Topic: Government and Politics

Will They Turn Themselves In?

British prime minister Gordon Brown has announced that he supports increasing the penalties for the use of marijuana, reversing the slight liberalization of the law under his predecessor, Tony Blair.

I touched on this topic about nine months ago in my posting “Hash Brownies and Harlots in the Halls of Power.” As the Brown government began a review of the marijuana laws, it was revealed that at least eight members of Brown’s cabinet –including the Home Secretary (or attorney general), who was charged with studying the idea of increased penalties, the police minister, and the Home Office minister in charge of drugs – had themselves used marijuana. They were dubbed the “Hash Brownies,” in honor of their service in Brown’s government. I wrote at the time:

In the United States many leading politicians including Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Bill Bradley, and Barack Obama have admitted using drugs, while Bush and Bill Clinton tried to avoid answering the question.

In both Britain and the United States, all these politicians support drug prohibition. They support the laws that allow for the arrest and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet they laugh off their own use as “a youthful indiscretion.”

These people should be asked: Do you think people should be arrested for using drugs? Do you think people should go to jail for using drugs? And if so, do you think you should turn yourself in? Do you think people who by the luck of the draw avoided the legal penalty for using drugs should now be serving in high office and sending off to jail other people who did what you did?

Those are still good questions. I noted at the time that they might also be asked of Sen. David Vitter, a patron of prostitutes who believes that prostitution should be illegal. And of course now they should be asked – if he were to reappear and take questions – of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who not only supported the laws he was breaking but aggressively enforced those very laws during the same period in which he was enthusastically violating them.

Hypocrisy may be the tribute that vice pays to virtue in matters of advice. But it’s entirely unbecoming when the coercive force of law is involved.

April Fools for Skilled Workers

Quite appropriately, today exposes another facet of the foolishness that is U.S. immigration policy. April 1st is the day each fiscal year when employers are allowed to begin filing petitions with the US Citizen and Immigration Services for highly skilled workers to be given what are known as H-1B visas. For the second consecutive year, the quota of these visas was reached on this first day of eligibility.

H-1Bs allow employers to hire foreign workers in certain professional occupations. They are good for three years and can be renewed for another three. Though an H-1B cannot lead to a green card, it’s still a pretty good deal.

The problem is that, even in this apparent economic downturn, there aren’t enough visas: Congress limits the number of annual H-1Bs grants, and that magic number has been set at 65,000 for five years now. Before that, and in response to the technology boom of the late ’90s, Congress temporarily raised the H-1B cap to 195,000. But that expansion expired in 2004, and the cap has been reached earlier and earlier each year since.

In 2005, that meant August. In 2006, May 26. Last year, by the afternoon of April 2, 2007 (April 1 was a Sunday), USCIS had received over 150,000 H-1B applications. Officials quickly announced that they would randomly select 65,000 petitions from all those the agency had received in the first two days of eligibility.

Last week, with demand for the prized work permits only increasing, the powers that be decreed that this year’s lottery would accept all entries received in the first five business days. USCIS simultaneously promulgated a rule prohibiting employers from trying to game the lottery by filing multiple petitions for the same employee.

As for the vast majority of employers and employees who will be out of luck, the immigration laws say, like so many “rebuilding” baseball teams this opening week, “wait till next year.” Except, in this case, next year means putting your business or career on hold until October 1, 2009—the day people who secure H-1Bs for fiscal year 2010 can start work.

If only this were all a bad April Fools’ joke.

Read more on this in the article I have up on National Review Online today.

Ironically Enough, McCain-Feingold Jeopardizes Public Campaign Financing

Six years ago today President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold. Sen. McCain, who has all but captured the Republican nomination for president in 2008, does not note the anniversary on his website. Perhaps, like many others, he has come to see the legislation as a mistake. According to his website, Sen. McCain is raising money today in Denver and Salt Lake City. Perhaps someone will ask him about the anniversary of his namesake legislation.

Over the past six years, there has been much debate about BCRA and its consequences. I will not repeat those arguments now; the discussion of a year ago remains relevant.

However, I do see one possible result of BCRA that will not please its sponsoring groups. I have been reading Joseph Cantor and Sam Garrett’s interesting history of efforts to pass taxpayer financing of congressional campaigns. They note that advocates have sought public financing as much to limit overall campaign spending as to prevent corruption. In the presidential system, for example, candidates agree to limit their spending in exchange for public money. If public funding were universal, so the argument goes, spending would be limited.

But candidates have never been the only sources of spending, and after BCRA, individuals and groups have learned how to raise and spend money independently. They have learned to design and manage vehicles for such independent spending. They have created arguments and legal theories to protect such vehicles and such spending from legal sanctions. Who knows? They may even have learned how independent spending can help a candidate without violating the law against coordinating such spending with a campaign.

Even if public financing for Congress passed, those who wish to spend money on campaigns have learned how to do so, voluntary spending limits on candidates notwithstanding. For that reason, it is hard to see how public financing would reduce overall spending.

So incentives established by BCRA have made public financing less likely to succeed on its own terms. I think that counts as an unintended consequence.

Newt: Schools Are a ‘National Security Issue.’

Newt Gingrich gave a luncheon talk about education at the American Enterprise Institute today.  Among other things, he said he’d “argue with any conservative” about the role of the federal government with respect to education.  It’s a matter of national security, he said.  He called on the secretary of defense to give a speech every year on the state of our schools. 

Just the latest indication of the drift on the right.  Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Department of Education.  In 1996, after the GOP captured the Congress, Bill Bennett and Lamar Alexander urged Congress to abolish the Department of Education.  Within a few years, the GOP was supporting Bill Clinton’s proposal to hire 100,000 teachers.  Then Bush came along with his “Leave No Child Behind” law, which expanded the role of the federal government further.  Now this. 

Will the GOP ticket be McCain-Gingrich? 

The Hillarys and the Huckabees

In a recent op-ed I dub the two kinds of enemies of freedom in America “the Hillarys and the Huckabees.” I think it has a nice ring.

Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee are classic examples of two strains of big-government thinking in a country that otherwise prefers small government. Hillary is the quintessential nanny-state liberal who is determined to have the government take care of adult Americans the way parents take care of children. Huckabee wants the government to stamp out sin and make us all do God’s will as he sees it….

But, despite that heritage of freedom, we’ve always got the Hillarys and the Huckabees and the other people who think they could run our lives better than we can. The Huckabees on the right continue to resist the cultural changes of the 1960s, and the Hillarys on the left continue to resist the economic changes of the 1980s.

The “Huckabees” want to censor cable television because they don’t think you can be trusted to decide what your family should watch. They support bans on drugs, pornography, gambling and violent video games because you just don’t know what’s good for you. They want prayer in the schools and sound science out. They want to subsidize heterosexual marriage and ban gay marriage. They want government to take the place of God and stamp out sin on earth. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a classic Huckabee, complains about “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.”

The “Hillarys,” meanwhile, want to raise taxes because they think they can spend your money more wisely than you can. They don’t believe in school choice because you don’t know how to choose a school for your children. They think they can handle your retirement savings and health care better than you can. They think, as Hillary Clinton has advocated, that the government should produce video lectures on how to burp a baby and how to brush your teeth and have them “running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait.”

The Huckabees want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. The Hillarys want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences.

Supreme Court to President Bush: Don’t Mess With Texas

Tuesday the Supreme Court slipped the Gordian knot of a case that could have come straight from a law school exam, involving federalism, treaty interpretation, the scope of executive power, criminal procedure, and conflicts between international and domestic law.  The issues in Medellin v. Texas boiled down to: 1) Whether a particular decision of the International Court of Justice is automatically binding on Texas courts and, if not, 2) Whether President Bush made it binding by issuing a memorandum to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  The Court answered in the negative on both counts by a 6-3 margin.

The result of this decision is that neither the ICJ (the so-called “World Court”) nor the president acting alone can force states to review criminal cases involving foreign nationals.  The underlying treaty at issue – which gives foreign nationals accused of a crime the right to meet with consular officials – is not enforceable in the absence of implementing legislation from Congress.  The ICJ ruling is similarly not self-executing, and does not gain legal effect merely because the president tells the states to abide by it.

The Supreme Court has thus protected America’s carefully calibrated system of federalism and checks and balances by preventing an international court from overriding a state’s duly enacted (and constitutionally sound) law.  Just as importantly, the Court correctly rejected the argument that the president has the power to enforce against the states a treaty that is, in the absence of congressional action, enforceable only by diplomatic means.  Telling state courts how to do their jobs is simply not among the powers of the nation’s chief executive.

Be Still My Beating Heart…

Move over Ron Paul, my heart belongs to Jack! How long until we see a “Kevorkian Girl” on You-Tube?

The assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian announced that he was running for Congress as an independent. If elected, he said his main priority would be promoting the Ninth Amendment, which protects rights not explicitly specified elsewhere in the Constitution. Mr. Kevorkian, 79, says he interprets it as protecting a person’s choice to die through assisted suicide or to avoid wearing a seat belt. The Congressional seat in Detroit’s suburbs is now held by Representative Joe Knollenberg, a Republican who is seeking re-election.

Those still a bit uncertain about the wisdom of physician assisted suicide might want to keep in mind the following three words: President Hillary Clinton.