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 ABC KVII Nightside

Posted on August 21, 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 NBC KRNV News 4 at Six

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on CBS WOWK News

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on CBS KMEG Siouxland News at 10

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Hillary Clinton’s emails on ABC KTVO News at 10

Posted on August 21, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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