Archives: 01/2015

Trade Promotion Authority Is not an Executive Power Grab

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations reported to be nearing completion and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks kicking into higher gear, Congress is expected to turn its attention to Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation in the weeks ahead.

That’s where opponents of trade – mostly from the Left, but some from the Right – have decided to wage the next battle in their war against trade liberalization. Tactically, that makes some sense because, if they succeed, the TPP and the TTIP will be sidelined indefinitely. But, as observed by the Greek Tragedians and countless times in the millennia since, truth is the first casualty of war.

Trade opponents characterize TPA as an executive power-grab, a legislative capitulation, and a blank check from Congress that entitles the president to negotiate trade deals in secret without any congressional input except the right to vote “yea” or “nay” on an unalterable, unamendable, completed and signed agreement. But the truth is that TPA does not cede any authority from one branch to the other, but makes exercise of that authority more practicable for both branches.

Under the Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Congress is given the authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” and to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” While the president has no specific constitutional authority over trade, Article II grants the president power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. Accordingly, the formulation, negotiation, and implementation of trade agreements require the involvement and cooperation of both branches.

Lobbyists Deal — Easily — with a Changing Congress

On NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Peter Overby discusses the way lobbyists are adjusting to the new Republican Congress. Some are hiring former Republican lawmakers and congressional staff. Some are reminding clients that there are still two parties, as in this nice ad for superlobbyist Heather Podesta, former sister-in-law of White House eminence John Podesta:

OVERBY: Even in a Republican Congress, lobbyists will need to court Democrats, too. Heather Podesta is happy to point that out. She runs her own small Democratic firm.

HEATHER PODESTA: The power of the Congressional Black Caucus has really grown.

OVERBY: In fact, she says CBC members are expected to be the top-ranking Democrats on 17 House committees and subcommittees.

PODESTA: Corporate America has to have entree into those offices. And we’re very fortunate to have the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus as part of our team.

After every election, the lobbyists and the spending interests never rest. The challenge for the tea party and for groups such as the National Taxpayers Union is to keep taxpayers even a fraction as engaged as the tax consumers.

In the last analysis, as I’ve written many times before – and in my forthcoming book The Libertarian Mind – the only way to reduce the influence of lobbyists is to shrink the size of government. 

Is Metro Fixable? If So, Why Doesn’t Our Political Class Fix It?

Yesterday’s lethal smoke episode in a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza station of Washington’s Metro system was like one of the disaster scenes in Atlas Shrugged, from the controllers’ instructions (eventually disobeyed) to riders not to evacuate the eight-car Yellow Line train even as it rapidly filled with smoke, to a spokesperson’s insistence that there were “no casualties in the traditional sense” even as workers above ground were seen hustling unconscious persons on stretchers into emergency vehicles. One person was killed and more than eighty taken to hospitals; the National Transportation Safety Board, ironically itself located at L’Enfant Plaza, says an “electrical arcing event” caused the smoke. Track fires have become common in recent years in the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) rail system, as have train breakdowns, escalator closures, delays, and other disruptions. In 2009 a crash on the Red Line between Takoma Park and Fort Totten killed nine and injured 80. 

Kerry, Obama Pressuring India on Climate Change

Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in India as advance guard for President Obama’s visit later this month. The president is going there to try and get some commitment from India (or the illusion of a commitment) to reduce its emissions of dreaded greenhouse gases. Until now, India, along with China, has resisted calls for major reductions, effectively blocking any global treaty limiting fossil fuel use. The president is very keen on changing this before this December’s United Nations confab in Paris, where such a treaty is supposed to be inked. 

Kerry’s mission is to get India ready for the president. Speaking at a trade conference in the state of Gujarat, Kerry said, “Global climate change is already violently affecting communities, not just across India but around the world. It is disrupting commerce, development and economic growth. It’s costing farmers crops.”

In reality, global climate change is exerting no detectable effect on India’s main crop production. 

As shown below the jump, the rate of increase in wheat yields has been constant since records began in the mid-1950s, and the rate of increase in rice yields is actually higher in the last three decades than it was at the start of the record.

Further, if Kerry was saying that climate change is reducing crop yields around the world, that’s wrong too. The increase in global yields has also been constant for decades.

Big Win for Student Liberty

The Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has issued another landmark opinion that protects student rights against the arbitrary diktats of university officials. In a case that has wound up and down the federal judiciary several times, the court today again ruled for Valdosta State University student Thomas Hayden Barnes, who had been placed on administrative leave without a hearing after he had peacefully protested the construction of a parking garage.

As I described in summarizing the last brief Cato filed in this case, the Eleventh Circuit had previously affirmed the denial of qualified immunity against university president Ronald Zaccari, restating that malicious public officials aren’t entitled to special protections when they clearly violate the rights of another. On remand, the district court inexplicably let the defendants off on the student’s claim that Zaccari and others retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights—he had already won on other claims regarding his due process rights—then applied a severe across-the-board reduction of attorney’s fees awarded to Barnes, and even granted reverse attorney’s fees for the defendants who were held not liable, going so far as calling those claims frivolous solely because they were unsuccessful.

The Eleventh Circuit has now reversed the lower court yet again, on all these points, asking the district court to reconsider the First Amendment claim and recalculate the attorney’s fees. The decision is pretty technical with no really quotable passages, but the workmanlike slap-down of the district court is notable.

Students who stand up for their constitutional rights are rare, and imposing unfavorable fee awards will only make it more difficult for them to secure strong representation. (Barnes’s counsel is the renowned First Amendment lawyer and Cato adjunct scholar Bob Corn-Revere.) The district court, while acknowledging that some rights were violated, only offered half-measures as a remedy. The Eleventh Circuit has now corrected that mistake, sending university officials the loud, clear message that constitutional protections don’t stop at the edge of campus.

Obamacare’s Exchange Subsidies Are So Essential, People Are Turning Them Down

According to U.S. News & World Report

[B]rokers say they do hear from clients who are eligible for subsidies – which are based on household income and not assets – but want no part of them. Health officials have been boasting that 6.6 million people have enrolled in health coverage through state or federal marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, but in sharp contrast stands a small group of Americans who say they want nothing to do with the plans, even if they would save money. Their reasons vary: Some are protesting Obamacare, while others simply feel it’s unethical to accept taxpayer dollars to pay for health insurance…

For [Kansas City resident Grace] Brewer, buying a plan on her own would mean she would not have enough to pay for housing, she says, so she chose not to be insured this year and will have to pay a penalty in her 2016 tax filing that is likely to be 2 percent of her income. She has no dependents, is healthy, does not use prescriptions and says she has been careful about her health choices, not overusing medical care.

“I am frustrated. I am angry. And I say ‘no’ to the exchanges,” she says.

Some people are turning down the subsidies because they don’t need them:

Complicating the ethical question is that some people who qualify for subsidies based on their income could afford to pay their own way. “There is no question that we are enrolling people through these programs who would otherwise be considered middle-class or even affluent,” says Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow for health policy studies at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank. “We are seeing people with enrollment in these programs that have significant assets, but for whatever reason – usually a temporary reason – fall below the income line.” 

Those reasons could range from early retirement to a midcareer job change. But whatever the case, some of those who are turning down subsidies are aware others are gaming the system, and they think it’s wrong.

“I won’t be a part of it,” Brewer says. “I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s ethical, but the system has gotten so complicated that people can take advantage of those things.”…

The fact that the subsidies are causing controversy among the very people they’re intended to help is “evidence that the government doesn’t do charity very well,” says Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute think tank. 

“Prior to Obamacare, the federal government was subsidizing all sorts of people who did not need health insurance subsidies,” he adds, referring to services like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and Medicare, the government’s health program for seniors. “With Obamacare, we are subsidizing even more people who don’t need assistance.”

Something to keep in mind when contemplating the impact of King v. Burwell.

Martin Anderson: Renaissance Idea Man for Liberty

When I was growing up, the draft was an ugly rite of passage for young men.  But when I turned 18 no “Uncle Sam wants you” notice arrived in the mail. 

America had shifted to a volunteer military.  At the time I didn’t know who to thank for the freedom to choose my future.  But I later met the man responsible while attending Stanford Law School.

Martin Carl Anderson, who died a few days ago, then was in residence at the Hoover Institution.  I thought our encounter was happenstance, but years later Anderson told me that he had been reading my articles in the Stanford Daily and elsewhere and wanted to meet me.

Anderson left to help set up the Ronald Reagan campaign operation in March 1979.  As I approached graduation he asked me to join the campaign. 

Anderson was a stellar example of an intellectual able to translate detailed academic research into policy ammunition.  He received his PhD in 1962.  Five years later he began advising Richard Nixon, ending up as a special assistant to President Nixon before joining the Hoover Institution in 1971.

As I wrote in American Spectator online:  “Anderson had many interests, but one overriding philosophy:  He believed in individual liberty.”  He began his policy career with an explosive attack on urban renewal, through which slums would be cleared and new communities created. No surprise, the effort was extraordinarily expensive and socially destructive.  In 1967 the MIT Press published The Federal Bulldozer:  A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal, 1949-1962

Anderson was a draftee who turned his intellect and energy to ending conscription.  He seamlessly joined policy research and political maneuver, selling Nixon on the virtues of a volunteer military. 

Anderson left the Nixon administration before its ugly implosion, but returned to government with Reagan to address the AVF’s deficiencies, an effort in which I was involved as his assistant.  However, Anderson’s most important work for Reagan was shaping the economic agenda. 

Although Anderson was loyal to those he served—he never published a kiss-and-tell memoir—he did not let personalities get in the way of principle.  When Nixon proposed essentially a negative income tax in the guise of the Family Assistance Plan, Anderson brought his accustomed skills into opposition.  In 1978 Hoover published Anderson’s Welfare:  The Political Economy of Welfare Reform in the United States

Anderson’s most important work after leaving the Reagan administration was explaining and amplifying President Reagan’s legacy.  In 1988 Anderson published Revolution:  The Reagan Legacy, a wonderfully readable account of what Reagan’s success and presidency meant.  In 2001 Anderson and his wife Annelise joined historian Kiron K. Skinner to produce Reagan, in His Own Hand:  The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America

Like most everyone in or seeking high political office Reagan employed ghost-writers on occasion.  But the Andersons found a treasure trove of the articles and scripts in Reagan’s own hand.  The latter wrote the vast majority his material from start to finish.  Two years later the two Andersons along with Skinner released Reagan:  A Life in Letters, revealing fascinating glimpses of the former president’s life through the letters he wrote.

Even more significant was Reagan’s Secret War:  The Untold Story of his Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster, written by both Andersons.  Declassified documents demonstrated Reagan’s determination to eliminate the threat of nuclear war.  Reagan abhorred what he called the Evil Empire for all the right reasons, but worked with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War.

Although Anderson operated at the pinnacle of the American political system, he was an ideas man uncomfortable with typical bureaucratic infighting.  He left the Reagan administration after little more than a year and then concentrated on offering advice as an outsider.

In recent years Marty, as I will always know him, and I only talked occasionally, and not nearly enough.  But he fought the good fight until the end.  We are all better off because of his manifold efforts.  Marty, RIP.