Cato Institute

On Think Tanks and Mobile Technology

Joining the Brookings Institution, and followed not long after by the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute made a splash in the mobile app world last week with the release of the first Official Cato Institute iPhone Application. The first release of Cato's app features access to the Cato@Liberty blog, a native podcast client and direct access to Cato's YouTube content, and policy studies and scholar op-eds in major publications. You can view screen shots and read more about the features in a blog post I authored the day of the app's release.

As Robert Bluey, Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, noted earlier this week, the release of the three applications by Brookings, Cato, and Heritage prompted Nancy Scola at Personal Democracy Forum's techPresident blog to ask, "...does anyone actually use this stuff?" and "...is anyone seeking out these apps as they seek out research, news, and points of view?" Be sure to check out Rob's comments here and here.

Here at Cato, we saw over 2,000 downloads in just 36 hours. As one of the most well-known public policy research foundations in the world, this wasn't too surprising, but we are nonetheless very proud and encouraged by consumers' expressed enthusiasm, especially given that we spent very little money to develop the application. Like Heritage, we don't have access to the demographic data on the app's consumers, although we've received some very positive feedback from media, Hill staff, and other stakeholders in the public policy arena. We are also monitoring and encouraging people to use the #Cato20 hashtag on Twitter, which we are using as a primary feedback loop for people using the application.

But despite this instant success, Nancy's questions still remain. The Obama campaign's development of a proprietary iPhone app was nothing short of a total game-changer in the 2008 election, empowering volunteers with all sorts of tools (phone banking, canvassing tools with interactive maps and voter lists, along with scripts and on-demand campaign platform information, among other features). Do think tanks need tools like this? At Cato, a non-profit research foundation, we never ask anyone to do anything - we don't organize politically. We publish research papers and books (along with other media offerings), and host seminars, workshops, and forums for interested constituents. Our only real need is a steady stream of resources. So it is also interesting to note, then, that Apple won't allow donation buttons in iPhone apps, ostensibly because they don't want to be responsible for ensuring that the total amount of an intended donation actually reaches its destination.

Does this render a mobile application for a think tank useless? I'm not sure that it does, especially since Cato's mission is described thus:

In an era of sound bites and partisanship, Cato remains dedicated to providing clear, thoughtful, and independent analysis on vital public policy issues. Using all means possible — from blogs, Web features, op-eds and TV appearances, to conferences, research reports, speaking engagements, and books — Cato works vigorously to present citizens with incisive and understandable analysis.

A mobile application, then, helps the Cato Institute to continue to develop inroads with stakeholders at all levels by dispersing and distributing information resources to anyone with the technology. And just because Cato doesn't organize people, or ask anyone to write letters to their Congressman or Congresswoman (for example), doesn't mean that there aren't a broad swath of libertarians around the world who are passionate about spreading the message of free markets, individual responsibility, limited government and peace - so having the Cato Institute's scholarship in their hand wherever they are only helps them to achieve their goals.

 

Scola also critiques each application's usability factors, particularly how each organizes content. Her suggestion that it is a drawback to Cato's app for content to organized by date is a fair one, given that we organize content on our website that enables users to search for content by scholar, by research area, by publication title, etc. But subsequent releases of the application will likely remedy this, and at the risk of tipping our hand, we will look to incorporate other features that permit users to share content across the social web directly from their mobile device. We are also currently working to develop applications for other mobile devices and platforms (including Android), and will announce them when they become available to users. We have also begun making many of our books available in e-reader format, including Kindle and Nook.

The lesson from think tank applications, and it will be interesting to continue to monitor how each organization continues to develop their respective technologies, is that, as with any other technology or communications strategy, it's important to know: a) who you are, and b) what your goals are. Only from a coherent understanding of both can organizations from city council campaigns to global public policy research foundations develop and implement tactics that help realize those strategic goals.

George Scoville is the Manager of New Media at the Cato Institute.

RightOnline Day 1 - Building Coalitions

Las Vegas is insane.

Everything I've heard about this Disneyland-for-adults is true: neon, sparkles, bells & whistles, herds (and hordes) of people, STAR WARS slot machines (pictures later)...I will definitely have to come back here one day for purposes other than business. My friend Jon Henke (@JonHenke) and I flew from DC yesterday by way of Newark, NJ and didn't even land in Vegas until 1am PT...it was a long day, and I slept in a bit. It was easy to do in my posh suite at the Venetian, with my sunken living room and remote-controlled drapes! Life is hard.

The first panel I attended today featured Todd Thurman (@toddthurman) of the Heritage Foundation, Brian Faughnan (@brianfaughnan) of Liberty Central, and Alexa Moutevelis (@alexashrugged) of the RNC, all moderated by my Liberty Pundits co-blogger Melissa Clouthier (@melissatweets). The panel focused on connecting grassroots activists in the field to policy shops in DC - like Heritage, Cato, or other think tanks - as well as to communications resources and activism training like those offered by FreedomWorks or the Leadership Institute.

Probably one of the better bits of information passed along during the discussion was the notion that activists in the field shouldn't be shy about engaging DC-based resources. Yes, DC is busy. Yes, DC occasionally has a heightened, over-inflated sense of self. But DC is also sitting on piles of your cash, looking for a way to return value back to you. So don't be shy about sending emails or picking up the phones to ask for help.

But more than just connecting grassroots activists to DC to get talking points and policy papers to support candidates back home, the panel focused on connecting activist to activist using technology - that means Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, and other online resources. The RNC announced some nascent, new API and they are transitioning all of their online tools to an open-source platform...the API is apparently already available for developers...more on this later. Despite this move to make RNC resources more available to more people, there was some grumbling in the audience that the RNC fails (on occasion) to return voter vaults back to activists on the ground once they pull out of town following a race. This makes people currently involved with components of the Tea Party movement a bit reticent to cooperate with the RNC in Washington.

After a few questions, and after some dancing around the issue, I asked the panel: is there a sense, going into this November's elections (and subsequently in 2012) that the Right should be worried about the Left exploiting a growing rift between conservatives and libertarians? If so, how can we, or more appropriately, should we be doing anything differently than the suggestions you've all made here today to, strengthen the coalition between these two groups?

The consensus from the panel seemed to be that there's not really any danger this year - libertarians and conservatives agree in principle that the prevailing issue of this election is the economy, stupid. Throwing the bums out is priority #1 in 2010. But the funnel of candidates is currently full, and the new Congressional primary begins, effectively, on November 3 - it is possible that infighting on the Right might get nastier in 2011 and 2012.

Todd Thurman told me after the panel "We just need to make sure we're talking, and that we're sticking together in areas where we agree." I agree in principle with this strategy, but only inasmuch as it's a first step. Because there is potential for infighting to become nastier on the Right as we approach 2012, it's important to talk about areas where we disagree too - libertarians remain (rightly) mistrustful of the Big Government GOP - the same GOP that is trying to ride the Tea Party Tiger into new majorities this fall. Ignoring our differences now can be our foil later.

Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits and Intelligence, Please...

Cato Institute: Actual Cost Of Health Care Bill 6 Trillion Plus And Climbing.

Everybody has heard stories of companies and bookkeepers with two sets of books. Our Congress has put totally new meaning to the words prevarication and fraud. The House and Senate, controlled by hardcore leftist ideologues, have lost all connection with the American people.

We keep telling them WE DON’T WANT THIS..the polls keep telling them. Our visits to their offices keep telling them. Our emails, letters and phone calls keep telling them. And so far, with the exception of a few Democrats and all but one Republican, they have not listened. Or they pretend to listen, babble some garbage about Americans “WANTING” health care, and go right on with stealing our freedoms, enslaving our children and condemning us all to horribly substandard care such as KILLS THOUSANDS of people every year in the UK and Canada. What we don’t WANT is THEIR health care. We don’t want their socialist mandated tyranny. It’s that simple.

When time allows I listen to Mark Levin in the afternoons here. Mark is a constitutional scholar and an unabashed Patriot. If you don’t have his book, “LIBERTY and TYRANNY”, get it. It is simply THE blueprint for the Conservative revolution. Once again, no, I’m not being paid for the endorsement. I learn by hanging around with, and listening to, people who know more than I do. Mark was referring to a CATO Institute report by Senior Fellow Michael D. Tanner on the true cost of the health care fiasco in the Senate now. It’s IMMENSE!! You can link to it on Mark’s web site or Google it. But long story short, they’re not just cooking the books in Washville…they are cooking, baking and barbecuing them.

We are TWELVE TRILLION Dollars in the hole right now..and the debt goes up by FOUR BILLION dollars every day! To this staggering debt, the DeMarxists want us to think the proposed Unhealthy for America bill will ‘ONLY’ cost 849 BILLION dollars. The Heritage Foundation figured it at TWO POINT FOUR PLUS TRILLION DOLLARS. Now the CATO Institute’s studies, investigating much farther into the smoke and mirrors and creative bookkeeping practices employed by Congress and their cabal of criminal cronies, puts the tab at much closer to SIX POINT FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS!!

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the Congress continue to spend like alcoholics on a binge.Any Republican who says he wants to reach ‘accommodation’ on this bill or ‘FIX’ it, or any part of it, should be run out of office. And we need to tell them just that. It’s time to take off the gloves and go bare knuckles on this Congress and this Administration.

Semper Vigilans, Semper Fidelis

© Skip MacLure 2009

 

If You Call Obama “Socialist,” Then the House GOP Is 99% Socialist

 Cato's Chris Edwards is correct.  Republicans are playing small-ball.  They have no real vision, so they've ended up with policy paralysis.  - Jon Henke

As I note in a recent New York Post op-ed Republicans are fond of implying that President Obama is a big-spending socialist. But the House GOP recently offered a spending cut plan that was able to find savings worth less than one percent of Obama’s budget.

As Tad DeHaven and Brian Riedl have also pointed out, the GOP spending reform effort is rather pathetic. It proposed specific annual budget cuts of about $14 billion per year.

Consider that the center-left budget wonks at the Brookings Institution put their heads together a few years ago and came up with a “smaller government plan” that proposed about $342 billion in annual spending cuts (by 2014). The Brookings authors note:  

These cuts are achieved by reducing government subsidies to commercial activities ($138 billion); by returning responsibility for education, housing, training, environmental, and law enforcement programs to the states ($123 billion) . . . by cutting entitlements such as Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare ($74 billion); and by eliminating some wasteful spending in these entitlement programs ($7 billion).

Thus, the Brookings scholars found cuts more than twenty times larger than the House GOP leadership cuts, and Brookings proposed its plan back when the deficit was about one-fifth of the size it is today. (Note that both the Brookings and GOP plans would also put a cap on overall nondefense discretionary spending, in addition to these specific cuts).

My point in the New York Post piece is that the GOP needs to challenge Obama’s big spending agenda at a more fundamental level. They need to do some careful research, pick out some big spending targets, and go on the offense. Why not propose to eliminate the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development? Why not sell off federal assets, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, in order to help pay down the federal debt? Why not open up the U.S. Postal Service to competition?

Obama won’t agree to these reforms at this point, but they would hopefully open a serious national debate about reforming our massive and sprawling federal government. Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the congressional Republicans in 1994 didn’t win by splitting hairs with the Democrats over 1% of spending. They offered a more fundamental critique.

At least, GOP leaders need to offer up spending reforms as bold as those of the Brookings Institution.

Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at The Cato Institute

The GOP Is Clearly Not Serious about Cutting Down Spending

Cato Budget Analyst Tad DeHaven says Republicans still aren't serious about the budget.  This is a major problem.  I don't think it's so much a lack of "courage" as it is a lack of ideas.  Republicans just don't have a vision for how a smaller government could be better, and how to get from here to there through the political process.  DeHaven's points are correct. - Jon Henke

A month ago, President Obama issued a list of proposed spending cuts that I dismissed as “unserious” due to the fact that they were trivial when compared to his proposed spending and debt increases.  Yesterday, the House Republican leadership released a list of proposed spending cuts.

I’d love to say I’m impressed, but I can’t.

Both proposals indicate that neither side of the aisle grasps the severity of the country’s ugly fiscal situation, or at least has the guts to do anything concrete about it.

The GOP proposal claims savings of more than $375 billion over five years, the bulk of which ($317 billion) would come from holding non-defense discretionary spending increases to no more than inflation over the next five years.

First, it should be cut — period.  Second, non-defense discretionary spending only amounts to about 17% of all the money the federal government spends in a year, so singling out this pot of money misses the bigger picture.  At least, defense spending, which is almost entirely discretionary, should be included in any cap.  But it has become an article of faith in the Republican Party that reining in defense spending is tantamount to putting a white flag in the Statue of Liberty’s hand.

The second biggest chunk of savings would come from directing $45 billion in repaid TARP funds to deficit reduction instead of allowing the money to be used for further bailing out.  That’s a sound idea as far it goes, but I can’t help but point out that the signatories to the document, House Republican Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor, voted for the original $700 billion TARP bailout. Proposing to rescind the Treasury’s power to release the remaining funds, about $300 billion I believe, should have been included.

According to the proposal, the rest of the cuts and savings comes out to around $25 billion over five years.  Like the specific cuts in the president’s proposal, they’re all good cuts.  But the president detailed $17 billion in cuts for one year and I generously called it “measly.”  What am I to call the House Republican leadership specifying $5 billion a year in cuts?

 Take for example, proposed cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is likely to spend around $65 billion this year.  Having recently spent a couple months analyzing HUD’s past and present, I can state unequivocally that it’s one of the sorriest bureaucracies the world has ever seen.  Yet, the House Republican leadership comes up with only one proposed elimination: a $300,000 a year program that gives “$25,000 stipends for 12 students completing their doctoral dissertation on issues related to housing and urban development.”  The only other proposed cut to HUD would be $1.7 billion over five years to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.  This notoriously wasteful program is projected to spend over $8 billion this year alone.  Eliminate it!

The spending cuts the country needs must be substantial, serious, and put forward in the spirit of recognizing that the federal government’s role in our lives must be downsized.  Half-measures are not enough, and from the Republican House leadership, wholly insufficient for winning back the support of limited-government voters who have come to associate the GOP with runaway spending and debt.  For a more substantive guide to cutting federal spending, policymakers should start with Cato’s Handbook chapter on the subject.

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at The Cato Institute.

C/P Cato@Liberty

Free Speech Case: Citizens United (Hillary: the Movie) v. Federal Election Commission

Bill Smith, ARRA Editor: The Cato Institute has been following the Citizens United v. FEC case, in which the Supreme Court is set to rule on whether an organization can use speech about a political candidate in the days leading up to an election. The Federal Election Commission banned Citizen United from showing a film against Hillary Clinton on a pay-per-view basis shortly before the last year’s election.

The so-called Citizens United case offers the Supreme Court a chance to severely curtail the free speech abuses of the Federal Election Commission. If the government can ban broadcasts under federal law, that else can they ban? Books? Commercials? In the following CATO video, campaign finance law and free speech experts discuss the case, and what it means for the future of free speech. The Supreme Court is set to rule on it in the next few weeks. John Samples, Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Steve Simpson and George Mason University law professor Allison Hayward weigh in.

The infringement on free speech is troubling. We will be sure to let you know when the Supreme Court makes their ruling. While we cannot predict the outcome, the very thought that the government could eventually ban books, news print, this blog, and any other form of political commentary is nothing more than overturning the 1st amendment. What part of "Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ." does Congress and the Federal Election Commission not understand?

200 Economists Against Stimulus

While the media and the new administration would like to have us believe there is no dissagreement among economists that President Obama's massive stimulus plan is absolutely necessary, here are 200 leading economists, which include Nobel laureates and other very respectable scholars from across the country, who beg to differ.

The Cato Institute is running a full page ad in the Washington Post, New York Times and Roll Call this week with a letter showing that whoever says, "all economists agree on stimulus" is wrong.

The letter, which is signed by 200 economists, reads:

 

Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance.More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  More government spending did not solve Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today. To improve the economy, policymakers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production. Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth.

Cato_StimulusAd

Full disclosure: Chris Moody is the Manager of New Media at the Cato Institute.

 

 

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