By Peter Roff • MY Journal Courier
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations that could dramatically ramp up the use of ethanol, a corn-based bio-fuel that can be blended into gasoline. That news was music to the ears of Iowa corn farmers.
But the rest of the country isn’t so pleased. A recent poll finds that more than 80 percent of voters are concerned the new policy will raise prices at the pump. And more than two-thirds think the ethanol expansion will harm their engines.
Americans are right to be alarmed. Ethanol is an expensive, environmentally hazardous fuel. The EPA’s new policy is a flagrant attempt by the Trump administration to buy the support of farmers — at huge expense to American consumers.
The EPA’s plan would lift restrictions on gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, a blend known as E15. At the moment, the sale of E15 is banned during the summer because the fuel generates more ozone than is permitted by the Clean Air Act.
But recently, President Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the process of legalizing year-round E15 sales.
The president found an E15 ally in Iowa senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
In many cases, E15 is dangerous. Roughly three-quarters of the cars on the road today weren’t built to use E15, and could be seriously damaged if forced to run on the fuel.
E15 might even harm engines that have just rolled off the line. Many prominent automotive brands — including BMW, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Volvo — have model-year 2018 cars that aren’t equipped to handle the fuel. Some automakers have warned drivers that filling up with E15 could be grounds for voiding their vehicles’ warranties.
The fuel is also useless for motorcycles and boats, as well as lawnmowers and other outdoor equipment.
Pushing more E15 into the market will inevitably lead to costly engine damage for Americans who mistakenly assume that this government-mandated fuel is actually safe to use.
This isn’t the only way in which E15 is a bad deal for consumers. Since ethanol contains only a third of the energy of gasoline, motorists who fill up with E15 can expect to get far fewer miles to the gallon — forcing them to fill up more often.
Ethanol was developed to be a clean-burning alternative to other fossil fuels. But ironically, it actually poses a grave threat to the environment. Over a 30-year period, the net emissions from ethanol are 28 percent higher than emissions from gasoline, according to the Clean Air Task Force. One Princeton University researcher warns ethanol’s true emissions are even higher. He estimates bio-fuels emit twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as gasoline over three decades.
Ethanol proponents often argue the bio-fuel is necessary for America’s energy independence. But today, Americans already have an abundant supply of domestic, clean, low-cost fuel. Thanks to improved drilling techniques such as fracking, the country is producing historic levels of both oil and natural gas. Natural gas in particular burns far cleaner than coal, propane or gasoline. Major automakers are already designing vehicles to run on the fuel.
The president seems intent on forcing consumers to buy a costly, inefficient, environmentally damaging fuel unsuitable for most vehicles. It’s no wonder that the policy has raised a red flag with so many voters. Their concerns are more than justified. Americans deserve an energy policy that serves the country’s needs — and not the narrow interests of corn-growers.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
By George Landrith • Frontiers of Freedom
Under our current law, federal charges can be brought for arson when a person willfully and maliciously sets fire to a building, structure or vessel. Federal bank robbery charges must include evidence that a person, by force or intimidation, takes or attempts to take something of value belonging to a bank, credit union, or any savings and loan association. And if a new bipartisan bill from two senators were to be enacted, a prima facie case for “unfair or deceptive” conduct would require the government to show that a person…filed for a patent.
Yes, we’ve somehow reached the point where inventing something is only OK if you don’t plan to protect that invention with a patent. Maybe the next step will be to outlaw invention altogether, but I suppose we can be thankful we’re not there yet. For now, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have proposed a new law where if you have discovered a way to help some sick patients and then invest capital in new research that may have the effect of helping additional sick patients, you are presumed liable under the antitrust laws if that new investment leads to a patentable invention.
To ground us in reality — sometimes you have a medicine that helps a group of people get better. In those cases, it should not only be legal, it should be encouraged to pursue additional research to see if that medicine can be improved further, or help people fight other diseases.
After making such an investment, can you hope to argue your way out against the government antitrust enforcers? Good luck with that, since you are starting with presumed guilt. But perhaps it would be wiser, before you undertake resource-intensive research, to check in with the newly installed innovation czars at the Federal Trade Commission. In this way, the FTC will decide who lives and who dies. It’s a reincarnation of the Obamacare death panels, only with FTC bureaucrats instead of bureaucrats appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Companies would also be well advised to study what disease areas are most likely to elicit the sympathy or personal interest of FTC commissioners or their immediate family members and tailor their R&D budgets accordingly. If your research turns out to be insufficient to meet the FTC standards for a substantial benefit, you may not only have wasted your money, you may have committed an antitrust violation.
But what about the Constitution? Well you see, our nation’s founding fathers clearly were unaware of the all-knowing powers of the Federal Trade Commission when they specified a right to one’s own inventions (your Intellectual Property) as the only individual right described in the text of the Constitution. And the icing on this big-government cake is that the FTC can bring this new charge in their kangaroo court of FTC administrative litigation, where the FTC acts as prosecutor, judge and jury.
This bill claims to be about prescription affordability (it is titled the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, or APP Act), but nothing in it makes prescriptions more affordable. The most likely direct effect on pricing will be the cost of parking near the FTC, while diminishing the property rights of American innovators. Antitrust lawyers will certainly derive some benefit, but that could increase their hourly rates if demand for their services goes up. So maybe the APP acronym is really for the Antitrust Practitioners Paradise created by this legislation.
By Dr. Laszlo Kemeny & Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi • Frontiers of Freedom
The so-called Maidan revolution of 2014, and the subsequent five years under President Petro Poroshenko have brought nothing but unrelenting catastrophes upon the since 1991 independent former Soviet Republic of Ukraine. During former President Petro Poroshenko’s reign, Crimea has been lost to the Russian Republic, a bloody civil war has devastated the Donbas region, hundreds of thousands of educated Ukrainians have left the country for the European Union, the national currency, the hryvnia, has lost more than 20% of its value vis-a-vis the Euro, inflation has hit astronomical proportions, the economy has flirted with total bankruptcy and presently only vegetates on the handouts of the IMF, the national debt has reached 40% of the GDP, the all pervasive corruption has impoverished the entire society except Mr. Poroshenko and his cronies, criminal organizations have controlled large segments of the economy, and the Ukrainian per capita income has fallen to the last place in Europe behind even Moldova and Bulgaria.
Under these circumstances, there could not have been surprising that at least a year before the presidential election opinion polls already indicated Petro Poroshenko’s defeat. Volodymyr Zelensky clearly rod on the crest of ubiquitous dislike of the former president. Yet, few have had expected the tidal wave with which the new President Volodymyr Zelensky beat his predecessor. In the first round, Volodymyr Zelensky received 30.24% of the votes, while Petro Poroshenko trailed him with 15.95%. The second round brought a total political disaster to Petro Poroshenko. He ended up with only 24.46%, while Volodymyr Zelensky gathered 73.23% of the total votes.
With this kind of electoral victory, President Zelensky has won a popular mandate to transform Ukrainian politics from a semi-criminal state to a true democracy. In this context, democracy should mean a system of government in which the will of the majority of the citizenry must be respected with the right of the minority to constructively oppose the forces in power. On the other hand, the majority must govern within the limits of the constitution and the laws and respect the morality and traditions of the Ukrainian society. The ultimate objective should be to rebuild and strengthen the legal and moral foundations of the Ukrainian nation.
However, this task is enormous and full of trepidations. For these reasons, President Zelensky should resist attempts of superficial experimentations. Therefore, his first objective should be to establish the rule of law. Secondly, he should fight resolutely Ukraine’s destructive opposition headed by former president Poroshenko. Meanwhile, he should not forget that the guarantee of good politics resides in the character of the politician. Simultaneously, President Zelensky should allow a constructive opposition to participate freely in the political processes. Thirdly, President Zelensky should strengthen the Ukrainian families. This can be done by legislation and also by establishing a holiday honoring the family unites across the country.
On the larger scale, Ukraine needs peace. Peace with Russia and peace with its minorities. Without such an internal and an external peace the eternal struggle for Ukrainian statehood will fail again. Moreover, without peace the reconstruction of the Ukrainian state will never materialize. Finally, without peace economic recovery will never become a reality.
Taking all these requirements into account, the policies of the United States of America and the European Union should focus primarily on the normalization of the
Ukrainian state from within and only secondarily on the present hostilities with Russia. Once the ongoing civil war is ended, the troubled relations with Russia can be addressed from a better strategic position.
The key to Ukraine is to understand that the country is replete with maliciously placed political, economic, financial, cultural, ethnic, religious, and moral landmines. These mines can only be defused gradually and with the greatest caution. To achieve a positive result, Ukraine needs all the help that could be marshalled by President Zelensky at home and the international community outside the country.
Americans are losing interest in the Civil War—or at least they are losing interest in learning about it and visiting historic battle sites. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the country’s “five major Civil War battlefield parks—Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga, and Vicksburg—had a combined 3.1 million visitors in 2018, down from about 10.2 million in 1970.” Gettysburg, America’s most famous and hallowed battlefield, drew fewer than a million visitors last year, and just 14 percent of the visitor total in 1970.
In addition to fewer tourists, the number of Civil War re-enactors is also declining. Many are growing old, and younger men are not stepping in to replenish their ranks. As one 68-year-old re-enactor, who recently helped organize a recreation of the Battle of Resaca in Georgia, told the Journal, “The younger generations are not taught to respect history, and they lose interest in it.”
But it’s not just that young people are not taught to respect history. They are often not taught history at all. To the extent they are, they are told that American history is a parade of horribles: slavery, genocide, bigotry, greed—a story above all of injustice and oppression, perpetrated by the powerful against the weak.
No wonder then, that recent public interest in the Civil War has mostly taken the form of a push to remove Confederate monuments from public places and rename buildings and roads bearing the names of Confederate leaders. We hear much about removing and renaming these days, but almost nothing about building more and better monuments, or reinvigorating public interest and education about the war.
In a country where large numbers of college graduates do not even know the half-century in which the Civil War occurred, but are convinced that Confederate monuments should come down, we should expect genuine interest in the Civil War to wane if not to disappear entirely, except perhaps as an object for political activism.
This problem of course goes well beyond the Civil War; it encompasses all of history. Consider the case of the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History examination. In 2014, the National Association of Scholars issued a report exposing the exam’s heavy progressive bias, systematic downplaying of American virtues, and outright omission of important periods in American history. The report sparked enough outrage and bad press that the College Board revised its exam—this time including previously omitted figures like James Madison—but according to the NAS the course materials for the test were unchanged and reflected the same progressive bias.
In 2016, the NAS decided to take a closer lookat another of the College Board’s offerings, the new AP European History examination, which, it turns out, reflected the same progressive bias as the American history exam. “The College Board’s persisting progressive distortion of history substantiates concerns that the 2015 APUSH revisions do not represent a genuine change of direction,” wrote the NAS’s David Randall, “but only a temporary detour in the College Board’s long march to impose leftist history on the half a million American high school students each year who prepare themselves for college by taking APUSH or APEH.”
(The exam, which purports to be about European history, omits all mention of Christopher Columbus, Michel de Montaigne, John Wesley, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Václav Havel. It mentions Winston Churchill only “as a prompt for learning how to analyze primary sources.”)
Progressive bias in high school and college curricula is in part the long legacy of Howard Zinn, whose “A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980, presents a cartoonish, left-wing version of American history that pits “the people” against “the rulers” and casts the entire American experiment of democratic self-rule in a decidedly negative light. That approach is now common among professional historians, with the result that growing numbers of Americans don’t know much, or care to know much, about their own history.
As the historian Wilfred McClay said in a recent interview, the Zinn approach invites historical ignorance and indifference: “Why learn what the Wilmot Proviso was, or what exactly went into the Compromise of 1850, when you could just say we had this original sin of slavery?”
The danger here is not just that Civil War battlefields will eventually lie fallow for lack of visitors, but that we will unlearn the painful lessons of our past. To some extent, we’ve already started down that path.
Another recent NAS report, for example, examined the re-emergence of segregation on college campuses—what the authors call “neo-segregation.” In a survey of 173 schools, including small private colleges as well as major universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, the study found“42 percent offer segregated residences, 46 percent offer segregated orientation programs, and 72 percent host segregated graduation ceremonies.”
These segregated graduation ceremonies are not mandatory, of course, and are offered in addition to regular graduation ceremonies. But the fact that they have become so prevalent on college campuses should disturb anyone familiar with the history of segregation in America. Whether it’s segregation by race, as at Columbia University’s “Raza Graduation Ceremony” and “Black Graduation,” or by sexual orientation, as at the University of Texas’s “Lavender graduation” for LGBT students, the trend of self-segregation among minority college students is a cause for worry, especially at a time when divisions in civil society are deepening.
There’s a ruthless logic to this, just as there’s a ruthless logic to reducing American history to a catalog of the worst things we’ve ever done. If history is just another tool in the pursuit of political power, there’s not much of an impetus to get it right.
Hillary Clinton called them “the deplorables.” Barack Obama called them losers who “cling” to their Bibles, bigotries and guns.
To President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission, they are “these populist, nationalists, stupid nationalists… in love with their own countries.”
Well, “stupid” they may be, and, yes, they do love their countries, but last week they gave Juncker a thrashing, as they shook up the West and the world.
Elections in the world’s largest electoral blocs — the 28-nation EU, and an India of 1.3 billion people — showed that the tide of nationalism continues to rise and spread across Europe and Asia.
In India, the Hindu Nationalist BJP party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a smashing victory. So strong was Modi’s showing that he rushed to reassure non-Hindus, especially India’s 200 million Muslims, that they remain equal citizens. But in India the Hindu hour is at hand.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, formed just months ago, ran first in Britain with 31%. No other party came close. Labor won 14% and Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tories ran 5th with 9%, a historic humiliation.
In the French elections, Emmanuel Macron’s party lost to the National Rally of Marine Le Pen, whom he had defeated 2-1 in the last presidential election.
Matteo Salvini’s populist-nationalist League, with 34%, ran first in Italy in a showing that could lead to national elections that could make him prime minister.
The nationalist Law and Justice Party in Poland and the populist Fidesz Party of Viktor Orban in Hungary were easily victorious.
In Germany, however, the conservative-socialist coalition of Angela Merkel bled support. Both the CDU and SPD lost strength in defeats that could shake the Berlin government.
What do these elections tell us?
If the Conservatives wish to remain in power in Parliament, they will have to leave the European Union and, if necessary, crash out without a divorce settlement with Brussels.
The Tories cannot defy the will of their own majority on the most critical issue in 50 years — a nationalist demand to be free of Brussels — and still survive as Britain’s first party.
Whoever wins the Tory competition to succeed May will almost surely become the prime minister who leads Britain out of the EU.
Nor is that such a tragedy.
The first Brexit, after all, was in 1776, when the 13 colonies of North America severed all ties to the British crown and set out alone on the path to independence. It did not turn out all that badly.
Last week’s election also saw major gains for the Green parties across Europe. Laser-focused on climate change, these parties will be entering coalitions to provide center-left and center-right regimes the necessary votes to create parliamentary majorities.
The environment is now likely to rival Third World immigration as an issue in all elections in Europe.
While nationalist and populists control a fourth of the seats in the EU Parliament, they are isolated. They may have the power to block or veto EU actions by Brussels, but they cannot impose their own agenda.
Yet even larger lessons emerge from these two elections.
Liberalism appears to be losing its appeal. A majority in the world’s largest democracy, India, consciously used their democratic right to vote — to advance sectarian and nationalist ends.
Why is liberalism fading away, and nationalism ascendant?
The former is an idea that appeals to the intellect; the latter, rooted in love of family, faith, tribe and nation, is of the heart. In its potency to motivate men, liberalism is to nationalism what near beer is to Bombay gin.
To be a proud Pole, Hungarian, Italian or Scotsman has a greater grip on men’s love, loyalty and allegiance than to be a citizen of Europe.
“Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong,” said Bismarck. Europe is but “a geographical expression.”
Identity politics, people identifying themselves by their ethnicity, nationality, race, culture and faith, appears to be the world’s future.
Even leftists are bowing to the new reality.
“Identity politics is exactly who we are and it’s exactly how we won,” says Stacy Abrams, the African American Democrat who almost won the Georgia governor’s race. “By centering communities in Georgia, we… increased voter participation, we brought new folks to the process.”
The Democratic Party is now a coalition easily identifiable by race, ethnicity, ideology and gender — African American, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, feminist and Green.
Our Founding Fathers believed we Americans were a new people, a separate, unique, identifiable people, a band of brothers, who had risked their lives and shed their blood. Liberals believe we are held together by abstract ideas and ideals, such as democracy, equality and diversity.
But did Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Calhoun, Clay, Jackson, Sam Houston, Tyler and Polk really believe in equality and diversity as they drove Indians, French, British, Spanish and Mexicans out of this land to create a continentwide nation of their own?
Or was Manifest Destiny really all about us, and not them?
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to cap consumer interest ratesin an effort to curb “sky high” credit card charges and other forms of predatory lending.
While that sounds nice in principle, in practice their plan would hurt some of the people it’s intended to help by killing off an industry that’s vital to struggling households: short-term, small-dollar lending.
The history of small-dollar loans and their regulation – which I explore in a recently published book – shows why Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez should rethink their proposal or risk emboldening the type of lending they hope to stamp out. In part this is because their plan relies on an oversimplified history of the rules that limit usury, or how much interest lenders can charge.
Laws against usury are an ancient idea. Religious texts such as the Bible and Quran prohibited all forms of usury, while the Romans barred charging compound interest.
And when the early American colonists began settling up and down the Eastern Seaboard, they brought with them England’s usury law. By the 1970s all but three states still had general usury laws on the book. Annual rate caps ranged from as little as 4% in North Dakota to as high as 30% in Rhode Island.
These caps became less effective in 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws don’t apply to loans from out-of-state banks. This allowed credit card-issuing banks to avoid more stringent usury laws by locating in states with higher caps or none at all. Some states, such as South Dakota and Delaware, repealed their laws after the ruling to attract banks.
So while usury laws still generally restricted rates on some types of loans, the sky became the limit for bank-issued credit cards, with some charging subprime rates as high as 79.9% per year.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez would like to return to the world as it existed before what they call that “disastrous” Supreme Court ruling. Their Loan Shark Prevention Act would impose a 15% annual interest rate cap on all consumer loans while allowing states to set even lower rates.
But their understanding of history isn’t quite right. That’s because starting in the early 20th century, states began making exceptions to their usury laws to allow for small loans.
In the early 20th century, state usury laws applied to almost all types of loans. As a result, small-dollar lending was effectively outlawed nearly everywhere because lenders could not operate profitably at the legal rates of charge.
Usury laws fixed maximum charges as a percentage of the amount borrowed on an annual basis, which yielded a tiny dollar fee for small, short-term loans. For example, in a state with a 6% cap, a lender offering a US$200 three-month loan would be able to charge only $3 in total interest – the monthly rate would be just 0.5%. At such low rates, small-sum lenders could not cover the costs of running their business.
But working-class households still needed access to credit so strict usury laws didn’t diminish the demand for these loans. Rate caps simply discouraged legitimate enterprises from entering the marketplace. That left borrowers to deal with loan sharks willing to break the law.
The philanthropic Russell Sage Foundation, which studied the problem in the 1910s, urged states to exempt licensed small-sum lenders from their general usury laws. The foundation drafted a model law, which became known as the Uniform Small Loan Law, that allowed these lenders to charge up to 3% per month, or 36% on an annualized basis, on cash loans of a few hundred dollars.
Today, all 50 states continue to allow small-sum lenders to charge more than 15% per year.
For some time now there has been a certain “Woe is me” attitude among American conservatives of almost all stripes. It seems to be rooted in a deep sense that the culture war is already lost and the country is changing too fast in ways we can’t combat. It is true that progressive dominance of the media, the educational system, and our cultural institutions very often makes it appear that this is the case.
But is it? And if we are to judge the success of American conservatism, to what should we compare it?
The most sensible comparison is to the rest of the English-speaking world. We don’t tend to think much about the “English-speaking world,” anymore, notwithstanding Winston Churchill’s several somewhat tedious volumes about it. In this case I’m referring roughly to the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All of these countries have societies and governments that emerged from the same crucible of English power in the 17th and 18th centuries. So how does American conservatism stack up against that of our siblings with the charming accents?
Pretty well. On issues like free speech, gun rights, religious freedom, taxation, health care, energy, and a host of others, the United States has policies that would be unthinkable in the nations of the other sons and daughters of William Shakespeare. In fact, it is a common leftist talking point that United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have blah, blah, blah. In the American context, in almost every case this is meant to say that we are too conservative.
A lot of this is baked into the mechanics of our system of government, as opposed to the other nations’ parliamentary models. This was on display recently when New Zealand passed new anti-gun measures a mere month after the tragic terrorist attack at Christchurch. The American left marveled. “Why can’t we do that?” they demanded. The answer of course is the Constitution.
Under a parliamentary system, a simple majority in the legislative body can do almost anything it wants, as New Zealand’s did. Under our system, such laws would have to pass two legislative bodies, an executive branch, a judiciary system, and possibly a constitutional amendment process that requires something approaching national consensus. Although our own left and almost everyone in our sibling nations think of this as a flaw, it is in fact a marvelous feature.
But it isn’t merely the rigidity of our government’s self-imposed impotence that explains why America’s laws are so much more deeply conservative than is any other English-speaking nation. After all, even under our system laws can change. The other essential element is the unique nature of the American conservative. There is a symbiosis between government and culture, and ours led to a conservative culture that is far more individualistic than any other.
By American standards, most other English-speaking conservatives are practically socialists. For all the talk of the dangerous, right-wing, mostly international Intellectual Dark Web, Quillette, or Jordan Peterson, by American standards they aren’t conservative. They can’t buy guns, they have socialized medicine, the government controls vast swaths of their news and media, and there is no significant movement to change much of that. This is because other English-speaking conservatives are comfortable with a far greater level of collectivization imposed by the state. It’s kind of a “Let’s all pitch in” attitude instead of the American conservative’s “Stay the H-ll off my lawn” approach.
The American conservative has succeeded in keeping more of her rights not merely because the Constitution is more protective of them, but because she is. And the defense of those is not rooted in fear, but in faith. It is rooted in the sincere belief that all of us get to choose what is best for ourselves.
Fear is a legitimate political tool. It is being employed by almost every version of today’s American conservative. For some it is fear of socialism, for others fear of multiculturalism, for a small but noisy segment it is fear of Donald Trump. For all the blogs and tweets and clicks and takes that we love so dearly, these divisions are likely to stay. So what still unites us as conservatives? Liberty does, as it always has.
John Adams knew this when he wrote these words to his wife in 1775, “Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.” I posit that the encroaching natures of every other English-speaking nation’s governments prove Adams right in this, as in so much else.
It is liberty that must guide a wounded and fractured American conservative movement that holds significant if not decisive power in our government. There need not be unity. We can hate each other, but from all of our perches on the political spectrum our first principle must be individual rights. And we must continue to protect them while so many other nations fail to.
In this regard, it is best not to be too distracted by the global rise of so called right-wing populism. American conservatism, especially in regard to Trump, is related to this rise, but it is not the root of it. Brexit happened before Trump, after all. An anti-globalist, anti-foreign intervention, and anti-immigration wing of the conservative movement has always existed, with figures like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan leading the way. It is now perhaps ascendant, but it faces the same gridlock of the American system that every other movement does, as we have well seen.
It is natural and healthy for conservatives to argue over where the movement’s energy should be spent, to understand what the greatest threats to liberty are. And it is fine for all of the branches to disagree about that so long as everyone’s ultimate goal is to protect freedom from forces that would replace it with equality of outcomes.
So cheer up, conservatives. It’s going well. There is a lot to be proud of, a lot to cling to, and a lot to fight for. Ronald Reagan said freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction, and that we don’t pass it down to our children through the bloodstream. It must be fought for. We have preserved it for a generation. Twenty-five years from now, provided the earth isn’t destroyed by climate change as some leftists predict, the United States will still be a conservative country.
But we have to teach our kids to fight for it. And what we have to teach them has nothing to do with Trump, populism, norms, or globalism. It has to do with natural rights. It has to do with the idea that the individual matters more than what the state wants to make of him. It has to do with never ceding the power and risk of being free people. More than anything else, and what we must focus on completely, it has to do with liberty.
While we should expect the upcoming presidential campaign to focus on traditional issues of the economy, taxes, foreign policy, trade, and immigration — as well as the elephant in the room that is Donald Trump — criminal-justice reform has become a surprisingly hot topic on the campaign trail.
At one point, every presidential candidate pretended he was running for sheriff. “Tough on crime” was considered the ultimate badge of honor — in both parties. Bill Clinton even rushed home during his campaign to execute a mentally disabled murderer. Times have clearly changed.
This is in part due to the growing evidence of racial and class inequities within the criminal-justice system. Studies also show that failures within our criminal-justice system contribute to poverty and dependence. A recent YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the Cato Institute found that 22 percent of the unemployed and 23 percent of people on welfare had been unable to find a job because of a criminal record. Scholars at Villanova have concluded that mass incarceration increases the U.S. poverty rate by as much as 20 percent. It has also become clear that overcriminalization and mass incarceration have not necessarily made us safer. Support for criminal-justice reform now cuts across party lines.
But there is also a large degree of politics behind the sudden importance of criminal-justice reform on the campaign trail. Most important, Democratic front runner Joe Biden is perceived as being vulnerable on the issue. Biden’s supported and partially wrote the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which led to an increase in incarceration — especially among African Americans. He also supported and sponsored several pieces of legislation that enhanced sentencing for drug-related crimes, once again contributing to the mass incarceration of minorities.
Even President Trump has taken the opportunity to tweak Biden on the issue, tweeting, “Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able [sic] to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, and helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!” And in a second tweet, Trump noted that “Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing. That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!”
Trump is not exactly the best messenger on this front, given his at least implied support for police abuses. But he is correct that he signed the FIRST STEP Act, the first important federal prison and criminal-justice reform in many years. As a policy, it was modest stuff, but it symbolically highlighted the changing politics of the issue.
Biden is not the only one with vulnerabilities on criminal justice. During her time as a prosecutor, Kamala Harris vigorously enforced California’s three-strikes law, actively pursued drug users and sex workers, and even prosecuted the parents of truant children. She was also an outspoken supporter of asset forfeiture and the use of solitary confinement in prisons. She backed capital punishment and resisted calls to investigate some police shootings.
So far, she has responded by apologizing for her past positions, now saying, “Too many black and brown Americans are locked up. From mass incarceration to cash bail to policing, our criminal-justice system needs drastic repair.” She has also sponsored the Equal Defense Act, which increases funding for public defenders. Still, criminal-justice activists have remained critical, complaining that she has ducked specific reform proposals.
Other Democrats also have hurdles to overcome. Bernie Sanders, for instance, voted for the 1994 crime bill, although he had a much lower profile than Biden. And, like Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar also has a background as a prosecutor. Her low poll standing has kept it from becoming an issue yet, but she may eventually face some tough questions about her actions in that office. Even South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has faced scrutiny over his handling of police-abuse complaints during his tenure as mayor.
On the other hand, candidates such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke are better positioned on the issue. Booker, in particular, has championed justice reform. He has introduced the Next Step Act, which would expand upon the FIRST STEP Act. Booker is also calling for cutting minimum drug sentencing in half, legalizing marijuana, removing barriers to entry in the job market for those with felony records, and reinstating the right of felons to vote in federal elections.
Beto pushed for criminal-justice reform during his Texas Senate campaign and has reiterated his support during his presidential campaign. During his Texas campaign, he stated that he would like Texas to lead the way on criminal-justice reform. He supports ending cash bail at the state level, making for-profit prisons illegal, ending mandatory-minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses, and legalizing marijuana.
Warren has been far less specific, mostly limiting herself to rhetoric about the “racist” criminal-justice system. For a candidate whose claim to fame is “I have a plan for that,” she is remarkably vague on this issue. Still, she carries far less past baggage than others, leaving her an opening.
With more than two dozen candidates in the Democratic primary and a general election that is looking extremely close, even secondary issues could play an outsized role in deciding the outcome. Keep your eyes on criminal-justice reform.
The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. This never happened in America. Labor confronted capital throughout the late nineteenth century, often violently, but American democracy and constitutionalism withstood the clash. Socialist movements remained minority persuasions. When Eugene V. Debs ran for president in 1912, he topped out at 6 percent of the vote. Populist third-party candidates, from George Wallace in 1968 (14 percent) to Ross Perot in 1992 (19 percent) have done much better.
Keep this in mind when you read about the rebirth of socialism. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are household names. Membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has spiked since 2016. Forty percent of Americans told Gallup last month that “some form of socialism” would be “a good thing for the country.” Media are filled with trend pieces describing the socialist revival. A recent issue of The Economist devoted the cover package to “Millennial socialism.” The current New Republic includes four articles about “the socialist moment.” In March, New York magazine asked, “When did everyone become a socialist?”
That question tells you more about the editors of New York than the country itself. As Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute has observed, views toward socialism are stable. In 2010, 36 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll had a positive view of socialism. In 2018 the number was 37 percent. In 2009, 23 percent told the Fox News poll, “Moving away from capitalism and more toward socialism would be a good thing.” In 2019 the number was 24 percent. Fifty-four percent said it would be a bad thing. Gallup found that less than half of America would vote for a socialist candidate.
Socialism is in vogue because no one is sure what it is. The classic definition of abolishing private property, a planned economy, and collective ownership of the means of production no longer applies. More people today believe that socialism means “equality” than “government control.” Six percent told Gallup that socialism is “talking to people” or “being social.” The same Gallup poll that found 40 percent of the public has a positive view of socialism, however you define it, also discovered large majorities in favor of the free market leading the way on innovation, the distribution of wealth, the economy overall, and wages, and smaller majorities for free-market approaches to higher education and health care. Americans are very bad socialists.
And socialists know it. That’s why their most prominent spokesmen frame their domestic agendas in the language of the welfare state and social democracy, even as they celebrate, excuse, or defend socialist authoritarians abroad. Sanders told NPR in March, “What I mean by democratic socialism is that I want a vibrant democracy.” Okay, then—who doesn’t? The following month he told Trevor Noah that socialism “means economic rights and human rights. I believe from the bottom of my heart that health care is a human right. … To be a democratic socialist means that we believe—I believe—that human rights include a decent job, affordable housing, health care, education, and, by the way, a clean environment.” But this is not so different from FDR’s conception of the “four freedoms.” So what differentiates Sanders from a New Deal Democrat?
The less prominent socialists are somewhat more specific. Article II of the constitution of the DSA, to which Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib belong, states: “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.” That is closer to the traditional definition of socialism—a definition that implies a set of institutional arrangements that inevitably would limit freedom of choice.
“Our task is formidable. Democratic socialists must secure decisive majorities in legislatures while winning hegemony in the unions,” writes Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine, in his Socialist Manifesto. “Then our organizations must be willing to flex their social power in the form of mass mobilizations and political strikes to counter the structural power of capital and ensure that our leaders choose confrontation over accommodation with elites.”
Good luck with that. Before they seize control of the unions—which represent a paltry 11 percent of U.S. workers—today’s socialists will have to overcome the same barriers that thwarted their predecessors. Nowhere has “American exceptionalism” been more evident than in the fact that the United States has been the only country without a major socialist, social democratic, or Communist party. The articles celebrating the rise in DSA membership to more than 40,000 fail to mention that there are tens of millions of Republicans and Democrats. Socialist politicians, activists, and theorists neglect the shaggy-dog history of their persuasion in the United States. The historical examples in Sunkara’s book are almost entirely drawn from Europe. It’s as if history began with Sanders’s candidacy in 2016.
In fact, socialists have recognized the difficulty they face in the United States for over a century. In 1906 the German sociologist Werner Sombart devoted a monograph to answering the question, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Sombart noted the comparatively high and rising standard of living of American workers. “On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie,” he said, “socialistic Utopias of every sort are sent to their doom.”
American workers had won political rights earlier than their European counterparts, making them less likely to conflate civil rights with economic benefits. America’s liberal culture emphasized social mobility. The staggering racial, ethnic, and religious diversity of America made class-consciousness almost impossible. As Max Beer, an Australian socialist of the early twentieth century, wrote,
Even when the time is ripe for a Socialist movement, it can only produce one when the working people form a certain cultural unity, that is, when they have a common language, a common history, a common mode of life. This is the case in Europe, but not in the United States. Its factories, mines, farms, and the organizations based on them are composite bodies, containing the most heterogeneous elements, and lacking stability and the sentiment of solidarity.
When it comes to preventing socialism, diversity really is our strength.
The two-party system marginalizes small, independent parties and accommodates rising tendencies and programs within preexisting electoral coalitions. Most important of all, the Constitution decentralizes and diffuses power, making it extremely difficult to expand drastically the power of the state in the name of social justice.
In 1967, Daniel Bell offered an additional explanation for the weakness of American socialism: “At one crucial turning point after another,” he wrote in Marxian Socialism in the United States, “when the socialist movement could have entered more directly into American life—as did so many individual socialists who played a formative role in liberal political development—it was prevented from doing so by its ideological dogmatism.”
All of these various obstacles remain in place. In January, Gallup found that 77 percent of Americans are happy “with the overall quality of life in the U.S.” Sixty-five percent are satisfied with the “opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard.” Fifty-three percent like the “influence of organized religion.” We have the best employment situation in half a century. Real disposable income continues to rise. Last year the Congressional Budget Office reported that all Americans have enjoyed an increase of post-tax income since 1979. “It’s doubtful that most Americans would prefer to revert to the world as it was in 1979,” wrote Robert Samuelson, “a world without smartphones, the Internet, most cable television, or laparoscopic surgery,” and with the Soviet Union.
The United States is far more heterogeneous than it was 40 years ago. The success of identity politics and “woke capitalism” underscores the difficulty of making the sort of class-based appeals Sanders learned at meetings of the Young People’s Socialist League. Americans put their familial, racial, ethnic, and religious attachments ahead of membership in an income or occupational group. Besides, some 70 percent of America considers itself middle class.
One of the reasons the socialist and socialist-curious candidates in the Democratic primary have been arguing against the Electoral College and for expanding the Supreme Court is they understand the challenge the Constitution poses to their dreams. The type of centralization and bureaucratic administration socialism requires is incompatible with a system of federalism, checks and balances, and enumerated powers. Fortunately, structural change is extremely difficult in our vast and squabbling country. It was meant to be.
The self-defeating tendencies toward radicalism and sectarianism are also visible. Expanding government to provide more resources to the poor is popular; eliminating private and employer-based insurance is not. Protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions is popular; abolishing air travel and declaring war on cows is not. More money for teachers is popular; freezing support for charter schools, as Sanders called for this week, is not. DSA member Doug Henwood writes in the New Republic of a split emerging within the organization between “Bread and Roses” and the “Socialist Majority Caucus.” The narcissism of small differences has doomed such movements in the past.
Note also that Sanders has faded in recent weeks after Democratic voters encountered a viable non-socialist alternative in Joe Biden. Ocasio-Cortez’s favorability is underwater. Medicare for All polls well with voters in the abstract—when they assume it means simply more of the current Medicare program—but support falls as soon as they hear about the conformity and control it will entail.
The good news is America contains antibodies against socialism. As Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks wrote in 2000, “Features of the United States that Tocqueville, and many others since, have focused on include its relatively high levels of social egalitarianism, economic productivity, and social mobility (particularly into elite strata), alongside the strength of religion, the weakness of the central state, the earlier timing of electoral democracy, ethnic and racial diversity, and the absence of feudal remnants, especially fixed social classes.” The title of Lipset and Marks’s book is It Didn’t HappenHere. And as long as we uphold and defend the political and cultural elements that make America exceptional, it won’t.
By George Landrith • Frontiers of Freedom
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering a monumental change to Medicare — and believes that President Donald Trump might support her plan.
Her big idea? Binding arbitration — a method that empowers government-appointed “arbitrators” to dictate the price of new medications and treatments. She hopes it’ll lower drug spending.
That would represent an enormous change from the status quo. Right now, drug makers negotiate directly with private insurers and healthcare providers.
Arbitration is just a fig leaf for government price controls. Arbitrators are supposed to be unbiased. But they’d likely always side with the government officials who appointed them — and set prices well below fair-market value. Like all price controls, arbitration would discourage medical innovation.
Under Medicare, drug coverage is broken into two parts. Medicare Part B covers potent medicines, like chemo- and immunotherapies, that physicians administer in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs that patients can pick up at the pharmacy.
For both programs, drug prices are determined through negotiations between drug makers and private payers, like hospitals or insurers.
In a binding arbitration system, if Medicare officials aren’t satisfied with those negotiated prices, they could appoint an arbitrator to do their bidding. Medicare officials would explain to arbitrators why they feel a lower price is justified. Pharmaceutical companies would justify their own suggested price.
Arbitrators would then choose a legally binding price. And their decision wouldn’t be limited to the two proposals on offer.
This type of dispute resolution is also called “baseball arbitration.” Baseball teams are well known for bringing in neutral arbitrators to resolve contract disputes. But Pelosi’s arbitration plan shouldn’t be compared to the big leagues, as the government would run the entire show. Government officials would get to pick the arbitrators — and would almost certainly choose ideologues who agree with them. So the “negotiation” would function identically to price controls.
Price controls always stifle innovation and harm patients in the long run.
Drug development is a risky business. It takes about $2.6 billion and between 10 and 12 years, on average, to create just one new drug. Around 90 percent of medicines never make it past clinical trials.
Investors are willing to take such financial risks on the off chance their drug succeeds and is profitable. Price controls eliminate that potential by making it harder for companies to recoup their R&D expenses. No investor would risk her capital knowing the government could undervalue her discoveries.
Just look at what price controls did to Europe. In the 1970s, European companies made more than half of the world’s new drugs. Then governments across Europe began to implement various price control schemes over the next 10 years. European countries develop less than 33 percent of new drugs today.
The United States, on the other hand, is the global leader in drug development — and has done so for over three decades. Because our healthcare system values drugs fairly, drug innovators are eager to research and develop drugs stateside. In fact, America’s biopharmaceutical industry dedicated close to $90 billion in R&D efforts in 2016.
All that investment has paid off, too. In the United States, researchers are developing roughly 4,000 new medicines targeting a range of diseases — including potential cures to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes.
If binding arbitration takes off, Americans may never benefit from these potential treatments. Instead, patients would be left at the mercy of diseases for which there are currently no cures.
Binding arbitration doesn’t deserve President Trump’s support — or the support of Democrats. Letting the government set drug prices would hinder future medical advances.