In today's Arizona Republic, Reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie and Reason magazine Editor Matt Welch write an essay-slash-excerpt from The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, titled "Free minds and spirits threaten 2 parties' grip." Here's how it begins:
A growing majority of us have responded to the dysfunctional theatrics of Republican and Democratic misgovernance by making a rational choice.
We ignore politics most of the time[.]
Read the whole thing here.
The results are in from the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, and Michele Bachmann has emerged victorious with 4,823 votes. Ron Paul, the only bearable candidate in the running (*), finished a very close second with 4,671. A more distant third place went to alleged contender Tim Pawlenty, and the fourth slot went to Rick Santorum, whose campaign intended to make a strong showing at the straw poll but in a terrible mix-up bought tickets to the Gathering of the Juggalos instead. (**)
Does the Ames event mean much? The conventional wisdom is that it doesn't, but Nate Silver has made a reasonable argument that its predictive track record isn't bad -- not for forecasting the party nominee (who I strongly doubt will be Bachmann) but for showing who has a good chance in the Iowa caucuses. "A relatively low number of Iowans participate" in the straw poll, Silver acknowledges, "but that is also true for the caucuses, a cumbersome exercise which has notoriously low turnout. A candidate's financial position might help him to induce people to vote in the straw poll by buying their tickets and busing them to the event -- but money also helps to secure votes in a variety of ways when the real caucuses takes place. And a candidate's willingness to spend time in Iowa is helpful both in the straw polls and in the caucuses." So while Ames is by no means a perfect precognicator (***), it picks up "a variety of 'intangible' factors that don't show up well in other variables, and therefore serves a useful role as a leading indicator."
One variable that didn't show up in Ames: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the presidential race with a speech in South Carolina today. Perry didn't have an official presence at the straw poll, but he nonetheless attracted 718 write-in votes -- better than frontrunner Mitt Romney's 567.
* I can bear Gary Johnson too, but he didn't make an effort
** That was a joke.
*** Confession: I made that word up.
One takeaway from last night’s presidential debate was that unskilled Mexican workers—you know, the ones who mow your lawns, build your homes, bring you X-mas trees and raise your children for wages barely enough to have lawns, homes, trees or children of their own—are the new untouchables of American society. They have a lower status than gays, the unborn, submissive women—and white males! Not a single candidate stood up for them.
Every question evoked some disagreement from some candidate—whether it was allowing civil unions, keeping abortion legal, going to war in Afghanistan or imposing sanctions on Iran. But on two questions there was so much unanimity on stage that you could almost hear the strains of kumbaya over the woofing between Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty: One, all of them said they would have walked away from any debt-ceiling deal that included any tax increases whatsoever, even one that offered $10 or so in spending cuts for $1 in tax increases. But one or more candidate was almost certainly lying about this (I’m looking at you Mitt Romney and John Huntsman). Two, they all agreed that illegal immigration was the bane of America and “securing our border” has to precede comprehensive immigration reform. And about this, unfortunately, I don’t think anyone was lying.
Herman Cain said that we have to secure our borders “by any means necessary” although, apparently, he was only joking when he said that the means ought to include a 20-foot-barbed-wire-electrified fence in addition to a moat with alligators. (Ha, ha. Funny. ROTFL. Hey, I can take a joke, America!) Mitt Romney basically agreed although, to his credit, he tried to change the subject to skilled immigration, saying that it would behoove America to staple a green card to the degree of a foreign student who, say, got a Ph.D. in Physics from an American university. But most disappointing was Ron Paul. He likes to talk in fundamentals about every other issue, but betrayed absolutely no grasp of the fundamental reasons driving illegal immigration.
So here it is for future reference, Dr. Paul et al. What's driving this "problem" is our insane, irrational, and cruel immigration system.
The way this system works right now is that the American government has imposed a blanket ban on immigration. But then it selectively relaxes this ban for certain categories of favored people among whom “unskilled” Third World workers are not included. Indeed, as this Reason Foundation chart shows, there are virtually no legal avenues for “unskilled” aliens to work and permanently live in this country.
For starters, it is literally impossible for poor aliens to get temporary work visas such as the H-2A or H-2B to lawfully enter. That’s because Uncle Sam hands out only a few thousand such visas annually when the demand—before the American economy went down the tube, that is— was in the millions.
And that’s the best part of the system. The worst is that in order to get a visa, poor people have to effectively prove they are not poor. Indeed, they have to show that they have enough assets and connections that they would return home once their job in the U.S. is done. But if they had all that, they wouldn’t really need to come to the U.S. and work for scraps in the first place, would they?
But even if they somehow manage to get the visa, they can’t apply for a green card or permanent residency while working in the Unites States legally. "So what," one might say. What’s so wrong about having them go back to their country and applying for a green card? Nothing at all, except that Uncle Sam won’t accept green card applications from people abroad (other than in the rare instance when they have family members already in the United States willing to sponsor them)!
To recap, then, the United States hands out very few work visas to poor, unskilled aliens. When it does, it requires them to jump through hoops that are virtually impossible for them to jump through. If they somehow manage to jump through them, they are barred from actually applying for permanent residency.
Is there any surprise then that there are 11 million people illegally living in the country?
But what do our venerable candidates suggest we do to fix this system? Erect more walls and fences and barriers.
So here is my question for the candidates for the next debate: “If you were a poor, Third World immigrant, what would you need to do to legally work and live in the United States? You have one minute."
I’ll cook dinner or mow the lawn—but only up to one acre—of any candidate who answers that correctly.
After the murder of his 24-year-old son, Mexican poet Javier Sicilia—who considers the drug war a moral issue, not a political one—played a prominent role in inspiring thousands in Mexico to march in protest last spring. The marchers demanded an end to President Felipe Calderon's confrontational, militarized dealings with cartels which have led to 35,000 dead since 2006.
In an interview with Yes! Magazine in July, Sicilia channels Camus and rather poetically diagnoses the problem at the heart of the rationale for the war on drugs.
The politicians are formulating the drug problem as an issue of national security, but it is an issue of public health. If from the very beginning drugs were decriminalized, drug lords would be subjected to the iron laws of the market. That would have controlled them. That would have allowed us to discover our drug addicts and offer them our love and our support. That would not have left us with 40,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared and 120,000 displaced…
The war is caused by puritan mentalities: like those of [Mexican President Felipe] Calderón and [former U.S. President George] Bush. In the name of abstractions—the abstraction of saving youth from drug addiction—they have brutally assassinated thousands of young people, while transforming others into delinquents. [Emphasis added.]
Albert Camus spoke a terrible truth. “I know something worse than hate: abstract love.” In the name of abstract love, in the name of God and Country, in the name of saving the youth from the drug, in the name of the proletariat, in the name of abstractions, our politicians and war policy makers have committed the most atrocious crimes on human beings, who are not abstractions, who are bones and flesh. That is what our country is living and suffering today: in the name of an abstract goodness, we are suffering the opposite: the horror of war and violence, of innocents dead, disappeared, and mutilated.
For more, read Reason's Mike Riggs on how much legalizing drugs would do to hinder cartel violence on the border.
(Hat-tip to Bob Scott for the interview link).
As the Ames Straw Poll approaches, GOP presidential hopefuls are rolling up the sleeves of their brand new flannel shirts and scrambling to be “the guy you want to have a beer with.” But thanks to outdated regulations and onerous taxes, Harry Graver writes, it’s tougher to get a beer in Iowa than you might think—no matter whom you’re drinking with.View this article
Liberal and progressive activists were pleased back in June when conservative 6th Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton voted to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate as a lawful exercise of Congress’ power “to regulate commerce...among the several states.” Now conservatives and libertarians have a Sutton of their own. As Peter Suderman reported earlier, the 11th Circuit today became the first federal appellate court to strike down the individual mandate. And notably, one of the two judges who joined that majority opinion was Clinton appointee Judge Frank Hull. Party affiliation means much less than judicial philosophy, of course, but for those keeping track the cross-partisan score is now even. And since we already have an excerpt from the majority opinion, here’s how dissenting Judge Stanley Marcus (also a Clinton appointee) justifies his solo vote in favor of upholding the individual mandate:
In the process of striking down the mandate, the majority has ignored many years of Commerce Clause doctrine developed by the Supreme Court. It has ignored the broad power of Congress, in the words of Chief Justice Marshall, “to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed.” Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 196 (1824). It has ignored the undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries, and is now generally accepted as having afforded Congress the authority to create rules regulating large areas of our national economy. It has ignored the Supreme Court’s expansive reading of the Commerce Clause that has provided the very foundation on which Congress already extensively regulates both health insurance and health care services. And it has ignored the long-accepted instruction that we review the constitutionality of an exercise of commerce power not through the lens of formal, categorical distinctions, but rather through a pragmatic one, recognizing, as Justice Holmes put it over one hundred years ago, that “commerce among the states is not a technical legal conception, but a practical one, drawn from the course of business.” Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U.S. 375, 398 (1905).
The approach taken by the majority has also disregarded the powerful admonitions that acts of Congress are to be examined with a heavy presumption of constitutionality, that the task at hand must be approached with caution, restraint, and great humility, and that we may not lightly conclude that an act of Congress exceeds its enumerated powers. The circumspection this task requires is underscored by recognizing, in the words of Justice Kennedy, the long and difficult “history of the judicial struggle to interpret the Commerce Clause during the transition from the economic system the Founders knew to the single, national market still emergent in our own era.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 568 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring).
ObamaCare is now one giant step closer to the Supreme Court.
It's common enough to blame youth violent crime on the increasing popularity of violent video games. But the massive declines in violent crime since the emergence of realistic violent games suggests that, at minimum, games haven't caused more crime. And if anything, the opposite may be true. Erik Kain notes that large drops in the violent crimes have coincided with the rise of video game culture:
The fact that crime has been dropping for the past twenty years (along with things like teen pregnancy, etc. as I noted above) while more and more young people consume more and more video games should put a lie to the notion that video games actually increase crime and violence. I did a little Googling and found this paper by Adam Thierer [pdf] which doesn’t exactly support the idea that more video game consumption has directly contributed to less crime, but certainly suggests that it’s a possibility.
Kain also points to Gerald Jones's book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe, and suggests that video games may provide a sort of role-playing outlet for children to safely act out violent impulses:
Maybe playing video games or getting into these role-playing situations where you can be the villain, the monster, the criminal, or even the hero, the special-ops troop, and so forth is an important way to develop another kind of empathy – an empathy with the person we could be or would like to be, or at least to explore that part of ourselves that we will never become – maybe so that we never become it.
I think you have to pair this idea with the multiple studies showing that access to pornography in specific and violent entertainment in general reduces the prevalence of rape. Violent entertainment seems to contain violent impulses, not unleash them.
More on the effects of porn availability on rape from Steve Chapman here. Read Jacob Sullum on the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down laws restricting the sale of violent games to minors here.
No, Congress can't just decree that individuals must buy a private product, even if the market has unique properties. To do so would be more than unprecedented; it would be an unconstitutional overreach. That's the gist of what an 11th Circuit appeals court said today when it ruled in favor of 26 state governments by saying that the federal requirement to purchase health insurance contained in last year's health care overhaul is unconstitutional. From the ruling:
The individual mandate exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power and is unconstitutional. This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives. We have not found any generally applicable, judicially enforceable limiting principle that would permit us to uphold the mandate without obliterating the boundaries inherent in the system of enumerated congressional powers. “Uniqueness” is not a constitutional principle in any antecedent Supreme Court decision.
However, the panel, made up of two Democratic appointees and one GOP-appointed judge, did overturn lower court Judge Roger Vinson's decision to invalidate the entire law, preferring to strike only the mandate and related provisions.
Should the official price tag for last year’s health care law have been almost $500 billion higher? A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week suggests that either the cost may either be much higher than expected—or the law’s vaunted coverage expansion will be much smaller.
ObamaCare sets up new health insurance exchanges, but under the law, not everyone has access to the exchanges and their middle-class insurance subsidies: Those who can get insurance from their employers are prohibited from buying subsidized insurance on the exchanges—unless, that is, their employer’s insurance is deemed “unaffordable,” which is currently defined as equal to more than 9.5 percent of the employee’s income. Otherwise, however, employees with access to insurance through their jobs are barred from the exchanges—and the generous health insurance subsidies they facilitate.
So the fewer people who have access to the exchange and its subsidies, the less the law costs. But as the NBER paper by Cornell’s Richard Burkhauser and Sean Lyons and Indiana University’s Kosali Simon points out, differing understandings of the affordability requirement’s fine print could dramatically affect the number of people who have access to the exchange subsidies, and thus have major fiscal consequences down the road.
When the Congressional Budget Office delivered the official price tag for the law, they took the Joint Committee on Taxation’s narrow early guidance on how to understand the affordability requirement: As Avik Roy points out at Forbes, when the House took its final vote on the health care law, the CBO relied on JCT guidance that assumed that a relatively small number of people would have their employer’s insurance deemed unaffordable:
JCT defined “unaffordable” coverage as a self-only policy for an individual worker, in which the premiums exceeded 9.5 percent of household income. Because the average cost of an individual-only plan is about one-third that of a family plan, this tweak makes it three times as hard for an employer-sponsored plan to be deemed as “unaffordable.”
Problem is, the JCT’s guidance at the time of the vote seems to have been in error. The month following the vote, analysts at JCT put out a correction updating the affordability standard to one that would likely result in far more employer plans being officially categorized as unaffordable.
What’s that correction worth to taxpayers? According to the NBER paper’s estimates, the strictest possible affordability standard—the one that deemed the most insurer plans unaffordable and thus allowed the highest number of people onto the exchanges—would add about $48 billion a year to the cost of the law, or nearly $500 billion over the course of the usual decade-long scoring window. Even under the most generous assumptions about the law’s cost estimates (which aren’t very realistic to begin with), that would devour all of the roughly $140 billion in supposed deficit reduction the law was officially scored to achieve.
Now, it's not a given that we'll end up with those higher costs. As others have noted, the authors of the report aren't quite offering predictions about what will happen. Instead, they're estimating the potential range of costs, from most expensive to least, depending on how the law is implemented. So it's possible that we’ll end up toward the lower end of the range, depending on how Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius chooses to proceed.
But landing at the cheaper end of the cost spectrum could undermine other promises made by the law’s defenders—namely the coverage expansion figures. As Roy writes:
If the JCT interpretation is correct, then millions of people who thought they were gaining coverage under the law—spouses and dependents of employed Americans—won’t. If the JCT is wrong, the CBO’s estimates of PPACA’s exchange costs are way too low. Increasing the law’s costs will upset conservatives, but decreasing the law’s coverage expansions will upset progressives...Says Burkhauser, “This is the dilemma. If the HHS Secretary decides that they really did mean single coverage, then you’re going to have several million [people who aren’t going to get coverage under the law]. The family’s [breadwinner] is given affordable coverage, but the families can’t get onto the exchange rolls.”
I can't wait to see what Sebelius does with this one.
It's election season! Time to exploit children for political gain!
Today's entry: This video from Rebuild the Dream, the new organization of former Obama green jobs czar and 9/11 truther Van Jones, in which cute kids mouth bizarrely sophisticated talking points, including words and phrases they almost certainly don't understand, such as "infrastructure," "living wage," and "tax brackets."
A charming tyke with a speech impediment implores viewers to "remove the cap on the social security tax." Another gal with a ponytail wants to "close the revolving door between Washington and high priced lobbyists."
Then the grand finale: A serious child looks into the camera and says "we gotta stop letting corporations be recognized as people. We're the people, they're not!" Then all the kids say "yay!," wave American flags, and start to dance. Seriously.
Excuse me, I have to go kill myself.
But not before I watch this classic Reason.tv video!:
Faced with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, a deeply disgruntled public and a creeping election season, President Barack Obama is hastily "pivoting" away from the debt ceiling debate toward jobs. In Michigan, where the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent, the president recently proclaimed "We know that there are things that we can do right now that will support job growth." Things like building roads, extending unemployment benefits, cutting payroll taxes, and that old standby, clean energy.
Republicans have their own jobs agenda, but mostly prefer to talk trash about the Democrats. "Spurring jobs and the economy is always next on the Obama Administration’s to-do list," sniped Current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in an August 3 blog post, "right after more spending, more taxing, and more regulating."
Meanwhile, the American people are raising a collective skeptical eyebrow at both parties on the employment front. A July Pew Research poll showed an even 39-39 split on which party Americans trust more on jobs. But a CNN/ORC poll released Friday finds that only 29 percent of respondants think there will be more jobs in their communities a year from now—and 26 percent think there will be fewer jobs.
In an effort to produce real free-market ideas for boosting employment, Reason asked Robert Higgs, Deirdre McCloskey, Amity Shlaes, John Stossel, Bruce Bartlett, Jeffrey A. Miron, Peter Schiff, and a host of other economists, writers, professors, and entrepreneurs for one concrete policy change they would recommend that would increase job growth.View this article
Are young people being discriminated against?
Founded in 1968, the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) says yes and works to educate the public on how laws intended to protect young people instead treat them as second-class citizens.
Reason.tv sat down with NYRA’s president Jeffrey Nadel to discuss how drinking, curfew, and other laws punish young adults. Nadel points to New Jersey’s Kyliegh’s law as an example of how the unintended consequences of many laws aimed at protecting youth actually endanger them. The law requires drivers under the age of 21 to have a red decal on the license plates of the vehicles they drive, ostensibly to allow law enforcement to be more protective of them. But the decals have instead lead violent drivers to target those cars; infractions by younger drivers also come with harsher penalties for typical traffic violations. Instead of one-size-fits-all policies that punish responsible youth, Nadel says that decisions about alcohol consumption, work hours, and even voting should be more tailored to individuals, regardless of age.
For more on Kyleigh's Law, read Reason magazine's June 2011 story "Dead Kids Make Bad Laws." And on lowering the drinking age, check out Reason.tv's "21: Is It Time to Lower the Drinking Age" and Reason magazine's "Back to 18."
Interview by Michelle Fields. Shot by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain; edited by Swain.
Approximately 4.18 minutes.
Scroll down for downloadable iPod, HD and audio versions of this and all our videos and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.
Over at the Nobody's Business blog, Mark "Windypundit" Draughn complains about The Declaration of Independents' title, objects to the word "politics" in the subtitle, makes a crack about the "insane amount of promotion" for the book around these parts, and then...proceeds with the most thorough discussion and expansion of the book's ideas yet committed to pixel. And he's still only on Part I! Since Draughn starts with a bill of particulars, I'll cheat and skip to his glowing comment about our passage sketching out a crude definition of libertarianism:
That might be the single best description of the libertarian mindset that I have ever read. It's exactly why I choose to call myself a libertarian. It's not about Ayn Rand or anti-communism or big business or hard money or even non-coercion. It's because I want us all to live in a world that is "tolerant, free, prosperous, vibrant, and interesting."
See what he's talking about at the link.
So what did noted libertarian writer/conversationalist Todd Seavey think about the book? I'm late in linking to it, but here goes:
It will likely come as no surprise that I loved Declaration of Independents – and admittedly I know or have met several people mentioned above including the authors – but let the record show that I don't love just everything that libertarians spew out. This book, like a 240-page version of a wiseass Gillespie aside, is downright exhilarating in its contempt for the usual two factions in what it terms our stagnant and likely-doomed political "duopoly." It gives one hope that sheer stupidity does eventually bring collapse and renewal. If so, the stupid, one-size-fits-all behemoth called government is plainly overdue for implosion. Perhaps the current debt crisis will be the long-awaited moment.
If not, though, the book gives one hope that we will find ever-multiplying ways to route our lives around the sinkhole that is politics and find happiness. It even gives me hope that people less ideologically inclined to agree with all this might find the book persuasive. I look forward to hearing reactions from non-libertarians, but first they should read it, in large numbers.
It was thirteen years ago (though it feels like yesterday) that a previous Reason editor, Virginia Postrel, suggested ditching the right-left spectrum in favor of a dynamism-stasis spectrum (in her book The Future and Its Enemies), and her editorial successors, Gillespie and Welch, have taken things up a notch here, saying in effect, "Who needs political spectrums at all? Go do your own thing."
Let's do that, and if it confuses the usual commentators, politicians, pollsters, and academic analysts, so much the better.
And here's an excerpt from a review by Charles Thornton:
It is a fascinating book to say the least. [...]
The authors make the case for the power of freedom by looking at how it has played out in several instances. Some of these chapters were very interesting and I have to admit I got lost in the details of other chapters. For instance, there was a chapter on the role rock and roll played in fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. I got totally confused reading this one. On the other hand the story of how Southwest Airlines changed the airline industry was inspiring.
This is a very intriguing book. I recommend it.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lobbyists issue the "Dirty Dozen" list each year warning consumers which fruits and vegetables they should avoid because they are allegedly contaminated with dangerous amounts of pesticide residues. EWG promises:
The Shopper's Guide to Pesticide in Produce will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce.
A new study published in the Journal of Toxicology by researchers at the University of California, Davis, says that EWG's list amounts to bogus scaremongering. The researchers find that EWG's analysis is scientifically bunk. The highest level of pesticide residue was found on bell peppers. Should consumers worry? Not at all. As the researchers point out:
The highest relative exposure for a pesticide/commodity combination was for the organophosphate insecticide methamidophos on bell peppers. The RfD [chronic reference doses] for methamidophos was still 49.5 times higher than the exposure estimate, indicating a large measure of consumer protection.... an exposure of 49.5 times lower than the RfD still represents an exposure 49,500 times lower than exposures to methamidophos in laboratory animals that still have not resulted in any adverse health effects.
Note that the chronic reference dose (RfD) represents an estimate of the amount of a chemical a person could be exposed to on a daily basis throughout the person's lifetime that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of harm. In other words, in the worst case scenario in which a person eats "contaminated" bell peppers every day for the rest of his or her life, he or she would not be exposed to an amount of pesticide residue that would plausibly harm his or her health.
The bottom line of the study is:
It is concluded that (1) exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities pose negligible risks to consumers, (2) substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks, and (3) the methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.
The scientifically honest thing to do would be for EWG to stop misleading consumers and take down its phony list.
Hat tip Raymond Eckhart.
- GOP Presidential candidates threw cold water on each other last night at the Iowa Fair Grounds. Any more debates like last night, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is going to be president.
- WaPo fact-checks the slap-fest.
- L.A. Times: "Fullerton's acting police chief acknowledged Thursday that the department had allowed police officers involved in a deadly encounter with a homeless man to watch a video that captures the incident before writing their reports about it."
- CNN: The Orange County DA who earlier this week said he was not going to bring the Fullerton Six up on attempted murder charges, and then said that he hadn't actually made a decision, is now promising "fair results."
- U.S. Special Forces trained Mexican troops in Colorado.
- Appointment to the congressional "super committee" charged with fixing all of America's problems makes for a great fundraising hook.
New at Reason.tv: "You're Killing Me! Was a police-related jailhouse death an accident or a homicide?"
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok looks at the state of American politics.View this article
Minnesota nice is now Minnesota mean: At the GOP presidential debate in Iowa tonight, the two Minnesotans on the stage—Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michelle Bachmann—didn’t quite come to blows, but at times they seemed awfully close.
When Pawlenty, after prodding, doubled down on a prior claim that Bachmann has no record of results, Bachmann responded with a recitation of Pawlenty’s lowlights: Support for cap-and-trade, a long-ago flirtation with an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, and an old declaration that “the era of small government is over.”
Pawlenty responded by attacking Bachmann’s “record of making false statements”—and by expanding on his argument that, for all her rhetorical volume, her frequent attacks on liberal policies had produced nothing of substance. She may have led the fights against ObamaCare and raising the debt limit, but those fights, Pawlenty pointed out, were lost. “If that’s your idea of effective leadership, please stop,” he said. “Because you’re killing us.”
The audience seemed possibly ready to kill questioner Byron York after he asked Bachmann whether, as president, she’d continue to be a “submissive” wife—as she’s said she is now. The crowd booed, and Bachmann waited it out before answering gently: "I respect my husband,” she said, confidently avoiding the question. “He's a wonderful godly man. And we respect each other."
Several of the candidates, though, seemed to have little respect for the panel moderators. Pressed about the constitutional basis for the individual mandate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got snippy, and argued that it wasn't the U.S. Constitution that mattered. “Are you familiar with the Massachusetts constitution? I am,” he all but sneered before proceeding to note that states force people to do all sorts of things, like make children attend school. Why should buying health insurance be any different?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, twice accused questioners of posing “gotcha” questions—including once for being asked about his conflicting statements both for and against the Libyan no-fly zone. Pushed to answer, he rambled, dissembled, and then insisted that we should “rethink” our entire approach to the conflict. After all, he said, he's running a campaign based on ideas. I suspect it won’t be long before he starts to rethink his troubled candidacy.
Former Pennsylvania Senator and social conservative stalwart Rick Santorum literally had to remind the audience that he was still on stage—waving his hands at one point as if to say “I’m still here!” and grousing repeatedly about the relatively low number of questions thrown his way. Sure, he was there, but you have to wonder why: Santorum’s primary mission seemed to be defending every last aspect of the GOP’s authoritarian streak: militarism in the Middle East, hyper-moralism at home, federal authority over marriage and the states. He bragged about his hawkishness and got in a drawn-out squabble with Ron Paul about the 10th amendment.
Ah yes. Ron Paul was there too. And he acted, well, a lot like Ron Paul usually does: forceful sometimes, rambling others, frequently both at the same time: He naysayed the non-cuts in the final debt deal and answered a question about immigration with partially explained references to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and international drug dealers. He reiterated his dislike for amnesty, and allowing illegal immigrants to vote, but he doesn’t want to force employers to play immigration cops either. For Paul, it’s as much a question of emphasis as anything: “Why,” he asked, “do we pay more attention to the borders over seas and less attention to the borders at home?” Paul's own biggest hang-up came from a question about his longtime professional backyard: the halls of the Capitol. After making a case for far more comprehensive spending cuts, including to the wars, he paused, unsure of himself, when asked whether he could get his plan through a divided Congress.
Jon Huntman tried to avoid divisive talk about civil unions, arguing that his support for them didn't mean those who disagreed were in any way wrong. Civil unions are a good idea. Or a bad one. Whichever one you pick, he thinks you're right. I guess that's what makes him a moderate.
There were no divisions amongst the Republicans about tax hikes, though: Every single one raised their hand to signal they’d turn down a deal that cut 10 dollars of spending in exchange for one dollar of tax increases. Even if it balanced the budget, and the new tax revenues came entirely from closing targeted tax giveaways and loopholes? Apparently.
After a deep-dish response in the last debate, former Godfather’s exec Herman Cain didn’t mention pizza this time around, but he did declare at one point that “America's got to learn how to take a joke.” A lot of Republicans, at least, will probably need to: They’ll be voting for one of these candidates.
Tonight, live from New York City, a special two-hour episode of the fabulous Stossel show on Fox Business Network will feature post-GOP-debate analysis from yours truly, Steve Forbes, Nicki Kurokawa Neily, and Deroy Murdock. The fun begins at 10 pm ET, at which point at least you will already be drunk.
Read John Stossel's latest Reason column here. And here's a bit of randomness, from four years ago last week, just after the last time GOP hopefuls and hope-empties slung the cornpone in Iowa: "It's 2011 and Ron Paul Is President."
30 Minutes or Less is a dopey film, one you can imagine being cooked up over the course of a beery Hollywood weekend. The story concerns two idiots who shanghai a not-much-brighter pizza delivery guy, strap him with a vest full of explosives, and force him to rob a bank for them or they’ll use their vest-bomb remote to turn him into a drifting red mist. The plot is nothing more than a rickety scaffold on which to drape a succesion of gags, says Kurt Loder—and that's OK.View this article
Today, while standing on a bunch of hay bales (Why, Iowa? Why?) Mitt Romney slapped on a smile and went to town on some hecklers.
(Click on the image for the non-embeddable video, and skip to the 4:00 mark)
This exchange resulted:
ROMNEY: We have to make sure that the promises we make—and Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare—are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is, we could raise taxes on people.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Corporations!
ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We can raise taxes on—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, they’re not!
ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn also goes to people.
ROMNEY: Where do you think it goes?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It goes into their pockets!
ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets! Human beings, my friend. So number one, you can raise taxes. That’s not the approach that I would take.
Romney doesn't mean that corporations are entitled to some of the legal rights of people in the Citizens United sense. He means it in the sense that the money made by corporations flows in and out of human hands—or pockets, in the language of the heckler who hoisted himself on his own metaphorical petard.
People are already mocking Romney for this supposed gaffe, but even TNR's Jonathan Chait grants that Romney is right on this point—although Chait is careful to point out that corporations are made of people who are richer than average.
Another bonus moment from the same event that almost tempted me to like Romney a little:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You came here to listen to the people!
ROMNEY: Nope, I came here to speak.
When social disorder rears its head, the political class usually offers two responses: more policing and more welfare. (These tend to be presented as radically opposed social visions, though you can easily read "more policing" as "the sort of welfare administered by a prison" and "more welfare" as "the sort of policing performed by a social worker.") In his statement to the House of Commons on the riots that have swept his country, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a policy from the police-state side of the spectrum:
Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.
Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.
And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.
So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
And how exactly would the authorities "stop" the people they "know" are using social media "for ill" without restricting or surveilling the users acting "for good"? Answer: They can't. This would be an attack on the speech and privacy of everyone in the United Kingdom, not just the people who burn buildings and rob shops.
It is certainly true that the rioters have used social media to organize themselves. The difference between their free-flowing communications and the cops' much more centralized system makes it clear just how dramatically a hierarchy can be outperformed by a network. But it takes an especially stunted mindset to see that contrast and conclude that everyone needs to be herded into a hierarchy. Maybe, just maybe, a decentralized problem demands a decentralized response.
We've already seen several spontaneous examples of such a response. Ordinary people organized community cleanups quickly and efficiently using the same networks employed by the rioters. Civilians also used social media for self-defense—and I don't just mean the neighbors who banded together to protect their communities while Cameron's cops were being so ineffective. How many people looked at those rapidly updated maps of riot activity and changed their movements accordingly? Wouldn't it make more sense to build on such successes than to lock up the tools that made them possible?
If social media made it easier to riot, they also made it easier to survive the riots, and they did so at a time when the institutions that were supposed to ensure survival were in disarray. It's no surprise that people like Cameron would respond to the failure of centralized authority by calling for yet more centralization of authority. But if his suggestion becomes a concrete proposal, I hope the rest of Britain won't let itself be stampeded into saying yes.
The sad thing about the Save Our Schools rally at which Matt Damon came unhinged on Reason.tv was that he was the most sensible speaker there, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia reports in her later column at The Daily. Among the others were Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who aimed a broadside at every ill in American society: poverty, segregation—and volunteer teachers. Then there was Sam Anderson, a founding member of the Black Panther Party, who advocated a Black-Latino alliance to “eradicate the onslaught of privatization” in education. However, she notes:
Notwithstanding its radical billing, SOS is not a force against the establishment but an agent for the status quo… The only radical thing the organization wants is radical unaccountability. Its entire “reform” agenda amounts to: More money, fewer questions.
New tests analyzing fetal DNA found in a pregnant woman's blood can identify a fetus' sex as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy. As the New York Times reported:
The appeal of the test, which analyzes fetal DNA found in the mother’s blood, is that it can establish sex weeks earlier than other options, like ultrasound, and is noninvasive, unlike amniocentesis and other procedures that carry small risks of miscarriage. The finding came in a study published online Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. ...
The journal study analyzed reams of research on fetal DNA tests — 57 studies involving about 6,500 pregnancies — and found that carefully conducted tests could determine sex with accuracy of 95 percent at 7 weeks to 99 percent at 20 weeks.
The study “has wide-reaching implications,” said Dr. Louise Wilkins-Haug, director for maternal-fetal medicine and reproductive genetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the research. “Individuals need to be careful” to ensure that companies use rigorous laboratory procedures and support accuracy claims with data, she added.
One potential worry is that women might abort fetuses of an undesired sex. Several companies do not sell tests in China or India, where boys are prized over girls and fetuses found to be female have been aborted.
In response to the study, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan asserts:
Should genetic testing -- in combination with abortion -- purely for sex selection be part of medicine? Is it ethical to end a pregnancy because you don’t want a girl? The answer to both questions is "no." Being male or female is not a disease or a disorder. Wanting a boy is a preference, but it is not one that justifies ending a pregnancy.
But ending a pregnancy because you don’t want a girl may be legal in the U.S., but that does not make it an ethical choice. As hard as it may be for some people to comprehend, there can be good and bad reasons to end a pregnancy. Gender preference is a bad reason.
Perhaps. But assuming that abortion remains legal, does that mean that such tests should be outlawed? Writing with refererence to using pre-implantation genetic selection of embryos, Oxford University bioethicist Julian Savulescu has warned:
The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people's reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority. Not offering selection for nondisease genes would indirectly interfere (by denying choice) to promote social ideals such as equality or 'population welfare.' There is no relevant difference between direct and indirect eugenics. The lesson we learned from eugenics is that society should be loath to interfere (directly and indirectly) in reproductive decisionmaking.
Savulescu's argument also applies in this case.
The recent police-related deaths of 43-year-old Allen Kephart in Lake Arrowhead, California and 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, California have sent shockwaves through the their respective communities. Indeed, both are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The death of Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic beaten into a coma by Fullerton police, is also being investigated by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. His case is not the first time Orange County law enforcement has been accused of applying excessive force to a mentally ill homeless man.
In October 2007, 28-year-old Michael Patrick Lass was living on the streets of Santa Ana when police stopped him for having an open container of alcohol. At the time of his arrest he was alcohol-dependent, schizophrenic, bipolar, and had a history of seizures.
The altercation that led to Lass's death took place at the Orange County Central Jail, where Lass was sentenced to serve five days after pleading guilty to public intoxication. The day Lass would have been able to leave he felt ill and asked for medical attention. Lass was ordered to leave his cell and after repeatedly looking over his shoulder while being directed by a deputy, he was tackled to the ground and a melee ensued.
“He wasn't fighting or anything and he was already in a contained area, locked in a contained area,” Lass's father Frederick, says of the incident. “Immediately there was a second deputy there, a third deputy, a fourth, a fifth, and on and on it went. There was so many deputies that you couldn't count how many deputies were there.”
Lass was shocked with a Taser nine times and the county's autopsy said he had multiple contusions on his body, “involving the head, neck, torso and extremities.” The struggle was captured on film. “I can remember viewing the film and at one point while they are beating him Michael tells them, 'You're killing me.' Literally: 'You're killing me',” says Frederick Lass.
Frederick Lass sued Orange County and six deputies involved in the incident. Although neither was found liable in that case, Orange County later revised its Taser policy so that deputies would not be able to use Tasers on restrained suspects unless they display "overtly assaultive behavior."
While an improvement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California says the policy didn't go far enough. Executive Director Hector Villagra sent a letter to Sheriff Hutchens in January 2009 urging still-stricter use of Tasers, pointing to five people who have died since 2005 after being stung with the weapon.
Like the cases of Allen Kephart and Kelly Thomas, the death while in custody of Michael Patrick Lass raises troubling questions about police procedures - and the power of surveillance videos to shine a bright light on the workings of the criminal justice system.
The following video includes graphic violence and viewer discretion is advised.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera: Paul Detrick, Zach Weissmueller, and Alex Manning; edited by Detrick.
Special Thanks: Frederick Lass.
Music by Audionautix.com.
President Obama has declared that auto companies' fleets must average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, almost double the current 27.5. Standing at his side when he made the announcement were executives from the Big Three automakers. They're happy to agree to stupid rules, since they are now dependent on government favors. Obama said that under his new rule, "everyone wins. Consumers pay less for fuel, the economy as a whole runs more efficiently." John Stossel begs to differ.View this article
Many people are excited about Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Michele Bachmann, but while procrastinating before diving into the 9,000-word monster, I came across something of note in the same issue of the magazine (yes, that's the cover on the right). Namely, a startling (and startlingly familiar) unanimity of opinion when it comes to economic policy. To wit:
John Cassidy, in the lead comment:
A political system that responded rationally to the country's problems would be concentrating on creating jobs. Washington is moving in the opposite direction: toward austerity and job cuts. [...]
[T]he downgrade should not be allowed to distract attention from the unemployment crisis. What is needed, and what the system appears unable to deliver, is short-term action on jobs and credible long-term deficit reduction. About the best that can be said of the debt-ceiling agreement is that it doesn't entail major spending cuts for this year or next. [...]
A substantive jobs bill is what's called for, and the White House should send one to Congress as soon as possible after it returns from the summer recess.
What sort of policies might make a real dent in unemployment? Providing subsidies to businesses that hire new workers is one. Extending extra tax cuts to firms that build new factories and offices is another. More radical ideas include investing in infrastructure projects, importing a version of the job-sharing scheme that Germany has used, and launching a national community-service program. Most of these things would involve the federal government's borrowing and spending more money, but that, of course, is what governments are supposed to do in an economic downturn. [...]
The real barrier to a meaningful jobs program is not the markets or the ratings agencies but the G.O.P.
James Surowiecki, in his "Financial Page" column:
Even though the spending cuts are backloaded, so that the major ones are still more than a year away, they will likely hit precisely the kind of public spending—on infrastructure, basic research, and defense—from which corporate America reaps great, if often unacknowledged, benefits. More important, the debt-ceiling fight made clear that, even as the economy struggles to avoid recession, no help can be expected from Washington. President Obama may be talking about the need to create jobs, but, with the advocates of austerity in charge, it's hard to see where support for any new government initiatives is going to come from. Indeed, it's possible that Republicans will block the extension of unemployment-insurance benefits and of the current payroll-tax cut. That would deliver a significant hit to the economy next year. And the austerity advocates will also be emboldened in their attacks on the Federal Reserve, which they argue has been overly loose in its monetary policy (when in fact it's been too tight). The economy needs strong doses of both fiscal and monetary policy. The debt deal makes it more likely that we'll get neither.
Ed "Slut" Schultz, MSNBC host, in a lunch-counter/regular-guy advertisement between the above two pieces:
We don't have a tax problem, we have a revenue problem. We've told American workers they're not valuable anymore, that it's better to do it overseas than it is right here. That's wrong. We need to reinvest in people, reinvest in manufacturing. That's how we're going to turn our economy around.
I put that last bit in for a laff, though the glove does fit.
I don't open up The New Yorker to agree with its economics, and I'm sure the feeling would be mutual. But what's striking here is the absence of any engagement with the critique that we've already been dosing the economy with fiscal and monetary stimulus, we've already been pushing a "jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs" agenda from Washington, and after three full years of this approach (which itself came after an eight-year federal spending binge whose multiplier effect can be scientifically calculated as bupkus), we have...the lowest labor-force participation since 1983.
I understand the counter-arguments, on those occasions when people stir themselves to make them–bailout economics saved us from an unimaginable financial meltdown, the stimulus needed to be several times larger, the Great Credit Unwind is greater and unwindier than we thought. That's why it's important to, you know, engage those counter-arguments.
But what we've largely seen on both the left and the great do-something center these past several days is not a willingness to persuade a skeptical nation, nor to grapple with the many inconvenient real-world after-effects of bailouts and stimuli, but rather a series of petulant declarations of allegedly settled economic facts, accompanied by some general stomping around and a crossing of the arms. To do this in one breath, then in the next condemn the Tea Party tendency as "ideological," strikes me at minimum as being a little lacking on the self-awareness side.
Someone has to be pretty deep in the Land of Denial to spin the Wisconsin recall elections as good news for Democrats. But the Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas rose to the occasion yesterday.
Republicans managed to keep four of the six seats that Democrats and their public union allies had targeted for recall, thwarting Democratic plans to wrest control of the state legislature from GOP hands. Of the two seats that Republicans lost, one was in a solidly Democratic district that a Republican happened to hold only due to a fluke of nature, David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner notes. And the second was held by an alleged adulterer whose wife revealed that he had moved outside his district to live with his young lover.
This would be bad news for the Dems under any circumstances, but it is especially so given that it comes on the heels of their previous failure to boot out conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, despite allegations that he assaulted a fellow justice.
But Moulitsas billed the elections, on which the public sector unions spent a record-setting amount ($35 million, according to Rush Limbaugh), a success because the two paltry seats the Dems won represented a whopping 33 percent pick-up rate. “If we can enjoy a similar ‘loss rate’ in Republican-held districts, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have a huge majority in 2013," he said.
The Daily Kos is entitled to its dreams, but here are the six random lessons of the Badger State’s elections for the reality-bound:
One: Never mis-underestimate the capacity of an ex-wife to screw you.
Two: Democrats whom Republicans have targeted for recall next Tuesday should be afraid, very afraid. Smart money had been giving these Dems an edge even though they are in Republican districts because of expectations that the union get-out-the-vote apparatus would outperform the GOP get-out-the-vote apparatus. But the heavy turnout of Republican voters in this week’s elections puts a huge question mark on that plan.
Three: Regardless of the outcome of next week’s recall elections, the state legislature will remain in Republican hands along with the Supreme Court. This means that the Dems have zero to nil chance of wresting back the collective bargaining rights of public unions that Governor Scott Walker took away.
Four: Given that this is the second defeat for Wisconsin Democrats, a successful recall against Walker next year is likely dead in the water.
Five: Even though Walker is not unscathed, the fact that he took on the public union juggernaut and is still standing to tell the tale will embolden Republican governors in other states such as Nevada, Ohio and Michigan to take on their unions. This could be the beginning of the end of the public unions, precisely the outcome that these elections were supposed to avert.
Six: Voters don’t give a rat’s ass about the Kochtopus-Walker non-connection.
The public mood is moody!
[A] Reuters/Ipsos poll — conducted from last Thursday to Monday — found 73 percent of Americans believe the United States is “off on the wrong track,” and just one in five, 21 percent, think the country is headed in the right direction.
People are disenchanted, dissatisfied, displeased, and disillusioned with what they see as increasing government dysfunction. Nor is it just that they believe the government is failing. It's that there's a widespread agreement that the government should be doing something—something!—not specified but totally different:
One big issue is public concern that the government is failing to address major problems. More than seven in 10 Americans say the federal government is “mostly focused on the wrong things,” a sentiment that is also sharply higher than it was last fall.
...It all adds up to growing disillusionment with the system itself.
Fully 78 percent of those polled are unhappy with the country’s political system, up significantly from two years ago.
How deep does the disillusionment run? For the first time ever, a majority of the public now says that, given the chance, they'd vote to oust their own man or woman in Washington:
Only 41 percent of people questioned say the lawmaker in their district in the U.S. House of Representatives deserves to be re-elected - the first time ever in CNN polling that that figure has dropped below 50 percent. Forty-nine percent say their representative doesn't deserve to be re-elected in 2012. And with ten percent unsure, it's the first time that a majority has indicated that they would boot their representative out of office if they had the chance today.
On Milton Friedman's 99th birthday (and my 43rd!), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran some quotes from an interview the paper conducted with moiself and Nick Gillespie, on the subject of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. Here's an excerpt:
On the book's aims:
Welch -- The intent ... is to encourage ... fence-sitters, to tell them, "Hey, it's OK to jump off this thing" -- that it's not irrational to not feel any sense of affiliation. ... "Republicanoids" and "Democratoids" alike frequently call independents either crazy people or just incredibly ill-informed ... and I think they're wrong.
Gillespie -- We wanted to write a political manifesto that kind of blows up politics. ... (T)he main message is that there are at least two parts to people's lives: There's the realm of politics and there's everything else, and people know, despite economic troubles and high unemployment rates and screwy policies and housing prices in flux and all of that, they know that the nonpolitical part of their lives keeps getting better, and ... we stress ... that politics is a lagging indicator of what's going on in America ... . It's time to kick down the front door ... and bring everything that is good and decent, all that democratization and decentralization of power and decision-making that we have in so much of our lives, to the political arena. And of course the incumbent powers ... a right wing and a left wing, they're going to scream and cry and shout, but they're finished. They're finished. They're the dinosaurs in the La Brea Tar Pits -- they're stuck, they're sinking and they're not climbing out.
"The impasse over the debt ceiling is exactly the problem that is outlined in the book, and the real issue is that we need to get to a point where we start saying, 'What are the first, second and third priorities of government?' And, 'Let's stop (messing) around with the second and third, much less fourth through 10th, priorities of government.'" -- Nick Gillespie
"We've had three, four years of ... disaster Keynesianism, started under Bush and increased under Obama, and you don't have to be an ideologue, you don't have to even have heard of a single Austrian economist ... to look around you and say, 'Hey, you know what, this really hasn't worked.' ... It's created an appetite for people who want to know, 'OK, what's the alternative to all that?'" -- Matt Welch
There's an enormous pile of interviews, reviews, and more over at the Declaration 2011 site.
Spending, debt, and economic growth are the urgent concerns of the day, and Michele Bachmann offers herself as the most fiercely uncompromising candidate on these issues. Steve Chapman reports on a Bachmann speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and asks if it's true, as the candidate claims, that the people around Obama "fear my candidacy more than any other."View this article
- Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers, who has been uncooperative in the investigation of Kelly Thomas case, is taking medical leave due to stress.
- Fullerton Tea Party businessmen push for recall of city councilmembers who they see as in cahoots with Fullerton PD.
- NCAA leaders: "Give athletic conferences the flexibility to give athletes multiyear athletic scholarships (as opposed to single year grants) and to award athletically related financial aid equal to the full cost of attendance at their institutions."
- "More than 160 children are among at least 2,292 people reported killed in U.S. drone attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead."
- St. Pete Times profiles Ron Paul.
- Flashflood takes out 40 feet of border fence.
New at Reason.tv: "Marc Eliot on Reagan in Hollywood"
Reason's Nick Gillespie appeared on Judge Napolitano's Freedom Watch to discuss the Obama administration granting waivers on No Child Left Behind and how voters are growing tired of empty promises by both political parties. Air Date: August 9, 2011.
Gillespie is the author, with Matt Welch, of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, which has been praised by George Will, Forbes, Barron's, and others. Go here for more information.
A dynamite-stuffed pipe-bomb exploded on Monday at the Monterrey Technological Institute's campus in the State of Mexico, on the outskirts of the capital. It apparently injured two professors. Mexican disciples of the Unabomber styling themselves as "Individuals Tending Toward the Savage" are claiming credit. The would-be Savages oppose the development of nanotechnologies. According to the Associated Press the Savages issued a manifesto expressing
...fears that that nanoparticles could reproduce uncontrollably and form a "gray goo" that would snuff out life on Earth.
"When these modified viruses affect the way we live through a nano-bacteriological war, unleashed by some laboratory error or by the explosion of nano-pollution that affects the air, food, water, transport, in short the entire world, then all of those who defend nanotechnology and don't think it is a threat will realize that it was a grave error to let it grow out of control," according to statement.
Just what the world needs - more anti-technology wackos! Damn!
Update: Readers can view the entire manifesto (in Spanish) here.
Creditors don’t like risk. And when a nation acts a little crazy, creditors—and the credit rating agencies that decide which sovereigns are risk-free borrowers—are bound to notice. That’s what happened last week, when credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating from its risk-free AAA status. S&P’s downgrade notice observed two types of erratic behavior from America’s political system. But, writes Associate Editor Peter Suderman, the Obama administration is ignoring the one that matters.View this article
South Korea currently employs more than 30,000 imported English teachers. Now that nation of rabid English-language learners is looking to replace all those expensive meat teachers with squat robots manned from afar by Filipino teachers with fake Caucasian faces:
The bots, named EngKey, can be used as telepresence platforms to bring experienced educators from the Phillipines into the classroom via a small screen at the head of the robot. The Filipino teachers communicate using embedded microphones and speakers. These bots were developed by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and are part of a larger scale automation of English education.
The robots currently cost around 10 million won ($8,700), are one meter tall, and look weirdly like Homestar Runner—from whom it would be a terrible idea to learn English. A pilot involving 29 robots is currently underway, but South Korea is hoping to have a robot in every kindergarten classroom by 2013.
The Taiwanese manufacturing company, which makes high-profile products for companies such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard, will use the robots to do simple tasks such as spraying, welding and assembling work. Those jobs are currently done by workers, said Terry Gou, founder and chairman of the company.
He made the announcement at a workers dance party on Friday night, and we’re pretty sure that was a damper on the festivities.
There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the U.S. (and another half a million in private schools) and labor costs are high. Time to look into robots. The only problem: When the machines rise up against us, will the children side with them?
UPDATE: If you haven't read Isaac Asimov's short story "Robbie," you should.
At FreedomFest this July, Reason's Matt Welch spoke with Marc Eliot, author of Reagan: The Hollywood Years. The book chronicles Ronald Reagan's journey from sportscaster to actor to union president to politician.
Unlike critics who make sport of Reagan's Hollywood output (Bedtime for Bonzo, anyone?), Eliot documents how backlot politics helped transform the once-proud "New Deal Democrat" into the embodiment of Goldwater conservatism. His tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild was punctuated by episodes such as the time when he received death threats by one of Al Capone's henchmen over a union dispute and his starring role in the negotiations that led to actors receiving residuals. And while Reagan's film career ultimately petered out, he was for a time among the highest-paid contract actors of his day.
Shot by Jim Epstein and Zach Weissmueller. Edited by Anthony L. Fisher. About 9.15 minutes.
Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 limited-government enthusiasts and libertarians a year. Reason.tv spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks.
Go to http://Reason.tv for downloadable versions, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new content goes live.
Gary Johnson is now the only* GOP presidential candidate whose policy position on U.S.-Mexico relations does not involve predator drones or unassailable walls. Instead, the former two-term New Mexico governor made the case in a Washington Times op-ed and again on his “Truth for a Change” blog that border violence is tied to--gasp--drug trafficking:
The border war is not an immigration problem - illegal or otherwise - and even if it were, fences and troops would not solve it. If anything, the crackdown measures of recent years, while doing little or nothing to address illegal immigration, have had the unintended consequence of upping the ante for the cartels trying to move drugs across that same border, resulting in greater crime and violence.
Immigration is a different issue - and one that must be addressed not with fences, but with a system for legal entry and temporary work visas that works. Real border security is knowing who is coming here and why.
Border violence, on the other hand, is a prohibition problem. Just as we did for Al Capone and his murderous colleagues 90 years ago, our drug laws have created the battlefield on which tens of thousands are dying. By doggedly hanging onto marijuana laws that make criminals out of our children while our leaders proudly consume wine at state dinners, we have created an illegal marketplace with such mind-boggling profits that no enforcement measures will ever overcome the motivation, resources and determination of the cartels.
There are ample reasons why millions of Americans, the Global Commission on Drug Policy and, just recently, former Mexican President Vicente Fox are calling for legalization of marijuana as an alternative to the failed and ridiculously costly “war on drugs.” Twenty-eight thousand deaths along the border are certainly among those reasons.
Will legalizing marijuana put the criminal cartels out of business? No. But it will immediately deny them their largest profit center and dramatically reduce not only the role of the United States in their business plans, but also the motivation for waging war along our southern border.
National marijuana legalization in the U.S. would probably mitigate border violence, but notice Johnson's caveat: It won't put cartels out of business. The broadest plan on the table, proposed in June by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, only repeals federal prohibition of the drug, meaning that cartels would still have black markets in the nearly three dozen states that don't even have medical marijuana.
The other problem is that while weed may provide up to 60 percent of their revenues, the cartels also make and sell meth, and coordinate and protect shipments of cocaine coming from South America. Within Mexico, the cartels are engaged in many of the forms of organized crime that plagued the U.S. long after alcohol prohibition was repealed. To say that they'd lose interest in the U.S. if we legalized marijuana is, I think, to severely underestimate their flexibility and interest.
In terms of broader geopolitical questions, Mexico and many other Caribbean/Central American countries have attempted to reorganize their military and police around drug warring as part of the Merida Initiative. What happens when we admit that was all a huge, stupid mistake?
*A reader points out that Huntsman is also good--from a liberty perspective--on immigration.
When prominent Democratic politicians like Rep. Henry Waxman, House Minority Leader Nancy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sen. Max Baucus voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last year, they voted to fund roughly half of the law’s $940 billion price tag through cuts to Medicare. More than $200 billion of those cuts don’t come through any attempt to reform the way Medicare works; instead, they’re quality-blind reductions in the reimbursement rates that the government pays health care providers.
By voting for the law, they also voted to require states to maintain existing eligibility within Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program that’s currently the number one total budget item across state budgets. Faced with massive budget deficits, then, states that might otherwise have adjusted Medicaid’s eligibility rules had little choice but to cut provider payments.
And now those same Democratic leaders who voted to cut provider rates within Medicare have signed a letter supporting the right of Medicaid patients and health service providers in California to push state courts to block cuts in Medicaid payments. The New York Times reports:
The Democratic leaders said Medicaid beneficiaries must be allowed to file suit to enforce their right to care — and to challenge Medicaid cuts being made by states around the country.
The Obama administration maintains that beneficiaries and health care providers cannot sue state officials to challenge cuts in Medicaid payment rates, even if such cuts compromise access to care for the poor.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, the lawmakers said the administration’s position “would undermine the effectiveness of Medicaid.” In addition, they said, it conflicts with more than a century of court precedents that allow people to sue to block state actions that are inconsistent with federal law.
Last week’s debt deal calls for further reductions in Medicare provider rates should the super committee assigned to come up with a deficit reduction package fail.
Link via Cato’s Michael Cannon.
According to a new study by Northwestern University psychologist Galen Bodenhausen and marketing Ph.D. student James Wilkie, the answer is apparently yes. The abstract from the Journal of Experimental Psychology reports:
We examined the possibility that nonsocial, highly generic concepts are gendered. Specifically, we investigated the gender connotations of Arabic numerals. Across several experiments, we show that the number 1 and other odd numbers are associated with masculinity, whereas the number 2 and other even numbers are associated with femininity, in ways that influence judgments of stimuli arbitrarily paired with numerical cues; specifically, babies' faces and foreign names were more likely to be judged as “male” when paired with odd versus even numbers. The power of logically irrelevant numerical stimuli to connote masculinity or femininity reflects the pervasiveness of gender as a social scaffolding for generating understandings of abstract concepts.
The numeral 1 I kind of get, but what is so masculine about the curves in the numeral 3?
Earlier this month, Nick Gillespie and I swung through beautiful Portland, Oregon as part of our tour for The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. The highlight of the visit was a presentation and lively discussion at Powell's Books, the place that has as good a claim as any as the best bookstore in America. Before the dog-and-pony show, Chris Farley at Powell's sat us down for a probing interview about libertarianism, Jane's Addiction, the debt ceiling, Portland's famous microbrews, entitlements vs. safety nets, whether TARP saved the financial system, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). Excerpt from Farley's intro:
Not many Americans really understand what libertarianism is, and this passionate and articulate pair have just written as succinct and entertaining a treatise on its principles (the fewer the better) and spirit (Johnny Rotten meets Margaret Thatcher) as you'll find. Not surprising. As editors of Reason magazine and Reason TV respectively, they've had plenty of practice writing, talking, and blogging about libertarianism — and cheerily pissing off both right and left along the way.
As the title of their book implies, The Declaration of Independents, Gillespie and Welch see the answer to our current predicament outside of our sclerotic two-party system. Probably a good thing — which party would have them? You can't be for gay marriage and legalizing pot and giving women full control over their bodies and slashing the military and find a home in today's Republican Party. And what Democrat would welcome anyone who so often sees government not just as a problem but as a joke.
The Ron Paul part of the interview:
Farley: I heard a Ron Paul interview recently, and he seemed to be arguing the opposite, that all environmental problems could be dealt with as property-rights cases through the courts. You know, "I've got my land, you've got your land, if you do something that harms my property, I'm going to sue you." It sounded insane to me.
Welch: Ron Paul is more ideologically based than Nick and I are, but we're constantly asked about him.
Farley: You love Ron Paul, but you don't agree with him on everything.
Welch: I don't love him. I don't love any politician. But, I like Ron Paul and appreciate Ron Paul.
Gillespie: We talk about him in the book. More than anyone else in the 2008 election, he's the reason why there was any discussion of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War and foreign policy. He's got problems. He's not going to be the next president of the United States. And, yet, you've got to love a guy who is like an 800-year-old obstetrician who was getting college students to come out — like Obama wasn't, even. So, there's a lot there to love.
Welch: He was talking about legalizing heroin at the last South Carolina debate. That's very interesting. As an intellectual exercise, it's interesting to probe the limits of questions like, do you agree with government sidewalks or not? But let's also remember the world that we live in.
The world that we live in is one in which — when was it, about a year ago? — a little girl in Portland had her lemonade stand shut down because she didn't get the right permit for the county fair. You know, "We have regulations here."
And, it wasn't just that she got her lemonade stand shut down, it was that the local Portland city councilwoman or the head of permitting said, "We have to have a process. It's very important that we know what's going to go on in that lemonade."
That mindset is so much more prevalent than the no-government-sidewalks mindset. What we're trying to do in the book is say, okay, we're not talking about a libertarian fantasy utopia. We're asking, how do you bring libertarian insights — libertarian as an adjective or an impulse — how do you bring these insights to bear on issues that aren't working very well right now, such as K-through-12 education, and so on?
We're not talking about getting in and ripping everything up. We're talking about introducing some level of consumerism and individual choice into what's driving policies, so that we can get pricing and markets to drive prices down and quality up.
It's not clear from that excerpt, but the "as an intellectual exercise" bit above was not actually a reference to Ron Paul, but rather to the types of questions we constantly field on the book tour, a la "But smoking bans make bars nicer!" and "Is there ANY government regulation you extremists would support?" Read the whole interview for various departures from anarchism.
Here's a review of our Powell's gig by the legendary Pacific Northwest blogger PortlandAristotle, over at Oregon Live. Excerpt:
I go to a lot of Powell's books author presentations. This is the second largest crowd I have seen in the Pearl room (second only to Chris Hedges last fall). They are very engaging speakers, mixing up their talk with clips from Reason TV. [...]
I am still trying to digest everything that I have learned from their presentation and having read their book. I absolutely love original thinking and strongly recommend their book to anyone out there trying to understand where our politics is taking us.
Also in attendance was The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. From his write-up:
The work of entertaining writers, the book is refreshing, especially among political tomes, for several reasons: it offers an original but plausible take on recent history, doesn't blame a partisan enemy for all that ails America, and advances an argument too complicated to fully convey in a review -- hence its critical success in a genre where many titles run out of ideas at the end of the subtitle. [...]
Thus far, it certainly seems like independent-minded people organizing to advance single issues tend to call for increases in liberty, whether the subject is gays or drugs or economic freedom. Truth be told, I am as much an optimist as the authors, and I hope their instinct is right: that independents plus technology equals saner public policy and more freedom. There is, or course, a darker possibility. Independent minded Americans might eschew party loyalty, use the Internet to organize, and effectively demand that the borders be closed to new immigrants or that all mosque construction be halted. It isn't, after all, just libertarian-minded folks who are fed up with the status quo. For libertarians, that means that there is much persuasion yet to be done. As stewards of Reason and Reason.com, Welch and Gillespie are well-positioned to do it.
In the 1980, New Zealand political scientist James Flynn discovered that average IQs in many countries have been drifting upward at about 3 points per decade over the past couple of generations. In fact, the average has risen by an astonishing 15 points in the last 50 years in the United States. In other words, a person with an average IQ of 100 today would score 115 on a 1950s IQ test.
“This means that on an IQ test made in 1930 the average score of the entire population would give an IQ between 120 and 130 according to the original standardization,” explains [PDF] Hungarian technologist Kristóf Kovács. “This means that instead of 2%, 35–50% of the population would have an IQ above 130. And vice versa; if the current standard was applied to people living in 1930, average IQ would be between 70 and 80, and instead of 2%, 35–50% would be diagnosed with mental retardation.”
Up to half the people alive in 1930, to use Kovács' insensitive phraseology, were mentally retarded? Really? That might help explain the rise of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
In any case, there has been some recent evidence that the increase in IQ scores has begun to level off in some countries. But Wired is reporting a new study, “The Flynn Effect Puzzle,” by Duke University researcher Jonathan Wai and his colleagues published in the journal Intelligence. Wai investigated the right tail of the IQ distribution ...
By looking at approximately 1.7 million scores of 7th grade students between 1981 and 2000 on the SAT and ACT, as well as scores of 5th and 6th grade students on the EXPLORE test, the psychologists were able to investigate the extent to which the Flynn effect exists in the right tail of the bell curve. The results were clear:
The effect was found in the top 5% at a rate similar to the general distribution, providing evidence for the first time that the entire curve is likely increasing at a constant rate. The effect was also found for females as well as males, appears to still be continuing, is primarily concentrated on the mathematics subtests of the SAT, ACT, and EXPLORE, and operates similarly for both 5th and 6th as well as 7th graders in the right tail.
In other words, the Flynn effect doesn’t appear to be solely caused by rising scores among the lowest quartile. Rather, it seems to be just as prevalent among the top 5 percent. The smartest are getting smarter.
What can explain this dramatic across the board increase in intelligence? Answer: Television.
One frequently cited factor is the increasing complexity of entertainment, which might enhance abstract problem solving skills. (As Flynn himself noted, “The very fact that children are better and better at IQ test problems logically entails that they have learned at least that kind of problem-solving skill better, and it must have been learned somewhere.”) This suggests that, because people are now forced to make sense of Lost or the Harry Potter series or World of Warcraft, they’re also better able to handle hard logic puzzles.
Whole Wired article can be found here.
The sight of a crumbling Cult of Obama—and with it the end of the progressive presidency—has many on the left so frustrated that they simply dismiss the very idea of ideological debate. To challenge the morality and rationality of Obamanomics only means you're bought, too stupid to know any better or, most likely, both. David Hansanyi defends the slack-jawed hostage-taking saboteurs who oppose the president.View this article
Last April, as the country was going through another fit over rising gasoline prices I cited a couple of experts in my column, Whither Gasoline Prices?, who suggested that oil prices would likely fall to around $80 per barrel later this year. From the column:
While both Evans and Lynch acknowledge that oil markets experience big price swings, they believe that oil will settle for the foreseeable future at around $80 to $85 per barrel. From their point of view, this price encourages adequate investment in exploration and production, while not dramatically discouraging consumption.
Well, guess what? It's around $80 per barrel now. But before I get too smug about my perspicacity in selecting which experts to quote, I note that I ended the April column thusly:
A final note: When contemplating the future of oil prices, one should always keep in mind U.S. foreign service officer James Akins’ observation, “Oil experts, economists, and government officials who have attempted in recent years to predict the future demand and the prices of oil have had only marginally better success than those who foretell the advent of earthquakes or the second coming of the Messiah.” Akins wrote that in 1973.
One of the most common arguments made by advocates of single-payer health care is it's a more efficient way of financing care. Its administrative costs are lower, the argument goes, which means that more of the money spent on the program goes to actually paying for care rather than marketing expenses and corporate profits. The problem with this argument, as National Center for Policy Analysis President John Goodman points out in Health Affairs, is that when you look at all the costs involved in administering the program, it's just not true:
What about the claim that Medicare’s administrative costs are only 2 percent, compared to 10 percent to 15 percent for private insurers? The problem with this comparison is that it includes the cost of marketing and selling insurance as well as the costs of collecting premiums on the private side, but ignores the cost of collecting taxes on the public side. It also ignores the substantial administrative cost that Medicare shifts to the providers of care.
Studies by Milliman and others show that when all costs are included, Medicare costs more, not less, to administer. Further, raw numbers show that, using Medicare’s own accounting, its administrative expenses per enrollee are higher than private insurance. They are lower only when expressed as a percentage – but that may be because the average medical expense for a senior is so much higher than the expense for non-seniors. Also, an unpublished ongoing study by Milliman finds that seniors on Medicare use twice the health resource as seniors who are still on private insurance, everything equal.
Ironically, many observers think Medicare spends too little on administration, which is one reason for an estimated Medicare fraud loss of one out of every ten dollars of Medicare benefits paid. Private insurers devote more resources to fraud prevention and find it profitable to do so.
It's hard to defend the efficiency of any program that, according to the government's own estimates, makes nearly $50 billion in bad payments every year (a figure that doesn't even include bad payments in the prescription drug program). And as Goodman points out, higher administrative costs can sometimes actually lead to greater efficiency. One of the ways that Medicare has historically been able to lower its total administrative spending is by skimping on fraud prevention. I say historically because in coming years, fraud prevention will probably be more difficult for private insurers thanks to regulations included in last year's health care overhaul that require insurers to cut back on certain types of administrative expenses.
In this second dispatch from the Alberta oil sands tour we meet some Canadian oil sheiks over canapes and participate in an enlightening visit to a steam-assisted gravity drainage facility. The latter is more interesting than the nomenclature makes it sound. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey asks readers to contemplate the question: Why would the U.S. want to depend on “conflict oil” instead of oil from our neighbors to the North?View this article
Via Instapundit comes this Investors Business Daily report on the metastization of college and university administrators over the past 20 or so years.
An IBD analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1989-2009 the number of administrative personnel at four- and two-year institutions grew 84%, from about 543,000 to over 1 million.
By contrast, the number of faculty increased 75%, from 824,000 to 1.4 million, while student enrollment grew 51%, from 13.5 million to 20.4 million.
The disparity was worse at public universities and colleges, where personnel in administration rose 71%, faculty 58% and student enrollment 40%. Private schools also saw administration and faculty growing faster than student enrollment, although faculties slightly outpaced administration increases.
Administrative personnel are employees who are not engaged in instruction and research. The jobs range from university president and provost to accountants, social workers, computer analysts and music directors.
One observer notes that the rise in administrative types is fueled at least partly by where the money for college comes from: "In order to comply with the government's requirements, colleges need to employ a staff that is responsible for providing the multiple state and federal agencies with compliance reports and data."
This report tracks with a more-specific study spearheaded by researcher Jay Greene, whose team looked specifically at research universities and found
Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent. Arizona State University, for example, increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 94 percent during this period while actually reducing the number of employees engaged in instruction, research and service by 2 percent. Nearly half of all full-time employees at Arizona State University are administrators.
Back in 2009, on the heels of a report that showed fewer than 50 percent of incoming freshmen gradjiate after six years, Reason.tv made the case against make higher education an entitlement:
Joseph Heller's Catch-22, a libertarian favorite, turns 50 this year, so our friends at the Cato Institute have posted an conversation Heller had with Cato's Inquiry magazine in 1979. The occasion for the interview was the publication of Heller's third novel, the enjoyable satire Good as Gold, but the conversation covers his other books as well. Here's an excerpt:
Q: Another thing that interested me was the effect that writing about the Vietnam War had upon you. It seemed apparent in Something Happened that you felt a sense of moral outrage over our role in the war, and in this one Gold seems to boil in rage at some aspect of it. Was it difficult to write about an issue that is so enraging and draining?
HELLER: No, and this is true of Catch-22 as well. When I'm writing, I am only interested in writing. Now when I'm not writing, I confess I can hear something that will make me boil over. A phrase that really gets to me, for instance, would be one of those neoconservative references to Vietnam as a national tragedy, but only because we lost. That thought fills me with ire. To begin with, the person who says it is typically untouched by tragedy; like me, he has not lost a son or a job. In addition, the implication is that if we had won, the war would have been somehow less tragic. People with that mentality, I have to admit, impress me as being the scum of the earth.
Read the whole thing here.
The book tour for The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America makes its next stop in the charming college town of Oxford, Ohio, which is home to Miami University, the corpse of Weeb Ewbank, and me.
On Saturday, August 13, Matt Welch and I will discuss our book at the Oxford Community Arts Center from 3.30pm til 5pm.
The event is free and open to the public. We will sign any copy of Declaration presented to us and we'll be selling the book on site, too, for $20 (cash only). After the book event, we'll be hosting people at my extremely humble abode in Oxford as well (weather permitting).
So if you live in the general vicinity of southwestern Ohio (and let's extend that to the oft-neglected central Ohio-Indianapolis-Northern Kentucky-You Name It region), come on out.
What: Declaration of Independents book talk and signing, featuring Matt Welch & Nick Gillespie
When: Saturday, July August 13, 3.30pm til 5.00pm, followed by party at Gillespie residence in Oxford (5.30pm to 8pm)
Where: Oxford Community Arts Center, 10 South College Avenue, Oxford, OH; Gillespie home, 709 Melinda Drive, Oxford, OH
Both events are free and open to the public.
Books will be available for sale for $20 (cash only).
A few weeks ago, I appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, making the case for smaller government, lifestyle freedom, a non-interventionist foreign policy, and other libertarian positions. Take a look:
- "Federal immigration officials say an internal investigation of 12 incidents of alleged abuse and illegal conduct—including one in which a Cincinnati family claims its Fourth Amendment rights were violated—clears its agents of any wrongdoing."
- Iran's Foreign Ministry urges UK to meet the demands of looters and thugs.
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to hold vote of no confidence in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
- TSA Administrator John Pistole: Agency will screen in a "more informed fashion to try to recognize that the vast majority of people traveling every day are not terrorists."
- Wisconsin Democrats fail to take control of state senate.
- Jeb Bush Jr. endorses Jon Huntsman.
- Warren Jeffs' former guard claims that the former cult leader masturbated up to 15 times a day while in jail.
New at Reason.tv: "Guns, Laws, and Panics: How Fear, Not Fact, Informs the Gun Rights Debate"
Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says he was not terribly insulted by his exclusion from Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Christians-only prayer rally. He was more offended by the alacrity with which Perry, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next Saturday, abandoned his avowed federalist principles to embrace the legislative agenda of the Christian right.View this article
Federal scientists exhibited rare bravery this summer when they stated that there was no evidence the dust kicked up in the World Trade Center attacks caused cancer. But instead of applauding the exhaustively thorough review of the available data, members of New York's congressional delegation (and other interest groups) are trashing the science of the very federal researchers they appointed to do the analysis. Jeff Stier of the National Center for Public Policy Research explains what happens when billions of dollars are at stake.View this article
In its ongoing campaign to make sure Americans know that fast food is bad for them, the federal government snuck a provision into ObamaCare that mandates shoehorning nutritional information onto menu boards. Now restaurants are struggling to comply with the law—and may wind up confusing customers rather than informing them. From today's Washington Examiner:
Section 4205 of the national health care law, "Nutritional Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants," caused little stir when Obamacare passed last year.
The law specifies that the number of calories in a food product must be printed directly next to the item on the menu, which is particularly difficult for fast-food restaurants that post their products on large, already crowded signs rather than standard paper menus....
In Domino's case, the only way it can fit calorie information on its menu signs is to provide broad ranges. For instance, a large "Feast" pizza could range from 1,840 to 3,740 calories, because there are four different crust types and six different varieties.
But on the current website, a customer could get much more specific. As in—a slice of a large deep dish "ExtravaganZZa Feast" pizza contains 420 calories (and there are eight slices in a large pie).
Domino's says compliance will cost the chain $5 million, the schizophrenic burger chain Hardees/Carl's Jr. pins their costs at $1.5 million.
The oil sands of Canadian province of Alberta contain 1.7 trillion barrels of oil of which 170 billion can be commercially produced using today's technologies at current prices. The Canadians want to sell us millions of barrels more per day, but environmental lobbyists oppose it as "dirty oil." How to balance U.S. energy security versus concerns about greenhouse gas emissons? Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reports back in his first dispatch from his oil sands junket.View this article
Someone suggested to me recently that the government could create a $50 billion fund for small business, and use it to pay, say, 20 percent of the wages of new hires for two years — first come, first served. Why doesn't Obama suggest something like that?
The only economic advice I could imagine more finger-painty than that would be if, I dunno, a bunch of Van Jones types came up with some new B.S. "Contract For the American Dream" thingie. What's that you say?
On Monday afternoon, MoveOn.org and Rebuild the Dream announced a campaign to build up a popular movement that could match (if not surpass) the debt reduction crowd in both size and energy. And they have borrowed a concept from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as their organizing principle.
The campaign, led by Van Jones, President of Rebuild the Dream; Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org; and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), among others, is debuting a new Contract for the American Dream. They describe it as "a progressive economic vision crafted by 125,000 Americans...to get the economy back on track." Its debut will involve a nationwide day of action, as well as an ad in The New York Times to run sometime this week, organizers said.
The basic premise of the campaign is that America isn't broke, it's merely imbalanced. In order to stabilize the economy, politicians should make substantial investments in infrastructure, energy, education and the social safety net, tax the rich, end the wars, and create a wider revenue base through job creation.
Whole downloadable pile here.
Katherine Mangu-Ward blogged about the "pivot-to-jobs" nonsense yesterday, though in fairness that subject has been a daily beat since at least the financial crisis of 2008. Why, here's Nick Gillespie in December of that year, reacting to a bunch of phoney-baloney shovel-ready jobs being promised by Our Nation's Mayors, if only there was a stimulus to fund them:
When the history of this awful moment of bailout hysteria is written, there'll be a chapter or 20 on the complete bogosity of what might call "the infrastructure flim-flam"—the idea that government can boostrap the economy out its funk by hiring two guys to dig a hole and a couple more to fill it in.
Remember that $26 billion jobs bill from one year ago? Of course you don't. How about the White House's "Jobs Summit" in December 2009? Ditto. "Recovery Through Retrofit"? No really, that happened. (The slogan, I mean.)
How much has Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) been focusing on jobs? So much that by January 2010 already the then-House Speaker was saying stuff like "The jobs issue has permeated every major initiative that we have." Katherine Mangu-Ward took a survey of Pelosi's relentless job-pivotry in March 2010.
By Pelosi's accounting, the health care bill is jam packed with new jobs. In her standard sales pitch, Pelosi emphasized that the bill was "about jobs. In its life it will create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately." Apparently those first 400,000 were supposed to spring full-formed from her gavel once the vote tally was complete [....] While those jobs were invisible to the naked eye on CSPAN, they'll be showing up in the March unemployment figures no doubt.
On the floor of the House in June, as the climate change bill was being debated, Pelosi promised that the bill would create "millions of new jobs" and urged her colleagues to vote aye: "And when you do, just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs." She even provided a fancy infographic on her blog, The Gavel. And when it comes to the nation's energy future, those new jobs aren't just any jobs: They're green. While on the campaign trail Obama claimed he could create 5 million "green collar" jobs, a figure he later scaled back to a vague claim of "millions." Pelosi continues to go whole hog, claiming we are on track to create 4 million jobs.
"It's all about the jobs," she declared in December, before a Copenhagen audience that didn't give two hoots about America's unemployment woes. (Pelosi isn't alone in her obsession. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a co-sponsor of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, also said "Our bill is essentially a jobs bill.") [...]
But wait, there's more! The stimulus bill created 2 million jobs by the accounting of Pelosi's team. Well, make that "created or saved" which is where things start to get slippery. Pelosi's post-passage estimate was closer to 3.5 million, but since much of the stimulus money isn't yet spent, there's time yet to reach that goal.
We are misgoverned and talked down to daily by people who believe–no matter how much wreckage to the contrary washes up at their feet–that "jobs" is a thing that comes as a direct result of the federal government spending more money. Recent history suggests very strongly that whatever legislation or rulemaking comes out of Washington as a result of this lates Jobsapalooza will not improve the nation's lousy job market one bit.
While researching this week's column, which highlights Texas Gov. Rick Perry's inconsistent federalism, I came across a November 2010 Daily Show interview in which he allowed that if "you want to go somewhere where you can smoke medicinal weed, then you ought to be able to do that." Then I dipped into the Republican presidential contender's 2010 book Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America From Washington, where I found some interesting passages about marijuana and the 10th Amendment (emphasis added):
Crucial to understanding federalism in modern-day America is the concept of mobility, or "the ability to vote with your feet." If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas. If you don't like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don't move to California....
In the 1990s, there was a brief, glorious retreat from the previous 60 years of the [Supreme] Court's allowing unfettered discretion by the federal government to legislate anything it wanted under [the Commerce Clause]. The Court, for example, found that a handful of activities were simply too far removed from commerce to be federally regulated, such as gun [possession] near schools and the battering of women. The Court also found unconstitutional the federal government's "compel[led] enlistment of state employees in carrying out federal policies, one of the more powerful antistatist doctrines now available. But the trend was short-lived. The Court subsequently ruled that Congress, using its Commerce Clause power, could prevent California from legalizing medicinal marijuana. In other words, the federal government has the full prerogative to intervene in your private home if you are engaged in any activity that has some minimal relationship to the exchange of goods....
When the federal government oversteps its authority, states should tell Washington they will not be complicit in enforcing laws with which they do not agree. Again, the best example is an issue I don't even agree with—the partial legalization of marijuana. Californians clearly want some level of legalized marijuana, be it for medicinal use or otherwise. The federal government is telling them they cannot. But states are not bound to enforce federal law, and the federal government cannot commandeer state resources and require them to enforce it. So good luck to the federal government if it wants to enforce every law on its books without the help of state and local law enforcement. When the federal government oversteps its bounds, states should think hard about whether a single state resource should be committed to carry out the intrusive policy in question.
Perry's gloss on Gonzales v. Raich, the 2005 medical marijuana decision, is a bit misleading. The Supreme Court did not say California could not legalize the cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical purposes—i.e., make exceptions to its own criminal penalties. The Court said federal penalties remain in force regardless of what California does, so the DEA and the Justice Department have the authority to pursue medical marijuana suppliers and users even when they are complying with state law. Still, Perry is rightly outraged by the absurdly broad reading of the Commerce Clause underlying Raich, and he supports state resistance to federal laws that overstep Congress' constitutional authority.
Or at least he did. As I note in my column, Perry has sought to solidify his position as "unapologetic social conservative" by repudiating his formerly federalist approaches to marriage and abortion, so marijuana could be next.
Mike Riggs and Steve Chapman comment on the gay-marriage exception to Perry's 10th Amendment devotion here and here. State resistance to federal drug policy is a major theme of Reason's October cover story, in which I explain how Barack Obama disappointed critics of the war on drugs. (It's a pretty long story.)
Before the passage of last year's health care overhaul, supporters of the law repeatedly made the case that it was intended to help control costs. Obama and various administration officials promised that it would hold down health insurance premiums while restraining the long-term growth of health care spending. They rigged the bill to get the Congressional Budget Office to score the law as a net reduction of the deficit.
But despite all the effort put into gaming the numbers, the fiscal argument was never very believable. As in Massachusetts, the bill was about coverage expansion first, cost-control second. And the law fundamental approach to cost-control was to hand off responsibility to bureaucrats, who would then look for successful cost-control innovations and try to replicate it throughout the system.
It was an belief born out of years of legislative failures: Congress has failed to control costs. Maybe, thought reformers, empowered experts can do it better. It's reform built on faith in bureaucrats, experts, technocrats, and policy wonkery. That's how we got the Independent Payment Advisory Board. And it's how we got the law's 400-plus page regulation for accountable care organizations (ACOs)—highly integrated provider networks that, in theory, have financial incentives to provide better, cheaper care.
At best, these sorts of centrally planned reforms are untested, with no guarantee that they'll work—if anything, there's evidence suggesting that they might not. But the Obama administration and its health policy technocrats are still wedded to bureauwonkism anyway. Here, for example, is their latest round of self-congratulation regarding ACOs, via The Hill:
The agency said it has seen strong results from a five-year demonstration project with goals that are similar to ACOs' — lowering costs by improving quality and shifting away from paying doctors to perform more procedures.
The demonstration program involved 10 large, integrated healthcare systems. Seven of the 10 met all 32 of the program's quality benchmarks, the Medicare agency said in a release. And all 10 agreed to participate in a two-year supplement to the initial demonstration project.
But don't think the wonks have won this round:
Most of the organizations that took part in the demonstration project, however, have voiced serious concerns about the proposed structure of ACOs.
Nine of the 10 health systems involved in the demonstration signed a letter in May saying they might not participate in the ACO program unless the Medicare agency makes major changes to its initial proposal.
The clinics said they all supported the concept of integrated, coordinated care, but that, "as currently proposed, ACOs have a greater potential for incurring losses … than for generating savings."
Reformers are mostly right when they argue that Congress hasn't done a great job of controlling health costs or the growth of tax-financed health spending. But where they go wrong is in thinking that a small number of experts in positions of government-granted authority will somehow be more successful. The basic problem with the bureauwonk model of health reform is that it assumes that technocrats can not only identify but successfully scale local innovation to the national level. That turns out to be exceedingly difficult; what works in one health organization doesn't always work in others. Even organizations willing to participate in demo projects won't always want to turn control of their innovations over to federal regulators.
When CBO director Douglas Elmendorf testified before Congress last month about the government's history of attempts at health care innovation, he was blunt about the general lack of success: "The demonstration projects that Medicare has done in this and other areas are often disappointing...It turns out to be pretty hard to take ideas that seem to work in certain contexts and proliferate that throughout the health care system. The results are discouraging." The Obama administration is betting on these reforms anyway; a better bet might be that the results, or lack thereof, will continue to be more or less the same.
Matt Welch and I will be appearing at two venues in Chicago on Tuesday, August 16, one at lunch and another in the evening.
We're in town to discuss our new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, which has been named the summer read of 2011 by George Will (compared to Ludwig von Mises' Human Action anyway), "a rollicking tale" (Barron's), "a remarkably uplifting book" (Three Sources), and "a cheerful dismissal of tribalism and monopolistic thinking, in life and in politics" (Forbes).
First up is a lunch event at the University Club of Chicago at noon CT:
Tuesday, August 16th - 12:00 pm
Join co-authors and editors of Reason TV and Reason magazine, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, for a luncheon on their new book, The Declaration of Independents. It is a compelling and extremely entertaining manifesto on behalf of a system better suited to the future - one structured by the libertarian principles of free minds and free markets.
The price for club member is $15 (plus tax and grauity) by August 15 and $18 after August 15. The price is $25 for non members via the Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois.
Please call 847-446-8880 to make a reservation to this event.
Then there's a happy hour sponsored by the Heartland Institute:
Tuesday, August 16: 5.30pm to 7.30 pm
Pizza and Drinks with Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch
901 W. Jackson
The price for the event is $25. Registration does not include a copy of the book, which will be available for $26 at the event.
To register for the Heartland Institute Happy Hour, go here.
We'll be signing books at both events and hope to see all interested residents of the city that Reason rated as "the most meddlesome metropolis" in America at one or both events!
The Burton C. Gray Memorial Internship program runs year-round in the Washington, D.C., office. Interns work for 10 weeks and receive a $5,000 stipend.
The job includes reporting and writing for Reason and Reason Online, and helping with research, proofreading, and other tasks. Previous interns have gone on to work at such places as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, ABC News, and Reason itself.
To apply, send your résumé, up to five writing samples (preferably published clips), and a cover letter by the deadline below to:
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Electronic applications can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line: Gray Internship Application.
Fall Internships begin in September, application deadline August 20.
Internship dates are flexible.
President Obama's approval ratings are plummeting along with the Dow, and he's just lost his stare-down with House Speaker John Boehner while presiding over a historic downgrade of U.S. credit, writes Gene Healy. Even so, Obamaphiles in the intelligentsia are finding it hard to fall out of love with "the One." From Esquire to Mother Jones, really smart people are proving to be stupidly good at defending a president who doesn't deserve it.View this article
Which poses a greater threat to the American Constitution: sharia or religious intolerance? For New Jersey Gov. Chris Crazy Christie the answer seems to be religious intolerance. He is right. Last week Christie directed what Jeffery Goldberg of Bloomberg describes as a "blast of righteous anger" at a campaign to thwart the appointment of a prominent Muslim lawyer to the Superior Court in Passaic County. The lawyer hails from India. And apart from sharing a name with the prophet, his crime was that he represented A-rabs detained for questioning by the FBI in the wake of 9/11.
In a show of bipartisan bigotry, Republicans and Democrats on the confirmation committee, evidently afraid that Mohammad (the lawyer, not the prophet) had a secret plot to turn Passaic County into a sharia state, asked him to define “jihad.” Mohammad was eventually confirmed, but Christie told Goldberg: “I just thought this was a ridiculous and disgusting situation. I think it is terrible to try to exclude someone from office based only on his religion, and that’s what was happening here.”
Christie is no terrorist sympathizer, having successfully prosecuted a group of Muslims who were conspiring to attack Fort Dix. So his revulsion is not so easily dismissed by his conservative kin.
But in refusing to turn Sharia into a bugaboo that the country has to spend trillions of dollars to fight, Christie has very good company. No less than the father of American conservatism, the great 18th century British philosopher Edmund Burke (and one of F.A. Hayek’s heroes), actually admired sharia because it subordinated rulers to religious law rather than giving them carte blanche over subjects as was the case in Christian countries historically.
Here is what Burke said on the subject at the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India. (Hastings stood accused of corruption and high misdemeanors in office and Burke was his prosecutor. Hastings argued in his defense that his actions were justified under Asian traditions that gave him complete and arbitrary powers to do what the hell he pleased):
The greatest part of Asia is under Mahomedan governments. To name a Mahomedan government is to name a government by law. It is a law enforced by stronger sanctions than any law that can bind a Christian sovereign. Their law is believed to be given by God; and it has the double sanction of law and of religion, with which the prince is no more authorized to dispense than any one else. And if any man will produce the Koran to me, and will but show me one text in it that authorizes in any degree an arbitrary power in the government, I will confess that I have read that book, and been conversant in the affairs of Asia, in vain. There is not such a syllable in it; but, on the contrary, against oppressors by name every letter of that law is fulminated. There are interpreters established throughout all Asia to explain that law, an order of priesthood, whom they call men of the law. These men are conservators of the law; and to enable them to preserve it in its perfection, they are secured from the resentment of the sovereign: for he cannot touch them. Even their kings are not always vested with a real supreme power, but the government is in some degree republican.
(H&R readers inclined to think that my religious background has anything to do with this post should know that I ain’t no Mahomedan.)
That's the name on a new video from the pro-political-speech group the Center for Competitive Politics. Watch it below:
Link via the Twitter feed of Sean W. Malone.
Re-read Jacob Sullum's December 2010 cover story, "You Are Now Free to Speak About Politics," which delves at some depth into the bizarre claims about the left's favorite Roberts-court decision to hate. For more background about the legal undercurrents, try Damon W. Root's June 2010 cover story, "Conservatives v. Libertarians." And watch Nick Gillespie below give "3 Reasons Not to Sweat the Citizens United Ruling":
Virginia Senate Candidate and unabashed Tea Partier Jamie Radtke visited the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week. Contrary to what A. Barton Hinkle had been told to expect by the likes of Joe Nocera and Maureen Dowd, Radtke did not kill anybody, nor take anybody hostage. But she did happen to talk a lot of sense about the economy and the proper size and role of government.View this article
While most states operate under a "shall-issue" concealed carry weapons (CCW) permitting regime, meaning that anyone who passes a basic background check can get a CCW, California uses the "may-issue" rule, which means the decision is left to the sole discretion of the county sheriff. The result? Approximately 0.1% of California citizens have CCWs, which is almost 20 times lower than in the average shall-issue state.
This restrictive climate has led to the emergence of a burgeoning "Open Carry" movement, wherein citizens carry holstered, unloaded weapons in plain sight. California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino calls the open carry exemption in the law a "loophole," which he intends to close with Assembly Bill 144 (AB 144).
Portantino's fellow Assembly member Lori Saldana tried to ban open carry in 2010, but the bill failed in the assembly. But this time, AB 144 has gained helpful momentum from an unexpected source: Jared Loughner.
"Since the events in Arizona, gun issues have taken on a greater national debate and a greater significance," says Portantino. Earlier this year, AB 144 passed the Assembly and now will head to the state Senate in late August 2011 and then on to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.
Open Carry advocate Sam Wolanyk, who once successfully sued San Diego county when police arrested him for open carrying, says that the focus on lawful gun owners is misguided.
"It doesn't matter if you stacked up 50,000 felonies," says Wolanyk of the Loughner situation. "You can't stop a crazy person from doing crazy things."
UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, creator of the popular law blog the Volokh Conspiracy, also says that crafting legislation in the face of rare tragedies is misguided.
"It doesn't make much sense to come up with comprehensive law focusing on those very rare incidents," says Volokh.
Despite the fact that crime rates are down nation wide and that there has never been a reported incident of an Open Carrier hurting someone, Portantino stands firm that the practice is a public danger and a drain on police resources. He also says he has no plans on introducing legislation to loosen up concealed carry laws.
"Just because one person is comfortable with their weapon," says Portantino, "doesn't mean that gives that person the right to infringe on the rights of other people who aren't comfortable."
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Hawk Jensen.
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- The special forces troops who died in a helicopter crash Saturday were on a mission to rescue a different group of special forces troops. Joshua Foust explains why this is a problem.
- The Guardian's liveblog of the London riots.
- Spiked's Brendan O’Neill analyzes the welfare-state roots of the London riots.
- Real estate scandal embarrasses the USPS.
- Conference attendees discuss allowing concealed carry on college campuses.
- Would Rep. Paul Ryan's plan have dissuaded the S&P from downgrading the U.S.? WaPo says no.
New at Reason.tv: "Federal Education Policy with Former Assistant Secretary of Education Bill Evers"
Do you need another reason to flip off cool kids wearing Che Guevara t-shirts?
Blogger extraordinaire Alan Vanneman points to this article from The New York Times about how the tyrannical government of Cuba is finally allowing its prisoner-citizens to see Beatles cover bands only about 45 years after Beatlemania has bitten the dust:
The hair and accents were wrong, but the audience cared about just one thing: the house band was singing the Beatles, here, in a new bar called the Yellow Submarine, in Cuba, where such an act might have led to arrests in the mid-1960s.
Better yet, perhaps because of that history, the band played like rebels. Fast and raw, they zipped up and down the bass lines of “Dear Prudence” as if the song were new. They raced through “Rocky Raccoon,” and when they reached the opening words of “Let It Be” — “When I find myself in times of trouble” — the entire crowd began singing along, swaying, staring at the band or belting out the chorus with their eyes closed in rapture.
“If there’s no Beatles, there’s no rock ’n’ roll,” said Guille Vilar, a co-creator of the bar. “This is music created with authenticity.”
Maybe so, but Cuba’s revolutionaries were not sure what to make of it when it first came out. Though today the bonds between counterculture rock and leftist politics are well established, back then, Cuban authorities — at least some of them — saw anything in English as American and practically treasonous. The Beatles, along with long hair, bell-bottom jeans and homosexuality, were all seen as cause for alarm or arrest at a time when green fatigues were a statement of great importance.
Cuba in the ’60s and early ’70s, says Mr. Vilar, a trained musicologist, “was a very serious place.”
Not that it's a laff riot these days. No word yet on whether Havana will be hosting Beatlefest any time soon. Or whether the cultural thaw will allow for late-night viewing of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie featuring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, George Burns, Steve Martin, and dozens of others who went career-missing for years afterwards.
Just last year, Cuban authorities re-arrested the members of the rock band Porno para Ricardo for carrying "instruments of dubious origins," which sounds like a terrible Genesis album from right before Peter Gabriel flew the coop. Reason.tv spoke with the leader of the band, Gorki Aguila, between arrests back in 2009. If you care about music, freedom of expression, and a thousand other basic human rights, check it out:
And then listen to jazz great Paquito D'Rivera shred the killer chic that surrounds Che Guevara and Fidel Castro by describing those golden years when simply owning a freaking Beatles record could earn you a trip to the slammer:
In The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, Matt Welch and I trace the weird, strange trip by which rock music helped topple the Soviet Union and why there are revolutions named after the Velvet Underground but none after Van Cliburn.
Don't count on the debt-deal supercommittee's ability to pare back the deficit—or the backup reductions that are supposed to kick in if the committee fails to cast a sufficiently powerful deficit reduction spell. Via Bloomberg:
Congress may undermine the deal that raised the U.S. debt ceiling by failing to agree on a plan to curb the deficit and then softening the impact of automatic spending cuts that would kick in to achieve the budget targets.
That’s the view of five former directors of the Congressional Budget Office. Lawmakers on a new committee charged with deciding on a budget plan will struggle to reach an accord, even as the Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade U.S. debt heightens pressure on the panel, some of the ex-CBO chiefs say. And while the backup mechanism for across-the-board cuts may be the best compromise for a divided Congress, it’s a flawed device with a history of failure, they say.
...While the cuts are supposed to be automatic, Congress can delay or override them if they prove too painful -- defense spending would be reduced by 9.1 percent over a decade while non-defense programs would be cut 7.9 percent. That’s what lawmakers did with the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act, the template for the trigger.
Post 9-11, the neocon wing of the Republican Party had made it seem positively gauche to think about money when it came to financing wars. But even though the debt-ceiling deal hammered out this week won’t do nothin’ to cure Washington’s fiscal incontinence, write Reason Foundation senior analyst Shikha Dalmia, it might just do something for the GOP’s foreign policy incontinence by putting the question of defense spending center stage.View this article
The Obama administration is on pace to have more American soldiers killed in casualties related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the George W. Bush administration did in its first term, writes contributor Ira Stoll, but the anti-war movement that dogged Bush for most of his presidency isn't exactly nipping at Obama. Based solely on the numbers, the anti-war crowd and the press should be doubling down on this administration, yet anti-war protests draw crowds one-tenth as big as they did under Bush. The reason for this, Stoll reports, is that "because he’s a Democrat, they don’t want to oppose him in the same way as they opposed Bush."View this article
The White House and much of the chattering class cooed on Friday when unemployment dropped to 9.1 percent and 117,000 jobs were reportedly created in July. But these numbers, upon closer inspection, show no progress on the jobs front.
Buried in the job stats was a number—193,000—that dwarfed all the rest. That is the number of workers who left the job market. If 193,000 left and only 117,000 jobs were added, we lost 76,000 jobs. Moreover, this is not an aberration.
Read the whole thing.
A story in Friday's New York Times describes another horrifying local twist on China's population control policy: Officials in Longhui County, a rural area of Hunan Province, have a history of kidnapping unauthorized babies and selling them on the black market when the parents are unable to pay exorbitant fines that may amount to five times their annual income. "I can't even describe my hatred of those family planning officials," says Yang Libing, the father of a nine-month-old girl who was snatched from his parents' home in 2005 while he was working in another town. "I hate them to my bones. I wonder if they are parents too. Why don't they treat us as humans?"
Yang's offense was failing to register his marriage, rendering any offspring illegal. Other parents in Longhui County have lost their children because they exceeded the government's birth limits or married before they reached the legally required age (22 for men, 20 for women). The Times says "at least 16" children were seized by the county's family planning officials between 1999 and 2006. Although seizing children in such situations is against official policy, the government does not seem much interested in getting to the bottom of these abuses:
Zeng Dingbao, who leads the Inspection Bureau in Shaoyang, the city that administers Longhui County, has promised a diligent investigation. But signs point to a whitewash. In June, he told People's Daily Online, the Web version of the Communist Party's official newspaper, that the situation "really isn't the way the media reported it to be, with infants being bought and sold."
Rather than helping trace and recover seized children, parents say, the authorities are punishing those who speak out.
Like the brutal crackdowns on nonconforming families that periodically erupt across China, these kidnappings never would have happened if the national government had not authorized local officials to police people's reproductive decisions. As Wang Feng, a China scholar at the Brookings Institution, tells the Times, "The larger issue is that the one-child policy is so extreme that it emboldened local officials to act so inhumanely."
Last December I noted the admiration this oppressive policy elicits from Western newspaper columnists (such as the Times' own Thomas Friedman) who should know better. In a 2007 Reason article, I discussed the connection between China's population controls and international adoption of Chinese girls. The Times reports that some of the babies kidnapped by Longhui County officials ended up at the government-run Shaoyang orphanage, which has placed children with American parents through the Boston-based agency China Adoption With Love. It is not clear whether any of those children, whom the government said were orphaned or abandoned (a practice that also is encouraged by family-size regulations), actually were forcibly taken from their parents. The orphanage requires a $5,400 "donation" from adoptive parents.
Does the Obama Administration want to create a national education policy akin to France's Ministry of Education? According to Bill Evers, Former US Assistant Secretary of Education and current Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, that is exactly what they are attempting to do.
Evers sat down with Reason Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward to discuss current federal education policy, the role of the Department of Education, and synonyms for “school vouchers.”
Approx. 7:20 minutes.
Edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Josh Swain.
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Forget delivering the mail; the U.S. Post Office may not be able to deliver on its financial obligations for much longer:
Net losses for the nine months ended June 30 amount to $5.7 billion in 2011, compared with $5.4 billion in 2010, USPS officials said. Total mail volume was 39.8 billion pieces for the quarter, compared with 40.9 billion pieces in the third quarter of fiscal year 2010.
Despite efforts to reduce costs and grow revenue, projections indicate the service would have a cash shortfall and reach its borrowing limit by the end of the fiscal year, officials said. If Congress doesn't act, the USPS will be in default on payments to the federal government.
"We are experiencing a severe cash crisis and are unable to continue to maintain the aggressive prepayment schedule that was mandated in the [Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006]," said Joseph Corbett, USPS chief financial officer and executive vice president. "Without changes in the law, the Postal Service will be unable to make the $5.5 billion mandated prepayment due in September."
The $5.7 billion in losses so far this year follow $5.4 billion in losses in 2010. And the long-term outlook is even worse: Last year, former Postmaster General John Potter told Congress that the federal mail service faced a whopping $238 billion in projected losses over the coming decade. It's a size-and-scope problem more than anything else: The Washington Post's Brad Plumer reports that "80 percent of its post offices lose money; the lowest-performing offices, deep in rural areas, often earn less than $50 per day, not even enough to pay for electricity."
So why keep them open? Plumer notes that proposals to shutter operations "have met resistance from members of Congress — particularly those in rural areas." Those legislators, of course, are responding to heavy political pressure; any plan to downsize inevitably produces news stories like this one, from the Ohio Times-Reporter, which starts with the following line:
A proposal to close 3,700 small post offices across the country — including six in the Tuscarawas Valley region — isn’t sitting well with area residents who depend on them to maintain a sense of community in their towns.
Hard to argue with that, I suppose. What's a couple hundred billion dollars in losses next to a small town's sense of community?
Read Greg Beato's column on the post-postal society from Reason's May issue.
Here's a charming story, care of the San Jose Mercury News:
Santa Clara County's housing authority could have spent $16 million of federal funds to help more struggling families put a roof over their heads. Instead, it chose to more than double the value of its employees' retirement benefits.
That may sound unusual, but federal housing officials say it was an allowable expense. Still, the switch from a 401(k)-style retirement plan to a pension allowing workers to retire early -- with guaranteed lifetime payments -- is raising eyebrows at a time when generous public employee pensions are under fire. [...]
Bill Anderson, chairman of the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara's board of commissioners, conceded that the money spent on employee pensions could have been used in other ways, including housing aid for low-income families.
Indeed, the waiting list for federal housing assistance is so long that applicants must now wait four to nine years. [...]
Housing authority workers who under the old plan had to wait until they were almost 60 to draw from retirement accounts -- which could be shrunk by market losses -- can now receive a guaranteed monthly pension check as early as age 50. And they'll have a guarantee of 2 percent annual increases after they retire.
The change in retirement benefits was made possible after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008 made the housing authority one of 32 Moving to Work demonstration sites. The program allows more spending flexibility to encourage "innovative" approaches that "use federal dollars more efficiently."
This is the kind of thing George Will was talking about when he wrote: "America is moving in the libertarians' direction not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous."
In the Sunday New York Times, bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel describes how the federal government has created a cancer drug shortage. As he notes:
RIGHT now cancer care is being rationed in the United States...
Of the 34 generic cancer drugs on the market, as of this month, 14 were in short supply. They include drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure leukemia, lymphoma and testicular cancer.
Why? Because of what are essentially government prices controls on generic cancer drugs.
If the laws of supply and demand were working properly, a drug shortage would cause a price rise that would induce other manufacturers to fill the gap. But such laws do not really apply to cancer drugs.
The underlying reason for this is that cancer patients do not buy chemotherapy drugs from their local pharmacies the way they buy asthma inhalers or insulin. Instead, it is their oncologists who buy the drugs, administer them and then bill Medicare and insurance companies for the costs.
Historically, this “buy and bill” system was quite lucrative; drug companies charged Medicare and insurance companies inflated, essentially made-up “average wholesale prices.” The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, signed by President George W. Bush, put an end to this arrangement. It required Medicare to pay the physicians who prescribed the drugs based on a drug’s actual average selling price, plus 6 percent for handling. And indirectly — because of the time it takes drug companies to compile actual sales data and the government to revise the average selling price — it restricted the price from increasing by more than 6 percent every six months.
The act had an unintended consequence. In the first two or three years after a cancer drug goes generic, its price can drop by as much as 90 percent as manufacturers compete for market share. But if a shortage develops, the drug’s price should be able to increase again to attract more manufacturers. Because the 2003 act effectively limits drug price increases, it prevents this from happening. The low profit margins mean that manufacturers face a hard choice: lose money producing a lifesaving drug or switch limited production capacity to a more lucrative drug.
The result is clear: in 2004 there were 58 new drug shortages, but by 2010 the number had steadily increased to 211. (These numbers include noncancer drugs as well.)
What's the solution? Emanuel recommends changing the government price controls so that drug companies might collect as much as 30 percent over the average selling price. At the end, however, he reaches the right conclusion - the market.
A more radical approach would be to take Medicare out of the generic cancer drug business entirely. Once a drug becomes generic, Medicare should stop paying, and it should be covered by a private pharmacy plan. That way prices can better reflect the market, and market incentives can work to prevent shortages.
Radical? Not really.
But wait, the Democrats and President Obama are now suggesting that price controls should be extended to Medicare Part D. I suppose that way we can enjoy shortages of all pharmaceuticals instead of just singling out cancer drugs.
Jacob Weisberg, Slate:
there's no point trying to explain complicated matters to the American people.
Drew Westen, New York Times:
To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, "stick."
Christina Romer, on Real Time With Bill Maher:
Maher asked Romer, "How uncontroversial is Keynesian economics?"
Romer said, "The basic idea that if you increase government spending or you cut people's taxes that stimulates the economy and lowers the unemployment rate, is a very widely accepted idea. It's in every economics textbook, that's what we teach our undergraduates, and I certainly try to teach them the truth.
"It is a very known and accepted idea and fact and the empirical evidence is definitely there, and people just want to say the sky is green."
Maher asked Romer how she felt about being "Palinized" by Republicans who aren't economists. She said, "Policy would be better if we listened to the experts."
Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:
Many times I've riffed on a dark, delicious fantasy about rounding up Tea Bagger types and sentencing them to green re-education camps for minimum one-year terms. Not to punish per se but to expose these contemptible morons to facts, to truth, to the way things really are and how they're being played by the rich, and the fact that Boomers have taken almost everything and that diminished lifestyles and economic security are being bequeathed to Genx and GenY for decades to come, and that the best is definitely over. The infra-structure that once provided decent, fair-minded quality of life to middle-class people in this country is disintegrating. The game is rigged. This is the fall of the Roman Empire.
All largely because of impediments to logical, intelligent governing put up by the knee-jerk, mule-like, corporate-kowtowing mentality of Tea-Bagger types and their 60 or so looney-tunes Congresspersons now in office. We've truly become a South American society of rightist oligarchs, angry lefties, disillusioned wage-earners, retirement-age fuddies and struggling, debt-smothered have-nots, and the rightist boobs will never understand that they're primarily the problem. The deficit-reduction deal will almost certainly hurt growth and kill jobs, most analysts are saying. And the radical right will own this when it happens. This level of ideological denial is no longer appalling -- it's become lethal. Ignoramuses can no longer be tolerated. The right is killing this country, things have gotten really crazy, and Obama will never stand up to them.
A second Civil War would be an incredibly destructive thing, but it would feel so good.
Related: Brian Doherty in the January 2010 issue, "Progressives vs. Democracy."
Mark Hatfield, Oregon's Republican governor from 1959 to 1967 and then senator from 1967 to 1997, has died at age 89. In World War II, he had been among the troops who entered Hiroshima after the bomb fell. That scarring experience, along with his deep Christian faith, made Hatfield the most pacifist presence in the Senate in the second half of the 20th century. He opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Central America, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans, he joined forces with Ted Kennedy to push for a nuclear freeze, and he never voted for a single military appropriations bill. So strong was Hatfield's interest in nonviolence that in the early '70s he flirted with rejecting the institutionalized violence of the state, reading one of the anarchist economist Murray Rothbard's articles into the Congressional Record and writing (or at least signing) a glowing review of Rothbard's Power and Market that appeared in The Individualist -- probably the only time a sitting senator has endorsed an anarcho-capitalist treatise. Rothbard was initially excited about Hatfield too, writing a rapturous endorsement in 1970 when buzz started to spread that Hatfield might run for president.
It isn't hard to find cases where the senator backed economic interventions -- he was a strong supporter of subsidies to medical research, for example -- so it soon became clear that his libertarian streak was not going to manifest itself with a Ron Paul–style voting record. But while Hatfield's dalliance with Rothbardianism faded, he did regularly introduce a bill he called the Neighborhood Government Act, which would have allowed Americans to divert their federal taxes from Washington to their local community. His long-term goal, he explained to the Eugene Register-Guard in 1973, was to shift all social services to the neighborhood level. The idea was embraced by many New Leftists (in those days when decentralism was a strong current on the left) and libertarians (in 1982, Karl Hess told Reason that the bill was one of "two and only two" legislative changes he would actively support, along with the end of the withholding tax). Naturally it went nowhere.
It isn't surprising that a politician's interest in libertarianism would come to an end. What's unexpected is that Hatfield would one day reject his pacifism too. In 2004, the aging ex-senator put his name on an article for the Oregonian endorsing the Iraq war. If he made any follow-up statements, they have escaped my attention; he may well have remained an Iraq hawk for the remainder of his life. Not the normal coda to a pacifist's political career; but then, this was never a normal political career in the first place.
Noted cruiser Steve Smith, that favorite target of Hit & Run commenters, gets his closet libertarian on with this rant against the little-known Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (PVSA), which effectively bars cruise ships from sailing between American cities. Excerpt:
[The PVSA] force[s] cruiseships going from one US city to another to either stop at what is called a "far foreign port" (ie., outside of North America), or to stop at a foreign port within North America before returning to the American port of embarkation. Thus, a cruise ship cannot start in Los Angeles and end in San Francisco unless it stops in Tokyo or Lima first. But it can start in Los Angeles, go to San Francisco, then later end in Los Angeles, as long as it stops in Ensenada, Mexico or Victoria, British Columbia first.
And effectively, almost all cruise ships are considered "foreign vessels" for purposes of this act, regardless of whether the line is a domestic corporation, since almost all cruise ships are built overseas. [...]
[T]he consumer is shortchanged, since we: a) have to spend more money to take an unnecessarily longer cruise, and b) have fewer consumer choices as to which ship to take, since the domestic market is already saturated with ships taking the same routes to the same locales. Moreover, dockworkers and others who benefit from having busy and profitable ports are screwed by the PVSA, since few cities are close enough to foreign ports to make cruising out of those cities a worthwhile proposition.
And who likes this law? Cruise lines, of course. If the law were to be repealed, the increase in the number of short, affordable cruises within the United States would be exponential. One of the most popular cruises at present is the weekend "booze cruise" that leaves a US port, sails to a nearby foreign locale, like the Bahamas or Ensenada, and back. The typical passenger on such a cruise is much less affluent than the seagoing traveler who typically sails on the larger ships; given the option of taking a weekend cruise from LA to San Francisco and back, or from Baltimore to Brooklyn, or to and from cities on the Great Lakes, more people would sail than ever before. But that would also entice other ships into the market, so the market share of the half-dozen or so companies that control the US market would plummet.
In effect, the PVSA provides for the cruise industry what the pre-1980 regulation of the passenger airlines did for flying; it has created a non-responsive, expensive business oligopoly that caters to the well-off, and prevented the creation of innovative, cheaper competitors. And it does all this while providing nothing of benefit to the consumer, to industry, or to the worker.
Read the whole thing here. Read about the deregulation of airlines in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. And stay tuned for news about Reason's second annual cruise, coming to an Alaska near year you in the summer of 2012!
Who's to blame for the phony debt deal on Capitol Hill last week? In op/eds today Americans are treated to alternative narratives for the recent debacle. First comes Paul Krugman at the New York Times who asserts:
...let’s not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault. Our problems are almost entirely one-sided — specifically, they’re caused by the rise of an extremist right that is prepared to create repeated crises rather than give an inch on its demands. ...
The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.
Over at the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson argues:
The conventional wisdom holds that Republicans, hostage to the Tea Party, prevented a larger and more “balanced” deal by their rejection of any tax increases — ever. Not so. It’s true that Republicans were unbending on taxes and, at times, reckless in their rhetoric. It’s also true that, even with sizable spending cuts, tax increases will ultimately be needed to balance the budget. But it’s not true that only the right blocked a more comprehensive agreement.
Although Obama said he was willing to trim “entitlements” — presumably, Social Security and Medicare — he never laid out specific proposals or sought public support for them. There was more talk than action. Even if Obama had been more aggressive, he probably wouldn’t have carried most liberals, who adamantly oppose cuts. They regard Social Security and Medicare as sacrosanct. Not a penny is to be trimmed from benefits.
This is an extreme, even fanatical stance.
In other news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down more than 300 points right now.
A joint Washington Post/Kaiser Health News report today suggests that last year's health care overhaul may not be able to restrain the growth of health insurance premiums because "the law doesn't give the federal government or the states, the traditional regulators of health care, the nuclear option: the power to reject rate increases outright." It's likely that the law won't result in lower premiums, but given the mess that Massachusetts made of its health insurance market exercising just that power, I'm pretty sure that's not the reason why. Instead, it's likely that the law's expansion of various health insurance subsidies will continue to divert economic resources into health care spending that otherwise might have been employed elsewhere.
Not am I convinced by the report's claim that law might help "tame premiums" by requiring insurers "to spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on medical services and quality improvements—or issue rebates to consumers." If anything, that provision, which regulates medical loss ratios, might drive premiums up faster. Because insurers will be required to spend a minimum of 80 or 85 percent of revenue on federally defined clinical services, leaving just 15 or 20 percent for administrative expenses, marketing, and profits, the only way they'll be able to expand their profits is by increasing total premium revenue, and by spending larger amounts on so-called clinical services. Ultimately, the provision gives insurers an incentive to spend more and more on health procedures, even if they aren't necessary, because profits can only grow in relation to the dollar-total of medical procedures they approve.
New rule: If you find yourself using the phrase "mid-century vernacular" in the commission of telling a homeowner that she can't tear down her chain-link fence, it's time step far, far away from a government salary and any power to tell people what to do. Here's the Washington Post's John Kelly:
To most eyes, a chain-link fence in the front yard does not scream curb appeal. Simple — but not what you'd call "elegantly simple" — it's what a set decorator might prescribe when he wants to conjure up mean streets. A white picket fence it ain't.
Which is why some homeowners in Old Town Alexandria were surprised to learn recently that their chain-link fences were historic and that removing them could put them in hot water with the city's historic preservation office. [...]
As the historic preservation staff wrote in its recommendation: "While many feel that [chain-link] fences have negative connotations, this material has played an important role in the development of mid-century vernacular housing and their cultural landscape.... By eradicating this 'simple fencing solution,' the applicant would be removing an important contextual clue to the original occupants of this neighborhood."
And here's your requisite Stockholm Syndrome quote:
Charles Hall has been helping his sister with the red tape. He said he understands the need for zoning rules. "You cannot have everybody in the city doing what they want," he said. "You'd have chaos."
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the Rodney Dangerfield of this year’s GOP presidential field — he gets no respect, despite a strong conservative record, a stint as governor of a key state, and a colorful background in the public and private sectors.
In a year when voters seem tired of what is seen as wasteful spending and regulatory overreach in Washington, Mr. Johnson said he is surprised he is not getting the attention of other governors who have served fewer years, or whose campaigns are sputtering, or who aren’t even in the race.
"I really would have thought that there would be more focus on just me being in the race and being credible because I do have a resume that suggests that I am very credible," Mr. Johnson said in an interview with The Washington Times[.]
Those Conditional II verb tenses are never a good sign.
Link via the Twitter feed of Lew Rockwell, who comments: "Is Gary Johnson the Rodney Dangerfield of GOP Candidates?: Of course not! Rodney was funny."
Random data point: In this deeply flawed Andrew Hacker New York Review of Books essay, which Jacob Weisberg declares is "the best thing I've read on American politics lately," here's how the GOP field is defined:
At this writing, I count nine candidates who have announced or aren’t objecting if their names are raised: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.
Well, at least Johnson will always have British pol Daniel Hannan! Who exhorts his countrymen to "Meet Gary Johnson, the most libertarian [GOP] candidate ever to seek the US presidency."
Brian Doherty's primer on Gary Johnson here.
- Juicy Daily Mail allegation: "Explosive Jackie O tapes 'reveal how she believed Lyndon B Johnson killed JFK and had affair with movie star'"
- The Arab League is "concerned" about the state-led murder of protestors.
- Bailed-out banks battle over mortgage bonds.
- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) gets the Ryan Lizza treatment.
- At Reuters, Felix Salmon and Cate Long debate whether municipal governments are too big to fail.
- Fullerton residents continue to protest the FPD in honor of Kelly Thomas' death.
- University of Cincinatti Police campus police Taze recent high school graduate, recent high school graduate dies.
New at Reason.tv: "Jacob G. Hornberger on Obama, Foreign Policy, and Civil Liberties"
Defense hawks seem to be hitting Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations like sophomores cramming for an exam. In the last few days, three separate hawks have invoked Smith three separate times to excoriate the potential defense cuts in the phony debt deal.
John Bolton, the Bush-era neocon whose mustache makes everything he says more menacing, pulled a passage from the book that says that “the first duty of the sovereign” is “protecting the society from the violence and invasion” to warn darkly about all the bad things that would befall America if it doesn’t keep pumping about $700 billion a year that it doesn’t have into the Pentagon (even if it just goes down the $700 toilet, presumably). Meanwhile, Brian Stewart of National Review Online and David Frum no longer of the American Enterprise Institute paraded Smith’s statement that “defense is superior to opulence” to suggest that anyone who questioned why America needs to spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined obviously has zero regard for national security.
Sadly, their interpretation of the great political economist’s magnum opus is a bit sophomoric.
Here are the problems: First, Stewart and Frum got the quote wrong—and in an identical way, suggesting that one lifted it from the other without actually bothering to consult the actual text. The exact quote is: “Defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence.” (Look it up yourself on page 465 of Volume I of the Liberty Fund edition.)
Two, they got the interpretation wrong. The operative word in the quote is “defence.” But America does not have a defense budget—it has an offense budget to maintain far-flung bases and military alliances whose original rationale became defunct decades ago. This is not what Smith was endorsing.
Anyone with any familiarity with the book knows that Smith’s whole project in it was to debunk the mercantilist mentality that was causing Britain to bankrupt itself by building a huge military to colonize the rest of the world in search of markets. The entire passage—in which the quote is but one throwaway line—is part of his broader plea to Great Britain to allow free trade. That means deploying its naval forces for defensive purposes—not to keep foreign merchants off its shores or, for that matter, search overseas for monsters to slay. Sacrificing its wealth or “opulence” might be necessary, he agreed, when England had to defend itself from hostile foreign powers, something few today would deny outside the small but eminently adorable band of anarcho-capitalists and pacifists. However, believing, as England did at that time, that it could actually enhance its “opulence” by using its navy to keep foreign merchants off its shores was dumb as hell. Here is the rest of the passage:
The act of navigation is not favorable to foreign commerce, or to the growth of the opulence that can arise from it…[I]f foreigners, either by prohibitions or high duties, are hindered from coming to sell, they cannot always afford to come to buy; because coming without a cargo, they must lose the freight from their own country to Great Britain. By diminishing the number of sellers, therefore, we necessarily diminish the number of buyers, and are thus likely not only to buy foreign goods dearer, but to sell our own cheaper, than if there was a more perfect freedom of trade. As defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence, the act of navigation is, perhaps, the wisest of all commercial regulations of England.”
The act of navigation that Smith was referring to was a law that was passed in 1651 to build England’s naval forces when it was on the verge of war with Netherlands—and he saw nothing wrong with that. Subsequently, however, the act morphed into enforcing Britain’s bald-faced mercantilism—and he saw plenty wrong with that. But nowhere does he suggest that maintaining absolute defense supremacy in the world, as neocons who question any shrinkage of America’s global military footprint want, is a remotely worthy goal. To the contrary, there are plenty of other passages in which Smith discusses the futility—both moral and practical—of keeping colonized people pliant to maintain an empire. Indeed, Smith was part of the Enlightenment’s anti-imperialistic intellectual tradition whose other major protagonists were Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. Their anti-imperialistic ideas were ultimately challenged—successfully—by John Stuart Mill, who, when not writing genuinely brilliant tracts defending freedom of speech and property rights for white Brits, was busy apologizing for the British empire and its abrogation of those same rights for Indians and other uncivilized brown barbarians!
Actually, the political theorist who shares the neocon national greatness agenda most closely is not Adam Smith but Niccolo Machiavelli. In his Discourses on Livy he makes a case for Roman-style empire building not only to keep potential aggressors at bay—conquer them before they conquer you—but to promote the internal health of the republic itself. A republic that sought only to maintain its boundaries and not expand its dominion was not sustainable, he argued, because it would have no cause around which to unite the citizenry:
If heaven were so kind [to a republic] that it did not have to make war [to fend off invaders], from that would arise the idleness to make it either effeminate or divided; these two things together, or each by itself, would be the cause of its ruin.
Neocons and defense hawks are using the moral cachet of Adam Smith to justify a national greatness agenda lifted from Machiavelli—which, if you come to think of it, is rather Machiavellian.
The Essential Air Service was created in 1978 as a temporary measure to assure commercial flights to smaller towns after the deregulation of the airline industry. The program has lasted three times longer than its original 10-year limit, even as transportation options have improved. The number of small towns served by airlines actually rose after deregulation, Steve Chapman explains, but that hasn't stopped senators from flighting for every dollar that subsidizes flights to places like Athens, Georgia, and Ely, Nevada.View this article