Monthly Archives: March 2010

The First Amendment Protects Ann Coulter, William Ayers, And The Westboro Baptist Church

This morning brings the news that a speech by former Weather Underground leader William Ayers at the University of Wyoming has been canceled:

The University of Wyoming announced Tuesday that a public lecture by William “Bill” Ayers, a former 1970s radical antiwar protestor who is now a university professor, has been canceled.

Ayers, 65, a distinguished professor of education and senior scholar at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), had been scheduled to give a public lecture from 4-6 p.m. Monday in the UW Education Auditorium.

The public lecture had been sponsored by the UW Social Justice Research Center, which is a privately endowed center that studies problems of oppression and inequalities among different social groups.

Titled “Trudge Toward Freedom: Educational Research in the Public Interest,” the talk would have focused on what makes education in a democracy different from other societies, as well as the importance of teachers seeing their students are more than just students, but whole human beings.

UW released a statement on its Web site on Tuesday afternoon explaining why the Social Justice Research Center had decided to cancel Ayers’ visit.

In the statement, the director of the center, UW Educational Studies chair Francisco Rios, apologized to the university community for any harm that may have come to it, and cited personal and professional reasons — including safety concerns — for the cancellation.

This is pretty much the same reason that the University of Ottawa used when it canceled Ann Coulter’s speech there a week or so back.

And it’s bogus.

First of all, it’s worth noting that the University of Wyoming is a public institution so the First Amendment applies. The fact that Ayers is controversial, or that he’ll say things that might offend people, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to say it. In fact, as I noted some four years when I first discussed the Westboro Baptist Church protesters, offensive speech is perhaps the most important speech to protect:

Over the past several weeks, several states have taken steps to prevent protesters from picketing at funerals, a move propelled by the fact that an objectively offensive group of extreme Christians have been staging protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq claiming that the deaths America is experiencing in Iraq are God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality. Offensive ? Absolutely ? Should they have the right to be offensive ? I can’t see any reason why not.

Freedom of speech means that, sometimes, we will hear some truly offensive things. When government starts regulating speech based on the fact that it may offend, though, it diminishes freedom for everyone.

Exactly. I despise the Westboro Baptist Church protesters, I think Ann Coulter is mostly an idiot, and really don’t care what a tired old leftist like Bill Ayers has to say. Nonetheless, they all have a right to say it.

C/P: Below The Beltway

TLP Bracket Challenge Update — And Then There Were Two

The NCAA Tournament has been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with more major upsets than just about anyone could have rationally expected. As such, even prior to the Final Four, we’ve seen just about every entrant in the Liberty Papers Bracket Challenge go bust. Below are the standings:

1. Nate McHugh – 277
2. Brad Warbiany – 262
3. Brad Porter – 254
4. liberty for kids – 253
5. nic stersic – 248
10. William Satterwhite – 231

Why did I include the #10 spot? Because the competition can now only be won by Nate McHugh or William Satterwhite. Everyone else is mathematically eliminated.

Nate has Kansas [eliminated] winning the whole thing; William has Duke. With Nate’s big lead, all he needs to do to win is for Duke *not* to win the whole thing. He doesn’t need WVU to beat Duke, he simply needs Duke to lose either against WVU or in the championship game. William needs Duke to win out, which would give him a two-point advantage and the win in the final standings.

Good luck Nate, and good luck William.

Instead Of Trying To Save The Post Office, Let’s Try Freedom Instead

It’s been rumored for more than a year now, but the U.S. Postal Service is taking the first steps toward eliminating Saturday mail delivery:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Saturday mail could be one step closer to cancellation when the United States Postal Service submits an official proposal to a government regulatory board on Tuesday to eliminate 6-day delivery.

A new 5-day delivery schedule could save the cash-strapped Post Office $3 billion annually, the agency said. Earlier this month, USPS said it plans to incur about $238 billion in losses in the next 10 years if it doesn’t revamp its outdated business model.

“Every day, every month, every year this gets delayed, we end up further in the hole,” said USPS Deputy Postmaster Patrick Donahoe at a Monday briefing in New York.

Donahoe said a service cut would result in the loss of about 40,000 full-time jobs. About 600,000 workers currently work for the Post Office.

The Post Office hopes to drop Saturday mail in its next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. But first, it has to jump through a series of regulatory hoops that could take much longer.

Although it’s an independent government agency and does not receive taxpayer dollars, USPS is overseen by the Postal Regulatory Commission, a separate government agency with five commissioners appointed by the president.

Ruth Goldway, chairwoman of the commission, said that once the board receives the proposal, it will open the issue to public comments and hold hearings throughout the country.

This, of course, is part of the USPS’s problem. If it were a real business, with competitors, it wouldn’t need to seek government permission to engage in cost cutting moves like this.

The Post Office has already set up a website explaining why the move to five day delivery is necessary, and a new poll shows that most Americans support eliminating Saturday delivery:

A majority of Americans support ending Saturday mail deliveries to help the U.S. Postal Service solve its financial problems, but most oppose shuttering local branches, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The public support for moving to five-day deliveries may bolster a new proposal to end six-day deliveries to help the mail agency trim hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2020.

Cutting Saturday mail deliveries would save $3.3 billion in its first year and about $5.1 billion annually by 2020, Postmaster General John E. Potter said Monday. But the changes would also mean cutting the equivalent of 40,000 full- and part-time jobs through layoffs and attrition, Potter said as he prepared to formally submit his proposals to postal regulators on Tuesday.

Under the plan letter carriers would stop delivering mail to American homes and businesses and would not pick up mail from blue collection boxes on Saturdays. Post offices would stay open on Saturdays and mail would be delivered to post office boxes. Mail accepted at post offices on Saturday would be processed on Monday. Express mail and remittance mail services also would continue seven days a week.

Potter’s proposal has the support of 71 percent of Americans, with most Democrats, Republicans and independents in favor of the idea, according to the poll.

It sounds like a good idea, but over at Cato@Liberty, Ted DeHaven has an even better one:

Here’s a better idea: give Americans the freedom to choose the mail services they want by repealing the USPS monopoly. That way consumers and businesses could choose to provide and use mail services zero days a week or seven days a week.

Online movie rental services like Netflix offer a small example. A lot of folks time their Netflix rentals so that they have movies for Saturday night. Eliminating Saturday delivery will necessarily degrade the quality of online movie rental services that people are paying for. With competition, Netflix could offer Saturday (or even Sunday) delivery through a private alternative. Perhaps there would be a surcharge, but at least consumers would be allowed to make that choice.

(…)

I find it more impressive that I can go into a grocery store almost anywhere in the country and be met with an incalculable number of choices. Take Coke products for instance. I recently made a list of the various Coke products available to me at a local grocery store. The following is just a sample: regular Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine-Free Coke, Diet Caffeine-free Coke, Coke Zero, Coke with Splenda, Coke with Lime, Coke with Lemon, and Diet Coke Plus. Don’t like Coke? There’s a similar array of Pepsi products. Don’t like either? The grocery stores also offer pricier micro-brands with all sorts of unique flavors.

These choices reflect the awesome power of the market, which provides nearly all the goods and services people want without any direction from officials in Washington. It would interesting to see what sorts of innovations and products private mail deliverers would come up with if the government’s mail monopoly didn’t exist. Instead, Americans are stuck with a government operation whose floundering business model will require it to raise prices while simultaneously reducing its services. So much for freedom of choice.

Eliminating Saturday delivery is likely to help the USPS achieve fiscal solvency, but it will only be temporary. The forces of technology that are making much of the mail obsolete will continue to work in ways that we can’t begin to anticipate and, some day not to long from now, we’ll be reading they want to cut back to a four day a week schedule to “save money.”

Instead of going through all that, let’s do what we should have done a long time ago — privatize the mail.

Stossel On Government Schools

From his blog at Fox Business Network, John Stossel has this on government schools:

It’s absurd that powerful Americans consider it normal that they must move their residence or manipulate politicians to get their kids into a good school No one has do that to buy an iphone, or a good restaurant meal In every business besides education, successful producers expand. When more people started liking McDonalds – there were no lines around the block, because McDonalds expanded to meet demand.

What exactly is Stossel talking about? Yet another corrupt Obama administration official.

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

The American education system can be best described as “all children are equal but some are more equal than others”. This is because of the way we have structured government schools. While most of these special requests were rejected by Duncan, the fact that Chicago’s ruling elite could even make these special requests is troubling. Expect Chicago-style school admission policies to spread nationwide as Obama completes what his predecessor started when he likely nationalizes the education system this year. America’s health care system will be heading on this track soon.

If we had school choice via vouchers, parents could decide where their children are educated, not government bureaucrats. Good schools will expand to take in more children while bad schools will improve in order to stay in business.

Until your state gets a real school choice program, if you are able to, get your children out of government schools. Put them in a private school or better yet, homeschool them yourself. Ever since government involvement increased in education, students have been dumbed down and our nation has become less free. Teacher’s unions continue to demand pay raises and obscene benefits without being held accountable for student performance.

If our country is to regain its freedom, the government education monopoly must be broken.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Don’t Say You Want A Revolution

Over at United Liberty, Kevin Boyd puts forward the best case I’ve seen to date against the idea that we are anywhere near the point where rebellion is justified:

For those of you out there who think this is the time for revolution, please consider the following:

1) All political and legal options have not been exhausted. There are Congressional elections in November 2010 and Presidential elections in November 2012. Use this anger and energy to donate money and support candidates who support liberty and who will fix/repeal Obamacare. In addition, many states have filed lawsuits challenging Obamacare and those lawsuits need time to work their way through the courts.

2) The right to free speech and to petition grievances is still in effect. Obamacare opponents can still express their opposition views to the public. Such views are common place on talk radio, the Internet, the newspapers, and as a matter all over the place. Obamacare opponents are not being thrown in jail or being silenced by the state.

3) Obama and the Democrats did win the past two elections and have a mandate. Obama’s election victory in 2008 and the Democratic control of Congress by definition gives them the mandate to pass whatever legislation they want, as long as it is upheld as legal. That mandate can only be revoked by their electoral defeat in 2010 and 2012.

4) The Founders did not intend for revolution over trival matters. Before the Founders declared independence, there were numerous attempts at resolving the crisis with the British peacefully. Make no mistake, Obamacare is a trival matter in the scheme of things and does not rise to the matter of “taxation without representation”. The major reason why some Americans threaten revoluton over trival matters is the fact that after the last Civil War, the Union was far too kind to the former Confederates. By all rights, the Union should have executed the remnants of the Confederate government and the Confederate general staff for treason. Maybe this would have detered the trivialization of revolution that we see in this country.

Specifically, in the most important part of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson set forth the criteria for when armed rebellion is justified:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, ? That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security

In other words, taking up armed rebellion is not something that should be done for light or trivial reasons. Nor it is something that should be done when there are other, less violent methods for effecting political change.

This also applies to all the rhetoric that we’ve heard, none of it serious and most of it dangerous, regarding secession since, as I explained several years ago, secession is little more than a form of rebellion and must be judged based on the same standards.

So let’s stop all this talk about rebellions. Let’s give up the silly idea that whatever state we live in is going to secede when ObamaCare finally comes into full effect. Neither of those are going to happen.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that the American Revolution is something of an historical anomaly. Most revolutions throughout history, whether in France in 1789, Central Europe in 1848, Russia in 1917, the myriad of anti-Colonialist revolutions that have, or Cuba in 1959, most revolutions have resulted in dictatorial government and misery for the people. We dodged a bullet one, history suggests we wouldn’t be so lucky a second time.

Kevin ends with the only productive strategy that is left:

What those of us who love liberty need to do is step back and channel our anger into more productive means than dreaming about and threatening revolution. We need to build our own political mandate, a mandate for liberty.

Amen

Will The Supreme Court Strike Down ObamaCare ? Don’t Be So Quick To Say Yes

The New York Times’ long-time SCOTUS reporter Linda Greenhouse takes a look at how the current court might look at the challenges to the health care reform law:

The challengers invoke and seek to build upon the Rehnquist court’s “federalism revolution” that flowered briefly during the 1990’s. In a series of 5-to-4 rulings, the court took a view of Congressional authority that was narrower than at any time since the early New Deal. The court struck down a federal law that barred guns near schools, on the ground that possession of a gun near a school was not the type of activity that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause authorized Congress to regulate. It ruled that Congress could not require states to give their employees the protections of the federal laws against discrimination on the basis of age or disability. It ruled that the federal government couldn’t “commandeer” state officials to perform federal functions like federally mandated background checks of gun purchasers.

As Greenhouse points out, though, the Roberts Court is very, very different from the 1990s Rehnquist Court when it comes to issues regarding the power of the Federal Government:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is not William Rehnquist, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is not Sandra Day O’Connor. John Roberts has made his career inside the Beltway ever since coming to Washington to clerk for Rehnquist. As for Sam Alito, I don’t believe that apart from a brief part-time gig as an adjunct law professor, this former federal prosecutor, Justice Department lawyer and federal judge has cashed a paycheck in his adult life that wasn’t issued by the federal government. Nothing in their backgrounds or in their jurisprudence so far indicates that they are about to sign up with either the Sagebrush Rebellion or the Tea Party.

Chief Justice Roberts appears particularly in tune with the exercise of national power. One of his handful of major dissenting opinions came in the 2007 case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court ordered the federal agency to regulate global warming or give a science-based explanation for its refusal to do so. That case was brought by a group of coastal states, which argued that climate change was lapping at their borders. Chief Justice Roberts objected that the states should not have been accorded standing to pursue their lawsuit. He denounced the “special solicitude” that the court’s majority showed the state plaintiffs. An early Roberts dissenting vote, just months into his first term, came in Gonzales v. Oregon, a 6-to-3 decision rejecting the United States attorney general’s effort to prevent doctors in Oregon from cooperating with that state’s assisted-suicide law.

And, as Damon Root points out, Antonin Scalia can’t be trusted on this issue either:

It’s also worth noting that conservative Justice Antonin Scalia did his part to thwart that “federalism revolution” by siding with the majority in 2005’s disastrous Gonzales v. Raich, which held that the intrastate cultivation and consumption of marijuana somehow still counted as interstate commerce, resulting in the Court striking down California’s popular medical marijuana law.

I noted last week that, as a matter of law, the odds are against the cases challenging the health care law. As Greenhouse and Root demonstrate, it also appears that we’re dealing with a Supreme Court that is not at all inclined to be sympathetic to arguments that limit the power of Congress.

Right now, I would say that the only vote that could probably be counted on to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional is Clarence Thomas’.

Quote Of The Day

Jim Harper @ Reason, on the security of electronic medical records (emphasis added):

Transferring control of health care to the federal government transfers control of health information to the federal government. The government has interests distinct from patients, and no matter how hard one fights to protect patients’ privacy interests, the government’s interests in cost control, social engineering, and such will ineluctably win out.

One of the “selling points” of healthcare reform has been that insurance companies make their profits by denying coverage; their incentive is to not pay whenever they can avoid it. The same people who make this argument assume that a government-run system won’t have these issues; its incentive will be 100% patient care.

Anyone who makes that argument does not understand government. In fact, most of the reason that people don’t comprehend the dysfunction of government is that they assume government’s stated objectives align with its incentives. When you start analyzing the actual incentives, as proponents of public choice theory do, it all starts to make perfect sense. Most of what we consider government incompetence, malfeasance, or dysfunction are simply based on people rationally following perverse incentives. Get your head around that, and it all falls into place.

Federal Court Gives Freedom Of Speech Another Victory Over McCain-Feingold

A Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. put another nail into the coffin of the monstrosity that is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law:

A federal appeals court on Friday handed another victory to conservative opponents of campaign-finance restrictions, striking down limits on individual contributions to independent groups who want to use the money for or against candidates in federal elections.

But in its unanimous decision, the nine-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also said that a conservative group called SpeechNow.org must disclose its donors and other details of its finances to the Federal Election Commission, a requirement that the group had sought to overturn.

Steve Simpson, an attorney who argued the case on behalf of SpeechNow.org, called the decision voiding contribution limits “a tremendous victory for free speech” and said it “ensures that all Americans can band together to make their voices heard during elections.” At the same time, the group decried the decision on disclosure and signaled that it would appeal the issue to the Supreme Court.

The ruling also amounts to a mixed bag for beleagured advocates of campaign-finance restrictions, who are relieved by the disclosure requirements but angered by the court’s decision to strike down limits on contributions to independent political groups. The decision follows from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that corporations are akin to individuals when it comes to political speech and are free to spend as much as they like for or against candidates.

The libertarian Institute for Justice represented the Plaintiffs in this case and had this to say in a press release issued today:

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “Critics of the Citizens United ruling should applaud the decision in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which guarantees individuals and unincorporated groups the same First Amendment right to fund effective speech that Citizens United guaranteed for corporations and unions.”

Unfortunately, although the court’s ruling frees SpeechNow.org to raise money and speak, the court upheld other burdensome requirements identical to those struck down in Citizens United. Gall said, “Laws that are unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors and the AFL-CIO have to be unconstitutional when applied to a volunteer group like SpeechNow.org. The court’s ruling that SpeechNow.org must comply with political committee regulations is just flat wrong.”

Bradley A. Smith, CCP’s chairman and a former FEC chairman, added, “It’s unfortunate that the court did not recognize how political committee status regulation by the FEC places restrictive burdens on grassroots political groups. The court’s decision means that the FEC regulatory regime will continue to favor large, established special interests over ad hoc groups of like-minded citizens who gather together to enhance their voices in politics.”

Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said, “With this ruling, the D.C. Circuit has moved us one step closer to ending this nation’s failed 35-year-old experiment with campaign finance ‘reform’ and restoring the First Amendment to its proper place. The era when incumbent politicians could tinker with freedom of speech to insulate themselves from public criticism is coming to an end.”

And, when that day comes, it will be good for all of us.

Legalization Of Marijuana To Be On California Ballot In November

Advocates of marijuana legalization have succeeded in getting a referendum on the November ballot:

LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) — California will again be the flashpoint in the smoldering debate on legalization of pot as officials said Wednesday the question will be on the November ballot.

Los Angeles County elections officials Wednesday submitted their official estimate of valid signatures collected in the county on a statewide legalization initiative, putting the number of signatures collected statewide over the 433,971 needed to put the measure on the ballot, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The move to legalize marijuana comes 14 years after California decided the controversial weed could be used for medicinal purposes. The initiative would permit people age 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use.

Proponents cite the financial and social cost of enforcing a marijuana prohibition and argue that marijuana isn’t as dangerous and addictive as alcohol or tobacco. Opponents counter with statistics of marijuana-related crimes, rising use among teens and the physical harm pot can cause.

Is this the beginning of the end of the War On (Some) Drugs ? I sure hope so.

Bureaucratic Environmental Protection Agency

The proprietor of Coyote Blog is an entrepreneur specializing in operating camping & recreation facilities. Recently he’s been moving from big pick-up trucks to much smaller, more fuel-efficient, cheaper used Japanese trucks. That is, until the EPA barred their import:

These are trucks that are from an emissions regime (in Japan) harsher than ours and that have three times the gas mileage of the trucks they are replacing. But apparently the EPA doesn’t have rules for them and doesn’t know how to categorize them, and anything a bureaucrat doesn’t have rules for must be illegal, right? So now we are forced to go back to full-size pickup truck purchases until the EPA can catch up with the market.

Your government at work. Causing higher pollution and higher domestic energy usage by banning imports completely until they can fully study the matter — rather than allowing a variance and continuing to import from a more stringent country while doing their study.

But hey, I’m sure Government Motors is happy for the business Coyote might end up sending their way. No conflict of interest there, right?

The Social Security Trust Fund In Kindergarten Terms

Yesterday I had $10 in my right pocket.

I loaned that money to my left pocket, which I like to call my “Right Pocket Trust Fund”. I put an IOU from my left pocket into my right pocket to document the loan.

I then spent that $10 on lunch.

Today my right pocket wants to start collecting on that loan.

——————————

That’s the Social Security Trust Fund. An IOU that requires new taxation, NOT drawing down on savings, to be repaid.

(Inspired by Megan McArdle)

SCOTUS, Not Gov. Perry, Grants Hank Skinner a Reprieve

Hank Skinner will not be executed today. With about an hour left before Skinner was to be taken to the death chamber, SCOTUS put an immediate halt to the process.

Michael Graczyk of the Associated Press reports:

The brief order grants him the delay but does not ensure he will get such [DNA] testing. Perry had not decided on the delay.

[…]

In the order, the justices said they would put off the execution until they decide whether to review his case. If the court refuses the review, the reprieve is lifted, according to the order, and Skinner would become eligible for another execution date.

So it looks like the process is back at square one. If the court refuses the review and the reprieve is lifted, a new date will be set and Skinner’s life will be back in Gov. Rick Perry’s hands. Hopefully this case will generate even more attention than it already has and even more pressure will be placed on Perry and others to make sure the DNA testing takes place if SCOTUS doesn’t force the issue first.

There certainly are no guarantees other than the fact that Texas will not risk killing an innocent man on this day.

Related:
Hank Skinner Execution Update: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Deny DNA Test Request

ACTION ALERT: Tell Gov. Perry to Give Hank Skinner 30 More Days

Former Texas Prosecutor and Judge Both Believe the State Has Executed More Than One Innocent Man

Rand Paul Picks Up Major Endorsement

Well, sorta:

Dick Cheney today announced that he is endorsing Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in the GOP Senate primary.

“I’m a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it. I have looked at the records of both candidates in the race, and it is clear to me that Trey Grayson is right on the issues that matter — both on fiscal responsibility and on national security,” Cheney said in a statement released this morning.

I suspect for many of our readers, this is somewhat analogous to Carter’s Razor; i.e. on any policy issue, the correct position is most likely to be the exact opposite of whatever Jimmy Carter is advocating.

If Cheney is pushing for Trey Grayson, anyone with a libertarian bent should vote for “the other guy”.

Life Expectancy — Due To Lack Of Healthcare Or Gluttony and Smoking?

A new study suggests that simply due to the results of blood pressure, obesity, blood glucose levels and smoking, American life expectancy is artificially low by 4.9 and 4.1 years for men and women, respectively (h/t Reason):

A new study led by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in collaboration with researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity currently reduce life expectancy in the U.S. by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women. It is the first study to look at the effects of those four preventable risk factors on life expectancy in the whole nation.

Below is the number of years that would be gained in life expectancy in the U.S. if each individual risk factor was reduced to its optimal level:

  • Blood pressure: 1.5 years (men), 1.6 years (women)
  • Obesity (measured by body mass index): 1.3 years (men), 1.3 years (women)
  • Blood glucose: 0.5 years (men), 0.3 years (women)
  • Smoking: 2.5 years (men), 1.8 years (women)

This study in particular was largely looking at different subgroups within the US (ethnicities, geographies, etc) to determine relative differences in life expectancy due to those factors.

But I’d like to see a wider question answered. America typically ranks lower on life expectancy rankings than most European countries with generous welfare states and single-payer or heavily-socialized health care systems. This fact was largely heralded all during the debate over the health care bill. America is also considered to be gluttonous, unhealthy, lazy*, and fat compared to Europe; anecdotally, on my one trip to France, the only fat people I met spoke perfect English.

So I’d like to see a serious academic look at what drives the life-expectancy differences between America and Europe. I’ve heard in the past that non-healthcare death rates (automotive accidents and homicides) are significantly higher here, but is it also the case that we’re eating and smoking ourselves to death at a rate much higher than Europe?

And if so, does anyone think — as I do — that the healthcare bill will do little or nothing to affect this life expectancy gap?
» Read more

Quote Of The Day

Those of us who predicted lenders would avoid US Treasuries during the financial meltdown we initially somewhat surprised to see investors flocking to them. It’s the result of a supposed “flight to quality”, and nothing at the time seemed less risky than buying US Treasury bonds, since the Treasury sells its bonds in a currency it can print.

Well, that has changed, as represented by yields:

The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.

When it’s “safer” to lend to a corporate businessman who can’t print his own currency or extort his subjects citizens for more tax dollars, you know something serious is going down.

Berkshire Hathaway, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, and Lowe’s are all trading below similar maturity US T-bills, a situation the linked article calls “exceedingly rare”.

But don’t worry, mere citizen. I’m sure Obama’s working on an individual mandate to get you to “do your part” and invest in Treasury bonds.

Hat Tip: QandO

UPDATE: Looks like yields are continuing to rise.

Comment Of The Day

Walter, commenting on Doug’s post about legal challenges to the health care bill:

The outcome is not as important, one might reason, as it is to exhaust this means of redress by law. It needs to be clear to the people that law has failed so that political redress will be urgently sought. That failing… is not a thing we should wish to see.

The problem with revolution is not the undertaking — it is making the people see that their government is illegitimate and harmful to their interests. Once you’ve accomplished that, the heavy lifting is done.

The Cost Of Repeal

So, the CBO says this bill lowers the deficit. And thus, says Ezra Klein, it’ll be tougher for the Republicans to repeal, should they win control of Congress:

And as a reader reminds me, people should also remember that “now that the reform bill is the law of the land, [repeal] would increase the budget deficit relative to current law, at least in the eyes of the CBO.” So if they weren’t going to find offsets, they’d also need to overrule pay-go.

Cue AHA! moment:

If spending needs to be accounted for within pay-go, then the doc-fix will require $200B of offsetting cuts!

…until I found out that the doc-fix was exempted from PAYGO rules.

Presumably if the Republicans regained control of Congress, they could similarly exempt certain things from PAYGO accounting.

But let’s just assume for a moment that they didn’t want to cut such — I’ve found an answer!

Based on the results of this study (h/t Megan McArdle), maybe they can just find offsetting cuts in our stupid policy of subsidizing corn and taxing sugar.

Nah, never mind, the Republicans know that won’t play in Iowa.

Thirteen States File Suit Against ObamaCare

Well, that didn’t take long:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Attorneys general from 13 states sued the federal government Tuesday, claiming the landmark health care overhaul bill is unconstitutional just seven minutes after President Barack Obama signed it into law.

The lawsuit was filed in Pensacola after the Democratic president signed the bill the House passed Sunday night.

“The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage,” the lawsuit says.

Legal experts say it has little chance of succeeding because, under the Constitution, federal laws trump state laws.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is taking the lead and is joined by attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Colorado and Louisiana. All are Republicans except James “Buddy” Caldwell of Louisiana, who is a Democrat.

Some states are considering separate lawsuits and still others may join the multistate suit.

I assume we will hear that Ken Cuccinelli has filed suit in the Eastern District of Virginia before the day is out.

As I’ve said, I am not optimistic about the ultimate outcome in these cases, but it will be interesting to watch them proceed through the system.

Here is the pleading itself:

Attorneys General suit on health care

Update: Make that fourteen states, Ken Cuccinelli has filed suit on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Will The Courts Strike Down ObamaCare ? Don’t Count On It

Over at The American Spectator, conservative lawyer Stacy Cline points out that the legal challenges to ObamaCare have the odds, and the case law, against them:

Last night’s passage of the greatest expansion of the federal government since the Great Society is a sad day for our country, not only because it may bankrupt our future, but also because we have no recourse to the Constitution. Our Constitution was elegantly designed to protect individuals from too much concentration of power in any one source, but the Supreme Court has evolved into a body that has protected and even facilitated the modern regulatory state at the expense of our founding principles. The optimism of state attorneys general and others who hope to challenge the constitutionality of this legislation is admirable, but such challenges are not likely to be successful.

But what, you might ask, about what seems like it might be the most vulnerable part of the health care bill, the individual mandates ?

Well, as Cline points out, that may actually be the weakest ground of all:

Despite this patent overreach by Congress, the Supreme Court’s flawed jurisprudence on this issue probably permits it. The government will argue that it has the authority to impose the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which permits Congress “to regulate Commerce … among the several States.” Supreme Court precedent has interpreted the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate and prohibit all sorts of economic activities that in the aggregate substantially affect interstate commerce.

In the 1942 case Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court authorized the broadest federal power to date, concluding that a farmer growing wheat for his own use was not exempt from federal caps on wheat production that had been established by the government to artificially drive up the price of wheat. The fact that the farmer was growing wheat for his own use meant he would not purchase it on the open market. The Court held that his failure to purchase wheat in the market, taken in the aggregate, would have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Thus, the Court laid the groundwork for Congress to regulate nearly any activity with a weak connection to economic activity, and for years Congress did not even bother to establish the basis for its Commerce Clause authority.

The Supreme Court had the opportunity to overturn this precedent in Raich v. Gonzales, the 2005 medical marijuana case, but balked. In that case, the Court decided that it was within Congress’s Commerce Clause power to prohibit individuals from growing medicinal marijuana for their personal use. In reaching this conclusion, the Court affirmed that activity that does not fall under the Commerce Clause alone can be reached as part of a broader scheme to regulate interstate commerce. This case was blow to those of us who thought the opinions in Lopez and Morrison signaled that the Court was willing to scale federal power back to something closer to the Constitution’s original intent.

The individual mandate can be distinguished from these cases, as it compels economic activity where Wickard and Raich did not. But what Raich showed is that the Supreme Court does not have the will to limit federal power when Congress has made the most modest of showings that the activity has economic effects. The individual mandate is likely to be upheld as part of a legislative scheme that regulates economic activity, and the insult to our constitutional government, designed to limit the federal government to enumerated powers, will have received judicial sanction.

Moreover, as Cline goes on to point out, the Court may not even need to reach the Commerce Clause issue. The Solicitor General, who will be arguing the case in favor of upholding the law, will clearly argue that the mandate and it’s penalty provision are, in reality, a tax, which would be governed under the General Welfare Clause. If that’s the case, then the challenge is pretty much doomed:

The last time a penalty was deemed an unconstituional tax by the Supreme Court was 1922, and since then the Court has permitted taxes on gambling, tobacco, alcohol and a number of other disfavored activities. Should the Commerce Clause prove to be an indefensible basis of authority, the General Welfare Clause would likely be another source of authority. The current Supreme Court, which time and again demonstrates its willingness to uphold the modern regulatory state to legal challenge, is unlikely to delve into a nearly century old line of cases limiting Congress’s ability to impose penalties as taxes.

If they’re not going to over-rule a clearly wrong 68 year old case, they sure aren’t going to overrule one that’s more than a century old.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr gives odds on how likely a SCOTUS ruling against ObamaCare actually is:

With all this blogging here at the VC about whether the courts will invalidate the individual mandate as exceeding Congress’s Article I authority, I thought I would add my two cents by estimating the odds of that happening. In my view, there is a less than 1% chance that courts will invalidate the individual mandate as exceeding Congress’s Article I power. I tend to doubt the issue will get to the Supreme Court: The circuits will be splitless, I expect, and the Supreme Court will decline to hear the case. In the unlikely event a split arises and the Court does take it, I would expect a 9–0 (or possibly 8–1) vote to uphold the individual mandate.

Blogging about such issues tends to bring out some unhappy responses, so let me be clear about a few things: (a) I don’t like the individual mandate, (b) if I were a legislator, I wouldn’t have voted for it, (c) I don’t like modern commerce clause doctrine, (d) if I were magically made a Supreme Court Justice in the mid 20th century, I wouldn’t have supported the expansion of the commerce clause so that it covers, well, pretty much everything, (e) I agree that the individual mandate exceeds an originalist understanding of the Commerce Clause, and (f) I agree that legislators and the public are free to interpret the Constitution differently than the courts and to vote against (or ask their legislator to vote against) the legislation on that basis.

But with all of these caveats, I’ll stand by my prediction.

I agree with Kerr.

That doesn’t mean that the law shouldn’t be challenged in Court. It should. These arguments need to be made and, even if the challenges are ultimately unsuccessful, they will bring to the forefront issues about the size and scope of government, and the extent to which the limitations of the Constitution have been exceeded that maybe, just maybe, the American people will wake up.

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