|Title:||Ohio Has a Ministry of Truth, and It Isn't Much Better Than George Orwell's|
|Date:||Wed, 05 Mar 2014 15:56 EST|
Can politics be cleaned of lies, spin, and allegations? Can a government agency—an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”—police political rhetoric in order to determine what is true, what is false, and what is, as Stephen Colbert would say, “truthy”?
That is just what the Supreme Court is considering in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, which will be argued in April. The case is a challenge to Ohio’s bizarre statute prohibiting knowingly or recklessly making “false” statements about a political candidate or ballot initiative. In other words, the Ohio Election Commission (OEC) essentially runs a ministry of truth to which any citizen can submit a complaint. Amazingly, twenty other states have such laws.
“Only a robust and open marketplace of ideas can effectively combat lies consistent with the First Amendment.”
Laws against lying in political speech are not administered by disinterested truth seekers, but by people with their own political convictions. They chill large amounts of truthful speech and deprive the public of hearing a robust debate on the issues. And, as we will see, they are used by political opponents to turn campaigning into litigation.
The case arises out of a strange combination of a defeated former Congressman, some non-existent political billboards, and a bunch of sour grapes. During the 2010 election, Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL), a 501(c)(4) dedicated to ending abortion, plannedto erect billboards saying, “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortions!” The claim was based on Driehaus’s support for the Affordable Care Act. Although never erected, the billboards were reported in the news and SBAL disseminated the claim through other, less blatant, means. Driehaus thus filed a complaint with the OEC against SBAL, arguing that SBAL’s claim about taxpayer-funded abortions was false and therefore illegal. The complaint, combined with Driehaus’s threat of legal action against the advertising company that owned the billboards, successfully suppressed SBAL’s speech. Driehaus lost the election.
Disgruntled Congressmen and other elected representatives can certainly be tattle-tales (“Mommy, he’s lying!”), and if the government provides an avenue for tattling, then they will use it against their enemies. In fact, and unsurprisingly, that is how laws like Ohio’s are nearly always used, for retribution and electoral strategy against political enemies. During litigation against a similar law in Florida, the investigation manager for the Florida Election Commission testified under oath that 98 percent of the complaints received are “politically motivated” and that “many times” the point is to punish political opponents or to “harass that person and otherwise divert their attention from the campaign.”
Moreover, rather than spend money on combating SBAL’s claims with his own free speech, Driehaus spent money on lawyers to drag SBAL into court. In so doing, he deprived the public of hearing more debate on the subject of taxpayer-funded abortions. Also, by making SBAL retain lawyers, he also deprived them of money to use on more speech, something I’m sure Driehaus didn’t worry about. Instead of a public debate on whether the ACA actually provides for taxpayer-funded abortions, the debate occurred behind the closed doors of the OEC.
We have encountered a similar law before, the infamous Sedition Act of 1798. That law made it illegal to “write, print, utter or publish…any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States” or officers of the United States. No reputable scholar believes that the Sedition Act would not be struck down as blatantly unconstitutional today.
One of those convicted under the Sedition Act was James T. Callender, a pamphleteer and “scandalmonger” who was the first person to widely publicize the allegations that Thomas Jefferson had fathered numerous children with his slave Sally Hemings. That allegation was called “false” and “scandalous” by many Jefferson supporters who, had they had the Ohio Election Commission at their disposal, would surely have filed a complaint. Callender’s allegations would not be proven substantially true for another 200 years. How would the OEC have ruled on them?
Or, to use a more contemporary example, how would the OEC’s ministry of truth rule on President Obama’s now legendary claim that “if you like your health care plan you can keep it.” Politifact rated that claim true in 2008, only to call it the “Lie of the Year” for 2013.
Shockingly, a conviction for false political speech in Ohio can carry a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Before a criminal case can begin, however, the OEC must first judge the complaint and, if they find it meritorious, refer it to a prosecutor. The OEC is thankfully very reticent to refer claims to prosecutors, not having referred a single case to a prosecutor in the last decade.
But, as the SBAL saga shows, the mere existence of the OEC’s ministry of truth is enough to severely hamper First Amendment activity. In fact, this case is before the Court not squarely on the First Amendment issue, but on the procedural difficulties surrounding SBAL’s attempt to challenge the OEC. The Court should look past those issues and simply strike down the law.
This is a good time for the Supreme Court to hear a case about alleged political lies. Americans are increasingly separating into like-minded camps with entirely private interpretations of what the “facts” are. The Fox News crowd may believe that the ACA provides for taxpayer-funded abortions, while the MSNBC crowd may not. The “truth” of this question is more nuanced than either side seems to realize, and it depends upon legal, economic, and even theological interpretations.
If we can’t agree on so many issues, then certainly ministries of truth aren’t above the fray. Only a robust and open marketplace of ideas can effectively combat lies consistent with the First Amendment. Ministries of truth should be left in 1984.
Trevor Burrus is a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.
|Title:||Military Cuts a Step in the Right Direction|
|Date:||Wed, 05 Mar 2014 10:14 EST|
|Description:||Benjamin H. Friedman
Even by Washington standards, the wailing that greeted the Obama administration’s proposed 2015 military budget has been impressively theatrical. By the time the White House released the actual budget Tuesday, critics — prepped by the preview Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offered — had already been blasting it for a week.
“And the changes won’t hurt U.S. security. In fact, they might even improve it.”
Republicans attacked the proposed reduction in the size of active-duty Army to 450,000 next year, saying it “guts our defense.” Congressional leaders in both parties complained about possible reductions in subsidies for military housing, shopping and health care. Naval boosters lamented the reduction in the planned purchase of littoral combat ships. Hawkish pundits warned of “retrenchment.”
Such bipartisan consternation obscures two things. First, the proposed cuts should not come as a surprise. They are a predictable realization of existing law. Second, the changes won’t hurt U.S. security. In fact, they might even improve it.
With this plan, the Pentagon is simply implementing — partially, while kicking and screaming — spending levels that bipartisan majorities in Congress and the president enacted.
The Murray-Ryan budget deal passed in December, which amended the Budget Control Act, the 2011 deficit deal, raised the 2015 military spending cap to $520 billion and lowered caps in the remaining years covered by the law. Across-the-board sequestration occurs only to enforce those caps — if spending is under them, there is no sequester.
No one that has paid attention should be shocked. Military leaders have long urged Congress to slow the growth in military pay and benefits. Since the Budget Control Act’s passage, experts have said it would require cuts like those now offered. Media reports that they were in the offing have appeared for months.
Congress, in other words, is decrying its own handiwork. That takes chutzpah, the Yiddish term for brazen nerve — a quality that brings a man that murdered his parents to plead for mercy in court because he’s been orphaned.
But maybe that’s what cutting spending takes. Everyone likes frugality in theory, where it comes from waste and overlap. But real savings target expensive and thus popular programs. Unable to magically reduce spending, Congress forces its own hand. It requires agencies to reach austerity targets without specifying how, denounces the cuts proposed to reach the targets and then votes for them while blaming someone else. The process is ugly, but the defense cuts it is yielding are long overdue.
Critics should relax. First off, the Army remains bigger than it seems. In 2015, Congress will likely continue to fund Army personnel partly through the war budget, keeping manpower higher than 450,000. Also, the Special Operation Forces, which Hagel proposes to grow to 70,000, are becoming a specialized third ground force.
More importantly, military might is measured compared to enemies, not absolute numbers. Under this plan, the U.S. military will still account for roughly 40 percent of global military spending, with the bulk of the rest coming from allies. No U.S. enemy has the capability to take advantage of the proposed reductions. Russia’s foray in Crimea had nothing to do with the U.S. Army’s size. The capability to bomb Iran, Syria or North Korea remains, even simultaneously. A few less ships barely affect the massive superiority our Navy would enjoy against China in the East Pacific.
Actually, the real problem with the cuts may be that they keep too many counterproductive options intact. They are unlikely to force a reconsideration of U.S. military overextension. We will still manage to defend all the rich allies that can afford to defend themselves. We will still send ships and training missions to every corner of globe, pretending that stability there depends on it.
A smaller army will have less ability to occupy another state that resists, like Syria, Iran or Pakistan.
Given our recent experience with such wars, that is a benefit. If these cuts make us less likely to launch such military adventures, then we should cut more.
Benjamin H. Friedman is a research fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||The Greens vs. Free Trade|
|Date:||Wed, 05 Mar 2014 09:40 EST|
|Description:||K. William Watson
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement including the U.S. and a number of Asian and American countries, is an essential part of the Obama administration’s trade agenda, and its second-term economic policy as a whole. But there’s another, important element of Obama trade plans: its emphasis on ambitious environmental obligations in its “values-driven trade policy.”
The problem: This green agenda, which adopts almost every demand of U.S. environmental activists and goes further than any previous U.S. trade agreement, has met staunch opposition from every other country in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And even so, in pursuing the TPP — which would be the world’s largest free-trade area, the administration has come under withering criticism from American environmental activists. It’s not making headway, in other words, on its economic or its environmental objectives.
For instance, U.S. negotiators have insisted on including new restrictions on logging, shark-finning, and commercial whaling, but these kinds of trade restrictions are anathema to free-trade agreements, which are meant to facilitate trade rather than hinder it.
The most that anti-shark-finning activists should hope for from the TPP is an explicit exception that ensures that domestic bans on this activity won’t violate existing trade rules. A proposal to that effect would encounter little or no resistance from other TPP countries.
Another aspect of the U.S. agenda that has met unanimous resistance is the insistence that all of the TPP’s environmental obligations be enforceable by dispute settlement and trade sanctions. The reason other countries oppose this position is not that they want to pollute the environment with impunity — many TPP members have stronger environmental protection laws than the United States does — it’s that the U.S. approach is an especially confrontational way to pursue common environmental goals.
Again, the purpose of trade agreements is to open markets and bring economies closer together. Making that conditional upon the adoption of specific environmental policies frustrates both the trade and the environmental agendas.
That’s not to say that opening borders and protecting the environment are incompatible goals. Take the current effort at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization (of which all TPP countries are members) to establish free trade in environmentally friendly products. Lowering tariffs on solar panels and wind towers, for instance, will enable countries to pursue environmental goals in a cooperative way that fosters economic growth and consumer choice. The TPP will likely further this initiative in some form.
Yet some U.S. environmentalists are opposed to the idea of free trade in green goods. The Sierra Club’s Ilana Solomon warned against the tariff-reduction plan as overly reliant on the free market. “Instead,” she contends, “the key to unlocking clean energy is developing home-grown approaches to renewable energy production and manufacturing that lift up and protect workers.” She seems to be advocating green industrial policy that props up favored industries with subsidies and then protects them with tariffs — that approach is certainly incompatible with free markets and free trade.
The opposition to such an idea within the TPP also aptly demonstrates the traditional “blue-green alliance” in U.S. trade policy. Many American environmental groups have a close affinity with the protectionist labor movement. They see globalization and expanded trade not only as a threat to the environment but also as an unjust economic model. So, like the labor unions, these environmental groups are less interested in shaping the trade agenda than they are in derailing it.
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are fundamentally opposed to expanded trade and globalization. They will never support a trade agreement, no matter how much of their agenda the administration adopts as its own.
That’s why it makes no sense for the Obama administration to work so hard to incorporate the goals of these organizations into U.S. trade policy. The U.S. trade representative has gone so far as to say that U.S. negotiators “will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.” Considering the strength of opposition from other countries, the latter option seems more likely.
It is irrational to pursue objectives that frustrate the negotiations but deliver no domestic political support. Dropping its antagonistic approach to environmental policy would enable the United States to cooperate in good faith with TPP partners and deliver the economic and environmental benefits of free trade.
Bill Watson is a trade-policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies.
|Title:||Why the Tea Party’s Waning, Not Winning|
|Date:||Wed, 05 Mar 2014 09:36 EST|
|Description:||Michael D. Tanner
As the Tea Party celebrates its five-year anniversary, many commentators are asking whether the grassroots anti–Big Government movement is still relevant.
In some ways, this seems a silly question. The Tea Party has been enormously successful in changing the terms of the national debate on issues such as debt and spending. And, while its favored candidates have suffered some high-profile defeats, it has also won important victories. The Republican midterm sweep of 2010 would not have been possible without its energy and enthusiasm.
“It strayed from its original focus on economic issues, and became just the far right wing of the GOP.”
Yet it’s also true that the Tea Party’s clout is waning. According to the most recent Gallup poll, just 30 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the movement, the lowest level in its history. This seems particularly unsettling when polls also show that the public still overwhelmingly supports the Tea Party objective of limited government. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows a record 72 percent of Americans feels that big government is the greatest threat to the future of the country. Voters who feel that way should be flocking to the Tea Party in droves.
They are not.
Some of it might be a question of tactics. Americans tend to dislike confrontation from their political leaders. Certainly, things like the government shutdown tended to turn off some voters, especially when misrepresented by a biased media. The overheated rhetoric of some tea-party leaders may also drive away otherwise sympathetic voters. Calling every dissenting Republican a RINO or inferring that President Obama is some sort of crypto-Muslim Communist is not going to win friends or influence people. Some tea-party activists definitely come across as a bit over-caffeinated.
But there is also a more fundamental issue at play here: Is the Tea Party still the Tea Party?
Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare.
Social issues were not part of the platform. In fact, Jenny Beth Martin, leader of the Tea Party Patriots told the New York Times, “When people ask about [social issues], we say, ‘Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well.’ We have to be diligent and stay on message.”
In an April 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll, barely 14 percent of Tea Party supporters said social issues were more important to them than economic issues.
As a result, the group was able to build a broad coalition of economic conservatives — traditional Republicans, of course, but also libertarians, and fiscally conservative socially tolerant suburbanites who had drifted away from the GOP in recent years. In national surveys, roughly 40 percent of Tea Party supporters once described themselves as libertarian or libertarian-leaning.
Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.
|Title:||Schools That Turn Students into Outcasts Are Unamerican|
|Date:||Tue, 04 Mar 2014 18:00 EST|
Former Chief Judge of New York State Judith S. Kaye always makes necessary sense, as she did when she recently wrote this in the opinion pages of The New York Times:
“As universal pre-K and the Common Core standards dominate the headlines, we cannot overlook a third subject that deserves top billing: keeping children in school and out of courts” (Letters, The New York Times, Feb. 22).
Kaye was writing in response to an op-ed that had run in the Times last month. In it, Robert K. Ross and Kenneth H. Zimmerman, the respective heads of the California Endowment and the United States programs for the Open Society Foundations, wrote: “Large numbers of students are kicked out, typically for nonviolent offenses, and suspensions have become the go-to response for even minor misbehavior, like carrying a plastic water gun to elementary school …
“The Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that the number of secondary school students suspended or expelled increased by some 40 percent between 1972-73 and 2009-10 … A study of nearly one million Texas students found that those suspended or expelled for violations at the discretion of school officials were almost three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year” (“Real Discipline in School,” Robert K. Ross and Kenneth H. Zimmerman, The New York Times, Feb. 17).
The “pipeline” that takes students from school to prison has become a national cliche. This mass creation of student outcasts is the product of “zero tolerance” policies in schools across this land of the free and home of the brave.
Only one organization, The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va., headed by constitutional lawyer and defender John Whitehead, has continuously intervened. Whitehead and his team of lawyers have represented in court — at no charge — these victims of zero tolerance. He also reports on these and other cases in his commentary at rutherford.org, which is distributed to hundreds of newspapers. Moreover, these penetrating reports and accounts of different cases also appear online in news websites and in blogs.
He is the Paul Revere of national alerts to preserve the constitutional liberties of current and future generations of self-recognizable Americans.
Here is such a case whose characteristics typically merit Whitehead’s expertise (and which he wrote about last year):
At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., 10-year-old “fifth grader Johnny Jones asked his teacher for a pencil during class. Jones walked to the front of the classroom to retrieve the pencil, and during his walk back to his seat, a classmate and friend of Johnny’s held his folder like an imaginary gun and ‘shot’ at Johnny.
“Johnny playfully used his hands to draw the bowstrings on a completely imaginary ‘bow’ and ‘shot’ an arrow back.
“Seeing this, another girl in the class reported to the teacher that the boys were shooting at each other …
“The teacher … contacted Johnny’s mother, Beverly Jones, alerting her to the ‘seriousness’ of the violation because the children were using ‘firearms’ in their horseplay” (“Rutherford Institute Defends 10-Year-Old Suspended for Shooting Imaginary Arrow, Threatened With Expulsion Under Weapons Policy,” www.rutherford.org, Dec. 4, 2013).
The district’s zero tolerance policy, in addition to prohibiting “weapons,” includes any “replica” or “look-alike” weapon.
The school’s code of conduct required Principal John Horton to “contact the appropriate police department, complete an incident report to file with the school superintendent and begin the process of mandatory expulsion immediately.”
Added Rutherford senior staff attorney Douglas R. McKusick in a Dec. 4, 2013, letter to South Eastern School District Superintendent Rona Kaufmann: “Johnny’s rights were trampled without the due consideration. He was immediately threatened with expulsion, and thereafter summarily suspended without adequate justification …
“It is our belief that Johnny was deprived of adequate procedural safeguards in the principal’s unilateral and misguided application of the zero tolerance policy against him. No actual gun, ‘replica’ or ‘look-alike’ was ever presented in any physical form, and Johnny’s conduct amounted to nothing more than the kind of horseplay typical of children his age.
“For this reason, we request that you rescind the suspension and immediately remove all reference to it from Johnny’s permanent school record.”
And what was the eventual outcome, decided in January?
According to Rutherford’s bold headline: “Victory.” The story went on: “In response to pressure from The Rutherford Institute, school officials have agreed to rescind their suspension of a 10-year-old boy who was penalized under a school zero tolerance policy for shooting an imaginary ‘arrow’ at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination” (“Victory: School Officials to Lift Suspension From 10-Year-Old Who Shot Imaginary Arrow at Pennsylvania Elementary School,” www.rutherford.org, Jan. 16).
Hooray! Johnny Jones remains an American! Quite a victory.
But then I read about another student turning into an outcast in Chicago — a child whom Rutherford is defending:
“Criticizing Chicago school officials for being overzealous, misguided and incapable of distinguishing between an impotent toy and a dangerous weapon, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an 11-year-old boy who was suspended from school after he voluntarily turned in a non-firing plastic toy gun that had been forgotten in his jacket pocket.
“Caden Cook, a sixth grader at Fredrick Funston Elementary School, was suspended for allegedly violating the school’s weapons policy against dangerous objects, in addition to being ordered to undergo counseling, and subjected to intimidation tactics, interrogation, and dire threats by school officials — all without his mother being present” (“Zero Tolerance: Chicago School Officials Suspend 11-Year-Old Boy Under ‘Dangerous Weapons’ Policy for Voluntarily Turning in Non-Firing Toy Gun,” www.rutherford.org, Feb. 6).
With The Rutherford Institute’s intervention, I don’t expect Caden’s suspension to last for long, though.
But John Whitehead and his band of attorneys can’t be everywhere.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
|Title:||Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Charts a Moderate Path, Not a Conservative One|
|Date:||Tue, 04 Mar 2014 17:53 EST|
The House Budget Committee chaired by Congressman Raul Ryan released a 204-page report on federal welfare programs Monday. It provides useful discussions of 92 programs that cost taxpayers $799 billion a year.
The report drives home how immense the federal welfare state has become. You’ve probably heard of EITC, TANF, LIHEAP, and SNAP, but how about CCDF, WIA, SSBG, NSLP, SBP, CACFP, HOME, HAG, and CDBG? These are all multibillion dollar welfare programs that you as a taxpayer are funding.
The Washington Post called the Ryan report a “blistering” and “stinging” critique, but it is far from that. Indeed, Ryan’s report is a centrist analysis of welfare, not a conservative or libertarian one. The report generally points out minor problems with programs based on the polite criticisms of federal auditors and liberal researchers. The report often omits fundamental critiques of programs offered by pro-market scholars and think tanks.
Ryan’s report has 48 pages on housing programs, for example, but does not ask basic questions such as whether there are market failures that justify any of the government’s housing interventions. The Manhattan Institute’s Howard Husock has written about how private markets are able to supply low-income housing and did so historically, but Ryan’s report does not address these basic questions.
In fact, it is generally devoid of citations of conservative and libertarian think tanks. The American Enterprise Institute apparently provided input to the Ryan study, but AEI is cited once in 204 pages while liberal think tanks are cited many times.
“The key problem with the Ryan report is that it does not raise fundamental questions about spending.”
The reliance on liberal sources appears to have led to the omission of many arguments. The report has two pages on the low-income housing tax credit, for example, but it does not mention an important critique in this AEI book, which is that developers may pocket the benefits of the program, leaving low-income renters no further ahead.
Ryan’s discussion of the WIC program does not mention that the program induces mothers to use baby formula, which is directly counter to government’s own advice about the advantages of breast milk. Similarly, Ryan’s food stamp discussion does not mention that billions of dollars are probably being spent on junk food, obviously contrary to government’s own advice on healthy eating.
When the Ryan report does cite the shortcomings of programs, it generally downplays them. For example, it says that “public housing is not the most effective method of providing low-income housing assistance.” But if you look at the historical impact of public housing, “total disaster” is a better description of the program.
The report’s section on federal job training hardly mentions the Government Accountability Office finding that ”little is known about the effectiveness” of these programs. But that is a major finding — taxpayers have been paying billions of dollars a year over decades for these programs, so if the government still doesn’t know if they work, then they ought to be abolished.
The introduction to Ryan’s report does discuss general problems with welfare programs, such as work disincentives. But most of the report examines individual programs in a very accepting manner — as if we all agreed that we just need to make them work better.
Thus the report finds that the $900 million Rural Rental Assistance Program “has not succeeded in alleviating rental burdens of rural populations,” which leaves the impression that if only the government spent more then it could better solve the problem.
The key problem with the Ryan report is that it does not raise fundamental questions about spending. Do these 92 welfare programs violate the limited powers authorized to the federal government under the U.S. Constitution? Are there any advantages in federal intervention in these 92 activities, or should they be left to the states? Could private charities better handle these activities?
Ryan focuses on whether or not programs are “effective,” but his report does not compare the benefits programs might have to the economic damage caused by the taxes needed to pay for them. And he does not examine the moral question: if experts deem programs to be “effective,” does the government have an automatic right to expropriate our earnings to fund them?
In sum, the Ryan report provides a useful introduction to the vast federal welfare state. Ryan and his staff should be applauded for starting a discussion about spending on all these specific programs, rather than just complaining about spending in general, as many Republicans do. I also applaud Ryan for including poverty spending reforms in his upcoming budget.
However, people will need to go elsewhere to find fundamental critiques of welfare programs by all the conservative and libertarian scholars that Ryan left out.
Chris Edwards is editor of www.DownsizingGovernment.org at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||Whatever Its Faults, the Tea Party Identified the Right Target|
|Date:||Tue, 04 Mar 2014 11:10 EST|
It’s been five years since Rick Santelli’s CNBC “rant that shook the world” helped give rise to the Tea Party movement.
The first wave of anti-big-government protests began in the cities, and they were “about as libertarian as it gets,” as political number-cruncher Nate Silver put it at the time: light on moralism, heavy on “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets,” per the “Tea Party Patriots” founding credo.
“The Tea Partiers identified the right target: our profligate political class.”
At the massive Sept. 12, 2009, Tea Party rally in Washington, Ron Paul’s kids mixed with graying Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers; I snapped pictures of “What Would Mises Do?” signs and an erudite codger with a placard blaring: “Austrian Business Cycle Theory!” Could it be — some of us dared hope — that we were witnessing the birth of that unlikeliest of creatures: a libertarian mass-movement?
Half a decade later, that looks like a classic case of “irrational exuberance.” No doubt there’s a lot to be said for a movement that drives genial establishmentarians like Sen.Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to paroxysms of rage: “These people are not conservatives!” Hatch howled on NPR in 2012, “they’re radical libertarians and I’m doggone offended by it. I despise these people!” (Doggone!)
Still, I can relate to the fellow at Thursday’s Capitol Hill Tea Party Patriots anniversary event, a former Ron Paul volunteer who volunteered to the Washington Post that he was “so frustrated talking to these neocons,” he needed a pre-noon shot of Jameson.
Early on, Beltway hawks were terrified that the movement would exercise “the scariest kind of influence” on American foreign policy, shrinking defense budgets and ending America’s globocop role. Yet “Tea Party Republicans hold about the same views as non-Tea Party Republicans about America’s role in solving world problems,” according to the Pew Research Center. And when polls show that ”tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security ‘unacceptable,’” we’re not talking about a particularly “radical” form of libertarianism.
More frustrating still, as Conor Friedersdorf has pointed out, too often, Tea Partiers have been suckers for “some of the most obviously irresponsible charlatans in American life.” If you’re a GOP pol who lacks the chops to become president of the U.S., Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, you may have “enough talent to become President of Conservatism.” The responsibilities are minimal and the speaking fees are sweet.
Alas, these are the sorts of talents Tea Partiers swooned for in the 2012 primaries: Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich — even Rick Santorum, a self-proclaimed enemy of libertarianism who was the opposite of everything the Tea Party was supposed to stand for.
Herman Cain, who’s gone from the “9-9-9 plan” to promoting erectile dysfunction supplements, didn’t have what it takes to become “President of Conservatism.” But that title may go to new Tea Party fave Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz has some Iowa trips planned, but his debate-camp-honed charisma had the Weekly Standard’s Andy Ferguson wondering, during a car ride with Cruz, how many vertebrae he’d crack if he jumped out of the car and did “a tuck-and-roll onto the passing pavement.”
The Tea Partiers’ poor choice of banner carriers helps explain why their brand has suffered, and libertarian identification with the movement has waned over time. According to a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, “a majority of libertarians (61 percent) say they do not consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement.”
Still whatever errors they’ve made along the way, the Tea Partiers identified the right target: our profligate political class. That class will continue to reign, unless and until they’re confronted with a citizen movement that marries passion with sound judgment.
Gene Healy, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency.
|Title:||Hagel’s Futile Quest for NATO Burden Sharing|
|Date:||Tue, 04 Mar 2014 09:27 EST|
|Description:||Ted Galen Carpenter
At a meeting of NATO defense ministers on February 26, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned his European counterparts that they must step up their commitment to the Alliance or watch it become irrelevant. The current path of declining European defense budgets, he emphasized, “is not sustainable. Our alliance can endure only as long as we are willing to fight for it, and invest in it.” Rebalancing NATO’s “burden-sharing and capabilities,” Hagel stressed, “is mandatory—not elective.” The tone of his message was firm. “America’s contributions in NATO remain starkly disproportionate, so adjustments in the U.S. defense budget cannot become an excuse for further cuts in European defense spending.”
“It is long past time for the EU countries to take responsibility for their own defense—and for the overall security of their region.”
Taken at face value, Hagel’s comments appeared to be an uncompromising demand for greater burden sharing by NATO’s European members. The speech would have been far more impressive and encouraging though, if previous U.S. officials had not made similar exhortations over the past six-and-a-half decades. Unfortunately, those calls proved futile, and in all likelihood Hagel’s effort will suffer a similar fate. European governments have never believed that Washington would drastically downgrade (much less terminate) its commitment to NATO, no matter how shamelessly the allies continue to free ride on U.S. military efforts.
The ink was barely dry on the treaty establishing NATO in 1949 before U.S. officials saw worrisome signs that Washington’s new alliance partners were shirking their share of the collective defense obligations. Secretary of State Dean Acheson assured uneasy senators that the West Europeans would provide the vast majority of armaments and manpower for the Alliance, making it unnecessary for the United States to station a large number of troops on the Continent. General Omar Bradley echoed Acheson’s assurances. The next year, however, Washington “temporarily” dispatched four divisions to Europe to augment the two divisions already stationed there as part of the post-World War II Allied occupation of Germany. U.S. officials concluded that the other NATO members were not yet prepared to provide enough forces for a credible defense in the increasingly tense global strategic environment resulting from the communist offensive in Korea.
Washington’s prodding for greater burden sharing continued, however. In NSC 82, the Truman administration formalized the decision to strengthen Europe’s defense by making the “temporary” troop deployment permanent and bringing all NATO forces under U.S. command. But NSC 82 also insisted that those measures were not unconditional. “The United States should make it clear that it is now squarely up to the European signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty to provide the balance of forces required” for Western Europe’s defense. “Firm programs for the development of such forces should represent a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the above commitments on the part of the United States.”
The allies did promise to build more robust forces and to create a European Defense Community, including West German units, to coordinate those efforts. But little meaningful progress took place, as France and other countries dragged their feet about implementing the EDC. That behavior led Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to warn the allies that the United States would have to conduct an “agonizing reappraisal” of its security commitment to Europe, if they didn’t make a more serious effort. France killed the EDC, however, and there was no agonizing reappraisal—or even a downsizing of the U.S. military presence in Europe. Indeed, U.S. officials soon went out of their way to assure the Europeans that Washington regarded their security as vital to America’s own.
Even when Congress weighed in to pressure the Europeans, most notably with the proposed Mansfield Amendment to reduce U.S. troop levels on the Continent, there was little movement toward greater burden sharing. Mansfield’s effort culminated in a May 1971 Senate vote on binding legislation that would have cut the U.S deployment by 50 percent. Under tremendous pressure from the Nixon White House and zealous NATO supporters in the foreign policy community, the Senate rejected Mansfield’s proposal by a vote of 61-36.
That campaign against the Mansfield Amendment underscored a key reason why Washington’s Cold War burden-sharing admonitions invariably failed. Former Under Secretary of Defense Robert Komer candidly confirmed the problem in 1982 congressional testimony, stating that “U.S. threats” including “warnings that we’ll pull our troops out of Europe, never seem to work very well. The Europeans know that we need them as much as they need us.” But as Alan Tonelson, a scholar at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation and a long-time analyst of alliance issues, noted: “The main reason the European governments ‘knew’ that, of course, was because of the repeated assurances given by Komer and other U.S. officials” over the decades.
Indeed, the conduct of the European allies seemed to reflect a belief that the United States needed Europe even more than Europe needed the United States. And if Washington’s alternating efforts of pleading with and warning its allies didn’t produce greater burden sharing during the Cold War, it is not surprising that subsequent efforts have failed. Despite the current tensions in Ukraine, Europe’s threat environment is far less menacing now than it was throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the incentive for the NATO allies to do more militarily has become even weaker.
Events over the past decade confirm that point. George W. Bush’s administration managed to wring a promise from the allies in 2006 that all NATO members would spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. That commitment was already faltering even before the onset of the Great Recession caused severe economic problems. Today, few NATO members fulfill the 2 percent pledge. Even such leading countries as Germany, Italy and Spain fail to do so, and Britain and France have now fallen dangerously close to that spending floor.
Given the long, depressing history of failed burden-sharing calls, there is little chance that Hagel’s efforts will fare any better. The only way to change that dynamic is for the United States to make it clear by actions—not just words—that it will no longer tolerate European free riding on America’s military exertions. That means withdrawing all U.S. ground forces from the Continent and drastically downsizing the presence of air and naval forces. It also means ending Washington’s insistence on U.S. domination of collective defense efforts through its leadership in NATO. Indeed, the United States needs to abandon its myopic opposition to the European Union developing an independent security capability.
The world has changed a great deal since the stark days of the early Cold War, when Washington felt compelled to defend a weak, demoralized democratic Europe from a powerful, menacing totalitarian adversary. The EU collectively now has a population larger than that of the United States and a larger economy as well. It is long past time for the EU countries to take responsibility for their own defense—and for the overall security of their region. There is no justifiable reason for Washington to allow the European allies to remain free-riding security dependents of the United States. Instead of perpetuating the futile rhetorical quest for burden sharing, U.S. officials need to take substantive steps toward burden shifting.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to The National Interest, is the author of nine books and the contributing editor of ten books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America, and NATO Enters the 21st Century.
|Title:||Politics on the Bench--Iowa and Beyond|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 11:53 EST|
In her opinion essay in The National Law Journal about special-interest spending in judicial elections, former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus urged “keeping politics out of the courtroom.” ( “Politics on the Bench—A Judge’s View of Partisanship at Play,” Jan. 20.) Her concern is understandable: She and two colleagues were ousted in a 2010 retention election after the court in 2009 ruled unanimously that an Iowa statute denying civil marriage to same-sex couples violated equal protection under the Iowa Constitution. But there’s more politics here than meets the eye. In fact, it’s the politics Ternus didn’t mention that seems to have colored her idealized view of judging, shielding her from a deeper account of why our courts have become so politicized.
“Most of life was meant to be, and was, lived apart from government.”
Far from the angels being all on one side, it turns out that Iowa’s “nonpartisan” judicial screening commission and gubernatorial appointment process is deeply political. As a July 2010 report by The Iowa Republican documents, not only were all seven members of the Iowa Supreme Court, save Ternus, nominated by Democratic governors, from lists presented by the commission, but all were or had been Democrats or had made significant contributions to the party or its candidates. All seven, in short, came from one party.
Ternus does not see this process as politicizing the court, even though the 2010 report documents how the “nonpartisan” screening commission itself grew so one-sided. Instead, she contrasts “politicized courts”—where judges, influenced from outside, “approach decisions along philosophical or ideological lines”—with “impartial courts”—where “judges holding diverse perspectives pursue a collegial approach to decision-making,” effectively holding each other “accountable to the rule of law.” In these, “a collective wisdom is brought to bear when judges listen to, and find value in, their colleagues’ different perspectives.”
A worthy aspiration, perhaps, and doubtless more likely when all your colleagues are of the same party. But judges often disagree, often simply on what the law is, especially when they hold different philosophical or ideological views. And those differences can easily preclude any “collective wisdom,” much less “finding value in a colleague’s different perspective.” None of that, however, makes judges “politicians in robes.”
In fact, the judicial “consensus” Ternus is advocating is hardly possible today because we’re deeply divided along philosophical or ideological lines. Yet for the better part of our history we largely did agree, at least at a basic level. Our “philosophical view,” rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was one of individual liberty through limited government. Most of life was meant to be, and was, lived apart from government.
Progressivism and Our Politicized Courts
That all changed with Progressivism, of course, with the idea that law is a vehicle not mainly for adjudicating private disputes but for pursuing grand public visions. After the slow expansion of state police power during the early decades of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for this view following President Franklin Roosevelt’s infamous court-packing threat. The demise of the doctrine of enumerated powers in 1937, which unleashed the modern redistributive and regulatory state; the bifurcation of the Bill of Rights and of judicial review a year later in Carolene Products’ (in)famous footnote four, which enabled judges to label some rights “fundamental” and others of lesser value; and the rise thereafter of the vast administrative state all amounted to an explosion of “political law”—the law of “policy,” not principle, and hence of deep political disagreement. Thus, courts today are asked to decide matters that once were left to private determination—under private law, if necessary—and often to make essentially value-laden political decisions that parade then as “law.”
Take a simple current example. When the Commerce Clause was read as a power aimed mainly at ensuring unimpeded interstate commerce, as in Gibbons v. Ogden, not remotely was it thought to authorize anything like the massive redistributive scheme called Obamacare. Thus, if an organization wanted to offer its staff health insurance excluding contraceptive coverage it would simply transact for that in the marketplace. Today, however, the Court is asked to decide whether the administration, pursuant to a statute, can dictate that choice—a value-laden matter that would never be before the Court had it not so expanded Congress’s commerce power.
The case at hand is somewhat different, of course, since it turns not only on the Iowa Constitution but, ultimately, on the Fourteenth Amendment and hence pre-dates Progressivism. But even here, had we done a better job explaining and enforcing that amendment’s principles—their roots in the Declaration, as Lincoln saw—we might have been in a better position today to explain how they apply not only to New Orleans butchers, who in the Slaughterhouse Cases sought simply to be treated like other butchers; or to the black passengers in Plessy who sought an end to segregated railway cars; or to the bakers in Lochner who wanted only to negotiate their own terms of employment; and even to interracial and same-sex couples seeking simply to be left alone to marry, as in Loving and Perry—all of which would have meant far less government intrusion in our lives. And at bottom, isn’t that what many of those who unseated Justice Ternus want?
But locked into a program for ubiquitous government, Progressives like Ternus are hard pressed to explain why government should not, through the democratic process, be setting the terms of marriage as well. They’d have been better served by the broad leave-us-alone agenda that resonates with so many of their critics.
Roger Pilon president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute, director of Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies, and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
|Title:||Beat That Snowball!|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 10:31 EST|
It may not “have a snowball’s chance in Miami of becoming law,” but according to an article in Inside Higher Ed the latest Republican tax reform plan, introduced last week, would do some smart things on higher education. Most notably, it would kill some tax incentives to spend money on postsecondary education, and eliminate the patently absurd 80 percent tax deduction one gets when one “donates” to a school to get season tickets for one’s favorite sports team.
“The latest Republican tax reform plan would do some smart things on higher education.”
I favor ending the latter not just because my favorite team is in the midst of a dreadful season, and I’m feeling bitter about paying for it, but because it’s simply ridiculous that the tax code should favor generally well-off people contributing to big-time college-based entertainment. If ever there were a tax reform that should garner 100 percent, bipartisan support, it is this one. But it probably won’t, because too many politicians like to be honored, and wined and dined, at big schools and their sporting events.
Of course, all the tax-based aid mentioned in the IHE article should go — not be consolidated into a bigger American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) — because it artificially inflates college costs, putting the government’s thumb on spending for postsecondary “education,” rather than investing in stocks, or one’s business, or remodeling one’s home, or myriad other possible uses. In addition, while making the AOTC more refundable may skew policy a little less in favor of the well-to-do, the end result will still be schools encouraged to inflate their prices.
Let’s not, though, just blame schools. As a terrific recent article in the Wall Street Journal discusses, there is decent evidence that a lot of borrowers use federal student loans to cover more than just educational costs. It’s quite possible, then, that an appreciable bit of that big student debt we hear so much about is driven by borrower’s discretionary spending, not just educational costs. There is also empirical evidence that colleges don’t raise their prices simply because they want to, but in part because they must to attract students. It seems that given their access to lots of federal dough to pay for frills like towering climbing walls and lazy river floats, students will skip over schools that don’t offer such indulgences.
Again, though, don’t expect politicians to act. We know how staggering the waste is in higher education, but it is too easy to come off as the good guy by promising ever-more aid, and too easy to be tarred as cruel when calling for less counterproductive “help.” In other words, cutting tax-based aid is a good idea, but that South Beach snowball still has better prospects.
Neal McCluskey is the associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute. He is the author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education, and his writings have appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, and Forbes. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from George Mason University.
|Title:||Legal and Illegal Political Corruption|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:39 EST|
|Description:||Richard W. Rahn
If a politician or government official takes a direct monetary bribe for granting a favor or sweetheart contract, do you think he should be sent to prison?
Such an activity is despicable, but it is usually far less costly to society than the legal forms of corruption, which undermine the integrity and respect for government that is necessary for a civil and prosperous society. Most legal corruption is all about increasing power for those in government.
This past Friday, the following amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Intentional discrimination by employee of the Internal Revenue Service
“(a) Offense. — It shall be unlawful for any officer of the Internal Revenue Service to, regardless of whether the officer or employee is acting under the color of law, willfully act with the intent to injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate or single out and subject to undue scrutiny for purposes of harassment any person or organization in any State —
(1) based solely or primarily on the political, economic, or social positions held or expressed by the person or organization; or
(2) because the person or organization has expressed a particular political, economic, or social position using any words or writing allowed by law.”
It is hard to imagine anyone interested in good government being against such an amendment, because it is clearly designed to help prevent those in the IRS from abusing their power — which many have done.
Yet 10 senators, all Democrats, voted against it. They were: Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii.
Earlier, Mr. Schumer, along with Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, wrote letters to the IRS urging the agency to go after groups that the senators did not like. Using government agencies to go after one’s political opponents and attempting to deny them the right of free speech is a classic action of corrupt and authoritarian regimes.
The most pervasive form of legal corruption is for politicians to spend taxpayer money on unnecessary or inflated programs in order to, in effect, “buy votes.”
President Obama has just released his proposed budget, which continues funding for many programs that he himself has said are wasteful and duplicative. Many of these programs and activities do not come close to meeting the basic standard whereby the benefits exceed the costs.
Finally, much of what Mr. Obama and Congress (both parties) wish to fund is not authorized by the Constitution and should be left to the states and the people. The courts are indirectly responsible for much of this excess spending because they have allowed the Constitutional prohibitions and restraints to erode over the past two centuries.
Many judges, like elected politicians and government bureaucrats, are more interested in power and popularity among their fellow members of the political class than they are in protecting the republic and the people.
Political policy corruption is evident in the enactment of policies that the elected officials know, or most certainly should know, will hurt the people unnecessarily, in order to seek rewards from special interests.
The government officials who knowingly granted pension benefits to public-employee unions that could not be paid are examples of this kind of corruption (e.g., Detroit).
Mr. Obama’s new budget adds to the long-term problem of “entitlement” funding. Competent economists and actuaries (including those in government) who have looked at the problem correctly say that the current course is unsustainable.
A responsible Congress and administration would not continue on this course — but most members of both parties will vote to continue toward disaster because they are making a bet that they will benefit politically in the short run, by not making the necessary cutbacks — and the disaster will occur on someone else’s watch.
Those who can think logically (including most, but not all, economists) understand that it is possible to make a few (the politically favored) better off by raising the minimum wage, but most others (particularly the least skilled) will be worse off.
Joseph Sabia, an expert on the minimum wage, wrote in the March edition of the Cato Tax and Budget Bulletin: “The minimum wage fails to reduce net poverty because of its adverse effects on employment and poor ability to target workers living in households below the poverty threshold.”
Only corrupt and uncaring members of the government class would make it illegal for a person to accept a job that they want (particularly if there are no other jobs available), because it does not meet some politically decided arbitrary “minimum wage.”
There is at least a 2,000-year history of politicians imposing various forms of wage and price controls in attempt to deny market reality — almost all of them ending badly. The minimum wage is also a denial of a basic human right — that is, the liberty to sell one’s labor in order to survive, and better one’s self, or learn a new craft.
Richard Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.
|Title:||End the Drug War: The American People Are Not the Enemy|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:31 EST|
Drug use is bad. Arresting people for using drugs is worse. With the states of Colorado and Washington leading the way, the federal government should drop criminal penalties against those who produce, sell, and consume drugs.
Prohibition always was a dubious policy for a people who called their country the land of the free. Early restrictions on tobacco and alcohol use failed. The so-called Drug War has been no better. Unfortunately, the latter campaign has always been a violent, often deadly, assault on the American people.
“Drug use is bad. Arresting people for using drugs is worse.”
There’s no obvious moral reason to demonize the use of mind-altering substances which are widely employed around the globe. Obviously, drugs can be abused, but so can most anything else. That some people will misuse something is no argument for prohibition. Even the Bible only inveighs against alcohol intoxication, not use. In his short book, The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom, Christian writer Laurence Vance makes a powerful case against the Drug War.
Some people still may abhor drug use as a matter of personal moral principle, but the criminal law should focus on interpersonal morality, that is, behavior which directly affects others. Basing criminal strictures on intra-personal morality essentially puts government into the business of soul-molding, a task for which it has demonstrated little aptitude. And if morality is one’s concern, it would be foolish to let politicians make such moral distinctions as celebrating use of alcohol while punishing use of marijuana.
Moreover, whatever one’s morals, the Drug War has failed. As Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman observed, “we need not resolve the ethical issue to agree on policy. Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse for both the addict and the rest of us.”
Drug prohibition has failed in almost every way, leaving extremely high use while yielding all of the counterproductive impacts of criminalization. Our decades-long commitment to legal restrictions has the following real-world impacts. It
raises drug prices,
generates enormous profits for criminal entrepreneurs,
forces even casual consumers into an illegal and often violent market,
causes heavy users to commit crimes to pay for higher-priced drugs,
leaves violence as the ultimate arbiter in disputes among users and dealers,
wastes vast amounts on enforcement efforts,
corrupts officials and entire institutions, and
undermines individual liberties.
All this, and drugs remain widely used. If a policy with those outcomes is not a “failure,” what would be?
The direct enforcement costs run more than $40 billion a year and affect every level of government. Forgone tax revenue is even greater. With Uncle Sam effectively bankrupt and many states carrying obligations akin to those of Greece, the Drug War is a wasteful diversion from far more pressing needs.
Attempting to suppress an enduring and profitable trade also has corrupted virtually every institution it has touched—police, prosecution, judiciary, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and even the military. The problem is even worse in other nations, such as Mexico.
Perhaps the most perverse impact of the Drug War has been to injure and kill users. Far from protecting people from themselves, prohibition actually makes drug use more dangerous. For instance, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman chose to use heroin, but he could never be certain as to its quality, purity, and potency. And he had no way to hold his suppliers accountable for negligently or fraudulently endangering his life. Criminalization also encourages dealers to traffic in substances which are both more concealable and valuable—which usually means more concentrated, and dangerous.
Threatening addicts with jail also makes them less likely to acknowledge their problems and seek assistance. The drug war encourages needle-sharing by IV drug users, which promotes the spread of AIDS and hepatitis. Fear of prosecution causes doctors to under-prescribe painkillers for the sick, while Washington fights to keep marijuana off-limits to the ill, despite evidence that it helps some people suffering from a variety of ailments.
Nor is there any way to run a war against tens of millions of Americans without sacrificing the constitutional liberties of all of us. The drug trade is a classic “self-victim” crime without a complaining witness. Thus, government must rely on intrusive and draconian enforcement procedures: informants, surveillance, wiretaps, and raids. Innocent people are injured and sometimes killed during the increasingly militarized raids.
Normal constitutional rules don’t apply. Lawyers talk of the “drug exception” to the Fourth Amendment. Cops admit to lying to justify arrests. Prosecutors acknowledge relying on dubious testimony to win convictions. Judges apply mandatory minimum penalties for even minimal offenses.
The crusade against drug use has turned the supposed land of the free into a prison state. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of people under criminal justice control in one form or another tripled to six million. Of nearly 14 million arrests in 2009, 1.7 million were for drug crimes, almost three times the number arrested for violent offenses. Nearly half of drug arrests were for marijuana. Drug offenders account for more than half of federal convicts. Roughly one fifth of state prisoners are in for drug crimes.
Ironically, the Drug War has created new and more dangerous crimes. The drug laws more than drug use are “crimogenic.” For instance, unlike alcohol—which makes one more likely both to commit and be victim of a crime—heroin and marijuana promote passivity. Moreover, by inflating the price of drugs, the Drug War goads addicts to steal.
The worst crimes grow out of a well-funded illegal marketplace. As during Prohibition, violence becomes the ultimate business guarantee. Moreover, abundant drug revenues subsidize gangs and organizations which branch out into other crimes, from kidnapping to terrorism.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy concluded: “increased arrests and law enforcement pressures on drug markets were strongly associated with increased homicide rates and other violent crimes.” Even the late James Q. Wilson, who supported drug prohibition, admitted, “It is not clear that enforcing the laws against drug use would reduce crime. On the contrary, crime may be caused by such enforcement.” In nations such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, drug trafficking organizations engage in open warfare, often with their respective governments.
One still could imagine attempting to justify the Drug War if it worked, in the sense of eliminating drug use. However, drug prohibition has accomplished little in this regard, having the most impact where it is least needed. Observed Mary M. Cleveland: “Most people choose not to use illicit drugs even when they have cheap and easy access to them. Enforcement can have some effect on light users; regular and problem users will get their drugs even in prison. Drug treatment and changes in social norms have far more influence on drug use than enforcement because they affect individuals’ attitudes.”
Government figures indicate that nearly half of Americans older than 12 have tried illegal drugs. Tens of millions of people use with some regularity. High school students report that drugs are easily accessible. Drug use persists even in countries where governments execute dealers.
Ironically, there is no correlation between increased enforcement and decreased consumption. The Economist magazine observed: “There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer.”
Frustration with the Drug War obviously was manifested in the decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational marijuana use. Uruguay has done the same, with pressure rising in other Latin American nations to shift away from prohibition. Former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico are urging a “Drug Peace.”
America’s states could experiment. Drugs could be sold with varying restrictions (such as we impose on alcohol and tobacco). The specific treatment of individual substances could be based on assessments of harm and the possible impact on others.
Greatest law enforcement efforts should remain directed at kids. That actually would be easier in a semi-legal gray rather than illegal black market.
Legalization would not be a scary jump into the unknown. Portugal decriminalized all drugs a decade ago. Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have permitted some legal drug use. Cocaine, heroin, and marijuana once were legal in the U.S., but America did not turn into a nation of addicts. A dozen American states previously decriminalized marijuana use and many more have legalized the use of medical marijuana. While these policies have not been problem-free, none have seen challenges approaching those caused by criminal prohibition.
Indeed, the upside potential of legalization is enormous. Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter wrote in Drug War Heresies, “Reductions in criminal sanctioning have little or no effect on the prevalence of drug use (i.e., the number of users).” Even if “relaxed drug laws increase the prevalence of use … , the additional users will, on average, use less heavily and less harmfully than those who would have also used drugs under prohibition.”
People should not abuse drugs. It might be best if they didn’t use them at all. However, that is no justification for a war against drug users, arresting many and endangering all. Indeed, we all pay the price from increased crime and decreased liberties.
American governments at all levels should terminate the Drug War. It is time to stop treating the American people as the enemy.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School and a member of the California and DC bars.
|Title:||The Ingrained Intolerance of Liberal Tolerance|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:21 EST|
Yet another important facet of individual liberty disappeared with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of legislation protecting people’s right not to be forced to violate their religious principles while doing business. The governor has decided: Hang out a shingle and you must leave your deepest beliefs at home. We all are slaves to the political zeitgeist.
The issue in Arizona was not a lack of tolerance by those in business. There is no dearth of firms across Arizona willing to serve gays. Even among those not in the forefront of gay rights, the opportunity to make a little money is a strong incentive in a weak economy. It seems doubtful that gay events go without because of bigots run amok.
“We all are slaves to the political zeitgeist.”
Instead, the real question was tolerance for those in business. Why are you expected to abandon your conscience the moment you step into the commercial world? Why is it mandatory to violate your liberty in order to protect the wishes of others?
Indeed, why would a gay couple want, say, a Christian opposed to gay marriage to photograph their wedding or prepare their cake? It hardly seems the best way to ensure a satisfactory job. One suspects that it is an exercise in humiliation, an attempt to force those with unfashionable scruples to affirm what they reject. It is, in short, a calculated effort at intolerance.
Obamacare’s contraception mandate has a similar effect — and almost certainly received such vigorous support on the left for precisely this reason. Everyone, except in the narrowest religious circumstances, must provide/purchase health insurance that covers contraception (as well as sterilization and abortifacients).
Contraception is not even a typical insurable event, since it is not an unexpected and unpredictable costly occurrence, but a normal, voluntary, and inexpensive choice exercised by the policyholder. “Insurance” just spreads the cost to gays, celibates, infertile, elderly, and others who don’t use contraception, raising premiums for everyone. Moreover, the vast majority of plans already offer coverage, if for no other reason than that pregnancy is expensive, so the provision likely pays for itself.
Even in the few instances when no insurance coverage is available, contraception is well within most people’s means. In fact, the unofficial spokeswoman for forcing everyone else to pay for her sex life was a Georgetown University Law School student who managed to pay for an extremely expensive legal education.
But the point was always state-mandated intolerance rather than health care. The objective was to force Catholics, mostly, and the few fundamentalist Protestants who hold similar theological views, to pay for what they oppose. In fact, there is no better way to humiliate those you hate. It is pure and unadulterated intolerance, the ultimate Washington triumph: Make those you despise pay for what they despise.
When government was small the regulatory state was nonexistent and unavailable to routinely turn intolerance into law. People were largely left alone to manage their own lives. Want to photograph a ceremony which you abhor? Up to you. Want to offer health insurance, let alone include contraception in the policy? Up to you.
That’s what a free society is all about.
Of course, those who are on the receiving end of social disapproval typically — and understandably — don’t like the result. But no one has a “right” to be served by any particular person. Forcing someone into servitude is infinitely worse than simply finding someone else to do the job. The right response is to change social attitudes. My friend Sheldon Richman at the Future of Freedom Foundation pointed to the use of “boycotts, publicity, and ostracism” to penalize those who refuse service. Activism in response to discrimination is why gay marriage has gone from a policy fantasy to dominant law in just a few years. And why government has gone from banning contraception to mandating contraception coverage.
Unfortunately, throughout history the newly empowered almost always learn the wrong lesson. Rather than overturn discriminatory laws and create barriers to new state injustices, such groups typically grab control of the state and use law for their own advantage. Hence state persecution of the New Mexico wedding photographer who felt she could not promote gay ceremonies which she believed to be wrong and the Oregon baker who refused to provide cakes for the same purpose. Other celebrated cases include a Hawaii bed and breakfast and Kentucky printer.
The principle runs both ways. Why should gay bars be forced to employ straight bartenders? Moreover, argued my Cato Institute colleague Ilya Shapiro, “gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities.” Government should not force anyone to leave his or her conscience outside when arriving at work.
In practice, leaving business people alone wouldn’t change life very much. Advanced industrial capitalism allows most people to make most economic decisions without fixating on the behavior, beliefs, or character of the person with whom they are dealing. I don’t know if the clerk at the gas station where I stop is cheating on his wife. I don’t know if the owner of the used book store where I cogitate is gay, straight, or bi. I don’t know if the manager of the grocery store where I shop is a warmongering neocon or a big spending redistributionist liberal. And I’m happy I don’t have to worry about such matters when filling an auto gas tank, purchasing a favorite history book, or buying a gallon of milk.
Nevertheless, some decisions are more uncomfortable than others. Most photographers probably don’t care about the person’s background when taking their portrait. Covering a wedding — actively participating in and celebrating the ceremony — is different. As a writer, I have ghosted articles for people of varying political views. But there are boundaries that I would not transgress.
Despite the public hysteria generated by the Arizona legislation, it merely expanded existing law which bars government from imposing a “substantial burden” on religious practice without a “compelling state interest.” That hardly seems unreasonable. What is unreasonable is the obvious desire of so many people to interfere with religious faith with which they disagree.
Worse is the refusal of politicians like Gov. Brewer to stand for freedom of conscience. Worst may be the wild applause she received from the left, for which promoting “tolerance” has become a cover for spreading virulent intolerance, as well as from the unprincipled right, including corporate America and establishment politicians led by failed GOP presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Any large, diverse society will find people at frequent odds, believing and behaving differently. In the main, government should leave them alone to find their own way. Especially when most basic freedom of conscience is involved. Tolerance is a cardinal virtue.
Indeed, liberty of conscience under girds all human freedom. Such liberty is inherent to the human person, not a privilege granted by the state. If Americans really believe in freedom as they claim, they should respect religious beliefs — especially unpopular ones, as in this case.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).
|Title:||9 Reasons Why I Support Both Marriage Equality and Arizona's Religious-Liberty Bill|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:19 EST|
Even though I’m for marriage equality—see my Supreme Court briefs in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, and this week I’ll be filing a brief supporting the challenge to the marriage laws of Oklahoma and Utah—I had no problem with Arizona’s SB 1062 for at least nine reasons:
1. Unlike the failed legislation in Kansas and elsewhere, which truly was anti-gay, bills like Arizona’s merely provide a (non-absolute) right to assert a religious objection to generally applicable law, with courts being the ultimate arbiters of how to reconcile competing values.
2. SB 1062 did nothing more than align state law with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, which passed the House unanimously and the Senate 97-3, and was signed by President Clinton in 1993). No government action can “substantially burden” religious exercise unless the government uses “the least restrictive means” to further a “compelling interest.” Understandably, this right includes being able to assert a religious objection as a defense in a lawsuit that invokes state law as the basis for a claim (whether that be an antidiscrimination law or any other kind)—but again, a judge gets to decide whether that objection should be accommodated or overruled based on the standards I just described.
3. Such laws don’t mean that people can “do whatever they want”—laws against murder would still trump religious human sacrifice—but it prevents the government from forcing people to violate their religion if that can at all be avoided. Moreover, there’s no mention of sexual orientation (or any other class or category), unlike the Kansas bill, which specifically referenced and defined marriage.
4. Why should people be forced to engage in activity that violates their religious beliefs? The prototypical scenario that SB 1062 was meant to prevent is the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. This photographer doesn’t refuse service to gay clients, but couldn’t participate in the celebration of a gay wedding. (The Supreme Court will decide later this month whether to hear the case.) There’s also the Oregon bakery that closed rather than having to provide cakes for same-sex ceremonies. And the Washington florist who was sued by a long-time customer, and other similar examples.
5. This isn’t the Jim Crow South. There are plenty of wedding photographers—over 100 in Albuquerque alone—and bakeries who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation and no state is enforcing segregation laws (or has police officers moonlighting as Klansmen).
6. It may be a different case if there’s only one photographer for hundreds of miles—let alone one restaurant or hotel—but I wonder how many gay weddings happen in such isolated hamlets. And anyway, that extreme hypothetical shouldn’t be used as the basis for establishing general principle. As they say, hard cases make bad law.
7. While governments have the duty to treat everyone equally under the law, private individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whom to do business with and how—on religious or any other grounds. Gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work Southern Baptist celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities, and pacifists shouldn’t be forced to work NRA conventions.
8. Laws like SB 1062 help avoid manufactured controversies and preempt the involvement of lawyers where common sense and decency fear to tread. If somebody doesn’t want to serve you—or refuses to serve others on a basis you can’t stomach—take your custom elsewhere and encourage others to do the same. I bet plenty of Arizona businesses would see more customers if they advertised that they welcomed the LGBT community.
9. While Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto may have thrown cold water on this debate, the conflict between government mandates and civil rights (whether religious liberty, freedom of association, or anything else) will not go away. The way that the media maliciously misdescribed SB 1062 and that national politicians turned tail rather than defend inconvenient concepts may have made signing the bill politically hard, but the underlying policy principles are sound.
Let’s hope that the cases like those I described above—people who have long served gay clients but who don’t want to work same-sex ceremonies—don’t happen in Arizona. If they do, this debate will flare up again, in Phoenix and nationally.
In the meantime, I suggest that legislatures that want to protect liberty for all pursue these mini-RFRAs—patterned on the federal one that was designed by those right-wing zealots Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy—but only in conjunction with the extension of state marriage law to gay couples.
Tolerance, civility, and equal rights in a pluralistic society are all two-way streets.
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
|Title:||Avoid War, Cold Or Hot, with Russia over Ukraine: Finding a Way Back from the Catastrophic Brink|
|Date:||Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:15 EST|
Ukrainians won an important political battle by ousting the corrupt Viktor Yanukovich as president. But replacing Yanukovich with another dubious politico, such as opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, just released from prison, would change little.
Washington also triumphed. Without doing much—no troops, no money, few words—Americans watched protesters rebuff police attacks, force Yanukovich to flee, and frustrate Russia’s Vladimir Putin. A trifecta at virtually no expense. Contrast that with U.S. debacles in Iraq, Egypt, and more.
But now Russia is attempting to win as well, intervening in Crimea to an unknown end. Whether intending to simply reinforce Moscow’s influence or completely sever the region from Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has created a tinderbox that could burst into flames with one errant shot from a Russian or Ukrainian soldier, or even angry protester.
“The U.S. should avoid being drawn into a war with Russia over Ukraine’s future.”
The only certainty is that the U.S. should avoid being drawn into a war with Russia over Ukraine’s future. Kiev called for a UN Security Council meeting and pointed to general territorial guarantees included in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by Washington governing divestment of nuclear weapons left in Ukraine. Moscow’s conduct is intolerable. Conflict with Russia would be many times worse.
The Ukrainian people have suffered much throughout history, especially under Communist oppression—highlighted by mass starvation under Joseph Stalin and briefly interrupted by brutal Nazi occupation. Independence came two decades ago.
But the nation’s politics have remained tempestuous. The 2004 Orange Revolution led to the election of U.S. favorite Viktor Yushchenko, who exhibited unparalleled incompetence and inconstancy. He broke with his ally Tymoshenko, the legendary “gas princess,” and eventually appointed Yanukovich, whom he had accused of attempted assassination during the presidential campaign, as prime minister. Yushchenko received just 5.4 percent of the vote in his reelection bid, while Yanukovich defeated Tymoshenko in a poll considered to be fair if not entirely clean.
Yanukovich’s corrupt proclivities surprised no one. In just a couple years his son, a dentist, became one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. But victory by the scandal-tainted Tymoshenko would only have rearranged the oligarchs at the public trough. Indeed, her premiership under Yushchenko was friendlier towards Moscow than was Yanukovich’s presidency. Even in accepting Putin’s largesse last November Yanukovich refused to sign the Russian-led Customs Union; the Ukrainian president looked like the proverbial rug merchant squeezing the last penny out of his Russian customer.
Protestors filled Maidan Square in Kiev over Yanukovich’s rejection of a trade agreement with the European Union, but it was not Washington’s business. If the democratically elected government Ukraine desired to look east rather than west economically, so be it. The EU wasn’t happy, but it was outbid. Brussels assumed Ukraine had no choice. Brussels was wrong.
The issue, in contrast to Kiev’s later brutal treatment of protesters, had nothing to do with democracy, human rights, or even sovereignty. In fact, inking the proposed European pact would have meant agreeing to far more, and far more onerous conditions. Associating with Europe likely would have meant a more prosperous and freer future, but that was up to the Ukrainian people acting through their elected government. Ironically, plenty of Greeks and other Europeans now want to reconsider the EU deals struck by their past leaders.
And Ukraine is divided. Broadly speaking, the nation’s west is nationalist and leans European while the east is Russo-friendly. Kiev falls within opposition territory—two-thirds of city voters chose Tymoshenko over Yanukovich—so anti-government protestors rally easily. Demonstrations over policy quickly turned into a de facto putsch or street revolution, a machtuebernahme. It was as if Republican Party politicians, Ron Paul fans, and Tea Party activists showed up in Washington to protest ObamaCare and took over the Mall, occupied the Treasury Department, surrounded the White House, burned down the Democratic National Committee, blockaded key intersections, armed nationalist radicals, tossed firebombs at the police, demanded Barack Obama’s resignation, and threatened more violence if he didn’t quit immediately. Good demands, perhaps, but dubious tactics.
Even so, that wasn’t Washington’s problem either. Yanukovich’s ouster was Ukraine’s gain, especially if its people prove able to create a more liberal political order. However, the price paid may be high. Democratic parties allied with the neo-fascist Svoboda Party and strongly nationalistic Right Sector. Worse, street violence, especially by extreme nationalists, helped overturn the Yanukovich and could be deployed against better and more honest elected leaders in the future. Unfortunately, the “good guys” can’t assume only they get to violate democratic norms.
Indeed, many of those who look east and voted for Yanukovich—even if unenthused about his obvious failings, including newly exposed lavish lifestyle—feel cheated. There was no fascist coup, but the government they helped elect was violently overthrown. Some of them might prefer to shift their allegiance to Russia. These sentiments appear to be strongest in the Crimea, a Tartar state allied with the Ottoman Empire until conquered by the Russian Empire in the 18th Century.
In 1954 Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Nikita Krushchev, from Ukraine, gifted Crimea to Ukraine, largely for economic reasons. At the time the switch meant nothing internationally since no one expected the U.S.S.R. to split apart. But after the Soviet Union’s disintegration in late 1991 Ukraine departed with Crimea in tow. Moscow was forced to lease back its Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol.
National accommodation should be possible today through a commitment by Kiev to engage both east and west, which the Ukrainian people clearly desire. Moreover, the government should address disenfranchised Yanukovich backers, perhaps offering greater regional autonomy. Kiev also should reassure Moscow that Ukraine is not about to join any anti-Russia bloc, including NATO. But if Crimeans, in particular, want to return to Russia, they should be able to do so. It still wouldn’t be easy, since no region of Ukraine is truly monolithic. But the 1993 “Velvet Divorce” between the Czech and Slovak sections of Czechoslovakia offers an obvious model.
However, none of this should matter much to America. We should wish Ukrainians of all regions well as they attempt to rebuild amid the political rubble left by Yanukovich’s violent ouster. But there is no important let alone vital security issue at stake for the U.S. in the specific choices they make. And certainly nothing that warrants the sort of intrusive meddling evident in the recorded phone call between Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
Most important, the extended and violent protests against the Yanukovich government demonstrate that Moscow has no hope of dominating the country. A Russian invasion would face resistance from a determined people as well as sizable military and victory would yield perpetual conflict and instability. Kiev will be independent and almost certainly will look west economically. The only question is how much of Ukraine.
In principle that also isn’t Washington’s concern. It is hard for American officials to acknowledge that not everything requires Washington’s attention. But what is in or out of Ukraine does not. Indeed, in a poll last week just 17 percent of Americans wanted the U.S. involved.
That shouldn’t stop the EU from playing a new Great Game if it desires. Europe is both wealthy and next door: the European nations could offer foreign aid and the EU could promise membership. If Brussels believes Kiev’s orientation is critical, then the former should outbid Russia. That shouldn’t be hard, since the EU has ten times the GDP of Putin’s bedraggled wannabe empire. Hard-pressed U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for Europe’s benefit.
But rather than play the game Vladimir Putin has upended the board and scattered the pieces. Russia introduced troops, taking effective control of the Crimea at the formal request of Sergei Aksyonov, the region’s new pro-Russian premier. What comes next no one knows.
Of course, Russia shouldn’t meddle. However, a U.S. government that is ever ready to make demands, offer aid, impose sanctions, support leaders and factions, undermine governments, launch covert actions, and, most important, bomb, invade, and occupy other nations is in a weak position to criticize Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine. The most militarily interventionist state today is America. However good Washington’s justifications—and, frankly, in many cases they have not been very good—U.S. leaders have no principled argument against other governments acting in similar ways even if for more venal, even criminal, reasons, as in this case.
As for Ukraine’s east, and especially Crimea, all sides should abide by the wishes of its residents, many of whom appear committed to separation. In fact, in 1992 the Crimean parliament voted to secede, though advocates settled for additional autonomy. Now they may be more serious. Washington should discourage the new Ukrainian government—both unrepresentative and unstable—from using force to hold any region which genuinely seeks separation.
Yet Putin, demonstrating the hubris that comes naturally with authoritarian control, tossed aside his trump card, a planned referendum by Crimea’s residents. A majority secession vote would have allowed him to claim the moral high ground in standing by a kindred people. Aksyonov announced that he is advancing the poll, which will occur on March 30 and offer choices of autonomous status quo, independence, and Russian affiliation. However, an election conducted under foreign occupation lacks credibility.
As it stands Russia has committed acts of aggression and war. The only good news is that Putin’s ends almost certainly are limited. Could Russia attempt to take Ukraine in two gulps rather than one, rather like Adolf Hitler grabbed Czechoslovakia? Russia isn’t Nazi Germany and Ukraine isn’t 1938 Czechoslovakia, with or without the Crimea. Ukraine’s west wouldn’t be incorporated easily or completely.
So far the participants have not lost their heads and started shooting. That could lead to genuine disaster. Russia has more than ten times Ukraine’s GDP and outspends Ukraine 20-1 on the military. The former should easily win any conventional contest. But the aftermath, especially if Moscow sought to occupy anything more than the most heavily pro-Russian areas, would be continuing resistance and strife. Hopefully one Chechnya is enough for Vladimir Putin.
Even in the worst case the U.S. has no cause for military intervention. Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies complained: “If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” However, it would be foolish to wave the stick if using it would risk far more than is at stake. Who controls the Crimea just ain’t worth a possible nuclear confrontation.
Putin is a nasty guy with a nasty agenda, but Great Power wannabe Russia is no ideologically-driven superpower Soviet Union. Moreover, Ukraine is not “in the center of Europe” as the Washington Post strangely proclaimed. Moscow perceives its vital interests as securing regional security, not winning global domination. The only thing worse than a completely unnecessary conflict would be a completely unnecessary conflict involving America—especially with a nuclear-armed power. This possibility offers a stark reminder of the case against inducting Ukraine into NATO, which would have created a formal legal commitment to start World War III.
The allies should develop an out for Russia. Moscow can yet step back. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the troop presence was required “until the normalization of the political situation.” How so? One scenario: Russia withdraws its forces while Kiev schedules independence referendums in Russian-leaning areas. Popular approval would lead to a negotiated separation process. Other modus Vivendi also are possible.
If Putin refuses to draw back, Washington and Brussels have little choice but to retaliate, imposing “costs,” in the president’s word. Secretary of State John Kerry promised “to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia.” The allies could impose a range of sanctions—cancelling the June G-8 summit in Sochi, abandoning new economic or trade negotiations, denying visas to leading Russians, recalling ambassadors, refusing normal diplomatic discourse, excluding Russian banks from international finance—but none of these actions, except perhaps the latter, would have much impact.
Tougher would be banning investment and trade, which might build domestic political opposition to Putin. However, such a policy also might perversely strengthen the Russian state by making private Russian business more dependent on the authorities. Moreover, the Europeans are unlikely to stop purchasing natural gas from Moscow.
The other problem with retaliation is that the tougher the response the more likely Moscow would harm American interests elsewhere: interfere with operations in Afghanistan, offer positive support for Iran and its nuclear program, enhance backing for Syria’s Bashar Assad, and provide succor to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Today Russia is not, as Mitt Romney bizarrely claimed, America’s number one geopolitical adversary. And Putin’s machinations in Ukraine are not directed at the U.S. But Moscow could take over that spot if it desired. Whatever else Washington does, it needs to keep communications open, as even President Ronald Reagan did with the Evil Empire during the Cold War.
The struggle in Ukraine is vital for Ukrainians. However, history, geography, and reality all defy hysterical claims as to Ukraine’s global and historic importance. Its people deserve prosperity, stability, liberty, and democracy. America also would benefit from that result.
But that future is not within Washington’s power to bestow, on Ukraine or anyone else. Today the U.S. should concentrate on pulling Russia back from the brink in Ukraine. A new cold war is in no one’s interest. A hot war would be a global catastrophe.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||A Slow Death for the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline?|
|Date:||Sun, 02 Mar 2014 17:34 EST|
|Description:||Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger
If recent reports are accurate, President Barack Obama will make a final decision on the beleaguered Keystone XL pipeline “in a couple of months,” but don’t hold your breath. A recent ruling in a Nebraska court and a still-open public comment period at the State Department promise lengthy delays. The “couple of months” refrain has been used before. While the president could very well make a decision, he has no reason to, as he is setting the board in a way that he doesn’t have to touch Keystone for the rest of his presidency.
While he hasn’t moved to counter the bad publicity heaped on the pipeline, the president has cut the permitting time for natural gas export facilities. In this way, he is keeping both job creation proponents and environmental protectionists happy, allowing him to vacillate on Keystone without ever having to face the negatives that will come with any decision.
The president’s strategic play — straight out of his Climate Action Plan — runs afoul of the science and economic benefits behind the pipeline, but is a winner when it comes to the politics.
The expansion of natural gas has a greater, more diverse and more widespread economic impact than Keystone XL. Estimates of permanent jobs once the pipeline is up and running are only in the low hundreds.
Expanding domestic natural gas production, on the other hand, is a boost to mining operators, transporters and refiners, and it supports a build-out of infrastructure along the way — with the money primarily changing hands in the United States. Speeding up natural gas permitting then is a perfect way to quiet the jobs lobby. From an environmental standpoint, the preference for “clean” natural gas over so-called “dirty” oil from the Canadian tar sands fits perfectly with the president’s continued push for measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But since China annually increases its carbon dioxide emissions by many more times than we could ever hope to reduce ours, the math and science behind the president’s efforts proves them to be ineffective. But this takes a backseat to the appearance of at least “doing something” about climate change.
“When it comes to Keystone XL, facts don’t seem to matter – what is dictating policy is environmental alarmism.”
On a recent trip to Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry called the dangers of a changing climate “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” The president didn’t waste much time in piling on, linking the risks of climate change to the pipeline during a visit to Mexico last week. Such talk is designed to appease green groups. Last week, these groups reiterated that presidential approval of the pipeline would be unforgivable and would result in a “vehement reaction.”
This rhetoric is way over the top. Increasingly, scientific findings are published that suggest that the Earth’s climate is less sensitive to carbon dioxide emissions than is widely recognized, which means fewer, and less negative, impacts. When it comes to Keystone XL, the oil carried through the pipeline between now and the end of the century would add less than 0.001 degrees Celsius of extra global warming — which surely meets the president’s definition of “negligible,” a criteria he has put forward for his approval of the pipeline. Furthermore, in its recently completed review, the State Department concluded that the overall environmental risk from the pipeline is low and manageable.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Keystone XL, facts don’t seem to matter — what is dictating policy is environmental alarmism. That’s why the pipeline’s permitting process has been drawn out for more than five years and counting.
This all points to a slow, painful death for the Keystone XL pipeline — a death not at the hands of good science, but rather from political gamesmanship.
Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger is the assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||In Fighting the 'Job Lock,' Democrats Opened a Poverty Trap|
|Date:||Sat, 01 Mar 2014 10:24 EST|
|Description:||Michael D. Tanner
When the Congressional Budget Office weighed in earlier this month on the work incentives of ObamaCare, much of the attention was focused on whether millions of Americans could cut back their work hours or even quit their jobs.
The law’s supporters called this “ending job lock,” and Nancy Pelosi pointed out that people could now leave unsatisfying jobs to, say, “write poetry.”
“It seems amazingly self-defeating to set up a system that discourages both work and marriage.”
Opponents pointed out that, while ending the job lock might be a good thing, the people quitting those jobs would now be subsidized by taxpayers, many of whom might be working in unsatisfying jobs themselves.
But the contretemps over “job lock” obscured another, perhaps even more important, issue raised by the CBO report — the way in which taxes and welfare benefits create a “poverty trap” for the poor that makes rising up to the middle class far less likely.
Because the subsidies under ObamaCare are phased out as incomes rise, it creates situations where, “the phase-out effectively raises people’s marginal tax rates (the tax rates applying to their last dollar of income), thus discouraging work.”
In fact, for those low-wage workers who fall into this phase-out range, CBO estimates that it will increase their marginal tax rate by an average of 12 percentage points. As CBO points out, “[f]or those workers, the loss of subsidies upon returning to a job with health insurance is an implicit tax on working.”
Unfortunately, ObamaCare is not the only government program creating such a poverty trap. Most programs for the poor have similar phase-outs, leading to a similar conundrum.
Consider Mary, a single mother with two kids earning around 150% of the federal poverty level for a household of three.
If she works, she must pay a marginal federal income tax of 15% on each additional dollar she earns. In addition, she faces a marginal New York state income tax rate of roughly 5.9%, and in New York City, a marginal rate of 3.54% for the municipal income tax. Therefore, if she earns $1, Mary pays more than 24 cents in income taxes. In addition, she must pay 7.5 cents in payroll taxes. (Her employer matches that 7.5 cents, which ultimately comes out of Mary’s pocket through lower wages, but let’s ignore that for the moment). Thus, Mary only gets to keep 68 cents of that dollar.
And that is only one side of the equation. As Mary earns more income, she will start to lose some of the benefits that she currently receives from the government. As CBO points out, as her ObamaCare subsidies phase out, she will lose another 12 cents out of every dollar she earns. This continues as she loses eligibility for other benefits. It all adds up.
In many ways, in fact, the highest marginal tax rates in this country are not those faced by millionaires and billionaires, but those paid by a person leaving welfare for work.
In 1999, Dan Shaviro of NYU found that some poor people actually could face taxes and lost benefits that exceed the total amount of what they earn, a marginal tax rate higher than 100%. Things have improved since then, largely because of expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits.
Even so, a poor mother of two who takes a job in New York, and earns just 150% of the poverty level, roughly $29,685, still faces a marginal tax rate of nearly 52%. That means that for every additional dollar she earns, she would lose more than half of it in taxes and foregone benefits. In Connecticut, the marginal tax rate would be only marginally better, roughly 51%. And in New Jersey, a poor mother taking a job could face a marginal tax rate of 47.5%.
Welfare benefits in all three states are quite generous. A mother of two receiving benefits from seven of the 126 federal anti-poverty programs (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, utilities assistance, public housing, and free commodities), could receive more than $38,000 per year in benefits. If that person takes a job, they will suddenly face a host of new expenses, transportation, child care, and so on, not to mention the loss of family and leisure time. How likely is that person to take a job or increase their work hours if they then stand to lose half of everything they earn?
The same combination of tax hikes and benefits phase out can also discourage marriage among the poor. For example, if Mary, who works at a low-wage job, marries John, who also works at a low-wage job, their combined income will not only be potentially subject to higher tax rates, but will result in an even faster loss of benefits.
And this does not even consider how taxes and regulations may encourage employers to reduce what they pay workers. ObamaCare, for example, encourages employers to cut workers’ hours from full- to part-time in order to avoid the mandate that they provide insurance to those workers.
We know that work and marriage are key tools in moving from poverty to the middle class. Just 2.8% of those working full time are poor, compared to 23.6% of those without a job. Single mothers are five times more likely to live in poverty than those in two-parent households. It seems amazingly self-defeating, therefore, to set up a system that discourages both work and marriage.
While there is no easy answer to the poverty trap, we should recognize that every time we raise taxes, and every time we set up a new welfare program, we help trap people deeper into poverty. We may make that poverty a bit more comfortable, but we make it harder for them to get out.
Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||Bureaucrats a Bad Rx for Care|
|Date:||Sat, 01 Mar 2014 09:08 EST|
|Description:||Jeffrey A. Singer
As a general surgeon with more than three decades of experience in private clinical practice, I can safely say that Obamacare is the culmination of the fundamental changes that I’ve seen in the way doctors practice medicine.
“I joined the medical profession because I want to serve patients, not fill out forms.”
Unfortunately, these changes have been less progressive and more regressive, with medicine now the domain of pencil-pushing rather than patient service.
This shift has been underway for decades. It began in the 1980s, when Medicare imposed price controls and a coding system on physicians who treated anyone over age 65. The regulators believed that such standardization would lead to more accurate processing of Medicare claims.
Instead it made doctors and hospitals wedge their patients and services into predetermined, ill-fitting categories. Private insurers, starting in the late 1980s, began pegging their compensation contracts to the Medicare code-based fee schedule, effectively extending Medicare price controls into the private sector.
With the dawn of the 21st century, the federal government imposed further regimentation on physicians through a centralized bureaucracy known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the same bureaucracy now in charge of implementing Obamacare.
Using so-called "evidence-based medicine," CMS instituted protocols based on statistically generalized — rather than individualized — outcomes in large population groups.
It is easy to standardize treatment protocols. It is impossible to standardize individual patients.
Bizarrely, many protocols are not "evidence-based," despite their name.
The spread of protocols and price controls have coincided with a steady ratcheting down of fees for doctors. Meanwhile, Medicare’s regulatory burdens on physician practices continue to increase, adding on compliance costs. Independent doctors are increasingly selling their practices to hospitals, thus becoming hospital employees. As of 2011, fully 50 percent of the nation’s doctors had become employees of someone else — either of hospitals, corporations, insurance companies or the government.
But this doesn’t serve patients. The doctor-patient relationship worsens when doctors come to view patients as the hospitals’ patients rather than their own.
I joined the medical profession because I want to serve patients, not fill out forms. Thousands of others feel the same way I do.
Thanks to Obamacare, this is harder than ever. It’s no surprise that many of my generational peers in medicine have gone part-time, taken early retirement, or quit the medical profession for another field entirely. Others are starting cash-only medical practices that accept no Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.
As these old-school, independent-thinking doctors leave, they are replaced by doctors who need to know more about regulations and red tape than medicine or bedside manner. The "care" in Obamacare’s name is thus little more than a broken promise. This affects us all — we will all be patients someday.
Jeffrey A. Singer practices general surgery in Phoenix, Ariz., and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||How Ukraine Can Move Forward|
|Date:||Fri, 28 Feb 2014 11:15 EST|
It’s now a decade since Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” brought hope that the country could be liberated from its post-Soviet legacy and join the ranks of the successful transitional countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The question now, of course, is whether Ukrainians do better this time around. But to really understand where Ukraine is headed, it’s important to understand the roots of the unrest that led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.
First, the country’s oligarchic elite, which ruled the country for the past two decades, cared little about the prosperity of ordinary Ukrainians. The evidence is not just in the tacky mansions of President Yanukovych and his men, but also in the fact that the average income in Ukraine is roughly one third of that in Poland even though both countries started from around the same point in 1990.
“The reality is that it’s probably unreasonable to expect the United States to be involved in any leading way in the Ukrainian transition.”
Second, the change of government in Ukraine follows a miscalculation on the part of the Kremlin, which long considered Ukraine as its client state, dependent on imports of natural gas from Russia. Ukrainians simply lost patience after their government effectively followed instructions from Moscow and canceled the broadly popular association agreement with the EU. Now that the plan to bully Ukrainians into submission has backfired, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to leverage the situation to push claims to parts of Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine — most prominently Crimea and the port of Sevastopol.
Regardless of whether such territorial concessions become a reality, with an interim cabinet in place and a new presidential election scheduled for late May, it is time for Ukraine to reckon with the massive governance failure of the past twenty years.
The problems facing Ukraine can’t be solved by clever technocrats. But in purely economic terms, the situation is anyway not hopeless. While Ukraine is facing an immediate liquidity problem, it doesn’t suffer from chronically high debt levels — its debt-to-GDP ratio is barely 40 percent.
True, there’s space for essentially technical reforms. For example, the country’s energy sector combines state ownership with heavy subsidies, which are wasteful, unsustainable, and contribute to the country’s dependence on imports of natural gas from Russia. The situation can be remedied if energy markets are deregulated and privatized and if private investors start exploiting domestic natural gas sources.
Bankruptcy law needs reform as well. Resolving insolvency cases takes almost three years, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business project, and costs 42 percent of the value of the estate in question — compared to only 9 percent in OECD countries. This, together with high business taxes, unreliable protection of investors, and red tape burdening international trade, contributes to the fact that the country is not a good place for entrepreneurs and businesses, placing it 112th in the world on the Doing Business ranking.
But it’s not hard to see that the essence of the Ukrainian problem is institutional. It lies in the fact that for far too long the government at large was effectively run like a money-making enterprise for a narrow group of cronies and oligarchs. The country’s public service and judiciary is beset with corruption. According to Transparency International, in 2013, Ukraine’s score on the Corruption Perception Index placed it in the “’high risk’ [group] together with Cameroon, Iran, Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea” — and risked “slipping even lower in the next year.” The key task for the new leadership is to make a radical departure from the past practices, emulating the experience of countries like Georgia.
In 2007, the Georgian government disbanded the entire police force, known for its corruption, and replaced it with a much leaner structure with strong safeguards against bribery. Entire ministries were closed, and close to 30,000 civil servants were fired. After years of unchecked rent-seeking and corruption at every level of government, it is difficult to imagine that Ukraine would make sustained economic progress without similarly bold steps.
The reality is that it’s probably unreasonable to expect the United States to be involved in any leading way in the Ukrainian transition — after all, the future of Ukraine is for Ukrainians to decide — the European Union can help. This is not a question of aid. In fact, any large-scale aid package — or “Marshall Plan” — for Ukraine would be counterproductive, especially given the lack of solid institutions that could prevent mass-scale theft and cronyism.
Yet there are much better ways of engaging with Ukraine. Countries like Poland, the Czech Republic or the Baltics offer valuable lessons for the Ukrainian transition, which can be shared at essentially no cost. More importantly, the prospect of EU membership, within a reasonably close time horizon, can provide an incentive for Ukrainian policymakers to pursue reforms that would be otherwise difficult to achieve politically.
In the meantime, there are many benefits of EU membership that don’t have to wait until Ukraine joins the club. And while it may be a tough sell in a Europe marked by heightened hysteria about immigration, free trade with Ukraine and an opening of capital and migratory flows to Ukrainians would be hugely beneficial both for the EU and for Ukraine, bringing tangible economic benefits and opportunities to a country that has been deprived of them for so long.
Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. He tweets at @daliborrohac.
|Title:||Where's the Crime in Insider Trading?|
|Date:||Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:01 EST|
Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara claimed another scalp in his crusade against “insider trading,” a practice he once called “pervasive.” Last month, he won against Mathew Martoma, formerly at SAC Capital Advisors. Martoma was the ninth SAC employee convicted.
Another victory for Bharara was hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. A decade ago Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice in a well-publicized insider trading case.
“Objectively, the ban on insider trading makes no sense.”
Objectively, the ban on insider trading makes no sense. It creates an arcane distinction between “non-public” and “public” information and treats them differently. It presumes that investors should possess equal information and never know any more than anyone else.
The rule punishes traders for seeking to learn information already known by some people. It inhibits investors from acting on and markets from reacting to the latest and most accurate information.
Martoma apparently received advance notice of the test results for an experimental Alzheimer’s drug from the doctor who chaired the monitoring committee. Martoma then recommended that SAC dump its stock in the two firms that were developing the medicine.
If true, SAC gained an advantage over other shareholders. But why should that be illegal? The doctor violated the confidence placed in him; he deserved censure and perhaps prosecution. In contrast, Martoma’s actions hurt no one.
SAC avoided losses suffered by other shareholders, but they would have lost nonetheless. Even the buyers of SAC’s shares had no complaint: They wanted to purchase based on the information available to them. They would have acquired the shares from someone else had SAC not sold.
Of course, some forms of insider trading are properly criminalized — typically if accompanied by other illegal actions. For instance, fraudulently misrepresenting information to buyers and/or sellers. However, the anonymity of most participants in stock market transactions limits such cases. It usually would be impossible to offer fraudulent assurances even if one wanted to.
The government has regularly expanded the legal definition of insider trading, yielding bizarre outcomes and punishing people without warning. For instance, in 1985 the government indicted a Wall Street Journal reporter for leaking his “Heard on the Street” columns to a stockbroker before publication.
Doing so might have violated newspaper policy, but that should have been a problem for the Journal, not the U.S. attorney. The information was gathered legally; the journalist had no fiduciary responsibility concerning the material; there was nothing proprietary about the scheduled columns.
Other cases also expanded Uncle Sam’s reach. Punishing previously legitimate behavior after the fact unfairly penalizes defendants and disrupts national markets. Information is currency on Wall Street and is widely and constantly traded.
As applied, the insider-trading laws push in only one direction, punishing action. Yet a smart investor also knows when not to buy and sell. It is virtually impossible to punish someone for not acting, even if he or she did so in reliance on inside information. Thus, the government has an enforcement bias against action, whether buying or selling. That is unlikely to improve investment decisions or market efficiency.
Indeed, it is impossible to equalize information. After the 2008 crash, Securities and Exchange Commission Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami explained that prosecutions would restore “the level playing field that is fundamental to our capital markets.” Does anyone believe that such markets ever will be level?
Wall Street professionals are immersed in the business and financial worlds. Even a part-time day trader knows more than the average person who invests haphazardly at best. Nor is equal information enough. It must be interpreted. People obviously vary widely in their experiences and abilities as well as access to those better able to do so.
The best objective for regulators would be to encourage markets to adjust swiftly to all available information. The 2008 financial crisis resulted far more from fraud, bad incentives, foolish policy, and inadequate accountability than a slanted playing field. Swifter recognition of problems — such as the low market value of mortgage-backed securities — would have reduced losses and quickened recovery. Speeding the process would most help those with the least information, since they typically have the least ability to play the system.
Enforcing insider trading laws does more to advance prosecutors’ careers than protect investors’ portfolios. Information will never be perfect or equal. However, adjustments to information can be more or less smooth and speedy. Washington should stop criminalizing actions which, however inadvertently, ultimately benefit the rest of us.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Reagan.
|Title:||Hungary's Goulash Authoritarianism|
|Date:||Thu, 27 Feb 2014 11:04 EST|
With parliamentary elections coming up in April, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s center-right Fidesz party is leading in the polls. Yet the bold, Oxford-educated reformer of the late 1990s has become an outcast among Central European politicians, and for good reason. In the last four years, Mr. Orban’s government has overseen one of the most important economic and political backslides in post-Communist Europe.
“Viktor Orban has gone from bold reformer to promoter of petty nationalism.”
True, some of the bad press that Hungary is receiving is not of Mr. Orban’s own making. For instance, the virulently nationalistic Jobbik party currently occupies 43 opposition seats in Hungary’s 386-set parliament and will likely retain its influence after this year’s elections. Jobbik’s leader, Marton Gyongyosi, urged the government in November 2012 to draw up lists of Jews who “pose a national security risk,” including parliamentarians.
Within Hungary, Jobbik has succeeded in diminishing the stigma that accompanies racism; the term “gypsy criminality” is now a buzzword among Hungarian pundits, politicians and the mainstream press. These developments on Mr. Orban’s watch do nothing to improve Hungary’s reputation around the world, but it’s hard to blame the prime minister for his opponents’ platform.
Nor can one blame Mr. Orban for the rise of racist militias. After a court in Budapest banned one group calling itself the Hungarian Guard (initially founded by Jobbik) in 2009, the New Hungarian Guard was established almost immediately. In the town of Gyongyospata, uniformed militiamen threatened and chased Roma residents, including a child and a pregnant woman.
Yet Mr. Orban cannot duck blame for these developments entirely. Fearing a backlash from his nationalistic electorate, he has done little to confront the extremist groups. Instead he fans nostalgia for the era that preceded the 1920 Trianon Treaty, when Hungary controlled territory stretching from modern-day Slovakia to Serbia, Romania and Ukraine.
Mr. Orban’s catering to petty nationalism often borders on selective amnesia about certain parts of Hungarian history. Recently the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, the Mazsihisz, announced it would not take part in the Orban government’s Holocaust commemorations. According to the Mazsihisz, the framing of the ceremonies whitewashes the role that the Hungarian government played and focuses exclusively on the crimes perpetrated by the Germans—despite the fact that Hungary adopted its first anti-Jewish laws as early as 1938.
Mr. Orban’s tone-deafness when it comes to historical symbols goes hand in hand with a concerted effort to undermine the foundations of liberal democracy and rule of law in Hungary. Since Mr. Orban came to office four years ago, Fidesz has consolidated its political power and used it to pass controversial legislation tightening media oversight, as well as constitutional changes that curb judicial power and restrict political advertising, among other measures. In 2011, the Orban government seized $14 billion worth of assets from private pension funds to fix Hungary’s ailing public finances, and adopted ad-hoc levies on the financial, telecommunications and retail sectors.
When the country’s independent fiscal council criticized a government budget in 2010, Mr. Orban stripped the watchdog of its powers. A 2011 reform of the Hungarian National Bank gave government appointees (currently all members of Fidesz) a greater say in setting interest rates and other aspects of monetary policy—a move that inspires little confidence in the independence of the central bank from political pressures.
Mr. Orban’s euroskeptic rhetoric appeals to his electorate, and he does have a valid point—Brussels is often intrusive and lacks democratic accountability. But make no mistake, Mr. Orban is not in the business of rectifying the flaws of European integration. If anything, his winner-takes-all politics and his receptiveness to nationalist ideas do a greater disservice to Hungary’s political and economic future than Brussels ever could.
Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. He tweets at @daliborrohac.
|Title:||Common Core Treats Students Like Soulless Widgets|
|Date:||Thu, 27 Feb 2014 10:54 EST|
There is nothing wrong with national-level education yardsticks. We’ve had them for decades: the SAT, Advanced Placement tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, etc. What is wrong is imposing one standard on everyone, which ignores that all children are unique and no standards-setters omniscient. But that is exactly what Washington is doing with the Common Core.
First, it is necessary to establish that the Core is largely being imposed by the feds. It is not, as Core supporters insist, “state-led” and “voluntary.”
The Core was created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, but these groups do not represent states. Legislators do, and while people vote for governors, doubtless few, if any, have ever done so based on what they expect a candidate might do in the powerless NGA.
Next, the impetus behind Core adoption in most states was federal action. To compete for a part of the $4.35-billion Race to the Top purse, states de facto had to adopt the Core. Indeed, Race to the Top required state leaders to promise to adopt the Core before the final version had even been published!
Cementing adoption, the Obama administration gave only two options for states to get waivers from the hated, illogical, No Child Left Behind Act: adopt the Core, or have a state university system certify state standards as “college- and career-ready.”
Topping it all off, the U.S. Department of Education selected and funded two consortia to create national tests to go with the Core.
On the too-rare occasion when advocates have acknowledged the federal force behind the Core, they have typically implied that the Obama administration acted against their intent that adoption be purely up to states. But in “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Get a World-Class Education” – a report published before Barack Obama became president — the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers implored Washington to offer “a range of tiered incentives,” including funding and regulatory relief, to move states onto national standards. The call was eventually reiterated on the Core’s website, then removed.
Despite advocates’ incessant protestations, the facts are clear: Common Core was federally pushed, just as they requested. This top-down imposition is a huge problem for two fundamental reasons.
The first is that all children are unique. They learn different things at different rates, and have myriad talents and goals. Yet Common Core, by its very nature, moves all kids largely in lock-step, processing them like soulless widgets. That’s likely a major reason there is no meaningful empirical evidence that national standards produce better outcomes, and education experts across the spectrum have dismissed the Core.
The second basic problem is that no one is omniscient. As the raging debate over the quality of the Core painfully illustrates, even if there could be a one, best standard for all kids, we don’t know what it is. But with a monopoly, no alternative standards will be able to compete, and better ways of doing things won’t be revealed.
So is the Common Core a bad idea? Absolutely. It is a federally coerced, one-size-fits-all regime that ignores basic, human reality.
Neal McCluskey is the associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
|Title:||New 'Bank Tax' Proposal Is More Destructive Populism|
|Date:||Thu, 27 Feb 2014 09:10 EST|
In their new book on the history of banking, “Fragile by Design,” academics Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber make the compelling argument that a country’s propensity for frequent banking crises is linked to the ability of populist elements to hold the banking sector to ransom.
“Do we want banks to be stable, profitable and internationally competitive or do we want them to be cash cows for Congress?”
Banking systems are crisis-pronenot because the participants are “too big” or because banking activity is inherently unstable and needs to be tightly regulated, Calomiris and Haber say. Rather, it is forcing banks’ investment decisions and actions to be dictated by the whims of the majority rather than by consumers and the bottom line that makes them fragile. Countries that avoid this trap, such as Canada and Singapore, have suffered no banking crises even during periods when their real economies have floundered.
Calomiris and Haber find numerous examples of this destructive populism in the United States’ own checkered banking history. Prohibitions on branch banking and interstate banking led to successive banking crises in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as small banks and their local regulators jealously protected their turf. Similarly, the proliferation of subprime mortgages to create an “ownership society” contributed to the conflagration we all lived through in 2008.
Viewed through this lens, Rep. Dave Camp’s rumored “big bank tax” is more of the same. His attempts to lower individual and corporate taxes and to simplify the tax code are highly commendable. But including a complex tax on selected participants in a lone industry would seem to undermine the spirit of a “simplifying” proposal.
More importantly, levying a tax on large banks will not enhance systemic stability (in the way that asking banks to increase capital may do). Nor would these funds go towards reducing risk in the banking sector — such as financing a resolution mechanism. The bank tax is nothing more than a transfer payment — an attempt to force a small group of wealthy, but politically unpopular institutions to finance everyone else. I would call it un-American, were it not clear that with respect to banking, it is oh-so-very American.
On the bright side, at least Rep. Camp’s proposal calls a tax a tax. Dodd-Frank levies many “hidden” taxes on banks, large and small. Indeed, the ongoing and seemingly endless litigation by regulators against some of the country’s largest banking institutions — in some cases for actions encouraged by those same regulators — is a tax by another name.
Which brings us to the key issue — do we really want banks to be stable, profitable and internationally competitive or do we want them to be cash cows for Congress? The research by Calomiris and Haber suggests that in the interests of financial stability, keeping Congress out of the banking sector would be the best course of action.
Louise Bennetts is the associate director of financial regulatory studies at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.
|Title:||What Governors Can Do to Lower Health Care Costs|
|Date:||Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:58 EST|
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently wrote to GOP governors asking them for ideas to reform the Affordable Care Act. Clearly governors are seen as key to Republican efforts to identify reforms Americans support. However, the governors are in a position to make an even bigger impact at the state level. Much of what could be done to increase access to care and reduce costs is illegal in many states.
“Changes to state regulation are critical if the U.S. is to improve health care.”
For example, 36 states have some type of “certificate of need” law. These laws establish state-level planning agencies that decide when and where new health facilities, such as long-term acute care, free-standing imaging centers and ambulatory surgical centers, should be built. State planners control a wide range of facilities and services.
Full-service hospitals worry that, without certificate of need laws, they will lose profitable procedures to specialty hospitals, including stand-alone facilities that focus on cardiac care or orthopedic surgery. They will. There are other innovations in care that we can’t even imagine. New facilities may be more efficient and better able to serve patients due to differences in scale, location or services provided.
Other state laws that restrict entry, competition and innovation are those that preclude the corporate practice of medicine and physician ownership of specialty hospitals.
In response to pressures by the medical lobby, it is common for states to restrict advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and other medical professionals from offering primary care services they are trained to provide. Doctors say these “scope-of-practice” restrictions protect consumers but, of the many studies available, none support that view. Governors could use their influence to encourage state legislatures to eliminate artificial scope-of-practice restrictions.
Under existing state laws, the American Medical Association effectively determines which medical schools are good enough. This gives the AMA power to limit the supply of physicians. Other associations of medical professionals use state licensing to impose education requirements that limit competition. For example, the professional associations that accredit training programs for advanced practice nurses, physical therapists and audiologists have successfully imposed the requirement of a clinical doctorate for all new entrants, adding a third year to graduate training programs.
Medical professional associations justify their actions on the basis that they protect consumers, but this is not true. Medical professional liability insurers, health maintenance organizations, hospitals and other medical care providers are liable for medical malpractice. To protect themselves, they verify education and experience, examine malpractice claims and evaluate a clinician’s knowledge and skills. This annual assessment goes far beyond any protection state licensing offers consumers.
To increase access to care, state governors would be well advised to move to shutter state licensing boards. Governors should shift funding for physician discipline, which the state boards have managed poorly, to the criminal justice system.
To negotiate lower prices or require terms of participation to improve the provision of health care, managed care organizations use the promise of new patients to get physicians to sign on. However, many states have “any willing provider” or “freedom of choice” laws that take this leverage away. Where these laws are enforced, all physicians are eligible to serve the managed care organization’s members; the managed care organization can’t promise it will direct patients to participating physicians. State physician lobbies support these laws because they deter managed care organizations from entering their states. Governors would be smart to put pressure on legislators to repeal these laws.
Changes to state regulation are critical if the U.S. is to improve health care. Governors should use their influence to educate voters and legislators and to press for regulatory reforms that would increase access to care and lower health care costs.
Shirley Svorny is an economics professor at Cal State Northridge and a Cato Institute adjunct scholar. shirley [dot] svorny [at] csun [dot] edu.
|Title:||IRS to Politically Engaged Citizen Groups: Shut up|
|Date:||Wed, 26 Feb 2014 14:36 EST|
|Description:||Andrew M. Grossman
Surveying 19th-century America, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the proliferation and importance of civic associations, writing: “Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.”
“The proposed rule marches us toward a world of uncertainty and fear.”
It took a few centuries, but America is starting to look more like France and England did in Tocqueville’s time. Our would-be lords are seizing the prerogative to carry out the public good — as they see it, of course. And they’re enlisting the IRS to do the dirty work.
Their targets are so-called “social welfare organizations” organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. C4s, as they’re known, are charged with promoting the common good, and for that, they are exempt from the taxes that apply to for-profit corporations.
Just as in Tocqueville’s day, different associations have different visions of the common good. The AARP, Sierra Club and American Motorcyclist Association rarely see eye to eye on any given issue. But each is free to pursue its own vision, whether that’s pushing for greater Medicare benefits or running ads opposing a gas-tax hike.
This free-for-all is detestable to those who think that the marketplace of ideas ought to be vigorously regulated. And they’re now vying for the upper hand. The first indication of trouble was nearly a year ago, when an IRS official disclosed “inappropriate” targeting of Tea Party groups seeking C4 status.
Recently, President Obama laid the blame on “bone-headed decisions” by a few IRS workers, but the evidence shows this is a concerted effort directed right from the top.
It turns out that at the same time that the IRS was giving Tea Partiers the runaround, its officials were secretly plotting new, more intrusive rules to govern C4s and give the IRS greater latitude to keep undesirable groups from having their say. IRS rules have long required that C4s have a “primary purpose” other than engaging in partisan politics, but has given organizations broad leeway to pursue their goals. Crucially, it has never regarded speech on legislation, public policy and the issues of the day — as opposed to speech that urges a vote for or against a particular candidate — as “political.”
The proposed rule — slipped out the door on Black Friday — would keep the vague “primary purpose” requirement, but allow IRS officials broader leeway to characterize different kinds of spending as “political.” The proposal ropes in any public communication that so much as mentions a candidate within 60 days of an election (or 30 days of a primary), voter guides that lay out candidates’ records on the issues and transfers of funds from one C4 to another. Any C4 that racks up a few of these “political” activities will risk the IRS yanking its tax-exempt status.
In other words, the Tea Party targeting was just a trial run, and the new rule formalizes the IRS’s role as the speech police. To be sure, “political” activities aren’t outright banned. But C4s know the IRS police carries a big stick, and if they fail to toe the line, there will be consequences, which begin with endless administrative proceedings and staggering legal fees and can lead all the way to financial ruin.
The approach is not new. The Supreme Court saw right through a similar scheme in the 1960s when Rhode Island empowered an all-knowing “Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth” to warn booksellers that their wares were objectionably smutty and request their “cooperation” in upholding obscenity statutes. The court has also turned back regulations on issue-oriented speech arguably made with the purpose of influencing elections, reasoning that citizens are at least entitled to a clear line between which words are and are not permissible.
The principle of these cases is straightforward: Vague threats and standards do not comport with the right to “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” public debate that the First Amendment guarantees. Citizens shouldn’t have to preclear their communications with the bureaucracy or go to court to learn whether the government may punish them for their words. History teaches that censorship is no less effective, and certainly no less objectionable, when accomplished by uncertainty and fear rather than by outright prohibition.
The proposed rule marches us toward a world of uncertainty and fear. Not lacking in audacity, the Obama administration claims its motivation is to clarify the law governing C4s. This is true only in that its proposal makes the administration’s message to certain politically engaged associations crystal clear: Shut up.
The whole point of this new take on “social welfare” is to rule out holding elected officials to account, particularly around election time.
What would Tocqueville say to that?
Andrew M. Grossman is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and practices appellate and constitutional litigation in the Washington office of Baker Hostetler.
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