State of the Union

Is Europe Sailing on the Titanic?

U.S. growth in the first quarter fell to 2.2 percent, a disappointment. But in Europe, that news would have caused general rejoicing.

For consider the gathering crisis on the old continent.

With negative growth now for six months, Britain has fallen back into recession. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near halfway through the eurozone crisis,” said Prime Minister David Cameron this weekend.

Romania’s government fell last week. The Czech government barely survived a vote of no confidence. In the capital cities of both countries, tens of thousands have angrily protested the new austerity.

The Dutch government also fell last week, when the Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders abandoned the governing coalition.

Wilders refuses to support spending cuts and new taxes needed to meet the hard deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product set by the European Union for 2013.

The Rome government of Silvio Berlusconi is history. New Prime Minister Mario Monti says Italy cannot sustain the austerity being imposed upon her.

In Spain, unemployment has hit 24.4 percent. Half her young are jobless. “Spain is undergoing a crisis of enormous proportions,” says Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo. He compares the EU to the Titanic.  Read More…

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Cato Clash: What Would Rothbard Say?

Breitbart and other outlets have framed the Koch-Cato battle in terms of personalities: how nasty Ed Crane is, how vain the Kochs are, who screwed over Murray Rothbard worse. Anyone who has interacted with libertarian bigwigs of a certain age knows that these questions animate them fiercely. But should anybody who hasn’t had a professional relationship or personal crackup with any of these players care?

Any libertarian worth his salt ought to be more interested in the philosophical stakes, and where those are concerned, I have a hard time seeing any merit in a Koch takeover of Cato. What’s more, I don’t know that anyone has even made the argument that a Koch-ified Cato would be more libertarian than an un-Koched one. If the Kochs had only been adding the likes of Judge Andrew Napolitano to the Cato board, there would be grounds to ponder the question. But I’m curious to hear what kind of “libertarian” philosophical claim can be made for adding (or trying to add) Republican partisans like John Hinderaker and Ted Olson to Cato’s governing body.

If Rothbard were alive today, he might enjoy some Schadenfreude at seeing his old foes tear into one another. But I don’t think he would come down on the Koch side, even if he felt more personally wounded by Crane. Rothbard would put the ideological analysis first, especially with an eye to foreign policy. A friend who knew him well reminded me a few years back that “Murray Rothbard always used to say that war is the most important issue.” There are reasons why the most antiwar libertarians might feel frustrated with Cato — Leon Hadar, a former Cato scholar, has outlined some of them in TAC — but it would take quite a feat of reasoning to show that John Hinderaker would actually make Cato more antiwar.

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The Frumming of Cato

Have a look at the byline-less “Crane Chronicles” series (1, 2, 3) over at Breitbart, in which the LA-based viral news blog takes a firm stand on the side of the Brothers Koch in the battle for the future of the libertarian think tank. The latest, published last Tuesday, quotes several anonymous sources and accuses Cato Institute president Ed Crane of sexual harassment and creating a “hostile and degrading” work environment for women.

It’s bracing stuff, but readers of this blog need no warnings to take Breitbart News’ anonymous sources with a grain of salt.

The first piece makes hay out of Ed Crane talking to Jane Mayer for her paranoid New Yorker profile on the Kochs. The author, whoever that might be, takes this as heresy, unconscionable collusion with the “Democrat Media Complex” that places him beyond the pale of sympathy. The quote in question involves a “top Cato official” referring to Charles Koch and his Market-Based Management ideas as an “emperor” who’s “convinced he’s wearing clothes.” Reading David Koch’s letter about the controversy, it’s tough to escape the conclusion that the Kochs have taken offense at Crane’s insufficient deference to their silly management philosophy:

When confronted about this, Ed initially claimed he only spoke briefly and favorably about us. He later acknowledged that he had made the statement as quoted, but it was only for background. Subsequently, he claimed that he was misquoted. As Ed has shown, he will partner with anyone – including those that oppose Cato and what it stands for – to further his personal agenda at the expense of others working to advance a free society.

Whether or not Ed Crane should have spoken to Jane Mayer should be irrelevant, though that sort of tribalism certainly animates the staff of Breitbart News. The idea that the president of the leading libertarian think tank should have some sort of gag rule for talking to left-wing reporters is nonsense. Whether Mayer misquoted Crane or quoted him against his wishes is not irrelevant, but to suggest that his statements were part of some sort of power grab on Crane’s part is more than the evidence supports. Either the Kochs are using this line as part of a power grab of their own, or Charles really was offended by the characterization of his book. To anyone who doubts the Kochs are narcissistic enough for that to be a motivating factor I would ask: What kind of self-respecting billionaire writes a self-help book? Read More…

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Bin Laden: Forgotten But Not Gone

The Guardian‘s Jason Burke looks at the terror mastermind’s legacy one year after his death. One of the key themes in Burke’s book The 9/11 Wars, which I highly recommend, is that localism largely trumped globalism in the conflicts of the past decade, with both the U.S. and al-Qaeda discovering how difficult it is to impose a cookie-cutter ideology on recalcitrant states and tribes, and with bin Laden’s organization in particular paying a price for the extreme violence it meted out against other Muslims. But there’s a paradox to bin Laden’s legacy, as Burke’s latest report suggests. Even as extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere seem content to leave OBL in the past, the sheer scale and spectacle of al-Qaeda’s tactics continue to inspire radical organizations and spotlight-seeking killers from France’s Mohamed Merah to Norway’s Anders Breivik.

Individual extremists may have nothing to lose from such tactics, but the organizations that use them are resorting to means that often compromise their ends — killing Muslims is not a great way to unite Muslims against the West, and in general slaughtering non-combatants may be a poor way of demonstrating sympathy with the world’s oppressed. “The problem is knowing when to attack and how far to go. Bin Laden was fighting a struggle within the organisation to be careful not to alienate key constituencies,” the Rand Corporation’s Seth Jones tells Burke.

The U.S. got lucky in the 9/11 wars in that the enemy — al-Qaeda — went far beyond the “collateral damage” the U.S. inflicted on Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither side won the hearts or minds of the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, or Muslims worldwide, but al-Qaeda’s actions lost the propaganda war for them. That war isn’t over, though: if the next wave of extremists in the Islamic world is a little more discriminating in its violence, and if the U.S. continues to escalate drone warfare and disregard the effect of our actions on public sentiment in South Asia, the Middle East, and beyond, bin Laden may yet enjoy the kind of success in death that he never attained in life.

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Tea Party vs. Occupy: Which Is Winning?

What may be a declining force in American political life is the Tea Party movement, which in 2010 played a critical role in winning congressional seats and governorships for the economically conservative wing of the GOP. Since then, national support for this loosely organized movement has fallen precipitously. Between March 2010 and April 2011, according to Pew polls, disapproval for the Tea Party rose by 19%, while only 21 % expressed positive views about it. 49% of those polled held no opinion on the subject and were not even motivated to inquire. At the same time, support for Occupy Wall Street movement has held steady at 21% and is now almost equal to the popularity of its right-of-center competitor.

There are several factors that make these findings curious. One, the Tea Party has obviously declined in its confrontational relation to the two-party establishment since 2010. For the last several months Tea Party leaders Senator Jim DeMint and Governor Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey, Governor Janice Brewer in Arizona, and Congressman Paul Ryan in Wisconsin have been piling on to the Mitt Romney bandwagon, and self-identified Tea Party sympathizers have been doing the same in primaries in Florida, Colorado, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Their support for the quintessential small-government candidate Ron Paul has been minimal, which should not be surprising. We are talking here primarily about Bush-McCain Republicans, who went on the attack against Democratic spending, and particularly against Obamacare, after the 2008 election. Tea Party demonstrators were mostly, according to polls, high on Medicare, which many of them are receiving, and have no desire to play around with entitlements. They are mostly objecting to Obama’s expansion of government spending. Read More…

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Pat Buchanan on “Uncommon Knowledge”

PJB discusses Suicide of a Superpower with “Uncommon Knowledge” host (and former Buchanan intern) Peter Robinson.

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Paul Ryan, Thomas Reese and Anti-Subsidiarity

Paul Ryan received a great deal of criticism from Catholics who claimed his budget was unfaithful because the spending cuts in his proposal disproportionately impacted the poor.

Last night Ryan defended his plan in a speech at Georgetown, saying his Catholic faith–especially the two principles of solidarity and subsidiarity–informed his thinking.

Leading the charge against the very notion of decentralization is Thomas Reese, Jesuit priest and former editor of America magazine, who disagrees that there are better ways to help the poor than raising taxes and enlarging the federal government:

Not all of the church’s faithful, however, were convinced by his defense. In terms of understanding the Catholic Church’s doctrine on social issues, “we’d give that speech an F,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown’s Woodstock Theological Center. “Catholics believe that problems should be dealt with at the lowest levels. But if families could take care of themselves, and the local government could, we wouldn’t have the crisis that we’re facing right now.”

The original letter from Georgetown faculty opposing the budget (Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, never one to miss an argument in favor of Catholic statism, is also a signatory) was penned by Reese, and while it’s as churlish as one might expect–complete with a potshot about how he must prefer Ayn Rand to the Gospel; their argument basically boils down to ‘Jesus wouldn’t approve of your budget, Congressman Ryan’–it demonstrates one of the difficulties with having a national dialogue over decentralization and subsidiarity.

An excerpt:

Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help — “subsidium”– when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger. According to Pope Benedict XVI: “Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa.”

Fine. But it’s obviously not the job of a national legislator to implement solutions at the local level.

Ryan’s budget isn’t perfect. Most egregiously, it fails to scrutinize Defense Department spending with nearly the same rigor as he brings to domestic reforms–defense spending goes up, when it’s higher in real terms than during the Reagan years. It’s not fair to say Ryan wants to throw granny off a cliff, but it is fair to say he would throw granny off a cliff before he’d scrap the Joint Strike Fighter.

The idea that the progressive Catholics have the moral high ground on this issue, however, is dead wrong. Their precious Medicare entitlement will be broke by either 2024 or 2016 depending on who you ask, and it won’t be able to help anyone then. The point people like Paul Ryan are trying to make is that incremental, thoughtful decentralization is preferable to the tumultuous, potentially violent decentralization that could result from debt crisis and political collapse.

But people like Reese oppose any effort to shift entitlement and poverty programs back to states or localities because they believe in the inherent virtue of federal redistributive programs. There is no end to the good the state can do for the poor because there are always more rich people we can tax. If Ayn Rand is Paul Ryan’s false idol, theirs is FDR. The whole tableaux takes on a nasty ward-heeling sheen when you think about the fact that most of the signatories, being from Georgetown, are in one way or another vested in central government and the disproportionate benefits it confers upon those who live in or near Washington.

I’m reminded of an old essay on Frank Meyer and fusionism in which Murray Rothbard asks, Can a coerced act ever be virtuous?

Suppose, for a moment, that we define a virtuous act as bowing in the direction of Mecca every day at sunset. We attempt to persuade everyone to perform this act. But suppose that instead of relying on voluntary conviction we employ a vast number of police to break into everyone’s home and see to it that every day they are pushed down to the floor in the direction of Mecca. No doubt by taking such measures we will increase the number of people bowing toward Mecca. But by forcing them to do so, we are taking them out of the realm of action and into mere motion, and we are depriving all these coerced persons of the very possibility of acting morally. By attempting to compel virtue, we eliminate its possibility. For by compelling everyone to bow to Mecca, we are preventing people from doing so out of freely adopted conviction. To be moral, an act must be free.

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Is Rubio Tomorrow’s Man — or Yesterday’s?

Among the GOP victories in 2010, none was sweeter than that of Marco Rubio.

The charismatic young Cuban-American challenged Gov. Charlie Crist in a Senate primary, ran him out of the party and swept to victory by 19 points in a three-way race.

Among those mentioned as running mates for Mitt Romney, it is Rubio who generates the most excitement. That he is young, Hispanic and conservative, and his place on the ticket might secure Florida, are the cards he brings to the table.

So it was a surprise this week to see Rubio being chaperoned over to the Brookings Institution by Sen. Joe Lieberman to take final vows as the newest neoconservative.

John Quincy Adams’ declaration that America goes not “abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” says Rubio, is an idea that he rejects.

A wiser guide, said the senator, is Bob Kagan, Barack Obama’s favorite neocon, who calls it a myth that America is in decline and who urges a more robust and interventionist foreign policy. Read More…

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Guernica: 75th Anniversary – Back When Bombing Civilians was an Atrocity

This is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica. Indignation about bombing civilians seems like such a historic relic.

Unfortunately, this atrocity seems to have been almost completely forgotten in the United States. Perhaps the last time that the most famous momento of that slaughter got any attention was when Colin Powell was shilling at the United Nations in 2003 to whip up support for bombing Iraq.

Here’s an outtake from Maureen Dowd’s excellent New York Times column (February 5, 2003) on that absurdity:

Powell Without Picasso
By MAUREEN DOWD
When Colin Powell goes to the United Nations today to make his
case for war with Saddam, the U.N. plans to throw a blue cover
over Picasso’s antiwar masterpiece, “Guernica.”

Too much of a mixed message, diplomats say. As final
preparations for the secretary’s presentation were being made
last night, a U.N. spokesman explained, “Tomorrow it will be
covered and we will put the Security Council flags in front of
it.”

Mr. Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq
surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men,
children, bulls and horses.

Reporters and cameras will stake out the secretary of state at
the entrance of the U.N. Security Council, where the tapestry
reproduction of “Guernica,” contributed by Nelson Rockefeller,
hangs.

The U.N. began covering the tapestry last week after getting
nervous that Hans Blix’s head would end up on TV next to a
screaming horse head.
______

Geez, I wonder what they would do that painting if Obama was speaking in that venue.

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More Drug War Evasions From President Obama

From his recent interview with Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone:

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?

Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

Though his answer was full of half-truths and evasions, give the man credit that he wasn’t laughing at the very idea of ending the drug war.

Let’s get one thing clear though, the President could end the crackdown on lawful dispensaries tomorrow if he wanted to. The status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug is entirely at the discretion of the DEA, which has repeatedly blocked medical testing of marijuana. The lie the administration is foisting on the public is that the president understands the problem and feels sympathetic, but his hands are tied by his inability to “nullify congressional law.” What he fails to mention is that his administration made the conflict between federal drug prosecutors and state dispensary operators exponentially worse by giving them false reassurance that they wouldn’t be targeted.

From a Politico story a few days ago:

According to Combs, a sizable Montana community of patients and growers felt empowered by the DOJ memo and the administration’s supportive statements to open up shop, register patients and begin paying taxes on what they thought was now a legitimate business. Then in 2011, federal forces from several agencies raided 26 dispensaries across 13 Montana cities. Other dispensaries have been raided in states like California, Washington, Michigan, and Colorado.

All told, the federal government has raided more than 100 dispensaries — with the most recent busts of a San Francisco Bay area marijuana training center. Obama has vowed more money to hunt down Latin American drug traffickers, promising an extra $200 million in a 2011 press conference with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes. He’s kept in place Bush administration anti-medical marijuana administrators in key administration positions.

The notion that dispensaries would be able to flout federal law indefinitely was always a little farfetched even if our elected leaders maintained the good sense not to bring the heavy hand of paramilitary assault teams down on legitimate businesses in no-knock raids. Which is why the administration’s betrayal of the uneasy truce laid out therein was due to the realities of tax law more than anything else. When they realized it wasn’t possible to just look the other   way when businesses started distributing America’s number one cash crop (if you discount corn subsidies!) the proverbial cat was out of the bag, and there was no choice but to crack down. Still, by reneging on his promise, Obama has staked out a position on the drug war somewhere to the right of Pat Robertson and a majority of Americans.

I’m still waiting for the day the administration stops saying arresting cancer-ridden medical marijuana patients is “not the best allocation of resources” and starts simply saying it’s wrong.

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