Archive for the 'law' Category

Lobbyist Job Creation Act

July 1, 2010

By Chidem Kurdas

Happy Fourth of July! Don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but  the state of the Republic requires serious thought. Our government has managed to create endless opportunities, but not for ordinary people—only for political operators and influence peddlers, with the Obama Administration pushing some 4,500 pages of medical and financial regulation just in its first 18 months.

What is more, those reams of regulation are an epitome of vagueness, of “unfathomable murk” in the fine phrase Daniel Henninger used in the WSJ to describe the problem.  In the murk and the wide-open discretion given to public bureaucrats lie gems for lobbyists. The White House and Congressional Democrats – even as they chided business lobbies – maximized the bills’ scope and vagueness, laying the groundwork for massive growth in the crony system that intermingles government with private interests.

What we see is something James Madison predicted.   Read the rest of this entry »

The BP and MMS Spill: More of the Story Begins to Emerge

June 24, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

Sometimes, amid the yakking and incessant moralization, a fact or two will emerge that is big with meaning. From today’s Wall Street Journal:   

BP has come under heavy fire from Congress and environmental groups for its lack of readiness to handle a worst-case spill. But that criticism has overlooked a key fact: BP was required by federal regulators to base its preparations on Interior Department models that were last updated in 2004.

The government models… assumed that most of the oil would rapidly evaporate or get broken up by waves or weather. In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank, real life has proven these models, prepared by the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service, wrong.

The government’s optimistic forecasts reinforced the oil industry’s confidence in its spill-prevention technology, leading to decisions that left both oil companies and the government ill-prepared for the disaster that has unfolded in the Gulf since April 20.

Therefore, it should be clear that this Gulf oil spill is not simply the BP spill but it is the joint result of BP and the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service’s actions or omissions.

This should also make us think about the relative feasibility of comprehensive regulation and a strict liabilty regime for dealing with this kind of problem. Richard Epstein discussed this recently in the Wall Street Journal.

We want the party with the greater knowledge about the situation to be incentivized to act upon it. The current system opens up all sorts of opportunities to ex ante cozy relationships between regulators and the regulated. Of course, every once in awhile, things don’t work out as expected.

BP Shakedown?

June 21, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

I do not know, at this point, whether BP was negligent or grossly negligent in its drilling and related activities leading to the Gulf oil-spill. They may well have been but I leave that to further investigation.  

It seems, however, the federal government’s regulatory policy was and continues to be a mess, as Chidem points out. The moral outrage of the Congress and the Administration in view of their “gross negligence” or worse is absurd, but not unusual.  

Nevertheless, these are not the only issues.  

Congressman Joe Barton (R. Texas) accused the Obama Administration of a “shakedown,” that is, some form of extralegal extortion, in getting BP to set up a $20 billion compensation fund. He was forced to apologize by his political masters.  Read the rest of this entry »

What Oil Leak Politics Says

June 18, 2010

By Chidem Kurdas

In the Obama administration’s script for passing around oil-spill blame, the drilling regulator Minerals Management Service shares the stage with chief villain BP. The disaster is said to have exposed the weakness of MMS, a problem the president has now tackled by appointing a new head for the agency.

One can understand why Mr. Obama wants to confine government failure to this little bureaucracy – long reported to be corrupt – inside the Interior Department. It is a slick move, but the hypocrisy is breathtaking and corrosive of what confidence there is in the government.

Just weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig imploded, the entire administration and Congressional Democrats demonstrated casual disregard for the environment. In effect, they provided evidence that wheeling and dealing for the proposed climate change law creates risk of additional damage to the planet.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Cost of Making Exceptions

June 6, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

As a political and legal culture, we do not know how to deal with slippery-slope tendencies. The recent discussion (here and here, and many other places) of the public-accommodations provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has made me more conscious of this issue.  

I am willing to agree for purposes of this post that the law forbidding private storeowners, hotels, and other merchants to discriminate on the basis of race was morally justified under the institutional conditions of the day.  

The problem, from my perspective, is that the cost of making exceptions to general principles is not sufficiently appreciated. Benefits may exceed costs in a particular case, but if these costs are not fully recognized, the course of action taken may lead to bad decisions down the road.  Read the rest of this entry »

Why Rand Paul is wrong about Title II

May 26, 2010

by Roger Koppl

Rand Paul won the Republican primary in the Kentucky Senate race and almost immediately stepped into a big pile of steaming controversy by telling Rachel Maddow that he did not support Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Since then few voices have defended his statements on Maddow’s show, with John Stossel as one of the rare exceptions.  In his recent Christian Science Monitor op-ed on this topic, Sheldon Richman defends Paul’s statements saying, “individuals are either free to do anything peaceful or they are not.”  I reject libertarian objections to Title II precisely because I agree with the quoted remark: individuals are either free to do anything peaceful or not. (For the record: I’m not a libertarian, but the quoted statement is a logical truth, not a political program.)  Black and white people in the recently-Jim-Crow South would not have been free to associate without the assistance of Title II. Read the rest of this entry »

Arizona law a blow to liberty

April 29, 2010

by Roger Koppl

Kris Kobach defends Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, in today’s New York Times.  He says, “Presumably, the government lawyers . . . will actually read the law, something its critics don’t seem to have done.”  Well, I read the law and I do not like it.

Whenever a  law enforcement officer makes a “lawful contact” with a person, the officer must attempt to determine that person’s immigration status if he or she has “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant.  It is a “lawful contact” if the cops ask for a statement at the scene of an accident, for example.  Illegals now have an incentive to flee even as mere witnesses.  The local police or sheriff’s office cannot have a policy to counter this incentive lest they be sued.  The law provides that “a person” may bring suit against any “official or agency” that has a policy that “limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”  The central provision of SB 1070 threatens to reduce the ordinary protections of the law for illegal aliens, which threatens order and security for them and everyone else. Read the rest of this entry »

How I Became a TORT Victim

April 7, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

Last month, my husband and I received in the mail a small card telling us that we were included in a class action settlement involving our Internet service provider, AT&T. This was news. We had not heard about the lawsuit claiming that AT&T “failed to deliver DSL service to its customers at the speeds promised.”

As usual in such cases, AT&T denied the allegations but agreed to settle to avoid continuing litigation. “You have legal rights and options, such as submitting a claim for benefits,” the card informed us. Further down in the fine print it emerged that we “may be entitled to a one-time payment of $2.00.”

Two bucks, enough to purchase a small cup of coffee – not cappuccino, mind you – at the local coffee shop. In the meantime, the class action suit we involuntarily became part of  had other consequences.   Read the rest of this entry »

Our Inconvenient Constitution

April 3, 2010

by Mario Rizzo 

The question of questions for the politician should ever be — “what type of social structure am I tending to produce?” But this is a question he never entertains. (Herbert Spencer, “The Coming Slavery.”)

It is hard for an abstraction to win against a poor mother with a kid who is uninsured. But this kind of phenomenon has been the story for a long time.  

Human beings are prone to ignore the long-run, hard to measure, and more abstract consequences of their actions, especially in the public sphere. Each decision is taken is response to some concrete problem or need. “It is all about people; it is all about jobs; it is all about health,” we are told. Sometimes it is about the goals of special, concentrated interests. Other times people think of themselves as voting for the concrete interests of worthy individuals or groups.

Of course, there is usually a net social loss of wealth or efficiency. But that is not the main loss. The real loss is the weakening of the institutional and legal framework that can protect us from a serious diminution of liberty.   Read the rest of this entry »

France’s Foolish Idea

February 22, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

After having written about “Germany’s Foolish Idea,” I see that the French are not immune either.  

First, I apologize to the many French (and Germans) who do not share their governments’ ideas or agree with their policies. It has, unfortunately, become a habit in journalism and even in the professional writing of historians to refer to actions by states as if “France or Germany did this or that.” More correctly, we should say the “French or German government did this or said that.”  

This is not just a semantic issue. It goes to the root of a major ideological problem: the confusion between society and the state. 

The Financial Times reports that many French politicians are upset about a private restaurant chain, “Quick,” deciding to serve exclusively halal beef-burgers in a few of its stores to attract Muslim customers. (Halal refers to food that is “lawful” according to Islamic law. There are restrictions on the kind of food, the method of slaughtering the animals, and the processes of food preparation.)   Read the rest of this entry »

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