Tag: Barack Obama

Obama’s Trip to Latin America

As Ted Carpenter notes below, President Obama is departing on an important trip to Latin America. The countries that he will visit exemplify the macroeconomic stability and advancement of democratic institutions now found in much of the region.

Brazil, by far the largest Latin American economy, has enjoyed almost a decade of sound growth and poverty reduction. Chile is the most developed country in the region thanks to decades of economic liberalization, a process that has also made it Latin America’s most mature democracy. And El Salvador is undergoing a delicate period in its transition to becoming a full-fledged democracy with its first left-of-center president since the end of the civil war in 1992.

In an era when most Latin American nations are moving in the right direction—albeit at different speeds, with some setbacks, and with notable exceptions—the United States can serve as a catalyst of change by contributing to more economic integration and the consolidation of the rule of law in the region.

Unfortunately, despite President Obama’s assurances that he’s interested in strengthening economic ties with Latin America, his administration is still delaying the ratification of two important free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. President Obama also continues to support a failed war on drugs that significantly exacerbates violence and institutional frailty in the region, particularly in Mexico and Central America.

It’s good that President Obama’s trip will highlight significant progress in Latin America, but his administration’s policy actions still don’t match the U.S. goals of encouraging economic growth and sound institutional development in the region.

Thursday Links

  • “If financial institutions are indeed better than consumers at managing interest risk, then those companies should be able to offer consumers attractive terms for doing so — without the moral hazard of an enormous taxpayer backstop.”
  • We should be thankful that the president is spending time on his golf game.
  • After all, he recently reinstated military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and has continued the use of extra-constitutional prisons in the U.S. after the Bush era.
  • It’s odd that debate here centers on a no-fly zone, a form of military intervention that shows support for rebels without much helping them.”
  • Does Haley Barbour really want to cut defense spending? Or is he just really politically astute? 

ADA Service Animals: The Silence of the Goats

As I note in a New York Post opinion piece published on Sunday, today marks an unusual milestone: the executive branch of the U.S. government is actually rolling back a significant burden imposed on business owners and others under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because the subject matter is an unusually colorful one – the widespread misclassification of household pets, including such exotic species as iguanas, goats, and boa constrictors, as “service animals” under the ADA – you’d think there’d be major press coverage. And yet with scattered exceptions here and there, public attention has been muted. And there’s a story in that too.

In the early years of the law (as I observe in the Post piece) the ADA’s mandate that businesses admit service animals caused little stir because dogs trained to help persons with blindness, deafness and some other disabilities are skillfully trained to stay on task while ignoring such distractions as food, strangers and the presence of other animals. But given the law’s lack of definitions, combined with lopsided penalties should a defendant guess wrong – $10,000 is possible for a first violation – shop owners began seeing more and more rambunctious spaniels and irritable purse dogs, to say nothing of rabbits, rats, ferrets, lizards and critters of many other sorts. Doctors obligingly wrote notes testifying that the animals were helpful for mood support or to fend off depression; you can buy “therapy dog” vests online with no questions asked.

The new rules toughen things up. With a minor exception for miniature horses, service animals will now have to be dogs; they’ll have to be trained to perform a service; and while that service can relate to an “invisible” disability, including one of a psychiatric nature, it cannot be based simply on mood support or similar goals. Also, they’ll need to be on-leash unless their service requires otherwise.

In revising the rule, the Obama administration was heeding the wishes not of frazzled retailers but of disabled-rights advocates themselves. As press coverage recounts, persons who employ well-trained service animals suffer not only from public backlash but also from more tangible setbacks such as disturbances that can arise when other, less well-trained animals challenge their dog in an indoor setting. If the new change counts as deregulation, it’s a sort of accidental and tactical deregulation not arising from any notion that it’s better to leave private owners free to set their own rules.

And that helps explain the absence of fanfare, not to say stealth, with which the Obama administration is letting the new rule go into effect. Knowing that the change will be unpopular with some of its own constituents, it seems happy to forgo credit with constituencies that might favor deregulation – notwithstanding the public fuss a few weeks ago about the President’s newfound interest in reducing regulatory burdens. That interest remains, to say the least, untested.

Obama’s Military Tribunals

This week Obama announced that he intends to prosecute prisoners before military tribunals.  The administration is taking pains to point out that Obama is not embracing the Bush policy.  These will be Obama’s tribunals, not Bush’s.  But since Mr. Obama’s executive order can be revised or withdrawn at any time, the new and improved procedures do not amount to much.   The tribunals were wrongheaded under Bush and the critique applies equally well to Obama’s “new” policy.

As others have noted, Obama has now embraced tribunals, Gitmo, and the Patriot Act.    Bad news, but at least Obama kept his promises to end the wars and get us on a sound financial footing.

For additional Cato work related to military tribunals, go here and here.

Spending Growth: Nondefense Discretionary

Last week I compared “other mandatory” spending in fiscal 2007 to the president’s proposal for fiscal 2012. Several readers requested that I produce a chart showing a similar breakdown for nondefense discretionary spending (or “domestic discretionary”).

The following chart breaks down nondefense discretionary outlays according to Budget Enforcement Act categories. These categories generally consist of programs from multiple departments and agencies. For example, “Science, Space, & Technology” includes programs at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and NASA.

Note: The president’s fiscal 2012 budget proposes that surface transportation outlays, which make up the majority of spending in the transportation category, be budgeted as mandatory rather than discretionary.

Nondefense discretionary spending accounts for approximately 17 percent of total federal spending. It is this relatively small, but nonetheless important, portion of overall federal spending that Republicans and Democrats are currently arguing over. Democrats are balking at a Republican proposal to trim $61 billion in nondefense discretionary funding. A new Cato video puts the GOP’s proposed cuts in perspective.


High Schools to the President: What Thrill?

A couple of years ago, I was highly critical of President Obama’s first, it turns out annual, televised school-year kickoff address to America’s students. At the time I got a lot of emails telling me how outrageous my stance was, and how anyone, of any political persuasion, should be thrilled to have the President of the United States talk to their kids.

Apparently, the thrill is gone when you actually have to do a little work to get the President. According to internal White House memos, the President’s “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” – in which schools compete for a chance to get the Prez as their graduation speaker – had generated only 68 applications as of February 28, which was after the original application deadline of Feburary 25. (The White House has extended the deadline to March 11.) To put that in perspective, the nation had over 24,000 public secondary schools as of the 2007-08 school year, meaning only about 0.3 percent of public high schools have expressed any serious desire to have the President send their charges off to adulthood. (Well, or college.)

So have our high schools suddenly discovered the Constitution, which gives the President no authority to meddle in education? Probably not, but it certainly does undermine the argument that it is a super-terrific thing anytime the Commander in Chief can take to the podium to tell kids to work hard and stay in school. Apparently, it’s only super-terrific if you don’t have to lift a finger – well, other than to work your TV remote – to get the President to talk to your kids.

So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking.

That’s the title of my latest Kaiser Health News column, which addresses President Obama’s offer to accelerate the waiver process that would allow states to replace many of ObamaCare’s most offensive provisions:

If you think that means the president was himself exhibiting flexibility, you would be wrong. Despite the rhetoric about compromise, what the president actually did was offer states the option of replacing his law with a single-payer health care system three years earlier than his law allows…

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has written that ObamaCare gives states “incredible freedom” to implement the law. We now know what she meant: states are free to coerce their residents even more than ObamaCare requires. What’s incredible is that she calls that freedom.

Apologies to to the Housemartins.