Monthly Archives: February 2009

Contributor Jason Pye On Fox News

Congrats to my fellow blogger Jason Pye, who was selected for a roundtable discussion on Neal Cavuto’s show on Fox News. Jason was one of the “Tea Party” protesters in Atlanta. Good job!

Cavuto was somewhat flippant about the limited nature of these protests. I sincerely hope that future protests grow, because this is an issue too important to be dismissed as a “tiny minority” viewpoint.

Taxes Are A Positional Good

Ezra Klein, suggesting he’d rather be poorer and more equal than richer and more unequal:

Robert Frank explains this well in his book Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, but a nice way to think about it is through housing: Would you rather live in a land where you had a 4,000-square-foot house and everyone else had a 6,000-square-foot house, or one in which you had a 3,000-square-foot house and everyone else had a 2,000-square-foot house? Given this choice, studies show that most respondents pick the latter. They’d rather have less home in absolute terms if it means more home in relative terms. That makes housing a positional good.

Being concerned with one’s relative position rather than one’s absolute position is not irrational or merely motivated by envy.

Well, first things first — I’d definitely call it irrational and motivated by envy. It may be common, but that doesn’t make it rational. Rationally, increasing absolute wealth is a good thing, while irrationally, other people’s absolute wealth increasing faster than yours is a bad thing. This is another area where it is not a zero-sum game, so there is no rational reason to feel bad about other people improving faster than you do.

But that’s not where I’m going with this. This is about taxes, and something that Friedrich Hayek said a long time ago:

It would probably be true, on the other hand, to say that the illusion that by means of progressive taxation the burden can be shifted substantially onto the shoulders of the wealthy has been the chief reason why taxation has increased as fast as it has done and that, under the influence of this illusion, the masses have come to accept a much heavier load than they would have done otherwise. The only major result of the policy has been the severe limitation of the incomes that could be earned by the most successful and thereby gratification of the envy of the less-well-off.

He’s saying that the middle class is willing to accept higher tax burdens, as long as those above them are getting absolutely soaked. Is that irrational?

Well, let’s say I work for a living and make the median household income of $50,000/year. I work hard, and every paycheck I see money taken out of my paycheck for taxes — for the sake of argument, $10,000/year. My neighbor, on the other hand, is working very hard at a higher-paying job, making $100,000/year, but is paying the same flat tax rate of 20%, thus $20,000/year.

If Ezra Klein is right about the rationality of positional goods, it makes perfect sense for me to be happy if my taxes are raised to $20,000/year (40%), as long as my neighbor’s taxes are raised to $50,000/year (50%). In what bizarro world should it be rational that I be happier to give up $10,000/year more to the government if I simply think that those making more that me are getting soaked even worse?

I often behave and argue as if government is incompetent. They’re not — they’re just working in their own interest rather than ours. I’m sure that politicians are well aware of the fact that increasing marginal tax rates on the rich will make it easier for the middle and lower classes to expect tax increases as well. They can then hide the high rates on their rich donors through loopholes, while soaking the middle class, where the money is. Politicians are very useful at using psychology: very useful at using it against us.

Reason.tv “Messes with Joe”

Despite President Obama’s assertion that “Nobody messes with Joe” in his speech before congress on Tuesday, Reason.tv does just that in this video entitled Real Man of Genius: Joe Biden

Just when we thought that with Bush being replaced by a virtually “parody proof*” Barack Obama would make life difficult for comedians, satirists, humorists, and bloggers, Joe Biden comes through in a big way! Between his goofy grin and tendency to place his foot firmly in his mouth at any moment, our new vice president is the gift which keeps giving.

Far from “No one messes with Joe,” how can anyone NOT mess with Joe?

» Read more

Doublespeak — We’re Not Going To Nationalize

What would they call this, then?

A new Citigroup deal has finally been announced by the Treasury. The government will convert $25 billion in preferred shares to common shares. The move could give the Treasury close to a 36% stake in the company. The government’s influence is becoming apparent. Citi will eliminate its dividend and is facing pressure to participate in a new foreclosure prevention programme.

Democratic Leaders Oppose Return Of “Assault Weapons” Ban

The announcement by Eric Holder that I wrote about yesterday regarding the return of the “assault weapons” ban received this very interesting reception from Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will join Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in opposing any effort to revive the 1994 assault weapons ban, putting them on the opposite side of the Obama administration.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the Nevada Democrat will preserve his traditional pro-gun rights voting record.

“Senator Reid would oppose an effort (to) reinstate the ban if the Senate were to vote on it in the future,” Manley told The Hill in an e-mail late Thursday night.

It was not immediately clear whether Reid would block the bill from the Senate, but his opposition casts serious doubt on its chances. Also, Manley noted that Reid voted against the ban in 1994 and again when it expired in 2004.

Reid’s stance joins him with Pelosi, who told reporters Thursday that the administration had not checked with her before Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters the administration would attempt to reinstate the ban. Pelosi gave a flat “no” when asked if she had spoken to Holder or any other administration officials about the issue.

“On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. “I think it’s clear the Bush administration didn’t do that.”

Outside of the dig at the recent Republican president, that phrase is the stock line of those who don’t want to pass new gun control laws, such as the National Rifle Association.

So does this mean that Democrats in Congress are finding some new respect for Second Amendment rights ?

Well, not really:

A number of House Democrats lost their seats after being targeted by the National Rifle Association for voting for the 1994 ban.

Pelosi and Reid do not want this because they don’t want it to become an issue in 2010 they way it was in 1994.

Pure politics, but I’ll take what I can get on this.

H/T: QandO

$4 Trillion

When leftists start arguing about how much laissez-faire capitalism we experienced under the Bush adminstration, I often point out that he was the first President to preside over a $2T budget, and he was also the first to propose a $3T budget (for FY’09).

I expected Obama to spend more than Bush — but I didn’t think it would be this bad:

Details on president Barack Obama’s first budget are out today, and there is no shortage of eye-popping numbers. Total budgeted spending in fiscal 2009 (which began five months ago) will reach nearly $4 trillion, or nearly 30% of American GDP. The deficit for the year is expected to be about $1.75 trillion. As budgeted, the deficit will decline to just over $1.1 trillion in fiscal 2010, and to about $500 billion by the end of Mr Obama’s first term—close to, but still above, last year’s deficit of $459 billion. The drop is less ambitious than it sounds, however; it is primarily due to a winding down of spending in Iraq and the expiration of Bush era tax cuts. It will take harder choices to move the budget toward balance.

You can play around with the numbers a bit; i.e. the 2010 budget itself is somewhere between $3.5T and $4T, but when you include $750B in “room” for a bank bailout that we “might” need — and it’s not clear whether that’s FY’09 or FY’10 — I think you can see that planned spending is likely to top that $4T mark. Likewise, in Obama’s defense, if he’s actually living up to his promise of taking the “off-budget” spending of the Bush administration and putting it on-budget, that might not be as big of an increase as it looks.

But it’s still big. It’s still a number that should scare the hell out of most Americans. It places federal government spending at roughly a third of GDP — which doesn’t include state and local spending, of course. We’re going to be nearing a point where government, all levels combined, spend half of GDP. If anyone believed we had a true free market before, I’m sure they’ll change their minds.

And his deficit reductions [of the deficits he’s creating]? Well, it’s a combination of tax hikes, reduction in Iraq spending, and an assumption of 4% GDP growth rates. I guess it’s because he’s figuring in the Keynesian multiplier effect of all his wonderful proposals, huh?

Oh, in completely unrelated news, 2008 was the biggest year on record for lobbyists — and 2009 is expected to be bigger:

So the $3.2 billion bonanza for lobbyists in 2008 was just a precursor of the lollapalooza to come. Within three weeks of Obama’s inauguration, the Washington Post reported that more than 90 organizations had hired lobbyists specifically to influence the stimulus bill.

Hmm, a link between ever-increasing budgets and your friendly K-Street fellows trying to influence how that money is being spent? By “most open and transparent administration in history”, is Obama just suggesting that the “Open for Business” sign will be displayed prominently in the window of the White House? I’m sure it doesn’t mean that he’s installing a “No Solicitors” sign.

Quick Thought — Bobby Jindal Will Never Be President

Again, this is why I hate politics. Now, I know little about Jindal personally, and not being from Louisiana, don’t know how good of a president he’ll make. I’ve really only seen him on TV for a very short time, in response to Obama’s non-SOTU speech.

But I was immediately struck with the same sort of vibe I get from watching a Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or to a lesser extent, Ron Paul type. It didn’t take long. I didn’t watch for more than a few minutes, but it was as clear as watching one of Pelosi’s responses to Bush’s SOTU speeches. It was a forgotten address before Jindal even stopped speaking.

There is a level to which candidates need charisma to succeed. Reagan, Clinton, and Obama have it in spades. Both Bushes 41 and 43 had a little bit of it, but by far had more than Dukakis, Gore, or Kerry. Bobby Jindal doesn’t have any of it.

It’s a sad statement on politics, but even if he had the best and most impressive ideological beliefs of any person in the country, he simply won’t be President, because he can’t own the stage.

Live Chat With Mayor Cheye Calvo Tonight @ 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) @ The Agitator

Check in this Thursday night at 8pm ET with your questions for Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who was subject to a violent, botched drug raid last year.

Calvo’s pushing legislation that would bring transparency to how Maryland’s police departments use their SWAT teams.

I’m hoping to be home in time to participate in this chat because I am very interested in what Mayor Calvo has to say. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the mayor spoke at a Cato Policy Forum on September 12, 2008. The full 90 minute podcast can be downloaded here; the podcast below is a much shorter (just under 9 minutes) interview with the mayor following the Cato event.

Post Chat Report:
The chat with Mayor Calvo ended just a few minutes ago. The mayor stayed about a half hour over the scheduled chat to answer more questions from participants. I managed to have a couple of questions answered and the other questions which were asked were also very good. The chat was very informative and worthwhile. Readers who would like to read the full chat can click here.

The mayor answered questions about his ordeal with the SWAT team raiding his home as well as some legislation he is pushing in the State of Maryland. The proposed legislation would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the Attorney General, local officials and the general public. These reports would provide the number of raids, general locations, purpose, authorization, and results of raids. The overall goal is to provide additional oversight.

For more information about this legislation and how you can help, go to MakeMarylandGreat.com.

Only Fourteen Years To Go

Statistics guru Nate Silver posits that public support will be sufficiently strong that marijuana will be legalized by 2022:

potFirstly, although support for legalization has grown, it remains the minority position. Secondly, although there has been a long, slow-moving upward trend in favor of legalization since roughly 1992, there is no guarantee that public sentiment will continue to move in that direction: support for legalization had grown to about 30 percent in the mid 1970s before dropping significantly during the Just Say No years of the 1980s.

Still, the position no longer holds the stigma that it once did. About as many Americans now support legalizing marijuana as do de-legalizing abortion. The past three Presidents have admitted, more or less, to marijuana use. Thirteen states have some form of decriminalization on the books, while fourteen permit medical use of the drug, although it is not clear how robust those provisions are as they are superseded by federal law.

(…)

My guess is that we’ll need to see a supermajority of Americans in favor of decriminalizing pot before the federal government would dare to take action on it. If the upward trend since 1990 holds (and recall my earlier caution: it might not), then legalization would achieve 60 percent support at some point in 2022 or 2023. About then is when things might get interesting. But I’d guess we’ll see other some other once-unthinkable things like legalized gay marriage first.

Seems like a long time to wait for the insanity to end, no ?

Obama Administration To Seek Return Of “Assault” Weapons Ban

Back during the height of the General Election campaign, then-candidate Obama had this to say on the subject of Second Amendment rights:

A woman in the crowd told Obama she had “heard a rumor” that he might be planning some sort of gun ban upon being elected president. Obama trotted out his standard policy stance, that he had a deep respect for the “traditions of gun ownership” but favored measures in big cities to keep guns out of the hands of “gang bangers and drug dealers’’ in big cities “who already have them and are shooting people.”

“If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it,’’ Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns.’’

Well, what a difference an Inauguration makes:

The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

“As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons,” Holder told reporters.

Change we can believe in !

Colorado General Assembly to Consider Repealing Death Penalty; Savings to be Used to Solve Cold Cases

For reasons I have expressed in earlier posts, I am opposed to the death penalty. I simply do not trust our criminal justice system enough to make a life or death decision on the innocence or guilt of an individual (based on recent news concerning Dr. West and others, it seems my distrust in the system is completely justified). I am very pleased to learn that the Colorado General Assembly is taking a hard look at this issue and considering repealing the death penalty and using the money saved to help investigate cold cases.

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

The idea of abolishing the death penalty in Colorado and using the money it takes to prosecute such cases to solve so-called cold cases stirred debate in a House committee late into the night Monday.

House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, revived his bill that just missed passing the House in 2007. The threat of death does not deter people from committing murders, he said, and the $370,000 spent to prosecute those cases could be better spent on investigating unsolved murders.
Since 1967, Colorado has executed one person and there are only two people on death row, Weissmann said. During that time, there have been 1,435 unsolved homicides.

Considering that the death penalty is so rarely enforced in Colorado, it seems to me that even those who support the death penalty should recognize the incredible costs associated with placing less than a handful of individuals on death row. The families of these 1,435 victims have just as much right to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice as those who wait for the day of execution for the ones who have taken their loved ones from them.

The article continues:

But several opponents of Weissmann’s bill said it’s based on a false argument.

Attorney General John Suthers noted that the Homicide Assistance Unit that works to solve and prosecute death penalty cases also has assisted 19 of the state’s 22 judicial districts with cold cases.

Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Ron Sloan said that a Cold Case Task Force formed in 2007 is nearing the point where it will bring together federal, state and local analysts to review cases that are referred to it.

Plus, Suthers said, there are times when the possibility of receiving the death penalty is necessary to deter crimes. Those include instances in which someone who has been sentenced to or is facing life in prison might want to kill witnesses or commit an act of terrorism, he said.

I disagree that the bill makes a “false argument.” If the state saves $370,000 by no longer prosecuting death penalty cases, that’s $370,000 the cold case units have to work with that they currently do not. And if Colorado has only executed one person since 1967, how does having the death penalty on the books deter individuals from committing homicide?

I think we all instinctively know the answer: it doesn’t.

Morning Reading: The Legalization Of Homebrewing

This one is more of a personal thing for me (since I homebrew), but Reason’s Greg Beato has a nice story about the legalization of homebrewing.

After Prohibition, a little wrinkle in the law allowed home wine making, but not home beer making. As the consolidation of the beer market reached its peak, people replaced homebrewing for necessity with homebrewing for flavor — despite the illegality.

I’ve often called the legalization of homebrewing in 1978 “the one good thing Jimmy Carter ever did”; I thought it was something he drove due to his brother. The story, on the other hand, shows that it was one of those little changes almost snuck into a bill by an obscure congressman and passed with little debate or even fanfare.

Congress made a small change to remove an antiquated and unnecessary restriction on human freedom, and in 30 years we’ve seen the American beer scene rise from the depths of homogeneity to become one of the most vibrant beer-making countries in the world. A little liberty goes a long way.

Maybe the next step will finally be the legalization of home distilling?

I love it when Dilbert gets political

Dilbert.com
I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

California Assemblyman: Legalize Marijuana & Tax It

One California Assemblyman is saying it’s time to consider treating marijuana like alcohol:

An assemblyman from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

Buoyed by the widely held belief that cannabis is California’s biggest cash crop, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano contends it is time to reap some state revenue from that harvest while putting a damper on drug use by teens, cutting police costs and even helping Mother Nature.

“I know the jokes are going to be coming, but this is not a frivolous issue,” said Ammiano, a Democrat elected in November after more than a dozen years as a San Francisco supervisor. “California always takes the lead — on gay marriage, the sanctuary movement, medical marijuana.”

Anti-drug groups are anything but amused by the idea of California collecting a windfall from the leafy herb that remains illegal under federal law.

“This would open another door in Pandora’s box,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of Save Our Society From Drugs. “Legalizing drugs like this would create a whole new set of costs for society.”

Ammiano’s measure, AB 390, would essentially replicate the regulatory structure used for beer, wine and hard liquor, with taxed sales barred to anyone under 21.

Ammiano also points to a financial benefit to the state from legalization:

[T]he biggest boon might be to the bottom line. By some estimates, California’s pot crop is a $14-billion industry, putting it above vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion). If so, that could mean upward of $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year.

While I’m not a fan of the taxation side of the argument, I also know that it’s an ineviable part of any legalization/decriminalization scheme that would be implemented.

It works for alcohol, why not marijuana ?

H/T: Outside The Beltway

Kids’ Nutrition Choices Made By Lobbyists, Not Doctors

Kevin Drum tells us “the reality is, this is how things get done”. In the below exchange, Kevin is MJ (Mother Jones), and Michael Pollan (Berkeley journalism prof & food author) is MP:

MJ: Does WIC [the Women, Infants, and Children program] still specify that you buy dairy?

MP: Yes. We had a huge fight to get a little more produce in the WIC basket, which is heavy on cheese and milk because the dairy lobby is very powerful. So they fought and they fought and they fought, and they got a bunch of carrots in there. [Laughs.]

MJ: Specifically? Who knew: the carrot lobby?

MP: Specifically carrots. The next big lobby. But there is also money in this farm bill for fresh produce in school lunch. The price of getting the subsidies was getting the California delegation on board, and their price was $2 billon for what are called specialty crops — fresh fruit and produce grown largely in California.

I would point out to Kevin that this not “how things get done” in my family. In my family, I [more accurately my wife] decides what the children eat, and we do so out of true and sincere care for their well-being. I’m not going to say that our decisions are always right, but they always incorporate the best knowledge we can find. I have no lobbyists showing up at my door paying me to feed my kids carrots instead of broccoli, and thus nothing to cloud my judgement.

Sadly, this is how things get done in government — a fact which I think would point more people towards libertarianism than many others.

Americans idealize government. We act as if it’s populated by well-meaning experts, who want nothing more than to provide humanity with their expertise and are looking out for us. We view them as able to integrate the demands of a wide-ranging polity into optimum policy, using their judgement and experience to improve life for all. Even more, we think they care about us.

The reality, on the other hand, is that government is a job. You do your job to satisfy your customers, which in politics is more often lobbyists than the general public. Why is dairy such a high component of WIC? Because the dairy lobby is enormous. Why did carrots — rather than broccoli, or asparagus, or cauliflower — get such favor? Because the carrot lobby, as strange as it may seem, is powerful. Seriously… CARROT LOBBY! If those two words placed in that order don’t disgust people about the arbitrary and capricious nature of government decision-making, you need to wake up.

The first step to mentally breaking with the government is to understand that government bureaucrats have their own interests — not yours — at heart. This isn’t a revelation. It occurs in business — workers often have goals that serve themselves more than their employer (such as a drive to earn a raise even if business conditions are down), and businesses often have goals that are counter to the best wishes of their customers (i.e. to earn the largest profit the market will bear to keep the doors open and please their shareholders). We understand in most commercial situations that we need to look out for ourselves, but then assume that the government is “looking out for us” in all others. When you assume the best about government bureaucrats, it blinds you to the fact that you’re giving these people coercive power and you can’t be sure that they’re going to use it in your interests.

As George Washington said:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Government doesn’t have the best methods for making decisions. That’s why libertarians don’t want government making many decisions.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished by Government

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

He may have saved three lives, but RTD bus driver Jim Moffett got a jaywalking ticket anyway, along with broken bones and internal bleeding.

Moffett, 58, was driving an RTD bus southbound on Federal Boulevard at 62nd Avenue about 9 Friday night, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

A couple of elderly women exited the bus and tried to walk across Federal to their trailer home on the east side, Moffett’s stepson, Ken McDonald said today.

“With that light snowstorm, my stepdad didn’t think they could cross the street safely,” McDonald said. “There’s a six- or seven-block area where there’s really no place to cross.

“So he got off the bus with another passenger and they helped the ladies cross,” he said.
The four people had made it about halfway across Federal, and most of the northbound traffic had slowed to let them go the rest of the way, McDonald said.

“But one pick-up driver got impatient and passed in the left hand turn lane,” McDonald said. “He plowed right into my stepdad — but not before he pushed the old ladies and the other guy out of the way.”

Moffett is at St. Anthony Central Medical Center with bleeding in the brain, broken bones in his face, a dislocated shoulder, a broken wrist and possible ruptured spleen and liver, McDonald said. His right knee needs a complete rebuild.

[…]

Moffett can’t believe he got a jaywalking ticket for his trouble. His stepson calls it “absolutely obscene.”

McDonald said his stepfather didn’t choose the route across the road, the elderly women had already started across. “And there’s not a safe place to cross the road anyway on that whole stretch.”

I cannot tell how many times I have seen people illegally cross this very street after dark; I have never seen a police officer stop someone or issue a citation for jaywalking. But now when an individual puts himself at risk and possibly saves the lives of three people? Well obviously, this man needs to pay a fine…can’t you see he broke the law!

It’s Time To Lower The Drinking Age

Last night 60 Minutes ran an interesting piece about the suggestion from some that the drinking age be lowered back to 18:

(CBS) Last fall, a group of over 100 college presidents – including the heads of Dartmouth, Virginia Tech and Duke – signed a declaration stating that the 21-year-old drinking age is not working, and fireworks went off.

But the college presidents got what they wanted: a national debate about the drinking age.

When the age was raised to 21 in the mid-1980s, the goal was to reduce highway fatalities. But everyone knows that the 21 age limit hasn’t stopped minors from drinking.

And now some experts believe it’s actually contributing to an increase in extreme drinking

Here’s the video of the entire report, which is worth watching:


Watch CBS Videos Online

I don’t agree with the suggestion that John McCardell, the former President of Middelbury College, makes at the end of the report, that a return to an 18 year-old drinking age be accompanied by a combination of alcohol education in high school and “drinking licenses” that allow someone to purchase alcohol.

The education idea is on the right track, but the idea of the government issuing licenses to people to “allow” them to consume alcohol strikes me as a step down the road toward the return of neo-Prohibitionism.

This much is clear, raising the drinking age to 21 has not curbed drinking among people aged 18, 19, and 20, and it may have helped make the situation far worse than it would be otherwise.

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