Topic: Government and Politics

Tonight, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us”

Cato Mencken Fellows Penn Jillette and Teller launch a new hour-long show, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” tonight at 8 p.m. on the CW television network. Here’s an enthusiastic review from Slashfilm:

Magician duo Penn & Teller are finally set to bring one of my favorite UK TV series, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, to broadcast in the States….

One of my favorite UK television television series was a show called Penn & Teller: Fool Us. It was basically a competition series where the world’s best magicians would perform in hopes of fooling Penn & Teller. After the performance, the magic duo would try to vaguely explain how the trick was done (without fully exposing the magic). If they were fooled, the magicians would get a gig as their starting act in Vegas.

Each show would also have Penn & Teller do a trick or two for the television audience. I’m a magic geek and this is probably one of my favorite magic series to ever air. I’ve shown it to a lot of non-magic geek friends, and they all ended up loving it. 

Until 8 p.m., you can listen to Cato’s podcast with Penn Jillette recorded in 2011.

Budget Smackdown: Krugman vs. Portman and Epstein

In a recent column, Paul Krugman dismissed concerns about the federal debt as a “false alarm,” a “disaster that wasn’t,” and an “imaginary budget and debt crisis.”

Krugman thinks that new CBO projections don’t look too bad. He says, “debt in 2039 — a quarter-century from now! — is projected to be no higher, as a percentage of G.D.P., than the debt America had at the end of World War II.” He concludes that “we don’t have a debt crisis, and never did.”

Gene Epstein of Barron’s looked at CBO’s numbers and Krugman’s claims. He noted that Krugman only looked at CBO’s “baseline” projection, which shows federal debt held by the public rising from 74 percent of GDP today to 106 percent by 2039. Unlike Krugman, I find that increase alarming, especially because there is little political will right now to reverse course and bring down the debt—unlike after World War II.

Also, as I charted here, World War II debt was stunningly high, so I don’t know why Krugman would take comfort in the government becoming that indebted once again. The chart shows that aside from WWII, federal debt has never been anywhere near as high as it is now.

D.C. Circuit Rules that Obamacare Is a “Tax” but Not a “Bill for Raising Revenue”

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today tossed out the latest constitutional challenge to Obamacare, which argues that if the individual mandate is a “tax,” as the Supreme Court said it is, it’s still unconstitutional because it did not originate in the House of Representatives, as the Constitution requires. I argued the case on behalf of entrepreneur Matt Sissel in May.

Today’s decision, written by Judge Judith Rogers and joined by Judges Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins, holds that while the mandate may be a “tax,” it isn’t a “bill for raising revenue,” and is therefore exempt from the Origination Clause.

What’s the difference between a tax and a bill for raising revenue? Some court decisions have held that there are things that may appear to be taxes but are actually only penalties designed to enforce other kinds of laws. For example, in a 1943 case called Rodgers v. United States, the court of appeals said that a tax that was imposed on people for growing more wheat than the government allowed (that’s the same wheat law that was at issue in the infamous Wickard v. Filburn) wasn’t really a tax, but just an enforcement penalty or a fine. Such penalties aren’t “bills for raising revenue,” so they don’t have to start in the House.

The problem with that line of argument is that in NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court said that the individual mandate, whatever else it might be, is not a penalty or a fine. That’s just why Chief Justice Roberts concluded that it was a tax! And that means that no such exemption should apply.

Iraq: No Military Redo a Decade Later

Little more than a decade ago the U.S. invaded Iraq.  The promised cakewalk turned out far different than expected.  Today the government—and entire state—created by Washington are in crisis.  Yet the same voices again are being raised calling for military intervention.  With the promise that this time everything will turn out well.

Social engineers never seem to learn.  It is hard enough to redesign and remake individuals, families, and communities in America.  It is far harder to do so overseas.

As I point out in my latest Freeman column:  “Nation-building requires surmounting often vast differences in tradition, culture, history, religion, ethnicity, ideology, geography, and more.  Doing so also requires suppressing the natural desire of people to govern themselves.”

Yet these days Washington continues to try to fix the world’s problems.  However, reentering Iraq would be unique, an attempted redo barely a decade after the first go. 

The original Iraq operation was supposed to be a quick, bloodless war that destroyed dangerous weapons of mass destruction and “drained the swamp,” eliminating terrorism.  The U.S. would guarantee a friendly, compliant government by imposing as president an exile who hadn’t lived in the country for decades.  The new Iraq would implement democracy, eschew sectarian division, protect women’s rights, and even recognize Israel, while providing America bases for use in attacking neighboring states, including Iran.

This wonderful wish list was pure fantasy. 

The conflict killed thousands and wounded tens of thousands of Americans, and killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Iraqis.  The ancient Christian community was destroyed. 

The ultimate financial cost, including the expense of caring for those who sustained debilitating wounds, to America likely will run $3 trillion or more.  America’s reputation was stained, Iran was empowered, and terrorists were trained.  Finally, Baghdad’s sectarian misrule wrecked national institutions and fostered the rise of an ugly Islamic totalitarianism. 

The obvious—indeed, only—policy for Americans is to run, not walk, away from the mess.  Yet many of the architects of the original disaster are back, advocating a second shot.

Biden: “I Should Have Had One Republican Kid To Go Out And Make Money”

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Vice President Joseph Biden made his audience “burst into laughter” at the Urban League gathering in Cincinnati when he cracked “I should have had one Republican kid to go out and make money,” noting that instead he has a daughter who went into social work. 

And well should they have burst into laughter. It was a joke, folks! In real life, Biden’s son Beau has worked as an asbestos plaintiff’s lawyer, which is much more of a moneymaking venture than most “Republican kids” ever get near. Both he and another Biden son have been closely associated with one of the biggest such law firms in the nation. This fits a pattern noted by David Boaz a few weeks back, in which reporters keep acting surprised when Democratic politicians are found to be pals with zillionaires and attending fundraisers at mansions. 

Although Vice President Biden has not always been entirely forthcoming about his family’s longstanding ties to plaintiff’s law work, especially considering his own role as a guardian of trial lawyer causes while in the Senate, you might have seen them mentioned in places like the L.A. Times and USA Today a few years back. The L.A. Times story begins: 

When Joe Biden’s brother and son wanted to buy a hedge fund company two years ago, they turned for financing to a law firm that had lobbied the Delaware senator’s office on an important piece of business in Congress – and in fact had recently benefited from his vote. The firm promised James and Hunter Biden that it would invest $2 million, and quickly delivered half of it.

They wanted to buy a hedge fund? At least it presumably wasn’t a Republican hedge fund. 

 

 

 

 

Podcast: The Second Amendment Wins in D.C.

Saturday afternoon, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that D.C.’s “complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.” Alan Gura is the attorney on the case, entitled Palmer v. D.C. We talked yesterday about the ruling and how D.C. might comply.

Gura, along with Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice and Cato Institute chairman Robert A. Levy, served as co-counsel to Dick Heller in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The lead plaintiff in this case is Cato Institute senior fellow Tom G. Palmer.

On his blog, here’s how Gura characterized the win:

With this decision in Palmer, the nation’s last explicit ban of the right to bear arms has bitten the dust. Obviously, the carrying of handguns for self-defense can be regulated. Exactly how is a topic of severe and serious debate, and courts should enforce constitutional limitations on such regulation should the government opt to regulate. But totally banning a right literally spelled out in the Bill of Rights isn’t going to fly.

Krugman’s ‘Gotcha’ Moment Leaves Something to Be Desired

I’ve had some fun over the years by pointing out that Paul Krugman has butchered numbers when writing about fiscal policy in nations such as FranceEstoniaGermany, and the United Kingdom.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that he wants to catch me making an error. But I’m not sure his “gotcha” moment is very persuasive. Here’s some of what he wrote for today’s New York Times.

Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare. …Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. …Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.”

Kudos to Krugman for having read Atlas Shrugged, or for at least knowing that Rand sometimes referred to “looters and moochers.” Though I have to subtract points because he thinks I’m a conservative rather than a libertarian.

But what about his characterization of my position? Well, he’s right, though I’m predicting slow-motion suicide. Voting for a tax hike isn’t akin to jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. Instead, by further penalizing success and expanding the burden of government, California is engaging in the economic equivalent of smoking four packs of cigarettes every day instead of three and one-half packs.