|Title:||No, Mr. President, You Can't Do Whatever You Want|
|Date:||Fri, 27 Jun 2014 17:07 EDT|
Much as it might frustrate Barack Obama, there’s no “if Congress won’t act, the president gets extra powers” clause in the Constitution. The latest confirmation of that truism comes in the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, which invalidated the appointments our constitutional-scholar-in-chief made to the NLRB in January 2012. It turns out, the unanimous Court ruled, that the presidential power to make recess appointments — to avoid getting the Senate’s “advice and consent” on federal offices — is only triggered when the Senate is actually in recess.
And so, for the 13th time since those ill-fated NLRB nominations, the Obama Justice Department has lost unanimously at the Supreme Court. In each of those cases, the government argued for a radically expansive federal — and especially executive — power and in each case not a single justice agreed. In areas of law ranging from criminal procedure (as in Wednesday’s cell-phone-search ruling) to securities regulation, immigration to religious liberty, President Obama couldn’t even get the votes of the justices he himself appointed, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
As Miguel Estrada commented when summarizing the solicitor general’s abysmal performance last term — a win rate of 40 percent, against a historical norm of about 70 percent — “when you have a crazy client who insists you make crazy arguments, you’re gonna lose some cases.”
“For the 13th time since those ill-fated NLRB nominations, the Obama Justice Department has lost unanimously at the Supreme Court.”
In Noel Canning, all the justices agreed that the Senate gets to determine when it’s in session and when it’s not. (That’s an argument that Miguel Estrada made on behalf of all 45 Republican senators — you’ll recall that Estrada himself declined a recess appointment to the D.C. Circuit after Democrats filibustered him for being Hispanic — and it’s also what Cato argued in the brief we filed). And that’s no surprise: based on oral argument, everyone was expecting the government to lose here, and lose big.
Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom (which I shared) about a narrow ruling was also proven correct. The only “rule” that emerges from Justice Breyer’s controlling opinion is that a three-day recess, the longest the Senate can adjourn without the House’s consent, isn’t long enough to enable recess appointments. And that a recess of between three and ten days is also “presumptively” too short. That’s a pragmatic decision that ratifies recent executive practice, at least that before the White House’s current occupant.
It also lacks any connection to what the Constitution actually says, as Justice Scalia pointed out in a concurrence joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. The best reading of constitutional text and structure is that only recesses between Senate sessions — not when, say, Congress takes a few weeks off to watch the World Cup — count for purposes of activating the recess-appointment power. Moreover, that power is only justified to fill vacancies that arise during the recess itself — the clause refers to “vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate” — not openings that the president didn’t get around to filling while the Senate was sitting.
And that makes eminent sense: The purpose of the recess-appointment power isn’t to make life easier for the president, but to ensure that the government can function should high officials die or resign while the Senate is unavailable to confirm their replacements. In a world of instant communication and air travel, the Recess Appointments Clause is essentially obsolete because it’s never the case that senators are unreachable out in the sticks such that they can’t be called back for urgent business.
In other words, Justice Breyer’s unprincipled opinion, while limiting recent presidential practice, cements a much more expansive reading of that power than the Constitution allows. Instead of having to deal with a Senate controlled by the other party — as Obama may have to soon — the president can simply wait till the next recess.
Except that Breyer’s constitutional innovation will be matched by a political one. For practical purposes, we’ll now see many more “pro forma” Senate sessions and also the empowerment of those who control the House — because, again, the Senate can’t recess without the House’s consent. Speaker Boehner, call your (or my) office.
To be sure, this ruling is a strong rebuke to this administration in this case, but the most that can be said for it more broadly is what Justice Scalia did in reading his concurrence from the bench: “The Court’s decision will be cited in diverse contexts, including those presently unimagined, and will have the effect of aggrandizing the Presidency beyond its constitutional bounds and undermining respect for the separation of powers.”
Not that this president needs any help defying the Constitution.
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
|Title:||Justice Breyer's Dowsing Rod Finds a Limit to the Recess Appointments Clause|
|Date:||Fri, 27 Jun 2014 12:05 EDT|
As many people predicted, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). By declaring that he has the power to determine when the Senate is in session, President Obama demonstrated a degree of executive overreach that could not garner a single vote of support from the Justices.
This is a welcome victory for good governance and a partial victory for the Constitution. While Justice Stephen Breyer was correct to hold that the president cannot determine when and if the Senate is in session, he incorrectly ignored the original public meaning of the Constitution, as well as a common-sense reading of the text, in order to endorse an ad hoc and baseless theory of recess appointments.
“This is a welcome victory for good governance and a partial victory for the Constitution.”
In one way this is just another scathing rebuke of the administration by the Court. From property rights (e.g., Sackett v. EPA) to religious freedoms (e.g., Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC), the Obama administration has a surprisingly bad record before the Court. Although President Obama’s tenure in office has been just the latest iteration in the time-honored American tradition of executive overreach, his attempts to push three members onto the NLRB were far more than a slight stretching of existing executive practices. Had the Court upheld the appointments, the result would have been a categorical change in relations between the Senate and the president in the matter of appointments.
It’s not surprising that the administration failed to convince a single Justice. The justifications for the appointments offered first by the OLC and then later by the Solicitor General were breathtaking in the level of discretion they gave the president. Even looking at the array of amicus briefs on each side, we see that only three amici supported of the government — the Constitutional Accountability Center, the Brennan Center, and Professor Victor Williams of Catholic University — as compared to twenty-five in support of respondent Noel Canning. In short, it was clear to most people, and eventually to nine Justices, that the administration’s case was quite weak.
This was obvious from the moment the OLC memo was released, which purported to justify the president’s recess appointments. Not only does the memo laughably say that the Senate’s best option to block presidential recess appointments is to be “continuously in session,” but the memo continually treats the recess appointments power as if it were a core presidential power rather than as “a subsidiary, not a primary, method for appointing officers of the United States.” That line was so important to Justice Breyer’s majority opinion that he felt it needed to be italicized. In other words, emphasis in the original.
But one passage from the OLC memo particularly stands out for its endorsement of unfettered executive discretion:
In our judgment, the President may properly rely on the public pronouncements of the Senate that it will not conduct business (including action on nominations), in determining whether the Senate remains in recess, regardless of whether the Senate has disregarded its own orders on prior occasions. Moreover, even absent a Senate pronouncement that it will not conduct business, there may be circumstances in which the President could properly conclude that the body is not available to provide advice and consent for a sufficient period to support the use of his recess appointment power.
In comparing the emphasized portions, we see the true breadth of presidential discretion endorsed by the OLC. A rule that the president can rely on the public pronouncements of the Senate would still be unconstitutional, but it would at least cabin the president’s discretion to some degree. Yet in the very next sentence the OLC made it clear that the president would not even concede that the Senate’s determinations were dispositive.
Each president starts from the baseline created by their predecessors and then invariably pushes presidential power just a little further. As a consequence, undeclared wars have become the norm, administrative agencies over-reach more than they under-reach, and executive discretion now nullifies laws duly passed by Congress.
For two hundred years, we’ve seen a similar pattern in the matter of recess appointments. As Congress has grown more recalcitrant, presidents have become wilier in their recess appointment machinations. The Senate has countered with “pro forma sessions,” when a lone senator calls to order an empty Senate chamber, which were innovated by Harry Reid to block recess appointments during the Bush years. Ever since President Harding’s Attorney General Harry Daugherty endorsed the practice of intra-session recess appointments, the only remaining question has been “how low can you go?” — that is, how short can the intra-session recess be in order to trigger the recess appointment power?
And today we have an answer, divined by the I-know-it-when-I-see-it jurisprudence of Justice Breyer: Three days is definitely too low, and ten days is probably the limit. Why? Unclear, but it has something to do with past practices and the Solicitor General’s concessions and essentially nothing to do with the text of the U.S. Constitution. Justice Breyer’s judicial dowsing rod found its way to a line of best fit, and not coincidentally it was the line that had been drawn by two hundred years of executive encroachment.
That the Court had never heard a case on the Recess Appointments Clause makes this type of judicial acquiescence all the more distasteful. Generally speaking, originalists prefer to enforce the original public meaning of the Constitution and ignore governmental practice (there are, of course, many exceptions). Yet in areas where past Courts have weighed in — such as, for example, the meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause — even Justice Scalia will concede, as he did in McDonald v. City of Chicago, that a sufficiently long tradition of erroneous past decisions can trump reinterpreting the Constitution according to its proper, original meaning. Those past Courts, even when they got it wrong, at least enjoy the presumption that they earnestly and impartially interpreted the Constitution as best they were able.
Yet when no past Supreme Court had heard a Recess Appointments Clause case, and the entire corpus of “jurisprudence” on recess appointment questions has been written by attorneys general and OLC memos, it is difficult to fathom why that history deserves deference.
Attorneys general and the OLC have almost always unsurprisingly decided that their president’s attempt to stretch the clause a little further is constitutionally justified. It is unquestionably a bad idea to treat a history of self-aggrandizing, unreviewed over-reach as highly relevant, if not dispositive, of an important constitutional issue. Nevertheless, this is precisely how Justice Breyer and four Justices — Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan — interpret the Recess Appointments Clause. As Justice Breyer wrote, “We have not previously interpreted the Clause, and, when doing so for the first time in more than 200 years, we must hesitate to upset the compromises and working arrangements that the elected branches of Government themselves have reached.”
Two branches of government cannot “compromise” away a constitutional stricture, and a “working arrangement” deserves little or no respect in matters of constitutional interpretation. This is, as Scalia said, “an adverse-possession theory of executive authority.”
Justice Scalia rightly and vigorously jumped on Breyer’s strange concession to the interpretations of executive officials and the quiescence of Congress. Although Breyer’s and Scalia’s opinions feature much sparring over original meanings and historic practices, Justice Breyer is unable to counter one of Scalia’s most basic and compelling points: If we’re going to play fast and loose with the definition of “recess,” then why do we adhere to the clear original meaning of the word “session?”
The Clause provides that recess appointments “shall expire at the End of their [the Senate’s] next Session.” This language has been interpreted by everyone to mean until the end of the formal session. “And if ‘the next Session’ denotes a formal session,” Scalia writes, “then ‘the Recess’ must mean the break between formal sessions…. It is linguistically impossible to suppose—as the majority does—that the Clause uses one of those terms (‘Recess’) informally and the other (‘Session’) formally in a single sentence, with the result that an event can occur during both the ‘Recess’ and the ‘Session.’”
Yet, to Justice Breyer’s credit, he did see through the administration’s most egregious claim, that the president can determine if the Senate is “actually” in session, and correctly held that President Obama’s recess appointments were unconstitutional. The previously non-controversial rule is restored: “[W]e conclude that when the Senate declares that it is in session and possesses the capacity, under its own rules, to conduct business, it is in session for purposes of the Clause.”
The result is a return to the status quo ante: A silly cat-and-mouse game in which a lone senator gavels to order an empty Senate chamber and then closes the session a minute later. It may be silly, but at least it is now a more constitutionally justified type of silly. Plus, who ever said that politics is dignified?
Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.
|Title:||From Stalwarts to Scapegoats: America's Foreign Clients|
|Date:||Fri, 27 Jun 2014 09:22 EDT|
|Description:||Ted Galen Carpenter
As forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conquer major chunks of Sunni-inhabited areas in Iraq and advance on Baghdad, it has become fashionable among U.S. politicians and pundits to place the blame for the latest debacle at the feet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Just a few years ago, though, those same opinion leaders hailed him as the symbol of a new, democratic Iraq. Maliki’s journey from Washington-backed national savior to scapegoat is a familiar one.
Time and time again, U.S. leaders and their media allies have anointed a Third World political figure as the latest Great Pro-Western Democratic Hope, only to become disillusioned when that leader fails to live up to Washington’s unrealistic expectations. Then, that leader becomes the cause of everything that has gone wrong in his country, combined with the implicit assumption that a change of leadership would make the troubling developments go away. It is a lazy, naïve style of foreign policy that ignores far deeper causes of instability in many of Washington’s client states.
We must stop portraying foreign political figures in heroic terms, only to repudiate those same figures when they predictably fail to live up to our fantasies.[/pullquote[
The transformation of Maliki’s image from one of a democratic statesman to a divisive and inept sectarian political hack is similar to what has occurred in Afghanistan, another arena of dashed U.S. nation-building aspirations. In the years immediately following Washington’s ouster of the Taliban regime in Kabul, U.S. officials portrayed Hamid Karzai as someone who was committed to forging a modern, democratic Afghanistan. A few critics in the United States derided him as little more than the mayor of greater Kabul, and argued that his ability to stay in power at all was heavily dependent on the continued backing of U.S. occupation forces. American enthusiasts of Karzai’s rule, however, summarily dismissed such cynical observations.
Evidence gradually mounted, though, about the growing corruption (both financial scandals and indications of stolen elections) surrounding Karzai and his cohorts. Washington’s criticism of Karzai’s performance in office spiked, and calls for new leadership to save Afghanistan from sliding back into chaos have steadily grown. But placing the blame for Afghanistan’s woes solely, or even primarily, on Karzai ignores the deep political and ethnic fissures in that country. Examining those factors would require admitting that perhaps America’s nation-building hopes there were unrealistic from the outset, and U.S. officials are not inclined to engage in such introspection.
The pattern of investing excessive hopes in the leadership of a client and then turning on him when unpleasant reality intrudes goes back decades. A prominent example occurred during the late 1950s and early 1960s with respect to South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Powerful lobbies in the United States prodded Dwight Eisenhower’s administration to back Diem’s government against Hanoi’s attempt to reunify Vietnam under communist auspices. In a May 1955 Life Magazine editorial, publisher Henry Luce asserted that Diem was “a Roman Catholic and a simon-pure Vietnamese nationalist, thus doubly proof against Communist force.” Luce went on: “Diem’s growing strength immensely simplifies the task of U.S. diplomacy in Saigon. The task is, or should be, simply to back Diem to the hilt.” Other prominent media outlets were equally laudatory. Max Lerner of the New York Post hailed him as nothing less than a “calendar saint.” Newsweek correspondent Ernest K. Lindley described Diem as “one of the ablest free Asian leaders.”
Just a few years later, Diem’s image in the United States was very different, as his repressive policies, and South Vietnam’s instability, became increasingly evident. Undersecretary of State George W. Ball noted caustically, “we were rapidly discovering that the tiger we were backing in Vietnam was more of a [corrupt] Tammany tiger than a disciple of Thomas Jefferson.” Television broadcasts showing Buddhist monks engaging in self-immolation in the streets of Saigon and other cities to protest Diem’s rule caused a rapid decline of support both among U.S. officials and the American public. “Nobody liked Diem,” Attorney General Robert Kennedy admitted. “But how to get rid of him and get somebody who would continue the war, not split the country in two and, therefore, lose not only the war but the country—that was the great problem.” Washington eventually signaled to South Vietnamese generals that the United States would not object to a coup against Diem.
Washington’s initial expectations about Diem’s competence and commitment to democracy were delusional. Moreover, the decision to back a Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist country was a high-risk strategy. The aftermath of his ouster and death, though, proved that South Vietnam’s problems ran far deeper than Diem’s personal and political flaws. U.S. leaders desperately sought a new, effective leader, eventually settling on Nguyen Van Thieu. But like Diem before him, Thieu was unable to instill a sense of patriotism and a determination among South Vietnamese to thwart the communists, even with strong U.S. backing. And when American forces withdrew, the country collapsed in a little more than two years.
Likewise, Iraq’s problems are intractable, not just the result of Maliki’s misrule. The notion that he ever intended (or was able) to unite that fractious state’s antagonistic, ethnoreligious communities was naïve. Maliki is, and has always been, a Shiite partisan, and his constituents want to engage in payback to the Sunni minority that dominated Iraq’s politics and economy even before the era of Saddam Hussein. The dispossessed Sunni elite are now attempting to overturn that new Shiite-controlled order. The Kurds have enjoyed de facto independence for years in the northern territories they control, despite the fiction of a united Iraq, and they now flirt with making that independence official. Such disintegrative factors go far beyond Maliki’s authoritarian tendencies, general corruption and ineptitude, real as those defects might be.
U.S. officials and pundits need to practice far more skepticism about the prospects for unity and democracy in Third World countries. In most cases, both prospects are decidedly limited. Above all, we must stop portraying foreign political figures in heroic terms, only to repudiate those same figures when they predictably fail to live up to our fantasies. Even a dollop of realism would go a long way toward sparing future U.S. administrations the frustration and embarrassment we experienced in such places as Vietnam during the Cold War and are now experiencing again in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to The National Interest, is the author of nine books and more than 550 articles and policy studies on international affairs.
|Title:||China's Participation in RIMPAC Exercise: Model for Future Cooperation?|
|Date:||Thu, 26 Jun 2014 09:16 EDT|
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise has begun in waters near Hawaii. For the first time, China is joining the drills. That’s a small but positive step for integrating Beijing into more international institutions.
RIMPAC started in 1971 with the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and United Kingdom. Now held every two years, the exercise was broadened to include ships from allied and friendly nations. This year there are 23 participants, including the original nations as well as France, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.
“It will be up to Beijing, its Pacific neighbors, and the U.S. to find other opportunities to further invest the PRC in the existing geopolitical order.”
And the People’s Republic of China. The PRC has sent four ships, a destroyer, hospital ship, missile frigate, and oiler. China’s Defense ministry explained that the maneuvers are “an important mission of military diplomacy” and a means to strengthen “friendly relations with countries of the South Pacific through public diplomacy.”
Beijing’s participation comes at a time of significant regional tension. Most of which is maritime. The PRC’s more aggressive stance in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and Sea of Japan have led to threatening confrontations with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. It is widely believed that China’s military has been particularly vocal internally in pressing more extreme demands on the PRC’s neighbors.
RIMPAC offers an opportunity to create at least some countervailing pressure in favor of a less threatening regional naval environment. At the political level inviting Beijing to participate demonstrates respect for China’s increased military power and international role. Doing so also counters the charge that Washington is seeking to isolate and contain the PRC.
Moreover, inclusion hints at the benefits for Beijing of a civil if not necessarily friendly relationship with its neighbors as well as America. No doubt, the direct pay-off for China from RIMPAC is small. But to be treated as an equal and regular participant in international affairs is advantageous. Especially since the PRC increasingly is being looked at as a potential adversary, especially by surrounding nations.
Although any great power must be prepared to accept unpopularity when necessary, in general a friendly environment is more conducive to ensuring both peace and prosperity. Better that neighboring states view Chinese ships as potential partners than as likely threats.
Military cooperation also is important. As the PRC grows wealthier and the Chinese military grows more sophisticated, Beijing can play a more important role in peacekeeping, anti-piracy patrols, counter-proliferation searches, search-and-rescue efforts, and other international operations. This will reduce the burden on allied forces, increase the reach and capability of worthwhile activities, and demonstrate to Chinese naval officers that there are missions other than challenging the U.S. or other states as enemies.
The PRC’s participation in RIMPAC also will provide some valuable human interaction among naval personnel. The exercise typically mixes naval drills with social activities and athletic competitions. Although political relations between the PRC and Western states reflect larger political currents, there is value on putting a human face on sailors from other nations. It is harder to hate an entire people when you’ve sat down with individuals to have a drink with them.
Of course, participation in one or more military maneuvers is not enough to maintain the peace, especially when the respective governments have been only too willing to play games of international chicken over emotional claims to territory. But including the PRC can be seen as an aspect of a larger allied strategy of inclusion.
Today Beijing remains a revisionist power, determined to overturn past decisions seen as unfair and unreasonable. Its challenge likely will ebb only if it perceives the cost of acting to be greater than the benefit of the status quo, or at least a more modest reform course achievable through negotiation.
Costs already are rising for China as Japan begins to take a more active military role, countries like the Philippines welcome Tokyo’s increased activism, and the Southeast Asian states look further afield, including to India, for allies. Even worse from the PRC’s standpoint, most of these nations are attempting to pull Washington more directly into their affairs. The ultimate result could be a military coalition that even a stronger China will not want to challenge.
At the same time, Beijing needs to see that the benefits from cooperating also are rising. RIMPAC alone offers only a modest pay-off. But the U.S. and the PRC’s neighbors should think creatively about other activities and organizations that might entice greater Chinese involvement. For instance, perhaps the exclusion of China from the TPP should be rethought. The more invested the PRC in the existing system, the less likely Zhongnanhai’s residents would be to risk disrupting the system. The more the People’s Liberation Army and other services can be shown the benefits of peaceful cooperation, the better.
There’s always been a naïve affliction in the West that deep-seated political and ideological differences melt away with a little friendship diplomacy. The gulf between China’s authoritarian system of state capitalism and America’s democratic system with looser economic control is great. Yet the best sales force for America tend to be Americans in business, education, athletics, culture, and even the military—so long as participants are not shooting at each other, of course.
The last couple of years have not been kind to the PRC’s “peaceful rise.” America and China’s neighbors increasingly are looking at Chinese naval vessels as a threat. However, RIMPAC showcases them in a different role. It will be up to Beijing, its Pacific neighbors, and the U.S. to find other opportunities to further invest the PRC in the existing geopolitical order.
Doing so won’t be enough to keep the peace in the decades ahead. But it would nonetheless be a useful step in the right direction.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
|Title:||NGOs and Their Ideas Seen as Hurting Development Should Be Countered, Not Banned|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:17 EDT|
|Description:||Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar
Free access to ideas of all sorts is a fundamental right. Many ideas may be terrible, but battles against them should be fought in the high country of the mind, not through censorship or bans. Caveat: ideas accompanied by or leading to violence are subject to reasonable restrictions. Yet, such restrictions need to be minimal. We do not, for instance, ban Marxist schools of thought although they seek to overthrow democracy and liquidate class enemies. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) seems unaware of or opposed to a free flow of ideas.
In a report leaked to the media, it alleges that Greenpeace and other NGOs are using foreign money to launch anti-nuclear, anti-coal and anti-GM food agitations, thus reducing India’s GDP growth by a whopping 2-3% per year. The report expresses outrage that one NGO has got funding for criticising the Gujarat model of development. The IB suggests screening and stopping all foreign funding of NGOs that support such “antinational” activities.
This is plain wrong. Every human being has a right to her own concept of what is good or bad for development. I disagree strongly with many NGOs on some issues, while agreeing with them on others. To oppose nuclear power, e-waste, large dams or carbon emissions can, in some cases, be called misguided. But it is not anti-national. It is a rival view of what development should be about. No thinking person views GDP as the only measure of development. If you go by GDP alone, Mahatma Gandhi was far more anti-development than Greenpeace.
He believed that happiness lay in reducing one’s wants, not in consuming more. This would be devastating for GDP growth, of course, but the Mahatma did not think that mattered. He opposed modern machinery, swore by handspun cloth, and wanted India to be a collection of self-sufficient village republics. If implemented, these ideas would have slashed GDP growth by much more than the 2-3% than the IB complains about.
Call the Lie
But what is the basis for the IB’s estimate anyway? The 2-3% of GDP it claims as the annual loss is around Rs 2,00,000-3,00,000 crore. Has it cited any respectable economist in this matter? Does it have a peer-reviewed model? Not at all. Worse, the sums received from abroad by the “anti-development” NGOs have averaged barely Rs 50 crore or so per year. The government can easily spend 10 times as much on exposing the falsity of NGO claims (there is indeed much falsehood around). If at the end of it all, the NGOs carry more credibility than the government or IB, the reason cannot be that dollars are somehow more convincing than rupees.
I would agree with the IB that some foreign-financed NGO crusades and agitations are based on halftruths and plain falsehoods. But that is equally true of agitations by Indian organisations and political parties. Many agitations claiming to promote the public interest actually harm it. Yet, these notions must be combated in public debate, not by executive fiat. Alas, bad ideas are so widely supported by purely desilobbies in India that foreign money is just the icing on the cake. Blame the cake, not the icing.
[pullquote]Many ideas may be terrible, but battles against them should be fought in the high country of the mind, not through censorship or bans.[/pullquote]
Many foreign-funded NGOs are indeed trying to impose their own priorities on India. Their top priorities are carbon emissions and GM foods. But in India, the biggest causes of death are unclean water and indoor pollution from smoky cooking fires. We need every sort of agricultural research, including GM research, to boost farm incomes and reduce poverty. Perhaps the greatest Indian environmental problem of all is free electricity for farmers, which leads to overpumping, and hence to the destruction of acquifers.
Funds Skew Priorities
Alas, you will not find Indian NGOs agitating against free farm electricity. You will not find them agitating in favour of GM crop research. Without doubt, foreign funding has skewed their priorities. But why blame foreigners for that? It’s only natural for crusaders to have their own priorities. It is up to Indians to resist false priorities, and establish their own.
Running an NGO
I need to make some disclosures about my own possible biases. I run my own NGO, the Mukundan Charitable Trust. I am associated with NGOs like the Centre for Civil Society and Centre for North-Eastern Studies (for whom I have a financed a fleet of medical ships taking doctors to three million people living on islands in the Brahmaputra). I have helped finance tribal land rights, micro-housing, micro-pensions, microfinance and vocational training schemes. In sum, I am squarely in the NGO business myself.
But hopefully, I can claim to be bias-free in this matter since I use only my own funds, and accept nothing from Indian or foreign donors. Also, I strongly oppose Greenpeace and other foreign-funded NGOs on many development issues. Nevertheless, I support their right to spread ideas freely, regardless of whether these are financed by dollars or rupees. I agree with Voltaire’s quote, “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||America's Stupidest Criminal Laws|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:04 EDT|
Imagine this: two defendants, same age, smoke a joint with some friends one July evening in their respective apartments. Neither has a criminal record. Both get caught; one faces an extra two years in jail.
Why? Because he shared drugs within a certain number of feet from a school that’s been out for a month.
The so-called ‘Drug Free School Zone’ is one of many laws that create extra penalties for already illegal acts with no reasonable tie to the public’s safety or the defendant’s particular circumstances.
It hasn’t always been like this. Historically, U.S. law and custom have provided robust protections for defendants. Four amendments in the Bill of Rights directly address rights during criminal investigations. Until the 1800s, juries not only determined facts of law — that is, whether the law was broken — but whether the law in question was just in the first place.
Unfortunately, these principles have eroded over time, particularly in recent decades. Congress and many states have legislated harsher, blanket punishments for crimes considered public priorities, regardless of what a judge or jury might deem appropriate. Many times, these laws are passed with the best of intentions, often in response to tragedies involving young children. But they handicap judges and juries, making it impossible for them to determine whether or not a legislated punishment is reasonable given the facts of the case. Moreover, harsh automatic punishments give prosecutors more leverage to extract plea bargains from defendants, because a judge, upon conviction, will be obligated to inflict a harsh penalty no matter what sentence he thinks the defendant deserves.
“The stupid laws and rules promulgated over decades of ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric will take years to reform and correct.”
In a nutshell, these laws instruct our criminal justice system, “For the sake of the children, don’t think!”
Take, for example, Drug Free School Zones. In all 50 states, selling, manufacturing, and sometimes just possessing illicit drugs within a specified distance of a school, park, or daycare center may trigger a higher punishment for the underlying drug offense. Some statutes are written so broadly that huge swaths of major cities — often black or Hispanic neighborhoods with high population densities — are covered by overlapping Drug Free School Zones, negating any deterrent effect and skewing enforcement against minority communities. These penalties are applied whether or not children are involved, and even if the school is out of session.
Sex offender registries are also problematic. Taking a hard line against child predators by limiting their access to children seems perfectly reasonable. But not all sex offenders are child predators. Some individuals on the registry were prosecuted years ago at 17 or 18 for having consensual sex with their 15- or 16-year-old significant other. Even so, the law significantly limits where they can live their lives. The statutes might prevent a father from attending a daughter’s recital at her school because he was convicted of public urination after too many drinks and a long line at a concert in college.
The War on Drugs gave rise to punitive sanctions targeted at cartels and gang leaders. Ramped-up, “mandatory minimum” sentencing for weight-based drug statutes were sold as weapons against kingpins. But most often, these sentences are imposed upon low-level dealers and “mules.”
These broad statutes create a system that can’t distinguish grown men from schoolchildren, serial rapists from amorous teens, or drug mules from kingpins. Such a system is dysfunctional — stupid even.
Thankfully, state and federal policymakers are beginning to recognize this. Because stupid policy can get awfully expensive.
According to the Sentencing Project, several states, including Indiana, New Jersey, Kentucky, South Carolina, Delaware, and Connecticut, have reduced the scope and breadth of their Drug Free School Zones. Some lowered the geographical reach, others eliminated or greatly reduced mandatory minimum sentence enhancements, and still others made the offenses at least tangentially tied to exposing children to the drug trade.
The Senate is considering the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). This bill would reduce some mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, and allow many already incarcerated under the old guidelines to apply for sentence reductions
In a similar vein, the U.S. Sentencing Commission will decide whether to make recent two-level sentence reductions for all non-violent drug offenses (effective November 1, 2014) retroactively applicable to all relevant federal prisoners. More than 50,000 current federal prisoners may be eligible, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars or more.
The stupid laws and rules promulgated over decades of “tough on crime” rhetoric will take years to reform and correct. Throwing the book at offenders with well-meant but misguided lawmaking has wreaked havoc on correctional budgets while breaking up families and damaging local economies in the process. Policymakers who are now reevaluating laws and extending review to thousands of inmates subjected to blind punishment would do even better than the reforms above to let judges decide who is punished and how severely in the first place. Certainly such a system would be imperfect as well, but mistakes made in individual cases would harm far fewer people than those subjected to inflexible categorical judgment of legislators and prosecutors.
Jonathan Blanks is a writer and researcher in Washington, D.C.
|Title:||Is Poland's Alliance with America "Worthless"?|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 09:55 EDT|
The outspoken Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, apparently believes his nation’s alliance with America is “worthless.” For once, Washington should not race over to reassure him that Americans will do whatever it takes to protect Poland from whatever it faces. Instead, Warsaw should demonstrate why it is worthy of Washington’s support.
The weekly publication Wprost apparently received a recording of Sikorski’s conversation with Poland’s former finance minister. Sikorski, mentioned as a candidate for European Union foreign minister, declared: “This Polish-American union is worthless. It is even harmful because it gives Poland a false sense of security. Complete bullsh*t. We get into conflicts with the Germans, with Russia, and we think everything’s great because the Americans like us. [We are] suckers. Total suckers.”
There are suckers in the existing relationship, but they are American rather than Polish.
The United States spends more than 4 percent of its GDP on the military and accounts for three-fourths of total defense outlays by NATO members. The alliance aims for 2 percent of GDP but its members collectively only hit 1.6 percent last year. Poland has been patting itself on the back for recently hiking defense expenditures — to 1.8 percent of GDP. This year, Warsaw expects to edge up to 1.95 percent. Overall, America’s contribution to direct NATO expenditures is nearly ten times that of Poland.
The collapse of the Soviet Union exacerbated the discrepancy. While Washington preserved its globe-spanning military, its European allies quickly cut their armed forces to reflect the fact that they lost their main (and in many cases, only) enemy overnight.
Worse, the alliance expanded willy-nilly to the Russian border, bringing in nations combining minimal military capabilities and serious potential disputes with Moscow. None had ever mattered to American security, but Washington handed out security guarantees like hotels place chocolates on pillows: everyone got one — including Poland.
“Sikorski’s comments should be a wake-up call in America.”
U.S. and European officials simply assumed that they would never have to make good on their promises. Then came the crisis in Ukraine, which suggested NATO’s Article 5 guarantee might not be a dead letter. The easternmost members of the alliance started clamoring for reassurance. Most importantly, they wanted American troops on station and permanent garrisons to protect their frontiers.
No one was more insistent than the Poles. Back before he thought the alliance was worthless, Sikorski stated: “America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?” He complained that existing facilities were “legacies of the Cold War” and their locations should “take into account the events of the last quarter of a century.”
Prime Minister Donald Tusk argued: ”If there is a thing such as NATO’s border that needs diligence it would be Poland’s eastern border. The pace of increasing NATO forces could be higher.” Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniakannounced: “The U.S. must increase its presence in [Central and Eastern] Europe, also in Poland.” He later added: “In the longer-term perspective, what we would like to see very much in Poland is the development of NATO and American infrastructure and an increasing military presence of both the U.S. and NATO in our country.”
Polish National Security Bureau Chief Stanislaw Koziej opined: ”Nuclear deterrence is a very important factor that NATO has at its disposal, and it’s becoming increasingly important.” After Russia swallowed Crimea, former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski explained: ”we will have a difficult time getting through the next four or five months without very clear and very determined American leadership.” That means “something concrete” rather than just “empty words,” said Bohdan Szklarski of the University of Warsaw.
The benefits to Poland of winning a defense commitment against Russia backed by a permanent garrison from the world’s superpower are obvious. But what’s in it for America? The relationship runs one-way. Warsaw does not offer commensurate aid to the United States.
As a substitute, Poland, like several other NATO members and member wannabes, participated in Washington’s foolish wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, by encouraging the Bush administration’s misguided effort to transform the Middle East and Central Asia, Warsaw’s involvement actually was harmful. But even if the missions had been worthwhile, they didn’t compare with America promising to face down Poland’s potential, nuclear-armed antagonist. The United States could find itself facing catastrophic destruction if things went badly.
There is no security reason for the United States to risk war for Warsaw. Poland never was strategically important for Washington. The United States participated in the Versailles conference, which recreated an independent Polish state, but neither defended the latter from Nazi Germany, nor confronted the Soviet Union on behalf of Poland’s independence at the end of World War II. Washington did nothing during the 1956 Poznan uprising. In the 1976 presidential debate, Jerry Ford chose to claim that Poland didn’t view itself as occupied rather than to call for an American-led liberation campaign. Even the Reagan administration did not consider military intervention in early 1982 when the Polish government cracked down on the Solidarity union after being threatened with a Soviet invasion.
Americans always felt sympathy for the plight of the Poles — for centuries stuck among avaricious empires. Although unfortunate, even tragic, Poland’s situation is no cause for the United States to risk war. Washington’s policy changed only when Washington policy makers stopped thinking about NATO as a military alliance and began treating it as an international social club. Thus, Poland received a coveted Article 5 security guarantee.
The alliance is worthless only if the United States won’t back it. (Many, if not most, of the European members wouldn’t offer much practical aid, but NATO always stood for North America and The Others.) While it’s not certain what America would do in the event of attempted Russian coercion of Warsaw, most administrations would see that as a threat to core commitments that could not be ignored. Being Germany’s neighbor also might galvanize Berlin. At the very least, Moscow would recognize that threatening Poland carries significant risks of confrontation with America. That’s far from “worthless” for Poland.
Sikorski’s comments should be a wake-up call in America. Washington has accumulated a host of welfare dependents in Europe and elsewhere. Yet those whose teeth are most tightly clamped onto the U.S. teat appear to show the least respect for America. The real sucker in this arrangement is Washington. The United States should reconsider who it protects from whom, reserving “worthwhile” alliances for countries that offer something meaningful to America in return.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
|Title:||The Supreme Court's Aereo Effect Might Evaporate Silicon Valley's Cloud|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 09:40 EDT|
When is an online streaming service like a cable company? The US supreme court’s answer on Wednesday – sure to send chills down the spines of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs — was this: when five justices think it kinda sorta looks like one.
In a 6-3 ruling — which, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted would “sow confusion for years to come” — the court held that a company called Aereo violates copyright when it lets users tune into broadcast TV signals over the internet. But the “improvised standard” established by the court’s majority in American Broadcasting Companies v Aereo creates new uncertainty about just what an innovative tech startup must do to stay on the right side of the law — and raises questions about the legal status of familiar cloud services run by companies like Apple and Amazon.
In essence, Aereo combined two services to allow subscribers to watch free over-the-air broadcast television on a computer or mobile device. First, each subscriber effectively rented their own miniature, remotely-controlled antenna that the user could activate and tune to any local broadcast TV station. Second, subscribers got a remote DVR drive that could record, store and stream those broadcasts over the internet. The court tacitly permitted remote DVR services in 2008, when it allowed a lower court ruling blessing them to stand – yet the logic of that decision is at odds with the court’s finding on Wednesday that Aereo “publicly performs” the shows that it allows users to stream, violating federal copyright law.
Aereo’s lawyers had argued that they’re not “publicly performing” any copyrighted works at all, because each user create a personal stream using their own personal antennas. As they saw it, the service was no different than a cloud storage service like Dropbox: each user would be downloading her individual copy of a file (even if a file with the same content could be found in the personal folders of many different users). If individuals are allowed to record broadcast programming using a rented antenna on their own rooftops, and store their recording on a cloud drive, why should it make a difference whether the antenna is on Aereo’s rooftop instead of the user’s?
The court rejected that argument, noting that Congress had changed federal statute specifically to cover cable companies retransmitting broadcast programming, redefining the “public performances” restricted by copyright law to include “transmissions”. Even though Aereo functions very differently from traditional cable companies — each user remotely controlling their own antenna and drive — the court dismissed that set-up as trivial “behind-the-scenes technological differences”. The majority reasoned that, since Aereo functions “for all practical purposes” like a traditional cable company from the user’s perspective, “Congress would have as much intended to protect a copyright holder from the unlicensed activities of Aereo as from those of cable companies”.
“The majority’s odd rule creates new legal uncertainties for innovative tech start-ups and established cloud providers alike.”
Confusingly, Justice Stephen Breyer also insisted in his opinion for the majority that Congress “did not intend to discourage or control the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies”, and sought to dispel the fears of Silicon Valley that the ruling might spell doom for other types of cloud services. The Aereo decision’s definition of “performance”, Breyer wrote, only applies to a service that “communicates contemporaneously perceptible images and sounds” — distinguishing streaming a video from downloading and then playing it. Nor does the opinion state whether the “public performance right is infringed” by services whose users are paying “primarily for something other than the transmission of copyrighted works, such as the remote storage of content”.
In other words, Aereo might be legal if it streamed videos that had been first captured and uploaded by an antenna on your own rooftop. But it doesn’t — this isn’t 1998 — and so Aereo may not be allowed to exist anymore. And that doesn’t bode well for disruptive technologies that have managed to avoid being disrupted by lightning strikes. Or maybe it does.
As Scalia’s dissent points out, there’s an obvious contradiction there: on the one hand, the court says that “behind-the-scenes technological differences” between Aereo and traditional cable companies don’t matter if they serve the same function for the user because Congress meant to regulate anything cable-company-ish. On the other hand, in a confused effort to avoid spooking Silicon Valley, the justices have said that other subtle technological differences might save some services from ruinous litigation. By the majority’s odd rule, as Scalia’s characteristically blistering dissent observes, “Aereo would be free to do exactly what it is doing right now so long as it built mandatory time shifting into its ‘watch’ function” — so, whether a streaming service is legal might depend on exactly how long a video buffers on a user’s computer before it starts playing.
The court’s incoherent rule creates two possibilities: one, that this decision will prove to be Pyrrhic victory for broadcasters, because a few technical tweaks could render an Aereo-like service legal. But the more disturbing alternative is that future courts will decide that those “behind-the-scenes technological differences” aren’t so important either — imperiling a wide array of innovative cloud computing services. Either way, the uncertainty created by the court seems bound to chill innovation in this burgeoning sector of the economy.
Julian Sanchez is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||The Supreme Court Tells Cops to Back Off Your Cell Phone|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 09:28 EDT|
Well my iPhone is locked, so is the tablet in my pack, and I know my rights, so you gon’ need a warrant for that. That, with apologies to Jay-Z, is the upshot of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling today in Riley v. California (PDF), which holds that police must get a judge’s approval before rummaging through the cell phones of people they arrest — closing a potentially massive loophole in the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court’s 9-0 decision limits the scope of a longstanding exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that law enforcement officers obtain a warrant based on “probable cause” to conduct intrusive searches. Under the so-called “search incident to arrest exception,” when police place someone under arrest, they can conduct a warrantless search of the person and their immediate surroundings to look for weapons that might pose a threat to the arresting officer, as well as evidence the suspect might attempt to hastily destroy.
In the era of the smartphone, however, legal scholars have long worried that exception could metastasize, with lethal consequences for privacy. As Justice John Roberts wrote for the court, pocket-sized computers holding gigabytes of profoundly intimate data have become “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” With increasingly powerful mobile devices routinely holding entire photo albums, personal videos, records of Web-browsing history, and vast archives of private correspondence, Roberts noted, giving police free reign to look through a modern phone “would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house.”
[pullquote]For once, privacy advocates can sleep a bit easier.[/pullquote]
That’s what David Riley learned after being pulled over for driving with expired registration tags and (police soon discovered) an expired license, along with two concealed handguns. Suspecting that Riley might be a member of the Bloods street gang, the arresting officer seized his smartphone and handed it over to detectives at the station house, who “went through” it “looking for evidence.” He found “a lot of stuff” as he probed the files on the phone — including videos suggestive of gang involvement and a photo of Riley with a car police had tied to a shooting weeks earlier.
What he didn’t find, however, was a judge to issue a warrant authorizing the search. That, the Court held, was a mistake. The Fourth Amendment exception for searches incident to arrest was meant to ensure officer safety and protect evidence — not provide an excuse for police go on free-range fishing expeditions through gigabytes worth of a person’s most private data. Even when it comes to “dumb” phones, the Court said, police must get a warrant to look through digital information on a mobile device, absent some special emergency.
The Court’s unanimous rejection of such warrantless searches closes off two nightmare scenarios that had haunted the dreams of civil libertarians.
First, there was the specter of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in a 2001 case called Atwater v. Lago Vista. There, the Court had held that the Fourth Amendment does not place any limits on the “seriousness” of an offense for which someone can be arrested. That means police have the discretion to arrest people for even trivial infractions such as failure to wear a seat belt — the “crime” for which Gail Atwater had been hauled to jail.
An unlimited “search incident to arrest” exception, combined with the Atwater ruling, threatened to give police a dangerous incentive: Why jump through all the hoops needed to convince a judge to issue a digital search warrant when you can pop a suspect for loitering or jaywalking and have a free pass to delve through their e-mails and photos?
Second, and compounding the risk of such pretextual searches, there was the growing popularity of powerful forensic devices, like those manufactured by the company Cellbrite, capable of quickly copying a smartphone’s entire contents. That meant that even if a suspect were held only briefly, their files could be retained and scrutinized at leisure, with the owner potentially none the wiser.
For once, privacy advocates can sleep a bit easier. The Court’s “answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to arrest is… simple — get a warrant.”
Julian Sanchez is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||Teachers' Job Security More Important than Kids' Futures?|
|Date:||Wed, 25 Jun 2014 09:18 EDT|
Having organized a labor union at a Boston candy store when I was 15, during the Depression — where students worked nights and weekends for 35 cents an hour — I am not anti-labor union. Threatening a strike as Christmas business neared, we won our 50 cents an hour.
But in recent years, as a reporter on education, I have found teachers’ unions bullishly and contractually protective of their members’ jobs, most commonly at the expense of low-income and minority students.
For one example, “The dismissal process for grossly ineffective teachers in California is so complex and costly that it does not work; many districts do not even bother trying” (“A historic victory for America’s kids,” Campbell Brown, New York Daily News, June 11).
The “historic victory” was in Vergara v. California, a case brought by nine student plaintiffs, decided on June 10 (“Historic Victory for Students in Vergara v. California: Court Strikes Down Five Provisions of the California Education Code as Unconstitutional,” studentsmatter.org/victory).
This decision, from Judge Rolf M. Treu of the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, is not final. He had to order a stay pending an appeal — inevitable in this case.
Nonetheless, as news of this potentially huge setback for other states’ teachers’ unions spreads, many parents of public school students are organizing to bring this life-changing equal-protection reform to their children.
A June 11 New York Daily News editorial put it bluntly:
“It adds up to a glaring equal-opportunity violation that’s been ignored for decades — a gaping wound that’s been treated like a common rash” (“Justice for students,” New York Daily News, June 11).
Said Judge Treu in his ruling: “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience …
“Plaintiffs have proven … that the Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”
In its summary of the case brought by the student plaintiffs, the Students Matter organization — which was vital in the plaintiffs bringing the case to court — demonstrates how California’s current Permanent Employment Statute (other states have similar laws) makes it hard to dismiss a grossly incompetent teacher:
“(It) forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after an evaluation period of less than 16 months — before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher induction programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term” (studentsmatter.org).
And dig this: “The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works.
“Out of 275,000 teachers statewide, 2.2 teachers are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance per year on average, which amounts to 0.0008 percent.”
For the record, California’s two largest teachers unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, opposed the students.
Furthermore, there are times when a federal grant or a particular state legislature’s grant for education disappears because of a sharp decline in the economy, or a reversal of political party leadership in Congress or the state legislature. I’ve seen this in my coverage of education issues in New York State and elsewhere.
This, invariably, results in cuts in the number of teachers, which means those most recently hired are immediately fired. That includes younger teachers who belong to independent national organizations devoted to equal educational opportunities for low-income and handicapped students.
As I’ve seen and reported, these dedicated newcomers often are beginning to bring higher expectations and the enjoyment of learning into their classrooms.
So, too, is this happening in California, argues Campbell Brown, founder of Parents’ Transparency Project, a public education watchdog organization.
She writes in the Daily News: “California’s ‘last-in, first-out’ law gives top priority in a time of layoffs to ineffective teachers if they have seniority while better teachers with fewer years are sent packing.
“The judge called that a lose-lose situation, supported by logic that was ‘unfathomable.’”
“The Vergara case reflects just the start of opportunities for action in other states, where many leaders are searching for better ways to evaluate teachers … in 38 states, the cumbersome teacher dismissal process allows multiple appeals. This is not due process; it is an undue burden on those trying to protect teacher quality.”
So, it’s now up to parents throughout the nation to follow Vergara’s lead “and take matters into their own hands. It is empowering to know the courts can help.”
“Empowering,” but often too rare for certain kids without labor unions representing them.
How many of you will remember the Vergara case in 2016?
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
|Title:||GO: J.M. Keynes Versus J.-B. Say|
|Date:||Tue, 24 Jun 2014 10:13 EDT|
|Description:||Steve H. Hanke
In late April of this year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it would start reporting a new data series as part of the U.S. national income accounts. In addition to gross domestic product (GDP), the BEA will start reporting gross output (GO). This announcement went virtually unnoticed and unreported — an unfortunate, but not uncommon, oversight on the part of the financial press. Yes, GO represents a significant breakthrough.
A brief review of some history of economic thought will show just why GO is a big deal. The Classical School of economics prevailed roughly from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations time (1776) to the mid-19th century. It focused on the supply side of the economy. Production was the wellspring of prosperity.
“Reporting gross output (GO) is a big deal.”
The French economist J.-B. Say (1767-1832) was a highly regarded member of the Classical School. To this day, he is best known for Say’s Law of markets. In the popular lexicon — courtesy of John Maynard Keynes — this law simply states that “supply creates its own demand.” But, according to Steven Kates, one of the world’s leading experts on Say, Keynes’ rendition of Say’s Law distorts its true meaning and leaves its main message on the cutting room floor.
Say’s message was clear: a demand failure could not cause an economic slump. This message was accepted by virtually every major economist, prior to the publication of Keynes’ General Theory in 1936. So, before the General Theory, even though most economists thought business cycles were in the cards, demand failure was not listed as one of the causes of an economic downturn.
All this was overturned by Keynes. Kates argues convincingly that Keynes had to set Say up as a sort of straw man so that he could remove Say’s ideas from the economists’ discourse and the public’s thinking. Keynes had to do this because his entire theory was based on the analysis of demand failure, and his prescription for putting life back into aggregate demand — namely, a fiscal stimulus (read: lower taxes and/or higher government spending).
Keynes was wildly successful. With the publication of the General Theory, the supply side of the economy almost entirely vanished. It was replaced by aggregate demand, which was faithfully reported in the national income accounts. In consequence, aggregate demand has dominated economic discourse and policy ever since.
Among other things, Keynes threw economics into the sphere of macro economics. It is here where economic aggregates are treated as homogenous variables for purposes of analysis. But, with such innocent looking aggregates, there lurks a world of danger. Indeed, because of the demand-side aggregates that Keynes’ analysis limited us to, we were left with things like the aggregate sizeof consumption and government spending. The structure of the economy — the supply side — was nowhere to be found.
Yes, there were various rear-guard actions against this neglect of the supply side. Notable were economists from the Austrian School of Economics,such as Nobelist Friedrich Hayek. There were also devotees of input-out put analysis, like Nobelist Wassily Leontief. He and his followers stayed away from grand macroeconomic aggregates;they focused on the structure of the economy. There were also branches of economics — like agricultural economics– that were focused on production and the supply side of the economy. But,these fields never pretended to be part of macroeconomics.
Then came the supply-side revolution in the 1980s. It was associated with the likes of Nobelist Robert Mundell. This revolution was carried out, in large part, on the pagesof The Wall Street Journal, where J.-B.Say reappeared like a phoenix. The Journal’s late-editor Robert Bartley recounts the centrality of Say in his book The Seven Fat Years: And How to Do It Again (1992) “I remember Art Laffer telling me I had to learn Say’s Law. ‘That’s what I believe in’, he professed. ‘That’s what you believe in.’”
It is worth mentioning that the onslaught by Keynes on Say was largely ignored by many economic practitioners who attempt to anticipate the course of the economy. For them,the supply side of the economy has always received their most careful and anxious attention. For example, the Conference Board’s index of leading indicators for the U.S. economy is predominantly made up of supply-side indicators. Bloomberg’s supply-chain analysis function (SPLC) is yet another tool that indicates what practitioners think about when they conduct economic and financial analyses.
But, when it comes to the public and the debate about public policies, there is nothing quite like official data. So, until now, demand-side GDP data produced by the government has dominated the discourse. With GO, GDP’s monopoly will be broken as the U.S. government will provide official data on the supply side of the economy and its structure. GO data will complement, not replace, traditional GDP data. That said, GO data will improve our understanding of the business cycle and also improve the quality of the economic policy discourse.
So, what makes up the conventional measure of GDP and the new GO measure? And what makes up the gross domestic expenditures (GDE)measure, a more comprehensive, close cousin of GO? The accompanying two tables answer those questions. And for readers who are more visually inclined,bar charts for the two new metrics — GO and GDE — are presented.
Now, it’s official. Supply-side (GO) and demand-side (GDP) data are both provided by the U.S. government. How did this counter revolution come about? There have been many counter revolutionaries, but one stands out: Mark Skousen of Chapman University. Skousen’s book The Structure of Production, which was first published in 1990, backed his advocacy with heavy artillery. Indeed, it is Skousen who is, in part, responsible for the government’s move to provide a clearer, more comprehensive picture of the economy, with GO. And it is Skousen who is solely responsible for calculating GDE.
These changes are big, not only conceptually, but also numerically. Indeed, in 2013 GO was 76.4% larger, and GDE was 120.4% larger, than GDP. Why? Because GDP only measures the value of all final goods and services in the economy. GDP ignores all the intermediate steps required to produce GDP. GO corrects for most of those omissions. GDE goes even further, and is more comprehensive than GO.
Even though the always clever Keynes temporarily buried J.-B. Say, the great Say is back. With that, the relative importance of consumption and government expenditures withers away (see the accompanying bar charts). And, yes, the alleged importance of fiscal policy withers away, too.
Contrary to what the standard textbooks have taught us and what that pundits repeat ad nauseam, consumption is not the big elephant in the room. The elephant is business expenditures.
Steve H. Hanke is Professor of Applied Economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @Steve_Hanke. Sign up to receive Prof. Hanke’s articles and distributions.
|Title:||The Iraq War Was a Bipartisan Disaster|
|Date:||Tue, 24 Jun 2014 08:07 EDT|
“Sorry” seems to be the hardest word for neoconservatives who championed the Iraq War, but sometimes they manage to squeeze it out.
Here, for instance, is former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen in Wednesday’s Washington Post: “Sorry, but this is a mess of President Obama’s making.”
It’s a common refrain among unrepentant hawks. In a piece titled “What Obama Has Wrought in Iraq,” Thiessen’s American Enterprise Institute colleague Danielle Pletka insists that “when the United States fled Iraq in 2011, the country was stable, reasonably integrated, and on the road to new prosperity and unprecedented freedom.”
“We tend to think of the Iraq War as a neoconservative project, and with good reason. But they weren’t alone.”
“We had it won,” declares Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Thanks to the 2007 troop surge, Obama had inherited “a strong Iraq,” only to squander it rushing to the exits.
Watching the ongoing collapse of the Iraqi state not three years later, you have to wonder just how “strong” and stable it could have been in the first place. We’ve spent $25 billion over the last decade building up the Iraqi security forces, only to get an updated version of the old gibe about the South Vietnamese Army: “want to buy some ISF rifles? Never been fired and only dropped once!”
But Iraq wasn’t “lost” in 2011, when Obama failed to broker a deal that would let U.S. troops stay. Iraq was a losing proposition from the start.
In April 2003, as U.S. forces rolled into Baghdad, the Carnegie Endowment’s Minxin Pei and Sara Kasper warned that “historically, nation-building attempts by outside powers are notable mainly for their bitter disappointments, not their triumphs.” Democratization-at-gunpoint is nearly always a fool’s errand, and especially foolish in a socially fractured basket case like the Iraq of 2003.
In 14 cases of nation-building in underdeveloped societies, Pei and Kaplan noted, the United States achieved its aims only in tiny Panama and Grenada: “a success rate of just 14 percent.” Moreover, they cautioned, “ethnically fragmented countries, such as Iraq, pose extraordinary challenges to nation builders because, lacking a common national identity, various ethnic groups … tend to seize the rare opportunity of outsiders’ intervention to seek complete independence or gain more power. This can trigger national disintegration or a backlash from other ethnic groups, with the outside powers caught in the middle.”
Indeed, “despite what interveners hope,” writes George Washington University’s Alexander B. Downes, “more than 40 percent of states that experience foreign-imposed regime change have a civil war within the next 10 years.”
Obama’s great mistake, then, according to the neoconservatives, was that he missed his chance to have U.S. troops stick around, “caught in the middle.” The idea was to keep a residual force of perhaps 20,000 Americans there indefinitely, taking fire while waiting for the emergence of the Shiite Nelson Mandela. Not a great plan.
If Iraq was a doomed enterprise from outset, who’s to blame? We tend to think of the Iraq War as a neoconservative project, and with good reason. But they weren’t alone.
“The underrated villains in this drama,” Matt Yglesias observes, “are the leading Democratic Party politicians of the 2002-2003 era.” Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Madeline Albright — “the whole crew” — went along. In 2003, center-left opinion on Iraq was dominated by a kettle of “Liberal Hawks” nearly indistinguishable from the neoconservative variety. Brookings scholars proved instrumental as well, playing a key role in getting liberal opinion leaders behind the war.
Many “one-semester neoconservatives” renounced their liberal hawkery when they saw the results. But others retain their faith in the healing force of American arms.
“Obama’s Favorite Think Tank: We Should Prepare to Bomb Iraq” the Daily Beast reports, citing a new white paper from the Center for American Progress.
The Iraq War was a bipartisan disaster — and one we seem all-too-capable of repeating.
Gene Healy, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency.
|Title:||America Should Stay out of Iraq's Revived Killfest: Only Iraqis Can Save Their Country|
|Date:||Mon, 23 Jun 2014 09:49 EDT|
The uber-hawks and neocons like Richard Cheney who led America into the disastrous invasion of Iraq are campaigning for a repeat. If only the U.S. will go to war along the Euphrates a second time, they promise, everything will turn out well.
Americans should ignore these Sirens of Death. Attempting to forcibly transform Iraq never was Washington’s responsibility. Having botched the job once, U.S. policymakers should not try again. There certainly is no public support for new military adventures in Mesopotamia.
There was much to despise about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He was a murderous thug with outsize ambitions, but he helped constrain Iran, America’s and Israel’s more feared nemesis. Hussein also enforced an ugly stability at home: he held his fractured country together, suppressed sectarian violence, allowed Christians and other religious minorities to live in peace, and kept al-Qaeda out of areas under his control.
As many analysts, including yours truly, warned, his forced departure would be welcome in principle but bloody in practice. Thousands of Americans killed, tens of thousands of wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, millions displaced, historic Christian communities ravaged, triumphant Shiites wielding a sectarian state against angry Sunnis, bitter conflict spawning violent jihadists, cities acting as terrorist training camps, and metastasizing Iranian influence. Such is George W. Bush’s legacy.
Yet he found little gratitude in Baghdad for Americans’ sacrifice. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled with a harsh hand, favored his Shia supporters, and rejected a permanent U.S. military garrison. President Barack Obama achieved no more success in dealing with Maliki. Attempting to force a permanent U.S. presence would have created popular resentment, put Washington’s imprimatur on an authoritarian, corrupt regime, and turned American military personnel into targets of angry mobs and trained terrorists.
“The Middle East appears to be a tragedy permanently set on repeat.”
Nor would a U.S. garrison have saved Iraq from internal collapse. American troops could not have forced positive political change. Washington’s only leverage would come from threatening to withdraw its forces—which Maliki almost certainly would have accepted before relaxing control. Employing U.S. troops against Baghdad’s opponents, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other Sunni extremists, would have been far worse. Eight years of war and occupation was enough. America had no obligation to safeguard the artificial Iraqi state and preserve incompetent sectarian rule forever.
Washington nevertheless helped arm the Iraqi military, but a secret program begun last year to aid Baghdad against Sunni militants foundered. The Maliki government failed to maintain an effective force. Earlier this year the Obama administration sent an assessment team to Iraq which found, according to the Wall Street Journal: “Sunni Army officers had been forced out, overall leadership had declined, the Iraqi military wasn’t maintaining its equipment and had stopped conducting rigorous training.” These failings were dramatically illustrated when Iraqi military units melted away in the face of ISIS attacks, with soldiers stripping off their uniforms and abandoning their weapons.
Having sown the wind, the Maliki government now is reaping the whirlwind. It lost control of Fallujah in December. In the last couple of weeks it surrendered Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, Tikrit, Hussein’s home town, and several border crossings with Syria. Prime Minister Maliki never was much of a giant; he now appears to have an entire body of clay.
Yet the situation is not nearly as threatening for Washington as for Baghdad. So far ISIS has acted as an insurgency in both Syria and Iraq, not a terrorist group targeting America. In fact, the organization’s break with al-Qaeda reflected the latter’s focus on the “far enemy,” that is, the U.S. In contrast, ISIS is seeking to establish a real state in the Middle East, and the organization’s willingness to kill the impure within does not mean it wants to risk its practical gains in a war without against the U.S. Obviously this could change, but Washington should not encourage retaliation against Americans by needlessly striking the group.
Moreover, Iraq will not fall under ISIS control and become a terrorist state. Despite grabbing most of Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, the radicals lack the resources necessary to conquer Iraq or even take Baghdad. Their Sunni allies want regional autonomy or a fairer distribution of the national spoils, not a radical Islamic state. So far Baathist loyalists and tribal leaders have cooperated with ISIS to oust their Shia overlords, but the former are not likely to accept permanent Islamist rule. In fact, some clashes already have occurred. Moreover, by making the conflict into a stark religious war ISIS has galvanized Iraq’s Shia majority, with young men joining the military and Shiite militias cooperating with security forces. A bitter and potentially long struggle between essentially lawless paramilitaries on both sides impends.
Into this violent and unpredictable imbroglio President Obama is sending “up to 300” Special Forces. Even worse, he maintains the possibility of “targeted, precise military action,” presumably meaning air and drone strikes. Of course, his objectives appear modest compared to those of Frederick Kagan and William Kristol, who called for use of American ground units to not only stop ISIS, but bring the Shia-dominated government to heel, demobilize Shiite militias, limit Tehran’s influence, and force the withdrawal of any Iranian military units.
Taking on Baghdad and Tehran as well as ISIS simultaneously wouldn’t likely end well. As for dealing with Sunni militants, Maliki’s Shia-dominated government has the required numbers and resources. If money was all that was needed, the $14 billion that America spent on the Iraqi security forces should suffice. But Baghdad’s military lacks leadership and commitment while the Iraqi state lacks credibility and will. These Washington cannot provide, especially with the Iraqi people having so little faith in their government.
The administration has pushed Maliki to be more inclusive—as U.S. officials did unsuccessfully when America still occupied that nation. In his inimitable fashion, Vice President Joe Biden called on Iraqis to “pull together” to end sectarianism. Receiving no response to this stirring call to action, Washington now is not so subtly attempting to oust Maliki from power. This is a dubious venture.
For the record the president stated that it is “not the place for the United States to choose Iraq’s leaders.” However, a week ago the president said that a precursor to American military action was “a political plan by Iraqis that gives us assurances that they are prepared to work together.” Maliki then pointedly rejected demands for his scalp, even as a condition of aid. After all, he has been in power for eight years and finished first in the parliamentary election two months ago.
Now the administration is promising assistance, which likely will increase Maliki’s determination to stand firm. His spokesman called on Washington to back the government against ISIS rather than encourage personnel changes. Many Shiites have rallied around Maliki and Iran continues to back him. Any concessions he reluctantly grants could be revoked the moment the crisis passes. The U.S. effort to displace him will make cooperation with Maliki and his supporters more difficult.
Even successfully defenestrating him might bring little improvement—in searching for a new premier U.S. officials apparently have been talking with a number of figures, some of whom are untested or even less credible than Maliki. Such as Ahmed Chalabi, the corrupt expatriate once on Washington’s payroll whose “informant” helped lie America into the war. Afterwards Chalabi became quite friendly with the Iranians. He is an unlikely miracle-worker. Moreover, pushing someone else into power would tie America to him, something Washington oft has ended up regretting. The U.S. once promoted Maliki.
Military action is even more problematic. Airpower offers no simple solution. The allies employed some 25,000 strikes on behalf of highly-motivated opposition forces in Libya and the latter still took several months to triumph in a desert-oriented campaign. Air strikes have limited effectiveness in urban warfare and cannot liberate captured cities. To limit “collateral damage” airpower best relies on ground support for targeting, something that could not be left to sectarian Iraqi forces.
Unfortunately, while an air campaign would minimize the risk to U.S. military personnel it would not insulate Americans from terrorism. Another war on Muslims would make even more enemies of America. Indeed, targeting Sunni areas would mean killing people, including noncombatants, who once allied with Washington against al-Qaeda, the key to the success of the Bush “surge.” The U.S. cannot escape blowback if it joins another Mideast conflict.
A durable solution is more likely to emerge from diplomatic consultations among the major Middle Eastern powers, Shiite and Sunni. De facto partition, perhaps with autonomous Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish zones within a highly federalized state, offers at least a possibility of peaceful coexistence. Something similar may be best for Syria as well, with the artificial historic boundaries honored for purposes of international diplomacy but little more. While Washington could help advance such an approach, no plan will succeed without support of regional states and local peoples.
The Middle East appears to be a tragedy permanently set on repeat. That is a reason for America to stay out, not jump in. Speaking of Iran’s sectarian proclivities, the president opined that “old habits die hard.” His sentiment more accurately applies to Washington’s compulsion to intervene militarily all over the world all the time.
A decade ago America foolishly blew up one of the most important countries in the Middle East. The rise of ISIS and fragmentation of Iraq are merely two among many unintended consequences of the U.S. invasion. Obviously the U.S. did not leave behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq,” as President Obama claimed in 2011. Getting involved again will not do so either. America cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Washington should learn a little humility and leave the clean-up to others.
Invading Iraq was a disastrous decision. Americans have paid in blood; Barack Obama should not repeat Bush’s mistake.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including “Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.” (Xulon Press).
|Title:||Cancel Aid to Egypt|
|Date:||Mon, 23 Jun 2014 09:45 EDT|
Much about the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been an embarrassment. Some of its failures, such as Iraq, must be shared with its predecessor. In Egypt President Barack Obama and especially Secretary of State John Kerry incompetently followed in the footsteps of several administrations.
Three years ago Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship ingloriously collapsed. Although student-led protests in Cairo triggered the regime’s demise, it was Mubarak’s plan to move from military rule to family rule that led the generals to abandon him. The Obama administration was constantly following events, first embracing Mubarak, then calling for a negotiated transition, and finally endorsing his overthrow. The Egyptian people ignored Washington at every turn.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral success upset the military’s plans to retain power, but the “deep state” persisted. Mohamed Morsi was elected president, but he had little control—not over the military, which was an empire unto itself, or the police, which refused even to defend the Brotherhood’s headquarters from mob attack, or the courts, whose judges were Mubarak holdovers, or the bureaucracy, staffed during three decades of Mubarak’s rule.
“Leave Egyptians to settle their fate.”
Nearly a year ago General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi squashed any possibility of the government slipping outside the military’s control by staging a coup. He coordinated with anti-Morsi demonstrators to take over in the name of democracy, but quickly set about arresting anyone who dared to criticize the coup or its excesses. Since then thousands have been killed, hundreds sentenced to death, and tens of thousands detained. Human rights leaders who led demonstrations against Mubarak are among those receiving lengthy prison terms for organizing protests against Sisi.
Through it all the Obama administration took the least principled position possible. Although U.S. law required a cut-off of financial aid, the president simply refused to characterize the coup as a coup, as if not saying the word made it something else. Officials worried about lost leverage, even though Egyptian officials have always ignored Washington’s political advice. They had little reason to worry; the U.S. had never before stopped subsidizing Cairo’s authoritarian and corrupt rulers. When Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states stepped forward waving large wads of cash, Sisi and his fellow generals lost any reason to heed American advice.
Washington eventually held back the military portion of the $1.55 billion in planned U.S. assistance, apparently to demonstrate a little, but not too much, disapproval. Particularly grotesque regime abuses—mass death sentences imposed in trials offering little evidence against any of the accused, for instance—earned complaints from the Obama administration, but then Secretary Kerry would suggest that democracy still was moving forward. In April the administration said it would allow distribution of half of the $1.3 billion in military aid, and would deliver ten Apache helicopters to Egypt’s military. When I visited Egypt a couple months ago I found that virtually everyone believed America was on the wrong side, a notable if not particularly worthy achievement by the administration.
Now Congress has an opportunity to set things right. Last year Cairo was slated to collect $1.3 billion in military and $250 million in economic assistance. The first always was simply a bribe to Egypt’s real rulers. Since Gamal Abdel al-Nasser seized power in 1952 until Mubarak’s ouster, military leaders directly ran the state. Although conceived of as an incentive to convince Cairo to keep the peace with Israel, the Egyptian military, which has not fought a war in more than four decades, has the most to lose from any hostilities. Egypt would be defeated, and defeated badly, which would cost the generals their expensive toys and probably their power. These days U.S. assistance is as much as subsidy for American defense contractors as it is for Egyptian leaders.
The economic payments lack the political benefit of directly paying off the regime. Moreover, a half-century of development aid has yielded few examples where such transfers actually promote economic growth. More often, government-to-government payments underwrite dirigiste policies and discourage reform by masking the pain of failure. Egypt needs economic reform, not foreign subsidies.
House Republicans, apparently enthused with President Sisi’s promise to smite Islamists—along with everyone else who has the temerity to criticize him ever so slightly—proposed a nominal $50 million cut in economic assistance. (Congressmen Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann actually wanted to increase aid in the name of fighting terrorism, even though the regime has targeted all opponents.) That’s barely enough for the new dictator to notice, especially since the military would continue collecting its usual payments to purchase high-tech weapons which are more for show than use. Indeed, military service is good business, since the armed forces control up to 40 percent of the economy. Officers live very well, especially compared to the many Egyptians who cannot find work.
In contrast, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed to reduce military aid to $1 billion and economic assistance to $150 million. That’s a $400 million reduction. U.S. aid still violates the law, which calls for a cut-off of subsidies after a coup. But at least the amount is noticeable.
However, even the Senate doesn’t go far enough. Congress should end all aid. The administration should shut up about democracy. The Pentagon should be left to cooperate with the Egyptian military on essential tasks, including access to the Suez Canal. The U.S. would still have plenty of leverage—after all, Egypt’s generals will want to continue purchasing newer and better toys, as well as acquiring spare parts for existing weapons.
There is no good answer to Egypt. No one knows how a Morsi presidency would have turned out, but skepticism of the Brotherhood in power is understandable, given the abuses of Islamists elsewhere. We do know how a Sisi presidency is likely to turn out: a rerun of Mubarak’s authoritarian and corrupt reign. That’s not attractive either. Repressive rule isn’t even likely to deliver stability, since the Egyptian people will eventually tire of yet another government which engages in jackbooted arrests, brutal torture, and arbitrary punishment, while failing to deliver economic growth.
The best Washington can do is stay out. Subsidize no one, endorse no one. Stop talking nonsense about democracy. Don’t publicly offer the government advice sure to be rejected. Work privately to advance important interests. Leave Egyptians to settle their fate. Things still might fall apart in Cairo. But for the first time in four decades, America really wouldn’t be at fault.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).
|Title:||Time for America to Set Its Foreign-Policy Priorities|
|Date:||Mon, 23 Jun 2014 09:41 EDT|
In the Middle East, for instance, the president should drop his policy of incremental escalation in Syria. The battle is tragic, but no one knows what would emerge if Bashar al-Assad were ousted. Almost certainly, fighting would continue, reprisals would be made and radical forces, such as ISIS, would be empowered. The assumption that administration officials can craft just the right approach, giving the right weapons to the right groups to ensure a liberal, democratic, unified pro-American state, qualifies as a fairy tale worthy of the Brothers Grimm. Washington should back away from the conflict.
“The U.S. government is financially bankrupt and can ill afford to police the world.”
In Europe, Ukraine remains far from the continent’s population and economic centers that the United States spent decades defending. Kiev’s situation is unfortunate, but Washington cannot change Ukraine’s geographic destiny. American policy makers never viewed Ukraine’s status as vital when it was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The country matters even less strategically to America today. There should be no thought of military involvement by the United States or NATO, nor should Washington foreclose the possibility of cooperation with Russia on more important issues—Iran’s nuclear program and withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example—in a vain attempt to dissuade Moscow from acting on interests Russia views as vital.
In Asia, nowhere is there more dramatic disparity than on the Korean peninsula, where the South has a GDP and population respectively forty times and twice those of the North. The Republic of Korea could deploy a military capable of deterring North Korean adventurism. Instead of concentrating on defense, in the past, Seoul has instead shipped cash, food and other goods north in an attempt to buy goodwill—even as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was building nuclear weapons. In Korea, Washington can rightly claim, “mission accomplished”: South Korea is populous and prosperous, and should take over responsibility for its own defense.
These issues are just the start. In a world of diminishing resources (Washington faces a debt tsunami in the years ahead, with more than $200 trillion in accumulated unfunded liabilities), the United States can no longer be expected to solve every international problem, especially through military means. American policy makers should begin to make tough choices. Now.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (co-author).
|Title:||Global Warming Believers Deny Reality|
|Date:||Mon, 23 Jun 2014 08:11 EDT|
|Description:||Richard W. Rahn
Much of the media treat those who are skeptics about man-made global warming with the pejorative term “global-warming deniers,” as if they were Holocaust deniers. Yet many of those in the media who watched presidential spokesperson Jay Carney engage in what can only politely be called “reality denial” day after day were-all-too silent about his obvious misstatements.
Reality deniers get away with many of their fibs because we live in an age in which we have been taught that most statements of fact are really conditional, and there is always a possibility that some outrageous statement could be true or something that most people believe to be true could be false. The Obama administration manages to sell to the gullible media that their proposals to mitigate global warming by spending trillions of dollars and destroying millions of jobs over the next few decades are necessary for our survival as a species. The administration, though, admits that if the president manages to implement all of his new rules and laws, the world would only be two-tenths of 1 degree Fahrenheit cooler in a hundred years than if we did nothing. There is no real benefit to forcing all of those coal miners in West Virginia and elsewhere to lose their jobs.
“Reality deniers prefer to waste resources on a potential threat a century from now than to deal with the immediate threats to our well-being.”
When asked, reality deniers cannot tell you what the optimum amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should be (currently, it is about 0.04 percent). We do know that more carbon dioxide causes plants to grow faster, and that is why they pump the gas into greenhouses. We also know that the world is getting greener. Studies have shown that world vegetation increased somewhere between 11 percent and 14 percent in the years 1982 to 2011, which means that food is more plentiful and that there is more habitat for wildlife. The southern Sahara (the Sahel) and the Amazon are getting greener, not drier (as many radical environmentalists have claimed). This is just one of the side benefits of a little more carbon dioxide. By the way, the Earth has not warmed in the past 17 years, as the reality deniers and their models claimed it would. The oceans have been rising since the end of the last ice age. About 20 years ago when better satellite technology became available, it appeared that the oceans were rising at a bit faster rate of about one foot per century, yet that rate has slowed for the last nine years.
In the coming years, we face many problems that are far more likely to kill people than global warming — unsustainable government debt and global terrorism — but the reality deniers prefer to waste resources on a potential threat a century from now than to deal with the immediate threats to our well-being.
Reality deniers seem to think we can make people wealthier just by mandating things like a high minimum wage. Such folks ignore the fact that the least skilled will not be hired at all, and prices will be higher on many goods and services, which is most painful for low-income people. The fact is the minimum wage is cruel and liberty-destroying for many people, by denying them the opportunity to work for less for various reasons, including developing job skills.
Every time I see a politician demanding that the government spend more for this or that, without cutting some other program by an equal or greater amount, I know they are reality deniers, because numerous studies show that the U.S. government (and that of most other countries) spend far more than the optimum amount for economic growth and job creation. That is, all the additional spending will only make things worse, not better.
Those who advocate higher taxes, or more regulations or more big-government bureaucracies like Veterans Affairs or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are reality deniers, because they ignore all of evidence of the last 2,500 years as to why big government makes us worse off rather than better off.
The reason the political class is so filled with reality deniers is all too many voters are also reality deniers. Out of ignorance or the inability to think beyond Stage One, they think they can get something for nothing and, hence, are willing to vote for those who promise fantasyland.
At some point, many reality deniers seem to start believing their own lies, that lying doesn’t matter or the public is too stupid to notice they are lying. The missing IRS emails are a case in point. Certainly, there is a very, very small probability that the critical emails of those who just happened to be under congressional investigation were all destroyed in a computer crash and only theirs were not backed up. Fortunately, most people have a sense of how small that probability is, so when Rep. Paul Ryan (who is still connected to reality) tells the IRS commissioner (a reality denier) that he does “not believe” him, Mr. Ryan wins.
Richard W. Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.
|Title:||Why America Must Choose Its Partners Wisely|
|Date:||Sat, 21 Jun 2014 09:53 EDT|
President Obama has called for increased U.S. assistance to the Iraqi government to deal with escalating instability and a violent Sunni insurgency. But Iraq’s resurgent violence and vulnerability to the threat of radical rebels cannot be divorced from the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The current debate about the extent, form, and limits of U.S. military aid highlights the challenges of even limited foreign internal defense (FID) assistance to help other states tackle their security problems.
Iraq is emblematic of a larger challenge. At several points, President Obama’s West Point address last month emphasized the role of “partner countries” that could leverage U.S. assistance to counter security threats within their own borders and regions. But the president’s speech and subsequent debate about it have largely failed to provide criteria for selecting these partners.
“Iraq is emblematic of a larger challenge.”
Iraq’s headlines join others over the past year: the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab’s siege of Westgate Mall in Kenya, unrest in northern Mali, continuing instability in Libya, the list goes on. All of these cases have produced calls for U.S. assistance or intervention, or highlighted the role of existing or past American aid and debated increasing such aid. Iraq is somewhat unique in the wealth of information the American public and policy makers have about it, but these other cases share some of the risks identified in Iraq.
“Helping others defend themselves” sounds more attractive than “defending third parties from one another,” particularly while facing a fiscal and domestic political reality that limits the prospect for direct intervention. However, how do we tell the difference between states we can “partner” into effective and self-sufficient stability, versus those that risk pulling the United States into local quagmires or exacerbating security problems?
For partnerships to be effective, they generally require effective partners. To be sure, U.S. engagement may aim to improve these states’ capabilities, but a policy based on partnerships still needs a litmus test to sort out good partners from potential risks. Choosing good partners requires information. While some states refuse U.S. assistance, others pursue American aid and then seek to use it for unrelated purposes.
The current Iraq debate highlights Maliki’s sectarian policies as contributing to ISIS’s success, and questions whether aid might inadvertently facilitate such policies. Assistance to other possible partners requires similar information about the political, social, and economic dynamics that create and sustain violent groups.
Most violent groups that policy makers identify as security threats attract U.S. attention by rebelling or attacking the states in which they live or operate. These groups are generally disgruntled for a reason. Criticism of Maliki’s sectarian policies highlight this issue in Iraq, but questionable governance, corruption and military abuse in Nigeria have spurred Boko Haram, and Mali’s Tuaregs have complained for decades of underrepresentation.
A decade of direct U.S. intervention failed to solve Iraq’s sectarian problems, but less-than-direct forms of intervention face the same difficulties. U.S. assistance can come with pressure to professionalize militaries and make governments less corrupt and more representative. But both direct and indirect intervention may exacerbate tensions. Backing Maliki’s government puts the United States in a position of supporting a sectarian regime. Answering the justifiable outcry against Boko Haram’s kidnappings and other atrocities puts the United States in a position of aiding Nigeria’s brutal military.
In some cases, external support can also forestall political adaptation by protecting regimes from the violent, unpleasant and destabilizing consequences of their own political choices. Historically, many regimes have only opted to share power when convinced (sometimes through violence) that excluding rivals makes them more of a threat than including them. After much violence, Sudan and South Sudan finally parted ways in 2011—though conflict recently returned within South Sudan. Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisian tumult seems to have settled into a power-sharing deal.
Similarly, rampant corruption and dictators’ efforts to “coup-proof” their regimes can enervate military capabilities. However, even paranoid dictators can replace patriarchy with meritocracy in government institutions when threat focuses the need for competence.
However, if assistance limits the existential consequences of poor governance, and political inclusiveness or other reforms are not conditions of U.S. aid, partner states will have little incentive to change. Small footprint aid may have even more limited leverage—further suggesting that partnerships should be carefully chosen.
We are asking the right questions about Iraq. We are asking them in part because we have a lot of information about (and plenty of reason to be wary of) involvement in Iraq’s internal dynamics. But we should ask these questions about other potential partners too—applying these lessons may help us avoid repeating past mistakes.
Jennifer Keister is a visiting research fellow with expertise in insurgency, terrorism, and the southern Philippines. Her work investigates rebel groups’ relationship with civilian populations, and how they balance domestic and foreign constituencies.
|Title:||Think Again: NATO|
|Date:||Fri, 20 Jun 2014 09:58 EDT|
“NATO is vital to Western security.”
Only foreign policy elites believe that.
April 1949, a dozen nations, including the United States, Great Britain, and France, signed the North Atlantic Treaty. The first secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Hastings Ismay, famously remarked that the alliance had three purposes, all in Europe: to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.
NATO achieved this mission decades ago. Yet the alliance has continued to grow in the post-Cold War years: Today, it has 28 members, all but two of which are European. And while NATO struggles to find a precise mission in the absence of the Soviet threat, it maintains unparalleled popularity among foreign-policy elites in member states. It is like the third rail of national security policy — only “unserious” people question NATO.
Two years ago, Philip Gordon, then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said, “NATO is vital to U.S. security.” Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder claims it is “an alliance that is more needed by more people than ever.” Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations explains that the NATO wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya “demonstrate NATO’s utility and its contributions to the individual and collective welfare of its members.”
This has not proven a particularly persuasive argument to the public, which wonders, not unreasonably, why the United States must keep 40,000 troops in Germany, especially when its leaders have spent the past 13 years warning that the greatest national security threat is terrorism — while fighting one war in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. A 2012 Rasmussen poll revealed that 51 percent of likely voters wanted to remove all U.S. troops from Europe, with only 29 percent opposing that measure and 20 percent uncertain.
There have been a few outliers in Washington who have questioned the seemingly anachronistic emphasis on Atlanticism during a supposed “pivot” to Asia. Relative NATO skeptics, like Senator Rand Paul, have limited themselves to fighting rear-guard actions against legislation like the 2011 bipartisan amendment calling on President Obama to provide Georgia with a Membership Action Plan. But with the Russian annexation of Crimea and threats against eastern Ukraine, American supporters, particularly hawks like John McCain, see a validation of their views and are insisting that recent developments show why NATO is vital.
On the contrary, this is the perfect moment to demonstrate the shakiness of the case for the Atlantic alliance.
“NATO enhances U.S. military capability.”
Traditionally, the case for any alliance is that, as a whole, it is more powerful than the sum of its members. But the military contributions of NATO’s European member states have not cleared that bar for some time. Consider Europe’s contributions to the two most recent combat operations involving NATO forces.
While troops from some NATO countries have fought and died in disproportionately high numbers supporting the U.S. nation-building project in Afghanistan — the only time Article V was ever invoked — other NATO countries have placed national “caveats” on how their forces may be used. Frequently these were unofficial, but some gained notoriety. German troops, for example, were prohibited from leaving their bases at night. Other countries, like Italy, stipulated they would respond to requests to move their troops to areas where fighting was taking place within 72 hours. (This was later revised down to six hours.) And the list goes on. As a 2006 Congressional Research Service report noted, these caveats were “intended to preclude the affected units from participating in offensive combat operations or other operations that carry a high risk of casualties.”
“Why Europeans can defend themselves, but won’t until Washington makes them.”
The Libyan “kinetic military action” was another illustration of NATO’s combat readiness. Eight of the 28 NATO member states helped the United States oust dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. But the group ran out of munitions while beating up on a Libyan military that had been mostly neutralized by American air power just days prior. This sorry performance inspired an internal NATO report lament ing that the alliance is “overly reliant” on the United States to prevail in even the simplest of conflicts.
The United States currently keeps its troops stationed in Europe — the bulk of its NATO costs are in paying, equipping, and maintaining them — in large part as a function of its Article V commitment to the alliance, which states that an attack on one member state will be treated as an attack on all. Washington presently accounts for more than 70 percent of overall NATO military expenditures, despite comprising roughly 56 percent of NATO’s GDP. Although in 2006 all NATO members committed to spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, currently only the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Greece are meeting that commitment.
“But Ukraine! Russian expansionism is likely to revitalize NATO.”
Don’t bet on it.
With Russian forces annexing Crimea and threatening the rest of Ukraine, it didn’t take long before the NATO secretary-general proudly declared that “NATO is back,” and that the current crisis “must lead to increased defense investment in Europe.” But with a NATO mission that has been set adrift, atrophied European defense expenditures, and eroded political consensus on the alliance’s future, there is little reason to believe that the alliance can pull itself together diplomatically, financially, or militarily, even in the wake of Russia’s provocations.
Besides which, it’s unclear that despite its provocations, Russia actually presents much of a threat. Its GDP, $2.1 trillion in 2013, was slightly less than that of Italy and Portugal combined. It confronts severe demographic challenges, and it possesses life expectancy, alcoholism, and other variables all out of step with modernized, developed countries. Its military, though large and nuclear-armed, is hardly in better shape. While beating up on the poor Georgian army in 2008, the Russian side experienced serious operational difficulties. Without a sophisticated, nationwide air defense system, Georgian forces shot down five Russian planes, including a Tu-22 M3 strategic bomber. Russian ground forces suffered severe communications and targeting difficulties. The Russian military is weak and constrained, and the further it gets from home, the weaker and more constrained it gets.
Given these handicaps, the idea that Russia could somehow snatch enough European power to threaten Germany or France, to say nothing of the United States, seems unlikely. Even for Russia to maintain an assault on Poland, its lines of communication would be stretched over more than 600 miles of mostly hostile territory. In light of the Georgia campaign, this seems fanciful. So while it’s fashionable in the West to shudder at Russian revanchism, this has amounted largely to pushing on political open doors. Russia’s smash-and-grab military tactics were successful in South Ossetia and Crimea because of political support among the populace.
Beyond their hollow militaries, there is little political support among the more important European NATO countries even for defending smaller NATO member states, to say nothing of Ukraine. An April poll of Germans, after the Kremlin annexed Crimea and menaced Eastern Ukraine, revealed that 53 percent of Germans did not want to do more to help defend even existing NATO members in Eastern Europe. The same is true in the United States, where a May 2014 poll taken after the Russian annexation of Ukraine found that 36 percent of Americans wanted to remove U.S. troops from Europe, 39 percent to maintain them at their current level, and 25 percent were undecided.
There is little appetite in Europe for a U.S.-Russian conflict, and even less of an appetite for one in which European countries would be asked to exert themselves in any meaningful way.
Europe hasn’t proved its worth. Meanwhile, in some ways NATO may actually have made it tougher to deal with Russia.
“There’s no reason NATO should frighten Russia.”
In 1990, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker sat down with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, looked him in the eyes, and told him that if a unified Germany could be a NATO member, the alliance’s jurisdiction would not move “one inch eastward.” The problem with Baker’s words, as historian Mary Elise Sarotte points out, is that Moscow never got them in writing. It’s true that Baker never “promised” that the alliance would “never”expand to Eastern Europe; but that’s what Gorbachev heard. After the Soviet leader publicly agreed to the terms of German unification, including its NATO membership, Western leaders would emphasize that they had kept their pledge not to do anything to, in Gorbachev’s phrasing, “diminish the security of the Soviet Union.” Unsurprisingly, though, Western and Soviet and Russian leaders would come to define that phrase somewhat differently.
Since then, Russia has made clear that it views the expansion of NATO territory and military power as a threat. However innocent the West believes its intentions, it isn’t hard to see why Russia would be concerned. In 1999 NATO added the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. And over the next 10 years, that list grew to include Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, and Croatia. In 2008, President George W. Bush suggested adding Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance, for the first time absorbing not simply former Warsaw Pact members, but former Soviet republics themselves.
The cost of surrounding Russia militarily is that Russia feels surrounded militarily. Allowing NATO to die after it achieved its mission after the Cold War would have left Moscow with a freer hand in Eastern Europe — and some current NATO member states would have faced negative consequences. Their relations with Russia would have reflected relative power and geography, and they would have had to defer to Russian prerogatives more than at present.
At the same time, other states, such as Ukraine, have arguably been worse off as a result of NATO’s persistence. Its internal politics have been more consequential to Moscow because not only of its economic orientation, but also because of the threat that it may someday become a NATO member. The downside of drawing lines across Europe, as NATO has, is that lines have two sides. And being on the non-NATO side of the line makes one a particularly appetizing target for predation, incentivizing the Kremlin to act before it’s too late. The choice facing, say, the Baltic states becomes even starker.
NATO expansion has validated the narratives of Russian nationalists and made Russian liberals look like suckers, a nuance that is lost on many in the West.
“Absent NATO, Europe couldn’t defend itself.”
With NATO, it won’t.
“Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus,” political commentator Robert Kagan once said, but the dirty little secret is that Washington never wanted Europeans to get their act together on defense. From NATO’s founding, American policymakers were concerned both with preventing Soviet domination of Europe and with preventing the emergence of a “third force” of Western European power divorced from Washington.
From at least the early 1950s, U.S. officials focused at least as much on containing Europe as on containing the Soviet Union. As Texas A&M political scientist Christopher Layne has written, NATO was designed with the purpose of preventing European defense cooperation. In 1952, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson cabled instructions to the U.S. Embassy in Paris that NATO must be prioritized because it would “preclud[e] possibility of Eur Union becoming third force or opposing force.”
Throughout the Cold War, American policymakers worked to ensure a weak Europe that depended on the United States for its security. As then-National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy wrote to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, it would be better if the United Kingdom would spend its resources on conventional arms and “join with the rest of NATO in accepting a single U.S.-dominated [nuclear] force.” The United States reacted angrily to French President Charles de Gaulle’s Europe-centric policies and worked to scuttle the Franco-German Treaty of 1963 by intervening in German domestic politics to get the Bundestag to alter the treaty preamble in a way that reinforced NATO’s — U.S. — primacy. At every turn, Washington opposed European security cooperation on the thinking that all decisions should go through the White House. As Acheson remarked, Washington did not “need to coordinate with our allies. We need to tell them.”
By the early 1990s, Europeans — in keeping with the edicts of the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union in 1993 —began working together on integrating their foreign and security policies. But at the 1998 NATO summit, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright neatly delineated the three things about European security cooperation that Washington would oppose. Labeling them the “Three D’s,” she said that Washington sought ”no diminution of NATO, no discrimination, and no duplication” of the alliance’s functions. This continued in the Bush administration, when in 2003 it called a special meeting with NATO to discuss European defense integration. At that meeting, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns condemned European security cooperation as “one of the greatest dangers to the transatlantic relationship.”
Aside from Washington, there are other obstacles to European defense cooperation. European nations disagree about burden-sharing and about the degree of integration that would be desirable. Germany prefers not to think about defense issues at all, which has driven the French and British, uncomfortably, to sign a set of bilateral defense treaties (the Lancaster House treaties) in 2010. Some of the more ambitious European proposals, such as “permanent structured cooperation,” resemble the completion of the European state-building project, in that they involve folding national European militaries into something resembling a single European military. Washington should support more European defense integration, and a smaller role for itself in European defense matters.
NATO has produced some benefits, but the costs to the United States — tens of billions per year, validating Russian nationalist narratives about the West, and infantilizing its European partners — are often ignored. Washington should cut the Europeans loose, and encourage them to cooperate with each other on European security matters. With a combined GDP larger than the United States and a benign threat environment, Europeans are capable of defending themselves, but won’t until Washington makes them.
Justin Logan is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.
|Title:||Time to Acknowledge Ex-Im's Victims|
|Date:||Thu, 19 Jun 2014 10:16 EDT|
|Description:||Daniel J. Ikenson
As politicians and big-business lobbyists portray it, there is no downside to reauthorizing the charter of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) of the United States. The bank provides low-rate financing to foreign customers of U.S. companies, which facilitates the objective of increasing exports and creating jobs. Everybody wins, so what’s not to like?
Well, besides putting U.S. taxpayer resources at risk and fostering too cozy a relationship between government and certain businesses, Ex-Im victimizes untold numbers of companies and their workers by effectively taxing their operations, while subsidizing their foreign competitors. These obscured consequences of a government program that presents itself as a costless public good warrant closer examination.
“The obscured consequences of a government program that presents itself as a costless public good warrant closer examination.”
When Ex-Im provides financing to a foreign commercial airline — say Air India — so that it can purchase aircraft from Boeing on terms more favorable than the market permits, Air India and Boeing can raise their glasses and toast the U.S. taxpayer for filling a gap that might otherwise prevent the transaction or make its terms less favorable to both companies. Air India and Boeing both benefit.
But what about Air India’s U.S. competitors? How does Ex-Im’s role in the transaction affect them? An honest assessment requires looking beyond the immediate effects to obtain a more complete picture of the benefits and costs of Ex-Im’s involvement. Such an assessment leads to the inescapable conclusion that the subsidized transaction between Boeing and Air India makes U.S. carriers worse off. When Air India can purchase critical capital equipment at more favorable financing rates than, say, Delta Airlines, then Air India is conferred the benefit of lower costs, which enables it to compete more rigorously with Delta for air travelers on particular routes. Meanwhile, if Boeing is busy building and making deliveries for an artificially inflated global market, the prices for its domestic customers will also be artificially inflated. Thus, Ex-Im takes from Delta and gives to Boeing, quite literally “picking winners and losers.”
Delta’s complaint about the effects of Boeing’s subsidized sales to Air India is a real example. There are others. Cliffs Natural Resources, a mining company that operates three iron-ore mines in Minnesota and one in Michigan, objects to Ex-Im’s $694 million financing of an Australian iron mine’s purchases of U.S.-made bulldozers and trucks from Caterpillar, locomotives from General Electric and drilling rigs from Atlas Copco. They have a point. U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the costs of iron ore and other mineral extraction in Australia, which increases current and future supply, and drives down prices, which hurts U.S. mines and U.S. steelmakers, who must compete with Chinese steelmakers — the primary beneficiaries of cheap Australian iron ore.
But this adverse downstream effect is not exceptional. It is the rule. Consider that Ex-Im subsidized $168 billion of exports sales between 2007 and 2013, through loans, loan guarantees, and the provision of insurance and working capital. Nearly two-thirds ($107 billion) of those expenditures were for the purpose of facilitating exports of manufactured products: Aircraft accounted for a whopping $58 billion of Ex-Im’s expenditures; machinery sales accounted for $22 billion; $8 billion went to grease exports of computer and electronic equipment; $7 billion was devoted to metal products; $5.4 billion subsidized sales of transportation equipment (excluding aircraft) and chemical exports gobbled up $2.3 billion of Ex-Im largesse.
Who bought these products? Generally, the customers were foreign manufacturers, who typically incorporate those U.S. wares as inputs or capital equipment in their own production processes. U.S. companies are then forced to compete at home and abroad with these foreign beneficiaries of Ex-Im financing.
The rhetoric that subsidizing U.S. export sales bolsters U.S exports and creates jobs ignores the secondary effects, which must be counted. What about the revenues of U.S. firms that compete with the foreign beneficiary of the subsidized loan? What about employment at those firms in those industries? Won’t both likely suffer?
Perhaps the most commonly cited rationale for the bank’s continuation is that U.S. export credit largesse pales in comparison to other governments’, and providing financial support is the least the U.S. government can do to try to level the playing field. But by attempting to level the playing field between big U.S. exporters and their subsidized foreign competitors, Ex-Im necessarily “unlevels” the playing field between those two sets of U.S. companies: the beneficiaries and the victims. That is an improper role for government.
Subsidizing upstream firms’ foreign sales — it turns out — has the same adverse downstream impact as does taxing imported intermediate goods. Ex-Im operates analogously to the U.S. sugar program, steel tariffs and the Jones Act (which severely restricts shipping competition). It bestows benefits on select companies (usually those with smoothly functioning K Street operations) at the expense of less-connected U.S. firms.
Some people in Washington will shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, that’s how business is done. Grow up and get used to it.” But that kind of thinking just ensures that political considerations trump economic ones, which encourages the diversion of more resources from economic to political ends. That may be good for those of us who own homes in Washington, but it is manifestly corrosive to our economic system.
Daniel J. Ikenson is director of the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies.
|Title:||The EU Should Extend Visa-Free Travel to Ukraine|
|Date:||Thu, 19 Jun 2014 09:25 EDT|
Can the European Union help Ukrainians get their country back on track? Notwithstanding the threat the country faces from the east, the bulk of Ukraine’s problems are domestic: lack of economic growth and employment opportunities, rampant corruption, mismanagement of public funds and burdensome regulation.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s the prospect of EU membership served as an impetus for radical reforms across central and eastern Europe. A credible timeline for joining the Union would certainly improve the prospects for similar reforms in Ukraine. On the other hand, given the EU’s internal problems and the current state of disarray in Ukraine, European leaders are not keen to rush into accession talks.
“Can the European Union help Ukrainians get their country back on track?”
Yet, if Europeans are serious about helping the Ukrainian transition, they have one easy policy option which could be exercised immediately and which would buy a lot of goodwill in Ukraine, while helping the EU’s struggling economies. That option is the introduction of visa-free travel to the Schengen area and the gradual opening of access to EU labour markets to Ukrainian citizens.
Ukrainians are currently the second most frequent recipients of Schengen visas, after Russians. In 2012, more than 1.3m C-category (short-stay) visas were issued to Ukrainians, and the refusal rate has been low. Since 2008, there has been a ‘visa dialogue’ between the EU and Ukraine to examine the conditions for visa-free travel to the Schengen zone but progress has been painfully slow.
The visas impose a burden on Ukrainians. Most importantly, they involve a trip to the nearest consulate of the Schengen country of destination, which may well be far away in Kyiv or Lviv. The fee itself, reduced to €35, does not seem like much, but one has to bear in mind that in some regions of Ukraine the average monthly wage is barely €150.
In the meantime, the EU has already introduced visa-free travel for citizens of Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Moldova. True, these countries are much smaller in size than Ukraine, but there is no indication of any adverse effects following visa liberalisation. And just as in the other cases, to prevent criminal activity, the visa-free travel of Ukrainians could be made conditional on the use of biometric passports.
Besides making life easier for ordinary Ukrainians, visa-free travel would be a tangible proof that the EU can do more than just talk. Research by economists Robert Lawson and Saurav Roychoudhury shows that the gains from eliminating tourist visas are large, as a visa requirement tends to reduce inbound tourism by roughly 70 per cent.
Besides being a boost for Ukrainian tourism in the Schengen area, a greater exposure to life in the EU would likely strengthen the domestic pressures for reform and imitate best practices from the west.
And if European leaders want to be more ambitious in helping Ukraine — while helping their own economies — they should think about a liberalisation of access to the EU’s labour markets. Many Ukrainians already work in the EU, particularly in the new member states of central and eastern Europe. Some of them might be there illegally but many fill important gaps in the job market, for example in the medical profession.
In Slovakia, from where many local doctors and nurses have departed for more lucrative positions in wealthier EU countries, there is a growing number of Ukrainian medical professionals working in health care. In fact, Ukrainians already represent the largest group of doctors from outside the EU working in Slovakia.
In many western European countries, such as the UK, there is a growing hysteria over eastern European immigration. In reality, according to various studies — most prominently the work done by UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration — immigrants have been a boon for the UK economy. It is only reasonable to expect the workers from Ukraine to generate sizeable economic benefits for European economies with shrinking working-age populations.
Contrary to the anti-immigration rhetoric pervasive in Europe, immigrants do not ‘steal’ jobs — rather, they help create new ones, thus helping the local economies. It is now high time for European leaders to stand up to populism and do what is right both for the European economy as well as for western engagement with Ukraine.
Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. He tweets at @daliborrohac.
|Title:||Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Not the Same Thing|
|Date:||Wed, 18 Jun 2014 14:03 EDT|
|Description:||Ted Galen Carpenter
U.S. policy makers have demonstrated an unfortunate inability to distinguish between governments or movements whose agendas are confined to local or subregional objectives and those governments or movements that have global ambitions hostile to American interests. That maddening tendency was on display again in the negative reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to trade five imprisoned Taliban leaders for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Critics in Congress and the news media acted as though the administration had released high-level Al Qaeda operatives involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
That reaction continues the trend of conflating the Taliban and Al Qaeda as though the two are organizational conjoined twins. In marked contrast to Washington’s attitude during the first few years after 9/11, when the justification for the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan was to smash Al Qaeda, defeating the Taliban gradually became the primary rationale for continuing the military mission. Al Qaeda is now barely an afterthought in foreign-policy discussions regarding Afghanistan.
“Blandly assuming that political movements are automatically components of a large-scale threat directed against America leads to unnecessary U.S. entanglements and missed opportunities for constructive dialogue.”
It is uncertain if the process of conflating the Taliban and Al Qaeda—and making the former the senior partner—was a deliberate “bait and switch” tactic on the part of U.S. leaders or if it merely reflects sloppy thinking, but the result is the same in either case. Al Qaeda is a global terrorist movement with the United States (including the American homeland) as a prominent, if not the primary, target. The Taliban is a Pashtun political movement with a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s largely Pashtun border-region. Its principal adversaries are rival ethnic groups, especially the Uzbek and Tajik forces that made up the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and became crucial supporters of President Hamid Karzai’s government.
Had Mullah Omar’s regime in Kabul not granted Al Qaeda a hospitable sanctuary during the late 1990s, and then refused to turn over AQ leaders to the United States following the 9/11 attacks (citing the obligation of a host not to betray guests), there would have been little reason for Washington to launch a military crusade against the Taliban. True, Taliban rule was a horrific example of brutal religious zealotry; but the world is filled with obnoxious, repressive regimes—including the stifling theocracy in Saudi Arabia. Yet Washington has never been tempted to conduct a military crusade against Riyadh. To the contrary, U.S. leaders have considered the odious Saudi monarchy a valuable ally for the past seven decades.
Conflating the agendas of the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a major blunder that has mired the United States in Afghanistan’s internal political rivalries—at a tremendous cost in blood and treasure. We portray a party with a limited, localized agenda as a global terrorist adversary that has the United States in its crosshairs, when it was never anything of the sort.
This is hardly the only case in which Washington has made such a mistake—with tragic consequences. Perhaps the most infamous case was the United States’ policy toward North Vietnam from the mid-1950s to the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975. In March 1953, barely two months into the new Eisenhower administration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles expressed his alarm about developments in Southeast Asia. The struggle between the French and the communist Viet Minh was relevant not just to that region, he told the president, but to Washington’s overall strategic position. Dulles argued that Indochina was “in some ways more important than Korea,” where the United States was in the midst of a major war. Why was Indochina, especially Vietnam, so important? Because “a loss there could not be localized, but would spread through Asia and Europe.”
In all four relevant administrations (Eisenhower’s, Kennedy’s, Johnson’s and Nixon’s), U.S. officials insisted (and apparently believed) that Vietnam was about much more than Vietnam. In a key report following his mission to Saigon in late 1961, General Maxwell Taylor epitomized such thinking: “It is my judgment and that of my colleagues that the United States must decide how it will cope with Khrushchev’s “wars of liberation,” which are really pare-wars of guerrilla aggression.” In other words, the fighting in Vietnam was not part of a mundane civil war but was merely another theater in the geostrategic struggle against Moscow, or more broadly, against international communism. It was rare that U.S. leaders regarded Hanoi as anything other than a tool of the Soviet Union and/or China.
The thesis that Hanoi was Moscow’s willing servant was far-fetched and ignored strong signs of Vietnamese nationalism, if not chauvinism, both in the Viet Minh insurgency and later, in propaganda put out by the North Vietnamese government. But the notion of North Vietnam as a Soviet puppet was plausible compared to the argument that Hanoi was doing China’s bidding. Given the historical enmity between the two societies, China was literally the last country in the world that Vietnamese, of any political persuasion, would want to have as a patron, much less a master. Washington’s inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the importance of Vietnamese nationalism led to a long, bloody intervention that produced a foreign-policy failure and created bitter divisions in the United States.
Unfortunately, U.S. leaders continue to make similar simplistic assumptions about political movements that have limited agendas. Policy toward the Taliban is a prominent recent example, but there are other cases of lazy assumptions. Officials should, for example, question whether Hezbollah is simply an Iranian cat’s paw and part of a global terrorist movement directed from Tehran. It may instead be a distinct political actor with its own, more limited, goals. There are certainly indications that Hezbollah regards itself as a major player in Lebanon’s parochial politics, representing the interests of the Shiite community there in its struggles with Christian and Sunni rivals.
Likewise, as U.S. leaders formulate a response to the military offensive currently being conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it is crucial to soberly assess the political dynamics. Specifically, we need to determine whether ISIS is merely a subregional actor with the goal of creating a new Sunni state out of rapidly fracturing portions of Syria and Iraq, or whether the organization is truly “an Al Qaeda affiliate,” as has widely been charged, and shares Al Qaeda’s global agenda with a fanatical focus on the United States as the great enemy. The latter scenario may warrant a U.S. response; the former does not.
Blandly assuming that political movements are automatically components of a large-scale threat directed against America, leads to unnecessary U.S. entanglements and missed opportunities for constructive dialogue. We’ve made that mistake before, and we need to adopt more flexible thinking to prevent similar blunders in the future.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to The National Interest, is the author of nine books and more than 550 articles and policy studies on international affairs.
|Title:||Iraq Syndrome Redux|
|Date:||Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:28 EDT|
The Iraq Syndrome has played a role in U.S. politics for nearly a decade. As I wrote in 2005, public support for the war in Iraq followed the same course as for the wars in Korea and Vietnam: broad acceptance at the outset with erosion of support as casualties mount. The experience of those past wars also suggests that there was nothing U.S. President George W. Bush could do to reverse this deterioration — or to stave off an “Iraq Syndrome” that would inhibit U.S. foreign policy in the future.
In recent years, the Iraq Syndrome has indeed colored U.S. foreign policy — from its timorous “lead from behind” approach in Libya (where American forces have since been withdrawn due to the ensuing civil war) to its cheerleader (vast proclamation and half-vast execution) approach to the Arab Spring. The Iraq Syndrome could be seen in fullest flower last year, when U.S. President Barack Obama, supported by Republican leaders in Congress, initially signaled that he would bomb Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons and then backtracked when his plans were met with intense hostility by a public determined not to be dragged into another war in the Middle East — even though no American lives were likely to be lost in the exercise and even though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured Americans that the bombings would be “unbelievably small.”
“American foreign policy at its most active over the last dozen or so years, routinely decorated with extravagant alarmism, has been an abject failure.”
Just over a year later, the Iraq Syndrome has found a new application, as it happens, in Iraq itself. It has been obvious for some time that last decade’s Iraq War would spawn a “let’s not do that again” attitude. For example, a poll in relatively hawkish Alabama in 2005 — even before the Iraq War got really bad — found that only a third of the respondentsagreed that the United States should be prepared to send troops back to Iraq to establish order if a full-scale civil war erupted there after a U.S. withdrawal. The percentage today would likely be considerably lower, even as Iraq teeters on the brink of collapse.
It’s a true debacle. However, as I suggested in my Foreign Affairs article and in later commentary, Americans are quite capable of taking foreign policy debacles in stride. When sending policing troops to war-torn Lebanon in 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan grandly declared that the conflict there somehow was “a threat to all the people of the world, not just to the Middle East itself.” The public accepted his decision, but it then supported — indeed, impelled — his abrupt withdrawal after a terrorist attack killed 241 of those troops. It then handily re-elected him a few months later.
Similarly, the spectacular failure of the U.S. position in Vietnam in 1975 was used by the man who presided over it, U.S. President Gerald Ford, as a point in his favor in his reelection campaign the next year. When he came into office, noted Ford, the United States was “still deeply involved in the problems of Vietnam, [but now] we are at peace. Not a single young American is fighting or dying on any foreign soil.” His rather bizarre declaration in defense of debacle may not have helped him in the election, but it didn’t hurt him either.
Americans have never been very supportive of putting American troops in harm’s way for purposes that are primarily humanitarian. As with the wars in Korea and Vietnam, they did buy the war in Iraq for a while because they saw it, like Afghanistan, as a response to 9/11 — a direct attack on the United States.
Now, however, with the Iraq Syndrome in force, political leaders have done lot of tough taking, but no one seems willing to advocate sending in troops. Supporters of doing something of that sort would have to convince the public that it would be necessary to prevent a direct attack on the United States.
On Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) tried his hand, explaining that an Islamist takeover of parts of Iraq would provide terrorists with a “staging area” from which they would carry out “another 9/11.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker issued a comparable warning. Obama has made similar statements, and th eWashington Post’s David Ignatius has speculated ominously, if vaguely, that a newly established terrorist “safe haven” — as opposed to the ones that have existed in the area for years — “could soon be used to attack foreign targets.”
However, 9/11 remains an aberration, not a harbinger. No terrorist act in history has visited even one-tenth as much death and destruction, even ones launched during civil wars, when terrorists have had plenty of time and space in which to stage them. It is thus hard to follow the logic of Senator John McCain (R–A.Z.), who opines that having Syria and Iraq in extremist hands would represent an existential threat to the United States; that is, that if Syria and Iraq acquire reprehensible new leaders — different from the reprehensible ones they have had in the past — the United States will cease to exist. This sort of extravagant threat-inflation has been applied frequently since 9/11, and it has gone amazingly unchallenged.
But such alarmism has become less common in recent years, and getting it accepted seems to be increasingly difficult, in major part because it was used to justify two disastrous wars as well as spillover violence in Pakistan. These have led to destruction at least 40 times greater than witnessed on 9/11 and have resulted in the deaths of twice as many Americans as were killed that day — and more deaths overall than at Hiroshima and Nagaski combined.
In other words, American foreign policy at its most active over the last dozen or so years, routinely decorated with extravagant alarmism, has been an abject failure. If those who established and maintained this disastrous record have, at long last, lost all credibility, we may all be the better for it.
John Mueller is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a member of the political science department and Senior Research Scientist with the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University.
|Title:||Personalized Education While Changing Places of Learning|
|Date:||Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:24 EDT|
A key demonstrator of part of the potential future of American education is Brent Wise, Director of Innovation and Extended Learning for the Hilliard City School District, located in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. The district includes 16,000 students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
He currently presides at the McVey Innovative Learning Center (ILC), named for former Hilliard City Schools Superintendent Dale McVey.
As I have long believed, Wise argues that schools should no longer take “a one-size-fits-all approach.”
And he explains via email, “Four years ago, a group of Hilliard City School educators came together to develop a plan for what (high) schools should look and feel like (here) in the year 2020.”
The genesis of the ILC, he says, came from educators’ desire “for a design of a high school of the future. One that personalizes education for each student in a way that allows them to pursue their passion.”
Last fall, the ILC opened its doors to more than 800 students.
“This next fall,” Wise says, “we have had over 1,200 requests to come to the Innovative Learning Center.”
Wise, who is a former classroom teacher, describes the diverse adventures in learning at the ILC:
“We have talented music students … so we offer a sound engineering course … Students learn how to make professional recordings while writing and performing their own music.
“For the students interested in the world of television journalism and movie production, we offer courses that allow for creative production.”
I’m already fantasizing. At my public high school, Boston Latin School, I would have rushed into a course on reporting — with guest professional journalists — in all forms of communication.
Wise continues: “For the students that are not successful in the typical classroom, we offer a personalized route of taking classes online and preparing an individual plan.
“Students can come here and work in the relaxed atmosphere with their learning coach, at their pace and comfort zone.
“We offered a jumpstart on college that provided our students with up to 32 credit hours of college, while they are in high school.”
What especially surprised me is the way the ILC builds student confidence by allowing the kids to share their rising skills, which can benefit other learners.
Says Wise: “Students could also come here for authentic learning experiences such as our Career Mentorship program, which allows students to go out and mentor in a field of their choice during their class time.”
Moreover, “Students interested in becoming an educator could participate in our Teacher Academy and do student teaching while in high school.”
Also, “Students interested in entrepreneurship could participate in our business academy.”
He emails quotes from students already immersed in the Independent Learning Center:
“I get to learn as an individual and the teachers here are willing to work with you in the way that is best for you.”
“I enjoy the freedom and ability to be treated as an adult.”
“I feel as if there is a higher level of appreciation and respect for education on the parts of students and teachers. There’s also more respect for each other. We’re there for a common goal and also have a common understanding. We all WANT to be there — and that makes a world of difference.”
And you may have noticed that the learning there is not most crucially measured by how these students do on collective standardized tests (and in preparing for those tests), which are still required in so many high schools throughout this land.
Another quote from a student at the McVey Innovative Learning Center: “The best part of being a student at the ILC is gaining a whole new perspective on learning. I found it much more interesting and applicable to my future to learn concepts in an environment that doesn’t encourage you to be average. I also loved getting to meet people from three other high schools that I never would have met if it weren’t for this class.”
And this brings us to how the McVey Innovative Learning Center actually operates. Wise emphasizes, “The ILC is NOT an alternative school. Students come here during their school day … for 90 minutes of their day; the rest of their day they are back at their home high schools.”
Obviously, I cannot speak from any experience in having combined time at a regular high school with daily 90-minute periods at a contrasting, liberating environment, geared to help me discover what I most wanted for my future and how to get there.
Years ago, Duke Ellington wrote a song that has since become a permanent part of me, as it keeps challenging me:
Its title: “What Am I Here For?”
During my six years at Boston Latin School, if I had been also part of an Innovative Learning Center in that city, I would have had a much clearer sense of what — and how — I needed to learn to keep answering that question of why I’m here.
I did develop an unquenchable love of learning during those early years, but little of it from school. Most came from reading — on my own — histories, novels and biographies that raised my expectations of the kind of life I’d want to lead if I knew how.
But if there had been an Innovative Learning Center in town, I might have experienced a much more inspiring road ahead. And I expect that may also be true of the futures of many young Americans, of all sorts of backgrounds, if each gets a personalized, expanding education.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
|Title:||Obamacare: State Dems' Worst Nightmare|
|Date:||Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:17 EDT|
|Description:||Michael D. Tanner
As the bad news about Obamacare’s federal operations keeps on coming, it’s worth keeping in mind that the law is a mess at the state level as well.
The big question will be whether the failures will hurt Democratic state politicians as much as Obamacare appears likely to drag down national Democrats. Most of the 17 states that chose to set up and operate their own Obamacare exchanges are deep-blue states, where Democratic governors and legislators see few serious challenges to their power. Yet, the level of corruption and incompetence — not to mention the cost to taxpayers — is so outrageous that, even in these Democratic bastions, it might give voters pause.
“Troubles with liberal states’ exchanges are dragging down their Democratic governors.”
Among the most egregious examples:
In Colorado, the original director of the state exchange, Christa Ann McClure, was placed on administrative leave after news leaked out that she had been indicted for stealing while serving as executive director of the federally funded Housing Montana. At that agency, she paid herself “significant sums” for consulting services even though she was already on the payroll as a full-time employee. The indictment also alleged that she “made payments to her family and used federal money for personal travel, to pay family bills and to buy consulting services.”
Meanwhile, Colorado’s exchange struggled to meet minimum enrollment goals. Undeterred by mediocre performance and prior mismanagement, the exchange board voted to give new CEO Patty Fontneau a $14,000 bonus last year along with a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise, making her the third most highly paid manager of a state health exchange in the country, behind only California and Connecticut.
At the same time they’re getting bonuses and raises, exchange officials are trying to figure out how to squeeze enough revenue from state taxpayers to finance the exchange when initial federal grants run dry. The Colorado exchange currently charges customers a 1.4 percent user fee, and it will likely have to be increased. Some officials want to charge everyone with health insurance in the state, not just exchange enrollees, to the tune of $13 million in fees in both 2015 and 2016.
Incumbent governor John Hickenlooper has managed to dodge the fallout so far. But even a weak Republican — former congressman Tom Tancredo — is still within striking distance.
Despite a two-week delay in opening, the state’s exchange operated so poorly that it managed to enroll just 9,217 individuals, after being awarded $205 million for construction costs. That’s roughly $22,278 per enrollee, by far the highest in the nation. Things will get a little better: The state continues to try to process a backlog of nearly 11,000 people who were unable to sign up by the March 31 deadline. Unfortunately, they’re being forced to rely on call centers to address the backlog because the computer system is still not functioning properly.
It may not be a coincidence that former Republican lieutenant governor James Aiona seems to be leading the incumbent governor Neil Abercrombie in the polls.
Few states made as big a mess of their exchange as the Old Line State. It spent roughly $120 million to set up its own exchange and then managed to sign up fewer than 68,000 people for private plans — less than two-thirds of its goal. More than 80 percent of total exchange enrollment was in Medicaid.
Things got so bad that the state eventually junked its entire exchange infrastructure. It plans to rebuild an exchange based on Connecticut’s more successful design, at an additional cost of about $50 million. And now there are concerns that this new setup won’t be ready on time. The Obama administration is thus threatening to withhold additional funds and suggest that Maryland move to the federal exchange.
Significantly, the man in charge of the Maryland exchange program was Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who is now the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Despite the state’s overwhelming Democratic registration advantage, Maryland did have a Republican governor as recently as 2007 — expect Obamacare to be a big issue in the fall.
If any state could get its exchange right, one might think, it would be the home of Romneycare.
But despite spending more than $134 million, when the law’s exchanges debuted on October 1, the state was only able to deploy part of its website. As of mid March, Massachusetts had about 84,000 residents on temporary health-insurance plans while work continues on the website. The state still hasn’t been able to transfer another 100,000 people on a state-subsidized health plan into federally approved plans. Now, the legislature is debating whether to try to adapt software used by Colorado and Kentucky or to scrap its exchange altogether and let the federal government step in.
Obamacare remains popular in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, but the Republican candidate for governor, former insurance executive Charlie Baker, is running a surprisingly competitive race, within seven points of Martha Coakley according to recent polls.
The state’s exchange, MNSure, cost taxpayers more than $141 million, but has been in crisis mode almost since the moment it began. State officials had expected MNSure to enroll up to 1.3 million people for insurance by 2016, but so far barely 117,000 people have signed up. The exchange is also facing a significant budget shortfall for next year that could force the state to raise taxes.
Governor Mark Dayton remains popular in the state, but it’s worth noting that his lead over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson is down to just six points in recent polling.
The state’s $248 million exchange was so broken from the beginning that it was forced to rely on manual processing for nearly all of their sign-ups. Partly as a result, just 68,000 people signed up for coverage. The state is now planning to switch to the federal exchange, at an additional cost of $18 to $53 million.
Incumbent governor John Kitzhaber has maintained a solid lead against his Republican opponent, Dennis Richardson, but Kitzhaber remains under 50 percent.
Not every state is this bad, of course. A few state exchanges, such as Kentucky, New York, and Connecticut have functioned relatively well. Then again, considering the nationwide wreckage just described, “relatively” is a pretty low bar.
It’s way too early to get carried away — Democrats will probably still win most of these races discussed. We are talking blue states after all, and Democrats do still lead in every race except Hawaii’s. But given the states in question, the Democratic candidates really should be up by 20 or more points, not scraping by with single-digit leads.
There are plenty of factors in play, but it’s become increasingly apparent that for Republicans on the state and federal level, Obamacare is the gift that keeps on giving.
Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.
|Title:||GOP Needs to Stop Being "Stupid and Proud of It" on Iraq|
|Date:||Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:10 EDT|
|Description:||Christopher A. Preble
As Iraq descends into chaos, the Republican Party finds itself in a nearly impossible position.
The claim that the war was worth fighting is looking more absurd by the day. The assertion that George W. Bush’s surge put Iraq on the path to political reconciliation seems even less credible.
The memory of Iraq will be a drag on the party’s fortunes. The best it can hope for is that Americans are so focused on the Democrats’ unpopular domestic programs that they ignore the last GOP president’s disastrous foreign policy.
“Republicans will have a hard time convincing the American people to trust them with the keys to the nation’s foreign policy.”
Hillary Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 2016, has once again positioned herself to wring advantage from the Iraq disaster. She, of course, voted in October 2002 to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
Being pro-war helped her then. She won praise from hawks who exulted in the bipartisan support for the war.
Two years later, her Iraq war vote likely cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008, but it didn’t exclude her from being named Secretary of State. From that exalted position, Clinton argued for sending tens of thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan, urged Obama to attack Libya, and supported a tough line toward Syria.
Once again, the hawks took note, and no doubt were pleased.
Now Clinton has expressed her regrets about Iraq. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton admits her vote was a mistake.
“[M]any Senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them. As the war dragged on, with every letter I sent to a family in New York who had lost a son or daughter, a father or mother, my mistake [became] more painful…I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had…I still got it wrong,” Clinton wrote.
It does no good to speculate as to whether or not Clinton’s misgivings are sincere. The point is that she is on record as opposing the war, albeit after the fact.
If the hawks now cry foul, and turn their fire on her, they do her a favor: their hostility could help her secure the Democratic nomination, and, perhaps, the general election.
After all, consider how Clinton’s position on Iraq stacks up against the leading crop of GOP presidential candidates. According to my math, she has a better than 70 percent chance of facing off against someone who still thinks the Iraq war was worth fighting. This at a time when 59 percent of Americans think that it wasn’t.
Consider the top 10 contenders for the GOP nomination according to an April 2014 FoxNews poll. Only two — Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum — were in Congress in 2002. Both voted for the Iraq resolution, and neither has declared that he made a mistake.
Marco Rubio, who entered the Senate in 2011, has consistently sided with the most hawkish faction in that chamber, and, true to form, is calling for U.S. military action in Iraq right now. Jeb Bush has an unfortunate last name.
Rick Perry was busy being governor of Texas in 2002, and Ted Cruz was still a relative unknown, but neither has distanced himself from his fellow Texan’s war. Perry proposed sending troops back into Iraq in 2012, and Ted Cruz scored points with hawks for his attack on Chuck Hagel. Among Hagel’s sins? Opposing the Iraq war (after Hagel had voted for it).
Not quite a year ago, before the Bridgegate scandal broke, Chris Christie warned of the “dangerous” “strain of libertarianism” running in the GOP, by which he meant Rand Paul, the only serious Republican contender who has stated categorically that the Iraq war was a mistake.
Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal would probably rather not talk about foreign policy at all (and who can blame them?), but they eventually will be asked about Iraq if they run for president.
The public’s approval of Barack Obama’s foreign policy continues to decline, but it’s obvious why the GOP’s star isn’t rising. Obama’s unofficial mantra “don’t do stupid [stuff],” so ripe for ridicule by the pro-war faction, looks preferable to the alternative: “we do stupid stuff, and we’re proud of it!”
With that slogan, Republicans will have a hard time convincing the American people to trust them with the keys to the nation’s foreign policy.
Christopher Preble is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. Follow him on Twitter @capreble
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