Republicans who still look to Bill Kristol for political advice will find his case that “yes” is “The Right Vote” over at The Weekly Standard today. Ignore those melting phone lines, Kristol urges congressfolk: despite what your constituents are telling you, “no” on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Syria is actually “the risky vote.”
If Republicans refuse authorization, Kristol argues, “the GOP can be blamed for whatever goes wrong in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East, over the next months and years. And plenty will go wrong.” If they don’t want the Middle East mess hung around their necks, he says, then Republican lawmakers should vote for bombing Syria—and “consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.” See, that’s how you minimize your political risk. With double the bombing, what could possibly go wrong?
It’s not the most persuasive bit of political analysis I’ve ever read. But, disturbingly, Kristol’s on to something in this paragraph:
A Yes vote is in fact the easy vote. It’s actually close to risk-free. After all, it’s President Obama who is seeking the authorization to use force and who will order and preside over the use of force. It’s fundamentally his policy. Lots of Democrats voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war. When that war ran into trouble, it was President Bush and Republicans who paid the price. If the Syria effort goes badly, the public will blame President Obama…. If it goes well, Republicans can take credit for pushing him to act decisively, and for casting a tough vote supporting him when he asked for authorization to act.
There’s genuine insight there into the way we war now, and how Congress shirks its constitutional responsibilities. Domestically, as David Schoenbrod has observed, broad delegations of power allow Congress “to kiss both sides of the apple,” taking credit for the benefits of the legislation they pass and railing against whatever costs the executive branch imposes.
Congress plays the same “shell game” abroad. Where possible, modern Congresses have preferred to punt to the president and reserve their right to criticize him should military action go badly—to be for the war before they were against it, or vice versa, depending on which way the political winds blow. That’s how it worked in Vietnam and in Iraq—and that’s the danger with the Senate’s loosely crafted Syria AUMF. The provisions that purport to limit presidential action are too weak to stick, but if we get a wider, bloodier war, they’ll allow legislators to say: “That is not what I meant at all.” It’s TARP with Tomahawks.
Still, there’s always the risk that the marks will see through the shell game. And at this point, Congress seems unconvinced that a “yes” vote is “close to risk free.”
The U.S. Postal Service is structured to subsist on the revenues it generates from the sale of its products and services. In recent years, however, USPS expenses have exceeded revenues and the government agency now finds itself effectively broke having maxed out its $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury.
Postal employee unions blame a 2006 law that forces the USPS to prefund retiree health benefits (a benefit that a small and declining number of private sector workers enjoy) for the government agency’s financial woes. But as a recent Congressional Research Service paper notes, the USPS would be in trouble even without the required payments:
While [Retiree Health Benefits Fund] payments have affected the USPS’s profitability, the USPS would have run deficits each of the past four years even if the agency did not have to make RHBF payments. These non-RHBF deficits would total $14.7 billion, an amount nearly equal to the USPS’s total borrowing authority. [T]hese deficits were produced by a sharp drop in revenues. (Expenses did not fall equivalently.)
Congress has been fumbling around with postal reform legislation for a couple of years now. And as I’ve noted more times than I can count, congressional micromanagement makes it difficult for the USPS to downsize its operations to match 21st century realities. So the USPS is reportedly looking to generate more revenue through higher stamp prices.
The USPS is limited in its ability to increase stamp prices. For “market-dominant” (the government’s amusing euphemism for “monopoly”) products, annual price increases cannot exceed inflation (as measured by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers). The USPS can, however, request a rate increase above inflation on the basis of extraordinary or exceptional circumstances from its regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).
The PRC rejected such a request in 2010, but it appears that the USPS will try again. And both the Washington Post and The Hill are reporting that industries forced to use the USPS (greeting card companies, magazines, direct marketers, etc) are non-too-pleased with the prospect of higher prices. The mailers argue that an excessive price increase to deliver their products will speed up the diversion from physical mail to electronic alternatives (and thus hurt their bottom lines).
Here’s my opinion on an exigent increase in stamp prices: the postal service should be privatized and delivery charges should be determined by market forces. Maybe the mailing industry is paying too little; maybe it’s paying too much. I think it’s impossible to say so long as the government maintains a monopoly on the delivery of its products and delivery prices are set by politicians and regulators. Unfortunately, ending the government mail monopoly and privatizing the postal service isn’t even a topic for discussion in Congress.
Nope, those busy little bees have more important postal matters to attend to (from the New York Times):
As Congress has become less and less efficient, the numbers are all the more striking. In the 111th Congress, which met from 2009 to 2010, members passed 383 statutes, 70 of which named post offices. In the 112th Congress, the last Congress to meet before the current one convened in January, members passed 46 measures naming post offices, out of 240 statutes over all.
Ted Galen Carpenter
Most opponents of the Obama administration’s plan to launch missile strikes against Syria have rightly focused on the possible costs in American blood and treasure if the United States becomes entangled in that country’s civil war. There is, however, a more subtle, yet extremely worrisome, cost: the potential damage to America’s relations with other important nations, especially Russia and China.
Russian leaders have been extremely outspoken in opposing military measures against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, especially if such actions are taken without approval from the UN Security Council, on which Russia possesses a veto power. Russian President Vladimir Putin also has warned that a U.S.-led attack on Syria could further destabilize the Middle East, proving “catastrophic” for that region and beyond. Moscow has now dispatched three naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean to show support for Assad and warn Washington against rash action.
China has been less vocal than Russia in criticizing U.S. policy toward Syria, but Beijing is also opposed to the course that the Obama administration has adopted. The Chinese government shares Moscow’s anger at Washington’s growing tendency to bypass the UN Security Council on matters of war and peace. That is a source of discontent that has been building for a decade-and-a-half. Western (especially U.S.) policy regarding Kosovo—both the war in 1999 and the decision to bypass the Council and grant that province independence from Serbia in 2008—became a prominent source of irritation. The U.S.–led invasion of Iraq in 2003, again without Security Council approval, added to the list of Sino-Soviet diplomatic grievances against Washington and its allies. Most recently, the West’s cynical misuse of a Council resolution authorizing air strikes in Libya, supposedly to prevent Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from attacking innocent civilians, antagonized both Beijing and Moscow.
The Obama administration’s transformation of the Libya resolution into a vehicle for regime change makes Russian and Chinese officials especially suspicious that the proposed limited missile strikes to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons will be perverted in the same fashion. And it is clear that Beijing and Moscow are tired of having Washington disregard their views and flout the interests of their countries.
U.S. leaders need to do a far better job of calculating America’s foreign policy priorities. Maintaining good relations with Russia and China outweigh any theoretical gains that might flow even from a well-executed policy regarding Syria. And the prospects of a meaningful U.S. policy “victory” in that country are midpoint between slim and none.
Conversely, we need cooperation from Moscow and Beijing on a host of important issues. Without Russia’s help, there is little chance for serious progress on nuclear issues, either reducing the bloated U.S. and Russian stockpiles of such weapons or discouraging Iran and other countries from barging into the global nuclear weapons club. China’s cooperation is even more important. Not only is China a major purchaser of U.S. government debt, which in an era of chronic budget deficits is no trivial matter, but the country is an increasingly crucial U.S. trading partner and a vital factor in the overall global economy. An angry, recalcitrant China would not be good for America’s or the world’s economic health.
China is also the most important player in efforts to discourage North Korea from engaging in reckless, destabilizing conduct. During the first half of 2013, Beijing appeared to grow weary of Pyongyang’s disruptive, provocative conduct and began to exert pressure on its obnoxious client. That pressure has been at least one factor in North Korea’s more conciliatory behavior in the past few months. But China will have little incentive to continue that course if Washington tramples on Beijing’s interests in Syria and the rest of the Middle East.
Obama administration officials must avoid policy “tunnel vision.” Pursuing a dubious strategy in Syria is bad enough, even taken in isolation. Doing so when it will likely damage U.S. relations with two major powers in the international system is dangerously myopic.
In less then a week–on September 11th, as it turns out–Cato is holding a book forum on Jesse Walker’s terrific new book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.
Walker, books editor for Reason magazine, uses historian Richard Hofstadter’s famous 1964 monograph “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” as his jumping-off point. In that “flawed but fascinating essay,” Hofstadter locates political paranoia mostly on the fringes of American politics and mostly on the Right. It’s often used today to frame concerns about government abuse as so much conspiracy-mongering. Here, for example, is Alan Dershowitz invoking Hofstadter to dismiss Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story on NSA’s dragnet data-collection programs, as “the personification of the paranoid streak in American politics.”
Walker insists, contra Hofstadter, that “the Paranoid Style Is American Politics.” From the colonial era, to the Anti-Masonic party, through sundry Red Scares, militia scares, and post-9/11 panics, Walker writes, “the fear of conspiracies has been a potent force across the political spectrum, at the center as well as the extreme.” What’s more, some of the most dangerous forms of political paranoia are “the kinds that catch on with people inside the halls of power.” This Reason magazine feature on what Walker calls “The Paranoid Center” gives a flavor of his argument.
But there’s much more in the book, which argues that conspiracy stories can become “a form of folklore.” They tell us “something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people” captivated by them “even when [they] say nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.” As one reviewer put it, The United States of Paranoia contains “so many tasty morsels of historical marginalia that it nearly bursts with weirdness.”
We’re happy to have as our featured commentator Sam Tanenhaus, writer-at-large for the New York Times, longtime editor of the NYT Book Review (2004-13) and author of such books as Whitaker Chambers: A Biography and The Death of Conservatism. Here’s Tanenhaus on Hofstadter.
You’d have to be nuts not to RSVP right now for what promises to be a fascinating discussion of political paranoia Left, Right, and Center. Do it here.
Downsizing Government has a new tool allowing readers to chart spending for more than 500 federal agencies with the click of a mouse. It’s pretty cool. Hopefully it will help citizens, reporters, and policymakers understand how the budget has grown to a colossal $3.5 trillion a year.
The data is sourced from the most recent federal budget and converted to 2013 constant dollars. In other words, the effect of inflation has been removed so that today’s spending can be fairly compared to spending in past years.
You can learn a lot about the government by exploring with the charting tool. Here are some things that I noticed:
- Department of Agriculture. Spending was fairly flat for 25 years, but then soared after 2008 because of food stamp costs (Food and Nutrition Services). Regarding agriculture, subsidies from the Farm Service Agency are down, but subsidies from the Risk Management Agency are way up.
- Department of Defense. The main components of defense spending (such as procurement) have followed a similar pattern—down in the 1970s, up in the 1980s, down in the 1990s, and up in the 2000s.
- Department of Education. Spending has gyrated wildly over the past decade partly due to large reestimates of student loan costs (Office of Student Aid). Regarding K-12 schools (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education), subsidies soared under Bush and then under Obama with the 2009 stimulus bill.
- Department of Energy. Subsidies (Energy Programs) soared under Carter, were cut under Reagan, and then soared again under Obama. The two other largest components of DOE spending are nuclear security and the environmental cleanup of federal nuclear sites.
- Department of Health and Human Services. Real spending has increased nine-fold since 1970 and now tops $900 billion. Yikes.
- Department of Homeland Security. If you are concerned about America becoming a police state, look no further than this department. Real spending has tripled over the past decade because of big-government policies such as nationalizing airport security. (The 2006 spike in the chart is post-Katrina FEMA spending).
- Department of Housing and Urban Development. This department includes perhaps the silliest of all federal spending activities: Community Planning at $11 billion a year. The federal government has enough truly national problems to deal with that it can leave the bicycle paths and parking lots to local governments. The spending chart for Community Planning illustrates a classic case of how Reagan’s budget cuts were reversed by Bush, Clinton, Bush, and then Obama.
- Department of Justice. Real spending has more than tripled since 1990.
- Department of Labor. The recent spike in spending stems from unemployment insurance costs being far larger than during prior recessions.
- Department of State. Real spending has more than tripled since 2000.
- Department of Transportation. Is government infrastructure being starved? It doesn’t look like it to me.
- Department of the Treasury. Chart the IRS and you will see that spending has more than quintupled since 1990. This is the huge, hidden welfare budget of refundable tax credits.
- Department of Veterans Affairs. Spending was roughly flat for three decades until 2000, but has more than doubled since then.
- Other. Open up the Other category with the “+” button, and you will see hundreds of federal activities you’ve probably never heard of.
The chart tool is here www.downsizinggovernment.org/charts.php.
Data notes are here www.downsizinggovernment.org/chart-notes.
Today is Jury Appreciation Day!
It is a day to reflect upon the importance of our constitutional right to a jury trial and the right of jurors to vote according to their conscience in circumstances where they believe it would be unjust to convict the person on trial–even if it is clear that the person on trial broke a rule in the law books.
Why was September 5 selected to be Jury Rights Day? Because today was the day of a historic case involving William Penn, the man who founded Pennsylvania. Let’s remember that many people came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe. Penn was a Quaker when the Quaker religion was illegal in England. He was arrested after preaching to a group of Quakers–and that was no misdemeanor. In 1670, Penn was facing the death penalty for unlawful assembly, disturbing the peace, and riot.
It was an extraordinary trial. Penn and his co-defendant, William Mead, were gagged during the trial for making arguments that displeased the court. When the jury came back from deliberations and announced that they were divided–some for conviction, some for acquital, the judges ridiculed those who voted to acquit and sent them back. When the jury remained deadlocked, the court ordered them to prison with no food till they could reach a unanimous verdict. After two days without food, the jury returned with a “not guilty” verdict. Outraged, the court fined the jurors and ordered their imprisonment until the fines were paid. A higher court overturned that punishment and said a jury must resolve cases based upon their own understanding, not because of threats of punishment from the state.
Although the right to a jury trial is guaranteed by the American Constitution, it has been under a relentless attack over the years. Most Americans are unaware that 95 percent of the cases in our criminal justice system never go to trial. And, in the few cases that do go to trial, jurors are typically misled about their prerogative to acquit (“jury nullification”). In November, Cato will be re-releasing an e-book, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine, by Clay Conrad. Glenn Reynolds reviewed the initial publication here.
Let me take this opportunity to report on several positive developments that will help to revive the doctrine of jury nullification in American law.
First, New Hampshire enacted a law last year that is designed to revive jury nullification in that state. More background on that here.
Second, last April, a federal district judge filed an important, 80-page scholarly ruling that acknowledges that the more modern precedents surrounding jury trial “are inconsistent with trial practices at the Founders’ time, and that these practices have eroded the Sixth Amendment jury trial right as the Framers understood that right.” Here’s another excerpt:
The Constitution was not designed, however, to be neat and efficient, but to protect individual liberty against government despotism. That the jurors’ lack of knowledge stems at least in part from the judicial exertion of power, and that the jury’s nullification power played an important role in criminal jury trials at the Founders’ time, counsels in favor of finding this evolution unconstitutional…. Because the common-law jury at the Founders’ time was in control of the judiciary by virtue of rendering the ultimate decision in its ve rdict, and because the court at the time of the Founders told the jury that the jury was the master of the law and of the facts, the Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit’s precedent that the trial court should not instruct the jury about nullification seems inconsistent with the Framers’ intention in adopting the Sixth Amendment jury trial right. Moreover, the requirement that the court not allow the lawyers to encourage nullification is inconsistent with the practice at the time of the Framers, as exhibited by Hamilton’s conduct in People v. Croswell. While it is messy to openly talk to the jury about jury nullification in the modern American judicial system, the Constitution, thank goodness, is not always about efficiently convicting defendants.
As a good district judge, he refrained from simply ruling the way he thought best, explaining that, as a judge, he “must adhere to the established precedent until the Supreme Court explicity reconsiders it.”
Third, do check out & spread the word about the new jury nullification video project in the works by our friends at Flex Your Rights.
Lastly, our friends at Reason have a new video up on a recent jury nullification case here.
Washington, DC– Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) charters all over the country are joining in a national write-in campaign to demand Congress oppose any further intervention in Syria.
“Our members are unified in their belief that an attack on Syria does not serve our national interests,” said RLC National Chairman Matt Nye. “This is an important time for Congress to assert its authority and rein in this administration’s disastrous foreign policy.”
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Maine directed their concern at the Republican leadership in the House, calling on Speaker Boehner “to stand up for Republican principles and rescind his endorsement of the President’s initiative to strike Syria with military action.”
In Texas the focus was on the Constitutional requirements for the use of the military, with the complaint that “this administration has consistently ignored and worked against due process in their domestic security policy, and they continue to be hostile to the concept in their foreign policy, resisting calls for Congressional oversight.”
Republican Liberty Caucus endorsees in the House and Senate are already taking the lead on this issue.
Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) is making a series of appearances in Michigan to get feedback from constituents this week. According to Amash, “the President hasn’t come close to justifying war in Syria, and I know few Members of Congress who support an attack on Syria based on the current reasoning of the administration.”
Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) was impressed with constituent opposition to intervention in Syria. “My phones are blowing up, and an overwhelming amount of constituents are opposed to intervening. I think if you had the vote today, while members were in their districts, the resolution would fail,” Massie said.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has threatened to filibuster a bill authorizing intervention in Syria, making the point which seems to be widely agreed on that the Syrian situation does not meet the standard for intervention. “I think the line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened. I don’t see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war,” Paul said.
“With public polling at around 90% opposing intervention and the administration having failed to make a convincing case that military action is called for, we hope more and more members of Congress will line up to oppose the administration’s plans,” Nye said. “Only the most out of touch elements of the Republican leadership seem willing to go along with the Democrats who are pushing for war.”
The Republican Liberty Caucus has launched a nationwide write-in campaign to encourage members of Congress to stand on principle and exercise their Constitutional authority to reject the president’s demands for war, sending a clear message that the American people are tired of endless wars that don’t serve our national interests.
“I think everyone agrees the use of chemical weapons is monstrous and should be condemned,” Nye said. “However, the situation in Syria clearly does not meet the Constitutional standard for immediate reprisal in response to an attack on the United States.”
The post RLC Condemns Administration’s Planned Attacks on Syria appeared first on Republican Liberty Caucus of South Carolina.
Ronald Reagan responds to Lindsey Graham’s claims that Reagan wasn’t a libertarian. Reagan made the point that conservatism is essentially the same as libertarianism while liberalism is essentially fascism.
The post Reagan Responds to Lindsey Graham About Libertarianism appeared first on Republican Liberty Caucus of South Carolina.
“Disparate impact” theory holds someone liable for discrimination for a race-neutral policy that statistically disadvantages a specific racial group — say, blacks score lower on a firefighter-promotion test than whites — even if that negative “impact” was neither foreseen nor intended. The application of this theory has been fraught with controversy, to say the least, but it comes up again and again, in contexts ranging from employment to education to voting.
While disparate impact claims have sometimes been sustained under the federal Fair Housing Act (which makes it unlawful to deny housing on the basis of race) since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has only recently agreed to decide whether these claims are lawful. Two years ago, the Court was about to hear such a case, Magner v. Gallagher, when the Justice Department, led by now-Labor Secretary Tom Perez, pressured the city of St. Paul, Minnesota to settle it. The same sort of political pressure is now being brought to bear on Mount Holly Township, New Jersey; supporters of disparate impact theory simply don’t think that it can survive legal scrutiny.
The current case involves a redevelopment plan for a blighted Mount Holly neighborhood (“the Gardens”) that would transform the neighborhood into mid-range single-family dwellings. (Thus far, the township has acquired 259 of 329 properties through various financial incentives, without yet resorting to eminent domain.) The Gardens’ residents sued, arguing that the redevelopment plan violated the FHA because a majority of them would not be able to afford the new homes.
The district court dismissed this argument, holding that the redevelopment plan affected Gardens residents equally, without regard to race, and was tied only to economic considerations. The court of appeals reversed that ruling, holding that the residents’ association had set out a case of discrimination under the theory of disparate impact because a majority of the affected residents were non-white.
Cato has now joined the Pacific Legal Foundation and four other public-interest organizations on an amicus brief arguing not only that disparate impact claims are impermissible under the text of the FHA, but that such claims force unconstitutional actions when applied to governments. Before putting race-neutral policies into effect, government agencies would have to determine whether a particular racial group would be disproportionately impacted and take steps to remedy that difference. By mandating an equality of ends — as opposed to an equality of opportunity — disparate impact liability encourages the adoption of discriminatory quota systems.
Moreover, allowing disparate impact claims under the FHA undermines market stability. If a racial minority group is statistically less likely to meet the income requirements necessary to secure a mortgage, banks face a cruel choice: keep the race-neutral policy and risk lawsuits or give unqualified applicants loans and risk mass default (and lawsuits for disparately bankrupting that same minority group). Tort law is only morally justified when a defendant has to compensate his victim for harm he inflicted, whether through malice or negligence. Under the theory of disparate impact, however, a defendant is forced to pay for harm caused not by his own actions, but by economic and statistical realities that he cannot control.
The Gardens’ residents can’t afford the new housing not because of their race but because of their poverty. While it’s a harsh truth that a disproportionate number of minorities live in poverty, claiming that making expensive products is racist and that these “racists” have an obligation to compensate the victims of poverty is absurd. The FHA was intended, in the words of Senator Walter Mondale, “to permit people who have the ability to do so to buy any house offered to the public if they can afford to buy it. It would not overcome the economic problem of those who could not afford to purchase the house of their choice.”
For following the law as it was written and attempting to improve a blighted neighborhood without resorting to eminent domain abuse, Mount Holly was rewarded with a decade’s worth of vexatious litigation — which the Supreme Court should now end once and for all. The Court will hear Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. in December or January.
Yesterday, I commented on the strikingly broad authority the Obama administration proposed in its draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Syria, and argued that Senate leaders’ attempts to narrow the proposed authorization were misguided: “Congress shouldn’t ‘fix’ what the president shouldn’t have.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s revised AUMF, released this morning, hasn’t changed my mind.
- They’ve added some adjectives to the operative clause, authorizing the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner” (bespoke airstrikes?) against “legitimate military targets,” and tightened the stated goals somewhat. But again “he determines” whether those conditions have been met.
- They’ve added some time limits–60 days, with a one-time 30-day renewal if the president certifies he needs it—much like the limits in the War Powers Resolution. But recall that Obama blew past the WPR’s time limits two years ago in Libya, becoming the second president ever to do so. (Bill Clinton–like Obama, a former constitutional law professor–was the first. Remember, “Never Let Law Profs Near the Oval Office”)
- Worst of all, despite purporting to bar “the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations” (Sec. 3) and limit airstrikes to targets “in Syria,” (Sec. 2(a)), the draft (unwittingly?) undermines those restrictions at the outset. The revised AUMF gives away the game in the last clause of Section 1 with a gratuitous and overbroad concession about the scope of the president’s authority to use force without congressional authorization: “the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States.” That’s far broader than the WPR’s description of the president’s independent constitutional authority to take action in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States… or its armed forces”–and broader than the original understanding that the president retained the power to “repel sudden attacks.” The language in the Commitee’s draft AUMF implicitly endorses a power to launch sudden attacks when the president deems them in “the national security interests of the United States.”
Former Bush OLC head Jack Goldsmith calls it “the broadest such clause I have ever seen”–“the draft AUMF enhances, through congressional recognition, the President’s claims of independent constitutional authority to use force in Syria.” Coupled with other provisions in Section 1 affirming that Syria’s possession and use of unconventional weapons “constitute a grave threat to … the national security interests of the United States,”–that phrase again–it gives President Obama additional cover to go beyond what’s authorized in the resolution–flouting the time limits, introducing ground troops, striking targets outside of Syria, and the like.
Goldsmith sums up: “If the Senate draft becomes law, the President should be very pleased.” Americans, who are rightly sick of Middle Eastern entanglements and Tomahawk humanitarianism, will likely have a very different view.
Just as a U.S. government agency is about to decide whether a Chinese company can buy a U.S. pork producer, concerns are being raised about foods shipped directly from China. Here is Bloomberg View columnist Adam Minter:
… the U.S. Department of Agriculture … announce[d] that it had ended a ban on Chinese chicken imports by approving four Chinese poultry processors to ship processed (“heat-treated/cooked”) chicken to the U.S. The report on the approved poultry plants noted that the audit set out to “to determine whether the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) food safety system governing poultry processing remains equivalent to that of the United States (U.S.), with the ability to produce products that are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled.” Needless to say, the Chinese plants passed.
Initially, at least, the chickens will be slaughtered in the U.S. (or another nation that’s allowed to export slaughtered chicken to the U.S.), then shipped to China for processing and re-export. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, according to the New York Times, no USDA inspectors will be present in the Chinese processing plants (despite the fact that China has never before been allowed to export chicken to the U.S.), thus offering consumers no guarantees where the processed chickens were in fact slaughtered. Even worse, because the birds will be processed, the USDA will not require point-of-origin labeling (under USDA rules, foods that have been cooked aren’t subject to point-of-origin labeling). In other words: Consumers will have no way to tell if those chicken nuggets in the supermarket freezer were processed in the U.S. or in China.
Minter’s concerns seem rooted in an old Barenaked Ladies song (“Chickity China the Chinese chicken/Have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’ ”), but is there any reason to be worried here? Here are some thoughts:
– The Chinese factories were visited by USDA inspectors, who deemed them safe;
– The products at issue are cooked, and then frozen, which should help deal with any bacteria;
– Companies who sell these products are presumably still liable for any harm caused.
If that’s not enough, let me just note that if consumers are worried about eating frozen chicken nuggets processed in China, those companies who process their chicken nuggets elsewhere could indicate this on their package label, picking up new consumers who are hoping to avoid the dreaded Chinese chicken.
Awareness about public school spending has implications for the public discourse over public education. A Harvard University survey shows the public vastly underestimates how much public schools cost, which affects the public’s spending preferences. When citizens are informed about the true cost of public education, they are significantly less likely to support increasing spending.
Likewise, the widespread misperception that private schools cost more per pupil than public schools likely affects the public’s support for school choice programs. A greater awareness that school choice programs can save money would likely translate into greater public support for school choice. Indeed, Florida policymakers have wisely sought to demonstrate exactly that. The Florida Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) estimated Florida taxpayers save $1.44 for every dollar of revenue reduced by the state’s scholarship tax credit program.
The central purpose of school choice is to provide an education that best meets the needs of individual children, especially to those whose choices are limited. Diverse children require a diverse array of learning options. However, as with any public policy, cost is a factor. Research has shown that when the fiscal benefits of school choice are emphasized, support for choice increases.
The widespread misperception that school choice programs would cost more than the status quo is therefore both a problem and an opportunity. The misperception currently dampens support for school choice, but it also means that support would increase with greater awareness about the true cost of public schools and the savings that school choice programs provide to taxpayers.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant and it is also necessary for growth. Those who want to see school choice programs grow should advocate for greater transparency in education spending.
All it takes are a few warnings for the benefit of visitors who might not otherwise realize watery surfaces are wet – not to mention helping you fend off the lawsuit if they slip anyway. [Chevy Chase, Maryland; courtesy Carter Wood; cross-posted from Overlawyered]
Daniel J. Mitchell
I recently speculated whether Detroit’s fiscal problems should be a warning sign for the crowd in Washington.
The answer, of course, is yes, though it’s not a perfect analogy. The federal government is in deep trouble because of unsustainable entitlement programs while Detroit got in trouble because of a combination of too much compensation for bureaucrats and too many taxpayers escaping the city.
A better analogy might be to compare Detroit to other local governments. Some large cities in California already have declared bankruptcy, for instance, and you can find the same pattern of overcompensated bureaucrats and escaping taxpayers.
And the same thing may happen to New York City if the next mayor is successful in pushing for more class-warfare tax policy. Here are some excerpts from an excellent New York Post column by Nicole Gelinas:
Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio…thinks New York can hike taxes on the rich and not suffer… De Blasio’s scheme is this: Hike income taxes by 13.8 percent on New Yorkers making above half a million dollars annually….After five years, de Blasio would let this tax surcharge lapse, and — he says — find another way to pay.
But there’s a big problem with de Blasio’s plan. Rich people are not fatted calves meekly awaiting slaughter.
In 2009, the top 1 percent of taxpayers (the 34,598 households making above $493,439 annually) paid 43.2 percent of city income taxes (they made 33.9 percent of income), according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Each of these families paid an average $75,477. No, most people won’t up and leave (though if 20 percent did, they’d leave New York with less money than before the tax hike). But they can rearrange their incomes. Unlike most of us, folks making, say, $10 million have considerable control over how and when they get paid. That’s because much of their money comes from cashing out a partnership, or selling stock or a house or a painting. To avoid a tax hike, it’s easy enough for them to pay themselves earlier by selling their stuff earlier — before the tax hike. The city made $800 million in extra taxes last year because rich people sold their stuff before President Obama increased investment taxes in December. Or, people can pay themselves later — after the five years’ worth of higher taxes are up.
Gelinas makes some very important points. She warns that the city would have less money if just 20 percent of rich people escaped. She doesn’t think that will happen, but she does explain that rich people can stay but take some simple steps to reduce their taxable income.
This is because rich people are different from the rest of us. As I’ve previously explained with IRS data, they get the vast majority of their income from business and investment sources rather than from wages and salaries.
So if Mr. de Blasio wins and succeeds in pushing through his tax agenda, don’t expect to see much–if any–additional revenue. This will be a tailor-made example of the Laffer Curve in action.
In this video on class warfare taxation, I explain that the Laffer Curve is one of five reasons why soak-the-rich taxes are misguided.Five Key Reasons to Reject Class-Warfare Tax Policy
I’ll close by addressing a common argument from folks on the left. They assert that places such as New York City (or states such as California) can impose higher taxes because they provide more in exchange.
I sort of agree, though not with the notion that people are getting “more in exchange” from the politicians in New York City and California.
Instead, it’s clear that some people are willing to pay more because they like the non-political features of NYC and the Golden State. For those who like museums, fancy dining, and Broadway shows, there’s no easy substitute for New York City. And for people who like the ocean and a Mediterranean climate, it’s hard to compete with California.
But there are limits. Last month, I shared a very powerful map from the Tax Foundation showing there’s been a huge shift of taxable income out of New York and California between 2000 and 2010.
Governor Jerry Brown recently succeeded in pushing through a huge tax hike in California, so I expect even more people will leave that state, regardless of the climate.
And if Mr. de Blasio is elected and imposes a big tax hike in New York City, I suspect some rich people will decide enough is enough.
No, they won’t move to Connecticut or New Jersey, both of which have become high-tax nightmares in recent decades. But there are a good handful of zero-income tax states, and the rich folks in New York City will figure out that there are also good restaurants in places such as West Palm Beach, Florida, and Austin, Texas.
Some things seem obvious: Puppies are cute. Freedom is good. Paying less for something is better than paying more.
Unless you live in the Tampa area and work for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC). The PTC was created, ironically, to protect Tampa’s transportation customers. Apparently, that means protecting those customers from low prices.
This is not one of those stories about unintended consequences or safety regulations that, in the long run, result in higher prices and therefore unsafe practices. The PTC left the agencies that impose those sorts of economics-challenged agencies in its dust. Instead, the PTC actually passed a rule requiring Tampa’s sedan and limo drivers to overcharge their customers. The rule mandates that all drivers must charge at least $50 per ride – no matter how short the ride, and even when the driver is willing to charge much less.
Let me repeat: The PTC is expressly protecting customers from low prices. What’s next for the PTC? Protecting us from pillows that are too soft or food that’s too tasty? (Don’t give Michael Bloomberg any ideas.) There are many good things in this world that undoubtedly must be stopped, so the PTC is going to be quite busy.
Unless someone stops the PTC first.
That’s why our friends at the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a limousine operator and his would-be thrifty clients. Their demands are simple: (1) The consumers want to pay less for their rides; (2) The entrepreneur wants to charge less for the services he provides. Now they just need the PTC to get out of the way.
Thankfully, the Florida Constitution protects the right to economic liberty, and the Florida Supreme Court has shown a willingness to strike down laws that interfere with the right of consumers to bargain for lower prices.
This is as it should be. Consumers and entrepreneurs – not the government – should decide how much a ride from a car service should cost:Gov’t Forces Businesses to Overcharge Customers
Government-imposed minimum-fare rules don’t help consumers. All they do is increase costs, stifle innovation and protect industry insiders from competition – hardly a wise or constitutional use of government power. At least, that seems obvious to me.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama made the right decision and asked Congress for authority to go to war in Syria. Now Congress should make the right decision and vote no. Conflicts and crises abound around the globe, but few significantly impact U.S. security. So it is with Syria.
The bitter civil war obviously is a human tragedy. However, the conflict is beyond repair by Washington. Ronald Reagan’s greatest mistake was getting involved in the Lebanese civil war. The U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked civil conflict which killed tens or even hundreds of thousands of civilians. Civil wars are particularly resistant to outside solution.
The fighting is unlikely to end even if the U.S. ousted the Assad regime. Insurgent factions, including increasingly influential jihadists, would fight for dominance in that power vacuum. For many rebels, revenge would become a top priority.
Even if nation-building in Syria wasn’t such a daunting task, the U.S. government should not risk the lives of its citizens in conflicts where Americans have no substantial stake. Protecting this nation’s, territory, people, liberty, and prosperity remains the highest duty for Washington.
“Far from advancing U.S. security, getting involved in Syria would ensnare Americans in a completely unnecessary conflict. Damascus has neither the ability nor the interest to attack the U.S. Any attempt by the Assad government to strike, including with chemical weapons, would trigger massive retaliation—perhaps even with nuclear weapons, which are true weapons of mass destruction.
While the Assad regime theoretically could target a U.S. ally, it has no incentive to do so. After all, its very survival remains threatened by a determined insurgent challenge. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey all are well-heeled and well-armed. All are capable of deterring attack.”
Some war advocates hope that hitting Damascus would weaken Iran. However, to the extent the latter feels more isolated, it may press for tighter ties with Shia-dominated Iraq, which faces an increasing challenge from militant Sunnis. The Syrian conflict is destabilizing, but the Mideast never has been at rest.
The focus on chemical weapons is misguided. The travesty of the Syrian civil war is that more than 100,000 people apparently have died, not that some were killed with chemical weapons. The vast majority were killed by other means. In fact, chemical weapons are not really weapons of mass destruction, being difficult to deploy and not so deadly.
Entering yet another war against a Muslim nation in the Middle East is bound to create more enemies for America. The surest way to encourage future terrorists is to join other nations’ conflicts and kill other nations’ peoples.
Even if the administration is genuinely committed to only minor military action, pressure on Washington to do more would steadily grow, with a warlike Greek Chorus intoning “U.S. credibility” at every turn. The real lesson of President Obama’s throwaway comment on Syrian chemical weapons is that red lines should not be drawn unless they reflect interests worth war to enforce.
The president has placed the decision whether to go to war where it belongs, with Congress. Legislators should act on behalf of the American people, not the Obama administration. And the right decision is to keep the United States at peace.
Syria is a tragedy, but it is not America’s tragedy. Legislators should reject war with Syria.
Christopher A. Preble
On July 19, 2013, General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a letter to Sen. Carl Levin detailing the costs of various military options in Syria. Dempsey also explained the purpose of the cost-estimating exercise. “The decision over whether to introduce military force is a political one that our Nation entrusts to its civilian leaders,” the general wrote to the Chair of the Senate Armed Serves Committee. “I also understand that you deserve my best military advice on how military force could be used in order to decide whether it should be used.” (emphasis in original)
To train and assist the Syrian rebels would cost U.S. taxpayers $500 million, and the costs only increase from there. Gen. Dempsey estimated a no-fly zone will cost “$500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month.” Establishing a buffer zone where opposition forces could organize and train would require a limited no-fly zone, which, when “coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over one billion per month.”
A mission to control chemical weapons in Syria would involve “thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces…Costs could also average well over one billion dollars per month.”
Even if the U.S. limits the mission to missile strikes against Syrian targets, the costs would “be in the billions.”
But the real unknown is the costs that could accumulate if the civil war deepens, including possibly after Assad’s ouster. Dempsey didn’t attempt to estimate the costs to U.S. taxpayers if the U.S. military becomes involved in such circumstances. He did recommend, however, that “we must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our actions,” and he warned that “we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”
Some have criticized Gen. Dempsey for his candor in laying out the costs and risks of military action in Syria. But we should remember that then-Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was also criticized for predicting in February 2003 that it would take “several hundred thousand soldiers,” to stabilize Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, and, by implication, that the Bush administration’s cost estimates were completely unrealistic. War advocates panned Shinseki’s prediction as “wildly off the mark“ but we now know that the general was right, and his critics were wrong.
The costs of reconstruction in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein cost Americans $53 billion from 2003 to 2012, or $15 million dollars a day. That of course doesn’t include the costs of fighting the war itself, including when U.S. troops got caught in the middle of a multisided Iraqi civil war. Total war costs in Iraq already exceed $1.7 trillion, and are expected to climb well beyond $2 trillion. Based on his experience, Stuart Bowen, Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, warns that “tens of billions“ of dollars would be needed to help Syria begin to recover.
Any estimates focused narrowly on the costs of discrete military operations in Syria are misleading because some accounting must be made of the price that we would pay in the event of a complete collapse of the Syrian regime and a deepening of the civil war there.
In that sense, it is understandable why the American people are particularly skeptical of the proposed intervention in Syria, especially given what they’ve learned from similar ones over the past decade. It is not that the costs of the operations themselves are exceedingly high. They aren’t. It’s the operations that come after that could break the bank.
Mark A. Calabria
In a court filing today, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) claims that the federal case against them is motivated by retaliation for its 2011 decision to strip the United States of its “AAA” credit rating.
It might be easy to dismiss this claim, but they aren’t the only ones in this situation. Before S&P’s U.S. downgrade, the smaller firm Egan-Jones, which relies on a subscriber model also downgraded the United States. Not long after, Egan-Jones was investigated by the SEC and ultimately barred for a time from rating U.S. debt. Let’s remember that Egan-Jones was ahead of the curve in spotting both the subprime bubble and the failures of WorldCom and Enron.
If you didn’t downgrade the United States, what happened? Basically nothing. We see what starts to look like a pattern here: downgrade the United States and expect some abuse. Don’t and you will be largely left alone. And as the recent IRS treatment of Tea Party groups has shown: this administration isn’t above targeting its enemies.
There are, as expected, several twisted ironies to the case. First, the Department of Justice is claiming to act on behalf of banks that suffered losses from holding rated securities. But who was it that imbedded ratings into the bank regulatory process? The bank regulators. If the DOJ wants to punish someone for bank losses on rated securities it should start with the Basel Committee. And then there’s the DOJ itself, which uses a flawed theory of disparate impact to pressure banks to make bad loans in the first place. The DOJ doesn’t have to go far to find the guilty: just try looking in a mirror.
The solution here is ultimately to get the federal government out of regulating the rating agencies. Our entire financial system is built on sovereign debt. The crisis in Europe shows what happens when you get the treatment of sovereign debt wrong (for a good summary of sovereign risk in bank regulation, see this BIS speech). The conflicts of interest between raters and regulators are ultimately a far greater threat to our system than any conflict between corporate issuers and raters.
Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger
Now comes this abstract from a paper by Elizabeth Barnes and colleagues just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States, costing a great number of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Whether events like Sandy will become more frequent as anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to increase remains an open and complex question. Here we consider whether the persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns that steered Sandy onto the coast will become more frequent in the coming decades. Using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5 multimodel ensemble, we demonstrate that climate models consistently project a decrease in the frequency and persistence of the westward flow that led to Sandy’s unprecedented track, implying that future atmospheric conditions are less likely than at present to propel storms westward into the coast.
Just because global warming enthusiasts are quick to link all weather disasters to climate changes from human greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t mean they really are. In fact, just the opposite may be the case—global warming may be acting to avert some weather disasters. I know, I know, I am being impertinent again.
Ted Galen Carpenter
In the days before President Obama retreated from his arrogant, unconstitutional stance that he could order missile strikes on Syria without congressional passage of even a vague resolution of approval, much less the required declaration of war, administration officials insisted that the goal of such strikes was merely to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for the use of chemical weapons, not carry out regime change. That rationale was, and remains, profoundly illogical—and less than candid.
The reality is that Washington has sought the overthrow of the Assad regime almost from the moment that fighting erupted in 2011. Assad’s departure has been the stated goal of U.S. policy for the past year, and the Obama administration has provided aid to insurgent forces. Although the aid began as humanitarian and supposedly nonlethal items, it now includes military assistance and training. Given that track record and the nature of the overall U.S. policy toward Syria, it is preposterous for the administration to argue that missile strikes would not have a similar goal of regime change. One cannot segregate elements of policy in that fashion.
The administration needs to be honest with Congress and the American people and admit that the proposed U.S. attacks on Assad’s forces would be designed to advance the goal of regime change. Representatives and Senators should also ask hard questions about just how Assad’s overthrow would be in the best interests of the American people. Yes, Assad presides over a thuggish regime, but the insurgent movement seeking to oust him is hardly an association of secular democrats. Most worrisome, it includes an increasingly powerful faction of radical Islamists, some of whom are directly connected to al Qaeda.
Legislators also should keep in mind that Syria is a fragile ethno-religious tapestry. To a large extent, the current insurgency is a Sunni Arab bid to overthrow Assad’s “coalition of religious minorities” government (consisting of Alawites—a Shiite offshoot—Christians, and smaller groups.) It is no coincidence that two especially prominent external sponsors of the insurgency are Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the two leading Sunni powers in the region, while Shiite Iran is Assad’s principal ally.
The most likely outcome of Assad’s overthrow is a fragmented Syria, similar to what has occurred in Libya, the target of the most recent U.S.-led campaign of missile strikes. The second most likely scenario is a Syria dominated by Sunni Islamist elements. A secular, pro-Western successor regime based on the reconciliation of feuding ethno-religious factions is—by far—the least likely outcome. Members of Congress need to press Obama administration officials to explain how either of the first two scenarios would benefit America’s security in any conceivable way.
Above all, Congress should not let the administration continue the fiction that missile strikes would have only a limited objective and result in minimal U.S. involvement in the Syrian maelstrom.