Archives: December, 2008

David Kopel on the Plaxico Burress Prosecution

Cato’s associate policy analyst, David Kopel, comes to the defense of New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The WSJ law blog is hosting a discussion

The restrictive permitting system in New York allows for the rich and celebrities such as Robert DeNiro, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, and Harvey Keitel to carry a concealed weapon.  Average, law-abiding citizens and non-residents are given no consideration. 

This news comes hot on the heels of Brian Doherty’s book, Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment, and our book forum (archived in video and podcast form).

A Case for Climbing Out of the Middle East

Cato-at-liberty readers frustrated with the United States’ travails in the Middle East may want to have a look at John Mearsheimer’s article in the current Newsweek, “Rebalancing the Middle East.”  Mearsheimer makes the case for offshore balancing, which is to say removing forward deployed U.S. forces from the region and scaling back our objectives to center on merely precluding one power from gaining hegemony over the whole region.  He closes on this note:

Offshore balancing wouldn’t eliminate all the problems we face in the Middle East. But it would be considerably less expensive in both human and financial terms. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it’s probably as close as we can get.

Mearsheimer’s version is a lot less “offshore” than some of us would like, but his case is worth a look.  Trying to run the Middle East is just one fruitless government program we could cut and save trillions of dollars in the coming years.  Libertarians ought to consider it.

Ohio Republicans Like Hollywood More than Taxpayers and Kids

What in god’s name is wrong with Ohio Republicans? There’s a party-line vote in the state House on costly and market-distorting tax credits for the film industry, and it’s the Democrats calling it out as fiscally irresponsible?

I know the Ohio Republican Party has done much, much worse over the years, but come on … when has enough damage been done?

The Dayton Daily News reports the government is facing “a budget nightmare for Ohio, which is now looking at a $640 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and as much as a $7.3 billion funding gap in the upcoming two-year budget.”

Perhaps Republicans could try to pass education tax credits before they leave. You know, the one and only tax credit that really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

A fiscal impact analysis of our Public Education Tax Credit shows that Ohio could save billions of dollars with school choice.

To give Ohio politicians a sense of the numbers we’re talking here, Illinois saves $5.1 billion in the first 10 years and $1.6 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years. Wisconsin saves $9.3 billion in the first 10 years and $3.2 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

But that probably makes too much sense. As an Ohioan, this pains me. But at least we’ll get to see what the Ohio Democratic Party wants to tax and spend on when they take over next year …

Woe Canada!

In these heady days of hope, change, puppies, and rainbows, not too many people are paying attention to the political tableau playing out in our northern neighbor.  Those wags who do remember that Canada had its own election in October – resulting in the reelection of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – quip that, come January, the United States will have the most liberal government in North America.

Not so fast.  It turns out that while Harper’s Conservatives did strengthen their minority government – that is, they won by far the largest plurality in the nation’s multi-party parliament, increasing their previous result – by definition a minority government can be outvoted if other parties gang up on them.  Here’s the math: Canada’s House of Commons has 308 seats (meaning 155 constitutes a majority), of which the Conservatives have 143, the Liberals 77, the Bloc Quebecois (whose sole raison d’etre is that Quebec should be a separate country, but who can ideologically be described as populist-socialist) 49, New Democratic Party (socialists) 37, and unaffiliated independents 2.  And here’s the short version of what’s gone down to upset the applecart:  In a new fiscal program unveiled last week, PM Harper announced, among other things, cuts to public funding of political parties and restrictions on public sector unions’ right to strike.  The opposition would have none of this and quickly arranged what in other circumstances might be a called a palace coup: Liberal leader Stephane Dion (already a lame duck after leading his party to its worst showing ever), citing the Conservatives’ failure to prepare for a recession (nevermind that Canada’s economy grew in the third quarter, and by more than it has all year), agreed on a tripartite deal with the NDP and Bloc that would oust the Tory government.

The biggest news here is that, for the first time ever, a separatist party will be a formal part of the government – the king-makers, no less.  The federalism/Quebec “question” is, shall we say, a delicate one in Canada, so this is a pretty big deal. 

While the Bloc will not have any ministers (the Liberals and NDP are to divvy up cabinet spots in a 3:1 ratio), it will, per the formal text of the deal, be part of a “permanent consultation mechanism.”  As blogger and National Post columnist Ezra Levant put it:

Well, we already have one of those – it’s called Parliament. But Parliament is a little too public for this coalition – you know, with nosy Canadians watching how deals are made. This consultation mechanism will be private – a way for the separatists to make their demands in secret, and for Prime Minister Stephane Dion to meet those demands in secret.

Indeed, those demands were many: an immediate $1 billion transfer to Quebec, along with a slew of patronage posts, including Senate seats (the Prime Minister appoints senators, and there are currently 18 vacancies).  Apparently, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party (which won no seats in parliament but captured 6.8% of the vote) was also offered a Senate seat. 

And, as part of a “Policy Accord to Address the Present Economic Crisis,” the new coalition proposes such “stimulus” measures as “support for culture, including the cancellation of budget cuts announced by the Conservative government” and ”support for Canadian Wheat Board and Supply Management.”  And then came word of a (further) $30 billion national “bailout,” as yet undefined.  In other words, a mish-mash of left-wing policy ideas dressed up as emergency measures.

OK, so now what happens?  Well, according to parliamentary procedure, Dion, as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, will call for a “vote of non-confidence” in the government.  Assuming the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition holds together – Canada’s mainstream media, displaying the same bias as America’s, calls this the “Liberal-NDP” coalition so average Canadians don’t think about the separatists – the prime minister will have to resign and Governor-General Michaelle Jean (the titular head of state, filling the role the British monarch used to, in this case appointed by the Queen on former Liberal PM Paul Martin’s recommendation) can either invite Dion to form a government or call new elections.  Harper plans to head off this turn of events by asking Jean to “prorogue” (suspend) the parliament until January, by which point the Conservatives will have plead their case to the people and thereby either win a confidence motion or force new elections.

The bottom line: Canada is having a bit of a constitutional crisis, the most likely result of which is an unstable governing coalition composed of liberals, socialists, and socialist separatists.  In the meantime, the Toronto Stock Exchange has tanked.  It almost makes card check, the Fairness Doctrine, and the auto bailout look good by comparison.

Dynastic Politics in Delaware…

…or, “Here, hold this until my son gets back.”

Edward Kaufman is about to become the Benjamin A. Smith II of Delaware. Smith was a college roommate of John F. Kennedy. When JFK was elected president in 1960, he persuaded the governor of Massachusetts to appoint Smith to his Senate seat. Smith took the job and obligingly chose not to run in the 1962 special election, when brother Teddy was finally old enough to serve in the Senate.

Now Kaufman is doing the same favor for Joe Biden. Biden persuaded outgoing governor Ruth Ann Minner to appoint Kaufman, his longtime friend and Senate chief of staff, to his Senate seat. Kaufman said he will not run for the seat in 2010, allowing Biden’s son Beau, attorney general of Delaware and currently serving with the National Guard in Iraq, to claim the seat then.

Like Alaska, Delaware has a relatively small population, so maybe there really aren’t many people in the state qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate. But it’s awfully nice of Kaufman to hold on to the seat until the Biden family can reclaim it.

College Affordability Lamentations Don’t Measure Up

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has published another of its biennial Measuring Up reports, and once again the report itself doesn’t measure up. It has lots of problems, but the most glaring — and the one that regularly generates the most wailing and gnashing of teeth — is its insistence that only money students don’t have to pay back constitutes “financial aid,” and loans are the cruelest thing since Attila the Hun.

But student loans are hardly rapacious student victimizers. For one thing, federal student loans — meaning the vast majority of the nearly $86.7 billion in loans distributed in 2007-08 — have very low interest rates and generous terms. In addition, there are oodles of loan-forgiveness programs available. Most importantly, people go to college to vastly improve their earnings over a lifetime, and do so to the average tune of hundreds-of-thousands to perhaps even a million extra dollars. Yet for those students who leave college with debt — and roughly a third graduate debt-free — the average loan burden is only around $20,000. That’s a heck of a windfall profit, yet heavily subsidized loans apparently don’t count as useful aid!

Unfortunately, advocacy groups like NCPPHE are not alone in portraying students having to foot their own college costs as some sort of grave economic injustice. Just yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings gave herself and her boss’s administration a huge pat on the back for expanding taxpayer subsidization of student profiteering. Nonetheless, in Spellings’ opinion student debt remains an ugly stain on the country’s soul:

Today, the average college graduate is more than $20,000 in debt. That’s $20,000 farther away from buying a home and starting a family. And $20,000 less likely to give back through teaching or public service.

I’m going to address head-on the effects of student debt on potential teachers in an upcoming PA, but overall this woe-is-students whining is ridiculous and counterproductive. There is nothing unfair about students taking on debt for their own huge payoffs — especially in contrast to foisting the costs on the plumber, electrician, carpenter, or anyone else who hasn’t gone to college — not to mention that there is lots of reason to believe that aid just drives up costs. Unfortunately, there is no sign that either higher education advocates, or politicians looking to score points with students and parents, are going to stop their very public lamentations anytime soon.

Mexico’s Drug Violence Spreads to Guatemala

At least 17 people were killed this weekend in Guatemala in gun battles between rival Guatemalan and Mexican drug gangs. This is the latest piece of evidence that Mexican drug violence is spreading down to Central America, where governments lack the institutional strength to fight these powerful cartels. A few months ago the Guatemalan army even stated that there are parts of the country’s territory that are not under its control.

The influence of Mexican cartels extends all the way to Argentina where a suspected Paraguayan drug trafficker was recently arrested for possibly supplying ephedrine (key ingredient of methamphetamine) to Mexican drug lords.

The next U.S. administration should pay more attention to this dangerous situation. It’s time for Washington to consider the cost of this war on drugs on the region’s stability.