Category Archives: Big Government

Will Hurricane Maria provide the excuse for Congress to bail out Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico’s electric utility was already effectively bankrupt.  Now, most inconveniently, Hurricane Maria has knocked out power to the entire island.
We predict that that hurricane will provide the cover for Congress to provide a massive bailout—effectively leveraging the tragedy of Maria to cover for its previous woes too.
Perhaps it’s unseemly to discuss now at this time that calls for compassion.  But the hurricane could well provide, shall we say, a glaring silver lining for this island that will allow it to escape accountability for its decades of corruption and mismanagement.
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Bill to allow Americans to sue Saudi Arabia for terrorism is against the rule of law (that it passed unanimously is a telltale sign)

It’s odd that we side with President Obama as he is facing the first veto override of his term.  Though the fact that the bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously is a hint of its perniciousness.

The bill, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), would allow citizens who can convince a jury that they were victimized by terrorism to sue governments that they believe contributed to the terrorist acts.  We agree with the high-minded reasons that both the Obama Administration and some of the Republicans’ best legal and foreign-policy minds put forth in illustrating the bill’s dangers:  it undermines sovereign immunity, could prompt retaliatory lawfare from other countries, and  could place Americans abroad at risk of being detained by countries where the divide between civil and criminal prosecution is not as clear as in America.

We also fret that—while we are not condoning our supposed allies like Saudi Arabia in creating the environment for and directly supporting attacks on the U.S.—subjecting more defendants to the whims of the U.S.’s tort system is not the definition of justice.  Supporters of the bill reflexively cry that “it’s not about the money,” but we’re sure that the tort bar doesn’t see it that way.

The lawsuit industry undermines the U.S. economy every day via “jackpot justice,” in which it’s not that hard to employ emotionally-charged arguments to convince juries that some faceless, deep-pocket foreign defendant should pay up.  The preponderance-of-the-evidence standard on such civil matters is a dangerous substitute to deal with complex issues that should be left to the international political process.

The bill, while not unconstitutional, violates the spirit of the American constitution’s visionary prohibition of Bills of Attainder and ex post facto laws.  JASTA strikes us as a ham-handed attempt to scapegoat for imprecise reasons a defined boogeyman after the fact—a a sophisticated form of mob rule that these constitutional provisions were designed to deter.

Most bills that pass Congress unanimously are trivial, with the only down-side being wasted legislative resources.  When they are not trivial, such laws almost always increase government and erode liberty, as the political class generally agrees on these values as opposed to their converses.  Unanimous laws generally fit the pattern of benefiting from emotional resonance—as in the case of JASTA—and being seen as having little down-side.*

JASTA is not trivial and carries significant down-sides, though it does fit the general pattern of feel-good unanimous legislation and all of its ills.

*We would like to see a historian write a book on unanimously-passed legislation and the dissenters (like former Rep. Ron Paul (Tx.)) who have stood alone against them.  Such a work would certainly be filled with anecdotes that would educate and often amuse political junkies.

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Dallas police use of robot-deployed bomb is troubling

The media has rightly focused in recent days on the decision by the Dallas police to use a robot to blow up the black-power activist who murdered five police officers.  Although the sniper, Micah Johnson, ultimately got what he deserved, we are troubled by this use of technology.

Even if we shed no tears for the shooter in this case, it is not hard to envision a scenario where such a dystopian killing machine is abused (or, given the competence we generally expect from the government, malfunctions) in the future.  We are reminded of the exploding collars affixed to prisoners in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Running Man.

Steve Sailer makes the point that use of the robot was not much different than the typical police tactic of using a sniper to take out an active shooter, but, as other commenters point out—aside from the precedent and optics—the robot didn’t appear necessary in this circumstance.  The shooter was boxed in and not an immediate further threat to anyone.  Given the potential for collateral damage from a robot, it seems a bit draconian.

Even a sniper who has admitted guilt, as Johnson did in his “negotiations” with the police, is entitled to due process (though the Dallas police chief’s and media’s repeated description of Johnson as a “suspect” in recounting the events seems inaccurate—how about “perpetrator”?).  Police generally are charged with subduing and arresting a perpetrator unless killing him is necessary to prevent further loss of life.

Why couldn’t a robot be affixed with tear gas, a taser, or some other non-lethal disabling agent?

Incidentally, a Salon writer called this use of force a “frightening precedent.”  In a first, we agree with every word of the article (except for the reference to “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” which we had never heard of and, given that it was brought to us by the United Nations, probably means the opposite of its title suggests).

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A reminder of how incompetently the government administers the “no fly list”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) has introduced a “compromise” that would bar Americans who are on the government’s infamous “n0 fly list” from buying a gun while introducing a mechanism to appeal denial of a gun purchase.  How long would such an appeal take?

Such a proposal would be a gross violation of Americans’ constitutional rights.  The burden of proof should be on the government to deny someone’s fundamental rights, not the other way around.  What’s next, curtailing First, Fourth, or Fifth Amendment rights for people on the list?

A more practical matter is the sheer incompetence with which the government administers the list, along with other databases on which some guilty and some innocent Americans find themselves.  That is, the government is just as incompetent in this arena as in every other.  The list is secret, with no defined criteria for who puts an American on it or how to get taken off.  Plenty of horror stories abound that show how difficult it is for anyone to navigate the bureaucracy to challenge inclusion on such a list.  (Big-government advocates will retort that flying is not a constitutional or civil right.  That is hardly a reassuring rejoinder in a free country.)

Perhaps this could be a viable measure for foreign nationals, particularly those who don’t have a green card.  Collins notes that “most” of the people on the list are foreigners, but that is also not very reassuring in light of the opacity with which the government maintains the list.

Please, Republicans, don’t fall into the MSM/liberal trap of feeling pressured to “do something,” namely, to add yet another ineptly-run government program to try to remedy a litany of existing ineptly-run government programs.

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Be very suspicious of the left’s motives to allow “lateral entry” for military officers

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently unveiled a proposal to allow people to enter the military directly from outside at levels up to O-6 (colonel, or captain in the Navy) in potentially any job.  The plan, which is being considered by Congress, would expand this option from its current narrow parameters, which allow lateral entry up to the O-4 level (major, or lieutenant commander in the Navy) only for chaplains, lawyers, doctors, and dentists.

Secretary Carter uses the example of cyber specialists as a case where such a program would be most useful, as it’s difficult to develop officers with the level of expertise needed in-house.

This seems like a reasonable concept in principle, if applied selectively, and if it were intended solely to increase the effectiveness of the military (i.e., if conceived by Republicans).  It is an idea with merit and with major implications for both the military and civilian sectors.  It is worth careful consideration.

Color us skeptical, however, at the motives behind this under people like President Obama or Secretary Carter.  The author in the linked article says that the plan “suggests eroding the military’s tradition of growing its own leaders and cultivating a force with a distinct culture and tight social fabric.”

We have no doubt that “eroding” the armed forces’ “distinct culture and tight social fabric” is the whole point.  The left despises the military culture.  When Democrats are in power they enjoy conducting their transformative gambits on the military, be it redesigning training materials to be more politically correct, placing women in combat roles, forcing the forces to accept homosexuals, and next, naturally, removing the ban on “transgendered” warriors.  The left loves being able to play such games with the military, both because it is a perfect laboratory for their insane social engineering experiments—as a large population that has to follow orders and which collects lots of data—and because they see the military as a bastion of such abhorrent retrograde values as patriotism, meritocracy, and masculinity.

We assume that the left’s real motives in making such a sweeping change to the way that America grooms its military leaders are—in addition to making its culture more susceptible to their social-justice ideology—opening up a spigot by which they can corruptly appoint cronies to plum positions; installing moles who are loyal to them instead of to the chain of command (as is the norm in the federal civilian bureaucracy, in which an invisible, unaccountable band of dedicated leftists can always be counted on to drag their feet and stymie the attempted governance of any Republican administration); and, of course, fast-tracking affirmative-action hires to counter the perceived “diversity” problem in the upper officer ranks.

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Liberals don’t acknowledge trade-offs

The left almost never acknowledges the trade-offs associated with the policies it advocates.  Its ongoing attempt to raise minimum wage is the latest example.

It would be nice if liberal politicians or pundits said, We understand that raising the minimum wage always reduces employment, but we are willing to make that trade-off in favor of a higher standard of living for those who keep their jobs.  Instead, the left usually denies the existence of any trade-off (a New York Times editorial in favor of California’s recent law gradually raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour sort of acknowledged some associated costs, but tried to explain them away via economic bunk) or resorts to demagogic attacks against the more productive.

Similarly, you almost never hear liberals make arguments like these:

  • We understand that raising income taxes reduces economic growth, but we are willing to make that trade-off to redistribute resources to government services that benefit some subset of the population in the short-term.
  • We understand that Obamacare will result in healthy people, and taxpayers, paying more for inferior health insurance, but we are willing to make that trade-off so that everyone will have some minimal level of health care coverage.
  • We understand that tariffs and other protectionist measures hurt consumers and overall economic growth, but we are willing to make that trade-off to protect certain workers who have good jobs.  (This stance has become more bipartisan lately.)
  • We understand that carbon taxes, regulations that shutter businesses, and other mechanisms that we propose to reduce the effects of “climate change” will seriously harm the economy and jobs, but we are willing to make that trade-off to prevent more catastrophic consequences–which would result in much lower levels of economic activity and human welfare—in the future.

These are legitimate philosophical positions to take and defend in a democracy, and they might win the day in today’s America.  But it is a striking feature of our culture in the last half-century or so that debate is rarely cast on these terms.

Why don’t liberals mention trade-offs?  One factor is that they think that such arguments are too sophisticated and would make it more difficult to sell their policies; it’s much easier to promise everyone a free lunch.  In some cases, they probably don’t understand that a trade-off exists in the first place (most liberals lack appreciation of basic free-market principles).  In others, they don’t see the trade-off as a cost at all:  when it comes to “climate change,” the massive reduction of industry, redistribution of resources from innovative capitalist societies to retrograde third-world countries, and the creation of supranational bureaucracies to centrally plan the economy are features, not bugs.

The essential problem is that the left has universalized its ideology that government is the solution to all problems.  Whenever there is any unintended consequence—and the consequences are almost always unintended, because the left’s first principles simply don’t understand that their good intentions have costs—they can simply enact another government program to solve the problem.

 

 

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Government programs are like prescription drugs

Kudos to an excellent column by Glenn Reynolds linking the growth of government—and what he calls the “web” of patronage that radiates from it—to the decline of civilizations.  We have always believed that the only way to really counter government corruption, at least in a Western society that values individual liberty, is to reduce the scope of government.  Wouldn’t it be nice if most companies simply didn’t see the need to hire lobbyists, or pay bribes, because there weren’t that many areas in which the state would be inclined to interfere in their businesses?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the only way that a government bureaucrat could steal were to raid the petty cash box, as opposed to misappropriating funds via the countless overlapping, unaccountable ways that the government spends our money?

Most government programs are enacted largely to mitigate the effects of other government programs.  In turn, each program has its own constituents who know how to work the system to keep their goodies.  Liberals like to think of complex legislation, like Obamacare, as a piece of exquisitely-engineered and finely-tuned machinery, with savvy operators balancing the various mechanisms and behavioral responses to achieve their desired ends.  (Actually they think of the whole economy this way.)

In the case of Obamacare, much of the purported problem that it was intended to solve—that many Americans do not consume enough health care—largely came about due to government programs, such as the tax treatment of employer-provided health insurance and the hyper-regulation of the health care and insurance industries, which create all kinds of distortions in the market such as de-linking supply and demand for health care.  Beginning with the premise of making health insurance mandatory, then subsidizing it, the law includes hundreds of provisions to mitigate the iterative incentives and distortions layered upon one another in pursuit of these objectives.

We are reminded of a relative who takes around 15 prescription drugs each week.  Two of them are supposed to treat certain diagnosed ailments, and the other 13 are to counteract the side-effects of those two and among themselves.

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