Tag: NPR

Spinning the News

A headline in Roll Call, the newspaper and website that has been “the source for news on Capitol Hill since 1955,” over an article by long-time journalist and editor David Hawkings, reads

D.C. Could Take Lessons From Hartford on Gun Control Deal

What’s the lesson? That when legislators buckle down and work hard, they can pass “the strongest gun control law in the nation.”

This reflects two articles of faith that seem to be devoutly held by mainstream journalists:

1. Passing laws is good. Passing more laws is better. The purpose of a legislative body is to pass laws.

2. Gun control is good.

On the first point, just consider the large number of stories, especially this past December and January, on “the least productive Congress in history.” The assumption is that “productivity” for Congress is passing laws—laws that in most cases will raise taxes, raise spending, increase regulation, and/or intrude the federal government into more aspects of our lives. 

As for gun control, the enthusiasm of the national media for such measures is pretty obvious. I was struck by NPR’s hourly news roundup last week, which began: 

More than 100 days after the shootings in Newtown, Connnecticut, that killed a total of 28 people including 20 elementary school students, Congress has still not passed new gun registration legislation.

“What are they waiting for?” the news anchor implies. I suppose the news report could have begun:

Just five years after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual’s right to bear arms, members of Congress are seeking to pass gun control legislation.

But I’m not holding my breath. It’s just a reminder that the language used even in straight news stories can frame the issue in the minds of readers and listeners.

On the Perils of Single-Issue Politics

NPR ran a story this morning, “NRA Targets One Of Its Own In Tenn. Race,” that nicely illustrates the perils of single-issue politics, although you’d never learn the principle of the matter from the NPR account. It seems that the NRA has launched a $75,000 ad campaign against state Rep. Debra Maggart, a long-time NRA member and avid gun-owner who a year ago had an “A+” rating from the NRA. Her sin? She and several other Tennessee Republican officials opposed a bill that would have allowed employees to keep guns in their cars while parked in their private employers’ parking lots.

The NRA’s Chris Cox, who’s spearheading this political vendetta and, in the process, is supporting Maggart’s tea-party backed opponent, invokes both “our First Amendment right to assemble to petition our government” and, of course, the Second Amendment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that neither is relevant here. In fact, the issue could not be simpler: individuals, including employers, have a right to determine the conditions on which others may enter their property.

The Second Amendment prevents the government, not private parties, from infringing your right to keep and bear arms. If a private party can ban you from his property for any reason, good or bad, he can do so for carrying a gun. So too with the First Amendment: it limits what governments, not private parties, may do; government may not violate your rights of assembly and petition, none of which is happening here.

As so often happens, here again we see how single-issue politics, in the name of liberty, ends up undermining liberty. The tea party should know better.

Photo ID Laws Mean Some Won’t Vote

Because all of us are with ourselves all day every day, we naturally tend to think that our own lives are pretty standard fare. But that’s just not so in a country of 300+ million people ranging over a vast expanse. So I found worthwhile this NPR story on people who don’t have IDs, people who face difficulty with laws requiring IDs to vote. Not everyone trundles down to the DMV and plunks down money and paperwork for an ID whenever they please.

The voter ID issue is a hot one. Some are strongly committed to the idea that identification requirements are needed to suppress voter fraud. There isn’t much evidence of that problem, and to worry about impersonation fraud at polling places, one has to put aside absentee ballot fraud, which is probably much easier, as well as election fraud—rigged vote counts, for example—which is much more efficient.

States should tinker with their voting rules and processes, each seeking for itself the methods that optimally secure elections while facilitating voting. It’s a big country, and different states may require different rules. My emphasis has always been on avoiding a national voter ID system, which would inevitably be a national ID system, paving the way for greater federal control of individuals’ lives.

The Euro Crisis in Prose and Poetry

The European debt crisis is inspiring public radio to literary analysis. Last week NPR’s Planet Money put the French-German relationship into a “threepenny opera”:

All

Everyone is counting on you
You’ve got the money
We’ve got the debt (Oh yes, we’ve got a lot of debt!)
And do we need a bailout—you bet

Germany

Zat’s it, I’ve had enough
Looks like it’s time now for me to leave…

France

Oh?

Germany

Vhy is ze door locked? You must let me out.

France

Dear when the times are tough
It’s better to give zan to receive

Then Monday Marketplace Radio turned to classics professor Emily Allen Hornblower and economist Bill Lastrapes to discuss Greek debt as classical tragedy—Oedipus? The ant and the grasshopper?

Loyal Cato readers will recognize Bill Lastrapes as the coauthor of the much-discussed Cato Working Paper “Has the Fed Been a Failure?

And then, if you prefer prose and sober analysis to literary analogies, let me recommend Holman Jenkins’s perceptive column on why Europe hasn’t solved its crisis yet, which unfortunately appeared in the less-read Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal. (OK, not less read than Cato-at-Liberty, but probably less read than the weekday Journal.)

Neither leader has an incentive to sacrifice what have become vital and divergent interests to produce a credible bailout plan for Europe. To simplify, German voters don’t want to bail out French banks, and the French government can’t afford to bail out French banks, when and if the long-awaited Greek default is allowed to happen….

There is another savior in the wings, of course, the European Central Bank. But the ECB has no incentive to betray in advance its willingness to get France and Germany off the hook by printing money to keep Europe’s heavily indebted governments afloat. Yet all know this is the outcome politicians are stalling for. This is the outcome markets are relying on, and why they haven’t crashed.

All are waiting for some market ruction hairy enough that the central bank will cast aside every political and legal restraint in order to save the euro….

And then the crisis will be over? Not by a long shot.

All these “solvent” countries and their banks will be dependent on the ECB to keep them “solvent,” a reality that can only lead to entrenched inflation across the European economy. That is, unless these governments undertake heroic reforms quickly to restore themselves to the good graces of the global bond market so they can stand up again without the ECB’s visible help.

It’s just conceivable that this might happen—that countries on the ECB life-support might put their nose to the grindstone to make good on their debts, held by ECB and others. Or they might just resume the game of chicken with German taxpayers, albeit in a new form, implicitly demanding that Germany bail out the ECB before the bank is forced thoroughly to debauch the continent’s common currency, the euro.

Friday Links

  • “PBS used to ask, ‘If not PBS, then who?’ The answer now is: HBO, Bravo, Discovery, History, History International, Science, Planet Green, Sundance, Military, C-SPAN 1/2/3 and many more.”
  • “The fiscal problem that is destroying U.S. economic confidence is not the fiscal balance, however. It is the level of government expenditures relative to GDP.”
  • “The Pentagon’s first cyber security strategy… builds on national hysteria about threats to cybersecurity, the latest bogeyman to justify our bloated national security state.”
  • How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”
  • National debt is driving the U.S. toward a double-dip recession

When the Government Lobbies Itself

“National Public Radio (NPR) is paying the lobbying firm Bracy, Tucker, Brown & Valanzano to defend its taxpayer funding stream in Congress, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of the Senate,” reports Matthew Boyle at the Daily Caller. Once again, a government-funded entity is using its taxpayer funds to lobby to get more money from the taxpayers.

When the bailouts and takeovers started in 2008-9, I noted that there was lots of outrage in the blogosphere over revelations that some of the biggest recipients of the federal government’s $700 billion TARP bailout had been spending money on lobbyists. And I wrote:

It’s bad enough to have our tax money taken and given to banks whose mistakes should have caused them to fail. It’s adding insult to injury when they use our money — or some “other” money; money is fungible — to lobby our representatives in Congress, perhaps for even more money.

Get taxpayers’ money, hire lobbyists, get more taxpayers’ money. Nice work if you can get it.

At the same time, Dan Mitchell wrote that companies that received government money and then lobbied for more “deserve a reserved seat in a very hot place.” Taxpayer-funded lobbying is a scandal, but it’s a scandal that has been going on for decades:

As far back as 1985, Cato published a book, Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics, that exposed how billions of taxpayers’ dollars were used to subsidize organizations with a political agenda, mostly groups that lobbied and organized for bigger government and more spending. The book led off with this quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

The book noted that the National Council of Senior Citizens had received more than $150 million in taxpayers’ money in four years. A more recent report estimated that AARP had received over a billion dollars in taxpayer funding. Both groups, of course, lobby incessantly for more spending on Social Security and Medicare. The Heritage Foundation reported in 1995, “Each year, the American taxpayers provide more than $39 billion in grants to organizations which may use the money to advance their political agendas.”

In 1999 Peter Samuel and Randal O’Toole found that EPA was a major funder of groups lobbying for “smart growth.” So these groups were pushing a policy agenda on the federal government, but the government itself was paying the groups to lobby it.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for the very lobbying that seeks to suck more dollars out of the taxpayers. But then, taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize banks, car companies, senior citizen groups, environmentalist lobbies, labor unions, or other private organizations in the first place.

Pages