It’s Friday — What Bad News Will Be Released Late Tonight? by David Boaz

President Obama promised to change the way things are done in Washington, but his administration has mastered one old Washington trick: releasing bad news late on Friday, or even on Saturday night of a long weekend, in the hope that journalists won't have much chance to ask questions or get into the next day's papers. Consider:
  • The nation would be forced to borrow more than $9 trillion over the next decade under President Obama's policies, the White House acknowledged late Friday. —Washington Post, Saturday, August 22
  • White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned late Saturday after weeks of pressure from the right over his past activism. "On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement announcing his resignation just after midnight Saturday. —Washington Post, Sunday, September 6, 2009
  • The White House late Friday announced it would impose high tariffs on imports of Chinese tires in a case seen as the first test of trade policy under President Barack Obama... The announcement was made in a release sent out by the White House press office at about 9:30 p.m. Friday night, a time when news is sometimes “dumped” in the hope it will attract less attention. —, 10:56 p.m., Friday, September 11, 2009
So what will it be tonight? A late-night tax increase? The resignation of another administration appointee who didn't pay his own taxes? More troops for Iraq?

Posted on September 18, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

That Costly Mandate by David Boaz

The Wall Street Journal notes that Sen. Max Baucus's allegedly moderate health care plan "would increase the cost of insurance and then force people to buy it, requiring subsidies. Those subsidies would be paid for by taxes that make health care and thus insurance even more expensive, requiring even more subsidies and still higher taxes." Other than that, it's not so bad. The Journal also digs up a great graphic produced by the 2008 presidential campaign of a little-known Illinois senator named Barack Obama: hillarycare And speaking of health care mandates and how much they're going to cost young people, as the Washington Post was yesterday, I just had lunch with Clark Ruper, program manager for Students for Liberty, who told me he'd be on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS tonight. In the interview he told them that as a young healthy person he has voluntarily chosen not to purchase health insurance and instead invests in his own savings. And he thinks a lot of young people make such choices and don't want a government mandate requiring them to buy government-approved insurance. Check it out tonight on PBS.

Posted on September 17, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Speaking in Nashville by David Boaz

I'll be giving two talks in Nashville on Tuesday, September 29. At 5:00 p.m., I'll speak at the Vanderbilt University Law School, in the Moore Room on the second floor, on a joint Law School-Owen Business School panel, “Drug Legalization and Emerging Economic Opportunities.”  Audience will be mostly law and business students, but it's open to the public. Then I'll speak on the current political situation at an event sponsored by America's Future Foundation and the Tennessee Policy Center at Mulligan's Pub in downtown Nashville (117 2nd Ave N., Nashville, TN 37201-1901).   Drinking will start at 6:30, and I'll make remarks about 7:30. You can RSVP for that event here. I hope to see Nashville-area friends at one or both events.

Posted on September 16, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Czar of All the Americans by David Boaz

Anger about Obama's many "czars" is rising, reports the Washington Post:
On paper, they are special advisers, chairmen of White House boards, special envoys and Cabinet agency deputies, asked by the president to guide high-priority initiatives. But critics call them "czars" whose powers are not subject to congressional oversight, and their increasing numbers have become a flash point for conservative anger at President Obama. Critics of the proliferation of czars say the White House uses the appointments to circumvent the normal vetting process required for Senate confirmation and to avoid congressional oversight.
I have tended not to take concern over "czars" very seriously. After all, advisers to the president can't exercise any power that the president doesn't have (or assume without response from Congress or the courts). And I figured the White House doesn't call people "czars," that's just a media term, so it's not really fair to blame the White House for what reporters say. But then, thanks to crack Cato intern Miles Pope, I discovered that the White House does call its czars czars, at least informally. A few examples: In an interview on April 15, 2009 Obama said, "The goal of the border czar is to help coordinate all the various agencies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security..." In a March 11, 2009, briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs turned to "address the czar question for a minute, because I think I've been asked in this room any number of times if the czars in our White House to deal with energy and health care had too much power." On March 11, 2009 Vice President Biden said, "Today I'm pleased to announce that President Obama has nominated as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- our nation's drug czar -- Gil Kerlikowske..." More examples here. So they do like czar imagery. So have at them, critics. And while I said that the advisers have no real power, there's at least one who does -- a real czar -- the "pay czar," Kenneth Feinberg. He "has sole discretion to set compensation for the top 25 employees" of large companies receiving bailouts, and his "decisions won’t be subject to appeal.” Now that's a czar.

Posted on September 16, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Borlaug the Great by David Boaz

the greatNorman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, has died at 95. Ron Bailey calls him "the man who saved more human lives than anyone else in history." In an as-yet-unpublished letter to the New York Times, Don Boudreaux reflects:
By saving millions of people from starvation, green-revolution father Norman Borlaug arguably has done more for humanity than has any other human being of the past century ("Norman Borlaug, 95, Dies; Led Green Revolution," Sept. 13). Yet unlike Sen. Kennedy's, his death will go relatively unnoticed. He'll certainly not be canonized in the popular mind. Alas, in our world, melodramatic loud-mouths thunder to and fro in the foreground, doing little of any value while stealing most of the credit for civilization. Meanwhile, in the background, millions upon millions of decent, creative people work diligently at their specialties - welding, waiting tables, performing orthopedic surgery, designing shopping malls, researching plant genetics - each contributing to the prosperity of the rest. Some contributions are larger than others (as Dr. Borlaug's certainly was), but even a contribution as colossal as his is quickly taken for granted, any notice of it submerged beneath the self-congratulation, swagger, and bellicosity of the politicians who pretend to be prosperity's source. How wrong.
In 1992 the late Senator Kennedy said, "The ballot box is the place where all change begins in America." I wrote a few years later that he was "conveniently forgetting the market process that has brought us such changes as the train, the skyscraper, the automobile, the personal computer, and charitable or self-help endeavors from settlement houses to Alcoholics Anonymous to Comic Relief." Some day a history book will describe Bill Clinton as "a scandal-ridden president in the age of Bill Gates." Or maybe "in the age of the Green Revolution." Either way, the biggest changes in our lives -- certainly the biggest improvements -- will have come from scientists, inventors, and businesses, not from politicians. But that's not the way journalists and historians see it. Just think of the people who have gone down in history as "the Great": Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Charles the Great (Charlemagne), Frederick the Great, Peter the Great -- despots and warmongers. Just once it would be nice to see the actual benefactors of humanity designated as "the Great": Galileo the Great, Gutenberg the Great, Samuel Morse the Great, Alan Turing the Great. So just for tonight, drink a toast to one of the great benefactors of the poorest people in the world, Borlaug the Great.

Posted on September 13, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

If I Only Had a Crisis by David Boaz

Bloomberg News points out that President Obama needs a health-care crisis in order to impose a health-care "solution":
President Barack Obama returns to Washington next week in search of one thing that can revive his health-care overhaul: a sense of crisis.... “At the moment, except for the people without insurance, we’re not in a health-care crisis,” said Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. “You do need a crisis to generate movement in Congress and to help build a consensus.”
This administration has used Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine as a manual. Klein said in an interview that
The Shock Doctrine is a political strategy that the Republican right has been perfecting over the past 35 years to use for various different kinds of shocks. They could be wars, natural disasters, economic crises, anything that sends a society into a state of shock to push through what economists call 'economic shock therapy' – rapid-fire, pro-corporate policies that they couldn't get through if people weren't in a state of fear and panic.
Whether or not that's true about the "right-wing" policies that she purported to analyze, the Obama admininstration has taken it to heart. Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.  And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before" such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the president himself all echoed Emanuel's exultation about the opportunities presented by crisis. The financial crisis turned out to be shocking enough to let the federal government extend the power of the Federal Reserve, nationalize two automobile companies, spend $700 billion on corporate bailouts and another $787 billion on pork and "stimulus," and inject a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the economy. But now people are balking at further expansions of government, and the administration is longing for just a little more crisis to serve as a further opportunity.

Posted on September 8, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Citizens United and Supreme Court Precedent by David Boaz

My old friend E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes that the Citizens United v. FEC rehearing on Wednesday is "A Test Case for Roberts." Because, you see, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his confirmation hearings that "it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness. It is not enough -- and the court has emphasized this on several occasions -- it is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided." Dionne says that if Roberts and the Court overturn the precedents that seem to point to banning a movie with a political agenda because it was produced by a nonprofit corporation, "he will unleash havoc in our political system and greatly undermine the legitimacy of the court he leads." I disagree with Dionne on the scope of the First Amendment's protection of free speech. But I sort of admire him for staking out such a strong stand in favor of precedent and "settled expectations." After all, a firm commitment to precedent can lead to some uncomfortable positions. Given the firmness of Dionne's reliance on the importance of precedent and "settled expectations" to "the legitimacy of the court," I assume he has opposed previous cases where the Court overturned settled law and its own precedent. Such as Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned a 58-year-old case, Plessy v. Ferguson. And Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned a 17-year-old precedent that had upheld state sodomy laws. Or surely he does not mean that only precedents he approves of are deserving of respect and vital to the legitimacy of the court?

Posted on September 8, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Medium Tobacco Fights Back by David Boaz

The New York Times has an editorial today titled "Big Tobacco Fights Back," criticizing tobacco companies' lawsuit against new advertising restrictions. Repeatedly, the Times attributes the lawsuit to "the [tobacco] industry." But as my former Cato colleague Jacob Grier notes, the biggest tobacco company (Philip Morris) is on the Times's side in opposing the lawsuit. So wouldn't it make more sense to title the editorial "Medium-Size Tobacco Fights Back"?

Posted on September 7, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Libertarian Vote in Virginia by David Boaz

In Sunday's Washington Post, Frank B. Atkinson says that this fall's gubernatorial race in Virginia will depend on
the all-important independent voters — the disproportionately moderate, young, prosperous, suburban and libertarian-leaning people who typically decide Virginia contests.
Background on the libertarian vote here.

Posted on September 7, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Will President Obama Tell Students that Private School Made Him Successful? by David Boaz

The Washington Examiner's satire columnist, Scott Ott, imagines an unusually honest presidential address next week:
A draft copy of President Barack Obama's planned September 8 address to America's public school children, tells students that "If you want to grow up to be like me, you should beg your parents to put you in private school, right now." Although Obama attended public school in Indonesia early in life, he soon switched to a private Catholic school, and from fifth grade through graduation went to a private college-prep school in Hawaii. His own daughters now attend a private school in Washington D.C.. "Do you think you're going to get into Harvard University with your one-size-fits-all public school diploma?" the president will reportedly say. "Come on! Don't make me laugh. You'll be lucky to survive through graduation. Seriously, you gotta get out of this mediocrity machine. Go ahead! Get up right now. Run for the door. What are you waiting for?" While the White House would not confirm the content of the leaked speech draft, a spokesman acknowledged that "You don't get to be as smart and cool as Barack Obama by sitting in P.S. 152, listening to some union lackey droning on, and then eating government surplus in the cafeteria." On Tuesday, the president will bypass parents, taking his message directly to kids in the classroom "in hopes that you'll pester Mom until she gets a second job to pay private-school tuition so you can escape the swirling vortex of ignorance and despair that is our government-run school system." "The only thing standing between you and success," the president will allegedly say, "is the mentality that the government will take care of you. Once you shake that, there's no limit to your achievement. Pay any price. Bear any burden. Just get your fanny out of that fiberglass chair, go buy yourself an Oxford shirt, a pair of slacks and a clip-on tie, and go to a place that faces constant economic pressure to improve."

Posted on September 5, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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