Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro Tightens His Grip



Venezuela’s tyrant, Nicolás Maduro, has a habit of surpassing his own repressive feats every now and then. The latest wave of repression gives a stunning indication of how far he is prepared to go to hold on to power in the face of massive rejection.

At the end of January, Maduro’s government gave the military the authority to shoot protesters. A few days later, he threw in jail the owners of supermarket chains and pharmacies whom he accused of creating an artificial scarcity for conspiratorial reasons. Then he ordered his thugs to beat up Leopoldo López, the iconic opposition figure incarcerated at the Ramo Verde military prison, before placing him in solitary confinement. On February 19, he sent intelligence agents to kidnap Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a leading critic, from his office.

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Health Spending Chews Through a Weak Economy



The federal government’s second estimate of fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP), published Friday by the U.S. Department of Commerce, confirmed what we pointed out from the initial estimate released on January 30: Health spending is chewing up more and more of the weakening economic recovery.

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The Consummate Fallen Angel



ParadiseLostThe devil is agile and quick on his feet
He fought at Gettyburg
From beginning to end
And never got a single scratch

At Verdun and the Somme back in ‘16
He displayed his great flair
For adding large numbers
Of young souls wickedly squandered

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University Responsibility for Sexual Assault



due-process-guide-cover-portrait“The Hunting Ground,” a movie about sexual assault at major universities, supports the argument that universities are not doing enough to respond to accusations about sexual assault by their students. The article hits close to home for me because, as a faculty member at Florida State University, my university is one of the ones highlighted in the movie.

FSU is featured because of the well-known accusation that Jameis Winston, former FSU quarterback who has entered the NFL draft, was accused of sexual assault in 2013. Senator Claire McCaskill has advised any NFL team interested in drafting Winston, “Watch this movie.”

I am not passing judgment on Winston or his accuser. That is the responsibility of our legal system. I am questioning what responsibility the university has in the matter, and as an FSU faculty member, I have a particular interest in the responsibility of FSU in the Winston case.

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50 Shades of Predatory Abuse: The Role of Civil Society



Fifty-Gray-posterThe movie adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey by author E.L. James swept its opening weekend competition and has generated blockbuster revenues of over $133 million, making it the top grossing movie of 2015. Controversy has come with it, as would be expected from any movie breaking through traditional cultural taboos. Combine that with sex, millions of dollars would be generated on curiosity alone. But what of the substance?

On the surface, this is a film about empowerment. Scratch below the surface, and the messages and ideas are deeply disturbing and surprisingly dismissive of complex cultural problems. As a libertarian, I was hoping 50 Shades of Grey might broach unresolved issues about power in relationships, personal liberty and the true meaning of consent. Unfortunately, the movie is not particularly good and never really grapples with them. For me, the result is a far more disturbing film because it portrays the sexual relationship between the protagonists—self-made corporate billionaire Christian Grey and obviously ingenue Anastasia Steele—as an exploration of the romantic limits of intimacy.

Anastasia eventually recognizes the hopelessly dysfunctional and destructive nature of their interpersonal relationship, but the story develops showing acceptance and even joy derived from the calculated escalation of violence in their sexual relationship. It’s not that Anastasia should be surprised. As their relationship gets more intimate and personal, she asks Christian if he is going to make love to her. His reply? “I don’t make love. I f***. Hard.” But his tastes are not just for rough, physical sex; he prefers bondage and is aroused by sadistic violence inflicted on his sexual partners. Meanwhile, the story explicitly draws the viewer in to empathize with Christian, the sadist, by showing his broken nature. At another point in the movie, Anastasia asks Christian why he is trying to change her, and he replies that she is wrong, she is changing him.

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Half of State Medical Boards Perform Poorly When Licensing Out-of-State Doctors



doctorA new research article in the Telemedicine and E-Health Journal shows how difficult state regulatory barriers are making it for doctors to practice effective telemedicine. Telemedicine embraces technologies as diverse as surgeons operating robots remotely, radiologists reading scanned images remotely, or psychiatrists conducting therapy sessions via videoconference.

One barrier to effective adoption of telemedicine is that states license physicians, and those licenses are not portable.

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Florida’s Fiscal Policy: Responsible State Budgeting



BalancedBudgetI’ve written a study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University on Florida’s state government fiscal policy, which can be accessed here. The bottom line is that in an era of growing government and fiscal irresponsibility, Florida’s state government has a record of fiscal responsibility dating back two decades.

Both state government expenditures per person and state government employment as a share of the population have fallen, and when difficult times showed up after the 2008 recession, Florida’s state budget remained balanced without increasing taxes. Expenditures fell by more than 10% during that time to retain budget balance.

While there are some areas in which Florida could have been more fiscally responsible, they are minor compared with the record of balanced budgets, relatively responsible pension funding, low taxes, and shrinking per capita expenditures. In an era where government fiscal responsibility is rare, Florida’s fiscal policies over the past two decades provide a good model for other states.

A-B-C-Don’t Indoctrinate Me



dunce capBored State Legislators + Education + Inconvenient “Facts” = Nothing Good

In Oklahoma, a legislative committee recently passed a measure that would ban Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History courses in high school. House Bill 1380, introduced and supported by Representative Dan Fisher, will ban the use of state funds for these history courses.

The reason? Well, as Rep. Fisher put it, the courses teach only “what is bad about America.” They omit the idea of “American exceptionalism,” or the theory that the U.S. is unique in its place and role in human history.

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Why Hasn’t Medicare Advantage Collapsed?



stethoscope and dollarMilliman, the actuarial consulting firm, has published a new report on the impact of the government’s cuts to Medicare Advantage. The report was sponsored by the Better Medicare Alliance, which announced that “Seniors now face soaring maximum annual out-of-pocket costs” due to the cuts.

And yet, the purported cuts have not really bitten health insurers. Medicare Advantage enrollment is at an all-time highMedicare Advantage is superior to traditional Medicare Parts A and B. However, insurers seem to capture more of the value than beneficiaries do.

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Are the Ruling Elites in China Now More Pro-market than the Ruling Elites in the USA?



ChinaThe current issue of the Cato Policy Report (January/February 2015) contains a short article about a book by Zhang Weiying called The Logic of the Market: An Insider’s View of Chinese Economic Reform, which was originally published in Chinese (and said to be a best-seller in China in that form) and was recently translated into English. The author is the director of Peking University’s Center for Market and Network Economy and is described as a leader among pro-market economists in China, a description that accords well with the quotations given from his writings. In the article, a quotation from a recent Wall Street Journal interview with him states: “He [Zhang] says that when he recently wrote an article praising the late Austrian economist Murray Rothbard, the Communist Party secretary of Shanghai—a fairly high-level apparatchik—told him he liked it.”

I ask you: Has anyone high in the U.S. government ever praised any writing that lauds Rothbard’s views, not to mention Rothbard’s writings themselves? To me it is inconceivable that any such figure would do so. Moreover, is anyone in U.S. academia with a position comparable to Zhang’s position in Chinese academia likely to praise Rothbard’s views? To me it is inconceivable that any such figure would do so.

Once upon a time, the Chinese were the enemies of private property rights and free markets, and the Americans were the enemies of the Chinese and purported to cherish the institutions that the Chinese hated. Today no such clear-cut difference exists. If anything, today’s Chinese in high places seem to be more inclined to say kind words about private property rights and the free market than are comparably placed Americans. And when such Americans do speak favorably of these institutions, they do not really mean what they say, as their actions consistently attest.