Recent Posts From Publius

President Evolving Positions, Warrantless Wiretap Edition

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.


For one thing, under an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and “wiretaps without warrants,” he said. (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans’ phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)

It’s hardly a new stance for Obama, who has made similar statements in previous campaign speeches, but mention of the issue in a stump speech, alongside more frequently discussed topics like Iraq and education, may give some clue to his priorities.


Happy Constitution Day from United Liberty

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Federalist No. 51, a Virginia farmer named James Madison mused:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Today — September 17 — is the day we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by the U.S. Constitutional Convention. This document, which sought to protect man from himself by placing limits on the powers that a representative government would try to wield, is a watershed triumph in the history of human freedom movements, despite some of the gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated against African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans and other groups since the founding. As written constitutions go, the United States is something of an anomaly: since 1789, constitutions have lasted an average of only seventeen years. That statistic makes the U.S. Constitution a pretty special document.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating by taking the Bill of Rights Institute’s Constitution quiz to see how well you know the document that framed the United States government!

The War on Drugs Is a “Holocaust in Slow Motion”

Expect to see that tagline more than once associated with a forthcoming documentary, The House I Live In, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Flim Festival. Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki, whose credits also include, among others, Why We Fight and Freakonomics, the film will have a limited theatrical release beginning with New York on October 5, just three weeks from today. The release will expand into other major metropolitan areas in the ensuing weeks.

The film’s official website describes it thus:

Filmed in more than twenty states, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy.

For a scholarly examination of the impacts of the War on Drugs on state and federal budgets, see the September 2010 Cato Institute study “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition” by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron and Katherine Waldock.

Regulatory Compliance Costs Don’t Always Have a Dollar Figure Attached

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

Francois Hollande

Recently elected socialist French president François Hollande.

While I’m not sure I always buy whole-hog the amorphous concept of “regulatory uncertainty,” brought on by the administrative state, as a catch-all explanation for everything wrong with the private sector and our nation’s current unemployment crisis, a fascinating Bloomberg Businessweek Global Economics feature from May 2012 looks at French labor policy (emphasis mine):

[France] has 2.4 times as many companies with 49 employees as with 50. What difference does one employee make? Plenty, according to the French labor code. Once a company has at least 50 employees inside France, management must create three worker councils, introduce profit sharing, and submit restructuring plans to the councils if the company decides to fire workers for economic reasons.

French businesspeople often skirt these restraints by creating new companies rather than expanding existing ones.

Sentences I Hate: “Americans Are Hungry for Leadership.”

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

By United States Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wall Street Journal editorial board today floats House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan as the best possible vice presidential running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney:

The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.

Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp-like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers that includes such Governors as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

As important, Mr. Ryan can make his case in a reasonable and unthreatening way. He doesn’t get mad, or at least he doesn’t show it. Like Reagan, he has a basic cheerfulness and Midwestern equanimity.

Hypocrite in Chief

//], via Wikimedia Commons

Cuts to defense and military spending should reflect a principled commitment to reducing wasteful spending, crony capitalism, and the size and scope of the part of the federal government with all the bullets and bombs — it should not be a matter of political convenience.

When congressional leaders sparred over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling last year, the parties agreed that if Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, automatic triggers would kick in, and would sequester $1.2 trillion in spending across the federal budget (mandatory and discretionary; defense and non-defense). That agreement, which came to fruition almost exactly a year ago to the day, reflected a trade the president made with House Republicans: he gave up demanding revenue increases in exchange for an agreement to include defense spending in sequestration. Speaker of the House John Boehner reluctantly agreed, making sure no triggers would go into effect until January 2, 2013.

Point vs. Counterpoint: Chick-fil-A, Gay Marriage, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

//], via Wikimedia Commons

In a blog post yesterday morning, my former Cato Institute colleague Tom G. Palmer, who is openly gay and who once “brandished a pistol to scare off several men who he feared were about to attack him because of his sexual orientation,” discussed Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s reaction to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s on-the-record remarks about his company’s multi-million dollar support for traditional marriage causes and advocacy. Mayor Menino, in an interview with the Boston Herald, subsequently threatened to lean on city planners to deny Chick-fil-A business licenses it would need to operate within the jurisdiction:

“If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” he warned.

Menino also told the Herald that

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Tom Palmer concluded his post, writing

DISCLOSE Act’s Lead Sponsor: We Need Campaign Finance Reform to Protect Incumbents

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Following up on my piece last week on the newest version of the DISCLOSE Act, which failed a cloture vote to overcome a GOP filibuster last night, and which will face another cloture vote around 3pm Eastern today, I wanted to share this interview of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the lead sponsor of S.3369, conducted by progressive talk radio host Sam Seder at this year’s Netroots Nation conference.

Around the 1:35 mark, Sen. Whitehouse says (emphasis added)

Senate Democrats Try DISCLOSE Act Once More before Election


That’s a tweet from Roll Call Senate reporter Niels Lesniewski just after breakfast this morning. Instead of taking up annual appropriations, a rudimentary function of annual fiscal business in Congress, Senate Democrats are instead choosing to attempt to squelch political participation before the November elections.

Morning After: More SCOTUS Reflections from a Non-Lawyer

In reaction to my post yesterday, and lots of other punditry around the web, my friend Rusty Weiss of Mental Recession fame (he recently celebrated six months of blogging!) emailed me to say he’s tired of having to settle for silver linings — that he want points on the board.

A lot of us — political activists, policy geeks, and court watchers alike — were disappointed with the outcome of yesterday’s ruling. We wanted a full takedown of Obamacare, for both substantive and political reasons. Instead, we got a ruling that the president’s signature legislative achievement passes constitutional muster, even if it was most peculiarly reasoned.

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