Obama’s ‘New’ Drug Strategy by David Boaz

Ho-hum. Another administration, another "comprehensive plan to combat drug abuse, putting the focus on prevention and treatment strategies." This one "calls for a 15 percent reduction in youth drug use, a 10 percent decrease in drugged driving, and a 15 percent reduction in overall drug-related deaths by 2015." It involves more central planning -- " the creation of a community-based national prevention system" -- more taxpayers' money -- "an expanded array of intervention-oriented treatment programs" -- and more nannyism -- "a push to screen patients early for signs of substance abuse, even during routine appointments, and the expansion of prescription-drug monitoring programs." And don't forget the ever-popular, ever-futile "more international cooperation in disrupting the flow of drugs and money." Let's write down those percentage goals, modest as they are, and see how many of them get accomplished. As it happens, I had a chance to meet with drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and his top aides last year, as part of a series of outreach meetings as the new team planned its strategy. It doesn't look like my advice was taken. Of course, I probably didn't help my case by noting that our last three presidents have acknowledged using illegal drugs, and it is just incomprehensible to me how they can morally justify arresting other people for doing the same thing they did. Do they think that they would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated for their youthful drug use? Do they think the country would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated? If not, how do they justify punishing others? I then suggested that they pursue the policies recommended by Timothy Lynch and myself in the Cato Handbook for Policymakers:
? repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, ? repeal the federal mandatory minimum sentences and the federal sentencing guidelines, ? direct the administration not to interfere with the implementation of state initiatives that allow for the medical use of marijuana, and ? shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Suspecting that the administration despite being headed a young president who in 2004 had declared the war on drugs an "utter failure" and advocated the decriminalization of marijuana, would not adopt my proposals, I went on to recommend a few mildly ameliorative reforms: stop federal lobbying in state initiative campaigns, stop federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and other interference with state policy choices, and stop the Pentagon from giving military equipment to local police forces. I must admit, though, that the other think tank analysts at the meeting, both liberal and conservative, offered the sorts of proposals for more social workers and more transition programs and more doctors that seem to have ended up in the "new" proposal. Perhaps I should have come up with a couple of proposals that would have cost more money rather than less.

Posted on May 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Public Pensions as Property Rights by David Boaz

On Thursday I noted that former California House Speaker Willie Brown said we shouldn't worry about the cost of government workers' pensions because "My guess is that the State of California, like most places involved with pensions, is going to cease to pay them." My former colleague Andrew Biggs, writing at The American, says Speaker Brown and I are, believe it or not, too optimistic:
In most states, accrued public-sector pension benefits carry an effective property right, either through legal rulings or outright constitutional provisions. As Donald Kohn, the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, put it, “For all intents and purposes, accrued benefits have turned out to be riskless obligations.” Some states interpret these rights as prospective, meaning that not only does a public-sector employee have a right to the benefits he’s already earned, but he has a right to continue earning benefits at the same rate no matter how financially unsustainable the pension formula may be. These provisions make state pension benefits far more assured than even Social Security, which the federal government can legally cut at anytime.
Plus, he says, the pension shortfalls are even larger than most analysts think. Resume worrying.

Posted on May 10, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

RIP Max Palevsky, a Man Whose Vast Wealth Helped Stop a War by David Boaz

"Max Palevsky, a pioneer in the computer industry and a founder of the computer-chip giant Intel who used his fortune to back Democratic presidential candidates and to amass an important collection of American Arts and Crafts furniture, died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 85," reports the New York Times. Palevsky used his vast wealth to influence politics, especially to oppose the Vietnam War. He was one of the liberal mega-givers who made the Eugene McCarthy campaign possible in 1968, along with such people as Stanley Sheinbaum, Stewart Mott, and Martin Peretz. Describing the McCarthy campaign as "shoestring," Christopher Hitchens added:
When one says "shoestring," by the way, one is forced to recall that the whole operation was essentially underwritten by a few ill-sorted but well-off individuals including, notably, Max Palevsky, Blair Clark, and Martin Peretz. Today's campaign-finance laws—or "reforms" as they are always described—make a similar undertaking extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Hitchens may be a bit misty-eyed in his memory of a "shoestring" campaign. Time reported that "In 1968 Clean Gene led the list of preconvention spenders with an $11 million outlay." But he's right about the campaign finance laws. An outsider candidate with a mission, like McCarthy in 1968 or George McGovern in 1972 (to whom Palevsky is said to have given $320,000), is not allowed to jump-start his campaign with a few big contributions from donors who share his vision. Ironically, Palevsky later donated $1 million to a California initiative that would have limited campaign contributions. It is not recorded whether Palevsky specifically wished that he and his friends had been forbidden to make the McCarthy and McGovern campaigns possible. But he did make them happen, and the restrictions on such outsider campaigns are one of the big costs of our current campaign finance laws. Cross-posted at Politico Arena.

Posted on May 10, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Zoning vs. Families by David Boaz

Back in 1996 George Liebmann wrote in Regulation about how "Zoning makes it more difficult to keep aged parents close by and care for them." He recommended that "Duplex homes and accessory apartments should be permitted in all new residential construction. Housing options such as these allow elderly persons to live near their adult children without intruding on their children's privacy." ("Modernization of Zoning," pp. 71, 75) Now the Washington Post reports
The Rev. Kenneth Dupin, who leads a small Methodist church [in Salem, Virginia], has a vision: As America grows older, its aging adults could avoid a jarring move to the nursing home by living in small, specially equipped, temporary shelters close to relatives.So he invented the MEDcottage, a portable high-tech dwelling that could be trucked to a family's back yard and used to shelter a loved one in need of special care. Skeptics, however, have a different name for Dupin's product: the granny pod. Protective of zoning laws, some local officials warn that Dupin's dwellings -- which have been authorized by Virginia's state government -- will spring up in subdivisions all over the state, creating not-in-my-back-yard tensions with neighbors and perhaps being misused.... the nation's elderly population is set to double in just 10 years as more and more baby boomers hit retirement age. Surveys by AARP and others also show that large majorities prefer to live in their own homes or with loved ones rather than in retirement communities.
But local officials think their zoning rules are more important than keeping families together.  They fume that allowing such small structures for grandma would "turn our zoning ordinance upside down." And what's more important, saving money and keeping grandma near her family or strict adherence to zoning regulations? Local officials think the choice is clear. In this case, though, state officials disagreed. Virginia just passed a law "that supersedes local zoning laws in the state and allows families to install such a dwelling on their property" -- but only "with a doctor's order." They couldn't just allow families to choose a living arrangement that suits them. No, a doctor has to authorize it. It's sort of like medical marijuana -- a slight increase in freedom, but also an increase in the medicalization of normal individual decisions.

Posted on May 8, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Sarah Palin Needs New Glasses by David Boaz

Sarah Palin has endorsed Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate in California, showing commendable charity toward a woman who gave her one of her many Bad Headline Days in September 2008 by telling an interviewer that Palin wouldn't be qualified to run a major company. (Fiorina did add, "But you know what? That's not what she's running for.") Palin is way off base, though, when she writes:
I support Carly as she fights through a tough primary against a liberal member of the GOP who seems to bear almost no difference to Boxer, one of the most leftwing members of the Senate.
Ignoring conservative Chuck DeVore, who probably has the support of a lot of Palin fans, Palin is taking aim at frontrunning former congressman Tom Campbell. But if her aim was that far off on a moose hunt, she'd come back empty-handed. Tom Campbell is often described as a moderate Republican, and sometimes as a (moderately) libertarian Republican. But he's certainly no liberal, and it's just nuts to say that he's no different from Barbara Boxer. Here are the ratings that Boxer and Campbell received from various rating organizations in 2000, the last year they were both in Congress:
Campbell Boxer
Americans for Democratic Action 20 85
Republican Liberty Caucus 79.5 16
American Conservative Union 64 4
National Taxpayers Union 73 (21st in House) 14 (73rd in Senate)
Campbell's record isn't perfect from either a conservative or a libertarian perspective. But anybody who can look at the respective records of Tom Campbell and Barbara Boxer and see "almost no difference" needs new glasses.

Posted on May 7, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How the Debt Crisis Will Stop by David Boaz

The economist Herb Stein famously said, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." That's a good riposte when people wring their hands over something unsustainable. Of course, that fact doesn't tell you how unsustainable situations will stop, and some ways are less pleasant than others. I thought of "Stein's Law" when I read former California Assembly speaker Willie Brown's response to a question about whether California's lavish public-employee pensions would bankrupt the state:
No, it's not going to bankrupt the state. My guess is that the State of California, like most places involved with pensions, is going to cease to pay them.

Posted on May 6, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cato Pledge Drive by David Boaz

Public radio talk show host Diane Rehm said during WAMU's pledge drive yesterday:
"Whenever I meet someone who says, 'Diane, I love your show, I love what you do,' the first thing I ask them is, 'Are you a member?'"
"Member" means financial contributor, of course, and she went on to make the point that if you value public radio, you should contribute. Of course, every taxpayer is a contributor to public radio, whether he values it or not. But that's not true for the Cato Institute. We don't accept government money. Indeed, a few years ago, we rejected a large contribution from Fannie Mae when that entity announced that it was going to add Cato to the vast list of Washington organizations and politicians on whom it showered its ill-gotten gains. We also, as it happens, got only 2 percent of our funding from corporations last year. The money that enables Cato to do its work comes overwhelmingly from 15,000 individual contributors. So Diane Rehm's question is much more valid in our case: Do you visit the Cato website or enjoy seeing our scholars on television and in the newspapers? Do you value the work we do on behalf of liberty and limited government? Are you a Sponsor? If not, shouldn't you become a Sponsor and help make sure we can continue and expand that work? And if you are a Sponsor, thank you!

Posted on May 6, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Mark Penn Mourns the Plight of Libertarian Voters by David Boaz

Mark Penn, who has been a pollster and consultant to the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Anderson, and Ross Perot, writes about political discontent in Britain and the United States in the Washington Post today, noting that in this country
socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters believe, especially after what happened with health care, that they have no clear choice: They must sign on with the religious right or the economic left.
Exactly the point that David Kirby and I have been making in our studies on the libertarian vote, as in the first line of this January study:
Libertarian — or fiscally conservative, socially liberal — voters are often torn between their aversions to the Republicans' social conservatism and the Democrats' fiscal irresponsibility.
Libertarian-leaning voters are a large swing vote, and they do indeed find problems with both parties. As parties increasingly cater to their "base," libertarian-leaning independents find themselves dissatisfied with both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. We noted in our first study, "The Libertarian Vote," that according to the 2004 exit polls, "28 million Bush voters support[ed] either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples" and "17 million Kerry voters . . . thought government should not . . . 'do more to solve problems.'" That was 45 million voters who didn't seem to fit neatly into the red-blue, liberal-conservative dichotomy. But Penn is on less solid ground in his next line:
It is just a matter of time before they demand their own movement or party.
Movement, maybe. The Ron Paul campaign certainly appealed to antiwar, small-government voters. And the Tea Party movement focuses almost exclusively on economic and constitutional issues, making it more appealing to libertarians than typical conservative organizations. Meanwhile, as the Tea Party opposition to the Democrats' big-government opposition surges, so does progress toward marriage equality and rational drug reform. Maybe those various libertarian-leaning groups will find each other. But a new party is a much bigger challenge. It's no accident that the only third party that achieved even modest success in recent history was headed a billionaire who was also a celebrity, Ross Perot. Ballot access laws, campaign finance restrictions, exclusion of third-party candidates from debates and media coverage, single-member districts -- all make it difficult to start a successful third party. It may also be the case that moderates, who tend not to be very angry, and libertarians, who don't really much like politics, are particularly ill suited to undertake the massive amount of work that a new party requires. But Penn is absolutely right to point to the plight of "socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters," forced in every election to "sign on with the religious right or the economic left."

Posted on May 6, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Help Kareem Now by David Boaz

We've written about the jailed Egyptian blogger known as Kareem before. Now the people who are working for his release are asking that people "flood the jail with mail" so that Kareem and his jailers will know that the world is watching. I hope you'll take a moment to help. Kareem attended a conference for Arabic liberal and libertarian bloggers and writers in 2006, when he was 21 years old. Within months he was arrested and sentenced. He has served more than 3/4 of a four-year sentence for writing about freedom, democracy, and women's rights on his blog, and yet he still has not been released. He has suffered not only the loss of his freedom, but continuing abuse. It is important to let the Egyptian authorities know he is not forgotten. Please help by writing to him. And please follow the guidelines and not include anything incendiary or likely to lead to his being harmed further. As Tom Palmer and Raja Kamal wrote in the Washington Post, "People should be free to express their opinions without fear of being imprisoned or killed. Blogging should not be a crime." In 2008 students at the first convention of Students for Liberty rallied for Kareem on the steps of Columbia University (at right). Others around the world, on the web and in person, have tried to keep a light shining on Kareem's case. But it's hard to maintain such a campaign for years, as the Egyptian authorities refuse to let this young man go. Don't let them think that no one notices. More details about the case can be found here.

Posted on May 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Life under Prohibition by David Boaz

Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of marijuana smokers in the nation, reports the Washington Post. "More than 11 percent of Washingtonians older than 26 reported smoking marijuana in the past year -- the highest percentage of any state in the nation, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration." Is that a problem? Well, back around 1990 a satirical revue described the city government as "the nation's first work-free drug zone." But the people described in the Post article seem to work pretty hard, as scientists, businessmen, and so on. One problem is inadvertently described by D.C. Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham:
"People don't feel marijuana is dangerous, but it is, because of the way it is sold," he said. "We frequently recover weapons when serving search warrants associated with the sale of marijuana."
Exactly. Because marijuana is illegal, it's not sold by kindly old liquor store owners. It's distributed by people who are by definition criminal and who tend to engage in criminal behavior to protect their markets. Its illegal distribution also accounts for another phenomenon that the Post notes:
Teenagers in parts of the city said they can buy pot more easily than beer or cigarettes.
Legal products, for sale to adults only, are harder for teenagers to obtain than a product that is illegal for everyone. Maybe it's time to rethink the success of drug prohibition.

Posted on May 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.