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February 21, 2013 4:30PM

Why the Areas Affected by Sequestration Should be Cut

The scheduled implementation of the sequestration spending cuts is a little more than a week away, which has Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, special interests, and the media warning that the apocalypse is nigh. Sequestration isn’t the ideal way to cut spending, but it would be a start. And despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the areas of federal spending targeted by sequestration should be cut.


Many of these areas have been covered by Cato’s Downsizing Government website. The following is a “guide” for those who are interested in alternative points of view (and who haven’t already sought refuge in a bunker):

Downsizing discusses other agencies and programs that would be cut (and more), but those are some of the more prominent areas that are being discussed. 

February 21, 2013 4:28PM

Current Wisdom: New Findings on Black Carbon Spell Trouble for Climate Models

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.


Have climate models, which are claimed by our friends like Ben Santer, to accurately represent the climate of the 20th century gotten things right for the wrong reasons? New research on the role of carbon aerosols suggests that this may be the case. If it is, it does not bode well for the accuracy of forward projections made by the same climate models.


This would represent a classic case of “overfitting”— building a model with bells and whistles added and tuned so as to match the data at hand, but which then breaks down when trying to predict out‐​of‐​sample observations. This occurs because the overfitted model has been polished up to give the appearance of capturing the underlying behaviors driving the system — an appearance that is often good enough to fool even the model builders — but, in fact, the appearance is only skin deep, and the mechanisms driving things in the real world differ from those from which the model was built.


A recent paper by Dr. Tami Bond and colleagues finds that carbon aerosols — particulates released into that atmosphere from a variety of human activities including diesel engines, open cook stoves, poorly filtered coal burning, and open burning, etc. — have played a much larger role in impacting the climate than has been previously recognized (and included in climate models).


For instance, Bond et al. report that black carbon aerosol, or soot, is second only to carbon dioxide as the substance emitted by human activity that has the greatest warming influence on the climate — contributing a quarter (or perhaps even a bit more) to the current overall anthropogenic warming effect. Bond et al. find that the total warming impact from black carbon emissions is about 70% as large as that from carbon dioxide emissions.


These finding are similar to those reported a few years ago by Ramanathan and Carmichael but grossly dissimilar to those from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that black carbon is responsible for only about 10% of the total anthropogenic warming influence. 


Apparently, climate models incorporate even less of an influence from black carbon. According to Bond et al. “global atmospheric absorption attributable to black carbon is too low in many models, and should be increased by a factor of almost three.”


There are several interesting implications.

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February 21, 2013 1:10PM

Stossel Tonight

Tonight at 9 pm on the Fox Business Network, John Stossel interviews a vast array of characters — Gov. Gary Johnson, Rep. Justin Amash, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Cato Media Fellow Radley Balko, John Bolton, Ann Coulter, and even me — in front of a cast of thousands. Literally. Some 1400 attendees at the Students for Liberty conference joined in asking the questions. As Stossel’s website says,

This week, Stossel does a special show at the 6th annual “Students for Liberty” conference in Washington.…


Fireworks fly when Stossel and the mostly libertarian crowd spar with Ann Coulter about gay marriage and drug laws. Coulter is in rare form, passionately denouncing libertarians, and at one point calling Stossel and the crowd out for focusing on drug laws and gay marriage.

It may not make it into the final version, but Coulter said libertarians should stop spending time on, you know, issues of personal freedom and equality under the law and focus on more important issues. Like privatizing the New York City subways. I kid you not.


9 pm ET tonight. Be there.


 

February 21, 2013 1:08PM

Who Cares If Pre‑K Would Work?

The following is cross-posted from the National Journal’s Education Experts blog:

This week’s introduction says that, when it comes to President Obama’s preschool proposal, “the only problem, as always, is that these investments cost money.” These proposals certainly would cost money – dollars Washington doesn’t have – but even discussing cost is seriously jumping the gun. The fact is that right now, regardless of cost, there is almost no meaningful evidence to support massive expansion of federal pre-school efforts. Indeed, the evidence calls much more loudly for the opposite.

Start with the biggest federal pre-K initiative, Head Start. It costs about $8 billion per year, and what are its lasting effects? According to the latest random-assignment, federal assessments, there essentially aren’t any. The program has demonstrated no meaningful, lasting benefits, and is therefore a failure.

How about Early Head Start, which involves children ages 0 to 3? It is a much newer program than its big brother, but it, too, provides no evidence of overall, lasting benefits. As a 2010 random-assignment, federal study concludes:

The impact analyses show that for the overall sample, the positive effects of Early Head Start for children and parents did not continue when children were in fifth grade…. It appears that the modest impacts across multiple domains that were observed in earlier waves of follow-up did not persist by the time children were in fifth grade.

There were, to be fair, some lasting positive effects found for some subgroups, but there were also negative effects. And for the “highest-risk” children – the ones the program is most supposed to help – the outcomes were awful:

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February 20, 2013 7:13PM

Rick Scott’s ObamaCare Flip‐​Flop

Word is that Florida Gov. Rick Scott ® has decided to throw his support behind, or at least drop his opposition to, ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. His formal announcement, which may come tomorrow, will receive much attention. Scott was an early opponent of ObamaCare. He parlayed that opposition into a bid for governor in 2010, and rode the anti‐​ObamaCare wave into office. Shortly after becoming governor, he announced he would not lift a finger to help the federal government implement the law. I followed all this pretty closely. I served on Scott’s gubernatorial transition team, at his invitation.


Now, it appears Scott doesn’t see the point in opposing the Medicaid expansion. Never mind that — according to my colleague Jagadeesh Gokhale, whom the Social Security Administration consults when making these types of projections — the expansion will cost Florida $20 billion over the first 10 years, and add 3 million Floridians to the Medicaid rolls. Never mind that many of those Floridians currently have private health insurance. Never mind that Medicaid will provide them inferior access to care. Never mind that expanding Medicaid would make those millions of voters dependent on government for their health care, and thus would expand the constituency for more government spending and higher taxes.


There is speculation that Scott made a deal with the Obama administration: he would drop his opposition to the Medicaid expansion in exchange for HHS approving Florida’s plan to put its Medicaid enrollees in managed care plans. HHS approved Florida’s plan today. But economists have shown that moving Medicaid enrollees into managed care increases state and federal spending because it lures more people into the program. So it appears that Scott supported ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion so that the Obama administration would support his.


Scott says he still opposes having Florida create a health insurance Exchange. Then again, he said the same thing about the Medicaid expansion. So in addition to whatever other damage his flip‐​flop does, he has squandered his credibility as an opponent of ObamaCare.


To reclaim any credibility on this issue, Scott would have to file an Oklahoma‐​style lawsuit to block the illegal taxes that the Obama administration is trying to impose on employers in Florida and the other 33 states that have opted for a federal Exchange. Or will he sell out Florida’s job creators too?

February 20, 2013 3:50PM

New Constitutional Amendment Would Abolish Obamacare’s “Mandate Tax”

I’ve been known to say that Chief Justice Roberts’s transmogrification of Obamacare’s individual mandate created a “unicorn tax” — a creature of no known constitutional provenance that’ll never be seen again. Well, here to ensure that more than congressional discretion prevents any future tax on non‐​purchases is a constitutional amendment that was recently floated by Congressman Steven Palazzo (R‑MS). 


Rep. Palazzo has introduced H.J. Res. 28, which would overturn last summer’s Supreme Court decision that, for the first time ever, under certain limited conditions, granted Congress the power to tax inaction. The amendment reads, in its entirety, as follows: “Congress shall make no law that imposes a tax on a failure to purchase goods or services.”


Short and sweet and, with the mandate‐​tax set to take effect this next January, now is the time to act to prevent about 11 million mostly middle‐​class Americans from getting hit. Indeed, the CBO estimates that 70 percent of those currently without insurance and earning less than $94,000 a year will get slapped with the mandate‐​tax that goes into effect in 2014. That doesn’t sound like a good, let alone fair, way of either “protecting patients” or ensuring “affordable care,” but hey, I’m just a constitutional lawyer.


Oh, and of course this amendment would prevent all other possible mandate‐​taxes as well, not just in the field of health care. 


It’s sad that we’ve come to this — the Constitution already prohibits taxes on inactivity — but of course there are many things that the government does (and which courts have allowed it to do) that are plainly unconstitutional. H.J. Res. 28 is an excellent start. 


For examples of more great ideas on how to rein in our out‐​of‐​control government, see Randy Barnett’s “Bill of Federalism” and the Compact for America.

February 20, 2013 3:33PM

Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas

“What can be said about copyright that doesn’t anger somebody somewhere?”


“Not very much,” I said in answer to my own rhetorical question at the beginning of a December book forum on Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess (Mercatus Center, 2012).


Copyright and other intellectual property laws are controversial: Some libertarians regard inventions of the mind as the rightful property of their creators. The Framers, they point out, empowered Congress to secure these rights to authors and inventors. Others lament these laws as information regulations that conflict with natural rights.


The latest turn in the copyright controversy is the Librarian of Congress’s decision no longer to exempt the unlocking of (newly purchased) mobile phones from the proscriptions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In other words, consumers can no longer use their phones on a different network without the original carrier’s permission, even after their contracts have expired.


Derek Khanna, the former Republican Study Committee staffer fired after penning a memorandum strongly critical of current copyright law, called it in The Atlantic the “Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far),” and a petition asking the president to reverse the Librarian’s ruling has more than 87,000 of the 100,000 it requires to get the White House’s response.


We won’t necessarily get into that particular issue on March 20th when we hear from Ronald Cass and Keith N. Hylton, authors of the book Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas. But Cass and Hilton argue against the notion that changing technology undermines the case for intellectual property rights. Indeed, they argue that technological advances only strengthen the case for intellectual property rights. 


In the view of Cass and Hylton, the easier it becomes to copy innovations, the harder to detect copies and to stop copying, the greater the disincentive to invest time and money in inventions and creative works. Intellectual property laws are needed as much as ever.


Register now for this March 20 noon‐​time event. It’s the latest in a long series of Cato events examining copyright and intellectual property, subjects on which libertarians often find themselves divided.