RNC Embraces Bush-Cheney, or At Least Cheney

Few Republican candidates these days are talking about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Indeed, they’ve been avoiding the last Republican administration since 2006. Even Jeb(!) Bush dances around the topic of his unpopular brother.

But this weekend I got an email from “Dick Cheney” – actually a fundraising appeal for the Republican National Committee, sent from its GOP.com. The email promises that if I give the RNC at least $59.99, I’ll get a copy of Cheney’s new book, which “describes the kind of leader we desperately need in the White House.”

The RNC must be sending this appeal widely. I’m not on their general email list. I get lots of unsolicited emails from both Republican and Democratic candidates, but I can’t recall one from GOP.com. So they seem to have acquired a lot of outside lists for their Dick Cheney pitch.

Cheney’s book has garnered widespread criticism, from Carlos Lozada at the Washington Post and Steve Chapman at Reason, for instance. According to Lozada, Cheney and daughter Liz call for

a massive military buildup, including new missile-defense systems, more nuclear weapons and a force prepared to wage war in multiple geographic locations simultaneously… the restoration of National Security Agency’s surveillance authorities, the return of “enhanced” interrogation of terrorism suspects, the deployment of thousands of military “advisors” to battle the Islamic State and a halt to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan… aggressive actions against rival nations, such as sending troops to NATO countries that border Russia, in order to “signal American determination.”

No wonder Republican candidates are not holding public events with Cheney. That’s not a platform candidates would want to ask the voters to endorse. But now the Republican National Committee – which calls itself in the email “the Official Committee in Charge of Taking Back the White House” – is wrapping itself in the arms of Dick Cheney and dangerously interventionist agenda. I wonder if any presidential candidates were consulted on this tactic.

Posted on September 14, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Govern a Great Country as You Would Cook a Small Fish

Peter Hannaford, a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, has died at 82. As the Washington Post puts it, after Reagan’s term as governor ended in 1975, Hannaford “teamed with ex-Reagan aide Michael K. Deaver to handle radio broadcasts, newspaper columns and appearances that kept the presidential aspirant in the public eye” until his election as president in 1980. The Post obituary notes the last time Hannaford recalled sending Reagan an idea, in 1988 near the end of his presidency:

He had come across a saying attributed to a Chinese philosopher: “Govern a great country as you would cook a small fish.” Mr. Hannaford said he knew it would appeal to Reagan’s belief in applying only a light touch to free-market enterprise.

“I knew he would like it,” Mr. Hannaford said. “And sure enough, it was in the State of the Union speech.”

Indeed it was. The ancient Chinese philosopher was Lao-tzu (or Lao-tse, or Laozi). In The Libertarian Mind I write:

The first known libertarian may have been the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who lived around the sixth century B.C. and is best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching. Lao-tzu advised, “Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.” 

And in The Libertarian Reader I include selections from the Tao. Not chapter 60, which Reagan quoted, but other sections with similar ideas:

Exterminate the sage [the ruler] and discard the wisdom [of rule],
And the people will benefit a hundredfold.

Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.

All things carry the yin and embrace the yang.
They achieve harmony through their interaction.

The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.
The more laws are promulgated,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.
Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I “do nothing” the people will of themselves be
So long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go
So long as I act only by inactivity the people will of themselves
become prosperous.

The people starve because those above them eat too much tax-grain.
That is the only reason why they starve. The people are difficult to
keep in order because those above them interfere. That is the only
reason why they are so difficult to keep in order.

Professor Joseph Adler of Kenyon, an expert on Chinese religious traditions, wrote about Confucianism and Taoism:

The Tao Te Ching, or the Scripture of the Way and its Power, is one of the foundational texts of Chinese civilization – in particular of the religious and intellectual tradition of Taoism. Taoism is one of the two main streams of Chinese thought, along with Confucianism. They took shape at roughly the same time, from the 5th through 3rd centuries BCE, at a time when China was in a long period of civil war, aptly named the “Warring States” period.

Taoism and Confucianism both attempted to provide a new philosophical underpinning for government and society. Confucius’ theory was that a well-ordered and harmonious society could only be brought about when the ruling classes (the aristocracy and government officials) were composed of virtuous people. Their virtue, he said, would then spread throughout society like a wind rippling through a field of grain, mediated by able officials actively managing society through rational and benevolent means.

The Taoist approach focused not on society and conventional morality but on the individual’s relationship with the natural world. The Taoists had a laissez faire theory of government, although they too said that having a good ruler at the top was crucial. The difference was that for them, the ideal “sage-king” was one who did as little as possible to interfere with the people’s natural wants and needs. Their ideal form of action in the world, for both the ruler and the ordinary person, was called wu-wei, or “actingless action” – i.e. a form of natural action that reacts spontaneously to the flow of events and changing circumstances. The sage-ruler, they said, understands that governing a large kingdom is like “cooking a small fish.” How do you cook a small fish? As lightly as possible.

Posted on September 11, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Kim Davis Is Just a Lonely Gay Marriage Warrior

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is out of jail now but still in a legal battle over whether she can be required to issue licenses that offend her religion.

Although her case has been generating angry debates for a month now, the good news is how rare Kim Davis is.

In late June, the Supreme Court struck down state bans on gay marriage, at one stroke legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Before the ruling there had been many predictions of widespread resistance and long-term cultural warfare. Even strong advocates of marriage equality had worried that a nationwide court decision could set off a long culture war, as the court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion did.

But that isn’t happening. Kim Davis is not a symbol of massive resistance. Mostly she’s just a lonely warrior.

Kim Davis stands almost alone — devout and courageous, perhaps, but not part of a rising tide of local officials determined to roll back marriage equality.”

Yes, it’s been reported that “many other local officials across the country are not giving up the fight.” That depends on what the meaning of “many” is. In Kentucky two other county clerks — out of 120 — have said they won’t issue licenses to same-sex couples, though neither has yet faced an actual request.

Who else? A judge in Marion County, Oregon. A county clerk in Granbury, Texas, who did accede to a court order. Three employees in a county clerk’s office in Tennessee. A firestorm of opposition this is not.

Religious right activists aren’t giving up. After the court’s decision, Iowa activist Bob Vander Plaats warned, “When the Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott decision, it didn’t end the debate about slavery, but only intensified it. Roe v. Wade didn’t end the debate over abortion, for we’re still working through it today. Likewise, Obergefell v. Hodges doesn’t end the debate, but only stirs it.”

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, held a rally for Davis Tuesday outside the jail where she spent the weekend. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the son of an evangelist, met with Davis the same afternoon.

Those activists misunderstand the mood of the nation. Unlike the continuing divide over abortion, public opinion has been moving rapidly toward support of same-sex marriage. The experienced Republican pollster Glen Bolger told Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post recently, “This is an unprecedented shift in public opinion. In 20 years it won’t even be an issue.” In the Gallup poll, support rose from 27 to 60 percent in only 19 years.

Abortion is very different. Since 1975, Gallup shows almost no change in its basic question about abortion. Close to 30 percent want abortion to be legal under any circumstances, around 20 percent want it illegal in all circumstances, and 50 percent are in the middle. The percentage calling themselves pro-choice has ranged between 41 and 50 percent for the past 20 years.

The obvious difference is that abortion involves the termination of a life. Many Americans regard that as murder, while others think it is at best morally troubling. Gay marriage, on the other hand, means people promising to love and support another person. It’s a lot harder to organize a campaign against that, or even to sustain people’s original opposition once they learn that some of their friends and family are gay and want to get married.

A major part of the American story is the progressive extension of the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to people to whom they were long denied. Gay marriage is the latest example of this. Now that we have moved into that bright sunshine of marriage equality, we’re not likely to move back to the closet and the shadows. Indeed, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, recently told Variety, “When you hear senators say, ‘I have never had a gay person in my family,’ or people running on a platform that … marriage is just between a man and a woman, it almost feels like we are watching black-and-white television.”

That’s the challenge that candidates like Huckabee and Cruz are facing. Kim Davis stands almost alone — devout and courageous, perhaps, but not part of a rising tide of local officials determined to roll back marriage equality.

We should thank Kim Davis for helping us to see just how tolerant and welcoming America has become in just a few short years.

Posted on September 11, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Donald Trump, Eminent Domain, and the Widow’s House

Washington Post on Donald Trump and Vera CokingThree weeks ago I wrote in the Guardian about Donald Trump’s years-long effort to use eminent domain to take Vera Coking’s Atlantic City house, along with two nearby small businesses, in order to build a limousine parking lot for his Trump Plaza hotel. Coking’s house may not have been paradise, but as Joni Mitchell would say, Trump wanted to pave it and put up a parking lot.

Today the Washington Post splashes the story of the billionaire and the widow across the front of its Style section. It’s a story that deserves further attention.

As I wrote:

For more than 30 years Vera Coking lived in a three-story house just off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Donald Trump built his 22-story Trump Plaza next door. In the mid-1990s Trump wanted to build a limousine parking lot for the hotel, so he bought several nearby properties. But three owners, including the by then elderly and widowed Ms Coking, refused to sell.

As his daughter Ivanka said in introducing him at his campaign announcement, Donald Trump doesn’t take no for an answer.

Trump turned to a government agency – the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) – to take Coking’s property. CRDA offered her $250,000 for the property – one-fourth of what another hotel builder had offered her a decade earlier. When she turned that down, the agency went into court to claim her property under eminent domain so that Trump could pave it and put up a parking lot.

Trump consistently defended his use of eminent domain. He told John Stossel, “Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.” Later, after the Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to take property from one owner for the benefit of another private owner, he told Neil Cavuto, 

“I happen to agree with it 100%. if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and … government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and … create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.”

Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Post adds lots of colorful detail to the story. He notes how the Institute for Justice represented Coking in court – and won. “In the long melodrama that is Trump’s business career, the house in Atlantic City is the place where all the billionaire’s money and all the billionaire’s men couldn’t keep a 5-foot-3 widow from whupping him”–with the government on his side and IJ on hers.

Posted on September 10, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Queen Elizabeth and monarchy on BBC World’s Global with Matthew Amroliwala

Posted on September 9, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Solyndra: A Case Study in Green Energy, Cronyism, and the Failure of Central Planning

Back in 2011 I wrote several times about the failure of Solyndra, the solar panel company that was well connected to the Obama administration. Then, as with so many stories, the topic passed out of the headlines and I lost touch with it. Today, the Washington Post and other papers bring news of a newly released federal investigative report:

Top leaders of a troubled solar panel company that cost taxpayers a half-billion dollars repeatedly misled federal officials and omitted information about the firm’s financial prospects as they sought to win a major government loan, according to a newly-released federal investigative report.

Solyndra’s leaders engaged in a “pattern of false and misleading assertions” that drew a rosy picture of their company enjoying robust sales while they lobbied to win the first clean energy loan the new administration awarded in 2009, a lengthy investigation uncovered. The Silicon Valley start-up’s dramatic rise and then collapse into bankruptcy two years later became a rallying cry for critics of President Obama’s signature program to create jobs by injecting billions of dollars into clean energy firms.

And why would it become such a rallying cry for critics? Well, consider the hyperlink the Post inserted at that point in the article: “[Past coverage: Solyndra: Politics infused Obama energy programs]” And what did that article report?

Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal ­e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials. 

The records, some previously unreported, show that when warned that financial disaster might lie ahead, the administration remained steadfast in its support for Solyndra.

The federal investigators “didn’t try to determine if political favoritism fueled the decision to award Solyndra a loan” – that was accommodating of them – “but heard some concerns about political pressure, the report said.”

“Employees acknowledged that they felt tremendous pressure, in general, to process loan guarantee applications,” the report said. “They suggested the pressure was based on the significant interest in the program from Department leadership, the Administration, Congress, and the applicants.”

As I wrote at the time, this story has all the hallmarks of government decision making:

  • officials spending other people’s money with little incentive to spend it prudently,
  • political pressure to make decisions without proper vetting,
  • the substitution of political judgment for the judgments of millions of investors,
  • the enthusiastic embrace of fads like “green energy,”
  • political officials ignoring warnings from civil servants,
  • crony capitalism,
  • close connections between politicians and the companies that benefit from government allocation of capital,
  • the appearance—at least—of favors for political supporters,
  • and the kind of promiscuous spending that has delivered us $18 trillion in national debt.

It may end up being a case study in political economy. And if you want government to guide the economy, to pick winners, to override market investments, then this is what you want. 

Posted on August 27, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Marriage Equality’s ‘Reign of Terror’ Is in the Past–Not the Present

At the Iowa State Fair last Friday, actress Ellen Page challenged presidential candidate Ted Cruz about discrimination against gay and transgender people. Instead of directly answering her question, Cruz responded, “Well, what we’re seeing right now, we’re seeing Bible-believing Christians being persecuted for living according to their faith.”That evening at a “Rally for Religious Freedom,” he introduced several “heroes” whom he described as “victims of government persecution” who “have endured the attacks” for refusing to provide services for a gay wedding.

He’s not the only one. Religious right organizer David Lane, who has escorted numerous Republican presidential candidates—including Cruz—to meetings with pastors, wrote in March, “What does concern me is the reign of terror, now becoming old hat, that [homosexuals] impose on anyone who will not celebrate their sexual lifestyle.”

“Persecution.” “Reign of terror.” Strong language indeed.

I don’t think anyone should be forced to supply flowers, cakes, photography, or a venue for a wedding that conflicts with their religious faith. Marriage equality is right and proper in a country that intends to treat everyone equally under the law, but there’s no need to force every mom-and-pop baker into the gay wedding business—or force them out of business with crippling fines.

Terms like hatred, persecution, and reign of terror to describe this issue reveal a lot of historical amnesia.”

But terms like hatred, persecution, and reign of terror to describe this issue reveal a lot of historical amnesia. Laws making homosexual acts illegal have been on the books in America since the 1600s. In the early 20th century and again in the 1950s the laws were actually strengthened. By the middle of the century, in most states conviction for sodomy meant as many as 15 years in prison. In California, a conviction could result in life imprisonment.

Although the sodomy laws were rarely enforced directly, they justified many other forms of discrimination and oppression. As William Eskridge wrote in his book Dishonorable Passions, “Sodomy laws sanctioned police harassment of gay people and their hangouts, the discharge of homosexuals from public as well as private employment, official refusals to protect gay people when victimized by assaults and other crimes, and deprivation of custody over or even contact with their children.” In many states, it was illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals, or for homosexuals to dance together. In 1966 New York City arrested more than 100 men a week for such crimes.

The law combined with social opprobrium to keep many gay people in the closet, living a lonely underground life. Arrest or being outed could mean the loss of a job, a family, or even a life. Many committed suicide in response to such pressures.

That was a reign of terror.

Today’s unjust but hopefully temporary wave of fines against small business owners pales in comparison.

In fact, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain wrote about the “Reign of Terror” after the French Revolution:

There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror….All France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

The solution to injustice is never to reverse the injustice. The long oppression of gay Americans does not justify reverse discrimination or forced participation in gay weddings. But conservatives should have a little humility in the language they use about injustices that are far less onerous than the hatred, persecution, and attacks that persisted for far too long in America.

Posted on August 27, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on FOX WRGT 45 News at 10

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on ABC KVII Nightside

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on NBC KRNV News 4 at Six

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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