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InsiderOnline Blog: April 2014

The Post Office, Like the Park Service, Doesn’t Think It Works for You

Why hasn’t anyone invented a service that converts your mail to a digital format that you can conveniently view online? You might wonder. Actually two guys named Evan Baehr and Will Davis did just that; their service worked great—until the Post Office killed it. Derek Khana reports:

[Baehr and Davis] wanted to allow consumers to digitize all of their postal mail so that individuals could get rid of junk mail, keep important things organized and never have to go out to their mailbox again. They set out to “redefine a long cherished but broken medium of communication: postal mail.” Customers would opt-in for $5 a month with “Outbox” to have their mail redirected, opened, scanned and available online or through a phone app. Consumers could then click on a particular scanned letter and ask that it be physically delivered, or that certain types of letters not be opened (e.g., bills etc.).

Will and Evan may have been inspired by their time working on Capitol Hill, as this is essentially the type of technology used in every Congressional Office to manage the deluge of millions of letters from constituents to Congress. If it’s good enough for Congressional offices, they thought, why shouldn’t average people have access to similar technology?

The U.S. Postal Service routinely allows people to contract to have their mail forwarded. That allowed the Outbox business model to work—at first. Then Baehr and Davis got called to a meeting with the Postmaster General:

Evan recounts that US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe “looked at us” and said “we have a misunderstanding. ‘You disrupt my service and we will never work with you.’” Further, “‘You mentioned making the service better for our customers; but the American citizens aren’t our customers—about 400 junk mailers are our customers. Your service hurts our ability to serve those customers.”’ [InsideSources, April 28]

The Post Office could offer its own digitizing service, but then what would the Post Office do with the thousands of mail carriers and post offices that it would no longer need? In order to downsize itself—as a private business might do when its business model faces stiff competition—the Postal Service needs Congress to pass laws dropping restrictions on reducing its workforce, facilities, and service. So far Congress hasn’t been willing to do that—even in the face of repeated Postal Service defaults on required payments to its retiree health care fund and seven straight years of operating at a deficit.

The Postal Service currently employs nearly 500,000 people in full time positions. If it were a military, the Postal Service would be the tenth largest military in the world. If it were a private company, the Postal Service would be the third largest employer in the United States.

Posted on 04/29/14 07:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Garcia Marquez, Spokesman for Tyranny

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died last week at 87, possessed narrative skill and linguistic creativity in abundance but lacked moral courage, writes Charles Lane, who notes the Nobel winner’s complicity in the crimes of the Castro regime. The key episode happened in 1971, when Garcia Marquez refused to join his literary peers in signing an open letter denouncing the Stalinesque show trial of the Cuban poet Herbert Padilla:

Thereafter, the Colombian gradually rose in Havana’s estimation, ultimately emerging as a de facto member of Castro’s inner circle.

Fidel would shower “Gabo” with perks, including a mansion, and established a film institute in Cuba under García Márquez’s personal direction.

The novelist, in turn, lent his celebrity and eloquence to the regime’s propaganda mill, describing the Cuban dictator in 1990 as a “man of austere habits and insatiable dreams, with an old-fashioned formal education, careful words and fine manners, and incapable of conceiving any idea that isn’t extraordinary.”

To rationalize this cozy relationship, García Márquez offered himself as an ostensible go-between when Castro occasionally released dissidents to appease the West.

What Gabo never did was raise his voice, or lift a finger, on behalf of Cubans’ right to express themselves freely in the first place.

Far from being “a representative and voice for the people of the Americas,” he served as a de facto spokesman for one of their oppressors.

García Márquez went so far as to defend death sentences Castro handed out to politically heterodox Cuban officials — one of whom had been personally close to the writer — after a 1989 show trial. […]

Castro finally let Heberto Padilla leave Cuba for the United States in 1980. In his 1989 memoir, “Self-Portrait of the Other,” the poet noted that he sought García Márquez’s aid for an exit visa but that the writer tried to dissuade him from going, saying that Cuba’s enemies might use his departure for propaganda purposes. [Washington Post, April 23]

Posted on 04/28/14 08:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Fight Crony Capitalism

Hear Sen. Mike Lee’s ideas on making anti-cronyism an essential part of the conservative growth agenda. Lee will speak at The Heritage Foundation on April 30 at 12:30 p.m.

Figure out what role Tumblr should play in your online marketing strategy. The Cato Institute’s next New Media Lunch, at noon on May 1, will feature Liba Rubenstein of Tumblr.

Learn whether Oklahoma should expand Medicaid. The Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs will host a discussion between experts for and against Medicaid expansion. The discussion will take begin at 11:30 a.m. on May 1 at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

Examine whether intellectual property rights have any role to play in securing a vibrant and innovative Internet. The Hudson Institute will host a panel discussion on whether the Internet and IP rights are friends or foes. The event will begin at noon on May 1.

Posted on 04/25/14 07:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Learning from the Gun Rights Movement

Saturday and Sunday we’ll be in Indianapolis at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting. We’ll be at The Heritage Foundation booth, so if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello. Speaking of the NRA meeting, Jim Geraghty asks a good question:

The past two decades have not been a cavalcade of successes for conservatives. The national debt has grown and exploded, and Americans support a smaller government in the abstract but keep electing lawmakers who love to spend more. There’s little or no stigma left to accepting government assistance, and 108 million Americans now live in a household that included people on “one or more means-tested program.” As Charles Murray noted, the white working class now endures problems on par with poor African-American neighborhoods, with high rates of births out of wedlock, children raised in homes without fathers, higher unemployment, lower church attendance rates. A culture of “delayed adolescence” is taking root, with more than a third of Millennials living with their parents and exceptionally high unemployment rates among the young, delaying the launch of careers and independent, responsible adulthood. After we paid a high price in blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world seems as dangerous and unstable as ever. Our borders are unsecured, and there isn’t even a national consensus that entering the country illegally should be punished with a serious consequence.

And yet, in the middle of all this, the gun-rights movement has won, or is in the process of winning, one of the most substantive, far-reaching, and consequential policy victories in recent memory. They’ve won big at the Supreme Court, and we’ve seen gun-control proposal after gun-control proposal get rejected in the legislatures, state and national. […] What is the gun-rights movement doing right that the rest of the conservative movement can or should emulate? Or is the Second Amendment defenders’ success unique to their issue? [National Review, April 24]

As Geraghty notes in his follow up report, part of the answer is that gun-rights supporters are especially focused on their issue. “But,” he writes: “Charlie Cooke reminded me of another factor: 32 percent of Democrats report having a gun in the home. The divide between the Democratic party’s elites and their grassroots may be sharpest on this issue.” [National Review, April 25]

Posted on 04/25/14 06:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

If You Like Your Home Health Care …

Doug-Holtz Eakin points out one impact of ObamaCare that hasn’t been talked about enough, the arbitrary cuts to Medicare’s home health care benefit:

[The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)] has elected to cut Medicare funding for home healthcare by 14 percent over the next four years, ostensibly to pay for the Affordable Care Act. As a line item on a budget spreadsheet, this might seem reasonable. But in reality and as acknowledged by CMS, these cuts will drive approximately 40 percent of all home health agencies into the red by 2017– pushing agencies into bankruptcy, leading to layoffs of direct caregivers, and impacting the care seniors need. It is hardly surprising that earlier this month, the Labor Department reported 3,800 home health jobs were lost in February alone – the largest single-month job loss in the sector in more than ten years.

For decades, skilled home health care has been of great value to the Medicare program because it allows seniors to receive high-quality, coordinated health care in the lowest cost setting – the patient’s own home. Seniors who might otherwise require lengthy and expensive hospital stays or institutional care can receive skilled care for chronic conditions – an area that leaders in Congress have identified as needing improvement.

In addition to having more chronic conditions, home health patients are generally older and poorer than other Medicare populations, and therefore much more vulnerable to the negative consequences of a deep cut in their Medicare benefit. [The Hill, March 27]

ObamaCare gave CMS the option of cutting home health care by as much as 14 percent over four years, but it didn’t require it. The administration chose the deepest cut allowed by law, apparently in order to be able to say that ObamaCare is saving money. One way of controlling costs without arbitrarily cutting services that are vital to beneficiaries would be to transform the entire Medicare program into a defined-contribution, premium support plan that lets seniors decide where they get the best value for their health care dollars. That approach, laid out in The Heritage Foundation’s Saving the American Dream plan (see pages 17-23), wouldn’t put any particular health care provider, service, or delivery model out of business—unless the patients controlling the health care dollars decide they don’t provide enough value.

Posted on 04/25/14 04:48 PM by Alex Adrianson

Where the Federal Government Owns Land

These maps, from the National Atlas of the United States, show federal lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (yellow), Bureau of Reclamation (red), Department of Defense (pink), the Forest Service (celadon), the Fish and Wildlife Service (orange), the National Park Service (dark green), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (light green).

According to figures from a 2012 Congressional Research Service report, the federal government owns 47 percent of the land in the 11 western states plus 62 percent of the land in Alaska. And those figures don’t include land that the federal government manages but doesn’t own. The federal government owns 81 percent of the land in Nevada. [“Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data,” by Ross W. Gorte, et al., Congressional Research Service, February 8, 2012]

Posted on 04/25/14 03:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Econ Lessons in Ghostbusters

The classic comedy about entrepreneurial hunters of the extra-dimensional illustrates how free markets create value where regulators often fail:

Posted on 04/25/14 12:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

Piketty Isn’t Interested in Growth

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has the story on inequality and growth backwards, says Allen Meltzer. Where Piketty sees redistribution and labor market regulations as the explanation for the downward trend in income inequality up to 1980, Meltzer sees a different process at work: “Taxing the rich to redistribute did not produce growth. On the contrary, growth reduced the share earned by the highest earners.” Meltzer continues:

During the early twentieth century, the United States absorbed millions of immigrants, many unskilled. Many began employment at low wage jobs. Minimum wage laws did not come until the 1930s. By working, the immigrants learned new skills; their productivity increased and with it their wages. That narrowed the gap between the incomes of the top and the bottom earners. But many did something else. They sent their children to colleges and universities where they learned professional skills that earned middle class incomes.

This process continued in recent decades for immigrants from Korea, China, Mexico, and Latin America. That history sends an important message. The growth of the middle class and the narrowing of the income distribution was in large part a result of working to acquire new skills and higher productivity.

President Obama’s program works against this process. It doesn’t reward work. It gives the unemployed and underemployed food stamps, healthcare, housing allowances, and income. Instead of working, many learn to live on the government benefits, supplementing them occasionally by working in the underground economy. Instead of acquiring productive skills, they learn how to live without working at regular jobs. That’s one way that the welfare state worked to increase the share of the highest paid 1 percent after 1980. The welfare state contributes also by weakening and even destroying family structure. Single family women are often on the bottom rung of the income distribution.

A different process is at work now. The capital that is most highly rewarded is now human capital—the education and skill that produces innovations like the internet, social media, popular apps, fracking, and three dimensional manufacturing. The top 1 percent of the earners in any year include people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who made the internet into a commercially successful, widely used means of communicating. But the top 1 percent also includes leading sports stars with unique skills and rock musicians with enormous popular appeal. [Defining Ideas, April 17]

Posted on 04/25/14 12:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

Using Math to Teach Passive-Aggressive Note Writing

Stephen Colbert’s take: “Common Core testing prepares our students for what they’ll face as adults: pointless stress and confusion.”

Posted on 04/23/14 03:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

Doomsaying Is a Going Concern

The folks who want you to believe the debate on climate change is over have a long history of predicting environmental apocalypses that never happen. Richard Rahn rounds up some of this history:

“The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer, and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.”—from an Associated Press report published in The Washington Post on Nov. 2, 1922.

You may have noticed that the predicted disaster 92 years ago did not happen, nor have other predicted catastrophes from the global-warming crowd.

On July 5, 1989, Noel Brown, then the director of the New York office of the United Nations Environment Program, warned of a “10-year window of opportunity to solve” global warming—“entire nations could be wiped off the face of Earth by rising sea levels if the global-warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos.”

The U.N.-forecast disaster never occurred. However, thanks must be given to Mother Nature for the unexpected 17-year pause in global warming rather than the actions of mankind, which have continued to spew out carbon dioxide at record levels. This little error has not stopped the doomsayers at the U.N.

In 2007, the chief of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” It is now 2014 and nothing was done before 2012, so, since it is “too late,” why spend any more time and money fighting global warming?

On Jan. 19, 2009, James Hansen, climate expert who until last year was head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, firmly declared that President Obama “has only four years to save the Earth”—which you might have noticed he failed to do. [Washington Times, April 21]

The business of predicting catastrophes has a way of outliving the predicted catastrophes. As Rahn points out, predictions of environmental apocalypse, unlike predictions of gradual climate change to which society can adapt, serve the interests of those who want to expand the power of government to command its citizens. And the scientists making those predictions probably imagine they will be the ones advising government how to use such power. That likely explains the appeal of getting in on the game of predicting apocalypse.

And there are more catastrophes to come! Marc Morano has compiled a list of the tipping points, windows of opportunity, and deadlines for action that environmentalists have identified over the decades. You can read “Earth ‘Serially Doomed’: UN Issues New 15 Year Climate Tipping Point – But UN Issued Tipping Points in 1982 & Another 10-Year Tipping Point in 1989!” at Climate Depot (April 16).

Posted on 04/23/14 01:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Left Has a New Pamphlet

The Left is hailing Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century—published in English this month—as the manifesto of the age. Guy Sorman read it and finds the book to be a trove of historical nuggets and superficially impressive statistics combined with recycled Marxist prophecy. Here are a few reasons Sorman finds the book wrongheaded:

Piketty does not believe that free markets can spontaneously generate greater equality: government intervention is therefore needed, mostly through taxation. His market pessimism contradicts the findings of most classical economists, who see the rise of a huge middle class as an outgrowth of capitalism. Piketty rejects what he considers an optimistic illusion about markets born in the 1960s. From the end of the World War II until the late 1970s, a middle class expanded in the West, and incomes from wages and capital converged. But this convergence, Piketty argues, was a historical accident. In the long run, he says, capital owners always prevail over employees. In his insistence, Piketty sometimes contradicts himself. At one point, he argues that income divergence occurs independent of political influence. But he also writes that the current divergence was initiated by the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who “scrapped taxes on the wealthy.” The inadequacy of his framework is powerfully illustrated by the example of France, where the gap between the so-called 99 percent and the 1 percent became wider under a socialist government during the 1980s. Was François Mitterrand a hidden Reaganite?

This contradiction between ideological judgments and objective data is the book’s fundamental flaw. The emergence of a super-wealthy minority (closer to 0.001 percent than to 1 percent, as Piketty himself admits) has likely occurred for different reasons in different countries. For instance, the new oligarchies in Russia, Nigeria, or China can’t be explained as a consequence of the free market. Inequality in these nations results from corruption, a one-party system, and kleptocracy. In the United States, a super-wealthy minority—“superstars and supermanagers,” as Piketty calls them—has attained financial preeminence predominantly through globalization: entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or large hedge fund managers operate in a worldwide market, gaining unprecedented profits. Their riches may be considered excessive or unfair—but that would be a moral judgment, not an economic one. […]

Piketty’s book has other flaws. The author never considers whether some degree of inequality is necessary for growth in a market economy. Instead, he attacks economists for “relying too much on mathematical models and not understanding the deep structures of capital and inequality.” He thus ignores the fact that economists whom he dislikes have identified the actual factors of growth—such as property rights and the rule of law—based on empirical observation. Without the economic models he scorns, countries like China, India, and Ghana would not have seen such spectacular growth—and their poorest citizens would have far fewer opportunities. [City Journal, April 22]

Posted on 04/23/14 11:20 AM by Alex Adrianson

A Sign of a Death Spiral?

If you’re in the ObamaCare exchanges, expect higher premiums next year. The reason, explains Grace-Marie Turner, is that the folks in the ObamaCare risk pool don’t look like the folks in a normal health insurance pool:

Pharmaceutical benefit manager Express Scripts found that enrollees in the ObamaCare exchanges are likely to be more expensive than patients in commercial risk pools. Its new study shows that enrollees in federal and state exchanges have a 47% higher use of specialty medications than in commercial plans in general. The rate for HIV medications in ObamaCare exchange plans is four times higher, and the proportion of pain medication prescribed was 35% higher than commercial plans.

While it was to be expected that those with more health needs would have a greater incentive to sign up for coverage, their higher costs will not be offset by the 40% of healthy younger people who the administration needed to enroll and pay disproportionately higher rates for their insurance. Only 28% of enrollees were in the coveted 18-34 age group. [Forbes, April 22]

This result is the one that you expect when regulations limit insurers’ ability to vary premiums by health status and the penalties for not signing up are small relative to the premiums. In short, it doesn’t pay for the young and healthy to sign up. Of course, higher premiums next year may induce even more healthy people to drop out.

Posted on 04/22/14 06:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Happy Tax Freedom Day

This year, the average American will work 111 days to earn enough money to pay his 2014 tax bill, making April 21 this year’s Tax Freedom Day. That calculation, done by the Tax Foundation every year, includes federal, state, and local taxes.

This year’s Tax Freedom Day is three days later than last year. That shift reflects the effect of progressive tax rates; as the economy gradually improves, more people pay higher rates. The latest ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1 in 2000.

As the Tax Foundation points out in this chart, the average American this year will pay more in federal, state, and local taxes than he spends on housing, clothing, and food:

[Tax Foundation, April 7]

Posted on 04/21/14 05:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Discover Just How Great (or Not) ObamaCare Is Doing

Find out if all is well with ObamaCare, now that the open enrollment period has ended. The American Enterprise Institute will host a half-day conference examining the state of ObamaCare. The conference will begin at 9:15 a.m. on April 25.

Discover how local leaders across the country are finding solutions to America’s problems. Sen. Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation, will speak at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center about his new book Falling in Love with America. Sen. DeMint’s talk will begin at 5 p.m. on April 21.

Learn how the proponents of race-based voting rights have not given up on their plan to establish an unconstitutional government in Hawaii. The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii will host a conference outlining how the activists are proceeding with executive actions to accomplish what they could not accomplish with legislation. The conference will begin at 10:15 on April 21 at the Pacific Club in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Find out how well Florida is doing. The James Madison Institute’s annual dinner will feature Travis Brown and Steve Moore talking about their new book Wealth of States. Will Weatherford, the Speaker of the Florida House, and Don Gaetz, the President of the Florida Senate, will be there, too. The dinner will be held at the Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center in Tallahassee. The reception will begin at 6 p.m. on April 23.

Learn how Michigan and other states can fix their public pension problems. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy will host a talk by Dan Liljenquist. As a state senator, Liljenquist spearheaded Utah’s successful pension reforms. Liljenquist’s talk will begin at noon on April 23 at the Radisson Hotel in East Lansing, Michigan.

Hear about the latest developments in intellectual property policy. The Institute for Policy Innovation will host its 9th Annual World IP Celebration Day on April 24. The conference will begin at 9:30 a.m. on April 24.

Help recognize the best works of conservative scholarship. You can do that by nominating a book for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Henry & Anne Paulucci Book Award. The winning author will receive $5,000 and deliver a public lecture at ISI. The deadline for nominations is May 16.

Students, get your fall internship applications submitted. If you want to learn first-hand from conservatives working in public policy, then you should apply for a Heritage Foundation internship. The deadline for applying for the fall semester is June 15.

Posted on 04/18/14 06:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

Fergus Reid Buckley, R.I.P.

Fergus Reid Buckley, public speaking coach to hundreds, died on Monday. He was 83. Reid Buckley, like his older brother William F. Buckley, was an expert debater. In 1988 he founded the Buckley School of Public Speaking. The school trained hundreds of leaders—including many conservative leaders—to be effective public speakers. Syndicated columnist David Limbaugh was one of them. Limbaugh writes:

Through years of publicly debating liberals, Reid honed his skills as a debater and became an enthusiastic evangelist of the formula he developed to help people become effective communicators. His training took place over a few short days, but it was as power packed as any instruction I’ve ever received. We not only had to put in long hours at the school, but he also loaded us up with homework for our nighttime pleasure.

He was a hands-on teacher who delighted in his trade and in imparting his skills to his students, from untrained neophytes to leaders of major corporations. He personally evaluated and critiqued every student and provided them detailed notes on their strengths and weaknesses, which were enormously instructive and practical. He also surrounded himself with extraordinarily competent and cheerful employees, who made his school all the more valuable and enjoyable.

Reid was full of personality, wit, and charm. As serious as he was about his craft and in imparting his technique, he always made it fun. He sometimes came to class, which I attended in the dead heat of summer, in shorts. He was invested in each and every one of his students, fiercely committed to making them better communicators. He sincerely believed that creating better communicators would lead to a better society. [National Review, April 17]

Posted on 04/18/14 04:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

The View from Ranchland

Our former Heritage Foundation colleague Theodora Dowling (intern, fall 2008) comes from a family that has been ranching in Northern California for six generations. She has worked for both the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Below, she gives us a good summary of the land management problems in the West that are at the center of the dispute between rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management:

Katie bar the door. And we ranchers thought we had become irrelevant to the American public. Now we have been catapulted into the national headlines. The standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and Cliven Bundy over his family’s grazing rights has been gut-wrenching, yet I’m excited—almost electrified. Since college graduation, I have spent most of the last five years in Washington, D.C., fighting for ranchers’ property rights. Now I’m back home on the ranch in Northern California, writing for livestock publications—admittedly preaching to the choir. I’ve always wondered what would happen if the whole country found out that the western ranching industry is on the front lines, fighting for the principles that make our country great.

There are 22,000 ranching families here in the West who hold private grazing rights on land managed by the federal government. It’s no small wonder: The federal government claims ownership to half of the landmass in the 11 contiguous western states. Forty percent of the western beef cow herd and half of the nation’s sheep spend some time on public lands.

It wasn’t always “federal land”: Ranchers started settling and grazing livestock there hundreds of years ago, long before the federal land management agencies came on the scene. But, unlike for the lands farther east, laws were never passed to give ranchers ownership of all the land that was necessary to run viable ranches in the arid West. Instead, they obtained ownership of base property, and the rest of the land was declared “public.” Ranchers who historically grazed those public lands were allocated grazing rights there. Statute requires that they pay a fee to exercise those grazing rights. These grazing rights constitute real property interests and, in many cases, are of great value (a fact that has not been lost on the Internal Revenue Service). They are protected by law, and are crucial to the economy and culture of thousands of western rural communities such as mine.

Many of today’s western ranching families have stayed on the ranches that pre-date the federal agencies. They are independent, productive people. They use their property and their labor to create wealth and feed the world. They don’t ask for handouts—they feed the hungry.

These families define “sustainable.” They know and love the land they care for. They make water sources and quality forage available to wildlife. They prevent wildfires and protect watersheds. And most of them want to pass the property, the grazing rights, and the traditions down to their kids. Yep, I’d say “sustainable” is just the word.

But after all these generations, a growing, tangled mass of environmental laws and regulations on public lands are pulling many ranch families under. Especially since the 1970s, an alphabet soup of land management laws has been enacted. Layers upon layers of regulations have been cranked out by the federal agencies, and more are on the horizon. Every management action on public land, such as a grazing permit renewal or a timber contract, now requires extensive analysis and review by federal botanists, biologists, and archeologists. All of this analysis and process provides ripe opportunities for radical anti-agriculture groups to litigate. Rural communities and ecosystems have suffered because of it.

I love the first of the eight principles of the American Conservation Ethic (published in 2012 by The Heritage Foundation): “People are the most important, unique, and precious resource.” Cliven Bundy’s neighbors were forced off of their ranges because a tortoise that lived there was listed under the Endangered Species Act. (Bundy would have been forced off too, had he done what he was told; now it appears he’s likely to go out of business, too.) The federal government made the dubious claim that cattle are a threat to desert tortoises. Even if we were to accept this claim as fact, should we also accept the premise that tortoises are more important than the families that depended on those cattle for their living?

Such cases, where wildlife take precedence over ranching families, are common. Meanwhile, the focus on protection of wildlife over people is a false dichotomy. Putting ranchers out of business does great harm to ecosystems. Tangled, overgrown forests make for poor habitat and unhealthy watersheds. Private ranch lands that go out of business are often subdivided, chopping up the landscape wildlife depend on.

Perhaps we should not be surprised at the failures of the federal government—which lacks both agility and generational knowledge—to manage the land properly. The government’s ineptitude at management is reportedly what led Bundy to stop paying his grazing fees.

Bundy broke the law and acted in contempt of court. As a conservative who believes in the rule of law, this approach doesn’t strike me as the best way to fight for one’s rights or for the great principles that are at the core of our nation. But as my mama pointed out, history is rife with examples of people who’ve obeyed the rules of their nation to a very destructive end. Surely the “rule of law” can’t be defined as “citizens following all regulations put forth by their government, no matter how destructive.” Rather than join the ranks in the welfare lines, Bundy broke the law in order to remain a productive citizen. I suppose there are worse offenses.

Posted on 04/18/14 02:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Question and Answer: Paul Krugman Edition

Paul Krugman, commenting on Ezra Klein’s inaugural essay at Vox last week:

What Ezra does is cite research showing that people understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid.

But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with—I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute. [New York Times, April 7]

Daniel Klein and Harika Barlett, after reviewing all 654 of Paul Krugman’s columns between 1997 and 2006:

Occupational licensing, it has been argued, reduces availability, selection, innovation, and quality received by consumers, while increasing prices and incomes of practitioners. It makes it harder for poor people to mount and ascend the economic ladder and, by shifting labor supply functions, depresses wages in fields not subject to licensing. Other interventions that remove low-positioned rungs include union privileges and the minimum wage, but occupational licensing is the most significant in that economists who study and judge the policy mostly reach a conclusion in favor of liberalization. Yet Krugman never addresses the policy. In fact, in all of his utterances about the tribulations of the poor, he never points to any existing intervention as a livelihood obstacle. When Krugman writes, “Can anything be done to spread the benefits of a growing economy more widely?,” he makes but one suggestion: “A good start would be to increase the minimum wage[.]”

And that’s just one example from Klein and Barlett’s article. Here’s a theory to noodle on: If there is an asymmetry between the Left and the Right, it may be that liberals lend their support to status quo government interventions by remaining silent while conservatives can oppose them only by speaking out. Thus, when a conservative makes a bad argument, it gets noticed; when a liberal has a bad argument, it doesn’t get noticed because he didn’t have to voice his bad argument in support of the status quo. He stayed silent. In other words, when Krugman points to instances of confirmation bias as examples of conservative stupidity, he’s actually engaging in selection bias. Just a theory. In any case, here is Klein and Barlett’s conclusion:

Although he claims to admire free markets, in the task of elucidating their virtues, to expose the unintended consequences of a wide variety of extant interventions, Krugman, aside from the issue of international trade, has been nearly a total loss. Krugman’s silence on many of the issues, such as school vouchers, cannot be excused as ignorance. The logic of liberalization is too compelling, the import too great, the status of debate too high, that even if Krugman doubts that the liberalization would help the poor, the opportunity to address the debate and explain his doubts is overripe. The silence should be interpreted as elision. I chalk up Krugman’s illiberalism to a status-quo mentality framed by “liberal versus conservative” memes, and, more particularly, a social-democratic ethos biased towards government intervention, especially those long sanctified by “our” democratic processes. [“Left Out: A Critique of Paul Krugman Based on a Comprehensive Account of His New York Times Columns, 1997 through 2006,” by Daniel B. Klein with Harika Anna Barlett, Econ Journal Watch, January 2008]

Posted on 04/18/14 12:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Basically, Congress Is Taking Your Money and Giving It to Boeing

The Export-Import Bank is supposed to finance transactions that the private sector deems too risky but that are still worth doing. If that sounds a bit like searching for a square circle, then you won’t be surprised by the following report about what the Export-Import bank actually does. From Diane Katz:

Multinational corporations attract the largest proportion of Ex–Im financing, including the construction and engineering firm of Bechtel, ranked by Forbes as the fourth-largest privately held company by revenue, and Lockheed Martin, valued in excess of $50 billion. But the bank’s foremost beneficiary is Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company (with a market capitalization exceeding $91 billion). In the past five years, the company has profited from 197 Ex–Im deals totaling $48 billion. Last year alone, Boeing-related financing comprised 30 percent of all Ex–Im activity.

These and the other deals with titans of industry belie claims that the bank is necessary to fill “gaps” in financing—that is, bankrolling deals that supposedly pose too much political or economic risk to garner private capital. In fact, U.S. exports hit a record-high $2.2 trillion in 2013, up from $1.4 trillion five years ago, reflecting no shortage of private export capital. […]

If the bank were stepping in where private investors fear to tread, a larger proportion of its financing would be directed to Africa and Latin America, where risks are greatest. Instead, bank authorizations last year were concentrated in Asia ($9.7 billion), followed by Europe ($5.7 billion) and North America ($3.4 billion). In contrast, Latin America has received $2.9 billion and Africa a measly $600 million. [Internal citations omitted.] [The Heritage Foundation, April 11]

Congress can end this crony capitalist enterprise when the Export Import Bank’s authorizing legislation expires in September.

Posted on 04/18/14 11:18 AM by Alex Adrianson

A Letter We Wish We Had the Bravery to Write to the Internal Revenue Service

As Paul Caron puts it, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has told the Internal Revenue Service that his taxes are a known unknown:

[TaxProf Blog, April 16]

Posted on 04/16/14 06:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who Pays Their Fair Share of Taxes?

Just in case you forgot:

Posted on 04/16/14 11:28 AM by Alex Adrianson

Do You Have Time for the Taxman?

The cost of taxes is more than just the amount of money the Internal Revenue Service takes from you every year. You also pay with the time and energy it takes to keep your records and fill out the forms. The time cost of taxes adds up to more than 27 hours per person, say the researchers at e21:

In May 2013, scholars at the Mercatus Center estimated the costs of tax compliance to be at least $215 billion a year.

A 2008 study by the Taxpayer Advocate Service at the IRS estimated that Americans spend 3.5 billion hours a year preparing their individual income tax returns. With 134.6 million filers at the time, this averaged to each individual spending 26.4 hours complying with the tax code.

Since the Taxpayer Advocate study was conducted, the tax code has only grown more complex. Wolters Kluwer, the global information services and publishing company, estimated the length of the U.S. tax code to be 67,204 pages in 2007. Their 2013 estimate showed 9 percent growth, to nearly 74,000 pages.

Because of the growing complexity of the tax code, taxpayers likely now average more than 27 hours on their individual income tax returns per year. [e21 – Economic Policies for the 21st Century, April 15]

The tax code is officially 2,652 pages long and contains about the same number of words as the entire Harry Potter series. Joseph Henchman points out, however, that tax preparers and tax lawyers usually need to consult IRS regulations as well as tax-related case law in order to know what the law really requires of a taxpayer. When you count all those things, the size of the tax code comes to over 70,000 pages. That figure has grown steeply in the last few decades:

[Tax Foundation, April 15]

While the paperwork burden of taxes has been rising for decades—and now stands at an all-time high—ObamaCare bears much of the blame for recent growth, writes Sam Batkins:

According to AAF [American Action Forum] records, [Affordable Care Act] regulations have added a net of 71.3 million hours to Treasury’s paperwork burden. Furthermore, there are several pending ACA-related IRS paperwork requirements at OIRA now, including the individual mandate (7.5 million hours) and the “Net Investment Income Tax” (24 million hours). The individual mandate lacks formal OIRA approval, even though the deadline for most tax returns is April 15. [American Action Forum, April 15]

Tax code complexity is a problem for small businesses, too, reports Alissa Tabirian:

Small businesses are increasingly burdened with tax preparation costs, with a majority spending over a week per year on federal tax preparation and thousands of dollars on external accounting firms, according to the National Small Business Association’s (NSBA) 2014 Taxation Survey released last week.

According to the report, “the current U.S. Tax Code punishes work, investment, risk-taking and entrepreneurship, and is becoming an insurmountable hurdle for the growth of existing businesses and creation of new firms.”

This year “nearly 60 percent of small firms spend more than 40 hours per year on federal taxes alone,” while 40 percent spend over 80 hours, or two weeks.

Nearly half spend over $5,000 on the administrative side, while “just 12 percent report they handle their taxes within their firms”—the overwhelming majority pays external tax firms to handle taxes.

The complexities of tax preparation led 73 percent to report “federal taxes have a significant to moderate impact on the day-to-day operation of their business.” As such, 67 percent “support broad tax reform that will reduce both corporate and individual tax rates coupled with reduced deductions.” [The Foundry, April 15]

Measured in full-time equivalent employees, taxation preparation is bigger than the entire federal workforce, notes Mark Perry:

In a recent report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate estimated that American taxpayers will spend 6.1 billion hours this year complying with the income tax code, based on IRS estimates of how much time taxpayers (both individual and businesses) spend collecting data for, and filling out tax forms. That amount of time spent for income tax compliance – 6.1 billion hours – would be the equivalent of more than 3 million Americans working full-time, year-round (or 2.2% of total US payrolls of 138 million). By way of comparison, the federal government currently employs 2.7 million full-time workers, and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, currently employs 2.2 million workers worldwide and 1.4 million workers in the US (both full-time and part-time). [AEIdeas, April 10]

As e21 notes, with an extra 27 hours you could listen to the entire Beatles discography—twice. We recommend doing that, by the way. But for now, enjoy this one:

Posted on 04/15/14 10:34 AM by Alex Adrianson

Did You Enjoy Figuring Out and Paying Your Taxes?

No? At least you can enjoy this tuneful Remy video:

Posted on 04/14/14 05:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Find Out If Accreditation Can Be Part of the Solution

Examine America’s system of college accreditation and how it may be changing in response to public unhappiness over soaring tuition and student debt. The Cato Institute will host a short conference on the future of accreditation at 10 a.m. on April 16.

Hear how lowering tax rates and simplifying the tax code will give us both more prosperity and more freedom. Gary Wolfram will speak at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center at noon on April 15.

Find out what’s up with Iran. The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion on the latest developments in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, as well as Iran’s human rights situation and Iranian support for terrorism. The discussion will begin at noon on April 16.

Learn if being uninsured is really risky or just a little risky. The John Locke Foundation will host a talk by Chris Conover, a research scholar at the Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research at Duke University. Conover’s talk will begin at noon on April 14.

Remember who said what brilliant thing at Resource Bank. To help you out, the crew has posted materials from the conference, including video of the plentary sessions.

• Get in on a summer seminar while you can. Students, if you are looking for something to do this summer, check out the seminars offered by these great groups: the Foundation for Economic Education; the Independent Institute, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Hurry up, though. The application deadlines are nearly here.

Posted on 04/11/14 09:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

Eric O’Keefe Will Get His Day in Court

In Wisconsin, a Democratic prosecutor is making life difficult for dozens of conservative non-profits by using what is called a “John Doe” investigation to probe for evidence that the groups coordinated with the Scott Walker campaign during the 2012 recall elections. The investigators, despite using such tactics as paramilitary-style predawn raids on private properties, have produced no evidence of such wrongdoing since begining the probe a year and a half ago.

One conservative, Eric O’Keefe is fighting back with a federal lawsuit alleging the investigation is violating his First Amendment rights by attempting to intimidate him to refrain from speaking about politics. O’Keefe received good news this week when Judge Rudolph Randa denied a motion by the prosecutor, John Chisolm, to dismiss O’Keefe’s suit. M.D. Kittle reports that the judge had some strong words about Chisholm’s argument that the federal courts generally abstain from taking up constitutional claims that call into question state proceedings:

It is “not so much a procedure for the determination of probable cause as it is an inquest for the discovery of crime in which the judge has significant powers” Randa wrote in the ruling.

“It is an investigatory process, not an ongoing criminal prosecution or civil enforcement proceeding. Nor is it a proceeding—like a civil contempt order,” Randa wrote.

The John Doe may be a criminal investigation, but it is not “akin to a criminal prosecution,” the judge notes. Therefore, it doesn’t fit under the long-held rules that federal courts must not interfere with state prosecutions.

Besides, Randa said he would not abstain even if the investigation fit into one of the abstention categories, because the “John Doe proceeding does not offer O’Keefe the opportunity to adjudicate the federal constitutional issues that are raised in this lawsuit.”

“The underlying theory of this case is that O’Keefe, along with other conservative groups, are being targeted for their political activism, whereas the ‘coordination’ activities of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum are ignored,” the judge wrote.

O’Keefe’s complaint points to numerous examples of similar coordinating campaign activities among liberals that failed to trigger a lengthy, secret investigation by the Milwaukee County DA.

“The alleged bogus nature of the prosecutors’ theory of criminal liability as a matter of federal constitutional law is simply more evidence of the defendants’ bad faith,” Randa wrote. “Even if the need for injunctive relief somehow fell by the wayside, the merits of O’Keefe’s claims can and should still be adjudicated here in federal court.” [Watchdog.org, April 8]

Posted on 04/11/14 08:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who Will Think of the Men?

More “paycheck fairness” laws—to sit on top of the many anti-discrimination laws already on the books—are a solution in search of a problem. More than that, explains Laura Trueman, the equal pay debate is missing the fact that men—especially young men—are the ones in trouble:

In education, men graduate from high school with lower GPAs. Men earn 8 percent fewer college degrees, 50 percent fewer master’s degrees and are being overtaken by women in professional and doctoral degrees.

In income, young single men earn less than young single women in 147 of 150 of the largest U.S. cities, leading the study’s author, James Chung, to conclude, "These women haven't just caught up with the guys, in many cities, they're clocking them."

The long-term unemployed are 55 percent men, 45 percent women.

Home ownership rates show single women making up the second biggest block of home buyers after couples, comprising 16 percent of the market, while single men are 9 percent.

Marriage, often a maturing force for men, has declined precipitously among young adults; 55 percent of Americans age 25-29 are unmarried today, compared with only 16 percent unmarried in 1970.

Mental health indicators show four times as many men dying by suicide, and greater numbers are diagnosed with mental health disorders, including substance abuse. [Fox News, April 9]

Posted on 04/11/14 08:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Mozilla’s Stain

One reaction to the story of Mozilla “firing” Brendan Eich for his support for traditional marriage has been to say that it shows the power of the market to shape corporate decisions. Suddenly Leftists are in favor of markets and of freedom of association!

Of course, there is no contradiction in believing both that markets are preferable to government-directed economies and that corporations can make mistakes. Something the Left doesn’t understand is that markets are not just “whatever corporations decide to do.” Markets are a process that lets a corporation find out if what it decided to do was really a good idea.

In deciding that Eich’s views on traditional marriage made him unacceptable as a company leader, Mozilla has implicitly endorsed the smear that the only reason anyone could favor maintaining the traditional definition of marriage is that they hate homosexuals. According to this view, traditional marriage defenders today are much like the racists of the Jim Crow South—bigots on the wrong side of history. They even point to anti-miscegenation laws to suggest a link between ideas about marriage and ideas about race.

This characterization of the pro- traditional marriage position is profoundly wrong, as Ryan Anderson shows in his latest paper, “Marriage, Reason, and Religious Liberty: Much Ado about Sex, Nothing  to Do with Race” The public policy case for preserving traditional marriage rests on the institution’s unique role in producing and raising future generations. As Anderson puts it:

Government recognizes marriage because this institution benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is the institution that different cultures and societies across time and place developed to maximize the likelihood that a man would commit to a woman and that the two of them would then take responsibility for protecting, nurturing, and educating any children that they may create.

One can hold that view of the issue without hating homosexuals, without believing that they should be fired from their jobs for being gay, and without believing that they should be prevented from having whatever kind of adult relationship they choose. By all accounts that was Brendan Eich’s view in 2008 as it was President Barack Obama’s view until 2012. And it is the view of many today.

Further, the attempt to link anti-miscegenation laws to the defense of traditional marriage is also misguided. Anderson writes:

Searching the writings of Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Maimonides and Al-Farabi, Luther and Calvin, Locke and Kant, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., one finds that the sexual union of male and female goes to the heart of their reflections on marriage but that considerations of race with respect to marriage never appear. Only late in human history does one see political communities prohibiting intermarriage on the basis of race. Bans on interracial marriage had nothing to do with the nature of marriage and everything to do with denying dignity and equality before the law. […]

Everyone is in favor of marriage equality. Everyone wants the law to treat all marriages equally. But the only way that one can know whether a law is treating marriages equally is to know what a marriage is. Every marriage law will draw lines between what is a marriage and what is not a marriage. If those lines are to be drawn on principle and are to reflect the truth, one must know what sort of relationship is marital, as contrasted with other forms of consenting-adult relationships.

Race has nothing to do with marriage, and laws that kept the races apart were wrong. Marriage has everything to do with uniting the two halves of humanity—men and women, as husbands and wives and as mothers and fathers—so that any children that their union produces will be united by the man and woman who gave them life. [Internal citations omitted.] [“Marriage, Reason, and Religious Liberty: Much Ado about Sex, Nothing  to Do with Race” by Ryan Anderson, The Heritage Foundation, April 4]

The idea that a marriage is a union of one man and one woman only has been around for thousands of years, and it is a view that should be tolerated in the public square. Trying to enforce a conformity of thought on any issue of public policy—whether by government or by private means—is a bad practice for the very practical reason that sometimes the majority is wrong and society will eventually need the wisdom of the dissenters.

Posted on 04/11/14 06:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

You Have More Capital than You Realize

Regulators trying quash services like Airbnb and Uber are standing athwart one of the most important economic developments of the past decade. As Daniel Rothschild explains, the novelty of the peer production economy lies not so much in the technology, but in the fact that these new business models are transforming dead capital into live capital:

This “peer production economy”—the development of new platforms to connect buyers and sellers who otherwise would not have connected, either because of supply- or demand-driven constraints, regulatory barriers, or high transaction costs—is placing that which we didn’t formerly think of as productive capital into the stream of commerce. The result may be a blurring of the lines between personal consumption goods and productive capital, and we may become much wealthier as a consequence. […]

The value lies in creating new marketplaces and new markets that allow sellers (owners of capital and labor) and buyers to transact in a way they could not before. These firms are simply using technology—and fairly mundane technology at that—to reduce search costs and information asymmetries. In that regard, they’re no more innovative than any marketplace developed by men to engage in Smith’s “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.”

Notably, few if any of these peer production companies actually provide the services they purvey; Uber connects black car drivers with passengers, Airbnb links renters with travelers, and Etsy allows small artisans to create virtual storefronts. Uber owns no cars, Airbnb has no properties, and Etsy prints no Insane Clown Posse fan art. They are really marketplace innovations, not tech innovations […] . [The Umlaut, April 9]

Posted on 04/10/14 08:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Problem with Vox.com

Vox.com, Ezra Klein’s much-anticipated website that promises to “explain the news in real time,” launched this week. If you’ve followed Klein’s career so far, you know he has a habit of saying that he follows the evidence not a party line. Indeed, his own lead essay at Vox (“How Politics Makes Us Stupid”) laments that so many smart people use evidence not to form conclusions but rather to strengthen arguments to which they are already committed.

You probably also know, if you’ve been following Klein, that his work is decidedly liberal. So does that mean that conservatives who disagree with Klein are against evidence? However much Klein and his cohort of explainers might want their audience to believe that, it just isn’t so. In fact, as David Harsanyi explains in an article titled, “How Vox Makes Us Stupid,” Klein’s shtick reveals his own biases:

We weigh tradeoffs. We “fight” about it. We come to an agreement. Or maybe we don’t. “Evidence”—by which explanatory journalists mean data they’ve decided is important—doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Just because we can compile some evidence that banning alcohol or rationing food would lead to a healthier America, does not mean that coercion is tolerable. Maybe evidence can demonstrate that Obamacare has helped the uninsured. Yet, if it also undercuts religious freedom and creates dependency that voters find corrosive or immoral, it’s no longer just a debate about numbers—it’s a debate about competing values. […]

It’d be easier to buy into the whole explanatory journalism experience if the editor-in-chief believed confirmation bias and identity-protective cognition existed on both sides. Not just with a throwaway line, but with an example. In Klein’s thought experiment, though, it’s radio host Sean Hannity—not Paul Krugman or Rachel Maddow—who is captive to an audience of rabid ideologues that would run him out of business if he took a contrarian position. [The Federalist, April 8]

The technocratic critique of the conservative position, explains Yuval Levin, is itself an example of bias in action:

[Our constitutional design] is a system that assumes we will never fully persuade one another in politics, and indeed that assumes we are probably all wrong — which we probably are. It is therefore a political system that makes us less stupid, not (as Klein suggests in the title of his piece) more so.

But the fact that among the roots of our political differences is a difference about epistemology — about what we can know in politics and how we can know it—means that this Madisonian conclusion is often itself one of the points of debate between Left and Right.

American progressives have long contended that as social science enables us to overcome some of the limits of what we know, it should also be permitted to overcome the constitutional limits on what government may do. They take themselves to be an exception to the rule that all parties see only parts of the whole, and therefore an exception also to the ubiquity of confirmation bias, and so they demand an exception to the rule that no party should have too much raw power. […]

But the progressives’ understanding of how social science can come to know society and of how such knowledge might be put into effect has itself been a point of great contention with conservatives — who tend to think that a society’s knowledge exists mostly in dispersed forms and therefore that public policy should work largely by enabling the dispersed social institutions of civil society, local community, and the market economy to address problems from the bottom up through incremental trial-and-error learning processes. This is a view of public policy that is generally compatible with the limits the constitutional system places on government, while the progressive preference for consolidated knowledge and centralized action tend to be far less so, and not by coincidence.

Many serious people on the left don’t believe this disagreement about the proper way to obtain and act on social knowledge is a legitimate difference, or rather they treat the technocratic attitude of the modern Left as common sense and therefore as not requiring justification. [National Review, April 9]

Anyone who thinks that serious thinkers on the Left are immune to the temptation to reverse-engineer arguments to arrive at pre-determined conclusions should be reminded that Klein once argued that Obamacare sticker shock couldn’t be a real thing. People had to know higher premiums were coming, he reasoned, since liberal policy wonks who read the bill knew they were coming. [Washington Post, June 1, 2013]

Posted on 04/08/14 08:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

Otis McDonald, R.I.P.

Otis McDonald, the man who took on Chicago’s highly restrictive gun laws and won, died on Friday, April 4 after a long illness. He was 80.

McDonald was the lead plaintiff in McDonald v. Chicago. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment’s protection of an individual right to own a gun—a right the court acknowledged in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller—applies not just to federal jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C., but also to the states.

McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer at the University of Chicago and former head of his local union, became active in the Chicago gun-rights movement after witnessing rampant gang activity in his Morgan Park neighborhood. His own house, where he lived with his wife Laura, was broken into five times. McDonald wanted to be able to protect himself and his family, but the city made it impossible for him to obtain the most effective means to do so: it banned handguns outright and made it very difficult to own a long gun.

In seeking to vindicate his own rights, McDonald helped vindicate everyone’s rights under the Second Amendment. McDonald said he told Alan Gura, the lead lawyer in the Heller case who was looking for plaintiffs to challenge Chicago’s gun laws: “Are you willing to go all the way? Then I’m your man, with the name and all. Furthermore, we are going to win.”

Win they did. Before McDonald, the Second Amendment protected the 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C. After McDonald, the Second Amendment protects the gun rights of 300 million people living across the country.

For more on Otis McDonald and McDonald v. Chicago, see Brian Doherty’s “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby,” in the October 2010 issue of Reason magazine; and the Chicago Tribune’s obituary, “Otis McDonald, 1933-2014: Fought Chicagos gun ban,” April 6, 2014.

Posted on 04/07/14 03:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Help Some Truth Tellers Make an Important Movie

Contribute to Ann McElhinney, Phelim MacAleer, and Magdalena Segieda’s latest film project. At Indiegogo, they are raising funds for a movie about a story Hollywood doesn’t want to touch: the story of abortionist mass murderer Kermit Gosnell. The campaign is going on now and ends May 12.

Get an expert legal view of the scheme that allows members of Congress to dodge the ObamaCare requirements that they (the majority anyway) voted for. The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion featuring Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at noon on April 7.

Learn about the Redistribution Recession. Author and economist Casey B. Mulligan will speak at the Show-Me Institute’s Economic Policy Series. Mulligan’s talk will be held at the Saint Louis University John Cook School of Business, and it will begin at 5:30 p.m. on April 10.

Find out how the United Kingdom tamed its debt problem to get the fastest-growing economy in the G7. George Osbourne, chancellor of the Exchequer, will speak at the American Enterprise Institute at 1 p.m. on April 11.

Posted on 04/04/14 11:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

Submitting Comments to the Internal Revenue Service Made a Difference

In remarks at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen said that the IRS would not finish the rulemaking process on new regulations governing 501(c)(4) activities before the end of the year. He cited the volume of comments submitted as one of the reasons the work would not be completed before the end of the year:

During the comment period, which ended in February, we received more than 150,000 comments. That’s a new American record for an IRS rulemaking comment period. And in fact, I’m told if you take all the comments on all the Treasury and IRS regulations for the last seven years, double that number, you are close to the number of comments that we have on this single regulation.

We are beginning to review those and analyze them. Obviously it’s going to take a little while to sort through them all because we treat them seriously. These are people across the political spectrum who have taken the time to write to give us their views on both what the definition of political activities ought to be, how much of it you should be able to engage in, and then to which organizations should it apply.

It will take us awhile once we finish reviewing the comments and hold a public hearing to consider possibly re-proposing a modified regulation and obtaining more public comments. So as I’ve said in the past, it means it is unlikely we are going to be able to complete this process before the end of the year.

The rules in question would have required 501(c)(4)s to either stop most of the things they do—such as voter guides or even non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts—or reorganize under a different section of the tax code that requires disclosure of donors names. Judging from the way Brendan Eich was hounded from Mozilla this past week for his support for traditional marriage, it’s not too hard to guess how those requirements would affect the fundraising of such groups. [See, for example, the comments submitted on by The Heritage Foundation by David Addington, December 19, 2013]

Posted on 04/04/14 11:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

More Free Speech!

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down the aggregate contribution limits in federal elections. The five-justice majority in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruled that the aggregate limits bore little relation to the legitimate government interest of preventing quid pro quo corruption. Trevor Burrus explains:

Given that every one of [McCutcheon’s] contributions was below the individual limit, was [the aggregate limit] preventing any quid pro quo corruption to allow him to give $1,776 to eight more candidates, but not nine, 12, or 200? The obvious answer to that question seems to be “no,” and it is the answer that five of the nine justices gave, thus striking down the limit.

Burrus points out that the remarkable thing about the decision wasn’t that five justices ruled in favor of more free speech, but rather that the four justices in the minority now believe the First Amendment empowers the government to police the marketplace of ideas:

Writing in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg, argued that a new version of “corruption,” that is, the corruption of the marketplace of ideas, should become part of the Court’s jurisprudence. In that version of corruption, the government is affirmatively in charge of making sure “a few large donations” don’t “drown out the voice of the many.”

While this may sound initially attractive, a moment’s thought makes it clear that this view is untenable. Elected officials cannot be trusted to fairly regulate the process upon which their jobs depend and the government could have no meaningful principle to determine how loud someone should be allowed to speak or even what the “voice of the many” is saying. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “the degree to which speech is protected cannot turn on a legislative or judicial determination that particular speech is useful to the democratic process.”

The frightening thing about McCutcheon is that a near-majority of the Court holds this view that turns the First Amendment on its head. If we don’t limit the doctrine of corruption to actual candidates, if we empower the government to regulate a “corrupt” marketplace of ideas, then there is no reason to limit it to elections. The subscription base of the New York Times is certainly too large, perhaps we should limit how many copies can be printed? And, Oprah, well she is certainly too influential, so while we’ll allow her to speak privately, we’ll make it illegal for her to use her network for political speech. [Daily Caller, April 2]

But, as the majority opinion put it: “the Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.” [McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, April 2]

Posted on 04/04/14 10:29 PM by Alex Adrianson

Disclosure Laws Empower the Bullies

The ouster of Brendan Eich from Mozilla illustrates the dark side of disclosure laws, notes Hans von Spakovsky:

As the Heritage Foundation previously pointed out, other supporters of Proposition 8 in California have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, death threats, and anti-religious bigotry. All committed by individuals claiming they are simply trying to gain “acceptance” and who complain about the supposed intolerance of society over their lifestyle.

What has been happening in recent years is no different then what racist government officials in Alabama were trying to do in the late 1950s when they subpoenaed the NAACP’s membership lists. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), holding that the state’s actions violated the Fourteenth Amendment and interfered with the free associational rights of the NAACP’s members.

While campaign finance reformers are constantly touting the benefits of the disclosure of political contributions as a means of preventing corruption, they fail to explain how that objective is served by requiring disclosure of donations in referendum campaigns. There is some logic in disclosure of contributions to candidates who then have the ability to initiate, support, or pass legislation that may benefit contributors if they are elected. But no such logic attaches to donations against or in support of ballot propositions that are approved by all of the registered voters of a state. There is no candidate or potential legislator who can somehow be “corruptly” influenced through contributions.

Moreover, the ability and right to engage in anonymous political speech and activity – and making contributions is a form of political speech – used to be considered common sense. The Federalist Papers were published under pseudonyms and one of the most famous and stirring pieces of writing in American history – Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – was first published anonymously because of the danger to its author for publishing such revolutionary ideas. The same threats those authors and others throughout our history have faced for expressing ideas not in conformity with the ruling passions of the day are today being faced by Americans like Brendan Eich. [The Foundry, April 3]

Posted on 04/04/14 09:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Say Goodbye to People Sharing their Views

This week, Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of Mozilla after a week-long pressure campaign by pro-gay marriage activists. The activists objected to a $1,000 donation he had made in 2008 to support Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to define marriage in the California constitution as being only a union of one man and one woman. Even some pro-gay marriage supporters recognize that their compatriots have gone too far—that they are in fact being quite illiberal in this instance. Conor Friedersdorf, for example, writes:

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.

If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.

Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a fetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman’s bodily autonomy. The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

It isn’t difficult to see the wisdom in inculcating the norm that the political and the professional are separate realms, for following it makes so many people and institutions better off in a diverse, pluralistic society. The contrary approach would certainly have a chilling effect on political speech and civic participation, as does Mozilla’s behavior toward Eich.

Its implications are particularly worrisome because whatever you think of gay marriage, the general practice of punishing people in business for bygone political donations is most likely to entrench powerful interests and weaken the ability of the powerless to challenge the status quo. [The Atlantic, April 4]

The rule seems to be if you bake cakes and you have pro-traditional marriage views, then you have to run your cake company as if it were Mozilla, but if you actually run Mozilla and have pro-traditional marriage views then you have to go do something else. Maybe Eich can launch a cake company.

Posted on 04/04/14 09:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Douglas F. Allison, R.I.P.

Douglas F. Allison, a long-time trustee of The Heritage Foundation died on Monday. Allison worked for the Ford Motor Company for 20 years before founding the automotive marketing research and consultancy firm, Allison-Fisher, Inc. in 1980. Allison had served on the Board of The Heritage Foundation since 1998. He and his wife Sarah had given generously to The Heritage Foundation over the years, including donating $10 million to establish the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy.

In a statement mourning the loss, Phillip Truluck said: “We were truly blessed to have had this wonderful, witty, delightful Canadian-turned-American as a friend and colleague. What a force for excellence! Doug’s wisdom has guided us for years – and, I believe, will continue in perpetuity.” [The Heritage Foundation, April 3]

Posted on 04/04/14 08:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

Interesting People We Met at Resource Bank

One of the reasons people go Resource Bank, they tell us, is to network. We did a little of that, too. Here are some people we met at Resource Bank who are doing great work promoting liberty:

• Jake DeVantier told us about a mobile app his company, 2nd Vote, has developed that lets consumers make sure they shop from companies that are aligned with their conservative values.

• Matthew Tyrman showed off Open the Books Portal, a mobile app that allows you to track government spending while running errands.

• James D. Agresti of JustFacts knows what a real fact check is, unlike some of the clowns in the mainstream media.

• Donna Rook explained to us how the Institute for Truth in Accounting is exposing the real public debt picture at both the state and federal level.

Keli’I Akina filled us in on the Grassroot Institute’s continuing efforts to fight the creation of a race-based government in Hawaii.

• Tamara Chergoleishvili is the editor-in-chief of Tabula, an independent news website covering Georgian politics and Georgian relations with its aggressive neighbor, Russia.

• Devin Foley told us about Intellectual Takeout’s success building a community of followers who are interested in learning and dialogue about public policy issues.

Posted on 04/04/14 07:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

Resource Bank Roundup: Conservatives Work to Build a Fully Armed and Operational Movement

What do conservatives need to do to win policy battles for more liberty? Five hundred-some leaders of the conservative movement shared a lot of ideas on that question last week in New Orleans. They—think tanks executives, scholars of public policy, grassroots activists, and donors—had gathered for The Heritage Foundation’s 37th Annual Resource Bank.

The answers that emerged from the meeting could be summed up this way: Conservatives need to do a better job of reaching new audiences with better stories told better and marketed better. At various sessions, the conference-goers were encouraged to consider questions such as: Are people opening your emails? If not, why not? Does your organization have the culture of testing and measurement it needs in order to learn what kind of messaging works and what doesn’t? Are you reaching the right 20,000 people who can make a difference in policy battles? Does your content engage and motivate people with emotion? Are you passing up opportunities to use humor effectively? Are you doing too much preaching and not enough listening to your audience? Are you building trust by being involved in your communities? Do you have the right messenger to reach new communities?

Are we willing to identify villains? Hollywood filmmaker Jeremy Boreing underlined the emphasis on messaging with an address titled: “The Worst Story Ever Told.” Boreing explained to the audience that they were no longer really conservatives; since the Left today controls the institutions, the culture, and much of government, those who oppose the Left aren’t really conserving anything. They are the rebels, he explained, and they can learn from Star Wars—that movie about a rebellion a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. What did the rebels in Star Wars want—other than to defeat the Empire? Star Wars never explained that, but it did show the Empire doing lots of evil things, like blowing up whole planets. And that was enough to get you to root for the rebels. Identifying a villain is essential to telling a good story. Conservatives today, said Boreing, are afraid to call the Left evil. Boreing pointed out that even Ronald Reagan, happy warrior that he was, never passed up an opportunity to insult the Democrats, and the result was that Reagan got more registered Democrats to vote for him than any other Republican presidential candidate. “You are not going to get anybody to go with you on your trip to destroy the Death Star if they believe that Darth Vader is just a bad administrator,” said Boreing, who added that if Mitt Romney had lived in the Star Wars universe, his program would have been “to bring the Death Star in on time and under budget.”

The Left, meanwhile, plays by no rules. The Left is more than happy to call conservatives evil, and that is why conservatives are losing the culture. The Left’s agenda to marginalize conservatives was the topic of a panel discussion featuring John Fund, Cleta Mitchell, Stanley Kurtz, and Tracie Sharp. Fund explained that the idea of “institutional racism” is the Left’s way of saying conservatives are permanently guilty and he warned: “The Left is getting ready to yell ‘racism’ in a crowded theater” to win the 2014 elections.

Mitchell described the continuing battle over Internal Revenue Service regulation of speech by nonprofits. The Left, she explained, coalesces around process issues; conservatives make a mistake by ignoring those issues. “He who writes the rules wins the gold,” said Mitchell. Regarding the IRS regulations, Sharp noted that conservatives need to challenge the Left’s narrative that there is something wrong with anonymous giving. Kurtz, speaking about the intellectual connections between today’s Left and the 1960s radicals, added that conservatives need to get over their reluctance to expose the Left’s bad faith tactics.

What’s the plan on health care? Among the many panel discussions that focused on policy issues, the panel on what to do about ObamaCare stood out. In particular John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis made the case that conservatives should coalesce around the strategy of creeping free markets into the ObamaCare exchanges. Repealing along won’t work, he explained, because ObamaCare has destroyed the private market. Randy Barnett, meanwhile, urged Republicans to resist federalizing tort law and then calling that health care reform. In the first place, tort reform isn’t health care reform. In the second place, however wise particular reform plans might be, tort law is a state responsibility not a federal one.

Defenders of religious liberty recognized. The Heritage Foundation awarded its annual Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship the Green family and the Hahn family for their defense of religious liberty in the courts. The Greens are the owners of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, while the Hahns are the owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties. Both companies objected to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate on companies to cover abortifacient drugs in their employee health plans. They sued HHS on First Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case just last week. The award is named after the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Salvatori, and is given every year to an individual or group of individuals whose work advances the principles and virtues of nation’s Founders. Steve Green accepted the award on behalf of the Green family, and Anthony Hahn accepted the award on behalf of the Hahn family.

Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz were there, too! Gov. Jindal, addressing the conference over dinner, also saluted those fighting for religious liberty. He spoke about the intolerance shown by liberals to Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty over comments he made in defense of the traditional family. “America didn’t create religious liberty,” he said. “Religious liberty created America.”

Ted Cruz closed the conference with a townhall-style conversation with the attendees. Cruz summed the economic situation be noting that Reaganomics allowed people to start businesses in their parents garage while Obamanomics allows people to move into their parents garage.

Posted on 04/04/14 04:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare’s Regulatory Costs Are Two and a Half Times Its Benefits

ObamaCare creates more paperwork, forces individuals to buy insurance they don’t want, forces many employers to change their coverage (or pay a fine), incentivizes less work, and incentivizes employers to shed full-time workers. Sam Batkins makes an estimate of these various burdens:

From a regulatory perspective, the law has imposed more than $27.2 billion in total private sector costs, $8 billion in unfunded state burdens, and more than 159 million paperwork hours on local governments and affected entities. What’s more troubling, the law has generated just $2.6 billion in annualized benefits, compared to $6.8 billion in annualized costs. In other words, the ACA has imposed 2.5 times more costs than it has produced in benefits. […]

For what the administration has released, the public knows the law has $6.8 billion in recurring annual costs, compared to just $2.6 billion in monetized benefits. For comparison, higher taxes from the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012” will impose an additional $42 billion in burdens this year. ACA regulations will compound that figure, resulting in close to $49 billion in burdens from new taxes and ACA implementation alone. [American Action Forum, March 24]

Posted on 04/03/14 06:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

Sometimes You’ve Got to Sell Your Van Gogh to Pay the Bills

Detroit’s taxpayers have been subsidizing the Detroit Institute of Arts for decades. In fact, note Andrew Moylan and Alan Smith, the city owns a vast art collection, which, if monetized, could help repay Detroit’s creditors:

In total, the DIA has in its possession some 66,000 art treasures collected over nearly 130 years, including works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Matisse and the amazing “Detroit Industry” murals painted in 1932 by Diego Rivera. Monetizing the art, even on a small scale, could prove enormously helpful in minimizing harm done to the interests of employees and creditors. […]

The precise value of the collection isn’t known, but an evaluation of just 38 of the DIA’s most famous pieces done last June at the behest of the Detroit Free Press yielded an estimate of $2.5 billion. In December, the famous auction house Christie’s released an appraisal of nearly 2,800 works (just 5 percent of the institute’s total holdings) purchased directly by the city, saying they were worth as much as $867 million, a figure disputed by many experts as artificially low. [Internal citations omitted.][“Artfully Resolving Detroit’s Bankruptcy,” by Andrew Moylan and Alan Smith, R Street Institute, March 2014]

As Moylan and Smith go on note, realizing the value of the art will not be as simple as putting on a yard sale at the DIA. For one thing, some of DIA’s art appears to have been obtained with conditions against resale. Also, there is always a danger that the city will end up selling its art at fire-sale prices; and city officials themselves are probably understating the value of the art in order to minimize the political pressure to sell it. Still, for those works that cannot be sold, there are ways to monetize the value without actually selling it, such as leasing it to other exhibitions. Fairness to the city’s creditors requires exploring all options to pay the city’s $18.5 billion debt.

Posted on 04/03/14 12:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Pulling Back the Veil on Common Core

Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards for education, but 62 percent of people say they’ve never heard of Common Core. How did that happen? The Home School Legal Defense Association has produced a short documentary about how the Common Core State Standards were developed and how those standards will effect education at all levels. HSLDA opposes Common Core, but this documentary gives the proponents of Common Core their say, too. If you need to catch up on the controversy, watching this video is 40 minutes well spent.

Posted on 04/02/14 06:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Iowa Legislates in the Past Impossible Never Tense

Nancy Pelosi’s idea was that you pass laws so that you find out what’s in them. Even that scheme seems a little orderly compared to how the State of Iowa does things. Paul Brennan reports:

In 2008, the Legislature passed a bill that accidentally included language repealing the section of the tax code that imposed a sales tax on heavy machinery purchased in the state. No one noticed until last summer, when a lawyer contacted the Iowa Department of Revenue seeking clarification about the tax.

Faced with the possibility of having to refund more than $20 million collected for a nonexistent tax, not to mention losing an estimated $7 million in taxes a year going forward, lawmakers passed a bill Thursday reinstating the tax and making it retroactive to the date of its accidental repeal.

The governor is expected to sign it. [IowaWatchdog.org, April 1]

Posted on 04/02/14 05:15 PM by Alex Adrianson

Support Crowd-Funded Movie about Kermit Gosnell

Anne McElhinney, Phelim Macaleer, and Magdalena Segieda, makers of FrackNation, have launched a crowd-funding project at Indiegogo for a movie about abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell was convicted in 2013 of performing 21 illegal late-term abortions and for murdering one patient who died while under his care and seven babies whom he killed after they were born alive during attempted abortions. Thousands of such babies are believed to have died under his care, which would make Gosnell the most successful serial killer in American history. The media largely ignored the trial, and Hollywood had no plans to make a film about it. McElhinney, Macaleer, and Segieda are trying to give the story the attention it deserves. Here is their pitch:

Posted on 04/01/14 06:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

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