Topic: Government and Politics

We Should Not Praise Stalin, But Bury Him

Although the debate has been raging for months, it has just come to my attention that the man responsible for the second-most number of murders ever – after Mao, of course, with Hitler a distant third – is to have his bust placed at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

Defenders of the Stalin bust argue that, whether we like it or not, our uneasy alliance with the Soviet Union during the war is a part of history and should be recognized. Furthermore, they say that his visage is in no way glorifying the man or his deeds.

This argument misses the point entirely. Memorials are monuments to fallen heroes, not historical dioramas. There is no statue of Stephen Douglas at the Lincoln Memorial, no bust of Wendell Willkie at the FDR Memorial, and no plaques honoring Axis dead at our WWII Memorial. Moreover – and perhaps most importantly from a historical perspective – Stalin had no role in D-Day; the invasion of Normandy by U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, Free French, and other Western forces.

While there is no question that Stalin, by virtue of commanding the army fighting on the Eastern Front, played an indispensable role in defeating Hitler, it should escape no one’s memory that he too was an evil, mass-murdering despot.

Stalin and communism should be universally reviled in the very same way as Hitler and Nazism. (Note also that Stalin only fought the Germans because Hitler invaded the USSR in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Eastern Europe and enabled the Reich’s western incursions in the first place.)

Finally, no one doubts or discounts the bravery of the Russian and other Soviet soldiers fighting in defense of their homeland and families, far removed from the politics of terror that permeated their government – including my maternal grandfather, a tank captain who helped take Berlin. Accordingly, if we are to honor the Soviet role at our D-Day Memorial, we should honor the common Red Army soldiers – whom Stalin treated as disposable bullet-stoppers, many of whom he murdered after the war because they had witnessed the world beyond communism – not the tyrant and the murderous system they represented.

You can read about the collective amnesia – if not willful blindness – about the evils of communism that has set in among Western elites in Paul Hollander’s excellent Cato Development Policy Analysis.

A Complaint for Wednesday

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) has introduced H.Con.Res.155, “Supporting the goals and ideals of ‘Complaint Free Wednesday.’” The bill description says:

Expresses support for the goals and ideals of Complaint Free Wednesday. Encourages each person in the United States to remember that having a positive life begins with having a positive attitude. Recognizes and reaffirms the meaning of Thanksgiving by asking each person in the United States to use Complaint Free Wednesday to refrain from complaining and prepare for a day of gratitude.

So what’s my complaint? My complaint is that people get elected to office and they think their every passing thought should be a law. Eat less, exercise more, play classical music to unborn children, have a college football playoff, keep your frequent-flyer miles forever, don’t complain so much – every time a politician has an idea, he writes a law to ban or mandate something.

So, please, send Rep. Cleaver a message – on this Wednesday of all Wednesdays, complain about politicians who don’t understand that the powers of the federal government are “few and defined” and think that all their preferences should be enacted into law.

Greedy Local Politicians Attempt to Grab Revenue Far Outside Their Borders

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the tax competition battle, which largely revolves around high-tax governments attempting to track – and tax – economic activity that migrates to lower-tax jurisdictions. But this is not just a global fight between decrepit welfare states such as France and fiscal havens such as the Cayman Islands. American states also compete with each other, and there are numerous examples of high-tax states such as California and New York trying to grab money from people who escape to zero-income tax states such as Nevada and Florida. The fight even exists at the local level, and a good example is the attempt by politicians to tax faraway online travel agencies. The Orange County Register opines about these extraterritorial tax grabs:

A recent legal victory for some Texas cities against online travel companies over hotel taxes may have given Anaheim officials hope for their own case, but they shouldn’t start celebrating just yet. Other cities have not fared as well in similar lawsuits. …Here’s what Fairview Heights, Anaheim and other cities wanted to change: In a typical transaction, a traveler picks a hotel and books a room, stays there, and pays the hotel a room charge plus a local occupancy tax based on the room charge. The hotel keeps the room charge and forwards the tax money to the government. Enter online travel companies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity, which allow travelers to sort through hotels and book a room on a central Web site. These companies do not reserve or resell hotel rooms, but act as intermediaries to facilitate the transaction between hotel and traveler. The hotel receives an amount for the room, on which the city’s hotel tax is based. Let’s say I search a Web site and book a $100 hotel room. The online company charges me $10 for their service. Anaheim argues that hotel occupancy tax should be paid not only on the $100 room charge, but also on the $10 service fee. …A federal bill is pending to limit hotel taxes to amounts collected by a hotel for occupancy purposes, excluding service fees and markups by intermediaries. The Constitution permits Congress to pass such laws if there is a danger that state and city laws are interfering with interstate commerce. Hotel taxes are attractive to local politicians because they are a way to shift the tax burden to “outsiders.” But because every U.S. city has a hotel tax, we’re all somebody else’s “outsider.” The net result is that everyone is taxing everyone else in an unaccountable way, and unless the cities and their lawyers are stopped, in an unpredictable way, too.

The Nets Finally Win!

Unfortunately, that win comes as another blow to property rights:

The last major obstacle to a groundbreaking for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn fell Tuesday when New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, dismissed a challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain on behalf of the developer, Bruce C. Ratner.

Mr. Ratner, whose 22-acre development has been delayed for three years by a flurry of lawsuits, the collapse of the credit and real estate markets and a glut of luxury housing, plans to begin selling tax-free bonds next month to finance the development’s cornerstone project: an 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues near downtown.

Given the high-profile nature of the would-be new tenants of the land, this is the most famous property rights case currently being litigated, but it’s the same ol’ story: rich company wants land on the cheap, company gets the government to seize the land, property owners lose their land for the benefit of another private party for a decidedly not public use.

And, as I allude to in this post’s title, this loss comes to the 0-13 New Jersey Nets. (Even the Redskins can win a game without getting the government to bail them out!)

And while the story goes on to promise all this new office space and buildings to go on the newly acquired land, we know from recent experience that a successful deal doesn’t automatically trigger the jobs and benefit promised. To give you an idea what the rest of Brooklyn is looking like:

If construction begins in the coming weeks as expected, Atlantic Yards will stand out in a city where 530 different construction projects are stalled, sitting lifeless and without adequate financing in virtually every neighborhood.

One would think that if there was such a guarantee of money to be made, investors would be funding one of those 530 other projects in the city.

And if you think a brand spanking new stadium is more likely to bring in business to the immediate area, just ask the shop owners around the new Yankee Stadium how business was this year – when that team put up the best record in baseball and won the World Series. (NB: Go Red Sox!)

In any event, Cato continues the fight for the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. We filed a brief in a case coming before the Court next week, Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which can be found here; and just yesterday filed a brief urging the Court to consider 480.00 Acres v. United States, which you can read here.

HT: Jonathan Blanks

An Easy Target: Mocking the Stimulus

Writing for The Hill, I explain why Keynesian-style stimulus does not work. In addition, I note that the so-called stimulus was just an excuse for pork-barrel spending. But my concluding point, excerpted below, is that the White House goofed politically by making specific claims about the good things that ostensibly would happen by increasing the burden of government spending:

The only surprise was that the White House was foolish enough to make specific claims of the good results that supposedly would flow from all the pork-barrel spending. In part, this is the absurd notion of claiming 600,000-plus “jobs saved or created” when total employment actually has fallen by more than 3 million. But the bigger mistake was claiming that the faux stimulus would keep the unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent and that failure to squander $787 billion would cause the jobless rate to climb to 9 percent. The politicians got their wish, yet now the unemployment rate is above 10 percent. Brilliant.

A Special Kind of Eminent Domain Abuse

In federal eminent domain cases, the “scope of the project” rule requires that in determining “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, any increase or decrease in property value caused by the federal project be disregarded.  As it turns out, the federal government had discussed the idea of expanding Everglades National Park for over 30 years, and also induced the local government to enact tougher zoning standards that decreased the value of the property that was to be taken for this purpose.  This type of behavior is a special kind of eminent domain abuse called “condemnation blight.”

The Everglades-related federal actions forced Gilbert Fornatora to watch the value of his South Florida property decline until the federal government finally condemned it – and paid him much lower compensation than he would otherwise have received.  Then, once condemnation proceedings began, the government manipulated the hearing schedule by front-loading ill-prepared owners who lacked counsel, thereby setting a low valuation precedent that would then be applied to the later parties with representation, like Fornatora.  The Eleventh Circuit sided with the government, so Fornatora petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case.

Cato filed an amicus brief supporting this petition, arguing that property owners have virtually no “scope of the project” protection if they must prove that the government’s sole or primary purpose for pre-condemnation action was to depress property values for later eminent domain proceedings.  A more workable test, consistent with due process, is merely to require evidence of a nexus between the government’s actions and the depressed property value.  The Court should also hear this case to ensure that just compensation proceedings comport with the due process, equal protection, and general fairness standards the government is required to follow in a variety of other settings.

The Court will be deciding early in the new year whether to hear the case, which has the ungainly name of 480.00 Acres of Land v. United States.

Should the Government Pay for Christian Science?

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist, are pushing to get a provision into the health care bill that would mandate equal treatment for “spiritual healing,” such as Christian Science prayer treatments. Sens. John Kerry and Orrin Hatch are trying to get it inserted into the Senate bill, according to the Washington Post.

Kerry’s spokeswoman, Whitney Smith, told the Los Angeles Times that insurers would not be forced to cover prayer. Instead, she said, “the amendment would prevent insurers from discriminating against benefits that qualify as spiritual care if the care is recognized by the IRS as a legitimate medical expense. Plans are free to impose standards on spiritual and medical care as long as both are treated equally. It does not mandate that plans provide spiritual care.”

So far the provision has not been included in either the House or the Senate bill, but efforts are continuing. The Post reports that “opponents of spiritual care coverage – a coalition of separation-of-church-and-state advocates, pediatricians and children’s health activists – say such a provision would waste money, endanger lives and, in some cases, amount to government-funded prayer.”

To a lot of us, this sounds ridiculous. Pray if you think it helps. But why should that be the government’s business? And why on earth would we want the government to mandate that insurers cover prayers?

But if you want government health care, then this is the world you have chosen. We’ve already seen pitched battles over whether abortion should be covered by government programs, or government-subsidized programs, or insurance plans that participate in the government “exchange.” The House bill eliminates a tax penalty for same-sex couples who receive health benefits from employers, but so far the Senate bill does not. The House bill provides grants to states for “home visitation” programs in which nurses and social workers counsel pregnant women and new mothers in low-income families, coaching them on “parenting practices” and skills needed to “interact with their child to enhance age-appropriate development” – a program that some American families would surely find Big Brother-ish.

But that’s the reality of government-funded and directed health care. If the government is paying for it, then every inclusion or exclusion – abortion, fertility treatments, prayer, same-sex couples, acupuncture, homeopathy – becomes a matter for political decision. And political decisions become the subject of political activity and lobbying, by groups ranging from Big Pharma to small insurance companies to nurses to Catholic bishops to Christian Scientists. No wonder lobbying is up in our increasingly politicized economy, particularly in the health care arena.

You can’t have government pay for something as personal and intimate as health care, and not find the government poking around in the bedroom, the medicine cabinet, the sickroom, and the chapel.