Mohammed. We went and cooperated with Pakistan. They arrested him, actually, and turned him over to us, and he's been in prison. Why can't we work with the government?"
Asked by WHO Radio's Simon Conway whether he would have given the go-ahead to kill bin Laden if it meant entering another country, Paul shot back that it "absolutely was not necessary."
"I don't think it was necessary, no. It absolutely was not necessary," Paul said during his Tuesday comments. "I think respect for the rule of law and world law and international law. What if he'd been in a hotel in London? We wanted to keep it secret, so would we have sent the airplane, you know the helicopters into London, because they were afraid the information would get out?"
This very controversial position is in line with his general sense that the U.S. should not and need not act like a power that can do whatever it wants wherever it wants, and that other people and nations in the Middle East generally deserve to be treated with the same sympathy and empathy as any other. He's held firm to these stances, and seems like he'll continue to, though it remains to be seen how many GOP primary voters will go along with him.
My interview with Paul on the announcement of his exploratory committee a couple of weeks back. And for a blast from the past, my interview with Paul in January 2007 on the announcement of his 2008 exploratory committee.
Reason.tv's Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie joined Judge Napolitano on Freedom Watch to discuss the inefficient and tax-payer burdening United States Postal Service and whether or not it can be sold off. Airdate: May 11, 2011.
About 4.10 minutes.
The Washington Times editorializes against Washington, D.C.’s continuing refusal to respect the Second Amendment in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller:
In its ruling, the Supreme Court smacked down D.C. gun-control measures and reaffirmed the constitutional protection for the individual’s right to own a handgun. Since then, the District has cooked up a labyrinth of pointless restrictions and rules crafted to ensure this fundamental right would rarely be exercised. The city may have gone a step too far, as it is now impossible for any law-abiding citizen to obtain a gun in the nation’s capital.
That’s because the District manipulated its zoning laws to ensure gun brokers would not be welcome. With no gun stores, the only way to obtain a pistol lawfully is to make a purchase in another state and have the gun shipped to a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder in the District. A federal law prohibits acquisition of a firearm across state lines in any other way.
The lone FFL holder doing business in Washington recently lost his lease and can no longer perform such transfers.
As the editorial notes, the Second Amendment Foundation and victorious Heller and McDonald v. Chicago lead attorney Alan Gura brought suit against the District this week in order to set this ridiculous matter straight. Considering D.C.’s blatant disregard for the Second Amendment and Gura’s impressive legal record on behalf of gun rights, I don't imagine this one will end very well for the District's Second Amendment opponents.
Over at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle dismantles the notion that taxpayers should consider the carmaker's return to profitability as vindication for the bailout. Read the whole link-rich piece for reasons why; here is a conclusiony chunk:
What lesson, exactly, are we supposed to learn from this "success"? What question did it answer? "Can the government keep companies operating if it is willing to give them a virtually interest free loan of $50 billion, and a tax-free gift of $20 billion or so?" I don't think that this was really in dispute. When all is said and done, we will probably have given them a sum equal to its 2007 market cap and roughly four times GM's 2008 market capitalization.
No, the question was not whether GM could make a profit after a bankruptcy that stiffed most of its creditors and shed the most grotesque burdens of its legacy costs, nor whether giving companies money will make them more profitable. The question is whether it was worth it to the taxpayer to burn $10-20 billion in order to give the company another shot at life. To put that in perspective, GM had about 75,000 hourly workers before the bankruptcy. We could have given each of them a cool $250,000 and still come out well ahead compared to the ultimate cost of the bailout including the tax breaks--and over $100,000 a piece if we just wanted to break even against our losses on the common stock.
And if we'd done that, we'd have saved ourselves in other ways. We would have reduced some of the overcapacity that plagues the global industry. We would not have seen the government throwing its weight into a bankruptcy proceeding in order to redistribute money from creditors to pensioners, which isn't a good precedent.
But even if you still think that the bailout was a good idea, there's something you should consider before we start celebrating the administration's Solomonic wisdom: the Obama administration's rush to dispose of its GM stake before the 2012 election is probably costing us billions. No one I interviewed for my piece on GM was exactly enthusiastic about an early IPO; doing it so quickly meant that the company had very little to show in the way of earnings and stability. Now the government may rush to sell all its remaining shares this summer even though this means locking in a substantial loss.
Whole thing worth a read.
A chronological sampling of Reason's tracking of premature Government Motors triumphalism:
* Just How Much Will the GM Bailout Cost Taxpayers?, Nick Gillespie, June 30, 2009
* Gov't Panel: GM/Chrysler Bailout a Loser Before It Leaves The Showroom Edit, Nick Gillespie, Sept. 9, 2009
* GM's Phony Bailout Payback, Shikha Dalmia, April 27, 2010
* How The Hell Did GM Pay Back Its Loans "in Full And Ahead of Schedule"? Well, It Didn't, by ReasonTV, April 30, 2010
* GM's Bailout Payback Claims: Untrue at Any Speed!, Nick Gillespie, May 4, 2010
* Obama Motors' Ill-Timed IPO, Shikha Dalmia, Sept. 7, 2010
* Think Twice About Buying GM Stock as a Private Citizen! (Or as a Taxpayer!), Nick Gillespie, Nov. 18, 2010
And heeeeeeeeerrrrre's Nick!
Yesterday I did an RT interview about surveillance cameras in cities such as Chicago, which according to a February report (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has the most pervasive system in America. Chicago police have access to 10,000 or so cameras, and Mayor Richard Daley wants to add more, putting one "on every corner." The ACLU report notes that sophisticated camera networks that can zoom in on people, recognize their faces, and follow them from place to place raise privacy issues similar to those raised by GPS tracking. Even though all the tracking occurs in public places, the information it collects can be very revealing:
While earlier camera systems tracked only how some people spend some of their time in the public way, a camera on every corner – coupled with pan-tilt-zoom, facial recognition, and automatic tracking – results in government power to track how all people spend all of their time in the public way.
Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist's office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store. While the dystopia described by George Orwell in "1984" has not yet been realized, Chicago's current 10,000 surveillance cameras are a significant step in this direction. And a camera "on every corner" would be an even greater step.
The ACLU suggests such government surveillance can have a chilling effect on expressive activity such as public protests, especially given Chicago's history of monitoring and harassing left-wing political groups. It recommends various safeguards to prevent abuse of information collected by the cameras. As a step in that direction, it is supporting a bill introduced last month that would "require police agencies that own or have access to video surveillance cameras to disclose to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority the number of their cameras, and their privacy regulations, if they have any." The information would be available on the authority's website.
I discussed the inhibiting effect of surveillance cameras in a 2002 column. Last August I noted that federal appeals courts are divided on the question of whether the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant for GPS tracking of vehicles. The ACLU report quotes the 9th Circuit's Alex Kozinski and the D.C. Circuit's Douglas Ginsburg, who have argued (writing in dissent and in the majority, respectively) that it does, despite the conventional view that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public, because such tracking reveals sensitive information. "A person who knows all of another's travels," Ginsburg noted in a 2010 decision (PDF), "can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputies yesterday punished an "uncooperative" motorist by Tasing him to death. After 43-year-old Allen Kephart was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign, he got out of his car and failed to show sufficient deference to at least two deputies. He was subdued with a Taser, passed out, and died. From Melissa Pinion-Whitt of the San Bernardino Sun:
Sheriff's officials did not provide details on what he allegedly did to be considered combative because, they said, interviews were still being conducted.
"All of that information needs to be documented before we start speaking publicly about specific detail like that," sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said Wednesday.
But relatives say the way deputies treated Kephart was unjustified.
"They're not dealing with a criminal, a druggie, a gang banger. They were dealing with someone that was in the community for 43 years, that never ever had been arrested or had any problem with law enforcement," said his father, Alfred Kephart, 68.
Allen Kephart, a 1985 graduate of Rim of the World High School, worked as a substitute teacher's aide in the High Desert and as an audio and visual producer for his church and for television and radio. He also ran his own DJ business in the San Bernardino Mountains, calling himself the "Original Blue Jay DJ."
His father, a 20-year member of the San Bernardino County sheriff's Rangers volunteer unit, said deputies didn't treat Kephart like someone who just ran a stop sign - reportedly the initial reason a deputy tried to stop him.
"You don't go do a traffic stop and come out with your gun drawn. That's a felony stop," he said.
Kephart's father claims his son was Tased eight times by two deputies. Police have previously Tased deaf people, diabetics having seizures, and countless others. Kephart, according to his father, weighed about 350 pounds and had high blood pressure.
Here is Reason TV's video on Kephart's death:
Amnesty International 2008 report on Taser-related deaths.
Study by a "forensic physician" of Taser medical implications in the British Medical Journal. ("Serious harm is rare, but incident reporting needs to be improved.")
Kephart's Vimeo page.
Update: Mediocre minds think alike. Matt Welch posted about this story moments before my post went live. He has graciously withdrawn that post, but here is more information from the L.A. Times. Welch also hat-tipped beloved commenter Dagny T. Although I didn't hear about this one from Dagny T., an arbitration panel has decided Dagny T. still gets the hat tip, like when they gave gold medals to both the Russian and Canadian skaters so everybody could feel special.
Los Angeles started it, with fancy gourmet food trucks popping up all over the place, winning fans and Twitter followers among the city's foodies—and then promptly getting beaten down, ticketed, and told to move along by the powers that be. D.C. and New York followed, with brave mobile food vendors facing similar obstacles. And now Baltimore is joining the fracas, with its very own screwed up food truck fight.
Charm City vendors are constantly chased from street corners and parking spots by local restaurateurs, meter maids, and other foes, as a recent Baltimore Sun piece ably documented.
The article opens with the sad tale of Irene Smith, the owner and operator of a bright orange food truck dubbed Souper Freak. Smith is clearly the good guy in the piece, an entrepreneur looking to make an honest living by providing a product her customers love. She's downhearted about having a tough time finding somewhere to vend, but she's still trying to live the dream:
"You would think a place would be excited about this as a possibility in their city," she says.
Naturally, a Baltimore city official read the piece, missed the point, and promptly cast himself in the role of soupervillain:
Smith said she was shut down by city official Alvin O. Gillard (director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission [and head of the city's street vendor board]), who, Smith said, told her that he had been dispatched to shut down all of the city's food trucks in the aftermath of Jill Rosen's article yesterday about the fits and starts of Baltimore's food trucks.
The same ugly scene went down at a local cupcake truck as well, with threats of fines and other dire consequences. Smith has a mobile vending license, but was told she needed the entirely different on-street vending license as well—something she can't get without booking a spot at a street vendor board meeting. Of course, the board only meets every other month and they're pretty busy, so if she's lucky she might squeak in a spot in August.
This particular piece of brilliant public relations got the mayor's attention, and now Gillard is singing a different tune:
Gillard told me that that the Mayor has asked the Street Vendor Board, in the aftermath of today's misunderstandings, to conduct outreach to Baltimore food trucks and to work with Health and Housing to assist Baltimore's them in coming under regulatory compliance. There will be an indeterminate grace period while this outreach is being conducted.
In other words, Baltimore vendors now live in the same state of regulatory limbo currently enjoyed by the brethren in many other major cities. Welcome to the big leagues, Baltimore!
Reason.tv's D.C. food truck rundown (with funky music) here:
Update: There are those who claim it all began in Portland. They may be right. But even Portlanders are having regulatory troubles as they try to bring beer and food trucks together at long last.
Former Massachusetts Governor and current GOP presidential wannabe Mitt Romney is set to give a big speech on health care this afternoon: Judging by the op-ed he published in yesterday's USA Today, he won't spend much time talking about his role in passing RomneyCare, the state-based health program that served as the model for ObamaCare. I'd like to see him disown the program entirely, but if he'd rather defend it, he might look to The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, who consistently does a better job of defending RomneyCare than Mitt Romney does.
Today, Cohn responds to what is perhaps The Wall Street Journal editorial board's most brutal attack yet on the state-based system that paved the way for ObamaCare. You should read the Journal's takedown of the plan Romney signed into law, and you should read Cohn's defense: Side by side, they provide a handy way to compare the cases for and against the law.
The Journal makes the case that it's a broken, unaffordable system that, rather than encouraging "personal responsibility" (as Romney argued), has put most of its beneficiaries on the public dole without getting rid of the burden on emergency rooms or solving the problem of uncompensated care: Emergency room usage went up by 9 percent between 2004 and 2008, and state spending on uncompensated hospital care rose between 2008 and 2010.
In a previous defense of the system, Cohn admitted that the "big flaw" in the system is that "it hasn't controlled the rising cost of medical care," though he says the authors of the plan weren't really trying, and that they're now working on getting its finances in order. This time, he zeroes in on the Journal's argument—similar to the one I made earlier this week—that the only thing that's worked about RomneyCare is that it has increased the percentage of the state's population with health insurance coverage. Here's Cohn:
But the most revealing sentence in the Journal editorial is this one:"The only good news we can find is that the uninsured rate has dropped to 2% today from 6% in 2006."
Yes, and the only good news in foreign policy lately is that American forces finally killed Osama Bin Laden.
In turn, I would say that the last line quoted above is the most revealing sentence in Cohn's post: As far as I can tell, he's suggesting that expanding the Bay State's insurance coverage, like taking out bin Laden, was a considerable victory that should not be dismissed or underweighted in any overall assessment; in particular, expanding coverage during a recession should be seen as a major achievement.
I think the comparison works, but not in Cohn's favor: Taking out Bin Laden was a success. But it took far too long, cost far too much, and involved a massive, needless sacrifice of Americans' civil liberties. America created an expensive new security agency, nationalized airport security, and spent almost $1.3 trillion (and counting) and countless lives on two ill-advised wars. As Cato's Christopher Preble told me last week, much of what we've done, and much of the cost we incurred, in our post-9/11 war on terror has been not merely wasteful but actively counterproductive. Taking out Bin Laden was a real, and necessary, victory. But it's exceedingly difficult to defend the expensive, poorly thought out, roundabout methods that eventually led us to him.
The push to expand health insurance via mandates and public subsidies isn't perfectly analogous, but there are more than a few similarities. Analyst Bruce Schneier likes to talk about "security theater," his term for when governments spend a lot of money on showy countermeasures that primarily increase the feeling of security without actually enhancing it. Government-implemented expansions of health insurance, which is not the same as access to health care, work much the same way: Health insurance certainly makes people feel secure in their health. But when it takes longer and longer to see a doctor, and fewer practices are taking new patients, how real is that security?
As we've seen with the introduction of Medicare, which didn't cause any significant drop in seniors' mortality during its first decade, and with Medicaid, whose beneficiaries frequently do worse on many health measures and whose administrators admit to having no evidence that it works, the health benefits of carrying insurance are not as strong as one might think. Nor, as we've seen with emergency room crowding—which, as the Journal notes, has recent in recent years in Massachusetts despite Romney's claim that RomneyCare would address the problem—does expanding insurance coverage solve the public policy problems it's supposedly intended to fix. Government-driven expansions of health insurance are arguably a form of security theater for health safety: Call it Health Security Theater.
Meanwhile, focusing on expanding health insurance coverage continues our national emphasis on trying to help people's lives by giving them greater and greater amounts of medical treatment. But as economist Robin Hanson has noted over and over again, the relationship between health and medicine is surprisingly weak. A large amount of medical care is probably what Hanson calls "heroic medicine": doing more primarily to be seen to do more.
When politicians push to expand health insurance on the public dime, they're engaged in a sort of political version of Hanson's heroic medicine: doing something to be seen to do something in hopes that it will look like they care. But much of it ends up looking a lot like Health Security Theater, primarily increasing the "sense" of health security through expensive and highly visible acts. America's decade-long experiment with security theater hasn't solved many of the problems it was supposed to solve, but it has cost us a lot of time, personal liberty, and money. The early evidence from RomneyCare suggests that our experiment with Health Security Theater may well turn out the same.
Here's my response to Cohn's 2009 defense of RomneyCare.
Rep. Ron Paul, the man who likely has done more than anyone to put the libertarian philosophy of freedom and small government on the political agenda, will probably make another run for the presidency. As John Stossel observes, Paul is always upbeat, but lately he's had more reason to be, as he sees libertarian ideas bubbling up from the grass roots.View this article
For the second time in as many months, the TSA has admitted publicly that its non-negotiable screening procedures are really just security theater. After a picture surfaced of two smiling TSA agents patting down a diapered baby, "Blogger Bob" at the TSA Blog wrote that "the child’s stroller alarmed during explosives screening. Our officers followed proper current screening procedures by screening the family after the alarm." A Drudge headline asked if the TSA was checking for "poop bombs." Blogger Bob answered that the TSA was not: "The child in the photo was simply receiving a modified pat-down which doesn’t even come close to what the headline implies."
And then he went on to write this:
You may have read recently that our Administrator is looking into ways to move past the cookie cutter approach to screening. Recognizing that terrorists are willing to manipulate societal norms to evade detection, TSA has been actively assessing less invasive screening methods for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers, while still maintaining a high level of security.
Blogger Bob wrote the same thing after video surfaced in April of a TSA agent patting down a 6-year-old, but only after defending the agent who did the petting patting:
Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures.
All this in the face of Rep. Jason Chaffetz's recent pronouncement that said conduct is in "clear violation of TSA’s explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13.” But never mind the inconsistency in application; inconsistency in PR is even more mind-boggling. Here's DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano defending pat-downs in a November 2010 op-ed in USA Today:
Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures used by the U.S. and countries across the world to make air travel as secure as possible. They're conducted by same-gender officers, and all passengers have the right to request private screening and have a traveling companion present during the screening process.
The deployment of this [back-scatter x-ray machines] and the implementation of these measures represent the evolution of our national security architecture, an evolution driven by intelligence, risk and a commitment to be one step ahead of those who seek to do us harm. [Emphasis added.]
Let me see if I have this right: The TSA's "cookie cutter" approach to screening, which terrorists can "manipulate" to "evade detection," is the product of "intelligence, risk and a commitment to be one step ahead of those who seek to do us harm."
That doesn't sound right.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposes torture and waterboarding for reasons that are not hard to divine, wades into the factual debate over whether torture led to Osama Bin Laden's demise. Excerpt from his Washington Post op-ed:
Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently claimed that "the intelligence that led to bin Laden...began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information — including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden." That is false.
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed's real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.
In fact, the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.
As we debate how the United States can best influence the course of the Arab Spring, can't we all agree that the most obvious thing we can do is stand as an example of a nation that holds an individual's human rights as superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government? [...]
Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are. [...]
What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves.
Reason on torture here.
Reason Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward appeared on Russia Today's The Alyona Show to discuss the various topics of the proposed anti-Sharia bill in Tennessee, new federal guidelines for marketing food to children, and the arresting of a facebook-ing teenager for 'disorderly conduct.'
Approximately 6.28 minutes.
Alan Vanneman has a thoughtful survey of reviews of Janny Scott's new biography of Ann Dunham, A Singular Woman The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother. Snippets:
When Ann Dunham was dying of ovarian cancer in Honolulu, Barack Obama, “preoccupied with legal work and his newly published book” (as [reviewer Jacob] Weisberg tells it), failed to make the trip from New York to visit her.
One suspects that Barack wrote Dreams from My Father about his father precisely because he didn’t know him. Barack Sr. was smart; he left early, so that his son could imagine him as the sort of dad he should have had but didn’t. Barack couldn’t do that with Ann; she wasn’t around very much, but she was around enough for Barack to remember that she didn’t seem to care about him very much at all....
Obama referred to himself as his mother’s “experiment,” suggesting that she was more in love with the idea of having a child by a black man than she was in love with the child she actually produced. Obama obviously didn’t care very much about being an experiment, but somehow he found the wit to survive it. Now if only he would get out of Afghanistan, cut the defense budget in half, restore our civil liberties, abandon the Bush/Obama “I am above the law” concept of the presidency, and stop talking about high-speed rail and “green” jobs, everything would be OK.
I always found it odd that Obama's mother was so absent from her son's autobiography, but this certainly helps to explain it. I tend to think that children identify with the parent they are least like as a way of asserting psychic independence from the bigger influence on them.
I'm not a fan of psychoanalyzing pols from a distance - not only is it almost always inaccurate, it's typically a cheap way to score partisan points under the guise of impartiality. (See, in very different contexts, the attempts to paint Barry Goldwater as certifiably insane and Obama as the seething son of a post-colonial Kenyan radical.) And it's not clear that who someone was in their teens or twenties tells you much about their policy prescriptions in their elected life. But Scott's book sounds interesting for the story it tells of a woman who left what must have been a stultifying existence in late '50s and early '60s America for a life that might not have been much more fulfilling.
Federal spending will top $3.6 trillion this year, but what's your share?
The Government Cost Calculator is a new online tool that can be found at MyGovCost.org. A project of the California-based Independent Institute, it allows you to plug in your age, income, and education level to generate a series of tables that show your share of both current and future federal spending across more than a dozen categories. You can break out your share of spending for defense, Medicare, Social Security, and other areas and calculate what you could be earning if you were able to keep the money and invest it at a 6 percent rate of return.
The idea behind the project is that the true cost of government is reflected not just in your tax bill, but in your opportunity cost, what you could be doing with those dollars if you didn't have to hand them over to the government
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie interviewed the Independent Institute's Emily Skarbek, who's also an assistant professor of economics at San Jose State, via Skype to find out more about the Government Cost Calculator and what she hopes to achieve with the project.
About 7.30 minutes. Edited by Jim Epstein.
Reason.tv's Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie joined The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel on CNN's In the Arena with Eliot Spitzer to discuss how divided both Washington and Americans are by ideology today and whether there still is common ground.
And check out the Reason Foundation-Rupe poll that Gillespie cites. Filled with fascinating insights about the American electorate.
Air date: May 11, 2011; about 7.30 minutes.
Pre-order Gillespie and Matt Welch's The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, due out June 28. It's a political manifesto like no other!
In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department’s Office of the Solicitor General would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court. Although the administration will continue to enforce DOMA, it won’t defend the law against constitutional challenges. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said a few days later that the House of Representatives will have its own lawyers do so.
As Radley Balko observes, President Barack Obama’s willingness to repudiate a law he believes is unconstitutional raises some significant questions. What about federal cases that don’t involve laws passed by Congress, such as cases where criminal defendants argue that their constitutional rights have been violated? If the president agrees with them, why not take their side, or at least not rush to defend the prosecution?View this article
When cities are not forking over millions to fund the culture inferiority complexes of their favorite billionaires, they are, naturally, complaining about being out of money. And as field researchers have repeatedly observed, politicians facing empty coffers bear a striking resemblance to raccoons on trash day.
The New York Times today showcases the latest fad in municipal raiding:
As recession-racked cities struggle to balance their budgets with everything short of feeling behind sofa cushions for loose change, a growing number are seeking more money — just don’t use the word taxes — from nonprofit institutions that occupy valuable land but by law do not pay property taxes. [...]
Boston has been sending letters to its largest nonprofit institutions this year, telling them the value of their land and asking them to begin making annual payments that would eventually rise to a quarter of what they would owe if they paid property taxes. [...] And the mayor of Providence, R.I., Angel Taveras, cited Boston's example this month when he called on nonprofits to pay more money to the city.
"Every citizen, every city worker, every taxpayer, every business and every organization — including tax-exempt institutions — must share part of the burden of saving our city," Mr. Taveras said in his budget address.
You will surely enjoy the euphemisms deployed in these shakedowns:
While Boston has long collected voluntary payments from its nonprofit institutions, it has done so haphazardly, with some universities paying millions of dollars, while their peers paid little or nothing. So Boston's mayor, Thomas M. Menino, convened a task force that studied the issue for much of last year and decided to try to establish guidelines for the voluntary payments. This year the city is trying to collect voluntary payments from all nonprofits with property worth more than $15 million. The payments will eventually rise to a quarter of what the nonprofits would pay in property taxes if they were taxable, with the provision that they can get credit for up to half of the money they owe by providing quantifiable "community benefits" that directly help city residents. By the time the system is phased in, the city hopes its annual payments from nonprofits will rise to $48 million from $15 million. [...]
A study last year by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a research institute in Cambridge, found that the voluntary payments had already been made in at least 117 municipalities in at least 18 states. But Daphne A. Kenyon, a visiting fellow at the institute who was an author of the report, said more cities were expressing interest in such payments as the fiscal crisis had continued, views of nonprofits had evolved and the antitax climate had grown more pronounced in many places.
"I think the most important conclusion is that this should be a collaborative process," Ms. Kenyon said.
Ah yes, the "collaboration" between the people with the guns and the people with the money, and the "voluntary" contributions of the latter. Symbiotic, really.
Stories like this–complete with the lament that "more than half of Boston's land [is] exempt from property taxes" (damn those elite universities!)–I think go a long way toward explaining why Americans so consistently place tax hikes at or near the bottom of proposed solutions to the we-are-out-of-money problem (see the Reason-Rupe Poll for more numbers on that). Until governments stop handing out corporate welfare to billionaires and unaffordable pension promises to their public sector union allies, and start taking such pre-preliminary steps as selling off city-owned golf courses, Americans are going to have a hard time believing that we have anything other than a spending problem, and a harder time still being treated by our various governments as little more than potential revenue centers.
Katherine Mangu-Ward interviewed the Philanthropy Roundtable's Adam Meyerson about political pressure on nonprofits back in the March 2010 issue.
- A Mississippi town is swept away by the floods.
- Hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam is found guilty of insider trading.
- The courts defend the right of parody by rejecting a Koch lawsuit.
- Rep. Rob Bishop prepares to introduce the Repeal Amendment.
- Google faces legal obstacles in Switzerland and France.
- China to performance artist: no sex in public.
The latest from Reason.tv: "Don't Ban DUI Checkpoint Apps!"
Gas is going for more than $4 a gallon, gold is riding a boom, and the Federal Reserve is seemingly complacent about these developments. Among critics of Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke, the consensus is clear: Inflation is making a comeback. But are those critics correct? Steve Chapman investigates.View this article
It seems like it was just the day before yesterday I pointed out that multimillion-dollar redevelopment projects only happen where multimillionaires can get the benefit. But the Grand Avenue Project in downtown Los Angeles is a gift that keeps on giving for a billionaire – beloved patron of the arts Eli Broad.
Last year we reported that L.A.’s Community Redevelopment Agency had given Broad a full city block atop a hill in downtown L.A., at a cost of one dollar a year, to house his personal art collection. 60 Minutes says Broad "sets the standard for philanthropy." That’s one way of putting it.
Now, the CRA is giving Broad another incentive to keep imposing his vision of a West Coast New York onto a part of town that doesn't need the help: a grant of $52 million to build a parking lot for The Broad Museum’s hypothetical visitors. LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero gives some background:
Gov. Jerry Brown has been attempting to seize CRA money across the state for precisely this reason -- that it's being misused.
Broad is building a museum as part of downtown's Grand Avenue redevelopment project. His venue would house his multimillion-dollar art collection. [Added]: Actually we're told a large segment of the building will be used for Broad's private foundation -- only a portion of it will be open to the public. (Even better)...
Downtown city Councilwoman Jan Perry, who appears to us to be quite adept at giving public money to rich guys, was, of course, all for it, saying the 370-space garage would be paid for out of Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project funds.
The Grand Avenue Project is the kind broad-daylight swindle that can only happen when all the forces of evil line up. It’s cheered on by the L.A. Times. It got unanimous approval from the City Council. The CRA is behind the whole thing, as are downtown neighborhood associations. International investors have cycled in and out of the development, many getting back on the bus as the project’s total economic hopelessness becomes clear. It is based on the pipe dream of Eli Broad, who may or may not make frequent use of public transportation but is convinced that what L.A. really needs is "millions of people navigating a cleaner, denser and more pedestrian-friendly urban fabric via bicycle, light rail, streetcar, subway and bus."
In this context, the Broad Museum will just be one more ugly building. But it’s especially irksome for the civic inferiority complex it embodies.
According to 60 Minutes, Broad "wants to transform that sprawling monster of a city Los Angeles into a cultural capital." Just to be clear: L.A., even in this period of severe decline, generates almost all of the movies, television and music made in this country. It is second only to the Bay Area as a home to video game developers. It is second only to New York in the volume of its live theater market. Yet somehow Los Angeles can’t be a cultural capital until it has the artworks of Jeff Koons in a stupid-looking building? Of all the legitimate things L.A. could feel inferior about, it picks “culture”?
Chuck Colson points out to right-wingers enamored of either Ayn Rand or the new film based on her novel Atlas Shrugged that they need to condemn her three times and more:
He made a two minute video attacking Rand and her devotees, deriding Rand as an anti-Christian atheist. “Not only should you stay away from the film,” Colson says, “you ought to stay away from anybody who wants to see the film, unless their interest is ironic.” Colson warns that Rand’s “patently anti-Christian ideas seem to be gaining steam” among conservatives, cautioning that her Objectivist philosophy is the “antithesis of Christianity” and that her followers are “undermining the Gospel”
Indeed they are! See my December 2009 Reason article on why the contemporary right might not be able to handle the radicalism of Rand.
See also my May issue feature on the making of Atlas Shrugged Part One, the movie.
It may of course be that the right has to make political cause with people who don't share its dominant religious beliefs, but that's not a lesson we should expect to hear from Colson.
And check out Chuckie's anti-Rand, pro-God video:
Today's dose of regulatory nonsense:
Josh is a Mennonite friend who happens, by the grace of native talent and a powerful work ethic, to produce magnificent chickens. Raised on green growing pasture, they are never medicated, never fed artificial supplements or genetically selected to grow abnormally fast. They develop rich golden fat and a deep flavor, characteristics that have been more or less lost in modern, streamlined, highly efficient poultry production. Not surprisingly, Josh’s chickens are in high demand among food cognoscenti and fine restaurants. A couple of years ago I began bringing Josh’s chickens to my farmers’ market stand to sell alongside our equally popular grassfed beef. Josh and I, in a classic entrepreneurial endeavor, have made these wholesome chickens available to happy, discerning customers who would otherwise be unable to justify a three-hour commute to buy a bird for dinner.
Josh processes his chickens on his farm under a legal exemption allowing him to avoid industrial (and expensive) processing plants. Each chicken he produces is clearly labeled as to origin, method of production, added ingredients (none); the label also cites the statute that allows him operate unmolested.
Recently he was informed by the Food Safety Inspection Service, the regulatory arm of the USDA, that he faced a "situation." They had discovered a chink in the otherwise protective "non-molestation" statute. Because he is marketing chickens to an intermediary (me), his product is therefore rendered illegal and he must desist. In a disturbing addendum the inspector also let slip that the USDA would be "willing and free of charge" to take over inspection of his facilities and that they would be "more than happy to help him get going," presumably in the chicken business.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Justice Department to clarify its position on medical marijuana in light of recent threats by U.S. attorneys to prosecute providers even when they comply with state law. In a March 9 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, and Jay Rorty, director of its Criminal Law Project, note the contradiction between those threats and the forbearance promised in an October 2009 memo from David Ogden, then the deputy attorney general, and in public comments by Holder himself. They cite a statement that Holder made while visiting New Mexico, which licenses medical marijuana dispensaries, in June 2009. Here is how it was reported by The New Mexico Independent:
The nation's top cop said Friday that marijuana dispensaries participating in New Mexico’s fledgling medical marijuana program shouldn't fear Drug Enforcement Agency raids, a staple of the Bush administration.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking in Albuquerque during a meeting focused on border issues, including drug trafficking, said his department is focused "on large traffickers," not on growers who have a state's imprimatur to dispense marijuana for medical reasons.
"For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law, and doing it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration," Holder said.
That statement, like the March 2009 quote I cited in today's column on this subject, is pretty hard to reconcile with a threat to "to enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law," as U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby put it in their April 14 letter (PDF) to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.
The Ogden memo (PDF) is more equivocal than Holder's public comments, full of qualifiers and weasel words, but it leaves the clear impression that the DOJ is not interested in prosecuting bona fide dispensaries that are explicitly authorized by state law. Ogden even lists factors that might lead federal prosecutors to conclude that a dispensary is not legitimate, which necessarily means that some dispensaries are:
Typically, when any of the following characteristics is present, the conduct will not be in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest:
• unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms;
• sales to minors;
• financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering activity and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
• amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law;
• illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; or
• ties to other criminal enterprises.
Yes, Ogden says the list is not exhaustive, and he adds that prosecution may be justified despite compliance with state law "in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests." But the implication is that, by and large, providers who comply with state law need not worry about federal prosecution. Furthermore, as Murphy and Rorty note, Santa Cruz medical marijuana providers represented by the ACLU agreed to drop their lawsuit challenging the DEA's raids after DOJ lawyers "asserted that the Ogden Memo announced a significant policy shift, under which those individuals and entities that use or distribute marijuana in full compliance with state medical marijuana laws would no longer be targeted by federal law enforcement."
Yet one DOJ spokeswoman told me "there is no inconsistency" between the recent prosecution threats and the policy described by Ogden, while another told The New York Times: "This is not a change in policy. It's a reiteration of the guidance that was handed down in 2009 by the deputy attorney general." By their account, Obama's policy is indistinguishable from Bush's, which makes you wonder what all the fuss was about. The Ogden memo was pointless unless it signaled something more than a preference for not bringing penny-ante charges against cancer patients with an ounce in the drawer or a few plants in the yard—the sort of case the feds don't have the resources to pursue even if they wanted to.
Last August, our own Mike Riggs, who was writing for The Daily Caller at the time, reported that unnamed DOJ and White House officials "argued that the gist of the Holder memo was that the DEA would 'not focus its limited resources on individual patients with cancer or other serious diseases.'" My response at the time was that "if the administration's official position is now that dispensaries are fair game regardless of what state law says, Obama and Holder are even more full of shit than I thought." I have to say I am surprised by how utterly full of shit they turned out to be. Why make a big deal out of respecting state policy choices while openly undermining them? Did they think no one would notice?
I'm also not sure what the political payoff is. How many of Obama's current or potential supporters are clamoring for medical marijuana raids? According to every poll on the question that I've seen, a large majority of Americans support legal access to marijuana for patients who can benefit from it, and I suspect the numbers are especially high among people who might vote for Obama. This seems like a situation where Obama could have dialed back drug law enforcement without suffering politically. He might even have benefited by making supporters who believed his medical marijuana promises less inclined to stay home on Election Day. My guess is that DEA agents and federal prosecutors are doing what DEA agents and federal prosecutors do, and Obama simply does not care enough to stop them, since he figures that any supporters who favor a more tolerant policy have nowhere else to go.
Last October I asked why drug policy reformers assume that Democrats are better than Republicans on this issue. With a Democratic administration refusing to tolerate even modest marijuana reforms while Republican presidential contenders call for heroin legalization, the question is even more timely today.
That's the question David Bernstein asks over at the Volokh Conspiracy.
With no less than three (!) likely or declared Republican presidential candidates who are broadly speaking in the libertarian camp–Mitch Daniels, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul–libertarian political activists should pick their favorite of the three and work for his nomination, rather than waste their time on energy on pursuing ballot access for an inevitably marginal Libertarian Party candidate. Even if none of those three candidates gets the nominations (Daniels seems to have the best chance), libertarians seem to have their best opportunity to influence the Republican Party’s direction since at least the Barry Goldwater campaign. Time for the Libertarian Party to fold shop?
I'm certainly no LPer, but my answer to this is a three-part "no." 1) I want more, not fewer, political groupings competing for my vote. 2) The presidency is just one of, what, more than a half-million elected offices in the United States? When we no longer have uncontested elections for Congress (a shockingly routine occurrence in Southern California, for example), let alone state and local offices, then maybe I'll be more open to the idea of contraction. Though probably not. And 3) while I'm seriously thrilled that there is so much libertarian flavoring in the current stew of GOP politics, it's going to take more than some scattered brave talk during the wilderness years to make me forget the explicitly anti-libertarian strategizing and governance of GOP scoundrels from 1997-2008. Unilateral disarmament at this time does not strike me as advisable.
Bernstein's right–this is the best opportunity for libertoid influence on the GOP since the Aqua Buddha knows when. But that's also in part due to the limited-government Tea Party movement, which has maintained much of its potency precisely by keeping at least some arm's length independence from the Republican Party. Ask Howard Dean's anti-war supporters how their assimilation into the Democratic Borg has worked out for them. And yes, this is a subject treated at some length in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, which is now available for pre-order on Kindle!
I suspect, though it's really only a guess, that the real gut-check for the LP right now isn't what to do in a Ron Paul/Gary Johnson/Mitch Daniels world, but how to react to/interract with the Tea Party itself. Will be very interested to read any thoughts on that in the comments.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Republican Federal Communications Commission commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is planning to leave the agency for a job at Comcast Corp., according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Ms. Baker is expected to announce her departure as soon as this week for an unknown position at the Philadelphia-based cable giant. Comcast declined to comment, a company spokeswoman said.
Ms. Baker did not respond to several emails and phone calls for comment.
She came to the FCC in 2009 from the Commerce Department, where she was the acting head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees federal airwaves. At the agency, she oversaw a government coupon program that made it cheaper for Americans make the switch to digital-only television.
She joined the Commerce Department in 2004. Prior to her government service, Ms. Baker served as a telecommunications attorney for various firms.
Baker’s move to Comcast comes just four months after she voted, along with three of the agency’s other FCC commissioners, to approve Comcast’s $13.75 billion deal to acquire control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co.
Much hay is being made over Baker joining Comcast after approving the merger with NBC, even though she was joined by two Democrats, one of whom was FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a former investor in small network firms whose interests were at odds with Comcast's. The lone dissenter to the merger was FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, an ally of the Parents Television Council and censorship advocate who happens to also believe that private television, radio, print, and web media outlets should be turned into public utilities, or at the very least, have government-assigned coverage/balance quotas. In short, based solely on that one vote, every sane member of the FCC could've walked through the revolving door from government into business.
Peter Suderman's fantastic March piece on the FCC will give you a sense of Baker's politics. Short version: Baker's move to Comcast is consistent with her longstanding philosophical belief in a light regulatory touch on tech issues in general and her staunch objection to regulating the Internet in particular.
Newt Gingrich plans to officially Tweet his presidential candidacy tonight. For those of you who can't wait until then, here are some pre-emptive reactions:
Steve Chapman: Ever been stuck on an airplane or at a dinner party next to a humorless, opinionated know-it-all who won't shut up? If you enjoyed that, I imagine you'll be voting for Newt Gingrich. And I'm guessing you won't have much company.
Gingrich is a fount of ideas, most of them not nearly as good as he thinks, but he is sorely lacking in some qualities Americans like to see in their presidents: sober judgment, a bit of humility, personal charm. Gingrich has none of these. On the contrary, he's a verbal flamethrower with a grating sense of his importance.
Matt Bai: He imagined himself—and, reasonably or not, still does—as a lead protagonist in the history of his own time, a consequential character in the grand American narrative.
Jonathan Bernstein: Newt did not leave the Speakership because of a personal scandal, or even because of corruption charges. His problem was that he was an awful Speaker, and his conference in the House knew it.
Dan Balz: A keen intellect can also translate into the appearance of intellectual superiority. Gingrich speaks in the language of both superlatives and the Apocalypse. Nothing is understated, including his diminishment of his opponents. That will not wear well on the campaign trail, unless Gingrich finds a way to keep himself in check.
Andy Ostroy: I for one am thrilled that Gingrich is running, as I promise to be on him like a Republican Congressman on a House page. We'll relentlessly hound him for cheating on and shamelessly dumping two ailing wives. For having an affair with his much older high school teacher and his 22-years younger aide. For asking wife #2, Marianne, to "tolerate" his tawdry affair with future wife #3 Callista in some sick, kinky open-marriage fantasy. We'll resurrect the 1982 House Banking scandal and his 22 bounced checks. We'll remind everyone of the 1984 and 1995 book scandals and dust off the GOPAC scandal and illegal use of non-profit funds for political purposes. We'll expose his family-values hypocrisy 'round the clock like a McDonald's drive-thru, and slap him so hard with his lewd past that he'll feel like he went 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.
I had planned to balance the selection with some positive comments but had trouble finding any of interest. Let me know if you see any that are worth sharing.
I criticized Gingrich's odious comments about the "Ground Zero mosque" in a column last year.
Judgement Day is just ten days away. May 21st will see believers whisked away to heaven in the Rapture. Those of us who remain behind (and I'm positive that will include me) can look forward to the End of the World on October 21st. (Damn. That means Pamela and I won't be celebrating our 11th anniversary as planned on that day.)
You don't believe it. Well, you can parse the complicated calculations based on interpretations of various Bible verses over at eBibleFellowship.com.
The great thing about free markets is that even the end of the world offers opportunities for people to provide services to their fellows. For example, Washington Post columnist John Kelly reported on Monday about the pet care service offered by Bart Centre to people who expect to be taken up in the Rapture, but are worried about what will happen to Fluffy and Spot once they are basking in glory in Heaven. As Kelly reports:
Bart Centre does not believe in heaven, but he’s pretty sure that if there is a heaven, your pet is not going there.
After all, he points out, “All Dogs Go to Heaven” is the name of an animated movie, not a line from the Bible.
Not that Bart believes in the Bible. Or God. He is an atheist, and proudly so. But he knows that plenty of people do believe in God and do believe in heaven. And some of them believe in the Rapture, the day when true Christians will be called up to Jesus Christ. Some people — including a group that put ads on the backs of buses in our area — think the Rapture is coming May 21.
The Rapture could leave a lot of dogs and cats looking longingly at their food bowls after their owners have floated off to heaven. That’s where Bart comes in.
In 2009, he launched Eternal Earth-Bound Pets USA. Bart guarantees that if or when the Rapture comes he or one of his 44 contractors in 26 states will drive to your home within 24 hours, collect your dog, cat, bird, rabbit or small caged mammal, and adopt it. (Rapture rescue services for horses, camels, llamas and donkeys are limited to New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho and Montana.)
The cost is $135, plus $20 per additional animal. Payable upfront, of course, and good for 10 years.
“Right now, we have over 250 clients,” said Bart, 62, who is retired from a major retailer and pens anti-religion books under the name Dromedary Hump. Most customers are in the Bible Belt. Bart said he can handle relatively secular western Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, where he lives, all by himself.
Bart says he has carefully screened all the rescuers. They have to love animals, of course, but just as important is that they don’t love Jesus. For obvious reasons, they’re all atheists.
Surely Centre is bilking the credulous? As he explains to Kelly:
“Who’s providing the false pretences?” he said. “I do not promote the Rapture. If I were promoting it, then soliciting people to take my services, I could see that being a scam. I let the religious people promote it. I am offering them peace of mind. We can commit to you that we have the resources and infrastructure to rescue your pet from certain slow starvation or thirst, at just over a dollar a month. I do not feel like I’m taking advantage. I am satisfying a demand.”
Bart thinks it’s a pretty good deal.
“Who knows whether I’m taking advantage of them,” he asked, “or they’re taking advantage of me?”
He takes PayPal.
Satisfying a demand - that's what markets are all about. Since I'm staying behind, I can take care of our two cats, Milton and Mario.
Whole Post column here.
If you missed Slate's be-rill-yunt New York Times parody yesterday, you didn't miss much and shouldn't bother clicking through. Instead, you should read this from the Galactic Empire Times: "Obi-Wan Kenobi Is Dead, Vader Says."
CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.
The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered in the Senate District and outside the Imperial Palace, waving imperial flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “Hail to the Emperor! Hail Lord Vader!” In the alien protection zone, crowds sang “The Ten Thousand Year Empire.” Throughout the Sah'c district, airspeeder drivers honked horns deep into the night.
And the comments:
Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through April, 2011.
April temperatures rebound after March's La Nina lows
Global Temperature Report: April 2011
Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade
April temperatures (preliminary)
Global composite temp.: +0.12 C (about 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.
Northern Hemisphere: +0.20 C (about 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.
Southern Hemisphere: +0.04 C (about 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.
Tropics: -0.23 C (about 0.41 degrees Fahrenheit) below 30-year average for April.
March temperatures (revised):
Global Composite: -0.10 C below 30-year average
Northern Hemisphere: -0.07 C below 30-year average
Southern Hemisphere: -0.13 C below 30-year average
Tropics: -0.34 C below 30-year average
(All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)
Go here to view the satellite data.
Earlier today, Nick Gillespie appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Co. to talk about privatizing the post office.
Airdate: May 11, 2011; about 4:45 minutes.
Bonus tip for Lysander Spooner, Pony Express, and Crying of Lot 49 fans: Gillespie will be talking about the same topic tonight on Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano. The show airs 8PM to 9PM ET on Fox Business. Details.
Signs that libertarians are #WINNING even more than Charlie Sheen on a chandelier-bashing bender in midtown Manhattan: Salon.com is attacking the Austrian school of economics and especially Ludwig von Mises, the economist whose magisterial Socialism turned F.A. Hayek and a generation of bright boys into fire-breathing libertarians and even postmodern economists (bonus points for doing it before modernism was even a spent force!).
Here's Andrew Leonard ragging on the real Ludwig von (Beethoven can suck it):
For Republicans like House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, the true standard-bearers of laissez faire purism can be found at tiny campuses such as Michigan's Northwood University, where followers of the Austrian economist and paleolibertarian heroLudwig von Mises eye any government intervention in the economy --any intervention at all -- with baleful glares. Friedman? He's practically a socialist!...
When recession hits or a financial crisis threatens, Austrian theory demands, as summarized by the Financial Times' Martin Wolf, "that the right response is to let everything rotten be liquidated, while continuing to balance the budget as the economy implodes." Other elements of hardcore Austrian economics include a return to the gold standard, a free market in competitive currency creation (that is, no government monopoly over the printing press) and, of course, no central banking whatsoever. The core belief: Government creates the ups and downs of the business cycle....
Even Milton Friedman, in an interview with Reason, recalled being somewhat annoyed when Mises stormed out of a meeting of economists who had been talking about the proper levels of taxation with the angry declaration that "you are all socialists."
That meeting, by the way, was no small thing: As Friedman tells it, it was the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, the group of classical liberal intellectuals formed in 1947 (original members included such right-wing freaks as Karl Popper, the intellectual hero of George Soros). And Friedman goes on to note that he attributed Mises' irascible nature to the level of persecution the guy had encountered during his life. As a Jew living in Europe in the early part of the 20th century, Mises faced anti-semitism and decamped from Switzerland to the United States in 1940 out of fear of Nazism. He might not have been the best guy to invite to a beer summit, but fwiw, he kept teaching until he was 87 years old. And whatever "paleolibertarians" are into, there's no question that Mises was an archetypal citizen of the world, the type of fella who loved the pleasures of the world and eschewed theories of blood and soil for a truly cosmopolitan outlook.
Anyhoo, there was a time when Salon mentioned Mises in more friendly terms. Here's an article from 2000 about the great "Pokimon" (?) craze:
Stripped to its essentials, of course, this means simply that despite the cornucopia of things and choices around us, we still face that most basic human conundrum: How to square unlimited desires with limited resources? This is a question that wanders far beyond economics and into territory first mapped by existentialist philosophers.
"Choosing determines all human action," wrote the eminent Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises more than 50 years ago, sounding more like Jean-Paul Sartre than Adam Smith. "In making his choice, man chooses not only between various materials and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another."
If that's crazy, sign me up for the rubber room now!
Don't just sit there - read about praxeology or the science of human action.
House Speaker John Boehner is set to jaw at Catholic University of America's commencement ceremony this weekend. But first he must be flagellated by a group of entitlement-loving CUA profs:
More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives will hurt the poor, elderly and vulnerable, and therefore he has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teaching.
“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter says. “From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”
The letter writers go on to criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut support forMedicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies “anti-life,” a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.
Yes, well, have you seen the video of John Boehner crying because his mother did not abort him? Clearly, this man loves life:
The First Amendment Center’s David Hudson profiles the free speech jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:
The Court’s ultimate originalist believes strongly in applying the original views of the Founding Fathers in interpreting the Constitution. In First Amendment law, Thomas has taken bold stances that distance him from his colleagues. Usually, in separate concurring opinions, he explains why he would overrule a leading First Amendment decision or why the Court has gone astray.
Sometimes, Thomas’ positions cause him to advocate for greater protection for certain types of speech, such as commercial speech and campaign finance as speech. Other times, Thomas’ views would dramatically curtail First Amendment freedoms – student speech, prisoner speech and the establishment clause. Suffice it to say, Thomas has gone his own way in many areas of First Amendment law.
Read the full article here.
(Via How Appealing.)
Over at InfoVegan, Clay Johnson suggests that governments stop paying to run public notices in newspapers:
Local laws require public notices to be placed in the local papers. It equates to large subsidies going from government to the press. It’s an awkward loop where money flows from government coffers to the papers who endorse candidates. It isn’t chump change either. According to one study from the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, the State of Pennsylvania may spend upwards of $25 Million a year on public notice advertising.
And also, that agencies stop using god-awful .gov sites:
Moving a notice from a publication with a circulation of 100,000 to a website with 500 visits a day is a reduction of notifications. In 2009, the Obama administration sought to move its asset forfeiture public notices onto forfeiture.gov to save the government about 6 million dollars over five years. The problem is, nobody knows about or goes to forfeiture.gov. This blog, for instance, is infrequently updated and has a very niche audience, but it still beats forfeiture.gov in terms of overall public exposure. The net result of simply moving public notices online is often less public notification. And when there are notifications, they are PDF files that look, amazingly, like this.
In their place, says Johnson, agencies should Facebook their notices. He points out that with 150 million users in the U.S. alone, Facebook reaches more people than the 109 Million U.S. newspaper subscriptions reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The premise of Johnson's post is that less than .0015% of the country's 303 million wireless subscribers (roughly 4,000) submitted comments to the FCC on the AT&T T-Mobile merger, and that successfully "pushing the government to publicly deliberate online in the places we’re at rather than to continue the trend of public notice obfuscation via the web" could increase that number. But I'm wondering if the delivery system is only party of the problem. For instance, here is the first paragraph of a summary of a public notice posted on federalregister.gov (not, to be fair, relating to the FCC or telecomm issues):
On April 21, 2011, in litigation arising out of the Department of Commerce's (“Department”) final determination in the less-than-fair-value (“LTFV”) investigation of certain steel threaded rod (“steel threaded rod”) from the People's Republic of China (“PRC”),1 the United States Court of International Trade (“CIT”) sustained the Department's results of redetermination. Pursuant to the CIT's remand order in Jiaxing Brother Fastener Co., Ltd. v. United States, Consol. Court No. 09-00205, Slip Op. 10-128 (November 16, 2010) (“Jiaxing Brother”), the Department found that the financial statements of the Indian company, Rajratan Global Wire Ltd. (“Rajratan”), are an appropriate source of data for calculating the surrogate financial ratios. See Jiaxing Brother Fastener Co., Ltd. v. United States, Consol. Court No. 09-00205, Slip Op. 11-44 (April 21, 2011) (“Jiaxing Brother II”). Consistent with the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) in Timken Co. v. United States, 893 F.2d 337 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (“Timken”), as clarified by Diamond Sawblades Mfrs. Coalition v. United States, 626 F.3d 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (“Diamond Sawblades”), the Department is notifying the public that the final judgment in this case is not in harmony with the Department's Final Determination and is amending its Final Determination and Antidumping Duty Order.
Somehow, I don't think posting the above notice to Facebook is going to increase citizen participation in the debate over steel-threaded rods from China.
In the wake of Obama's defensive "we're tough on immigration too, you right-wing freaks" talk yesterday, an interesting blast from the past from the nifty Classically Liberal blog has fresh relevance.
In it is summed up in full the thoughts of economist Milton Friedman on immigration. Friedman is often used as an example of a libertarian who questioned open borders in a welfare state world. That's kind of true. But it lead him to the logical conclusion that illegal immigration is the best immigration of all:
If you have free immigration, in the way we had it before 1914, everybody benefited. The people who were here benefited. The people who came benefited. Because nobody would come unless he, or his family, thought he would do better here than he would elsewhere. And, the new immigrants provided additional resources, provided additional possibilities for the people already here. So everybody can mutually benefit....
Look, for example, at the obvious, immediate, practical example of illegal Mexican immigration. Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal....
That’s an interesting paradox to think about. Make it legal and it’s no good. Why? Because as long as it’s illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don’t qualify for social security, they don’t qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. So long as they don’t qualify they migrate to jobs. They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take. They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They’re hard workers, they’re good workers, and they are clearly better off.
My Reason magazine feature from March 2007 on the career of Milton Friedman.
The key question in determining the constitutionality of ObamaCare's mandate to purchase health insurance is whether or not Congress can regulate inactivity under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to "regulate commerce...among the several States." Previous cases that tested the limits of the Commerce Clause have all involved the regulation of some sort of activity: growing wheat or weed for personal consumption. The mandate, on the other hand, gives Congress the power to regulate in the absence of any activity at all: the test is whether an individual has not purchased insurance. Via The Washington Post, the activity/inactivity question came up again in yesterday's appeals court oral arguments:
The judges also asked probing questions of Mathew D. Staver, a lawyer for Liberty University, challenging Staver’s assertion that a citizen who goes without health insurance has chosen not to engage in economic activity.
Staver and other opponents of the law argue that it would be unprecedented for government to force individuals to buy a product — health insurance — when they have chosen to go without it. Congress’ power to regulate commerce can’t give it power to require a person to take part in commerce, they argue.
“These requirements that you think are so important, this activity, does that have a constitutional basis? What in the commerce clause would require activity?” asked Judge Motz.
This is what passes for probing questions? What indeed? How about, I don't know...the part where it gives Congress the power to regulate commerce? Engaging in commerce, which is what Congress is constitutionally allowed to regulate, would seem to require, well, activity. Failing to purchase health insurance is neither activity nor commerce. Of course, the obvious reading of the Commerce Clause would also suggest that the regulated commercial activity in question cross state lines, which inactivity clearly does not. But thanks to the substantial effects doctrine, the obvious reading is no longer preferred amongst judges. Staver's slightly more polite response: "I think it’s inherent when you’re talking about regulating commerce. . .commerce cannot be idleness."
Some pretty despicable religious leaders have advised the White House (and its aspirants) over the years, but I wouldn’t say Jim Wallis is one of them. He is, however, a moderate masquerading as a social progressive, which is why the founder of Sojourners magazine ("progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture") and an advisor to President Obama is under fire, reports the Daily Beast's David Sessions, for declining to run an ad that encourages pastors to welcome gay parishioners:
Some liberal Christians were baffled by the group's decision to reject the fairly innocuous one-minute ad, which features a young boy walking into a church with his lesbian parents and encountering cold stares before being welcomed by the minister.
The controversy spread quickly online, with liberal clergy members and bloggers writing that Wallis had "thrown gays and lesbians under the bus." Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage mentioned it on his blog.
Joseph Ward, director of communications for the New York-based Christian group Intersections International, which submitted the ad for its Believe Out Loud campaign, said Sojourners' rejection took his organization by surprise. Others were less shocked; after all, Wallis has never taken strong public stands on culture-war issues. In a statement posted online Monday, Wallis wrote that while Sojourners is committed to "civil liberties" for gays and lesbians, "these debates have not been at the core of our calling, which is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace."
Wallis' rise (and seemingly impending) fall within the Progressive Christian movement mirrors the rise of Obama, a pro-corporate welfare neo-liberal, among Progressive Democrats. Both prefer the class war to the culture war, and the appearance of war to the actual waging of it. Both are simultaneously betraying the margins of their constituencies.
And just as Obama has been hen-pecked by allies to his left who wanted Congress to pass single-payer legislation and abandon DADT and DOMA without the DOJ first going through the motions of defending federal law, Wallis is now getting flack from a community whose most vocal members take "social justice" far more seriously than their Beltway representatives.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to control your smartphone.
Yesterday, Schumer went after Google, Apple, and other smartphone-industry players who have refused to follow a "voluntary" request by him and Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that they ban apps that show where police are setting up driving under the influence (DUI) checkpoints, speed traps, and the like.
State officials are applying similar pressure (and are also claiming that all requests for compliance are "voluntary"). Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, is pushing for bans and so is Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler, who likened the apps to "giving a robber the key and the alarm pad code to go rob a bank."
As a direct result of the pressure, Research in Motion, maker of Blackberry products, blocked the apps.
But are apps that give citizens more information about what law enforcement is up to a bad thing? They clearly fall under First Amendment guarantees of free expression (that's why lawmakers are saying their requests are "voluntary"). But perhaps more important, such apps actually minimize drunk driving and speeding - which is one of the reasons why police in places such as Travis County, Texas, are the ones entering the information for DUI checkpoint apps such as Trapster. As a Travis County cop puts it, if he can stop the problematic behavior without writing tickets or hauling people in, everybody is better off.
That's an irony that's lost on bullying pols such as Schumer, Biden, and others. But it's one of the reasons why the audience for such apps continues to grow.
Produced by Joshua Swain with Nick Gillespie, who also narrates. Filmed by Swain and Jim Epstein.
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Politico reports that the Justice Department wants Congress to make Internet service providers store data about their users for a specified length of time to facilitate federal investigations:
Current law doesn't require those Internet service providers to "retain any data for any particular length of time," although some already do, said Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general at the DOJ's Criminal Division. And many wireless companies — which must collect some data — also "do not retain records that would enable law enforcement to identify a suspect's smartphone based on the IP address collected by websites the suspect visited," he noted in prepared testimony.
That's why Weinstein urged the Senate Judiciary's Privacy, Technology and the Law subcommittee on Tuesday to consider data-retention legislation as it weighs new privacy efforts in the digital age. The top DOJ official said such a congressional fix would boost the agency's ability to investigate privacy breaches, prosecute other digital crimes and ferret out abuses in the offline world.
"Those records are an absolutely necessary link in the investigative chain," Weinstein told the panel.
I don't doubt that the information could be useful to government investigators. Does that fact justify forcing companies to retain it? Such a mandate goes beyond the customary assistance that businesses are required to give in response to a court order. As with the Clinton administration's Clipper chip proposal, the defunct ban on exporting strong encryption software, and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (a.k.a. CALEA, which requires telecom companies to make their networks tap-friendly), the government wants to arrange the world to make life easier for law enforcement agencies. Once we accept this demand as legitimate, the only question is how to "balance" privacy interests against the enhanced security promised by unimpeded policing—an inherently subjective judgment that tends to favor the government, since cops can always cite concrete examples of how they would use their new powers for good, while the negative implications seem vague and hypothetical.
Opponents of the Clipper chip, an encryption system with a government-held key that the Clinton administration wanted to mandate for telecommunications, used to ask whether we should all be forced to hand over our house keys to the local police, just in case they need them, or keep our window blinds up at all times to facilitate government surveillance. If those demands are unreasonable, why is it OK to insist that our ISPs keep track of us and save the records, just in case the government wants them? The argument for CALEA was that the government just wanted to keep the capability it historically had to listen in on phone conversations upon obtaining a warrant. Yet the statute now applies to email and other forms of communication that did not exist when wiretap law was developed. Likewise the DOJ's new legislative proposal. Why assume that Internet users must be trackable simply because phone lines used to be tappable?
The Irish government plans to institute a tax on private pensions to drive jobs growth, according to its jobs program strategy, delivered today. [...]
The tax on private pensions will be 0.6%, and last for four years, according to the report.
Link via the Twitter feed of James Pethokoukis, who adds "Is this America in 5 years? [...] Remember that some Ds want to kill 401k plans and funnel us into Social Security-plus plans. And the next step..."
President Barack Obama just delivered a big speech on immigration reform. Yet as David Harsanyi argues, it seems like a peculiar time to spring this divisive topic on the American people. Especially when we know full well that reform has a stimulus's chance of success. But then again, perhaps the timing does make sense. As Harsanyi notes, the administration shifted to immigration reform in the middle of the most consequential fiscal debate the nation has faced in memory. It’s a clever distraction, but will it work?View this article
Last month, Richard Posner wrote the following about means-testing entitlements: “Perhaps some politician will be bold enough to advocate that all entitlements programs, including social security as well as Medicare, be means-tested, as Medicaid is.” But, he lamented, the political will to do so doesn’t seem to exist.
Or does it? Bold is not a word I usually associate with either Republican House Speaker John Boehner or Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and it's an open question whether the term really applies to politicians who propose to cut back on taxpayer-funded entitlement handouts for millionaires and billionaires. But this week both Boehner and Hoyer have given thumbs up to reducing federally paid-for health benefits for gazillionaires by means-testing Medicare. Here’s what Boehner said earlier this week at an event moderated by billionaire Pete Peterson, as reported by Brian Beutler:
"Pete, I love you to death, but I don't think the taxpayers ought to be paying your Medicare premium," Boehner said. "And under Paul Ryan's plan, what it says is, let's allow the American people to decide which health care plan fits their needs. And if you're middle-income, lower income, we are going to pay, just like we do today, for the cost of those premiums. But for people of means, there's no reason why we should subsidize Pete Peterson's premium. I'm sorry. He ought to pay the full cost of his premium to be in Medicare."
That sounds like means testing to me! And here’s Hoyer with a far more qualified, but still kinda-sorta-possibly positive, response:
"Generally speaking, we do, as you know, have certain means testing in both Medicare and SS at this point in time. ... I think clearly we're going to have to make both of those programs sustainable over the long run, and I think to some degree it would be clearly appropriate to look at -- without endorsing any specific proposal -- the insuring that the least well off are protected and to do that look at the best off ... in terms of what level of support they get."
Is that the stink of bipartisan consensus in the air? Probably not: Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, for example, isn’t having any of it. “Medicare is a social insurance program where you get back for paying in, whether you are middle class, poor, or rich,” he said in a statement. “If Mr. Boehner wants to have the wealthy contribute more to deficit reduction, he should look to the tax code.” So it’s not acceptable to reduce publicly subsidized benefits for wealthy seniors, but it’s perfectly fine to ask seniors to pay more in taxes in order to keep providing them with health benefits they could be purchasing themselves?
Obviously there’s no clear plan here to pass judgment on: GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal would arguably make both Medicare and Social Security more progressive, but Democrats have shown approximately zero interest in supporting it. (Indeed, they've tended to hiss and recoil from any proposal to means test middle class entitlements.) One frequent objection to means testing is that programs targeted for the poor lack political influence, while programs for the middle and upper class tend to be more popular, and thus better protected. But that’s a hard line to sustain with a program headed for collapse. Back in 2004, economist Mark Pauly, writing in Health Affairs, noted Medicare’s onrushing fiscal troubles and made the point that means-testing the program could provide a way to avoid arbitrary rationing schemes. As Tyler Cowen wrote in 2008, “A more modest program, more directly aimed at those who need it, might prove more sustainable in the longer run.” A modest, sustainable entitlement system? Seems unlikely. But it might be bold.
I'll be on Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano tonight. The show airs on Fox Business Channel from 8PM to 9PM Et. Go here for more details.
Tonight's special episode: The Case of the Privatized Postal Service.
Back in 1998, for the old Suck.com site, I weighed in (as Mr. Mxyzptlk) on the pros and cons of "Going Postal."
How high are the stakes in letting the government control the mail? Take a look:
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, not known for being some kind of lefty squish, lays out the post-OBL case against waterboarding and torture:
I don't know whether waterboarding was indispensable to rolling up bin Laden; for every interrogation expert who says it was, another expert argues the opposite. But the case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness. It is wrong when bad guys do it to good guys. It is just as wrong when good guys do it to Al Qaeda.
Some Americans have convinced themselves that waterboarding is closer to "a dunk in water" than to genuine torture. In fact, it is an agonizing, terrifying form of abuse. "The victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut," Evan Wallach, a former JAG who teaches the law of war at the Brooklyn and New York law schools, wrote in 2007. "The main difference is that the drowning process is halted.... It can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years." There was good reason why waterboarding was one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were hanged after World War II.
Torture is unreliable, since people will often say anything — invent desperate fictions or diversions — to stop the pain or fear. That doesn't mean waterboarding will never yield valuable information. [...]
Like chemical and biological warfare, torture is something we refuse to engage in, despite its potential effectiveness, on the grounds that it is fundamentally immoral and uncivilized. Our repudiation of torture is absolute — the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, allows for "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever." That unconditional repudiation is one of the lines that separates us from the barbaric jihadists with whom we are at war.
The killing of bin Laden was gratifying, but it was no vindication of torture. [...] Bush was wrong to permit waterboarding, and wrong to deny that it was torture. I don't agree with Obama on much, but when it comes to waterboarding, he is right. America will defeat the global jihad, but not by embracing its inhuman values.
I'm very sorry to report that John Hannah, a fixture in the Hit & Run comment threads under the handle J sub D, has died of lung cancer. His earliest comment on the site -- or at least the earliest I can find -- is here; his final one is here.
The last years of Hannah's life were hard ones, to judge from this Mitch Albom column. Albom's article describes a veteran who died alone, his body waiting for someone to claim it; the column is as unaware of Hannah's witty, politically charged life online as we on the Web were unaware of J sub's unhappy personal circumstances:
Hannah, as near as I can piece together, grew up somewhere in Wayne County. He served years in the Navy, reached the relatively high level of E8 (in the Navy, that would be a senior chief petty officer). At some point, perhaps a decade ago, his wife died, and he took it hard. He didn't want to live anymore.
"He just dropped out of sight," said Jim Hoffner, who oversees the kitchen at Pilgrim Church/I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit, where, for the last five or six months, Hannah had been sleeping among other homeless men, on vinyl mats beneath wool blankets. "He was a helluva nice guy. Intelligent. He helped with the chores here. At some point every day, he would walk up to the library at Wayne State. I think he used the computers there."
He thinks. Someone else thinks. There are snippets of John Hannah from people he encountered in his final months.
He was Caucasian, thin, 5 feet 5 or so. He smoked and had lung cancer, which he accepted.
"He said he came here to die," Annette Covington related. She is the wife of the church's late pastor, Henry Covington. She knew Hannah as a quiet, decent man, who, after the kindness shown him at the shelter, said he changed his mind and wanted to live.
It was too late.
Jennifer Abel, who interacted frequently with Hannah on the Grylliade forum, points me to the post there where he reacted to his diagnosis:
My spirits are good if somewhat subdued for the time being. Swallowing the news was both harder and easier than I would have expected. I know that makes no sense but that's the way I am. I haven't cried or gone into woe is me mode. I'm certainly not embracing the situation but seem to be accepting the reality fairly well. Someone once said "Life's a bitch and then you die" which is only half true. "Life's a joy that has to end" might be a better way to put it.
- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer opposes a White House executive order that would require government contractors to disclose every political donation made by their employees.
- The IRS has its eye on large anonymous donations to 501(c)(4) organizations.
- Like Senator Harry Reid and President Obama, Senator Charles Schumer was against raising the debt ceiling before he was for it.
- The Navy wrote guidelines for marrying gay sailors in states where it's legal to get gay married, but decided last night to rescind those rules.
- Budgets, budgets every where, and all the votes did shrink.
- PBS/Frontline investigates the kill/capture program that led to OBL's, uh, capture/kill.
- The Delta floods.
The latest from Reason.tv:"Governments vs. Markets: Julian Morris on Environmental Protection"
Are all three things people talk about all the time but can't really do anything about? Check in with Varney & Co. on Fox Business this morning around 9.45AM ET to find out.
Yesterday my two-year-old daughter participated in a drill at her preschool designed to maximally deal with a hostile intruder on school grounds (the kids' role was to basically lie down, keep real quiet, and await instructions). One of my colleagues was alarmed by the existence of such an exercise, but given the setting here I'm more than fine with a little worst-case prep. Especially if it doesn't involve a cop posing as an armed lunatic who asks for a student by name:
Several Stephenson County sheriff's deputies helped with the drill [at Orangeville High School], said Chief Deputy Todd Welch. This is the first time the sheriff's department has assisted with a drill of this kind at a school. The mock scenario involved an "armed intruder," played by a deputy, who entered the school, fired a cap gun, and asked for a specific student. Other officers arrived on the scene and "arrested" the intruder. [...]
the student who the "intruder" was searching for, fled school grounds and had to be located and brought back to school.
Two weeks ago, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire vetoed a bill that would have clarified the rules for supplying medical marijuana in her state, citing threats of prosecution by U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby. U.S. attorneys in several other states have made similar threats in recent months, discouraging some jurisdictions from proceeding with plans to establish licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says these threats, which are backed by the Justice Department, kill any lingering hopes that President Obama would keep his campaign promise to respect medical marijuana laws.View this article
Which does a better job of protecting the environment: governments or markets?
Reason Foundation’s Vice President of Research Julian Morris spoke at Reason Foundation's annual Reason Weekend and challenged the idea that regulations and energy subsidies will save us from environmental disasters. In fact, they help cause them.
When people are driven by profits and protected by property rights, Morris argues, environmentally friendly products will develop naturally.
Approximately 28 minutes.
Filmed by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick; Editded by Joshua Swain
Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.
Used cars get rarer and more expensive, natch, though this Wall Street Journal article today on the phenomenon of surging prices in used cars--$1,500 to $3,000 more than six months ago--never once mentions the words "cash for clunkers"--a program that removed 690,114 cars from the potential secondary market.
Reason writings on the madness of destroying useful things to stimulate "the economy."
A devastating report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends that the Golden State take its high speed rail project offline, dismantle its longstanding high speed rail authority, renegotiate the terms of funding coming from Washington D.C., and postpone planning in a way that could result in the state’s effectively rejecting federal high speed rail funds.
To unpack Thronson’s recommendations a bit:
• If the state must "obtain relief" from current federal restrictions on the project, that would, under ordinary circumstances, mean missing the September 2012 deadline to begin the project or lose federal funds. However, the state managed to get that deadline lifted by agreeing to the Federal Rail Authority’s widely ridiculed "train to nowhwere" plan that would have the project beginning in a remote pocket of the Central Valley. From page 9 of the report: "After HSRA approved the Central Valley section, the FRA dropped the September 2011 deadline for environmental clearance work." However, there are related deadlines, including a completion deadline of 2017 for stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Moreover, the LAO also recommends reconsidering the route of the first leg, which would remove the condition on which the FRA waived its deadline in the first place.
• By recommending that the currently planned alignment for the first leg (which the report refers to, variously, as running from "near Fresno" to "north of Bakersfield”), the LAO concedes that the train to nowhere plan is unfeasible. The report notes that the projected cost of just this segment has increased more than 57 percent since planning began, and the LAO’s advice to base the project on need and projected rider revenue makes the Corcoran-to-Borden route a non-starter.
• The recommendation that the legislature “shift responsibility” from the California High Speed Rail Authority to Caltrans is another radical suggestion made in measured tones. The authority has a long history of costly non-performance, and dismantling it makes sense. But it’s new for a respected government authority to make the suggestion.
• So is the recommendation to "remove decision-making authority from the HSRA board." Again, leadership of the authority, even at the level of personnel and public relations, has been disastrous. But by making sure "state fiscal concerns are fully taken into account," the LAO is acknowledging that there is no justification for spending any more money on the project. The report suggests that Gov. Jerry Brown’s $185 million requested appropriation be whittled down to only $7 million. That’s close to nothing in government work. (As of last year the California High Speed Rail Authority had spent $250 million since 1996, without laying an inch of track.)
Prior to the LAO announcement, Cato’s Randal O’Toole suggested the multistate rejection of FRA funds means the Obama Administration’s high speed rail plan is over, and not just in California:
In essence, the administration has given up on high-speed rail. New York Times editorial writers haven’t figured that out yet, opining that Florida Governor Scott made a dreadful mistake when he rejected the rail money. In fact, as tax activist Doug Guetzloe told a Tampa newspaper, “Federally funded rail is like being given a brand new Maserati and then you have to pick up the gas and the insurance — forever. The car looks great, but the costs will kill you.”
The Times suggested that Florida taxpayers will resent Scott’s decision whenever they are stuck in traffic. But no one seriously believes that intercity rail will ever relieve traffic congestion, most of which is in cities, not between them. In its original application for high-speed rail funds, Florida’s DOT admitted that Orlando-to-Tampa traffic grows more every five years than all the cars the trains were expected to take off the road, so at best high-speed rail was a very expensive and temporary solution to congestion.
Outside of the Times editorial offices, most transportation experts agree that the President’s high-speed rail program is over and his draft transportation bill is dead on arrival. Taxpayers throughout the country should thank Scott (as well as Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) for saving them the hundreds of billions of dollars that Obama’s program would have eventually cost.
Also before the LAO report, the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Simon and Michael Muskal gave an upbeat view that Florida’s rejection would help add 20 miles to the train to nowhere, possibly allowing it to reach Fresno itself. To do so will mean rejecting the nearly unanimous recommendations (including previous LAO reports) of experts, in government and out of it, who have examined the high speed rail plan.
WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston, reports that the Massachusetts House of Representatives is considering a bill that "would define the people who manage prostitutes, or 'pimps,' as 'human traffickers.'" Under the bill, which is supported by Attorney General Martha Coakley, pimps, who currently face prison sentences of three months to two years, "could be sentenced to 20 years for selling adults in the sex industry and sentenced to life for exploiting children." The maximum punishment for johns would rise from one year to two and a half years, 20 years in cases involving underage prostitutes. The penalty for prostitutes, one year in jail, would remain the same, although it would be reserved for those who refused the state's "help" in changing professions.
Since assault, kidnapping, and extortion already are illegal, the bill's definition of trafficking presumably goes beyond the use of force to compel cooperation from unwilling prostitutes. Simply redefining the managing of prostitutes as trafficking would unfairly punish some people for violence they never committed. And while it is certainly unfair to let johns go while locking up prostitutes, I'm not sure I understand the logic of treating them more harshly. This is exactly the opposite of the approach taken by U.S. drug laws, which punish sellers more severely than buyers on the theory that they prey upon their customers by giving them what they want. Why treat sex addicts like criminals when they have a disease that needs to be treated?
If you accept the premise that all prostitutes are sex slaves, it is easier to see why Coakley sees johns as villains rather than victims. But if prostitutes have no choice, why is it just to punish them? Because "the act itself is criminal," Coakley says, which not only begs the question but overlooks the fact that criminalizing this industry makes it much more dangerous than it would otherwise be, promoting just the sort of coercion and violence that Coakley claims to be fighting.
[Thanks to Michael Graham for the tip.]
On Monday, May 9, Reason Associate Editor Peter Suderman appeared on Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano to talk about Congressional budget negotiations and whether public sector jobs help or hurt the economy. Approximately seven minutes.
Environmentalists once embraced natural gas as the bridge fuel to a low-carbon future, but now they spurn it. Why? Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains that it's because cheap natural gas extracted from shale via the technological innovation of hydraulic fracking challenges the environmentalists' first loves: wind and solar power.View this article
Neil Macdonald, senior Washington correspondent for CBC News, complains about "almost ridiculous discounts" on "good wines" from online merchants who deliver them to his office a few days after he orders them without charging him for shipping or sales tax. The horror? Yes!
According to Macdonald, the problem is not that selling wine on the Internet puts brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop shops out of business, enables teenagers to catch a buzz off the latest boutique Chardonnay, or takes profits from government-appointed wholesalers (who frequently use the first two arguments). No, the problem is that "every dollar's worth of wine that FedEx delivers to my office means 10 cents that doesn't go to the state tax office." Those dimes add up, and "as the famed jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, taxes buy civilization."
That's the short version. To appreciate Macdonald's argument in all its meandering, state-worshipping complexity, read the whole thing. You might want to drink a few glasses of Cabernet first.
San Francisco, according to its hometown paper, "has 21 ordinances that govern city contracting. They range from the banal–registering with the city tax collector–to the progressive–providing health care for employees and complying with a ban on tropical hardwood and virgin redwood." Shockingly, the requirements "are costing local taxpayers millions of dollars a year in overcharges." Some lowlights:
In one case, a Muni worker said the city paid $3,000 for a vehicle battery tray. Such parts can be found online for $12 to $300, depending on the type of vehicle. City officials said they couldn't verify that purchase, saying the trays are usually bought in bulk with the battery.
Other city purchasing policies, if followed, would mean paying about $240 for getting a copy of a key that actually cost a worker $1.35 to get done at a hardware store on his break, the employee said. Another city worker called the use of catalog pricing for supplies "Pentagon-style purchasing."
Markups from approved vendors range from 10 to 150 percent, employees said, with one calling the city's requirement that contractors provide health care benefits for domestic partners "the expensive white elephant standing in the middle of the room (that) no one wants to mention."
Some vendors are suspected of being little more than middlemen who comply with San Francisco's very specific requirements for contractors - like disclosing historic ties to slavery and providing domestic partner benefits, a provision known as 12B because of its chapter in the Administrative Code - then turn around and buy the products from companies that don't meet the restrictions, city officials acknowledge.
An analysis by the General Services Agency found that in the last complete fiscal year, 2009-10, the city paid $9.8 million to "possible third-party brokers" - vendors that may be pass-through companies.
Using the contracting process as a tool for social engineering almost always ends up in tears, as I once tried to explain in the L.A. Times (nothing makes a gal more libertarian than watching big-city public policy get made up close). Excerpt from that:
Contractors should be competing on how to provide essential services most efficiently (indeed, that's what they're contracted to do), not on how many admirable social goals they can help achieve. Each additional mandated hoop to jump through—living wage, minority ownership, zero-carbon emissions, whatever—reduces competition and pushes the contracter further afield from the original idea of earning taxpayer money by doing a job well.
And the process creates another, perhaps more worrisome side-effect—jurisdictional creep. Once politicians realize they can subcontract social policy wherever the private sector intersects with the public, the sky's the limit. So, a living wage ordinance that once affected only businesses that contracted directly with the city gets extended to companies that do business adjacent to LAX, because LAX is owned by the city. Developers who buy property to build projects that are legal under local zoning rules get squeezed during the permitting process to add affordable housing, create locally guaranteed jobs (unionized, *bien sur*), or slap on a green roof. People engaged in private activity are tasked with social-policy goals every time they visit City Hall.
Well, at least they wouldn't impose all those "social justice" surcharges on something as sacrosanct as retirement security, right?
Link via Ed Driscoll.
According to some economists, government spending cuts reduce overall demand in the economy, which affects growth and then employment. Under that view, government spending is the source of all recovery. But as Veronique de Rugy explains, this argument ignores the fact that the government has to take its money out of the economy by raising taxes, borrowing from investors, or printing dollars. Each of these options can shrink the economy.View this article
Last week, I recorded a spirited conversation with the Illinois Policy Institute's Kristina Rasmussen about trans fat bans. The Land of Lincoln is now currently considering such an action, which have already been implemented in various places around the globe (Denmark) and in the U.S. (New York City, that tough guy town).
Listen here (it's about five minutes of artery-clearing ranting).
Alabama has decided to follow in Arizona's footsteps (or at least to follow in Oklahoma's footsteps, since they followed Arizona first). The state senate recently passed a bill banning, among other things, knowingly giving an undocumented immigrant a ride in your car.
The legislature is also taking action to keep the scourge of mariachi music (or whatever) out of Alabama's all-American proms, where real patriots prefer lip syncing to "Livin' on a Prayer" over and over.
SB 256, the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act," takes steps to block employers from hiring illegal immigrants, gives law enforcement more authority to check immigration status, requires voters to bring proof of citizenship with them to the polls—and prohibits "participation in any extracurricular activity outside of the basic course of study" for K-12 students who aren't legal residents. In other words, no chess club or drama society for the kids; football might be a religion in Alabama, but that's off-limits too.
By the way, there's an apparently unrelated yet highly relevant Facebook group. There's always a Facebook group.
Does Congress have the power to regulate individual "economic decisions" even if those decisions involve no identifiable activity? The three Democratic judges who heard arguments in two constitutional challenges to ObamaCare's individual mandate today seem to think the answer to that question is, "Well of course it does!" You can listen to the entire audio of this morning's arguments online, but the short version is that, as expected, things don't seem to have gone very well for the challengers. Damon Root already linked to the handy summary by Cato's Ilya Shapiro, which notes the following:
The government is understandably unconcerned with articulating a principled limit on its own power, and this particular panel of judges may find some way to avoid dealing with the activity/inactivity conundrum.
At The Examiner, Philip Klein has a lengthier and less optimistic write-up of the courtroom back-and-forth. It seems that the Obama administration is once again arguing that it doesn't actually matter if someone does not purchase health insurance because virtually everyone is already a participant in the health care market simply by virtue of being alive:
When Neal Kumar Katyal, acting solicitor general for the Obama administration, addressed the panel, the judges seemed much more sympathetic to his arguments.
Katyal argued that the the activity being regulated was “participation in the health care market” which he described as a virtually “universal feature of human existence.” Thus, they were only regulating the financing of health care, since ultimately everybody will purchase it.
The government is “not asking people to buy something they otherwise might not buy,” Katyal said. He said the distinction between health care and insurance was “artificial.”
So mandating that everyone in the country purchase health insurance or pay a fine isn't actually requiring any person to purchase something they wouldn't otherwise buy? Sure. OK. Granted, Katyal did say the mandate wasn't "asking" anyone to buy something. And that's true! The mandate isn't a request. It's a requirement.
The argument, I gather, is that the individual in question would presumably be participating in the health care market at some point anyway. One problem with this argument is that it sweeps in absolutely everyone, no exceptions. It also raises the by-now-familiar question: If a health insurance mandate is legal because virtually everyone will eventually purchase some sort of health care, then would a broccoli mandate be legal because virtually everyone will participate in food markets? It's not a trick question, but it is one I think the mandate's supporters should have to answer, if only to see who's willing to stand by the ultimate logic of the argument. The Obama administration's lawyers have so far dodged the question by saying it's not applicable because health insurance is a "financing mechanism" and not a truck, a vegetable, or shoes. But Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, who believes the mandate is obviously constitutional, says the answer to the broccoli question is yes! If the administration wants the power to mandate the purchase of broccoli, then it should say so too.
Reason's Nick Gillespie will be on CNN's In the Arena tonight at 8pm ET, talking Bin Laden's death, immigration reform, and President Obama's ratings with host Eliot Spitzer and Nation mag editor Katrina vanden Heuvel.
From the last time, when Gillespie debated intervention in Libya and beyond:
The Week has come out with its 8th annual Opinion Awards–"the only awards recognizing and celebrating the nation's best opinion writing"–and I'm pleased to exclusively reveal that Radley Balko was selected as one of seven finalists for Columnist of the Year. He's up against Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Nicholas Kristof, Peggy Noonan, and Tim Rutten. Read Radley's Reason archive here, and make sure to follow him when he re-starts his column later this month at The Huffington Post.
Beloved former Reasoner and current Slater David Weigel is also a nominee, for Blogger of the Year, where he'll be duking it out with Tyler Cowen, Digby, Reihan Salam, Greg Sargent, John Sides, Andrew Sullivan, and Matthew Yglesias. Read Weigel's Reason archive here, including his account of attending the 2008 awards ceremony.
AFL-CIO blusterer in chief Dick Trumka takes both barrels from In These Times reporter and labor organizer Mike Elk over his loyalty to the Democratic Party:
Trumka said that labor had not been “aggressive enough” in pushing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would give workers the option to unionize via card check rather than elections. The AFL-CIO even backed a primary challenge to Blanche Lincoln after she failed to back EFCA. (Although it was the only primary against a Democrat opposed to labor interests last years, and many claim labor’s decision to primary her was made easy by polls that showed her already losing in a landslide in the general election.)
When Trumka’s decision to oppose something actually mattered, he dropped the tough talk and did whatever the Democratic Party asked of him. Trumka threatened that the AFL-CIO might not support the final healthcare reform if it did not include a public option, an employer mandate, and was free of tax on healthcare plans. The final healthcare bill failed to do any of those three things—indeed, the healthcare bill President Obama signed into law in early 2010 hurt union members whose benefits would be taxed under the plan.
Trumka not only supported the bill, but threatened Democrat lawmakers on the left who were on the fence about supporting the bill.
I interviewed Trumka at the October 2 2010 One Nation Coming Together Rally and asked him about whether he would criticize the Democratic senators who blocked a vote on ending those tax cuts in his speech. He said: "No I won't, today is about America coming together. This is not a day for a politics." Later in his speech, Trumka would indeed talk politics, but only by urging rally participants to get out and vote for Democrats without denouncing any of their bad policies.
Similarly, AFL-CIO was mute in criticizing CEOs close to the president who continued to export jobs overseas. After a speech at the National Press Club, I asked Trumka if he was upset with Obama for meeting with some of the leading job exporters in the United States and not denouncing them. Trumka responded: “We aren’t going to denounce the president in public for meeting with the CEOs. The president doesn’t communicate well with me in the press. I talk in private with the president about these matters."
As Elk points out, the AFL-CIO has always been Janus-faced in its support for Democrats, dating back to George Meany in the 1960s. But assuming the peons could replace Trumka with someone who wasn't Beltway baptized, then what? Would the AFL-CIO oppose electable Democrats and risk getting more Scott Walkers? Doubtful.
Last week the Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper Di Tzeitung ran an official White House photo of 13 administration officials receiving "an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room"—except that in Di Tzeitung's version, two of the officials were missing: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason. What do they have in common? Hint: It starts with v and rhymes with Mulva. The paper has a policy against publishing images of women because they might be "sexually suggestive."
Jason Miller notes a similar incident in 2009, when the Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman, catering to the sensibilities of its haredi readers, clumsily stuck men's heads on the bodies of two female Cabinet members.
[Thanks to Jaime Aron for the tip. Thanks to Nomic for noting that Der should have been Di.]
The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro was in court today in Richmond, Virginia, where the 4th Circuit became the first federal appellate court to hear legal challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Here’s his take on ObamaCare's day in court:
The Fourth Circuit judges—a Clinton appointee and two Obama appointees, in a random selection unfortunate to the challengers—struggled with the idea that Congress could regulate “inactivity.” The government—which has now determined that the challenges are so serious as to send the solicitor general to argue in lower courts—claimed that Congress can do anything it wants relating to anything that in any way affects a national market such as that for health care. Given that decisions not to buy insurance, or to self-insure, or not to pay for health care until presented with a bill, clearly have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, the argument went, Congress can require people to buy health insurance. The judges seemed to agree to a certain e