Archives for December 2012

Recapping 2012: Changing of the Guard

In 2012, three major changes happened in the policy world inside the Beltway: three presidents of three conservative and libertarian think tanks stepped aside, and now we have three new presidents in their place.

At Cato, long time president Ed Crane left as part of a settlement ending a long and bitter battle between him and Charles and David Koch. The battle was over who controlled the Cato Institute, after former chairman William Niskanen died. In the end, the shareholders’ agreement that was in place was dissolved, Ed Crane left, the Koch brothers agreed to be hands off, and in came John Allison, former CEO of BB&T bank. While I wrote a fond tribute for Mr. Crane when he left, I look forward to Allison’s tenure and I hope for the best.

At the other libertarian think tank in DC, the founder and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is also preparing to step down. Fred Smith will leave on New Year’s (though he’ll stick around to keep fighting the good fight), to be replaced by Mercatus VP Lawson Bader. Bader has experience on Capitol Hill and in think tanks, and as being the “kilts guy.” (His Twitter handle is @LibertyNKilts, for crying out loud.) He’s a great choice for such an esteemed institution as CEI.

Looks like we’re headed over the “fiscal cliff”

There has been some movement in negoitiations to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” over the last 24 hours. Earlier this afternoon, President Barack Obama gave a progress report on the talks between congressional leaders. The stock market reacted positively, but it doesn’t look like Congress will vote on any sort of deal this evening.

It does look like there has been an agreement reached on tax rates. According to National Journal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) worked with Vice President Joe Biden to come up with an agreement that would raise taxes on individials earning $400,000 and families earning more than $450,000. It doesn’t look like there will be anything in the way of real spending cuts.

Jamie Dupree notes, that by going over the “fiscal cliff,” House Republicans will be able to vote for a tax package tomorrow that keeps them from actually raising taxes:

Dupree also notes that the House has adjourned until tomorrow at noon, though a vote in the Senate on the deal worked out between Biden and McConnell could come tonight.

We’ll be around tomorrow in case Congress does act.

Recapping 2012: Scott Walker wins in Wisconsin

Perhaps one of the best stories this year was Scott Walker’s victory in his recall election. That election was prompted by Wisconsin passing a law that limited collective bargaining for some public-sector unions (most government employees, minus police and firefighters) and forced them to contribute more to their pensions.

Naturally, public unions threw a hissy fit at the thought that they would have to pay for their own benefits rather than forcing other people to pay for them—you know, government-backed robbery. They forced the recall election, but lost badly, and in the end it was perceived as a major blow to labor unions around the country. Not only did it deplete the Wisconsin unions’ coffers, it also damaged their image as a credible threat, and gave strength to more governors to fix their awful state budgets.

In retrospect, though, perhaps the big winner was Lawrence O’Donnell. Immediately after the results came in, O’Donnell proclaimed that the winner of the Wisconsin recall election was, bizarrely, Barack Obama. I derided him at the time, yet it turned out he was correct: Obama went on to win the 2012 presidential election, and took Wisconsin by 52% to Romney’s 46%.

Despite that, though, Walker’s recall victory was a major victory for free market advocates and libertarians everywhere. Let’s hope we can continue the fight under Obama’s second term.

Recapping 2012: Things People Think They Know…But Don’t

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1816, Letter to Charles Yancey

I’ve come to the conclusion that Dante, in writing his classic “Inferno”, actually missed the final level of Hell. Or rather, I have not so much concluded that, as discovered it. The deepest level of Hell is to be forced to watch the news and read the printed and online media, and see falsities, half-truths, and outright lies perpetuated ad nauseum, and be completely impotent to get people to realize the truth. You can convince a large majority of the people to believe just about anything as long as you say it in a serious, contemplative voice, or preface it with the statement “Experts agree” or “A new study has discovered…” I don’t mind people disagreeing with me (indeed, there are few things I enjoy more than debating against someone that is informed and well-prepared) but it drives me berserk at the absolute stupidity that some people are willing to believe.

So, as we head into the new year, my last column will be dedicated to correcting oft-repeated fallacies, in the hope that it will create a spark that leads to a reassessment of things that people believe, but just aren’t so. In no particular order, here is the truth about some common fallacies that I wish could be corrected once and for all…

Recapping 2012: Felix Baumgartner’s Badass Skydive

Felix Baumgartner

On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner of Austria accomplished one of the most insane, unimaginably badass things I’ve ever seen.  As part of a project called Red Bull Stratos, Baumgartner rode a balloon pod upwards of 24 miles above the Earth… then jumped off. During the descent, he reached speeds in excess of the speed of sound - up to Mach 1.24 - becoming the first human being to do this without any kind of engine power.

As I watched this unfurl with millions of others around the world, including most of my Twitter timeline, disbelief slowly turned into outright anxiety as the sheer insanity of the jump took hold. The Earth became smaller and smaller as the balloon rose to incredible altitudes.  When Felix opened the pod and dangled his feet outside, it was almost hard to watch.  If something went wrong, we all knew what could happen.

Yet, amazingly, the jump went off fine, even when Felix started spinning.  He was able to regain control, and preliminary analysis suggests he broke three of the four records he hoped to - highest manned balloon flight, highest skydive, and first human to reach the speed of sound without a vehicle.  It just goes to show that mankind can still accomplish incredible things - given the right motivations and the perfect combination of courage and insanity.

Recapping 2012: The Roberts Reversal — SCOTUS Upholds ObamaCare

In retrospect, we probably should have seen it coming.  After Roberts’ first term, Jeffrey Rosen interviewed the new Chief Justice and wrote a long piece in The Atlantic analyzing his motivations.

Roberts’ stated focus was not his commitment to originalism or his oath to the Constitution, but pulling the Court to the middle to convey unanimity:

“A justice is not like a law professor, who might say, ‘This is my theory … and this is what I’m going to be faithful to and consistent with,’ and in twenty years will look back and say, ‘I had a consistent theory of the First Amendment as applied to a particular area,’” he explained. Instead of nine justices moving in nine separate directions, Roberts said, “it would be good to have a commitment on the part of the Court to acting as a Court, rather than being more concerned about the consistency and coherency of an individual judicial record.”

“You do have to [help people] appreciate, from their own point of view, having the Court acquire more legitimacy, credibility; [show them] that they will benefit, from the shared commitment to unanimity, in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. Roberts added that in some ways he considered his situation—overseeing a Court that is evenly divided on important issues—to be ideal. “You do need some fluidity in the middle, [if you are going] to develop a commitment to a different way of deciding things.” In other words, on a divided Court where neither camp can be confident that it will win in the most controversial cases, both sides have an incentive to work toward unanimity, to achieve a kind of bilateral disarmament.

Recapping 2012: Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin

Every campaign cycle, there is a politician that puts his foot so far into his mouth that he manages to pop it back into place. This past year, progressive bloggers – and more than a few libertarians ones - were gifted with Todd Akin.

Akin was challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) for her Senate seat when he made his now infamous comments about how during “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body had ways to prevent pregnancy. The phrase “legitimate rape” became burned in the lexicon of political discourse.

The comments were a gift from above for McCaskill, who was considered extremely vulnerable before the race, but who easily retained her seat. However, the comments may have done more damage to the Republican Party in general. While many Republicans did condemn Akin’s remarks, a significant number came out in support of Akin which permitted Democrats to continue to paint the GOP as “anti-woman.”

Sequester, and Begin Anew

With the “fiscal cliff” looming, the $1.2 trillion automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration, will trigger on 1 January 2013, as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of this burden, cutting $492 billion over 10 years.

Although these cuts aren’t actually cuts at all, but merely decreases in the rate of growth, neither political party has the will or the want to let them go into effect.  Politicians on both side tell us sequestration will cut our Navy to its smallest size since WWI, and cut our ground forces to their smallest size since WWII.  Our Department of Defense, however, currently consumes 20% of the federal budget and 5% of the US economy.  At $707.5 billion, the 2012 Defense budget is more than double its $291.1 billion size in 2001, before our modern wars began.  Having technically ended a war last year, and currently drawing down in another, what exactly are we spending our money on?  How do we, every year, spend more on defense than we did the year before?  Instead of sheltering the Department of Defense from spending cuts, perhaps it should be the first place we look.

(Look closely, I’m in the picture.  Mombasa, Kenya, 2005)

Libertarianism in 2012: Monster Gains at the Ballot Box

//], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the biggest news stories in the world of libertarianism this year was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party record-breaking general election raw vote total of approximately 1.2 million popular votes. This figure wasn’t enough to clear a one percent threshold according to Reason’s Garrett Quinn, but the state by state gains over the Barr/Root ticket of 2008 were astounding. Libertarianism was and continues to be a thick strand in the sinews of the Tea Party movement, and it’s no surprise that a Libertarian Party candidate like Johnson, running against a progressive Democrat and an establishment Republican, garnered record-breaking numbers. Quinn, who followed Johnson on the trail for Reason during the last cycle, has an excellent piece on the future of the Libertarian Party in the December 2012 dead tree edition of the magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

United States is meddling in a Civil War

Before Christmas, amid the drama of the fiscal cliff, and before the horrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama announced that our government would recognize the Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, stating:

“The Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, and is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.”

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