Stossel Thursday — New Time

I'll be on the Stossel show this coming Thursday, along with nearly 1000 cheering Students for Liberty at their annual conference. Also taking questions from John Stossel and the students are Nick Gillespie of Reason, John Bolton (!), and Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council (!!). Beginning this week, Stossel can be seen at a new time, 9:00 p.m. ET. (Which means 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, and 6 pm PT.) Set your DVR for the Fox Business Network at 9 pm Thursday.

Posted on February 21, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Why We Honor George Washington

Today is some vaguely named "Presidents' Day," but Wednesday is the anniversary of George Washington's birth. So it's a good day to remember the contribution he made to the American republic. I wrote this several years ago:
George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.
[caption id="attachment_44709" align="aligncenter" width="520" caption="John Trumbull, "General George Washington Resigning His Commission""][/caption]
In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not the deepest thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay, unlike George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But Washington made the ideas of the American founding real. He incarnated liberal and republican ideas in his own person, and he gave them effect through the Revolution, the Constitution, his successful presidency, and his departure from office. What’s so great about leaving office? Surely it matters more what a president does in office. But think about other great military commanders and revolutionary leaders before and after Washington—Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin. They all seized the power they had won and held it until death or military defeat. John Adams said, “He was the best actor of presidency we have ever had.” Indeed, Washington was a person very conscious of his reputation, who worked all his life to develop his character and his image. In our own time Joshua Micah Marshall writes of America’s first president, “It was all a put-on, an act.” Marshall missed the point. Washington understood that character is something you develop. He learned from Aristotle that good conduct arises from habits that in turn can only be acquired by repeated action and correction – “We are what we repeatedly do.” Indeed, the word “ethics” comes from the Greek word for “habit.” We say something is “second nature” because it’s not actually natural; it’s a habit we’ve developed. From reading the Greek philosophers and the Roman statesmen, Washington developed an understanding of character, in particular the character appropriate to a gentleman in a republic of free citizens. What values did Washington’s character express? He was a farmer, a businessman, an enthusiast for commerce. As a man of the Enlightenment, he was deeply interested in scientific farming. His letters on running Mount Vernon are longer than letters on running the government. (Of course, in 1795 more people worked at Mount Vernon than in the entire executive branch of the federal government.) He was also a liberal and tolerant man. In a famous letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, he hailed the “liberal policy” of the United States on religious freedom as worthy of emulation by other countries. He explained, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” And most notably, he held “republican” values – that is, he believed in a republic of free citizens, with a government based on consent and established to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property. From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington. Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.” “If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Posted on February 20, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Chavez Launches Smears against His Opponent

I write on the Huffington Post that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is reaching into the age-old bag of anti-liberal smears to savage his newly nominated political opponent:
All of these epithets -- homosexual, Jewish, bourgeoisie, and more recently, "American" -- have been staples of illiberal rhetoric for centuries. Liberals -- advocates of democracy, free speech, religious freedom, and market freedoms -- have been tarred as "cosmopolitan" and somehow alien to the people, the Volk, the faithful, the fatherland, the heartland.
Read it all.

Posted on February 16, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Hating the Rich, and Other Curiosities

Readers of Cato-at-Liberty should also check out our latest blog, Free Thoughts on Lots of interesting stuff there.  Like Aaron Powell on "Why We Get Mad at (some kinds of) Rich People." And Jonathan Blanks on "Black History and Liberty." And Jason Kuznicki on NPR and Ayn Rand. And Aaron's profound disappointment with Sam Harris's latest book. Not to mention, of course, an ever-increasing amount of other great material on, including
  • George Smith's essays on libertarian ideas
  • "Exploring Liberty," a series of original videos introducing libertarianism
  • the complete text of the classic journal Literature of Liberty
  • vintage, never-before-seen videos from people like Hayek, Friedman, Rothbard, and most recently David Kelley from 1991 on the faultlines in the Objectivist movement
  • essays on major libertarian figures from Lord Acton to Mary Wollstonecraft
  • and more!

Posted on February 16, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Day for Loving

Tonight HBO will broadcast "The Loving Story," a documentary about Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple whose marriage was banned by the state of Virginia and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in 1967. Mildred Jeter, a black woman (though she also had Native American heritage and may have preferred to think of herself as Indian), married Richard Loving, a white man, in the District of Columbia in 1958. When they returned to their home in Caroline County, Virginia, they were arrested under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, which dated to colonial times and had been reaffirmed in the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The Lovings were indicted and pled guilty. They were sentenced to a year in jail; the state’s law didn’t just ban interracial marriage, it made such marriage a criminal offense. However, the trial judge suspended the sentence on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years. In his opinion, the judge stated:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Five years later they filed suit to have their conviction overturned. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which struck down Virginia’s law unanimously. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the court,
The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival.
Here’s how ABC News reported the case on June 12, 1967: Some people, of course, see parallels between Virginia's ban on interracial marriage and its current ban (along with many other states) on same-sex marriage. One of them is Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute. Joined by John Podesta, with whom he co-chairs the advisory committee of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the nonprofit group that brought the Perry case against California's Proposition 8, he wrote in the Washington Post in 2010:
Now, 43 years after Loving, the courts are once again grappling with denial of equal marriage rights — this time to gay couples. We believe that a society respectful of individual liberty must end this unequal treatment under the law…. Over more than two centuries, minorities in America have gradually experienced greater freedom and been subjected to fewer discriminatory laws. But that process unfolded with great difficulty. As the country evolved, the meaning of one small word — “all” — has evolved as well. Our nation’s Founders reaffirmed in the Declaration of Independence the self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal,” and our Pledge of Allegiance concludes with the simple and definitive words “liberty and justice for all.” Still, we have struggled mightily since our independence, often through our courts, to ensure that liberty and justice is truly available to all Americans. Thanks to the genius of our Framers, who separated power among three branches of government, our courts have been able to take the lead — standing up to enforce equal protection, as demanded by the Constitution — even when the executive and legislative branches, and often the public as well, were unwilling to confront wrongful discrimination.
But tonight you don't have to worry about contemporary issues. Just enjoy "The Loving Story," a story about two people who loved each other and whose marriage eventually led to an advance for the American principle of equal liberty under the law.

Posted on February 14, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Obama Budget — Some Day My Cuts Will Come

It's being reported that in his 2013 budget President Obama will propose to increase spending now and reduce the deficit some day.  Isn't that what every budget promises these days? As I noted last summer during the debt ceiling fight at the Britannica Blog, fiscal conservatives should be very skeptical of plans and proposals that  promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years:
As the White Queen said to Alice, "Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years—but never cuts today.
We’ve become so used to these unfathomable levels of deficits and debt—and to the once-rare concept of trillions of dollars—that we forget how new all this debt is. In 1981, after 190 years of federal spending, the national debt was “only” $1 trillion. Now, just 30 years later, it’s past $15 trillion. So here’s a graphic representation from the Washington Post (now about half a trillion behind) of debt dysfunction: National debt   Those are the kind of numbers that caused the Tea Party movement and the Republican victories of 2010. And where did all this debt come from? As the Tea Partiers know, it came from the rapid increase in federal spending over the past decade: Federal Spending Annual federal spending rose by a trillion dollars when Republicans controlled the government from 2001 to 2007. It has risen another trillion during the Bush-Obama response to the financial crisis. So spending every year is now twice what it was when Bill Clinton left office 10 years ago, and the national debt is almost three times as high. Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to find wasteful, extravagant, and unnecessary programs to cut back or eliminate. And yet many voters, especially Tea Partiers, know that both parties have been responsible. Most Republicans, including today’s House leaders, voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, the Iraq war, the prescription drug entitlement, and the TARP bailout during the Bush years. That's one reason that even voters outraged at the Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending surge can't quite get enthusiastic about Republicans. The problem on Capitol Hill is spending, deficits, and debt. Members of Congress need to tell the president that you don't rein in out-of-control spending by increasing it. And if voters want members of Congress to insist on cuts, they're going to have to let their representatives know that.

Posted on February 13, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Barack Obama, Leninist?

In his much-discussed New Yorker article on the strategy memos that have shaped the Obama administration, Ryan Lizza writes:
Most of Obama’s conservative dinner companions from his evening at George Will’s home now describe him and his Administration in the most caricatured terms. Will declared Obama a “floundering naïf” and someone advancing “Lenin-Socialism.”
Really? Mild-mannered George Will compared President Obama to Lenin? That set off my skepticism meter. So I summoned the vast fact-checking resources of the Cato Institute and Googled the phrase. Which quickly turned up this video: And as you can clearly hear at 1:30, Will isn't saying "Lenin socialism." He's making the much milder and entirely valid charge of "lemon socialism," which he described as "transferring wealth from the successful to the unsuccessful." That's an old term for the government takeover or bailout of failing firms. On the left it's often described in terms such as "socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor" or "privatizing profits and socializing losses." People on the right deplore the practice of bailing out unsuccessful firms with taxpayers' dollars. That's a point that Will also made in his column, first when the Bush administration started bailing out failing banks and auto companies. And it's also been made by Charles Krauthammer on the auto bailout and again on the Solyndra deal. And by Cato adjunct scholar Lawrence H. White. And by lots of Cato-at-Liberty bloggers. Even Paul Krugman and Robert Reich. Where was the skepticism of a New Yorker reporter when he thought he'd found the prudent, mild-mannered George Will comparing the president to Lenin? Where were the famous New Yorker fact-checkers? Some things, I guess, are just too good to check. So to answer the question in the title, Is Barack Obama a Leninist? No, just a lemonist.

Posted on February 8, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Circuit Court Ruling on Proposition 8

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that California’s ban on same-sex marriage -- enacted in 2008 in a popular vote on Proposition 8 -- violates the constitutional right to equal protection. The court’s decision upheld a 2010 decision by former Judge R. Vaughn Walker, a Reagan-Bush appointee, that found marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and that the proposition “fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.” Proponents of Proposition 8 will likely appeal the decision either to the full Ninth Circuit or directly to the Supreme Court. The American Foundation for Equal Rights is the sponsor of the case, Perry v. Brown (originally Perry v. Schwarzenegger). Cato Institute chairman Robert A. Levy is co-chairman of AFER's Advisory Board. He and co-chair John Podesta wrote in the Washington Post in 2010:
Nearly a century after the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that "marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man.' " That 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, ended bans on interracial marriage in the 16 states that still had such laws. Now, 43 years after Loving, the courts are once again grappling with denial of equal marriage rights — this time to gay couples. We believe that a society respectful of individual liberty must end this unequal treatment under the law.... The principle of equality before the law transcends the left-right divide and cuts to the core of our nation's character. This is not about politics; it's about an indispensable right vested in all Americans.
Levy and Podesta, along with AFER's lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, spoke at this Cato Institute forum. And Levy also wrote about the case in this New York Daily News column. In this 7-minute video Levy, Podesta, Olson, and Boies make the case for equality in marriage law:

Posted on February 7, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Case for Gold — Again

In the New York Times, Floyd Norris reminds us:
The 1980 presidential election was fought by a Democratic incumbent weakened by a poor economy amid worries that the United States had lost its ability to compete in the world. Gold prices had risen to unprecedented levels as the election approached, and the Republican nominee hinted he might propose a return to a gold standard. That Republican, Ronald Reagan, won the election and soon appointed a commission to study the role of gold in monetary systems.
And now:
Last month, Newt Gingrich, seeking to widen his support in the days leading up to the South Carolina primary, promised that he would appoint a new gold commission. “Part of our approach ought to be to re-establish something Ronald Reagan did in 1981 and that is to have a commission on gold to look at the whole concept of how do we get back to hard money,” he said in a speech.
Whatever the likelihood of Gingrich's ever being in position to appoint a presidential commission, the minority report of the U.S. Gold Commission, by Rep. Ron Paul and Lewis Lehrman, still makes for worthwhile reading. And conveniently enough, it's available right here at the Cato Institute. Download a pdf or epub here. For a more recent analysis, read "Is the Gold Standard Still the Gold Standard among Monetary Systems?" by Lawrence H. White.

Posted on February 3, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Home Is Where the Congressional District Is

During the congressional redistricting season, you could almost get the idea that members of Congress look at the process this way: 1. I am entitled to be in Congress. 2. I need to figure out which constituents deserve to be represented by me. There have been lots of stories recently about members of Congress declaring that "home is where the congressional district is." Here's the latest:
Tea party firebrand Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) announced Tuesday that he will switch districts and run for reelection in Florida’s new 18th district. West’s 22nd district, which was already Democratic-leaning, got even tougher under a new GOP redistricting plan released last week. The new district would have gone about 57 percent for President Obama in the 2008 presidential race. But Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-Fla.) decision earlier Tuesday to run in the open and Republican-leaning 17th district rather than the swing 18th freed West up to make the switch to the neighboring district, which is just north of his current district, which spans from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. “Congressman Rooney is a statesman and has been an honorable public servant to the constituents of Florida’s 16th Congressional district,” West said, referring to Rooney’s current district, which is re-numbered from 16 to 18 under the new plan. “It is my goal to continue the success Congressman Rooney has had in Florida’s 16th Congressional district in the newly proposed 18th district."
Glad that's working out for everybody. Meanwhile, here are a few other cases:
Pleasanton's own Rep. Jerry McNerney has looked at the changes coming in California's soon-to-be-drawn political map and has made a decision: He's moving east, along with his district, to San Joaquin County. Where in San Joaquin Co? Uh..... "When he settles on a place in San Joaquin County we'll announce the location," spokesperson Sarah Hersh told us…. "After spending so much time in San Joaquin County, it truly is my home," McNerney said Thursday. "That's why I'm planning to move my residence to San Joaquin County and put down even more roots in this community." --San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 2011 With Rep. Grace Napolitano’s decision this week to run in the 32nd district east of Los Angeles, fellow California Democratic Rep. Linda Sánchez announced Thursday that she will run in the newly drawn 38th district…. Had Napolitano not switched, Sánchez could have opted to run in the open 47th district based in Long Beach, which mostly lies outside her current district. --Roll Call, September 1, 2011  House hopefuls across the country are busy building their 2012 campaigns — hiring staff, raising money and wooing early support. For some, the only thing missing is a seat to run for. Call it the ghost district phenomenon: The once-a-decade drawing of new congressional maps has thrust some candidates into an awkward limbo, with at least a dozen running for seats that don’t yet exist but that will be crafted in the months to come. -- Politico, September 6, 2011

Posted on February 2, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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