Category: Cato

One Year Later

America’s first real debate about the 21st century surveillance state began one year ago. There had, of course, been no previous shortage of hearings, op-eds, and panels mulling the appropriate “balance between privacy and security” in the post-9/11 era. But for the masses who lacked a security clearance, these had the character of a middle school playground conversation about sex—a largely speculative discussion among participants who’d learned a few of the key terms, but with only the vaguest sense of the reality they described. Secrecy meant abstraction, and in a conflict between abstract fears and the all-too-visible horror of a burning skyscraper, there could be little question which would prevail. The panoptic infrastructure of surveillance developed well out of public view.

A more meaningfully informed public debate finally became possible via a series of unprecedented disclosures about the global surveillance apparatus operated by the National Security Agency—disclosures for which the word “leak” seems almost preposterously inadequate. It was a torrent of information, and it gave even the most dedicated newshounds a glimmer of what intelligence officials mean when they complain about “drinking from the fire hose” of planet-spanning communications networks….

Via Snowden: Year One @ Cato Unbound.

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A Debate Challenge About the Powers Under ObamaCare

The contention:

States have the power to block major provisions of ObamaCare, including punitive taxes the law imposes on their employers and individual residents. That simple claim, backed by the statute’s clear language and legislative history, has riled many of the law’s supporters. Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, issues a debate challenge to those who disagree.

The challenge:

Will Jonathan Gruber or others take Cannon’s challenge?

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How Government Discourages Savings

One often hears that Americans don’t save enough, but why is that? For a few, it’s probably the consequence of spending too much, conspicuously, to keep up appearances. For most people, though, that’s not true: the percentage of lavish, status-conscious spenders is a small part of most communities.

One of the reasons Americans don’t save enough is that government taxation and spending discourages savings.

See, from CNBC’s Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo, a discussion of savings in which Cato’s Dan Mitchell contends government bears significant responsibility for a low savings rate.

For Mitchell’s position in greater detail, see Big Government Cripples Incentives to Save, Promotes Risky Culture of Immediate Gratification.

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The End of the Koch-Cato War

On a day when all America is talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, I’m thinking about the Koch-Cato war, now resolved.

Bob Levy explains the dispute and its resolution:

In the end, this was a win for Cato, and an abandonment of the shareholder structure through which the Kochs sought to control the think tank. For more on that view, see Cato at Peace.

More than a victory, though, a reminder: libertarianism may be ruined through an association or control by major-party partisans.

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The Armistice in the Koch Brothers War for the Cato Institute

The Cato Institute and prominent Republican donors Charles and David Koch are set to settle their legal fight over control of the libertarian think tank….

The settlement involves an agreement to dissolve the shareholder agreement. In addition, Crane is expected to retire under a deal that allows him to select his successor, though the Koch brothers could veto the choice.

Via National Journal.

We’ll see.  It’s heartening, though, that the press has stopped calling the Kochs libertarians, and begun to describe them as they are – former libertarians and current Republicans.

The Washingtonian‘s recent story on the Kochs bid to seize Cato described them accurately, too:

Although Charles Koch, 76, had once been a die-hard libertarian, he has emerged as a major financial champion of Republican causes. He and his brother plan to direct more than $200 million to conservative groups before Election Day, according to Politico.

They are no longer libertarians, and will never be dependable libertarian allies.

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Domestic drones as a threat to liberty

America’s use of drones against her foreign enemies, for surveillance and lethal strikes, has been notably successful. We are sure to build new and more advanced drones for similar uses, and to expand our naval power without placing aviators at risk.

Yet, something that has served so well in combat was sure to be proposed for domestic surveillance.

The risk to liberty, as Gene Healy observes, is profound:

Over the past decade, the creeping militarization of the homefront has proceeded almost unnoticed, with DHS grants subsidizing the proliferation of security cameras and military ordnance for local police departments.

On April 19, Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairs of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter to the head of the FAA urging the adoption of privacy protections, given the “potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance.” But Congress needn’t wait on Obama’s FAA to start protecting Americans’ privacy rights.

It’s well past time we stopped sleepwalking toward dystopia and had a serious public debate about where the lines should be drawn.

We’ve developed the dangerous habit of taking the weapons and devices designed to defend Americans in war and then using them against our fellow citizens. The line between military and civilian should be much clearer.

See, Gene Healy @ Cato.

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FreedomWorks sides with Cato against the Koch Brothers

The Tea Party activists at FreedomWorks have now condemned Charles and David Koch’s war to control the Cato Institute.

Though they value independence themselves, they’ve received Koch money, and funding like that softens resolve. To their credit, FreedomWorks stayed true to their oft-professed belief in independence:

The work of the Cato Institute – producing top quality intellectual ammunition unyielding in its defense of economic freedom and the unalienable rights of the individual over the encroachments of big government – is clearly threatened by the decision of Charles and David Koch to file a lawsuit against the Institute and Bill Niskanen’s widow, Kathryn Washburn. These actions put an internal governance dispute into the light of day, and the enemies of liberty are having a field day exploiting the distraction. We don’t always agree with individual Cato scholars, but that is precisely the point. They are independent, and their independence is their most valuable asset in the push and pull of the public debate.

It is our hope that the parties at Koch Industries will reconsider their ill-conceived actions so that Cato is there in the future, intact, aggressively holding both Democrats and Republicans to account for any and all efforts to grow the size and reach of government.”

Well-said, true, and welcome to the friends of Cato in their struggle to defend the finest libertarian research institute in the world.

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The Kochs double down on their war for Cato

Of course they do – there was not the slightest chance that men accustomed to having their way, and defining the world in the grandiose way they prefer, would relent.

So, it’s a second lawsuit to control Cato, this one insisting that the libertarian Cato Institute is impermissibly packing its ranks with….libertarians.  Not any libertarians, mind you, but the very ones the Kochs insisted on replacing with supine, non-libertarian supporters.

The Kochs may accurately be known as former libertarians.

SeeKoch vs. Cato: Koch brothers file second lawsuit over ‘Board-packing scheme’ – Think Tanked – The Washington Post.

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Does Koch-supporter Kevin Gentry think everyone else in America is gullible?

At CNN, a Charles Koch-backed Cato Institute board member insists that the Kochs have always supported libertarianism, and that they want an independent Cato.

Kevin Gentry must think that libertarians, and lots of other people, are particularly gullible. We’re not.

If Gentry thinks the Kochs have always been true to libertarianism, he might want to explain why the Kochs have poured so much money into Americans for Prosperity. An AFP event is likely to be a showcase for anti-libertarian politicians like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain.

Those are favored candidates for GOP activists, but they’re not libertarians. The Kochs may spend their money as they want, but when they spend for those who are against libertarianism, we may reasonably doubt the claim that the Kochs remain faithful libertarians.

As for the second claim, that the Kochs want an independent Cato Institute by making it a dependent part of their family-controlled financial empire, one may ask: What do they and Gentry think it means to be independent?

They should know that real independence means something more than what the Kochs insist it means. Independence is an actual quality, not an industrialist’s talking point.

One can see from Gentry’s editorial that the Kochs are surprised that their lawsuit to control Cato has met with such strong libertarian criticism. They’re surprised out of confusion: they’re no longer what they still claim to be, and we’re still committed to what we have always been.

Via ‘Koch believes in an independent Cato’ at CNN

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The Koch Brothers’ Political Avarice

Over at the Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin states succinctly the difference between serious libertarianism and the conservatism of the Koch brothers:

The Cato Institute is a Washington think tank with a long history of rigorous scholarship in the name of championing individual liberty It’s known for taking positions outside the conservative mainstream on issues like civil liberties, the war on drugs and U.S. militarism, regardless of the political consequences.

Charles and David Koch, by contrast, are all about winning. Their massive underwriting of bellicose Tea Party groups and super PACs appears to have three main goals: ousting President Barack Obama, busting unions, and reducing the tax and regulatory burden on companies like their own.

I don’t see the Kochs’ plan as bold as much as avaricious, and Froomkin would probably agree. Their machinations are not just any kind of bold.

But if the Kochs have been bold, it’s at the expense of rigor. If one hears another time that stopping Pres. Obama is about stopping socialism, one will have heard it for the thousandth time.

Froomkin cites David Koch’s admission that he, Koch, believed “that the Republican Party, however flawed, represented the best chance of stopping the current rush to socialism…”

Obama’s not a socialist, but in outlook a conventional progressive, and genuine socialism simply isn’t in the cards (for which we may all be grateful). It’s simply dumbing down our politics, and battening on others’ ignorance, to call efforts against Obama a war against socialism. No one knowledgeable need pretend to be ignorant to slake the Kochs’ thirst for the grandiose.

Libertarianism is not, and never has been, simply a subspecies of the GOP, of Democrats, or any other party. Americans for Prosperity, however much many of us once hoped otherwise, is little more than a GOP front group.

We are our own movement, a tradition with liberty at its core, hopeful friends to all, but subservient to none.

The Kochs, once part of libertarianism, are no longer so. We owe them no deference for their past contributions when their present actions are so injurious to the liberty movement.

See, Koch Brothers’ Attempted Takeover of Cato Could Be Part of Bold Plan.

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Refuting Charles Koch’s Statement about Controlling Cato

Charles Koch recently released a statement about the Koch Brothers’ lawsuit to control the Cato Institute, and chairman of Cato Bob Levy’s issued a point-by-point response

That Levy answers Charles Koch’s statement with such specificity tells three things. First, Koch’s professions of an enduring commitment to libertarianism are platitudes easily disputed.

Second, that years of ginning GOP-talking points through Americans for Prosperity must have convinced Koch that any flimsy statement would suffice.

Third, that airy and self-serving rhetoric about the rule of law or principles of a free society cannot dissuade libertarians from a rigorous defense of the liberty movement’s independence.

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The Former Libertarians

It’s well-past time to acknowledge Charles and David Koch as former libertarians.  ABC does as much in a story about them.  One can expect their efforts to control the libertarian Cato Institute for the benefit of the Republican-friendly Americans for Prosperity will only lead to more descriptions like this:

While the case is pending in a Kansas court, the short-term result has been a public debate over the role of Cato, and whether the mainstream Republican Koch brothers would ruin its libertarian reputation.

(Emphasis added.)

Via In a Power Grab, the Kochs’ Struggles Are Revealed – ABC News.

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The Think-Tank Addiction to Koch Money

Over at Politico, one can read paragraph after paragraph of think-tank spokesmen insisting that they would never, ever be impressionable from the Koch brothers.

Their statements would be more credible if (1) they were all on the record, and (2) if those who were on the record didn’t pretend the Cato-Koch conflict was something far-removed from their own concerns.

It’s not, of course, as the story fails to describe adequately both the Kochs’ well-known insistence on having their way and their level of funding (Mercatus being an example).

It’s also telling that many of the think-tanks & groups the Kochs now support aren’t independently libertarian, but are instead conservative, and GOP-leaning.

That’s one of the problems with their effort to grab Cato for themselves: after millions for Americans for Prosperity, for example, the Kochs are partisans in everything but the name.

See, Think tanks still look for Koch cash.

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Charles Koch’s Latest Absurd & Grandiose Claim

Is there no one who can tell Charles Koch that he’s become an embodiment of grandiosity? All that money, but no hireling to tell him that he’s arrived at self-parody? I remarked on his rapid descent Wednesday, of Koch’s over-the-top insistence that trying to take control of Cato was about defending ‘the rule of law.’

In a statement just released, Koch drapes himself in equally resplendent, bejeweled clothing, insisting on the dangers “if Cato’s leaders abandon the principles they are supposed to uphold or otherwise violate the core values of a free society.”

Charles (and presumably David, although Charles does most of the talking) Koch: defenders of the core values of a free society.

Washington, Lincoln, Koch – there you have it.

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Invaluable Independence

Liberal Ezra Klein understands what’s at risk in the battle over Cato.

Writing at Bloomberg, Klein (a self-described technocrat) nicely summarizes what’s at stake in the Kochs’ battle to control the Cato Institute:

The Koch brothers’ fortune is estimated at more than $60 billion, a couple thousand times Cato’s annual operating budget. The brothers have started a large number of advocacy organizations, many of which spend their time — and the Kochs’ money — trying to influence the next election. They could start another such group, one dedicated to providing campaign-season ammunition, without noticing the expense.

The puzzle is that the Kochs ever started this campaign in the first place. It’s easy enough to see what they hoped to achieve: They would quietly take control of Cato and then leverage its credibility to help elect a Republican. Unfortunately for them, the cries from inside Cato made the “quietly” part impossible. But it would have been impossible in any case: Cato’s credibility is derived from its independence; it wouldn’t last long separated from it.

What the Kochs have in Cato is an advocacy organization that matters in the years between elections, even when the Koch brothers’ preferred candidate doesn’t win, even to people who don’t share the brothers’ ideology. Cato is an organization that can have more than a marginal impact on elections. It can have a significant impact on policy and governance. That’s a level of influence even the Kochs can’t buy….

It’s Cato’s serious, independent, libertarian research that’s made her great. The Kochs don’t see this, or don’t think it matters; they’re wrong where the liberal technocrat Klein is right.

(Matt Wech, writing at Reason, has a solid summary of commentary on the Koch takeover battle. But for a magazine that’s taken so many strong stands, his summary is only a summary – he takes no stand for or against the Kochs.

Charles & David Koch, I’d guess, have reversed Dr. Moreau’s project to turn animals into men: Koch money turns men into mice.)

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The Kochs’ Flimsy, Self-Serving Defense of the ‘Rule of Law’

You may have seen that the Charles Koch Institute sent an email defending the Kochs’ attempt to size control of the Cato Institute. As one would expect, the Kochs’ describe their lawsuit in self-righteously and sanctimoniously, as a defense of the very rule of law:

….Charles and David are absolutely committed to libertarian principles and the libertarian issues Cato works on. They merely want the integrity of the shares, the original structure that all parties agreed to, upheld and for Cato’s officers and directors to act in a manner consistent with the principles the organization was founded on. As you know, a key principle of libertarianism is recognizing and respecting the rule of law….

For the full text of the email, see Dave Weigel’s Hot, Fresh Koch Damage Control.

The rule of law….as though every shareholder dispute implicates a conflict between law and the alternatives of utter disorder or abject tyranny. That’s simply absurd, but proof of how vainglorious the Kochs have become.

If the Kochs, themselves, are in court, after all, they may be reassured that the rule of law is not in jeopardy. This is a question of a contractual interpretation under the law, and a larger question about what’s right for libertarianism.

Claiming that the primacy of law itself is endangered begs these questions: are the Kochs so grandiose that they believe their own rhetoric, or do they think everyone else is so stupid as to to believe it?

Those who seek to subordinate the Cato Institute to the political interests of Americans for Prosperity, for example, may call themselves libertarians, but it’s a hollow, incredible claim.

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