This Is a Republic

Queen Elizabeth II is coming to Washington and Jamestown, and the Washington Post offers advice in case you should happen to meet her.

You don’t have to curtsy or bow. That requirement went out a generation ago.

Um, actually, the United States is a republic. (”And to the republic for which it stands.”) That requirement went out in 1776.

Posted on April 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General

Media Bias?

According to the chart in this Washington Post article, the top 10 PACs in 2006, in order, were the left-feminist Emily’s List, the left-wing, the left-wing union SEIU, the left-Democratic ActBlue, three more unions, the NRA, and two Democratic PACs. So how did the accompanying story read (Note that the PAC graphic goes with the third item in this column; that’s clear in the print paper but not so clear online.)

The item was headlined: Why Gun Control is a Long Shot

And the text began:

If you want to know why major new federal restrictions on firearms will be a hard sell despite the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech last week, here’s a leading reason: The National Rifle Association is one of the nation’s richest and most influential pressure groups.

Well, one of them, yes. But the other 9 of the top 10 are all liberal-to-left Democratic funders. The top two lefty PACs together raised almost six times as much in 2006 as the NRA. So did the top four unions. And two Democratic PACs that you probably haven’t heard of — America Coming Together and Forward Together — each raised just as much as the NRA.

Posted on April 25, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Yeltsin the Hero

More than any other man, Boris Yeltsin moved the Russian people from tyranny to a rough approximation of freedom. For that he is one of the authentic heroes of the 20th century.

In a way he personalizes Mikhail Gorbachev’s accidental liberation of the Russian and Soviet people. Gorbachev intended to reform and reinvigorate communism. He brought Yeltsin from the rural region of Sverdlovsk in 1985 to shake up the stagnant party as the Moscow party boss. But Gorbachev set in motion forces that he couldn’t contain. Once people were allowed to criticize the communist system and glimpse an alternative, things moved rapidly–partly because of Yeltsin’s unexpectedly radical leadership.

Two years later Gorbachev and the party hierarchy pushed him out of the Politburo. But he turned around and ran for the Congress of People’s Deputies, won, and then was elected to the Supreme Soviet. He created Russia’s first parliamentary opposition (in the Supreme Soviet) and then won election to the new Russian parliament. Against the continuing opposition of Gorbachev, he was elected to the chairmanship of that body, thus becoming president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He stunned politicos by resigning from the Communist Party.

And then in 1991, less than four years after being pushed out of politics by Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin became the first elected leader in a thousand years of Russian history, winning a popular election for president. Six weeks later he hit his high point. When hard-line communists tried to stage a coup, Yeltsin courageously raced to parliament to rally opposition. He jumped on a tank to address the crowd, creating one of the iconic images of the collapse of communism. (more…)

Posted on April 24, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Foreign Policy,General,Government & Politics

Ron Paul and the Establishment

You get a sense of Ron Paul’s challenge in the Republican presidential race when you look at this Washington Post graphic about early fundraising. Not only is Paul running way behind the frontrunners in the money race, but the Post tells us who some of the notable donors to each candidate are. Mitt Romney is supported, for instance, by Mormon motel mogul J. Willard Marriott. Giuliani has Yankees boss George Steinbrenner. McCain draws support from Henry Kissinger and a managing director of the Carlyle Group. (Can you guess which one is the candidate of the Republican Establishment ) And apparently, the most notable contributor to Ron Paul is . . . Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project. It’s going to be a long campaign.

For the Democrats, interestingly, the Post eschews listing corporate moguls; instead, it tells us that supporters of the various candidates include Laurence Tribe, Steven Spielberg, Zach Braff, and Paul Newman. Democrats are just so much cooler. And I guess Clinton, Obama, and Edwards just didn’t get any money from The Rich. Funny thing, though, Hillary’s top five zip codes are all in Manhattan, and Obama’s are all in Manhattan or Chicago. Who knew all the hip young TV stars lived in such places Edwards, however, did pull in a bundle from Beverly Hills 90210.

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

Is This Libertarian Paternalism?

From the Washington Post:

Other experts are considering more creative ways to improve tax compliance. One idea is to take advantage of people’s desire to get a refund at the end of the year.

“What some people do when they are doing their taxes is they do a first draft and see how much they are getting back,” said Richard Thaler, a University of Chicago economist who studies how people think about money. “If they owe money, then they do a second draft. They keep finding deductions until the refund is positive.”

Thaler said mandatorily increasing withholding levels so more people get refunds could increase compliance because taxpayers would no longer have to go to great lengths to get a refund.

Thaler is one of the leading advocates of “libertarian paternalism,” which Will Wilkinson roundly pummeled the other day.

So is withholding more money from people’s paychecks in order to make the poor dumb sheep think they’re getting money back 16 months later an example of libertarian paternalism No, it’s just old-fashioned sheep shearing.

Posted on April 17, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General

Volunteer Today!

This is National Volunteer Week — which is really appropriate, since it’s also the week our federal income taxes are due, and the income tax system is based on “voluntary compliance.” No, really, it says so right on the 1040 packet and throughout the IRS website. Indeed, the friendly folks at the IRS acknowledge (.pdf) that some people get the wrong idea because the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary.” But if you take their little online test of “Your Role as a Taxpayer,” they explain to you that it is True that “IRS publications state that the tax system is voluntary,” but it is also True that “The government has the right to force me to pay my taxes and charge me penalties for not paying taxes.” Go figure.

Anyway, if you have any time or money left after paying your taxes, consider doing some volunteer work.

Posted on April 17, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Fun with Copyright

A Southern California law firm . . . claimed that Noland’s on the Wharf [in Santa Cruz] was violating a trademark by printing the words “Surf City USA” on a $17 T-shirt. The rights to that combination of words belong to the Huntington Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau, the letter said…. Huntington Beach, with its warm weather, sandy beaches and steady waves, has long argued that the Surf City title is its exclusive property, granted to it by the 1963 Jan & Dean song hit “Surf City.”

Jan and Dean may have been surfer royalty, but who knew they had the power to grant patents and monopolies You never know what you’ll learn in the Wall Street Journal.

Posted on April 13, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General

Abracadabra! County Pulls a Subsidy Out of a Hat

Jacob Grier, the blogger-barista-magician with a highly coveted Vanderbilt degree, has been writing about Montgomery County’s plans to evict Barry’s Magic Shop from the site in Wheaton, Md., where it has survived for 31 years. As he wrote last June:

The real story is that simply because a few county planners have decided that the land could be better used to attract developers than as a magic store, the man who owns the building has had his property forcibly taken from him and a small business that has thrived for decades is being evicted years before its lease is up.

The county used eminent domain to take the building in order to build a walkway as part of a grand plan for Wheaton. The plan has been in the works for years, and there are no immediate plans for actually building the walkway, but the building has been seized.

But today there’s good news! For Barry’s and its customers, anyway, if not for Maryland taxpayers and property owners. In addition to spending over $2 million to take the building and build the walkway, taxpayers — in the person of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett — are also going to spend $260,000 to relocate the magic shop.

So first the county spends taxpayers’ money to seize private property in the name of its own vision of what that corner of Wheaton should look like. Then it spends more taxpayers’ money to subsidize a small business.

Here’s an idea: Why not let the market decide where businesses locate, without subsidizing the businesses and without seizing their property As Jacob says,

This is a story that should make people angry. Angry that George Chaconas had his land taken from him. Angry that Barry Taylor and Suzie Kang are being evicted years before their lease is up. Angry that this is all being done with taxpayers’ money to subsidize the developers who will eventually move into the area, just because some guy named Joseph Davis thinks that’s the way things ought to be.

Montgomery County, Maryland: Where everything goes according to plan. Or else.

Posted on April 12, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Constitutional Studies,Economics & Economic Philosophy,General

Kurt Vonnegut, Libertarian?

No, probably not. He called himself a socialist. But his satires of war and government often sounded libertarian themes. One libertarian argues that his 1952 novel Player Piano, though usually understood as a critique of technology and automation, can also be seen as a prescient criticism of “neocon America,” in which “the centralization of corporate/government power over the economy and security forces is a legacy of the last war, which was largely responsible for putting engineers and managers in charge of a command economy.”

And he did write one of the great libertarian short stories, “Harrison Bergeron,” the story of a world in which the U.S. Handicapper General gives everyone “handicaps” in order to make us all equal–masks for the beautiful, weights for the strong or fast, buzzers in the brains of the smart. The tagline of the 1995 Showtime movie starring Sean Astin and Christopher Plummer was “All men are not created equal. It is the purpose of the Government to make them so.”

Socialist or not, we could use more satirists and fewer red team/blue team party-liners. We will miss Kurt Vonnegut.

Posted on April 12, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General

Congress Gets Serious about Ethics

Sure, an hour a year ought to be plenty.

One of the changes that House Democrats pushed through at the start of the new Congress is a requirement that all members and staffers get annual ethics training. And for those of you who are lucky enough to be working this week, you can start your training Wednesday, according to a recent memo from the House ethics committee.

Under House rules, all lawmakers and staff must receive one hour of ethics training a year. And House officers and senior aides, as well as those lucky staffers designated “principal assistants,” will have to get an additional hour of training.

Each office and committee must name an “ethics certification officer” by the end of this month, and that person will make sure the rest of you receive the training.

When you can’t trust people to be responsible, and you’re unwilling or unable to monitor irresponsibility and unethical behavior within your normal systems, you end up creating layers of regulation, red tape, and bureaucracy — like annual training and official “ethics certification officers.” And then you call them “ethics certification officers” instead of actual ethics officers, because the goal is to certify that you’ve completed ethics training, not to actually ensure ethical behavior.

Posted on April 11, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

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