Tag Archives: Timothy Carney

So, What Happened Over The Weekend?

Ed Morrissey:

NBC has a fairly comprehensive report on the American attack on Libyan forces this morning, complete with totals thus far on cruise missiles (114 of them) and attacks by stealth bombers on air-defense systems, with 20 of those targeted. Military airstrips around the country have been bombed as well, up to 40 of them. Libya claims that 48 people have died as a result of those attacks, and Moammar Gaddafi gave the usual warning to the Muslim world that this was the start of a “crusader war” against an Arab nation. One piece of news might raise eyebrows — the US has sent fighter jets from Sicily to attack Gaddafi’s ground forces around Benghazi

That would seem to go beyond the UN mandate for a no-fly zone. The Pentagon tells NBC that their interpretation of the mandate is that they need to protect civilians, an interpretation that would leave practically no option off the table. Even without considering a ground invasion, it could mean that the US could attack Tripoli or practically any target they wish from the air or through off-shore cruise missiles. As Jim Miklaszewski reports, it looks as though the intent now is to utterly destroy Gaddafi’s army in an attempt to force him into retreat.

Not for nothing, but wasn’t that more or less our strategy in Iraq in 1990? We had a lot more firepower on target in that case, and it still took a ground invasion to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait — and that wasn’t his own territory, either. Had we done this four weeks ago, we could have protected a status quo, de facto liberation of Benghazi and other areas of Libya. Now, the Libyan position is so advanced that Gaddafi can likely abandon his armor in the city and reduce the rebels to destruction. It will just take a little longer. The time to stop Gaddafi from seizing Benghazi and stomping out the rebellion was when Gaddafi was bottled up in Tripoli.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

President Obama’s decision to join an international military intervention in Libya has met with a largely negative response in the United States across the political spectrum. Critics correctly point to a wide range of problems with the intervention: the absence of any clear planning for what comes after Qaddafi or for what might happen if there is an extended stalemate, doubts about the opposition, the White House’s ignoring of Congress and limited explanations to the American public, the selectivity bias in going to war for Libya while ignoring Bahrain and Yemen, the distraction from other urgent issues.  I have laid out my own reservations about the intervention here and here.

This emerging consensus misses some extremely important context, however. Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world.  For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi’s bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution.  If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

Libya’s degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nikolas Sarkozy.  Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi’s forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings.  Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments  that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn’t matter more than, say, Cote D’Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).

The centrality of Libya to the Arab public sphere and to al-Jazeera carries a less attractive underside, though.  The focus on Libya has gone hand in hand with al-Jazeera’s relative inattention to next-door Bahrain, where a GCC/Saudi  intervention has helped to brutally beat back a protest movement and tried to cast it as a sectarian, Iranian conspiracy rather than as part of the narrative of Arab popular uprisings.  It has also distracted attention from Yemen, where rolling protests and mass government defections might finally today be bringing down the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime. The TV cameras have also largely moved on from the urgent issues surrounding the ongoing transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. Cynics might argue that the GCC and Arab League have been willing to support the intervention in Libya for precisely that reason, to keep the West distracted from their own depradations.

Finally, as I warned last week, Arab support for an intervention against Qaddafi to protect the Libyan people rapidly begins to fray when the action includes Western bombing of an Arab country. It should surprise nobody that the bombing campaign has triggered anger among a significant portion of the Arab public, which is still powerfully shaped by the Iraq war and aggrieved by perceived double standards (one of the most common lines in Arab debates right now is “where was the No Fly Zone over Gaza?”).  Amr Moussa’s flip-flopping on the Arab League’s stance towards the intervention should be seen as part of that tension between the desire to help the Libyan people and continuing suspicion of Western motives.  Skeptical voices matter too —  ignoring or ridiculing influential or representative voices simply because their message is unpalatable is a mistake too often made in this part of the world.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker:

What are we doing in Libya? “Helping” is not a sufficient answer. President Obama said that, if we didn’t act, “many thousands could die…. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered.” But that is a motive, a desire—not a plan. Obama also said that America wouldn’t be leading operation Odyssey Dawn, just helping: our allies, particularly the French and British, had this one, and the Arab League would help by cheering. By Sunday, though, there was division in the Arab League, and there was something iffy to start with about making Nicolas Sarkozy the point man on anything. (One of the many, many things I wish I understood was what role French elections played in all of this.) Could Congress and the American people have maybe helped the Obama Administration think this one through?

Members of the Administration, including Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser, and Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, keep repeating the phrase “days, not weeks.” But what they are referring to is not the length of the operation but of America’s “leadership” of it. Who will take over? There is more clarity on that point than on the question of who will take over Libya if Qaddafi leaves, but that’s a pretty low bar: as Philip Gourevitch points out in his pointed summary of the questions attending this operation, we have no idea. Hillary Clinton talked about people around Qaddafi deciding to do something—the eternal desire for the convenient coup. Do we care who the plotters are?

Another thing that more people perhaps should have been clear about was the extent of Odyssey Dawn. The Times spoke of discomfort at how it had gone beyond a “simple ‘no-fly zone.’ ” But, despite the blank, pristine quality of the term, imposing a no-fly zone is not a simple, or clean and bloodless, thing, as if one simply turned a switch and the air cleared out. Pentagon spokesmen talked about hitting anti-aircraft installations, aviation centers, and “communication nodes.” Empty skies require rubble on the ground.

Lexington at The Economist:

For what it is worth, I welcome the fact that the world at last seems willing to exercise its so-called “duty to protect” people at risk from their own governments. The failures to do so in Rwanda and Darfur and so many other charnel houses is a blot on its conscience that will never be erased. But there is no escaping the fact that this new entanglement was decided upon behind closed doors at the UN and with very little public debate here in the United States. None of this will matter if the end comes quickly. But if things go wrong and America is drawn deeper in, the domestic consequences for the president could be far-reaching.

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

At once presumptuous and flippant, President Obama used a Saturday audio recording from Brazil to inform Americans he had authorized a third war — a war in which America’s role is unclear and the stated objectives are muddled.

Setting aside the wisdom of the intervention, Obama’s entry into Libya’s civil war is troubling on at least five counts. First is the legal and constitutional question. Second is the manner of Obama’s announcement. Third is the complete disregard for public opinion and lack of debate. Fourth is the unclear role the United States will play in this coalition. Fifth is the lack of a clear endgame. Compounding all these problems is the lack of trust created by Obama’s record of deception.

“Today, I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya,” the president said. For him it was self-evident he had such authority. He gave no hint he would seek even ex post facto congressional approval. In fact, he never once mentioned Congress.

Since World War II, the executive branch has steadily grabbed more war powers, and Congress has supinely acquiesced. Truman, Johnson, Reagan, Clinton and Bush all fought wars without a formal declaration, but at least Bush used force only after Congress authorized it.

And, once more, the president’s actions belie his words on the campaign trail. In late 2007, candidate Obama told the Boston Globe, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

There is no claim that Moammar Gadhafi poses a threat to the United States. But asking President Obama to explain his change of heart would be a fruitless exercise. This is a president who has repeatedly shredded the clear meaning of words in order to deny breaking promises he has clearly broken — consider his continued blatant falsehoods on tax increases and his hiring of lobbyists.

James Fallows:

Count me among those very skeptical of how this commitment was made and where it might lead.

How it was made: it cannot reassure anyone who cares about America’s viability as a republic that it is entering another war with essentially zero Congressional consultation or “buy-in,” and with very little serious debate outside the Executive Branch itself. And there the debate was, apparently, mostly about changing the President’s own mind. I recognize that there are times when national safety requires an Administration to respond quickly, without enduring the posturing and institutionalized dysfunction that is the modern Congress. Without going through all the arguments, I assert that this is not such a moment. To be more precise: the Administration has not made the public case that the humanitarian and strategic stakes in Libya are so unique as to compel intervention there (even as part of a coalition), versus the many other injustices and tragedies we deplore but do not go to war to prevent. I can think of several examples in my current part of the world.

I didn’t like the “shut up and leave it to us” mode of foreign policy when carried out by people I generally disagreed with, in the Bush-Cheney era. I don’t like it when it’s carried out by people I generally agree with, in this Administration.

Where it might lead: The most predictable failure in modern American military policy has been the reluctance to ask, And what happens then? We invade Iraq to push Saddam Hussein from power. Good. What happens then? Obama increases our commitment in Afghanistan and says that “success” depends on the formation of a legitimate, honest Afghan government on a certain timetable. The deadline passes. What happens then? One reason why Pentagon officials, as opposed to many politicians, have generally been cool to the idea of “preventive” strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities is that many have gone through the exercise of asking, What happens then?

Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.

But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?  I usually do not agree with Peggy Noonan, but I think she is exactly right in her recent warning* about how much easier it is to get into a war than ever to get out. I agree more often with Andrew Sullivan, and I share his frequently expressed recent hopes that this goes well but cautions about why it might not. (Jeffrey Goldberg has asked a set of similar questions, here.)

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

So let’s review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.

I can imagine many of the criticisms of the points I’ve made. And listening to them I think I’d find myself agreeing in general with a lot of it. But it strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything. Just all really bad.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

As the United Nations-sanctioned war against Libya moves into its third day, no U.S., French or British aircraft have been shot down by Libyan air defenses. Part of the credit should go to the Navy’s new jammer, which is making its combat debut in Operation Odyssey Dawn. But the jammer isn’t just fritzing Moammar Gadhafi’s missiles, it’s going after his tanks.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told the media on Sunday that the EA-18G Growler, a Boeing production, provided electronic warfare support to the coalition’s attacks on Libya. That’s the first combat mission for the Growler, which will replace the Navy’s Prowler jamming fleet. Only Gortney added a twist: not only did the Growler go after Libya’s surface-to-air missiles, it helped the coalition conduct air strikes on loyalist ground forces going after rebel strongholds.

According to Gortney, coalition air strikes “halted” the march of pro-Gadhafi troops 10 miles south of Benghazi, thanks to French, British and U.S. planes — including the Marine Corps’ Harrier jump jet — thanks in part to Growler support. There’s no word yet on whether the Growler’s jamming functions disrupted any missiles that the pro-Gadhafi forces carried, or fried any communications the Libyan loyalists attempted to make back to their command. But Robert Wall of Aviation Week notes that the continued “risk from pop-up surface to air missile firings” prompts the need for Growlers above Libya.

And expect the Growler to keep up the pressure. The Pentagon plans to transfer control of Odyssey Dawn from Gen. Carter Ham and U.S. Africa Command to an as yet undetermined multinational command entity — at which point, the U.S. is expected to take a backseat in combat missions. But it’ll continue to contribute “unique capabilities” to the Libya mission. Namely, Gortney specified, “specialty electronic airplanes” such as the Growler. (And refueling tankers, spy planes, cargo haulers and command n’ control aircraft.) No wonder Defense Secretary Robert Gates hearts it so much.

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An Apple A Day, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

Ezra Klein:

File this one under “health care doesn’t work nearly as well as we’d like to believe.” A group of researchers followed almost 15,000 initially healthy Canadians for more than 10 years to see whether universal access to health care meant that the rich and the poor were equally likely to stay healthy. The answer? Not even close.

The researchers ran the data two ways: High-income patients vs. low-income patients, and highly educated patients vs. less educated patients. Over the course of the study, the high-income patients were only 35 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients, and the highly educated patients only 26 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients. And the problem wasn’t that the low-income and low-education patients were hanging back from the health-care system. Because they were getting sick while their richer and better educated counterparts weren’t, they actually used considerable more in health-care services.

The problem, the researchers say, is that the medical system just isn’t that good at keeping people from dying. “Health care services use by itself had little explanatory effect on the income-mortality association (4.3 percent) and no explanatory effect on the education-mortality association,” they conclude.

You don’t want to over-interpret this data. It’s possible that in the absence of insurance, the gap would be much wider. Indeed, there’s good evidence suggesting that’s true. Nevertheless, this should make us very skeptical about a world in which we’re spending almost one out of every five dollars on health-care services. Universal insurance is crucial both for certain forms of health care and for economic security. But as I’ve argued before, it’s probably not the best way to make people healthier. Rather, the best way to make people healthier would be to get health-care costs under control so there’s more money in the budget for things like early-childhood education and efforts to strip lead out of walls, both of which seem to have very large impacts on health even though we don’t think of them as health-care expenditures.

Arnold Kling:

And that is from a study in Canada.3. The Washington Post reports,

A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 36 percent of adults have only basic or below-basic skills for dealing with health material. This means that 90 million Americans can understand discharge instructions written only at a fifth-grade level or lower.

My guess is that if you want to improve health outcomes in the United States, ignore health insurance and focus on literacy. Even if it has nothing to do with whether or not they can follow a doctor’s written instructions, my guess is that better literacy has a positive impact on health outcomes. The question is whether educators know enough about how to improve literacy to be able to do so effectively. I hope that is the case.

Tim Carney at The Examiner:

During debate over the health-care debate, liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote that blocking the legislation would “cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.” The liberals were relying on a study from the Urban Institute saying 20,000 people die a year because they are uninsured. Free-market blogger Megan McArdle read the study and concluded:

when you probe that claim, its accuracy is open to question. Even a rough approximation of how many people die because of lack of health insurance is hard to reach. Quite possibly, lack of health insurance has no more impact on your health than lack of flood insurance.

Klein came back with this:

I don’t want to be too harsh, and I don’t want to imply that anyone is sitting around twirling their mustache thinking up ways to hurt poor people. But opposition to health-care reform (which is different than opposition to the people who would be helped by health-care reform) is leading to some very strange arguments about the worth of health-care insurance — arguments that don’t fit with previous opinions, revealed preferences, or even the evidence the skeptics are citing.

But today, with the fight over ObamaCare behind us, and the President dealing with expectations over what his bill can deliver, Klein has a blog post that goes much farther than McArdle ever did. Klein’s headline:

Health care doesn’t keep people healthy — even in Canada

The main thrust of Klein’s blog post:

The problem, the researchers say, is that the medical system just isn’t that good at keeping people from dying. “Health care services use by itself had little explanatory effect on the income-mortality association (4.3 percent) and no explanatory effect on the education-mortality association,” they conclude.

I don’t want to be too harsh, and I’ve got nothing against what Klein used to call “arguments that don’t fit with previous opinions,” so I’ll just recommend you spend more time reading Megan McArdle.

The same is true, I’ll bet, for folks like Tim Carney who like to argue that medical care is ineffective as a way to argue against subsidizing health insurance for poor people. But for the record, the best evidence we have suggests that health-care coverage does much more for the health of poorer people than it does for the health of well-compensated, highly educated people like Carney. That folks like Carney use that evidence to continue a status quo in which they have health insurance and the poor don’t is, I think, proof of how seriously they take their arguments on this score, and of what this discussion is really about — and the answer isn’t “improving the health of the population.”

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior:

I suspect we have two things going on.First, education confers status and status is related to health outcomes. For example Oscar winners live longer than those simply nominated. How this link occurs is not totally clear. It seems that the hormones associated with stress and disappointment – cortisol for example – reduce long run health. However, this may not be the mechanism. No one really knows at this point.

Second, for a long list of reasons there is correlation between education and physical attractiveness. Physical attractiveness is by evolutionary design a proxy for health. Which to say, healthier folks are more likely to become well educated.

This makes me doubt that power of health improvements from increasing education.

In general it is just damn hard to improve health outcomes. Our bodies are the product of about 4 billion years of evolution. Just making sense of how they work is hard enough. Making them work better is a herculean task.

Jim Manzi at The American Scene:

There is a debate going on in the blogosphere between Ezra Klein, Arnold Kling, Karl Smith, Tim Carney and others about, to put it crudely, whether health care really affects health that much. This is, in part, a proxy debate for whether it is worth it for the U.S. government to provide generous universal health care financing for all of its citizens (or, I suppose, residents).

Either position can be caricatured. On one hand, no sane person would want to be without the advances of modern medicine. Recently, a little girl I know had scarlet fever. A century ago, this would very possibly have meant burying a small corpse; today, it implies a 10-day cycle of swallowing medicine at breakfast and dinner. There are few people on Earth who have as much reason to be proud of how they spend their work week as pharmaceutical researchers.

On the other hand, the link from alternative methods of health care finance, through the actual differences in provision of medical care these imply in the contemporary U.S., to the actual differences in health outcomes these treatment differences would cause, isn’t nearly so obvious. The net health effect of providing universal health care coverage versus some alternative financing system is an empirical question, not a philosophy debate.

I’ve written a lot about why randomized experiments are so critical to understanding cause-and-effect relationships in social policy. In the case of health care financing, the reason is that what system of health care financing you have (high-quality “go to any doctor” plan; good HMO; catastrophic-only plan; VA; go to an emergency room because you are uninsured, etc.) is bound up with a myriad of other factors that influence health. A randomized experiment allows us to isolate the impact of the system of health care financing.

To my knowledge, the only large-scale randomized experiment in the U.S. that has tested the actual effects on health of providing various kinds of healthcare financing was the RAND Health Insurance Experiment (HIE). In this experiment, thousands of families were randomly assigned to one of five different health insurance plans that ranged from something like a plan that provides free health care, to something like a pure catastrophic-only plan in which consumers pay out-of-pocket for day-to-day healthcare. The study tracked what exact health care services each group used, and how their health varied over a period of 3 – 5 years.

Ezra Klein describes this experiment as “the best evidence we have,” and writes that it “suggests that health-care coverage does much more for the health of poorer people than it does for the health of well-compensated, highly educated people.” His statement is correct, but as a summary of the results of this experiment, seems to me to be radically incomplete. In fact, the experimenters wrote of the findings that “cost sharing reduced the use of nearly all health services,” but “the reduction in services induced by cost sharing had no adverse effect on participants’ health.” Think about that. Providing people coverage of their medical costs caused no average improvement in health.

Klein is correct that there appeared to be a net health benefit for the poorest participants, but this was for a tiny proportion of the population, and for a small subset of medical conditions. According to the study, “The poorest and sickest 6 percent of the sample at the start of the experiment had better outcomes under the free plan for 4 of the 30 conditions measured.” There are technical reasons why conclusions from such a experiment are not reliable for post hoc subgroups in the way that they are for average comparison of a test group versus a control group; but even if we were to accept this finding as valid, it’s not obvious to me that we would want to devise a health care financing system for the United States around helping 6% of the population partially ameliorate about 10% of their potential health problems, as opposed to developing some specific supplementary programs for these issues, if they could be addressed feasibly.

Klein clearly has a very sophisticated take on the issue, and wrote in 2009 that health care reform is not primarily about improving health, but in reducing how much we spend on it. As he put it, “The purpose of health reform, in other words, is to pay for health care — not to improve the health of the population.” Fair enough. But the real debate, then, would be about whether market forces or bureaucratic control would be better at reducing costs, not about which would be better at promoting health for the “poorest and sickest” or anybody else. It wouldn’t be about getting better health outcomes.

A single experiment like the RAND HIE is not definitive. Among other things: it finished in 1982, and we live in a different world; any such experiment requires replication; it might be that the important health effects take much longer than 5 years to materialize, and so on. But as an observer of the health care debates, it always struck me as fascinating that the fact that the “best evidence we have” showed that providing health care coverage doesn’t actually improve average health wasn’t treated as more central.

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It’s A Koch Fight!

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

Palm Springs, California –At the front gates of the Rancho Las Palmas resort, a few hundred liberals rallied Sunday against “corporate greed” and polluters. They chanted for the arrest of billionaires Charles and David Koch, and their ire was also directed at the other free market-oriented businessmen invited here by the Koch brothers to discuss free markets and electoral strategies.

Billionaires poisoning our politics was the central theme of the protests. But nothing is quite as it seems in modern politics: The protest’s organizer, the nonprofit Common Cause, is funded by billionaire George Soros.

Common Cause has received $2 million from Soros’s Open Society Institute in the past eight years, according to grant data provided by Capital Research Center. Two panelists at Common Cause’s rival conference nearby — President Obama’s former green jobs czar, Van Jones, and blogger Lee Fang — work at the Center for American Progress, which was started and funded by Soros but, as a 501(c)4 nonprofit “think tank,” legally conceals the names of its donors.

In other words, money from billionaire George Soros and anonymous, well-heeled liberals was funding a protest against rich people’s influence on politics.

When Politico reporter Ken Vogel pointed out that Soros hosts similar “secret” confabs, CAP’s Fang responded on Twitter: “don’t you think there’s a very serious difference between donors who help the poor vs. donors who fund people to kill government, taxes on rich?”

In less than 140 characters, Fang had epitomized the myopic liberal view of money in politics: Conservative money is bad, and linked to greed, while liberal money is self-evidently philanthropic.

Caroline May at The Daily Caller:

Prior to the rally, the liberal group plans to host an opposition panel discussion called, “Uncloaking the Kochs: The Billionaires’ Caucus and its Threat to our Democracy.” The featured speakers include Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary and now chairman of Common Case’s National Governing Board; Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and former “Green Jobs Czar”; Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine; Lee Fang, an journalist at the Center for American Progress; and DeAnn McEwen, co-President of the California Nurses Association.

“Our goal here for the panel Sunday is to talk about the Billionaires Caucus agenda, its human impact and what can be done to restore the voices of ordinary Americans to the our political process,” explained Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.“Our government is supposed to be of, by and for the people, but it has been hijacked by self-interested billionaires. We must take it back. “

Despite the hyperbole, the Koch conference doesn’t sound so different from many off-the-record political conferences, including those held by the professional left. Shortly after the 2010 elections, for example, liberal groups converged on Washington D.C.’s Oriental Mandarin hotel, The meeting, hosted by Democracy Alliance featured liberal leaders such as Van Jones, hedge fund manager Donald Sussman, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. Michael Vachon, a George Soros representative, Peter Lewis, CEO of Progressive Insurance; and Fred Baron, the former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America also attended.

Yet to listen to the activist left describe it, this weekend’s meeting is a threat to the existence of life on this planet. “They are actively standing in the way of our nation transitioning to a 21st Century economy focused on clean energy and job growth creation,”warned Van  Jones. “Nationally, their influence is more profound….They are the Number One funders of climate change deniers.”

Jennifer Rubin:

On Sunday, the protest group swelled to 1,000 and blocked the street for nearly an hour. In a pre-arranged arrest, authorities cuffed and removed 25 protesters. Apparently, the leftists don’t consider the Jewish Funds for Justice’s missive on improper use of Nazi references to apply to them:

swastika_sign 1.jpg
(Photo by Dan Comstock)

Also celebrated was the historical figure Guy Fawkes, whom the left routinely associates with anti-government violence.

Guy Fawkes Protester.jpg
(Photo by Dan Comstock)

According to an eye-witness who contacted me by e-mail, protesters shouted “traitors,” held signs that said “Koch Kills” and chanted “No justice, no peace” outside the hotel.

A Koch representative whom I contacted had this comment on the day’s events: “This is the kind of ‘civil debate’ the left wants to have after Tucson?” One additional note: Inside the same conference center as the conservatives was a conference of judges from the Ninth Circuit. The recent death of a federal judge in Arizona did not give the mob pause about the propriety of their actions.

Robert Stacy McCain:

Twenty-five hippies were reportedly arrested. Click here for some nice photos of the Riverside Sheriff’s Department riot squad who, alas, didn’t get the opportunity to use their batons, pepper spray and tasers.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Do you suppose if Dana Perino, Karl Rove and Condi Rice organized radical mobs to shut down highways and disrupt liberal conferences it might make a few headlines?

Former top Obama White House offiicials helped organize protests that shut down a California highway and attempted to disrupt a conservative conference
Top Obama campaign bundler Jodie Evans from Code Pink attended the protests this weekend. Evans, who raised nearly $100,000 for Obama, was also a top activist with the Gaza flotilla terror group that attacked the IDF in May 2010. Evans was arrested yesterday outside the conservative conference.

Alana Goodman at Commentary:

According to Common Cause, Koch benefited from the ruling and supported groups that filed amicus briefs on behalf of Citizens United during the case. Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain why Common Cause invited labor unions to the rally, which have profited from the Supreme Court’s ruling as well.

Not to mention the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United, arguing that it was a free-speech issue. Will Common Cause bus in protesters to scream eliminationist rhetoric outside the ACLU’s offices next?

Probably not — getting arrested while protesting the ACLU just doesn’t have the same charm to it as getting arrested while protesting an “evil” corporate titan. Though a bit more consistency would at least help make Common Cause look a tad less clownish.

Grasping irony, however, is clearly not the group’s strong point. This was apparent from the list of speakers at the “progressive” political conference that was held in conjunction with the anti-Koch demonstration. When protesters grew tired of yelling about the political influence of corporate fat cats, they could take a break and listen to panel discussions featuring liberal billionaire financier Donald Sussman, Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Louis, the former president of the Association of American Trial Lawyers Fred Baron, and an array of representatives from George Soros–funded organizations.

Kenneth Vogel in Politico:

Faced with an avalanche of bad publicity after years of funding conservative causes in relative anonymity, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, Charles and David, are fighting back.They’ve hired a team of PR pros with experience working for top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger to quietly engage reporters to try to shape their Koch coverage, and commissioned sophisticated polling to monitor any collateral damage to the image of their company, Koch Industries.

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Filed under Conservative Movement, Economics, Politics

Liberaltarians Are So 2006

Will Wilkinson:

Of Matt Yglesias’s sensible approach to regulation, Conor Friederdorf writes:

Being someone who understands progressives, Mr. Yglesias makes the case for deregulation in terms likely to appeal to his colleagues on the left. What would be nice is if more people on the right could be similarly persuasive. Of course, capitalizing on common ground or winning converts on individual issues requires an accurate understanding of what motivates people with different ideologies, so it isn’t surprising that a Yglesias fan invoked Cato in that Tweet. It’s a place where several staffers are daily deepening our understanding of where liberals and libertarians can work together.

I’m glad Conor recognizes the value of the work some of us at Cato have been doing to make productive liberal-libertarian dialogue and collaboration possible. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Via the Kauffman Foundation

Brink Lindsey Joins Kauffman Foundation as Senior Scholar

Economic researcher and author to contribute to Kauffman’s growing body of work on firm formation and economic growth

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug. 23, 2010 – The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation today announced that Brink Lindsey has joined the Foundation as a senior scholar in research and policy. Lindsey will use his expertise in international trade, immigration, globalization and economic development to identify the structural reforms needed to revive entrepreneurial innovation, firm formation and job creation in the wake of the Great Recession.

As for me, my official last day at Cato is September 15. Expect more blogging and sketches.

David Weigel:

The libertarian Cato Institute is parting with two of its most prominent scholars. Brink Lindsey, the institute’s vice president of research and the author of the successful book The Age of Abundance, is departing to take a position at the Kauffman Foundation. Will Wilkinson, a Cato scholar, collaborator with Lindsey, and editor of the online Cato Unbound, is leaving on September 15; he just began blogging politics for the Economist.

I asked for comment on this and was told that the institute does not typically comment on personnel matters. But you have to struggle not to see a political context to this. Lindsey and Wilkinson are among the Cato scholars who most often find common cause with liberals. In 2006, after the GOP lost Congress, Lindsey coined the term “Liberaltarians” to suggest that Libertarians and liberals could work together outside of the conservative movement. Shortly after this, he launched a dinner series where liberals and Libertarians met to discuss big ideas. (Disclosure: I attended some of these dinners.) In 2009 and 2010, as the libertarian movement moved back into the right’s fold, Lindsey remained iconoclastic—just last month he penned a rare, biting criticism of The Battle, a book by AEI President Arthur Brooks which argues that economic theory is at the center of a new American culture war.

Did any of this play a role in the departure of Lindsey and Wilkinson? I’ve asked Lindsey and Wilkinson, and Wilkinson has declined to talk about it, which makes perfect sense. But I’m noticing Libertarians on Twitter starting to deride this move and intimate that Cato is enforcing a sort of orthodoxy. (The title of Wilkinson’s kiss-off post, “The Liberaltarian Diaspora,” certainly hints at something.)

Ilya Somin:

There are two big problems with Weigel’s insinuation. First, Cato has not changed or even deemphasized any of its positions on those issues where they have long differed with conservatives including the war on drugs, immigration, foreign policy, and others. If they were trying to move “back into the right’s fold,” one would think they would pulled back on these positions at least to some noticeable extent. Yet a quick glance at Cato’s website reveals recent attacks on standard conservative policies on Afghanistan, and the “Ground Zero mosque,” among other issues.

Second, it is strange to claim that Cato got rid of Lindsey for promoting a political alliance with the left at the very time when Lindsey himself recently disavowed that very idea, stating that “it’s clear enough that for now and the foreseeable future, the left is no more viable a home for libertarians than is the right.” If Cato objected to Lindsey’s advocacy of an alliance with the left, one would think they would have purged him back when he was actually advocating it, not after he has repudiated it. Wilkinson does still favor liberaltarianism, but apparently only as a philosophical dialogue. He holds out little if any prospect of an actual political coalition between the two groups.

Both Lindsey and Wilkinson have done much important and valuable work, and Cato is the poorer for losing them. At this point, however, there is no evidence that their departure was caused by a “purge” of liberaltarians intended to bring Cato “back into the right’s fold.”

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I am a Cato adjunct scholar (an unpaid position). However, I am not an employee of Cato’s, and have no role in any Cato personnel decisions. In this particular case, I didn’t even know it was going to happen until it became public.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

I won’t speculate on what’s going on at Cato. But, as much as I respect Brink Lindsey, both he and Wilkinson often expressed contempt for conservatism andconservative libertarians — Cato’s base, as it were — that probably didn’t help their causes. In Lindsey’s case, it was tempered by a kind of anthropological aloofness; in Wilkinson’s, less so.

American libertarianism is queer in that it can admit both rationalists and conservatives in the Oakeshottian senses. Reading Wilkinson it becomes clear that he is a classic rationalist. He derives his libertarianism a priori — a set of propositions on a chalkboard. Contrast with, for example, the average tea partier, who gets his as a uniquely American historical inheritance — a full-blooded tradition. Like most rationalists, Wilkinson thinks this is not just silly and sentimental but pernicious (one of his biggest bugaboos is patriotism).

And so, holding the same set of basic principles, but with different reasons, sends these two kinds of libertarians in two very different directions: the rationalists off toward liberaltarianism; the conservatives the classic Buckley-National Review fusionism.

Matt Welch at Reason

Alex Pareene at Gawker:

Various libertarians (and, to a much lesser extent, liberals) have wondered, as Lindsey did in that 2006 piece, why libertarians so often align themselves with conservatives instead of liberals. Considering the number of anti-libertarian policies the conservative movement fights for, it seems slightly odd that libertarians would act as an arm of that movement. But I think the answer is sort of obvious: While some outlets, like those leather jacket-wearing rebels at Reason, just tend to go after whoever’s currently in power, most of the big libertarian institutions are funded by vain rich people. And these vain rich people care a lot more about tax policy (specifically a policy of not having to pay taxes) than they do about legalizing drugs or defunding the military-industrial complex. And if they’re keeping the lights on at Cato and AEI, they want Cato and AEI to produce research that relates more to hating the IRS and the EPA than to hating the NYPD or the FBI.

And Cato was born as a Koch family pet project. As in the Koch family that is bent on the political destruction of Barack Obama.

Anyway, Lindsey and Wilkinson aren’t saying anything about their departures, but, as Dave Weigel writes, it looks for all the world like “Cato is enforcing a sort of orthodoxy.”

A libertarian influence on the Democratic party in the realms of law enforcement, drug policy, and civil liberties would definitely be a good thing. But the big libertarian institutions are not really amenable to working with liberals.

Steve Benen:

But what’s especially interesting to me is how often we’ve seen moves like these in recent years. David Frum was forced out at the American Enterprise Institute after failing to toe the Republican Party line. Bruce Bartlett was shown the door at the National Center for Policy Analysis for having the audacity to criticize George W. Bush’s incoherent economic policies.

In perhaps the most notable example, John Hulsman was a senior foreign policy analyst at the right’s largest think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Hulsman was a conservative in good standing — appearing regularly on Fox News and on the Washington Times‘ op-ed page, blasting Democrats — right up until he expressed his disapproval of the neoconservatives’ approach to foreign policy. At that point, Heritage threw him overboard. Cato’s Chris Preble said at the time, “At Heritage, anything that smacks of criticism of Bush will not be tolerated.”

A few years later, Cato seems to be moving in a very similar direction.

Intellectually, modern conservatism is facing a painfully sad state of affairs.

John Quiggin:

These departures presumably spell the end of any possibility that Cato will leave the Republican tent (or even maintain its tenuous claims to being non-partisan). And Cato was by far the best of the self-described libertarian organizations – the others range from shmibertarian fronts for big business to neo-Confederate loonies.

On the other hand, breaks of this kind often lead to interesting intellectual evolution. There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets. Former libertarians like Jim Henley have had some interesting things to say along these lines, and it would be good to have some similar perspectives

Chris Bodenner at Sully’s place:

With Lindsey and Wilkinson out, perhaps there’s a chance for Nick Newcomen, the Rand fan who drove 12,000 miles with GPS tracking “pen” to scrawl the message above?  If nothing else, his ideological chops are unassailable.

UPDATE: Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

Arnold Kling

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner

Tim Lee here and here

James Poulos at Ricochet on Lee

UPDATE #3: David Frum at FrumForum

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Filed under Conservative Movement

There Was A Part Of That Health Care Bill That Didn’t Get Much Attention

Robert Costa at The Corner:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the U.S. secretary of education from 1991 to 1993, tells National Review Online that President Obama’s revamping of the federal student-loan program is “truly brazen” and the “most underreported big-Washington takeover in history.”

“As Americans find out what it really does, they’ll be really unhappy,” Alexander predicts. “The first really unhappy people will be the 19 million students who, after July 1, will have no choice but to go to federal call centers to get their student loans. They’ll become even unhappier when they find out that the government is charging 2.8 percent to borrow the money and 6.8 percent to lend it to the students, and spending the difference on the new health-care bill and other programs. In other words, the government will be overcharging 19 million students.” The overcharge is “significant,” Alexander adds, because “on a $25,000 student loan, which is an average loan, the amount the government will overcharge will average between $1,700 and $1,800.”

“Up to now, 15 out of 19 million student loans were private loans, backed by the government,” Alexander says. “Now we’re going to borrow half-a-trillion from China to pay for billions in new loans. Not only will this add to the debt, but in the middle of a recession, this will throw 31,000 Americans working at community banks and non-profit lenders out of work.”

Alexander, a former University of Tennessee president, says the effects of Obama’s policy could be felt for decades. “When I was education secretary, one of my major objections to turning it all over to the government was that I didn’t think the government could manage it,” he says. “This is going to be too big and too congested, and makes getting your student loan about as attractive as lining up to get your driver’s license in some states.”

“It changes the kind of country we live in more than it changes American education,” Alexander concludes. “The American system of higher education has become the best in the world because of choice and competition. Unlike K-12, we give money to students and let them choose among schools, having the choice of private lenders or government lenders. That’s been the case for 20 years. Having no choice, and the government running it all, looks more like a Soviet-style, European, and even Asian higher-education model where the government manages everything. In most of those countries, they’ve been falling over themselves to reject their state-controlled authoritarian universities, which are much worse than ours, and move toward the American model which emphasizes choice, competition, and peer-reviewed research. In that sense, we’re now stepping back from our choice-competition culture, which has given us not just some of the best universities in the world, but almost all of them.”

Donald Marron:

Opponents have denounced this change as a government takeover of the student loan market. That makes for a great soundbite, but overlooks one key fact: the federal government took over this part of the student loan business a long time ago.

In a private lending market, you would expect lenders to make decisions about whom to lend to and what interest rates to charge. And in return, you would expect those lenders to bear the risks of borrowers defaulting. None of that happens in the market for guaranteed student loans. Instead, the federal government establishes who can qualify for these loans, what interest rates they will pay, and what interest rates the lenders will receive. And the government guarantees the lenders against almost all default risks.

In short, the government already controls all of the most important aspects of this part of the student loan business. The legislation just takes this a step further and cuts back on the role of private firms in the origination of these loans.

That step raises some interesting questions about the costs of the current system (see this post), possible benefits of the current system (some colleges and universities appear to prefer working with private lenders), and the potential budget savings of cutting out the middle man (which appear to be large but somewhat overstated in official budget analyses).

But it hardly constitutes a government takeover.

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

While nationalizing student loans may seem irrelevant to “reforming” health care, there is something fitting in pairing the two undertakings in one bill — it’s almost a foreshadowing. Student lenders have long fed at the federal trough, pocketing so many subsidies that Democrats were justified in asking why there needed to be a private sector in that industry at all.

This weekend, it’s the drug companies, hospitals, doctors, and insurers who are latching more firmly at Leviathan’s teat. How long before Congress decides to knock out the profit-taking middleman, and institute a single-payer system or even a national health system?

When we get wherever this “reform” is taking us — when our deficits are ballooning and health care is scarcer — we may remember the games, gimmicks, and scams used to pass it into law, and maybe conclude that evil means yield evil ends.

This is less a case for allowing student leaders to feed at the federal trough than it is a case against the structure of the health reform legislation, and the tight regulation of insurers that it entails.

Jacob Levy:

Notice that banks would be free to continue to make student loans. And they’re not having their existing assets taken. All they’re losing is the ability to make publicly subsidized student loans in the future. A comparison with Soviet nationalization is just nuts. And it’s not even what Alexander said.

Anyway, the headline-post gap wasn’t what first struck me about this. Neither was the surrender of National Review to being the microphone handed to current Republican office-holders. Rather, it was this:

Back in the days of the Savings and Loan crisis, and again in the days of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, we saw lots of commentary from the right that the problems couldn’t be blamed on the free market. After all, in both cases massive moral hazard had been created by federal guarantees underwriting the debts, eliminating market discipline. Pains were taken to piously distinguish the free market from corporatism and corporate welfare (a distinction I take very seriously, I might add).

In the last two weeks, I haven’t seen any Republican official or Republican-leaning intellectual make the slightest reference to the problems with a system in which private lenders make risk-free profits by lending on the back of a federal guarantee. The indictment of corporate welfare has been nowhere to be found. The view that there’s something distinctively unproblematic about private lenders with public guarantees has been completely lost. And the (misleading) headline, the reference to a Soviet-style takeover, crystallized this for me. Since there’s been no crisis in student lending, no collapse of the system, the status quo ante has been naturalized; there are people on the right who think that the subsidized revenue streams to which lenders had become accustomed were a kind of property that has now been seized. The ex post commentaries on FSLIC and Franny and Freddie have been forgotten.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The old system consisted of guaranteed loans — the government would pay private banks to lend money to students for tuition, and guarantee their losses if the students defaulted. The system was naturally rife with corruption — lenders bribing college administrators to guarantee a chunk of the can’t-lose business — and shoddy customer service. President Clinton in 1993 introduced direct lending, where the government just lends money directly to students without a middleman. Direct lending made only partial headway, because the private banks were very persistent in their efforts to lobby or bribe colleges to maintain their business. Obama replaced all the guaranteed loans with direct loans, saving the government $61 billion over the next decade.

This is the reform conservatives see as a reprise of the Bolshevik revolution. The amazing thing is, they can’t even come up with a halfway-convincing fright scenario for this government takeover.

[…]

The beneficiaries of corporate socialism tend to be highly effective at convincing the conservative movement that policies that benefit their bottom line dovetail with conservative ideology. One of the guaranteed lenders is based in Tennessee and contributes to Lamar Alexander. Like most members of Congress, Alexander faithfully represents home-state business interests. Which is to say, the viewpoint of the guaranteed lending industry becomes Lamar Alexander’s viewpoint. And Alexander then transmits his opinions to conservatives via a stenographic interview with National Review. Thus the viewpoint of the lenders becomes the viewpoint of conservatives.

Stephen Spruiell at National Review:

I’m late getting to this post by Jonathan Chait on student-loan reform and the right’s “intellectual corruption,” but that is only because I am an irregular reader of TNR. And Chait, evidently, is an irregular reader of National Review Online. If he had been interested in discovering our viewpoint on the bill, he might have consulted our editorial on the subject, in which we explicitly addressed his argument (a variation on that hardy perennial, “conservatives are corporate shills”):

When it comes to student loans, liberals may ask why conservatives would support subsidies and guarantees for banks. The answer is: We don’t. By increasing demand for higher education without increasing the supply, the subsidies have driven tuition skyward. And by muting incentives for banks to lend intelligently, government loan guarantees have encouraged many students, including many for whom college might not be a good fit, to take on massive amounts of debt that they can neither repay nor retire through bankruptcy. The solution to this problem is to scale back subsidies for traditional forms of higher education while encouraging low-cost alternatives. Instead, the Democrats’ education bill would massively increase the subsidies while hiding their true cost. If that is the alternative, we prefer the status quo.

These days, preferring the status quo to Obama’s grand schemes can get you labeled a lover of corporate welfare, but guess what, liberals: With regard to student loans, you created the status quo! What you call “corporate socialism” (liberal fascism?) was originally your idea. (It almost always is.) Shouldn’t you be glad that we’re finally coming around to your side, even though you’ve moved on to bigger and . . . well, to bigger things?

[…]

My reason for preferring the status quo had mostly to do with this phony accounting: The Democrats’ new spending on health care and Pell Grants will materialize, even if the “savings” intended to pay for it do not. But I never defended the status quo on its own terms as, for instance, something we should prefer to scaling back subsidies for traditional forms of higher ed.

Of course, arguing that college loans should not be subsidized by the government is considered pretty radical these days. Another point I made during the student-loan debate is that it has demonstrated the process by which a basically conservative citizenry can be made to accept a much larger federal government. Step one, subsidize an activity through the private sector, gradually getting the public to think of the subsidy as an entitlement. Step two, get the government more involved through the direct provision of the activity. Step three, denounce the old subsidy as corporate welfare en route to arguing that the government should be the sole provider. If anyone counters that the government should stop subsidizing the activity, call him a radical (and possibly racist) throwback. If anyone tries to defend the status quo, call him a corporate shill.

Chait’s post nicely illustrates my poin

More Spruiell:

Sallie Mae closes call center in Killeen, Texas, eliminating 500 jobs, in the wake of the Democrats’ student-loan “reform,” which was packaged with the health-care reconciliation bill.

Pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

Chait responds:

Well, yeah. When you cut back on a wasteful government subsidy, some of the beneficiaries of that waste will lose their jobs. Wasting tens of billions of dollars on loan subsidies in order to support call center jobs is a very, very inefficient way to boost employment. It’s funny to see conservatives turn into bleeding hearts when the victims are banks.

Spruiell responds:

I will repeat (for the five readers who still care about this topic) what I wrote in this post: 1) Chait, despite having written a great deal on the subject, still does not understand how the old system worked (he thinks the banks were allowed to reap windfall profits when their borrowing costs fell; they weren’t). 2) Conservative opposition to the Democrats’ student-loan “reform” was rooted in our understanding that federal subsidies for traditional forms of higher-ed are mostly captured by universities and also hurt students for whom college might not be a good fit by encouraging them to take on massive amounts of debt they may never be able to repay. The Democrats’ student-loan bill entrenched and expanded a system that conservatives hate. That’s why we opposed it.

Chait links to a post in which I noted the loss of 500 jobs at a Sallie Mae call center. He writes, “Well, yeah. When you cut back on a wasteful government subsidy, some of the beneficiaries of that waste will lose their jobs.” No kidding? Really? Because when I wrote that headline alluding to the whole “created or saved” mantra, I wasn’t at all taking a jab at the kind of people who wrote long paeans to government waste back when the idea was to borrow and inefficiently deploy $800 billion in the name of boosting employment — e.g. “… if President Obama’s economic stimulus fails to prevent a depression… it will be because he didn’t waste enough money.”

Sarcasm aside, the Democrats’ student-loan bill did not eliminate a wasteful government subsidy. It took money being used inefficiently and put it toward another inefficient use. Democrats overstated how much their reforms would save and then used the savings to expand subsidies for traditional forms of higher-ed. Conservatives opposed both the accounting trickery and the expansion of subsidies, thus we opposed the Democrats’ student-loan bill. This is really very easy to understand, but Chait has settled into a nice rhetorical groove on this subject and finds it useful to continue to misunderstand on purpose.

Barron Young Smith at TNR:

First off, in his recent post on the subject, Spruiell complains that Chait has mischaracterized his position. If he has, that’s because the position is terribly convoluted. On the philosophical level, Spruiell justifies supporting this policy he doesn’t support by posing as a tragic ambiguist: “When it comes to student loans, liberals may ask why conservatives would support subsidies and guarantees for banks. The answer is: We don’t. … [T]he Democrats’ education bill would massively increase the subsidies while hiding their true cost. If that is the alternative, we prefer the status quo.”* In a fallen world, where government has already extended its tentacles into the realm of providing financial support for kids who want a higher education, the least-bad option is to simply defend the existing arrangement. Ok, that’s certainly one way to think about it, although it makes Spruiell not so much truly conservative as merely reactionary. But then, in the course of defending this status quo, he has to justify the old program on its objective merits. Since there basically aren’t any, he proceeds to slice the salami very thin indeed.

Here’s how. On the policy level, Spriuell writes as if he objects to Chait’s perspective on student loans, but when you look more closely, he out-and-out admits that they’re on the same page about the uselessness of the bank subsidies, saying, “I never defended the status quo on its own terms.” In fact, the only substantive complaint that Spriuell decides to hang is hat on is cost: Obama’s student-loan plan expanded Pell grants at the same time that it cut bank subsidies, and Spruiell argued that the savings wouldn’t be big enough to cover the new spending. “My reason for preferring the status quo had mostly to do with phony accounting,” he writes. The problem is that (a) His complaints about phony accounting don’t make sense even on his own terms, since according to his own preferred estimates, rather than the ‘tainted’ original CBO score, he found that student-loan reform would STILL save $28 billion dollars more than the status quo; and (b) If he’s sincerely representing his position, then this isn’t a clash of philosophies—it’s simply an argument about budget numbers. Presumably, if this is Spruiell’s only complaint, he’d support a student-loan bill that promised to boost Pell grants only in proportion to whatever savings come from the bill, or didn’t boost them at all. Since Chait’s something of a deficit hawk, and his main complaint about the old student-loan system revolved around the stupidity of government waste, he would back such a bill as well (I just asked him). So what’s the big disagreement about?

Additionally, Spruiell takes Chait to task on two other wonky points which have little bearing on the fundamental soundness of student-loan reform, and gets his interpretation of them wrong. First, he complains about the way Chait used an example that came from Senator Lamar Alexander, who opposed student-loan reform: “[T]he government is charging 2.8 percent to borrow the money and 6.8 percent to lend it to the students, and spending the difference on the new health-care bill and other programs.” Chait wrote that, as long as we’re making loans, the difference between these rates is going to be spent one way or another, and this way it is funding the government, while under the old program it was pocketed by banks. “Not true,” Spruiell writes, and then explains that neither the government nor the banks are able to pocket that entire amount. Instead, under the old program, the banks are guaranteed a fixed percentage at all times on any student loans that they sell, but they have to remit money to the government when credit conditions cause their take to go beyond that percentage. Ok. But the point here is that banks are guaranteed a fixed percentage on any student loans that they make. That’s free money at near-zero risk. Spruiell makes it sound like this somehow disproves Chait’s point, but the two margins being described are the exact same thing: Additional money that the government gives to banks for their own uses, which would not be wasted after a switch to direct-lending.

Second, Spruiell plays up the fact that Jason Delisle, the budget expert at the New America Foundation, thinks the student-loan bill was originally scored in a way which hides hidden costs to the taxpayer. But when I contacted Delisle, he said this was a misinterpretation. Both programs contained the same ‘hidden costs,’ yet direct-lending was still vastly cheaper than the old program. “As far as hidden costs go, both programs have hidden costs. When Senator Gregg, supported by National Review, asked for a private market estimate of the costs of the two programs, and said that rules for estimating don’t take into account market’s value of risk, the score came back and it said, yeah, both programs cost a lot more than we thought, but there’s still a gigantic difference.” So student-loan reform is cheaper than the status quo was. Period.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure why we’re still having this debate. Obama’s success in passing student-loan reform has put both TNR and National Review exactly where we’d each like to be: Spruiell no longer has to defend a messy public-private boondoggle, and his magazine is free to enjoy the philosophical purity of railing against a student-loan program that is purely government run. And us? Well, we’re happy because we won.

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Little Pink Houses, For Pfizer And Me

Timothy Carney at Washington Examiner:

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes’ seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of “public use.”

Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard:

Well, the public certainly was used.

Jacob Sullum at Reason:

A decade ago, when it began seizing property in the Fort Trumbull section of New London, Connecticut, the local redevelopment authority had grand plans. They were so impressive that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a highly controversial 2005 ruling, said they took precedence over the individual plans of the people who happened to own the neighborhood’s homes and businesses. The Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London cleared the way for the neighborhood to be cleared away. But the “waterfront conference hotel at the center of a ‘small urban village’ that will include restaurants and shopping” never materialized. Neither did the “marinas for both recreational and commercial uses,” the “pedestrian ‘riverwalk,'” or the “80 new residences.” The one major benefit the city could cite was the Pfizer R&D center that opened adjacent to Fort Trumbull in 2001, lured partly by the redevelopment plan. But today the pharmaceutical company announced that it will close the facility and transfer most of the 1,400 people who work there to Groton. As Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice, one of the attorneys who represented Susette Kelo in her unsuccessful attempt to stop the bulldozing of Fort Trumbull, told the Washington Examiner‘s Timothy Carney, “This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain.”

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Ilya Shapiro at Cato:

That this purported “public use” is now exposed as the façade for corporate welfare that it always was is, of course, little comfort to Suzette Kelo and the other homeowners whose land was seized. But hopefully this will be an object lesson for other companies considering eminent domain abuse as a route to acquire land on the cheap — and especially for state and local officials who acquiesce in this type of behavior.

You can read Cato’s amicus brief for the ill-fated case here. Cato also hosted a book forum for the story of Suzette’s struggle, Little Pink House, featuring the author, Jeff Benedict, the attorney who argued the case, the Institute for Justice’s Scott Bullock, and Ms. Kelo herself, here.

Ed Morrissey:

What are the lessons from this debacle?  First, the American system should protect private property from the reach of government as a starting point.  The Kelo decision — which was not a radical departure by any means, but the nadir of a slow trend of hostility towards private property — assumed that the decision about the best use of private property by private entities was better off being made by the government.  That insulted the entire notion of private property and put individual liberty in jeopardy.  Essentially, the Supreme Court endorsed the idea that using eminent domain to transfer property from one private entity to another was entirely legitimate as long as the government in question liked one owner over another.

Think of it as an early endorsement of Barack Obama’s response to Joe the Plumber on redistributionism, only in this case, Kelo and New London stole from the poor and gave to the rich.

And guess what?  New London chose poorly anyway.  Instead of having homeowners on that property, paying taxes and providing stability, the city now has an empty lot and a ton of political baggage.  The biggest lesson is that private owners should have the benefit of deciding for themselves the best private use of their land — primarily to bolster the rule of law and the concept of private property that lies at the heart of our personal liberty, but also because government is a lot more likely to muck it up.

UPDATE: Steve Verdon

UPDATE #2: Kevin Drum

UPDATE #3: Alex Knapp

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Filed under Supreme Court, The Constitution

Darkness Loses Its Prince

robert_novak-704681

Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who relished his “Prince of Darkness” public persona, died at home here early Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.

“He was someone who loved being a journalist, loved journalism and loved his country and loved his family, Novak’s wife, Geraldine, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

Novak’s remarkable and long-running career made him a powerful presence in newspaper columns, newsletters, books and on television.

On May 15, 1963, Novak teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to create the “Inside Report” political column, which became the must-read syndicated column. Evans tapped Novak, then a 31-year old correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, to help with the workload of a six-day-a-week column.

Evans and Novak were the od d couple: Evans a Philadelphia blue blood and Yale graduate; Novak from Joliet, Ill. who attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.

Novak handled the column solo after Evans retired in 1993. The Chicago Sun-Times has been Novak’s home paper since 1966.

Kenneth Tomlinson at Human Events:

Throughout my life, I followed Bob Novak journalism like I followed the careers of my favorite sports figures. Later, as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, I would become one of Novak’s nominal bosses, though the fact was that every time I worked with him or was associated with him in any way, it was I who felt privileged. Few journalists have ever affected this country like Bob Novak.

I discovered the Evans-Novak column in the summer of 1963 shortly after it was launched by the New York Herald Tribune. I was a summer intern in Washington and a Goldwater fan, and it became apparent that reading Evans-Novak was the best way of following what was actually happening in the fledging Goldwater movement.

It turns out Novak, who got to know Goldwater covering the Senate, was no fan of the Arizona senator. But he was infatuated with the brilliant work of Goldwater political operative F. Clifton White, who actually orchestrated the Goldwater nomination. And White was a close source.

Timothy Carney at Human Events:
I remember a Baltimore Orioles game in 2004.  Novak invited me to join him and gave me two extra tickets.  I took my friend Sean Rushton — a conservative who shared Novak’s enthusiasm for supply-side economics — and Rushton’s wife.  Repeatedly, Rushton plied Novak with questions about the economy or the tax code.  Novak grunted off the questions and replied with comments about Rodrigo Lopez’s change-up or questions about the Orioles’ base-running.

Frustrated, Rushton got up to buy a beer, at which point his wife mentioned to Novak that her father was a racecar driver.  This, it turns out, was Novak’s fantasy job.  Sean returned to see his wife and Novak engaged in a lively discussion about auto racing.

Novak, of course, was also a conservative.  Although always close to the conservative movement, even when he was big enough that he didn’t need it.  Novak was always independent in his thought.  At times the conservative movement has been less tolerant of dissent within the ranks.  I was working for him in 2002 and 2003 when Novak stood against President Bush and the Iraq War.

Novak’s stance led some of the more bellicose writers in the movement to assail Novak’s character.  Neoconservative writer David Frum wrote a cover story for National Review on the eve of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, calling Novak, together with Pat Buchanan and other opponents of the invasion, “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”

Novak was an unapologetic warrior for his beliefs as a pundit, having spent decades building his credibility as a journalist.  Nicknamed “the Prince of Darkness”, a title he proudly used for his memoirs, Novak did not mince words or suffer fools lightly.  He became one of the premier conservative pundits in the US, but did not hesitate to criticize the Right — or to do so with brutal honesty — when he felt it was running off the rails.  He blasted the McCain campaign for misleading him on the running-mate selection process last summer, for instance.  A couple of months before that, he ripped the GOP for feeding at the public trough on ag subsidies while claiming the mantle of fiscal discipline.

It was just a little over a year ago that Novak announced that he had inoperable and terminal brain cancer.  He retired from most of his work, but that lasted only a few weeks before he began penning columns once again.  Novak had an indefatigable spirit and a drive that would have shamed men in perfect health half his age.  Unfortunately, Novak didn’t have much time left.

RIP, Mr. Novak, and thank you.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent

UPDATE: Conor Clarke at Sully’s place:

Novak was, to be perfectly honest about it, the least pleasant person I’ve ever interviewed. He didn’t shake my hand upon entering or leaving his office, and expressed fairly open contempt when I asked him a question about the Valerie Plame affair. His response was: “You can’t imagine how tired I am of answering those questions.” And then he proceeded not to answer the question.

I don’t mean to rag on the guy. It wasn’t his job to be pleasant — certainly not to the kind of nervous and uppity young reporter he ate for breakfast — and I didn’t get the sense he tried to give anyone an impression to the contrary. I hope it’s fair to say that he embraced the reputation that preceded him, and that the face grew to fit the mask. You don’t call your memoir “The Prince of Darkness” if you’re hoping to make new friends. (And on the day that I sat down with him I remember, distinctly, that he was wearing the same suit and tie that he wore glowering on the cover of his new book.)

Matthew Cooper at The Atlantic:

Novak’s worthy of a good biography. His life spanned the rise and fall of modern journalism. His own career was multiplatform long before it was cool. His religious journey from Jew to Protestant to Catholic is interesting and he’s there are a ton of source materials to work with. I hope someone writes it. I’m glad though it won’t be me

K-Lo at The Corner:

I did not know Bob well (he was always gracious when I encountered him in and around Washington and I always read him though!), but some close friends of mine did. And they loved him. Working for Bob Novak always seemed to inspire great loyalty to the man and a great love of politics and America

James Joyner:

I’m sure plenty of other remembrances will be fortchoming; Novak had a long and distinguished career.

Somewhere in the early paragraphs of most, I suspect, will be the name Valerie Plame.  His offhand mention of the CIA operative whose role in sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to investigate the “yellowcake” matter sparked the biggest domestic scandal of the Bush Administration and ultimately landed Scooter Libby in jail.

While I would later discover his columns, I got to know Novak over the years as a viewer of the various CNN talking heads shows on which he appeared, most notably “Crossfire.”  He played a caracature of himself, “The Prince of Darkness,” and was frankly not a very good commentator.   He was, however, a superb columnist and reporter.

The Plame matter will likely overshadow most of that, though, especially for those under 35 or so who never knew Novak for anything else.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

Novak had a reputation around Washington as a grumpy and dyspeptic personality, and his television co-hosts would always mock his “prince of darkness” image. Still, Novak was someone who clearly loved politics, and this made him easier to swallow. What was most striking about Novak–at least when I started watching CNN around the time of the 2000 election–was his absolute unwillingness to sound warm and cuddly. George W. Bush was elected as a compassionate conservative that year, and you could hardly get any Republican to sound nasty or angry. The lessons of Gingrich had been learned, and Bush and his allies loved talking about education and diversity. But then there was Novak: He wanted a big tax cut because he was wealthy and he felt he had earned it. He didn’t care much for programs that helped the poor–and not because he had a sophisticated neoconservative critique about their effectiveness. No, Novak just did not seem to care much; what’s more, he didn’t care that he appeared uncaring. As someone who always suspected that many people in the Republican Party wanted their tax cuts above all else, Novak was revealing and somehow refreshing. All Republicans weren’t like this, to be sure, but some were, and yet Novak was their only representative on television (Pat Buchanan is interesting to watch for precisely this reason–a lot of people think like he does, but they rarely share their opinions on network TV).

Crossfire was a lousy show and I’m glad it’s gone, but The Capital Gang–despite its reputation–was actually a mildly informative and very enjoyable debate show. And unlike too many panel shows these days, it was filled with ideological pundits who were not partisan hacks. Even though it only went off the air a few years ago, it feels like the product of a completely different era.

John Podhoretz in Commentary:

He was a difficult man in many ways, but I always found him interesting, lively, and friendly. And I have to say that, toward the end of his life, he wrote a riveting I-can’t-quite-believe-I’m-reading-this memoir entitled The Prince of Darkness, which may offer, in its unsparing portrait of his own character and how he maneuvered his way through a 50-year career, the most accurate (and most dispiriting) picture of life in Washington and the journalism game published in my lifetime. It was an unexpected achievement, because he surely knew he was leaving his readers with a bad taste in their mouths. But he was determined to get it all down and get it right, and he did.

Kate O’Beirne at The Corner:

My dear friend Bob Novak faced his illness with a remarkable fortitude and his typical forthright honesty. Incapable of ignoring the facts, he recognized what he was up against. In conversations with him over the past months, he gave short shrift to the kind of daily political news he once followed so intently, in favor of reminiscing about his earliest days in journalism. He would rather talk about his beloved grandchildren than how the Obama Cabinet was shaping up. It was once impossible to have a casual conversation with Bob without him pouncing on a random remark if he spotted that a tidbit of news had been shared. For decades, his work ethic was legendary, his schedule exhausting. He was a voracious reader. His illness exposed what he held most dear, and that was his family, his faith, his Army service. He never failed to express his gratitude to Geraldine. In the midst of such suffering, there was such grace. Bob Novak was a devoted husband and father, a loving grandfather, a loyal friend — and an extraordinary journalist. He will be missed terribly.

UPDATE: Jack Shafer in Slate

David Frum at New Majority

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