Washington–the Anti-Economic Center

“Two West Coast senators are leading an effort to increase the number of cross-country flights out of [convenient but overcrowded] Reagan National Airport, a move that could lead to more noise over neighborhoods and jam already filled parking lots,” reports the Washington Post.

Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have amended a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill to allow up to 20 additional takeoffs and landings a day.

“It’s about connecting West and East Coast economic centers,” said R.C. Hammond, spokesman for Smith, elaborating on the senator’s motivation for the amendment.

Actually, Washington isn’t really an economic center. It’s more like an anti-economic center. Washington doesn’t do business, it impedes business, and subsidizes business, and regulates business, and cripples business. New York, Baltimore, Atlanta — those are East Coast economic centers. Not Washington, the city of lobbyists and government contractors.

Just what is it that businesspeople from Seattle and Portland would come to Washington for They’d go to New York and Atlanta to make business deals. But they’d come to Washington to lobby for subsidies, or for regulations on their competitors, or to try to get a piece of the $2.9 trillion federal budget. But not to do actual wealth-creating business in the marketplace.

Some people say that West Coast senators want direct flights from National Airport to their home towns to make travel more convenient for them. If so, they should say so. But don’t tell us that the country would benefit from more Lobby Express flights.

Posted on May 19, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Economics & Economic Philosophy,Government & Politics

Fighting for Earmarks

“Republicans will seek a House vote next week admonishing a senior Democrat who they say threatened a GOP member’s spending projects in a noisy exchange in the House chamber, Minority Leader John Boehner said Friday,” according to the AP.

Their target is Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., a 35-year House veteran who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on military spending.

Murtha, 74, is known for his gruff manner and fondness for earmarks — carefully targeted spending items placed in appropriations bills to benefit a specific lawmaker or favorite constituent group.

During a series of House votes Thursday, Murtha walked to the chamber’s Republican side to confront Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a 43-year-old former FBI agent. Earlier this month, Rogers had tried unsuccessfully to strike a Murtha earmark from an intelligence spending bill. The item would restore $23 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center, a facility in Murtha’s Pennsylvania district that some Republicans say is unneeded.

According to Rogers’ account, which Murtha did not dispute, the Democrat angrily told Rogers he should never seek earmarks of his own because “you’re not going to get any, now or forever.”

“This was clearly designed to try to intimidate me,” Rogers said in an interview Friday. “He said it loud enough for other people to hear.”

Now it’s true that there’s a House rule that prohibits “lawmakers from placing conditions on earmarks or targeted tax benefits that are based on another member’s votes.” Wouldn’t want anybody to oppose your earmarks just because you opposed his.

But really — after they lost control of Congress partly because of their profligate spending and their multiplying earmarks — this is what Republicans choose to fight over They’re going to draw a line in the sand on C-SPAN to defend Mike Rogers’s right to put special-interest earmarks in appropriations bills That ought to bring the independent and libertarian and small-government voters streaming back.

Posted on May 19, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Hagel Inches Closer to a Run

Chuck Hagel dropped another veil or two this week in his long tease about running for president. (In Thursday’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank uses both the “Hamlet” and “showing a little leg” metaphors, so I needed something different.) On Sunday’s “Face the Nation” he talked about the need for new leadership and speculated about running on a ticket with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Then on Wednesday he somewhat belatedly called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And on the same day he gave a speech to the Center for National Policy (a non-partisan think tank run by former Democratic Party officeholders). Milbank reports that he delivered a speech about foreign policy and other problems, complete with lots of speculation about the viability of an independent candidacy in this “perfect storm” of an election year.

If Hagel should run, voters would see a commonsense Midwestern conservative who voted against Bush’s trillion-dollar expansion of Medicare and against his federalization of education, against his friend John McCain’s attempt to outlaw criticism of politicians, and for the Bush tax cuts. Unfortunately, from my perspective, he also voted for the Patriot Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, and the authorization for war in Iraq. But he’s had second thoughts about some of those. He’s a solid free-trader, though he sometimes votes for a few too many trade subsidies.

But if he hooks up with Bloomberg, who’s on top–the experienced senator with foreign policy credentials or the competent mayor with a billion dollars They seem to have very different views on lots of issues; Bloomberg is for gun control and all manner of nanny-state provisions, for instance. It’s hard to know if you want Bloomberg and Hagel in the White House until you know who’ll have the Oval Office.

Posted on May 17, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

What’s Legal at the New York Times?

The New York Times reports that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez “is carrying out what may become the largest forced land redistribution in Venezuela’s history…in a process that is both brutal and legal.” In what way is this process legal The article never says. Presumably the Venezuelan congress has passed legislation authorizing the seizure and redistribution of land. But Chavez controls all 167 members of the National Assembly, and the Assembly has granted him the power to rule by decree. It’s hard to call anything in Venezuela “legal” at this point. One might as well say that Stalin’s executions or Pinochet’s disappearances were “legal.” (And by the way, have you noticed that the Times always refers to Pinochet as a dictator, but to Chavez and Fidel Castro as President or leader )

If the term “legal” has any meaning other than “the ruler has the power to do it,” then it means that something is done in accordance with the law. The Oxford English Dictionary defines law as “the body of rules, whether proceeding from formal enactment or from custom, which a particular state or community recognizes as binding on its members or subjects.” One of the key elements of law is that it provides stability and certainty. I doubt that all the people of Venezuela recognize land seizures as proceeding in accordance with a body of rules. And certainly the arbitrary rule of a president or a rubber-stamp congress does not provide any certainty in the law.

At least the Times paused to tell us that the process was legal, even if it failed to specify just how. The Wall Street Journal article on the same topic doesn’t bother to consider the question of legality; perhaps that’s just a clearer recognition that in Venezuela there is no law, there is only Chavez.

And the rest of the Times article makes the process pretty clear:

The squatters arrive before dawn with machetes and rifles, surround the well-ordered rows of sugar cane and threaten to kill anyone who interferes. Then they light a match to the crops and declare the land their own….

Mr. Chávez’s supporters have formed thousands of state-financed cooperatives to wrest farms and cattle ranches from private owners. Landowners say compensation is hard to obtain. Local officials describe the land seizures as paving stones on “the road to socialism.”

“This is agrarian terrorism encouraged by the state,” said Fhandor Quiroga, a landowner and head of Yaracuy’s chamber of commerce, pointing to dozens of kidnappings of landowners by armed gangs in the last two years….

But while some of the newly settled farming communities are euphoric, landowners are jittery. Economists say the land reform may have the opposite effect of what Mr. Chavez intends, and make the country more dependent on imported food than before.

The uncertainties and disruptions of the land seizures have led to lower investment by some farmers. Production of some foods has been relatively flat, adding to shortages of items like sugar, economists say.

John R. Hines Freyre, who owns Yaracuy’s largest sugar-cane farm, is now trying desperately to sell the property and others in neighboring states. “No one wants this property, of course, because they know we’re about to be invaded,” said Mr. Hines, 69….

“The double talk from the highest levels is absurd,” Mr. Machado said. “By enhancing the state’s power, the reforms we’re witnessing now are a mechanism to perpetuate poverty in the countryside.”

To be sure, the Times does stress the concentration of land ownership in Venezuela and the delight of many of the squatters at getting the seized land. But it’s a balanced article, other than that pesky word “legal.”

As I’ve written before, too many journalists are treating Chavez’s growing dictatorship in a guarded way. They report what’s happening — nationalizations, land seizures, the unanimous assembly, the rule by decree, the demand to repeal presidential term limits, the installation of military officers throughout the government, the packing of the courts — but they still treat it as normal politics and even report with a straight face that “Chavez stresses that Venezuela will remain a democracy.” Some law, some democracy.

Posted on May 17, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Int'l Economics & Development,Law & Legal Issues,Libertarian Philosophy

Public Opinion?

This week I’m getting emailed press releases telling me that “94% of international teens want the US to address global warming more aggressively. “If you read waaaay down in the email, you discover that it was an online survey of 250 teens who — it appears — mostly attend U.S. schools. So maybe the striking headline is just a teensy bit of a stretch.

But if it were a scientifically valid survey of actual teenagers around the actual world, one might still say: So 94 percent of teenagers in other countries — that is, respondents who don’t pay taxes and haven’t studied either climatology or economics and aren’t looking for a job — and if they did pay taxes or look for a job, wouldn’t do so in the United States — think that the United States should hobble its economy in the name of something that vaguely sounds scary. And we should care because…

Posted on May 16, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Environment & Climate,General

All Walls Are Not Created Equal

On NPR, Daniel Schorr compares the proposed wall along the southern border of the United States to the Berlin Wall and tells us, in the words of Robert Frost, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

I sympathize with him. I don’t like the idea of building a wall around the United States, either. Since the Boazes arrived in America in 1747, we have seen the country prosper as the Buchanans, the Tancredos, the Dobbses, the Maglalangs, the Brimelows, the Arpaios, and millions of others arrived on these shores and were welcomed into the country that my ancestors helped to create in 1776 and 1787.

But there’s a problem with Schorr’s analogy. The Berlin Wall was designed to keep citizens in. The wall (or fence) along our southern border is intended to keep non-citizens out. There’s a very real difference. The Berlin Wall declares that the people of East Germany are the property of the East German state and are not free to live anywhere in the world other than East Germany. The Border Fence merely says that non-U.S. citizens can’t enter the United States without permission; as far as the U.S. government is concerned, they’re free to travel or live anywhere in the world except the United States.

Daniel Schorr might ponder this: He lives in a house with four strong walls and secure locks on the door. He reserves the right to bar entry to his house to anyone, and that helps to protect his life, liberty, and property. But a building with walls and locks to keep people in is called a jail.

As I said, I too don’t want a wall around the United States. But we need better arguments against it than flawed analogies.

Posted on May 13, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Trade

Budget Bravado

In a letter to lawmakers, the president’s budget director, Rob Portman, …accused Democrats of doing little to rein in “the unsustainable growth in entitlement spending” on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare [reports the Washington Post].

Well, they did almost all oppose the trillion-dollar expansion of Medicare in 2003 that then-Rep. Portman voted for and that President Bush bludgeoned reluctant Republicans into supporting.

Posted on May 12, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

The Heckler’s Veto in France

Two days before the French presidential election, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal warned that there would be riots if her opponent, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected. She told a radio interviewer:

“Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice,” Royal told RTL radio.

“It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won),” she said.

Pressed on whether there would actually be violence, Royal said: “I think so, I think so,” referring specifically to France’s volatile suburbs hit by widespread rioting in 2005.

Then the Washington Post casually reported, in an article on Sarkozy’s plans, that “While he seeks the strong majority that will be crucial for pursuing the ambitious agenda he has promised, it is unlikely he will risk tackling any tough issues that could spark social unrest or street protests.”

“The question he will have to ask himself first is: What are the reforms he should implement to show politically that he sticks to what he announced ” said Dominique Reynié, a political analyst at the Institute for Political Sciences’ Political Research Center. “And the second question is: What are the reforms he can implement without creating riots ”

And indeed, according to Time, there have been riots since the election. But the rioters aren’t the disaffected immigrant youth of the suburbs. Instead, “the participants are mostly white, educated and relatively comfortable middle class adherents of extreme-left and anti-globalization ideologies.” Some 500 cars were burned each night, up from the routine 100 cars set afire in la belle France every night.

It was outrageous for Royal to suggest that the French people should choose their leader on the basis of fear and threats. We talk about a “heckler’s veto” in which the government presents someone from speaking in order in order to avoid a violent reaction from his critics. How much worse it would be for a great nation to choose its president because of a “rioters’ veto.” How appalling for the leader of a French political party ostensibly committed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to encourage a rioters’ veto. Journalists should think twice about casually reporting that elected leaders will make their decisions out of fear of rioters.

And people on the left who are committed to democracy and peace should speak up against the use of such political violence by others on the left. Nobody warned that the French bourgeoisie would riot if Royal was elected. And they wouldn’t have, so no journalist would be reporting that President-elect Royal would have to avoid “tackling touch issues that could spark social unrest.”

Posted on May 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Foreign Policy,General,Government & Politics

The Same Old K Street

Jeff Birnbaum, who covers lobbying for the Washington Post, which is sort of like covering the Pope for the Vatican Observer, writes about “the other K Street” in a lengthy article. “K Street,” of course, is shorthand–or if you believe Wikipedia, metonym–for the lobbying industry.

According to Birnbaum, “the other K Street” is a building along K Street that has become home to a dozen or so well-funded left-Democratic lobbies–Campaign for America’s Future, Americans United for Change, Progressive Majority, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, USAction, MoveOn.org Political Action, etc. So that’s very different from the usual corporate lobbyists, right

Well, let’s see. What K Street is really about is using political influence and the power of government to transfer resources from those who produced them to yourself or your clients. It’s about milking the taxpayers. It’s about using your political connections to impose your own agenda on the unorganized masses.

And by that definition, “the other K Street” fits right in with the corporate K Street. Special interests give them buckets of money, and they manipulate the political process on behalf of partisan, ideological, and interest-driven agendas–just like the corporate and right-wing lobbyists.

Michael Barone reminds us that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s aides who originally created “K Street” when they left the White House and went into business for themselves. They happily lobbied the permanent Democratic majority in Washington for the next 60 years or so. Now the taxpayers’ pinata is available to everybody.

Posted on May 8, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

Time for Taxpayers to Sing the Blues

Blue corn isn’t subsidized like white and yellow corn, and that’s just not right. Or so say the blue corn growers. Cindy Skrzycki’s “Regulators” column in the Washington Post today is the sort of thing that ought to make you a libertarian. So many lawyers writing so many regulations, with clauses and sub-clauses. And it’s all nonsense.

So here’s the problem:

Under the regulatory system that determines which crops qualify for inclusion in Department of Agriculture support programs, blue corn is an orphan. According to the department rulebook, it isn’t even considered corn because it’s not yellow or white, the only versions of the food that are eligible for federal agricultural loans and crop payments.

This means that farmers who grow blue corn, which is made into the blue-corn tortilla chips that many of us love to dip into a nice salsa, aren’t growing “real” corn, so they don’t qualify for loan or other support programs, according to the government.

Now you might think this is no big deal since blue corn sells for about twice what white and yellow corn do. But the growers feel hurt and victimized and, you know, invisibilized. They want to be an official government-recognized crop. And, you know, get the loans and subsidies. Like popcorn got in 2003.

But fear not. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), chairman of the House subcommittee on horticulture and organic agriculture (seriously), is listening. He’s promised the blue-corn growers that he’ll try to address their needs in the current farm bill.

And then taxpayers can subsidize premium organic blue corn, lest this great nation ever run out of blue-corn tortilla chips in a national emergency.

Posted on May 8, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

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