Topic: Government and Politics

Next Move: Suing the Sun for Unseasonably Cool Weather

The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, the federal court of appeals where I once clerked, has allowed a class action lawsuit by Hurricane Katrina victims to proceed against a motley crew of energy, oil, and chemical companies.  Their claim: that the defendants’ greenhouse gas emissions raised air and water temperatures on the Gulf Coast, contributing to Katrina’s strength and causing property damage.  Mass tort litigation specialist Russell Jackson calls the plaintiffs’ claims “the litigator’s equivalent to the game ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’”

In Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, the plaintiffs assert a variety of theories under Mississippi common law, but the main issue at this stage was whether the plaintiffs had standing, or whether they could demonstrate that their injuries were “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions.  The court dismissed several claims but held that plaintiffs indeed could allege public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence.  The court also held that these latter claims do not present a so-called “political question” that the court doesn’t have the authority to resolve.  You can read about the Court’s ruling in more detail at the WSJ Law Blog and Jackson’s Consumer Class Actions and Mass Torts Blog.

This is actually the second federal appeals court to rule this way; last month, the Second Circuit (based in New York) held that states, municipalities and certain private organizations had standing to bring federal common law nuisance claims to impose caps on certain companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.  Here’s the opinion in that case, Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company, and you can read a pretty good summary and analysis here.

Both of these cases, which herald a flood of global warming-related litigation, so to speak, owe their continuing vitality to the Supreme Court’s misbegotten 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  The 2006-2007 Cato Supreme Court Review covered that case in an insightful article by Andrew Morriss of the University of Illinois.  (To get your copy of the latest (2008-2009) Review, go here.)

I should note from my own experience at the Fifth Circuit that the panel here consisted of the two worst judges on the court – Clinton appointees Carl Stewart and James Dennis – and one of Reagan’s weakest federal appellate appointments, Eugene Davis.  Even Davis, however, wrote separately to note that while he agreed on the standing issue, he would have affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit on a different ground (that pesky proximate cause issue).

I predict that the full (16-judge) Fifth Circuit will review this case en banc –and if not that the Supreme Court will eventually take it up (if the district court on remand doesn’t again dispose of the case on causation grounds).

Obama: ‘All Part of the Job’

Via the Spectator’s Alex Massie, comes this ABC News report on last Thursday’s Obama town hall in New Orleans:

“Why do people hate you?”, a fourth-grade boy asked Obama …. “They’re supposed to love you. And God is love.”

Massie comments,

Obama’s answer is actually pretty reasonable. But this is what happens when you make a mere elected politician assume the status of Priest-King. It is, in its own way, a corrupting influence. I don’t blame the kid asking the question since, heck, there are plenty of professional journalists in DC who basically think along the same lines. This isn’t Obama’s fault, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

True enough, Americans had an irrational conception of presidential responsibility long before 44 took office. Still, Obama’s far from blameless. At the same town hall, Obama commented :

“You know, I listen to, sometimes, these reporters on the news: Well, why haven’t you solved world hunger yet?” he joked.

Ha: silly reporters! They should ask the president about something he’s actually promised to do, like provide “a cure for cancer in our time,” or stop the oceans’ rise, or “create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

Obama’s right that it’s “part of the job” that the president gets an outsized share of credit or blame for the direction of the country. It’s been that way for a long time. As Thomas Cronin put it in his classic 1970 essay “Superman: Our Textbook President”:

on both sides of the presidential popularity equation [the president’s] importance is inflated beyond reasonable bounds. On one side, there is a nearly blind faith that the president embodies national virtue and that any detractor must be an effete snob or a nervous Nellie. On the other side, the president becomes the cause of all personal maladies, the originator of poverty and racism, inventor of the establishment, and the party responsible for a choleric national disposition.

Barack Obama didn’t create this view of presidential responsibility; he inherited it. But, other than the occasional “change is hard” caveat, it’s not as though Obama’s sought to dispel the irrational expectations people invest in the office. To the contrary, he’s done more than any president in living memory to encourage the view that the president is a benevolent father protector endowed with magical powers – a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. It’s the sort of view that people ought to – but often don’t – grow out of by, say, fifth grade. And a good deal of the burgeoning public dissatisfaction with Obama stems from his aggressive attempts to secure powers to match the boundless responsibilities he embraces.

Should the White House Be Taking on Fox?

Today’s  Arena question over at Politico asks:

Is Fox News a “legitimate news organization?” Is the White House smart, or not so smart, to take on Fox?

Is Fox News a “legitimate news organization?” As compared to what? The New York Times? NPR? MSNBC? Please.

The Obama team, Democrats like my good friend Walter Dellinger, and the so-called Mainstream Media (MSM) howl about Fox News for two main reasons. First, Fox is covering news the MSM ignores because it doesn’t “fit.” And second, in part because of that, the Fox audience continues to grow while the MSM audience is shrinking, raising a serious question about whether the MSM is any longer “mainstream.”

Let’s not pretend that the MSM doesn’t “manage” the news. It does it mainly by deciding daily what is and is not “news” and then by deciding how to report that news. Do we need any better example than the current ACORN story? As Fox was bringing the facts to light, nowhere were those facts to be found in the MSM – until they could be ignored no longer. Or take the huge 9/12 anti-big-government rally here in Washington. Fox covered it for the event that it was. Where was it covered in The New York Times? On page A37. And more revealing still, in the NYT electronic edition, the second of three stories posted under “Politics” was headlined “Thousands Rally in Minnesota Behind Obama’s Call for Health Care Overhaul,” the third was headlined “Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government” – the implication being that the two rallies were equivalent in size when in fact the protest rally dwarfed the Obama rally by many multiples.

But why pretend it’s otherwise? The president himself admits the MSM bias. Speaking at the May 9 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, “I am Barack Obama. Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me. (Laughter and applause.) Apologies to the Fox table.” A good laugh line in that setting, to be sure, but only because he’s said at last what we all know to be true.

Walter Dellinger may write, citing no evidence, that the Tax Day Tea Party protests were “conceived and executed by Fox News,” but he surely knows that’s not true. He hails from North Carolina, albeit now from Duke. He knows that outside that cloister there’s protest in the land. Fox News isn’t generating that opposition to the Obama juggernaut. It’s real, but it’s so much easier for the MSM to blame the bearer of that news than to face the reasons for their own falling numbers: Their “news” doesn’t fit with what so many people see with their own eyes. I’m reminded of the great Groucho Marx line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

C/P Politico’s Arena

I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Give You a Golf Cart

How would we be managing if Congress hadn’t voted to subsidize virtually everyone everywhere in the name of stimulating the economy?  Well, taxpayers wouldn’t be buying people golf carts.  It turns out that golf carts meet the federal criteria for high-mileage cars in the stimulus legislation.

Editorializes the Wall Street Journal:

We thought cash for clunkers was the ultimate waste of taxpayer money, but as usual we were too optimistic. Thanks to the federal tax credit to buy high-mileage cars that was part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, Uncle Sam is now paying Americans to buy that great necessity of modern life, the golf cart.

The federal credit provides from $4,200 to $5,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and when it is combined with similar incentive plans in many states the tax credits can pay for nearly the entire cost of a golf cart. Even in states that don’t have their own tax rebate plans, the federal credit is generous enough to pay for half or even two-thirds of the average sticker price of a cart, which is typically in the range of $8,000 to $10,000. “The purchase of some models could be absolutely free,” Roger Gaddis of Ada Electric Cars in Oklahoma said earlier this year. “Is that about the coolest thing you’ve ever heard?”

The golf-cart boom has followed an IRS ruling that golf carts qualify for the electric-car credit as long as they are also road worthy. These qualifying golf carts are essentially the same as normal golf carts save for adding some safety features, such as side and rearview mirrors and three-point seat belts. They typically can go 15 to 25 miles per hour.

In South Carolina, sales of these carts have been soaring as dealerships alert customers to Uncle Sam’s giveaway. “The Golf Cart Man” in the Villages of Lady Lake, Florida is running a banner online ad that declares: “GET A FREE GOLF CART. Or make $2,000 doing absolutely nothing!”

In a normal world this would be shocking, even scandalous news.  Taxpayer money wasted buying carts for golfers.  Uncle Sam as reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the needy to enrich well-heeled golfers.  Legislators would be scrambling to change the law.

But the issue has earned barely a peep in Washington.  No surprise, those benefiting from Washington’s largesse aren’t complaining.  After all, they consider it to be just about “the coolest thing” around.

And with legislators now used to wasting not just billions but trillions of dollars, what are a few thousand wasted dollars on a golf cart or two?  This nonsensical tax write-off is barely a rounding error in the federal budget today.  The 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion.  The federal government is likely to run up another $10 trillion in red ink over the next decade – assuming away a deluge of new bail-outs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, and the host of other money-losing federal subsidy operations.  What of golf cart subsidies?  Not worth a second look.

The golf cart subsidy gives new meaning to the old line:  I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.  The only people not on Uncle Sam’s “to help” list are taxpayers.

In Canada You Need Wait-List Insurance!

Governments love to promise benefits.  But politicians prefer not to have to raise the funds necessary to provide the promised services.  The result for nationalized medical systems is political rationing … and long waiting lists.  The Mackinac Institute, located in Michigan, has produced a series of videos on Canadians speaking about how their system works.  The British Columbia Automobile Association even developed medical access, or wait list, insurance, before abandoning the program under pressure.

A Tax That Would Finance the Road to Serfdom

Michael Tanner and Michael Cannon are working nonstop to derail government-run health care, but they better figure out how to work more than 24 hours per day, because if they fail, it is very likely that politicians will then look for a new revenue source to finance all the new spending that inevitably will follow. Unfortunately, that means a value-added tax (VAT) will be high on the list. Indeed, the VAT recently has been discussed by powerful political figures and key Obama allies such as the Co-Chairman of his transition team and the Speaker of the House.

The VAT would be great news for the political insiders and beltway elite. A  brand new source of revenue would mean more money for them to spend and a new set of  loopholes to swap for campaign cash and lobbying fees.  But as I explain in this new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the evidence from Europe unambiguously suggests that a VAT will dramatically increase the burden of government.  That’s good for Washington, but bad for America.

Even if the politicians are unsuccessful in their campaign to take over the health care system, there will be a VAT fight at some point in the next few years. This will be a Armageddon moment for proponents of limited government. Defeating a VAT is not a sufficient condition for controlling the size of government, but it surely is a necessary condition.

Peace? The Promise of Peace? Eh, Close Enough

Worse choices have been made than Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There was Woodrow Wilson in 1919, an award that rates as one of history’s more grotesque international jokes. Wilson promised to keep us out of war and promptly got us into it, meanwhile laying the ideological and geopolitical foundations for 90 years of war-nationalism, war-liberalism, and war-socialism. To say nothing of saddling us with the terrible idea of world government. Among those who weren’t Nazis or communists, Wilson may have done more than any other individual to promote human suffering in the last hundred years.

So yes, there have been worse choices. (Next to Wilson, I’d have to give Al Gore and Yasser Arafat both honorable mentions. We could go on, of course.) But still, Barack Obama? Seriously? I doubt the committee has any idea how badly their choice will be mocked in the United States.

Over here, the prize will be a disappointment to the anti-war left, the anti-war right, and, of course, the pro-war right. The only contingent I can see taking pride in it over here is the establishment left, which hasn’t had much time lately for substantive work on peace, but which is always happy to make speeches and receive awards. Sometimes, the American image abroad is just that important.

Rather than piling on in what is sure to be a bipartisan laugh-fest, let’s think about what Barack Obama actually could have done for world peace. And weep.

Like Wilson, Obama ran a campaign promising peace and the international rule of law. Politically, peace is a winning message, and the advocates of peace would do well to remember this. Decade after decade, American voters are willing to give peace a chance.

Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq and to close the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison camp. He promised to end the Bush-era detention and rendition policies that have tarnished America’s reputation abroad and weakened trust among nations.

Americans embraced those promises, which are fully consistent with the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize, recall, is awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Ending wars, treating prisoners of war humanely, and ensuring international criminal suspects’ due process of law are exactly the sorts of things that the peace prize was designed for. They’re just what you’d expect a laureate to do.

But once in office, Obama didn’t deliver. The promises disappeared, replaced by vigorous defenses of virtually every presidential power that the Bush administration invented for itself, including not only those that subvert domestic civil liberties, but also those that threaten the international rule of law.

And the withdrawal from Iraq? Delayed and partial. The latest word — received just as the peace prize was announced — is that it’s “complicated.” Sort of like a bad Facebook relationship.

Our other war, in Afghanistan, continues to escalate, even as its strategic goals seem further and further removed. As Cato author Glenn Greenwald notes, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan continue to kill and maim the innocent, with very little to show in the way of stabilizing the country or defeating international terrorism. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is both possible and desirable, as my colleagues Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter argue. Yet our latest Nobel laureate doesn’t see peace as an option here either.

How sad. Not to sound bitter or anything, but when does the Cato Institute get a peace prize?