2,347 captures
03 May 2006 - 06 Oct 2021
About this capture

Sunlight Before Signing: Is President Obama Throwing It Under the Bus?
Posted by Jim Harper
President Obama went to Puerto Rico two weeks ago. If you missed it, that might be because the trip was so brief—a mere four hours. Observing how the president “SEAL-Team-Sixed” it, Jon Stewart speculated that the president was not motivated by love of the island or a campaign promise to revisit it, but by courting Puerto Rican voters in important electoral states. It could be all of the above, of course.
It all reminded me of the president’s “Sunlight Before Signing” promise to post bills Congress sends him online for five days before signing them.
After the president’s dismal start with the promise at the beginning of his term, I speculated once or twice that he would focus on fulfilling campaign promises like Sunlight Before Signing after the mid-term election, when focus turned back to the presidential election coming up in 2012.
Well, the mid-term is behind us, and thoughts are turning to the next presidential election. Has that renewed the White House’s focus on Sunlight Before Signing?
Read the rest of this post »
Jim Harper • June 28, 2011 @ 5:39 pm
Filed under: Government and Politics; Telecom, Internet & Information Policy
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Dirty Deal Done Not So Dirt Cheap
Posted by Sallie James
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,  Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and the White House have just announced that they have made a deal to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA, the program that extends extra unemployment and health care benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of globalization​) until 2013, as part of a broader deal that would see passage of the three outstanding preferential trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama. The extension of TAA would be included in the legislation to implement the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement​, “improved” (i.e., made less liberalizing) by the administration in December.
Interestingly and alarmingly, because implementing the FTAs (which will lower tariff revenue) and paying for the billion-dollar-plus TAA extension “requires” offsets, the draft language specifies in Sec. 601 that revenue should be raised by increasing customs user fees.  This solution was first aired publicly last week, and my friend, trade lawyer (and former Cato-ite) Scott Lincicome pointed out then that raising customs user fees is probably against WTO rules (not to mention counterproductive to the goal of liberalizing trade):
…”customs fees” are simply hidden taxes on import consumers.  A quick review of the US Customs website on “customs users fees” makes this clear.  They’re paid (mainly) by commercial transporters bringing goods (imports) into the United States, thus raising the costs of importation.  And those higher costs, of course, are eventually passed on to American consumers through higher import prices.
Thus, pursuant to the bi-partisan deal outlined above, the FTAs’ great import liberalization benefits will be immediately and tangibly undermined by new taxes on those very same imports (and others)!…
it would [also] probably violate GATT Article VIII, which governs WTO Members’ imposition of “Fees and Formalities connected with Importation and Exportation” (in other words, customs fees).  The key provision of Article VIII reads:
1.(a) All fees and charges of whatever character (other than import and export duties and other than taxes within the purview of Article III) imposed by contracting parties on or in connection with importation or exportation shall be limited in amount to the approximate cost of services rendered and shall not represent an indirect protection to domestic products or a taxation of imports or exports for fiscal purposes.
WTO panels have interpreted this provision narrowly, and an old GATT panel has actually looked into the US system of customs users fees.  In these cases, the panels have ruled that Article VIII’s requirement that a customs fee be “limited in amount to the approximate cost of services rendered” is actually a “dual requirement,” because the charge in question must first involve a “service” rendered, and then the level of the charge must not exceed the approximate cost of that “service.”  They’ve also found that the term “services rendered” means “services rendered to the individual importer in question,” and that the fees cannot be imposed to raise revenue (i.e., for “fiscal purposes”).[emphasis in original]
Raising customs user fees for fiscal purposes may even go against U.S. law (subparagraph 9B of 19 U.S.C. chapter 1 ss58c).
It’s unclear how far this draft will advance at the “mock mark-up,” scheduled for Thursday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee, as the ranking member of that committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), is one of the leading critics of trade adjustment assistance.  Senator Hatch has already sent out a press release opposing the inclusion of the TAA renewal in the Korea FTA implementing bill:
This highly-partisan decision to include TAA in the South Korean FTA implementing bill risks support for this critical job-creating trade pact in the name of a welfare program of questionable benefit at a time when our nation is broke. This is a clear breach of Trade Promotion Authority and threatens the ability of American exporters and job creators who stand to benefit from the largest bilateral trade agreement in more than a decade.  TAA should move through the Congress on its own merit and should stand up to rigorous Senate debate. President Obama should send up our pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea and allow for a clean vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also apparently critical of the decision to include the TAA renewal in the Korea legislation, preferring instead to consider it only in exchange for something new, i.e.,  a deal on fast track (or trade promotion) authority for further trade deals. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Phil Levy points out, “It is problematic to “buy” the [existing] FTAs with an expanded version of TAA, since those were already “purchased” as part of a May 10, 2007 deal.” [link added] The Republican House leadership is also keen to separate TAA from the FTA implementing bills, in contrast to the opinion and efforts of their colleague Representative Camp.  So the fight is far from over.
If you are interested in hearing more about the trade deals, and how TAA renewal fits in with their passage, Senator Hatch will be speaking at an event at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday (just hours before the mock mark-up is scheduled to begin). Howard Rosen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and yours truly will be debating the merits of TAA after Senator Hatch has spoken. More information on the event, including access to the streaming video, here.
Sallie James • June 28, 2011 @ 5:17 pm
Filed under: Tax and Budget Policy; Trade and Immigration
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Chained CPI: A Stealth Tax Increase
Posted by Chris Edwards
As we close in on congressional votes to increase the federal debt limit, negotiators are coming up with all kinds of ideas to hike taxes. (Suspiciously, they haven’t revealed very many spending cut ideas so far).
One idea being discussed is to raise revenue by reducing the indexing of parameters in the income tax code. Currently, tax brackets and other features of the tax code are indexed to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). It is widely recognized that the CPI overestimates inflation for various reasons, as discussed here.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed a more accurate (and lower) measure of inflation, called chained CPI. If the tax code was indexed to chained CPI instead of CPI, the government would receive an automatic tax increase relative to current law every year until the end of time.
Switching to chained CPI is a very bad idea for two reasons:
Some economists may argue that the chained CPI proposal is a good idea because the tax code would more accurately reflect inflation, and it would. However, the tax code already contains a bias that pushes families into higher tax brackets over time, which is called “real bracket creep.” Real growth in the economy steadily moves taxpayers into higher rate brackets since the tax code is indexed for inflation but not real growth. The discussion in the Congressional Budget Office’s new long-range budget outlook implies that this will be an important force in raising federal revenues as a share of GDP in coming decades.
So I’ve got a better idea than indexing the tax code to chained CPI: indexing the tax code to nominal GDP growth. That would adjust for the effects of both inflation and real economic growth on tax code parameters, and it would prevent stealth tax rate increases under our graduated income tax system.
Chris Edwards • June 28, 2011 @ 2:35 pm
Filed under: General; Tax and Budget Policy
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Are Corporations People When They Make Video Games?
Posted by Julian Sanchez
I note that I’m not hearing many critics of Citizens United decrying yesterday’s very welcome Supreme Court ruling, in which the majority held unconstitutional a California statute prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. Perhaps that’s just because they’re concerned with corporate influence on elections as a policy matter, and not so much about Grand Theft Auto, but as a matter of First Amendment interpretation, it seems as though the elements that supposedly made Citizens United a travesty are present here.
As the conservative Justice Alito notes in dissent, for example, the statute at issue here does not prohibit anyone from creating, possessing, freely loaning, or playing violent video games: It regulates only their rental and sale. In other words: Money isn’t speech! The majority opinion—authored by Scalia, but joined by the Court’s most liberal justices—roundly rejects the relevance of that distinction, which “would make permissible the prohibition of printing or selling books—though not the writing of them. Whether government regulation applies to creating, distributing, or consuming speech makes no difference.” While, of course, money isn’t speech, the majority here understands that when the effect and purpose of a regulation is to restrict expression, the First Amendment is not some hollow formalism, and also limits regulation that functions by targeting enabling transactions rather than the speech directly.
None of the justices seem to make much of the obvious fact that the great majority of popular video games—and probably just about all of the ones exhibiting the level of graphical sophistication and realism at issue here—are produced, marketed, and sold by (uh oh) corporations. In fact, the passage quoted above focuses entirely on acts (“creating, distributing, or consuming”) rather than particular actors, just as the First Amendment itself prohibits government interference with speech not with this or that type of speaker. The Court simply observes that because the statute “imposes a restriction on the content of protected speech, it is invalid unless California can demonstrate that it passes strict scrutiny.” In dissent, Justice Thomas argues that the games are not “protected speech” in the context of the statute, because the Founders would have considered all speech directed at minors unprotected (a premise whose chilling implications the majority is quick to point out). Justice Breyer allows that video games—including violent ones—are indeed “protected speech,” but argues that studies linking them to violence are enough to give the state a “compelling interest” in limiting their dissemination. What nobody suggests, even in passing, is that video games might cease to be “protected speech” if the statute were limited to games manufactured and sold by corporations—which, in practice, is pretty much all the games we’re talking about.
Someone who welcomed this decision as a victory for free speech, but nevertheless supports regulation of independent political expenditures, can always take Breyer’s route: Maybe God of War III is not really harmful enough to make its prohibition a compelling state interest, but the degradation of democracy by corporate influence is a serious enough problem that its regulation survives “strict scrutiny,” overriding ordinary First Amendment protection even in the domain of political speech normally regarded as its core. That is not a position I find plausible, but it is at least coherent. The position I doubt can be made coherent is one according to which a prohibition of a commercial transaction instrumental to corporate-produced speech (and intended precisely to curtail that speech) should not even trigger First Amendment protections when the speech expresses a political opinion, whereas the same prohibition is unconstitutional if the speech is about Kratos impaling a minotaur on his Blades of Chaos. Though if that’s the form political expression has to take to enjoy constitutional protection, I look forward to the impending release of Palinfamous 2 and Barack Band III.
Julian Sanchez • June 28, 2011 @ 12:39 pm
Filed under: General; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Did They Learn Correlation and Causation in College?
Posted by Neal McCluskey
It looks like Peter Thiel won’t be unopposed advising kids to stay out of college
Thanks to a new report from Georgetown University economist Anthony Carnevale, and a David Leonhardt column based on Carnevale’s study, over the last few days the college-for-all crowd has been striking back. But they seem to have missed something in their own college training: correlation does not equal causation.
Carnevale, Leonhardt, and others’ argument is basically that there are big, positive returns on a college degree. It’s something, frankly, that’s not generally in dispute. I say “generally,” because while on average college grads make a lot more than people without a degree, there’s a lot more to the story than averages. Indeed, there are at least three major problems with making averages the basis for a universal-college offensive, problems that Andrew Gillen recently laid out in a terrific blog post. I won’t reinvent the wheel by going into them all (read Andrew’s post) but I’ll summarize them: (1) There are huge throngs of people who attempt college and never finish, a giant population ignored when you just look at completers; (2) at least part of the college wage premium is simply a function of a degree signaling something about the intelligence, work habits, etc. that graduates already possessed; and (3) there are some majors and degrees that confer no great wage premium and are in about as much demand as Betamax or gangrene.
What is most concerning about the Carnevale report, however, is how the report and its fans make the very basic mistake of conflating correlation with causation in implying that the roughly one-third of bachelor’s holders in jobs not requiring degrees are much better workers thanks to their BAs. They base that conclusion on degree-holders in non-degree jobs earning appreciably more than workers with only high-school diplomas. Heck, a graphic to go with Leanohardt’s column trumpets that dishwashers with college degrees make a lot more than dishwashers without them, a data point seized on by the Fordham Institute’s Peter Meyer to attack anyone who dares say college isn’t the best option for everyone.
Once the dishwasher example comes up, is there any way to escape the causation/correlation problem? Any way to not at least seriously contemplate that it isn’t what someone learned in college that makes him or her a better dishwasher, but that someone able to graduate college will tend to be more punctual and reliable? Heck, even if you believed that the proverbial underwater basket weaving major existed, it would be very hard to conclude that the skills one would need to make the finest submerged wickerwork would be useful for getting dinner plates spotless, even though that often occurs underwater.
And many of the public service jobs cited in the graphic, such as firefighters? At least from what we know about teachers, government employee pay scales often give salary bumps for degrees, but degrees don’t necessarily have any bearing on job effectiveness.
People like Carnevale and Leonhardt are right to guard against efforts, especially by public-school employees, to actively push kids away from college, in particular if that’s driven by students’ class or race. But shoving everyone into ivy walls? Based on what we know, that’s equally unjustifiable.
Neal McCluskey • June 28, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
Filed under: Education and Child Policy; General
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Republicans Getting Rich off ObamaCare
Posted by Michael F. Cannon
Here we have the spectacle of a former Republican Health and Human Services secretary getting rich by helping states implement ObamaCare​. Leavitt Partners (among other consultants) is helping states create the law’s health insurance “Exchanges.” Or the non-ObamaCare-compliant health insurance Exchanges that will by law become ObamaCare-compliant Exchanges.  Via Politico:
More than $300 million in exchange grants has already flowed into the states since the Affordable Care Act passed. That number will grow exponentially in the coming months, as states move from the initial steps of passing exchange legislation to the more lucrative task of setting them up.
For health consultants and information technology vendors, it’s already shaping up to be a gold mine…
The opportunity is, seemingly, everywhere. Even in states that have used executive orders and heated rhetoric to push back against implementation of the reform law, vendors still see possible contracts.
“There is a group that feels as though they don’t want to be associated with the Affordable Care Act,” said Leavitt Partners CEO Michael Leavitt, who was Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush. “Privately, though, it’s clear that several of those are planning behind the scenes, because they don’t want to have a federal exchange.”
These Exchanges—​there is no such thing as a state-run Exchange​—are the government bureaucracies that will make health insurance more expensive, induce employers to drop coverage, entrench ObamaCare, and dole out hundreds billions of debt-financed government subsidies to insurance companies.
Michael F. Cannon • June 28, 2011 @ 11:41 am
Filed under: Cato Publications​; General; Government and Politics; Health Care
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Should American Taxpayers Finance another Big Fat Greek Bailout?
Posted by Daniel J. Mitchell
It appears that American taxpayers are about to subsidize another Greek bailout (via the Keystone Cops at the IMF). This is way beyond economically foolish. It is also morally offensive.
To turn Winston Churchill’s famous quote upside down, “Never have so many paid so much to subsidize such an undeserving few.”
Let’s start with a few facts:
Is there any possible justification for throwing good money after bad with another bailout? Well, if you’re a politician from Germany or France and your big banks (i.e., some of your major campaign contributors) foolishly bought lots of government bonds from Greece, the answer might be yes. After all, screwing taxpayers to benefit insiders is a longstanding tradition in Europe.
But from a taxpayer perspective, either in Europe or the United States, the answer is no. Or, to be more technical and scientific, the answer is “Heck no, are you friggin’ out of your mind?!”
Consider these fun facts from a recent column by John Lott and then decide whether the corrupt politicians of Greece (and the special interest groups that receive handouts and subsidies from the Greek government) deserve to have their hands in the pockets of American taxpayers:
Despite Greece’s promises, government spending is up over last year’s already bloated levels, the deficit is bigger than ever, and it has utterly failed to meet the promised sell-off of some government assets. Not a single public bureaucrat has been laid off so far. …Greece can pay off €300 of the €347 billion debt by selling off shares the government owns in publicly traded companies and much of its real estate holdings. The government owns stock in casinos, hotels, resorts, railways, docks, as well as utilities providing electricity and water. But Greek unions fiercely oppose even partial privatizations. Rolling blackouts are promised this week to dissuade the government from selling of even 17 percent of its stake in the Public Power Corporation. …Greeks apparently believe that they have Europe and the world over a barrel, that they can make the rest of the world pay their bills by threatening to default. Greece’s default would be painful for everyone, but for Europe and the United States, indeed for the world, the alternative would be even worse. If politicians in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and other countries think that their bills will be picked up by taxpayers in other countries, they won’t control their spending and they won’t sell off assets to pay off these debts. Countries such as Greece have to be convinced that they will bear a real cost if they don’t fix their financial houses while they still have the assets to cover their debts. …The real problem is the incentives we are giving to other countries. We have to make sure that “Kicking the can down the road” isn’t an option.
Just for good measure, here are a few more interesting factoids in a
Wall Street Journal column by Holman Jenkins
.
[Greece is] one of the most corrupt, crony-ridden, patronage-ridden, inefficient, silly economies in Christendom. …The state railroad maintains a payroll four times larger than its ticket sales. When a military officer dies, his pension continues for his unwed daughter as long as she remains unwed. Various workers are allowed to retire with a full state pension at age 45.
To be blunt, Greek politicians have miserably failed. Wait, that’s not right. You can’t say someone has failed when they haven’t even tried. Let’s be more accurate and say that Greek politicians have succeeded. They have scammed money from taxpayers in other nations to prop up a venal and corrupt system of patronage and spoils. Sure, they’ve made a few cosmetic changes and trimmed around the edges, but handouts from abroad have enabled them to perpetuate a bloated state. And now they’re using a perverse form of blackmail (aided and abetted by big banks) to seek even more money.
Read the rest of this post »
Daniel J. Mitchell • June 28, 2011 @ 11:11 am
Filed under: Finance, Banking & Monetary Policy; General; Government and Politics; International Economics and Development​; Tax and Budget Policy
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
For ObamaCare, June Has Been a Very Cold Month
Posted by Michael F. Cannon
That’s the subject of my latest Kaiser Health News​column​:
Obamacare passes two milestones this month. It has been exactly two years since the first version of the legislation appeared in Congress. And it has now enjoyed exactly two years of solid public opposition​. Yet this month has been harsher than most.
It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for ObamaCare.  Almost.
Michael F. Cannon • June 28, 2011 @ 10:29 am
Filed under: Cato Publications​; General; Government and Politics; Health Care
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Beware the Depends Bomber?
Posted by Gene Healy
My Washington Examiner column this week is on TSA, the federal agency that’s its own reductio ad absurdum.
In the latest TSA atrocity, the agency forced a wheelchair-bound, 95-year-old leukemia patient to remove her adult diaper, for fear she might be wired to explode. “It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” her distraught daughter told the press: “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”
My God, what is she on about? Proper procedure was followed!
As I point out in the column:
in a classic case of “mission creep,” TSA is taking its show on the road and the rails.
Remember when, pushing his bullet-train boondoggle in the 2011 State of the Union, President Obama cracked that it would let you travel “without the pat-down”? Not funny—also, not true.
Earlier this year, Amtrak passengers in Savannah, Ga., stepped off into a TSA checkpoint. Though the travelers had already disembarked the train, agents made women lift their shirts to check for bra explosives. Two weeks ago, armed TSA and Homeland Security agents hit a bus depot in Des Moines, Iowa, to question passengers and demand their papers.
These raids are the work of TSA’s “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response” (VIPR or “Viper”) teams—an acronym at once senseless and menacing, much like the agency itself.
All this is happening at a time when al Qaeda looks more harried, pathetic, and weaker than ever. But hey, you can never be too careful, right?
Feel Safer?
Gene Healy • June 28, 2011 @ 9:29 am
Filed under: Cato Publications​; Foreign Policy and National Security; Government and Politics; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
100,000+ Cribs May Be Headed for Dumpsters Today
Posted by Walter Olson
Last December the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) adopted new standards for crib design, a step mandated by the famously overreaching Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). The commission decided to go well beyond a set of voluntary design standards that had been widely adopted the year before; it also chose to make the new rules retroactive​, rendering unlawful the sale of many existing cribs whose overall safety record is otherwise acceptable—no one would think of subjecting them to a recall, for instance. Commissioner Nancy Nord:
The day care industry did protest that the rule, as proposed, would result in approximately a $1/2 billion hit to a group that could not immediately absorb costs of such magnitude, especially on the heels of having just bought new cribs to meet the standards of 2009. As a result, at the last minute just before finalizing the rule, the Commission agreed to amend the proposed rule to delay the effective date for this group by 18 months. There was no analysis behind this date; basically, it was pulled out of a hat.
Manufacturers and sellers fared less well, however, and were stuck with a deadline of June 28, 2011, that is, today. Commission staff predicted that retailers would not suffer significant economic harm, which turned out to be wrong, as the commission learned when they began hearing from “small retailers who are stuck with stranded inventory that they cannot sell, also asking for a delay,” according to Nord.
How much stranded inventory? Quite a lot, says Commissioner Anne Northup:
The retailers of these cribs, which the Commission deemed were safe enough to continue to be used for another two years in day care facilities, stand to lose at least $32 million dollars when they are required to throw out noncompliant cribs on June 28.
That’s a lot of landfill space that may be needed in coming days. Nord again:
An internal survey of 5 retailers found that those companies had at least 100,000 non-complying cribs in inventory. A survey done by a trade association representing one part of the small retailer community found that 35 companies had 17,500 cribs that cannot legally be sold in two weeks.
Retailers pleading for a longer transition period got no mercy from the hard-line pro-regulation Commission majority led by Obama appointee Inez Tenenbaum. In a similar way, the much vaster stranded-inventory problems and compliance nightmares engendered by CPSIA as a whole keep getting worse rather than better, due to an equally obdurate attitude from the commission’s current leadership and its Democratic allies in Congress. Politically and with the press, there seems to be little downside in striking cost-no-object For the Children postures, even if the result is to place untenable burdens on the sorts of local shopkeepers and service providers who specialize in meeting the everyday needs of children.
Related, at my website Overlawyered: “Thanks for standing by for eight months after we told you to stop selling your infant slings pending a recall. We’ve decided no recall is needed. What, you’re out of business? Never mind.”
Walter Olson • June 28, 2011 @ 9:26 am
Filed under: General; Law and Civil Liberties; Regulatory Studies
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Conrad Black Ordered Back to Prison
Posted by Tim Lynch
Over at NRO, Mark Steyn on last Friday’s order that Conrad Black report back to federal prison:
With a system that relies on multiple charges and an ability to pressure everybody else in the case to switch sides, you can win (as Conrad did) nineteen-twentieths of the battles and still lose the war. He’s a wealthy businessman, and nobody has any sympathy for those. But it’s even worse if you’re a nobody. A New Hampshire neighbor of mine had the misfortune to attract the attention of federal prosecutors for one of those white-collar “crimes” no one can explain in English. The jury acquitted him in a couple of hours. Great news! The system worked! Not really. By then, the feds had spent a half-decade demolishing his life, exhausting his savings, wrecking his marriage, and driving him to attempt suicide. He’s not a big scary businessman like Conrad, just a small-town nobody. And he’ll never get his life back. Because, regardless of the verdict, the process is the punishment — which is the hallmark of unjust justice systems around the world.
According to the New York Times report, the judge was moved by numerous letters from inmates who said that Conrad Black had changed their lives for the better.  Black wrote about his experience with the American justice system here​—spot on.
For Cato work on the Black case, go here (pdf).  Still more on the problems in the white-collar context here and here.
Tim Lynch • June 27, 2011 @ 4:07 pm
Filed under: Finance, Banking & Monetary Policy; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Après Chávez, le Déluge?
Posted by Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Rumors abounded this weekend about Hugo Chávez’s apparent critical health condition. The Nuevo Herald reported that the Venezuelan president could be suffering from prostate cancer. On June 9, while visiting Cuba, Chávez fell ill and was treated for a “pelvic abscess.” Since then, the loquacious caudillo, who for over a decade has flooded Venezuelan airwaves with endless TV addresses, has been conspicuously out of sight. All we have is a picture released to the media showing a frail Hugo Chávez holding onto Fidel Castro (aged 84) and his brother Raúl (aged 80).
Speculation increased on Saturday after Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s Foreign Relations Minister, said that Chávez was waging a “great battle for his health” while admitting that he wasn’t doing well. But perhaps the most ominous statement came from Chávez’s older brother, Adán, governor of the state of Barinas, who warned yesterday that supporters of the president should be ready to take up arms to defend his revolution. “It would be inexcusable to limit ourselves to only the electoral and not see other forms of struggle, including the armed struggle,” said the elder Chávez.
This is where things can get extremely ugly. Nobody knows what could happen to chavismo without Hugo Chávez. Many people expected Chávez to resort to violence next year in case he lost his reelection bid (a real possibility given popular discontent due to rising food prices, food and energy shortages, and increasing crime). This is why he created a socialist militia with tens of thousands armed civilians bent on “defending the revolution” no matter what. Also, Chávez promoted General Henry Rangel Silva as head of the Armed Forces after Rangel stated that the army would not allow the opposition to win the presidential election in 2012. However, in all these scenarios, Chávez was always the one calling the shots.
If Chávez passes away or is permanently incapacitated, the question becomes: Who will take over Venezuela and his political movement? The Constitution requires the Vice-president Elías Jaua to be sworn it as president. However, it is very likely that Chávez’s absence will open a fratricidal struggle within the ranks of chavismo for the control of government power. During his 12 years in office, Chávez has diligently made sure that no apparent successor takes the spotlight. Caudillos don’t have real VPs, a situation that could lead to chaos if the caudillo dies while in office.
A historical parallel can be drawn with the passing of Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina in 1974. His wife, Isabel, was his Vice-President and she took over the presidency after Perón’s death, as required by the Constitution. However, her tenure was marked by the increasing violence of the “Montoneros,” a radical left-wing terrorist group that claimed to uphold the leftist legacy of Juan Domingo Perón. The situation reached a critical point when the Armed Forces deposed Isabel Perón with a military coup in 1976 and led a “Dirty War” against left-wing elements of society that resulted in the killing and disappearance of approximately 30,000 people in 7 years. Perón’s death and lack of a viable successor led to chaos and slaughter.
The driving force behind the different forces within chavismo is graft, not ideology. As Gustavo Coronel documented in a paper published by Cato in 2006, corruption is rampant in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, and it permeates all levels of government, including powerful elements of the military. It is unlikely that those who have been enriching themselves in the last 12 years would call it quits if their leader passes away. A violent struggle could therefore ensue within the ranks of chavismo for the control of government.
Venezuela’s democratic opposition movement should play its cards carefully. If Hugo Chávez dies or is incapacitated, the opposition should demand that the Constitution be respected and Vice-President Jaua take over until next year’s presidential election. The international community, and in particular the Organization of American States, should also be assertive in stating that Venezuela would face international diplomatic ostracism (e.g., expulsion from the OAS, travel ban for regime leaders, freezing of their bank accounts, etc.) if elements within the government stage a coup or try to stay in power through armed struggle.
We will know the gravity of Hugo Chávez’s health condition by July 5th. He had called for a big international summit that day to celebrate Venezuela’s bicentennial anniversary. If he calls off the jamboree, or if he is absent, it will signal that his health has very likely gravely deteriorated, and speculation about his succession will be overwhelming.
Juan Carlos Hidalgo • June 27, 2011 @ 1:39 pm
Filed under: International Economics and Development
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Court Says Punishing Political Speech Violates First Amendment
Posted by Ilya Shapiro
With its last opinion on the last day of the term, the Supreme Court brought things back to constitutional basics by striking down a state law that punished political speech. Whatever the motivations behind Arizona’s so-called Clean Elections Act, giving a publicly funded candidate more taxpayer-provided money every time his privately funded opponent—​or his supporters—​have “spoken too much” clearly chills speech. In elections, where there is no effective speech without spending money, matching funds provisions triggered by speech fail First Amendment scrutiny.
And this result should’ve been obvious to the entire Court, not just a five-justice majority, in the wake of the Davis v. FEC “Millionaires’ Amendment” case from 2008. Davis struck down the part of McCain-Feingold in which spending by individually wealthy candidates triggered increased contribution limits for their opponents. If the mere possibility of your opponent getting more money is unconstitutional, then the guarantee that your opponent will get more money—as was the case under the Arizona law—is even more so.
Allowing the government to burden political speech in this fashion not only diminishes the quality of political debate, but ignores the fundamental principle upon which the First Amendment is premised: that the government cannot be trusted to regulate political speech for the public benefit. Moreover, the state cannot condition the exercise of the right to speak on the promotion of a viewpoint contrary to the speaker’s.
Here’s Cato’s brief in the case, Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett.
Ilya Shapiro • June 27, 2011 @ 12:54 pm
Filed under: Government and Politics; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Afghanistan Discussion This Wednesday, 4:00 p.m.
Posted by Justin Logan
At 4:00 this Wednesday, Cato is hosting a panel discussion on “turning the page in Afghanistan” with the coauthor of Cato’s recent paper on the topic, Josh Rovner, as well as my colleague Malou Innocent, Joshua Foust of the American Security Project, and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. The event will feature a (perhaps uncommonly) wide range of opinion about the current strategy and the recently announced drawdown timeline. I look forward to having the privilege of moderating the discussion.
Register to attend here, or watch live at 4:00 Wednesday here.
Justin Logan • June 27, 2011 @ 12:25 pm
Filed under: Cato Publications​; Foreign Policy and National Security
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Unhappy (belated) Birthday National Minimum Wage
Posted by Mark A. Calabria
I wasn’t in the mood Friday to celebrate the 73rd birthday of the federal minimum wage, created under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.  Looking at youth unemployment numbers can be a little depressing.   Those figures should, however, sober up anyone who is still drunk under the spell of thinking the minimum wage has no impact on unemployment.
The chart above shows the increase in unemployment overall (right axis) and the unemployment rate for workers age 16 to 19 (left axis).  The difference between these two numbers usually runs about 10 percent, even in good times.  Notice that when the minimum wage was raised in July 2009, overall unemployment had started to level off, while youth unemployment sky-rocketed.  We also witnessed a big spike in youth unemployment the last time the minimum wage was raised in July 2008.
For those who truly care about reducing unemployment, as I do, the first thing we can do is recognize that a large part of the problem is being driven by the massive spike in youth unemployment, which the data suggests is partly being driven by the minimum wage.
For a great review of the historical evidence, I suggest David Neumark’s book Minimum Wages.  And yes, I’ve read David Card’s studies, which I think have tons of problems, but that is beyond the discussion here.  The bottom line should be that in a free society, whatever two consenting individuals agree to, should be respected, whether its marriage or the contours of a labor contract.
Mark A. Calabria • June 27, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
Filed under: Finance, Banking & Monetary Policy; General; Government and Politics
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Republicans and the New York Marriage Law
Posted by David Boaz
Since New York passed a law extending marriage to same-sex couples, Republican presidential candidates have been mostly silent. But not Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has had a long and strong interest in gay rights issues. In an interview on Fox News Sunday she endorsed both New York’s Tenth Amendment right to make marriage law and the federal government’s right to override such laws with a constitutional amendment, confusing host Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: You are a strong opponent of same-marriage. What do you think of the law that was just passed in New York state—making it the biggest state to recognize same-sex marriage?
BACHMANN: Well, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And I also believe—in Minnesota, for instance, this year, the legislature put on the ballot for people to vote in 2012, whether the people want to vote on the definition of marriage as one man, one woman. In New York state, they have a passed the law at the state legislative level. And under the 10th Amendment, the states have the right to set the laws that they want to set….
WALLACE: But you would agree if it’s passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor, then that’s a state’s position.
BACHMANN: It’s a state law. And the 10th Amendment reserves for the states that right.
WALLACE: All right. I want to follow up on that, because I’m confused by your position on this. Here’s what you said in the New Hampshire debate. Let’s put it on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: I do support a constitutional amendment on marriage between a man and a woman, but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That’s why I’m confused. If you support state rights, why you also support a constitutional amendment which would prevent any state from recognizing same-sex marriage?
BACHMANN: Well, because that’s entirely consistent, that states have, under the 10th Amendment, the right to pass any law they like. Also, federal officials at the federal level have the right to also put forth a constitutional amendment….
WALLACE: My point is this, do you want to say it’s a state issue and that states should be able to decide? Or would like to see a constitutional amendment so that it’s banned everywhere?
BACHMANN: It is— it is both. It is a state issue and it’s a federal issue. It’s important for your viewers to know that federal law will trump state law on this issue. And it’s also—this is why it’s important—
WALLACE: And you would [sic] federal law to trump state law?
BACHMANN: Chris, this is why it’s so important because President Obama has come out and said he will not uphold the law of the land, which is the Defense of Marriage Act. The Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act and Bill Clinton signed it into law, to make sure that a state like New York passed a definition of marriage other [sic] one man, one woman, that other states wouldn’t be forced to recognize New York’s law….
WALLACE: So, just briefly, you would support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the New York state law?
BACHMANN: Yes, I would. I would. That is not inconsistent, because the states have the right under the 10th Amendment to do what they’d like to do. But the federal government also has the right to pass the federal constitutional amendment. It’s a high hurdle, as you know.We only have 27 amendments to the federal constitution. It’s very difficult. But certainly, it will either go to the courts, or the people’s representatives at the federal level.
Congratulations to Chris Wallace for his tenacious questioning. Presumably the way to understand Bachmann’s position is that she thinks states have a Tenth Amendment right to make their own laws in any area where the federal government doesn’t step in, and she supports a federal law overriding state marriage laws. That includes the Defense of Marriage Act, whose Section 3 says for the first time in history that the federal government will not recognize marriage licenses issued by the states. And it also includes a federal constitutional amendment to prohibit states from implementing equal marriage rights for gay couples.
Bachmann is not the only Republican who should be asked about the tension between support for the Tenth Amendment and support for federal laws and amendments to carve exceptions out of the Tenth Amendment. This month George Will has praised two Texas Republicans: First, Senate candidate and former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, whom he called a “limited-government constitutionalist” and who wrote a senior thesis at Princeton “on the Constitution’s Ninth and 10th amendments. Then as now, Cruz argued that these amendments, properly construed, would buttress the principle that powers not enumerated are not possessed by the federal government.” And second, Governor Rick Perry, who “was a ‘10th Amendment conservative​‘ (‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people’) before the Tea Party appeared.”
Cruz boasts on the same page of his website of his support of both the Tenth Amendment and DOMA. Does he really think, as a staunch defender of the Tenth Amendment, that the federal government should override the marriage law of the great state of New York? Perry may be a consistent Tenth Amendment conservative. In his book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington he makes his opposition to gay marriage more than clear. But he does write, “Crucial to understanding federalism in modern-day America is the concept of mobility, or the ability to ‘vote with your feet.’ If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medical marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.” And an NPR interviewer reported:
States should be free to make decisions regulating such things as taxes, marijuana and gay marriage, Perry says.
“If you want to live in a state that has high taxes, high regulations — that is favorable to smoking marijuana and gay marriage — then move to California,” he says.
Now that a large state has made national headlines by passing a gay marriage law—without any prodding from the judiciary—more political candidates, from President Obama to his Republican challengers, are going to be pressed to make their positions clear on the issue of marriage equality itself, on federalism and the powers of the states, and on the lawsuits that are moving through the courts.
David Boaz • June 27, 2011 @ 11:50 am
Filed under: General; Government and Politics; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Epic Win for First Amendment in Violent Videogame Case
Posted by Ilya Shapiro
The Supreme Court scored an epic win for the First Amendment in striking down California’s prohibition on selling violent videogames to minors. The law was both overly broad—sweeping in a wide variety of games based on no objective standard and no age-based gradations—and underinclusive—with no restrictions on other types of media. With a few strictly drawn exceptions for historically unprotected speech—obscenity, incitement, fighting words—government lacks the power to restrict expression simply because of its content. And a legislature cannot create new types of unprotected speech simply by weighing its purported social costs against its alleged value.
“Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat,” Justice Scalia points out in his majority opinion. “But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.”
Moreover, the Court, citing
Cato’s amicus brief
, described how each generation’s new media produces consternation from adults who want to avoid the “seduction of the innocent” (to borrow a phrase from the attack on comic books in the 1950s). In the 19th century, dime novels and “penny dreadfuls” were blamed for social ills and juvenile delinquency. Later, Congress held hearings on the cartoon menace, which prompted the comic book industry to voluntarily adopt a ratings system. Backlash against certain kinds of movies and music caused those respective industries also to adopt voluntary ratings systems. And the videogame industry too adopted an effective and responsive ratings system after congressional hearings in the early ‘90s. Not only is all this hand-wringing overwrought, but self-regulation and parental oversight have worked—evidence from the Federal Trade Commission shows that the voluntary ratings system works more effectively with videogames than with any other medium—and they avoid First Amendment thickets. Adding a level of governmental control, even if were constitutional, would be counterproductive.
Here’s
the Court’s opinion in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association
(Cato’s brief is cited on pages 9-10).
Ilya Shapiro • June 27, 2011 @ 11:28 am
Filed under: Government and Politics; Law and Civil Liberties
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Block-Granting Medicaid Is a Long-Overdue Way of Restoring Federalism and Promoting Good Fiscal Policy
Posted by Daniel J. Mitchell
This new video, based in large part on the good work of Michael Cannon, explains why Medicaid should be shifted to the states. As I note in the title of this post, it’s good federalism policy and good fiscal policy. But the video also explains that Medicaid reform is good health policy since it creates an opportunity to deal with the third-party payer problem.
One of the key observations of the video is that Medicaid block grants would replicate the success of welfare reform. Getting rid of the federal welfare entitlement in the 1990s and shifting the program to the states was a very successful policy, saving billions of dollars for taxpayers and significantly reducing poverty. There is every reason to think ending the Medicaid entitlement will have similar positive results.
Medicaid block grants were included in Congressman Ryan’s budget, so this reform is definitely part of the current fiscal debate. Unfortunately, the Senate apparently is not going to produce any budget, and the White House also has expressed opposition. On the left, reducing dependency is sometimes seen as a bad thing, even though poor people are the biggest victims of big government​.
It’s wroth noting that Medicaid reform and Medicare reform often are lumped together, but they are separate policies. Instead of block grants, Medicare reform is based on something akin to vouchers, sort of like the health system available for Members of Congress. This video from last month explains the details.
In closing, I suppose it would be worth mentioning that there are two alternatives to Medicaid and Medicare reform. The first alternative is to do nothing and allow America to become another Greece. The second alternative is to impose bureaucratic restrictions on access to health care—what is colloquially known as the death panel approach. Neither option seems terribly attractive compared to the pro-market reforms discussed above.
Daniel J. Mitchell • June 27, 2011 @ 10:55 am
Filed under: General; Government and Politics; Health Care; Tax and Budget Policy
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Should the Government Ban ATMs and Create “Spoon-ready” Projects?
Posted by David Boaz
At the Britannica Blog today I note President Obama’s concern over ATMs, Hillary Clinton’s support for the candlemakers’ petition, John Maynard Keynes’s simple solution to the problem of unemployment—and how Bastiat refuted all their arguments more than 150 years ago:
And there’s your question for President Obama: Do you really think the United States would be better off if we didn’t have ATMs and check-in kiosks? . . .  And do you think we’d be better off if we mandated that all these “shovel-ready projects” be performed with spoons?
In his 1988 book The American Job Machine, the economist Richard B. McKenzie pointed out an easy way to create 60 million jobs: “Outlaw farm machinery.” The goal of economic policy should not be job creation per se; it should be a growing economy that continually satisfies more consumer demand. And such an economy will be marked by creative destruction. Some businesses will be created, others will fail. Some jobs will no longer be needed, but in a growing economy more will be created. . . .
Finding new and more efficient ways to deliver goods and services to consumers is called economic progress. We should not seek to impede that process, whether through protectionism, breaking windows, throwing towels on the floor, or fretting about automation.
More here.
David Boaz • June 27, 2011 @ 9:56 am
Filed under: General; Government and Politics
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Should TSA Change Its Policy?
Posted by Jim Harper
News that Transportation Security Administration officers required a 95-year-old cancer patient to remove her adult diaper for search lit up the social media this weekend. It’s reminiscent of the recent story where a 6-year-old girl got the pat-down because she didn’t hold still in the strip-search machine. TSA administrator John Pistole testified to a Senate hearing that the agency would change its policy about children shortly thereafter.
So, should the TSA change policy once again? Almost certainly. Will it ever arrive at balanced policies that aren’t punctuated by outrages like this? Almost certainly not.
You see, the TSA does not seek policies that anyone would call sensible or balanced. Rather, it follows political cues, subject to the bureaucratic prime directive described by Cato chairman emeritus and distinguished senior economist Bill Niskanen long ago: maximize discretionary budget.
When the TSA’s political cues pointed toward more intrusion, that’s where it went. Recall the agency’s obsession with small, sharp things early in its tenure, and the shoe fetish it adopted after Richard Reid demonstrated the potential hazards of footwear. Next came liquids after the revelation of a bomb plot around smuggling in sports bottles. And in December 2009, the underwear bomber focused the TSA on everyone’s pelvic region. Woe to the traveler whose medical condition requires her to wear something concealing the government’s latest fixation.
The TSA pursues the bureaucratic prime directive—maximize budget—by assuming, fostering, and acting on the maximum possible threat. So a decade after 9/11, TSA and Department of Homeland Security officials give strangely time-warped commentary whenever they speechify or testify, recalling the horrors of 2001 as if it’s 2003. The prime directive also helps explain why TSA has expanded its programs following each of the attempts on aviation since 9/11, even though each of them has failed. For a security agency, security threats are good for business. TSA will never seek balance, but will always promote threat as it offers the only solution: more TSA.
Because of countervailing threats to its budget—sufficient outrage on the part of the public—TSA will withdraw from certain policies from time to time. But there is no capacity among the public to sustain “outrage” until the agency is actually managing risk in a balanced and cost-effective way. (You can ignore official claims of “risk-based” policies until you’ve actually seen the risk management and cost-benefit documents.)
TSA should change its policy, yes, but its fundamental policies will not change. Episodes like this will continue indefinitely against a background of invasive, overwrought airline security that suppresses both the freedom to travel and the economic well-being of the country.
In a 2005
Reason magazine “debate” on airline security
, I described the incentive structure that airlines and airports face, which is much more conducive to nesting security with convenience, privacy, savings, and overall traveler comfort and satisfaction. The threat of terrorism has only dropped since then. We should drop the TSA.
Jim Harper • June 27, 2011 @ 9:20 am
Filed under: Foreign Policy and National Security; Telecom, Internet & Information Policy
 Print
Facebook​Twitter​Email​ShareThis
Page 1 of 53412345»102030...Last »
Cato Institute - 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. - Washington D.C 20001