Enjoy the Bowls–You’re Paying for Them by David Boaz

In the Wall Street Journal, Mark Yost explores the taxpayer subsidies to major college football bowl games:
while everyone's fretting over the bailout package for the auto industry, most taxpayers would be shocked to learn that they're also footing the bill for some of these highly profitable bowl games. From 2001 to 2005, seven tax-exempt bowls received $21.6 million in government aid.
During that time, 38 percent of the Brut Sun Bowl's revenue came from a Texas rental-car tax. Now that's Brutish. And what do the bowls do with those taxpayer dollars? Well, they put on a football extravaganza, of course. But also:
To ensure the bowl games maintain their tax-exempt status, the committees hire state and federal lobbyists. Watts Partners, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm run by former University of Oklahoma quarterback and Rep. J.C. Watts, has been paid more than $500,000 in consulting fees by the BCS.
So, as happens with many other government-funded enterprises, taxpayers' money is spent on lobbyists to keep the taxpayers' money flowing. Some of the money also goes to pay bowl executives upwards of $400,000. Leaving aside the issue of why tax-funded entities should pay their executives more than the president of the United States, I'm not surprised that bowl committees pay a CEO a handsome salary to make everything work perfectly. But I wonder: We hear a lot of complaints about the high pay of corporate CEOs. If the executive director of a $30 million bowl game is paid $400,000, how much should the CEO of a $30 billion company get? More on taxpayer subsidies for sports business here and here. A lengthy bibliography here (pdf).

Posted on January 8, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Liberty Tavern? Not So Much by David Boaz

When it opened in 2007, the Liberty Tavern became an instant hit among libertarians in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, of which there are quite a few, given the proximity of the Institute for Humane Studies, Mercatus Center, Institute for Justice, and Atlas Foundation. Now, however, the Liberty Tavern has sadly failed its inspiring name. Barista/bartender/blogger and former Cato colleague Jacob Grier explains:
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is predictably pushing once again for a comprehensive statewide smoking ban. Not so predictably, he’s teamed up with the owners of Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern to launch his campaign:
This year, he believes momentum is on his side. At a news conference Tuesday at a Clarendon tavern, Kaine said the public is increasingly supportive of such bans…
Stephen Fedorchak, owner of The Liberty Tavern, the restaurant where Kaine held his news conference, said he has been in the business long enough to know smoking was once entrenched in bars and restaurants. But those days have passed, he said. He said he does not regret the decision to ban smoking in his restaurant and said these days “smokers are somewhat used to going out in a … fresh-air environment” and no longer assume they will be allowed to light up.
Fedorchak is happy to be running a smoke-free restaurant. So why does he want the state to force all the bars and restaurants in Virginia to follow the same policy? Why not allow owners and customers a choice? Maybe some people like to smoke at a bar or a restaurant. I don't, and I prefer to patronize smoke-free establishments. But I don't feel the need to force my preferences on everyone else by law. Let's hope The Liberty Tavern will renounce its support for nanny-state authoritarianism and once again be worthy of its Revolutionary name.

Posted on January 8, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Senator Hatch Gets Less than a Mess of Pottage by David Boaz

With an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, Democrats are pushing to get the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives, instead of the nonvoting delegate that the District has, like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. They have one powerful Republican ally, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He's introducing the bill in the Senate along with Joe Lieberman. Now Senator Hatch is a great constitutionalist. On his official website he writes
Adhering strictly to the Constitution and the system of government our Founders outlined is the best guarantee of the freedoms we cherish as Americans. We need legislators, judges, and citizens who understand the view of the Constitution envisioned by our Founding Fathers. . . . Our Constitution is an inspired document that has preserved the unity of our nation, protected the rights of its citizens, and made America a beacon of freedom and prosperity for the world. I consider my pledge to defend the Constitution, and all that it stands for, to be among my most sacred duties.
But that poses a bit of a problem for his position on D.C. voting rights in Congress. Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution begins, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” The District of Columbia is not a state, and so it is not eligible to elect a member of the House of Representatives. Some constitutional issues are complicated. This one is not. States are represented in the House, and the District is not a state. So why is Sen. Hatch (R-Utah) willing to ignore the clear language of the Constitution in order to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives? Because he's made a political deal that would also give Utah another seat in Congress. That way, you see, the Democrats get another vote from the District, and the Republicans would likely pick up a new Utah seat. The excuse for this deal is that Utah narrowly lost a fourth seat in the 2000 redistricting, arguably because the Census Bureau excludes overseas missionaries from a state's apportionment count. Utah produces lots of Mormon missionaries. So Congress would increase the number of seats in the House to 437, with the additional seats temporarily assigned to D.C. and Utah. So this bill is blatantly unconstitutional. And what is Senator Hatch (along with Sen. Robert Bennett and the rest of the Utah delegation, except for new Rep. Jason Chaffetz) getting for this corrupt bargain? Another vote in the House of Representatives for two years. The bill would allow Utah and D.C. to elect representatives to the 112th Congress in November 2010. But Utah's population growth almost certainly will result in its getting a fourth seat in the 2010 census anyway, so in the regular order of things it would have four seats in the 113th Congress elected in 2012. That means that all this whistling past the Constitution on the part of Utah's members of Congress is to get one more vote for two years. Meanwhile, of course, the unconstitutional vote for the District of Columbia would be permanent. It reminds me of the wonderful line from A Man for All Seasons when Sir Thomas More, thinking his friend Richard Rich has sold out his honor for very little, asks him (alluding to Matthew 16:26): "It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?" Senator Hatch and the state of Utah would trade the Constitution for one vote out of 437 for two years.

Posted on January 7, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

PBS in Action by David Boaz

I got a fundraising letter at home, an all-green envelope with a silhouetted tree and the stark message:
This is no time to fool with our planet... AN URGENT OFFER INSIDE
An environmentalist organization, of course. But not exactly. In fact, it was a fundraising letter from MPT, which did not quite tell me anywhere that that stands for Maryland Public Television, a television network owned and operated by the State of Maryland. The letter continued in that vein: "no time to take our planet for granted . . . understand the stakes . . . cannot afford a community and nation ignorant of science." Sounds like Maryland Government Television knows which side is right in the heated scientific, economic, and political debates over environmental issues. True, they do promise to use their "unique ability" to "bring our community real science with no political agenda, news reporting with diverse perspectives, and programs that teach kids conservation values." But has anybody ever seen a PBS/MPT documentary on the high costs of environmental regulation? Or the fact that the globe hasn't warmed for the past 10 years? Or the way that markets lead to better environmental amenities? Not really a lot of diverse perspectives, as the general tenor of the letter would suggest. MPT's fundraising letter seems to acknowledge clearly its function: To raise money from liberals, to supplement the tax money raised from people of all political perspectives, to advance one side of controversial issues. In a world of 500 channels, why are we taxing people to support one side in a broad political debate?

Posted on January 6, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Helen Suzman, R.I.P. by David Boaz

Helen Suzman, the longtime leader of the parliamentary opposition to apartheid, has died at 91. The Times of London writes:
Helen Suzman had a special place in South African history, being generally recognised as the most effective parliamentary fighter against apartheid policies. For 13 years - from 1961 to 1974 - she was the sole representative in Parliament of the liberal Progressive Party, forerunner of the Democratic Party.
In South Africa they knew the difference between liberals and leftists. Plenty of leftists and communists opposed the National Party and its apartheid system. But so did liberals like Suzman, people committed to human rights, freedom of thought, and a market economy. She did not forget her liberalism when apartheid finally fell and the African National Congress came to power. She continued to speak out against repressive policies and the Thabo Mbeki government's continuing support for Robert Mugabe. I loved reading about her quick wit in parliamentary debates. She sent the minister of law and order a postcard from the Soviet Union, saying, "You would like it here. Lots of law and order." Once she told a government minister to go into the black townships and see their appalling conditions for himself. He would be quite safe, she said, if he went "heavily disguised as a human being." In a famous exchange a certain minister shouted: “You put these questions just to embarrass South Africa overseas.” To which she coolly replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa – it is your answers.” When an Afrikaner in Parliament sneered at her Jewish roots and asked what her ancestors were doing when his were bringing the Bible to the "savages," she snapped, ''They were writing the Bible." In 1989 Helen Suzman was a Distinguished Lecturer at the Cato Institute. See a picture on page 55 of this very large pdf of our 25-Year Annual Report. Her remarks were reprinted in Cato Policy Report and then in Toward Liberty, our compilation of essays from our first 25 years, and can be read here. On the first day of the new year, the world has lost one of its great champions of freedom. May she inspire many more.

Posted on January 1, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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