State of the Union

Libertarians and Putin’s Catastrophic Corruption

Over 100,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners are in prison in Russia for not paying bribes to assorted inspectors or because parties to business disputes bribe police to arrest them on trumped-up charges. Russia’s private sector has very little security in law for its property rights. Almost everybody dragged before any court is found guilty. The consequences are minimal re-investment, low productivity growth, and owners who seek security by taking out maximum cash and, if able, stashing it abroad.

Consequently, Russia depends upon imports for 90 percent of its consumer goods. Its agriculture is still a shambles, with no secure property rights, lousy roads to get products to markets, and younger farm workers fleeing the boredom and poverty of the countryside. Just fly over any Russian city, as I have done, and see how little of the land is cultivated compared to cities in the rest of Europe.

Yet many leading libertarians have been very soft on Putin’s elimination of political freedoms and ruination of his country, excusing Russia because of NATO expansion and Western support for the overthrow of Ukraine’s Moscow-backed Yanukovych government. Some conservatives have even argued that Putin is an ally in supporting traditional “family values” because of his public opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage.

Ron Paul defends Putin, writing that there was no proof that Russian missiles shot down Malaysia’s Flight 17 over Ukraine. His allies argue that criticism or exposure of Putin’s regime merely strengthens the War Party in Washington, helping it to gain more spending and bring about more wars against more nations. They argue that it was NATO expansion and NATO’s attack on Serbia launched by Bill Clinton that ultimately led to the reactions and new aggressiveness of Russia. This is an argument I once appreciated, but it’s not a reason to whitewash today’s Russian dictatorship and incredible corruption.  We–and I consider myself a Libertarian—can still oppose our military-industrial congress complex without excusing or hiding mention of monstrosities abroad. In fact such excuses weaken our moral standing and our competence as “realists.”

Now, with the 50 percent decline in oil income and a concomitant approximate 50 percent decline in the value of the Russian ruble, it’s very important to understand Russia’s domestic scene and how the country’s rulers are incapable of nursing its private business sector and agriculture to substitute for lost oil revenue. Russia, with its economically ignorant police-state rulers, may simply evolve into a semi-failed state with loose nukes around for the stealing or buying. Some analysts even warn that “when the federal government will no longer be able to offer financial incentive to the regions, Russia’s feeble federalism will crumble.”

Putin’s power base is with pensioners—to whom he could make relatively generously payments because of the past oil boom—and his constituency of security services, government officials (with guns), and inspectors shaking down the private sector. I have lived under various forms of dictatorship and wrote an essay in 2009, “Understanding Dictatorships,” explaining how dictators stay in power and the importance of “legitimacy” even for them. I lived in Havana when Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista dictatorship. I saw then how Batista depended upon his police, who consequently became very corrupt, constantly shaking down middle-class Cubans for bribes. They made Batista hated, but he couldn’t control them because he depended upon them to stay in power. Russia under Putin is very similar. In 2012 he publicly recognized the problem and even appointed an official, Boris Titov, to oversee releasing some 10,000 entrepreneurs from prison, but then he backed off the program. Instead, in 2013 Putin gave even more power to corrupt local courts with a new law allowing them to issue judgments without even notifying defendants of a pending case against them—see “Germany Cools to Russian Investment.” In consequence Allianz, a giant German insurer, stopped writing automobile insurance in the country.

Short of revolution, it’s hard to see how Putin can be thrown out. He and his cohorts can never allow a free election to threaten him with loss of control. He and they would all be subject to prison, or at least exile, once their corruption was investigated. He dare not leave power voluntarily. To the contrary, if squeezed too hard, he might lash out by invading other lands—Azerbaijan, for example, with its oil, or Kazakhstan with its minerals and pipelines.

The oil-price decline and Putin’s self-destructive corruption have done far more damage to Russia’s economy than any economic sanctions from the West. So now it would be better to ease up and not push Putin into more desperation or give him excuses to blame the West. European and American banks should be allowed to refinance existing Russian corporate debt, say 80 percent, with a schedule of payments to gradually reduce it—and certainly not to increase it. Just the cutting off of fresh money is all that’s needed to keep positive pressure on Russia without creating a possible failed state. A world price of $50-60 per barrel is enough to keep most of America’s shale oil production profitable yet prevent Russia from having excess funds beyond the essentials to pay pensions and prevent a possibly catastrophic implosion.

Hopefully Russia will be forced to turn inward to foster its own vast potential economic development by allowing private property rights and a breath of freedom at home. Economic development of the private sector needs a substantive rule of law.

Yet the other possibility, of becoming a failed state, is not as farfetched as it sounds. All former dictatorships are vulnerable in these days to such a risk of breaking up into religious sects, racial and ethnic groups, gangs, ideological crazies, and other malcontents with guns fighting each other. Iraq, Libya, and Syria are perfect examples. The American Conservative’s strategic expert William Lind argues that America should support “centers of order” wherever in the world against a growing number of 21st-century fracturing, failed states that will spread chaos; witness Europe’s fear of Middle Eastern fanaticisms coming to their lands. For Russia, with its thousands of nuclear bombs, it’s very much in the West’s interest to help keep it going as a viable, prosperous, and cohesive state.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.

Reagan’s Man at VOA: Kenneth Tomlinson, RIP

Ken Tomlinson, who died last week, was one of Ronald Reagan’s key lieutenants in bringing about the collapse of Soviet communism. It’s much forgotten nowadays how vital the battle to disseminate information behind the Iron Curtain was to the cause of defeating communism. The Voice of America, which Ken ran early in Reagan’s term, and Radio Free Europe were the window for millions of East Europeans into the outside world. No young person today can conceive of the dearth of information inside Russia when millions listened to short wave radio for knowledge about the world.

When I first visited Moscow with a delegation of journalists in 1987, I brought along a radio and scanned for programs. In all of Moscow there was no FM at all, and only four AM stations. TV news was scarce and always pure propaganda. VOA and the BBC broadcast news about America and the world; Radio Free Europe broadcast news about what was happening inside the Eastern Bloc nations.

Tomlinson had hired me to debate leftists on a VOA program at the end of 1984. Only subsequently came the vast expansion of information as photocopy machines and VCRs were smuggled into Russia and East Europe by the thousands. Nearly every Russian diplomat would then take back 2 VCRs, one for himself and one to sell on the black market. The VCRs, whose tapes could be dubbed with translations, created havoc for the communists as more and more of their citizens citizens learned about the outside world, and their deprivation in the Soviet prison lands.

We met, and Tomlinson hired me, after I was quoted in a 1984 poll of conservative leaders in Richard Viguerie’s Conservative Digest. Asked about the best things Reagan had done, I replied, “His speeches and vitalizing the Voice of America.” Ken’s main assistant in his work was Ed Warner, a former Time editor, hired to oversee all the special programs. He was my direct boss. Tomlinson and Warner hired me and others who really understood communists’ psychology; we knew how to get inside their minds. I had been a long-time journalist in Latin America, and grew up the son of Freda Utley, who wrote several of the first books explaining Russian and Chinese communism.

Before Tomlinson, VOA had been pretty namby-pamby, mainly known for its Willis Conover jazz programs. Turning the Voice into a real weapon of information was not easy at all for Tomlinson and Warner. It had always been a prime target of infiltration for the Soviets, second only to the CIA. Over and over again Warner would tell me of some broadcaster who was surely procommunist, putting out the straight Soviet line as if it were also Washington’s. When I’d say, “can’t you remove him?” Ed would reply, “I can’t, his boss is a good guy, thinks like we do, but says he’s ok and protects him.” Later they would finally get rid of the man only to find the boss again sponsoring the same kind of programming. The boss, too, had been a communist supporter. That was how the communists protected their agents; it was done the same way in the CIA. To this day we still don’t know just how infiltrated the VOA had been.

In any case, the VOA under Tomlinson began to broadcast hard-hitting, real information and criticism. Reagan spoke about how private property owners cared for their land to produce profitably and for the long term, unlike government. After that, I hammered away at explaining why Americans were rich and Russians were poor, for this reason. Tomlinson also unleashed the East European refugees to broadcast. A Polish friend of mine even started a talk show for listeners inside Poland to call into.

His New York Times obituary doesn’t mention how Tomlinson reformed the VOA and made it into a dynamic force for freedom. Nor, of course, does it explain that Ken Tomlinson was one of the architects of the collapse of communism. Rather, it almost completely dwells on infighting and criticism of him in later years about his disputes with PBS and public television.

Ken had reported for Reader’s Digest as a foreign correspondent before becoming editor. He was one of the rare conservatives who knew and understood the outside world, having reported from Vietnam, Somalia, and Europe. That experience was what made him so effective, and so successful.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.

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Electoral Systems and Failed Democracies

Susan /  cc
Susan / cc

Ukraine and Russia’s dysfunctional democracies both share a common feature—their electoral systems use proportional representation (PR). Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal also use it. Proportional representation is a system whereby elected congress persons (or parliamentarians) owe their primary loyalty to their party rather than to constituent voters in separate geographical districts. Each party puts up “lists” of its candidates, the names usually decided by old Party bosses. Voters are only given the option to vote for one list or another, rarely for individual members concerned with their local, specific interests. Parties that gain more than (usually) 5 percent of the total vote get a number of seats in the legislature proportional to their percentage of the popular vote. Multiple parties, constantly changing coalitions, and political instability usually then results in incompetent, often corrupt governments dependent upon minority coalitions to survive.

Who gets on the lists is the key issue. Usually they are old-time loyalists and favorites of the leadership; rarely will reformers or up-and-coming younger persons who might challenge archaic economic or political interests make an appearance. It’s almost impossible to unseat the old party leadership or to vote them out. Professional politicians love the system because, with their names at the top of their list, they rarely lose power even if their party only retains a few seats in parliament.

In Russia the proportional system enabled President Putin to put the name of his alleged girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva, a beautiful gymnast, on his party’s list for a seat in the Duma. Andrey Lugovoy, a former KGB agent wanted by England for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, was chosen by a small nationalist party’s leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party, to run close to the top of its list. He thus became a member of the Duma with consequent immunity from arrest. Russian voters can only vote for the whole list, not individual members. Ukraine and Russia have among the world’s lowest ratings in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. Ukrainians are apparently aware of PR’s problems, as they changed their system to be only half proportional and half direct representation for their last, 2012, election. A major new study, Proportional Western Europe: The Failure of Governance explains how the PR system makes it almost impossible for South European nations to reform their economies.

Interestingly both the failed Weimar Republic, which preceded the Nazi electoral victories, and the failed French Third Republic, which French voters reformed when they brought in de Gaulle and the Fourth Republic, used pure proportional representation systems.

The English-speaking world, including former British colonies and the successful Asian “tigers,” mostly uses direct voting, whereby individual representatives are chosen by and beholden to voters in their separate districts, called constituencies. Thus they are concerned with how laws and government actions directly affect their constituents. This system has the cumbersome names “winner takes all” or “first past the post.”

One almost never reads in American analyses of foreign nations any discussion of their electoral systems as factoring into their unresponsive and irresponsible governments. One reason is that electoral systems are dull and complicated subjects for mass media. Also, academics generally support PR because the system fosters parliamentary/congressional representation for every fractional political or ethnic group. The March 1st Economist ran an important essay “What’s gone wrong with democracy” that makes many important points, but does not even mention proportional representation as being a problem.

In Greece there was no competent tax collection nor even a proper register of property ownership. Every small profession and interest has its government-guaranteed monopoly; for example, one needed to pay a tax of some $50,000 to start even a tiny trucking company. In Italy any company with more than 15 workers is not allowed to lay anyone off, civil court cases average 20 years for a judicial decision, and employment taxes take some 55 percent of payroll. In Spain there were similar laws with a consequent 50 percent unemployment rate among younger citizens. All sorts of rules, some even from medieval times, hamstring and paralyze economic entrepreneurship. Laying off employees is prohibited unless a judge agrees that it is for “just cause,” which does not include going bankrupt. Few dare to start any business beyond one that only needs family members to function; hiring outsiders is too costly and risky because of labor laws, except for large corporations with the lawyers and money to navigate the administrative and judicial labyrinth.

Incredibly, Washington installed proportional representation in Iraq. It proved to be a disaster as we can already see with the nation falling into chaos again. My earlier article, “Iraq’s Dysfunctional Democracy,” explains the details. Iraq’s former president Ayad Allawi, now excluded from the government, explained the system well in a November New York Times op-ed, “How Iraq’s Elections Set Back Democracy.” Iraq also was afflicted with the very worst kind of PR, a single nationwide list of candidates for the whole country.

Democracy means far more than majority rule. It involves constraints and delays on majority rule, protection for minority rights, diffusion of power, free speech, free assembly, and accountability for elected officials. This means clear lines of authority. Politicians everywhere do all they can to avoid accountability for their actions. Interestingly, there is not even a word for “accountability” in the Latin languages French, Spanish, or Italian. It is always translated in dictionaries as “responsibility.”

Hernando de Soto, the famous Peruvian economist, explained that PR was the reason that Latin American democracies do not work well. He argued that Latin American poverty was not a result of Latins just preferring to sit around in the sun and play music. He explained in his famous book The Other Path how it was their laws, their proportional electoral systems that discouraged hard work, savings, and entrepreneurial effort. The rousing economic success in America of immigrants from many such dysfunctional countries shows that there must be reasons for economic ill-fortune other than just race or culture.

With PR, winning congressional candidates need have little concern for the very real day-to-day problems of their constituents, e.g., abusive, corrupt bureaucrats, labor and business monopolies, and crippling government taxes and regulations. They are simply not held individually accountable for their votes. This creates a hopelessness and cynicism about government that stifles reform and even hope for a better life. Polls in such nations show waning support for democracy itself.

Venezuela, before electing its demagogic, Marxist President Chavez, was typical of nations with such systems. For 20 years, their only option was to bring back pretty much the same list of representatives to Congress whom they had just voted out in the previous election. Young reformers who might have reformed the static, oligarchic, semi-socialist prior regimes were kept off the lists. The same happened in Greece. In Venezuela from the 1970s to the 1990s, two old men, Carlos Andres Perez and Rafael Caldera, each won the presidency twice as voters had no other choices: in rejecting one, they got the other. In their desperation to be rid of the corrupt, incompetent, statist, and paralyzed old parties, Venezuelans voted for Hugo Chavez. Vladimir Chelminski, former director of the Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce, described the situation in the Wall Street Journal:

For decades, the quality of life had been deteriorating. The democratic process seemed to function well only for the benefit of politicians and their friends. The political parties that had alternated in power since 1958, Social Democrats and Social Christians, were very much the same. Both offered socialism with political freedom. Their policies paid lip service to the poor but always proved counterproductive. Private property and contracts meant little in their laws. Two-thirds of willing workers could not find employment in the formal economy …

There is a less dysfunctional PR system, such as exists in Turkey, whereby lists are selected in each state or province so that representatives do have knowledge about and an interest in supporting local concerns. Parties also must surpass a 10 percent threshold nationwide in order to be on the ballot. The higher threshold addresses part of the problem of splinter parties compared to nations where the limit is 5 percent, or even less. A higher threshold forces small parties to unite and work together, an important step towards building functional democracies. This is the reason one sees constant negotiating for coalition governments, as one party rarely gains 51 percent of the total electorate. A higher threshold also reduces the power of tiny special interest parties, religious or ethnic, which sometimes exert extraordinary power as the swing parties in coalition governments.

There are some small nations where PR “works,” particularly those with a homogeneous, educated population, where most citizens know and trust each other and have high levels of personal responsibility: Scandinavia and Holland, for example, or Israel in its early days. PR can also be modified to allow local regions to vote for lists of local candidates rather than a single nationwide list. Germany has a very complicated partial PR system too complicated to explain here. However, in large nations with diverse populations and interests, especially those with ethnic or religious divisions, PR does not work well. Polish writer Frank Glodek observed in the May 2000 Central Europe Review how America in 1789 was also a diverse nation with different national origins, religious beliefs, and regional interests. He explained in an excellent analysis:

Proportional representation is particularly dangerous in any nation that has suffered from ethnic, ideological or religious divisions, virtually compelling people to vote along these pre-established lines, regardless of whether they know it to be destructive and of their preference to do otherwise. Not even a five percent vote threshold for a party to hold seats in parliament is a barrier to these voting patterns and their negative impact.

Why? When you have proportional representation, you must assume the ‘others’ will vote ethnically (or tribally, Ed), putting you at risk. The only way to protect yourself is by doing the same…

A proportional representation system can never unite so many diverse nations and peoples effectively, as it is inherently and unavoidably biased toward extremism, instability, immoderation and ineffectiveness. … People forget that the United States was, from the outset, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

After direct representation, the second most obvious need for successful democracy is a federal system with a wide dispersion of powers so local citizens can govern themselves in accordance with their history and beliefs, provided they don’t inflict harm upon their neighbors. A federal system also allows different regions to experiment. India, with its relatively successful system holding together millions of vastly different peoples and religions, followed the British electoral system.

Choosing between a parliamentary or presidential system is a secondary issue, although parliamentary is probably better for third-world nations. A parliamentary system curtails stalemates and so allows for a more rapid change of government when one group or coalition is unable to govern effectively and so loses its majority.

Effective representative government is difficult and slow to take hold, but Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Arabs, and Latin Americans all want freedom, safety, and prosperity, just like us. Before we can actively promote effective government, we ourselves need to understand why so many foreign democracies don’t work well.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.

Top Marine General on America’s Way of War—Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Conference

marine gen 2

Jamestown Foundation is an old-line think tank founded during the Cold War to encourage and help Soviet defectors. Today it is a large, respected think tank with continuing hard-line views on Central Asia and former Soviet lands. It focuses on Eurasia and global terrorism. Publications include Terrorism Monitor, Eurasia Daily Monitor, China Brief, North Caucuses Monitor, and Militant Leadership Monitor. Wikipedia reports “it has been alleged that Jamestown is neoconservative agenda driven… with ties to the CIA & U.S. Government.” Its directors include former top intelligence and military personnel. This writer, a long time anti-communist, participated in a Jamestown team of journalists and experts on Soviet Russia who served as observers for President Putin’s first election in 2000.

When the keynote speaker at Jamestown’s annual conference, a four-star Marine Corps general, analyzes America’s way of war from a realist perspective, his criticisms are well worth knowing. His views must be widespread in the military, although not in Washington’s civilian establishment. Gen. James N. Mattis (retired) followed General Petraeus as commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2010-to-2013, responsible for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and 18 other nations. Earlier he commanded the First Marine Division during the initial invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. He also served as NATO supreme allied commander from 2007-2009.  He served for 42 years, and the Marine Corps Times has called him the “most revered Marine in a generation.”

Some of General Mattis’s statements and reasoning follow; my comments are in italics.

–America doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.

–We have no overall strategy about how to defeat our enemy. (Just killing them is not working because, as I wrote years ago, the proper analogy comes from Greek mythology, Hercules’ adventure where, for every enemy soldier he killed, ten more sprung up in each one’s place)

–We don’t understand our enemy. (This refers to Sun Tzu’s classic dictum for war, “Know Thyself and Know Thy Enemy.” Americans have scarce interest in understanding the Muslim world’s history, wants, and fears.)

–Violent Jihad is gaining, not losing ground.  (House and Senate intelligence panel chairs say terrorists are gaining. Half of Americans believe us less safe today than prior to 9/11.)  

–We need a strategy which does not drive young Muslims to al-Qaeda. Read More…

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Are We Rome? FreedomFest 2013 Meets in Las Vegas

Jon Basil Utley speaks at FreedomFest 2013. Gage Skidmore / cc
Jon Basil Utley speaks at FreedomFest 2013. Gage Skidmore / cc

FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is becoming quite the libertarian/conservative event of the year. Going on for three days, with over a hundred and sixty lectures and panels, it has become a must-go and a fascinating meeting. “Are We Rome?” was the topic this year, led off by Steve Forbes describing the misery and bankruptcy that was Rome in its last century, when men sometimes sold their children into slavery in order to pay their taxes. The last day was highlighted with a live broadcast on John Stossel’s Fox Business Network show of leading participants, which was so successful that it was rebroadcast twice on Fox the following Sunday.

Everyone could find subjects that interested them from rarefied economics to history and philosophy, such as Paul Cantor’s “Empire and the Loss of Freedom: What Shakespeare’s Rome can Tell Us about Us.” Another whole section, called Anthem—The Libertarian Film Festival run by Jo Ann Skousen, showed movies and freedom documentaries. Ten feature documentaries and 11 short narratives filled the program including “Atlas Shrugged II,” “America’s Longest War”—Reason’s movie about the drug war—and “Sick and Sicker—What Happens when Government Becomes Your Doctor.” Some 2,200 people attended and all received a copy of The American Conservative in their welcome packages. TAC has helped promote the conference for years.

Lead speakers were a veritable Who’s Who of the libertarian movement. Steve Forbes; Mark Skousen, who organizes the yearly conferences; Grover Norquist; financier Jim Rogers; Charles Murray; Arthur Laffer; George Gilder; Steve Moore; Cato’s new president, John Allison; Tom Palmer of Atlas; Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch; TAC’s editor Dan McCarthy; Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks; Fred Smith of CEI; Jeff Tucker of Laissez Faire Books, which ran the book offerings; and other top intellectual leaders. The list is too long to name all the significant men and women. Senator Rand Paul was the keynote speaker. Read More…

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The Untold Story of Antiwar Conservatives

What’s missing from reminiscences of the War on Iraq is how and why the war propaganda was spread so effectively, particularly among Republicans. In fact, the refusal of most conservative media to publish contrary information was one of the reasons this magazine was founded. The American Conservative provided an outlet for many respected conservatives who couldn’t get antiwar views published.

Over and over we hear that U.S. allies believed that Iraq had WMDs. Well, sure, our CIA and British intelligence fed them misinformation, which they then repeated back to us—especially Eastern Europeans, who wanted to strengthen military relations with Washington. Even so, Germany, France, and the UN Security Council refused to support the war. There was also widespread opposition inside the U.S. military and by former U.N. inspectors, which was given little publicity by major conservative media. The big push for war came from neoconservatives and the Religious Right, evangelical fundamentalists who believed God wanted war to hurry up the second coming of Christ. Indeed, former French President Chirac wrote in his memoirs about the born-again George W. Bush telling him how God wanted war.

Conservatives opposed to empire and war included Pat Buchanan, Scott McConnell, Charley Reese, Paul Craig Roberts, Paul Gottfried, myself, Doug Bandow, Bill Kauffman, Sheldon Richman, Leon Hadar, Allan Brownfeld, Martin Sieff, Phil Giraldi, as well as other respected leaders such as congressmen John Duncan and Ron Paul and future senator James Webb.

Neither Buchanan nor any other anti-war writer could get published by The Washington Times. The Wall Street Journal op-ed would not accept any article opposing the war until one by Brent Scowcroft, who was too big a name to block. National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute’s publications and conferences would only promote pro-war opinions and propaganda. Fox News was a solid barrage of war promotion and panic-mongering. Human Events, the Cold War bulwark, had lost its great editor, Allan Ryskind, after which it just parroted the Bush administration.

The seeds and theories of American empire-wishers were planted after the collapse of Communism. Well before 9/11, I had tried to get National Review to publish my article “America Is not Rome.” I still remember how Bill Buckley, who was the godfather of my first child, waved my article off with an outstretched arm when I sat with him in the lobby of the Hay Adams in Washington. Later he changed his views and become an early defector over the Iraq War, though by then he had delivered National Review to the neocons. Similarly, when I wrote to the Heritage Foundation’s foreign-policy staff urging that they at least allow an occasional non-empire speaker at their Washington conference, I was told that those ideas could be heard at the Cato Institute. I knew most of the major conservative leaders from my years as an anti-Communist writer and donor to conservative causes and from my 17 years as a commentator on Third World issues for the Voice of America. My mother, Freda Utley, had been one of the earliest anti-Communist writers in America, and many knew her work.

What America’s imperialists did not understand was that the collapse of Communism meant that Washington had less power to control world events. Fear of Communist terror meant that other nations always followed Washington’s lead. Once the threat was gone, they didn’t need to obey us any more. Think of Turkey, a prime example, and even Germany and Japan, which refused to support the invasion of Iraq.

I know all this because I was also among those opposing the Persian Gulf War—i.e., the First Iraq War. And it was the first war that brought about the second one. Remember the three reasons Osama bin Laden himself gave for the 9/11 attacks were 1) the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the first war, 2) the harm to Iraqi children resulting from nine years of American sanctions after the first war, and 3) the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation on the West Bank.

The 9/11 attacks were obviously a consequence of the First Iraq War. What’s forgotten is that the first war was also based on Washington lies, in this case about the famous “incubator babies,” the secret, untrue satellite photos showing that Saddam’s army was posed on the border of Saudi Arabia, and Ambassador April Glaspie’s telling Saddam that Washington was not concerned with inter-Arab quarrels.

Conservative opposition to the Gulf War was led by the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust. Its membership comprised conservative including Pat Buchanan, publisher Henry Regnery, Ron Paul, William Niskanen of Cato, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell of the Mises Institute, John Chamberlain, Paul Gottfried, Sheldon Richman, and Justin Raimondo. I was a co-founder, along with Phil Nicolaides and Joseph Sobran. Our secretary and public-affairs director was the redoubtable Fran Griffin, a long-time conservative organizer. There was no Internet in those days, and we had almost no money, but we exposed the lies and did manage to do a number of direct mailings. But we were swamped by Kuwaiti money—for example, they brought a dozen tables at CPAC’s banquet, filling them with Young Americans for Freedom students clamoring for war. England’s Margaret Thatcher also demanded war to save Kuwait, which was a major depositor and funder of England’s banks.

The first Iraq War was also opposed by Yitzak Rabin, Israel’s great general and later peace maker, murdered by an ultra-Orthodox religious fanatic. He had warned that one never knows, when starting a war, where it will lead.

U.S. support for the first Iraq War did not just come from imperialists. It also came from many old anti-Communists, such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, where I was treasurer and a long time director. He and many others were still bitter and traumatized by the loss of Vietnam. They wanted America to show that it could “win” against a Third World adversary.

Going into the second Iraq War, Republican realists who advised Bush the father were excluded by Bush the son. I described the younger Bush’s naiveté in a parody of a long-ago medieval invasion, “The Second Children’s Crusade.” Most conservative leaders, including the neocons, knew little of the outside world and almost nothing about the developing world. In fact, those who knew the least about the outside world were the most enthusiastic to go to war in Iraq the second time.

There were many critical voices among libertarians. First of all there was the major libertarian website Antiwar.com, publishing daily, informative, fact-full articles and links about Iraq and the whole Middle East. (It was where I wrote most of my pieces.)  LewRockwell.com also published numerous well-informed articles. The Cato Institute put out many papers and invited many speakers opposed to the war. The Independent Institute in California did the same.

In Iraq, UN inspectors, including the American Scott Ritter, had wide access, but Republicans ignored their reports. Under frequent and ongoing U.S. bombing and nine years of a very tight economic sanctions, Iraq was already in economic shambles.

On the left, particularly in The Nation, there were many critical reports about the war. Republicans and conservatives, however, would not read or give any credence to any leftist source. The TV networks were carried away by war fever—witness what happened to antiwar host Phil Donahue, removed from MSNBC to placate its owner, General Electric. Today it is revealing that, except for The Nation and the ACLU, most of the left keeps quiet about Obama’s continuation of many of Bush’s foreign-interventionist policies and the curtailing of our constitutional freedoms. Being in power changed them.

With The American Conservative there was a respected voice in Washington exposing the propaganda and warning of the catastrophic consequences of war for America. It gave Pat Buchanan a chance to be heard again. I took the magazine to all sorts of conservative groups and meetings. I belonged to many—the Grover Norquist Wednesday meeting, the Paul Weyrich lunch, the Philadelphia Society, the Council for National Policy, CPAC, and many lesser ones. Where I was prevented from speaking or only given a minute or two to talk, I could still distribute articles. At Paul Weyrich’s weekly meetings of leaders of major conservative organizations, the evangelical Christian Religious Right, in particular, were big war promoters. A dozen of them even petitioned to have me expelled, but Weyrich told them that they should also hear the antiwar side.

I had several large email lists of the organizations above and regularly sent out copies of articles contradicting the war-wishers and warning of the cost and consequences to come. The truth was easily available. Anyone who took the trouble to search Google would have found my widely linked “Lies About Iraq.”

So, in the year of the war’s 10th anniversary, remember that there were plenty of voices exposing the lies, incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance of those who favored starting unending wars in the Muslim world. We should thus be prepared for the next time. But instead we see much of the same gang frightening us again for another war, this time with Iran. America’s problem is that war is very profitable for the military-industrial complex and makes exciting TV for comfortable audiences at home. The consequences, however, wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, discredited the Republican Party, helped bankrupt America, and will be with us for years to come.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.

Military Readiness–for What?

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to American troops stationed in Korea about the impacts of sequestration | Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to American troops stationed in Korea about the impacts of sequestration | Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr

The sequester is messy, but it’s a vital first step in bringing government spending under control. Scary reports of less infantry training, delayed shipbuilding, and fewer hours flying for fighter pilots are all part of what Ivan Eland calls, “Firemen First,” the way government tries to terrify taxpayers any time there is an effort to cut waste and expense. Our military was designed for instant mobilization to fight off a Soviet invasion of Europe. Today no nation has the ability to launch an effective first strike, and the president has not in fact threatened to dismantle our nuclear deterrent. So “readiness” can only mean being ready to start another war.

Even if we do have cuts to “readiness,” we can easily wait a year with less readiness while we reform Pentagon spending. One aircraft carrier to attack Iran instead of two? Even one carrier has the power to destroy any third world nation’s defenses, vital industry, and communications. And we have hundreds more bombers just minutes away on land to attack Iran from Persian Gulf bases. Is having one carrier on station instead of two a disaster of sequestration? And what about our cruise missiles and long-range bombers?  Isn’t America’s power still very redundant?

Former congressman Barney Frank asked our generals at congressional hearings if we really still need the triad of ICBM’s, submarines, and long-range bombers—altogether amounting to thousands of nuclear weapons—for war with a weakened Russia. Wouldn’t two delivery systems be enough?

Sequestration seems to be the only way to force a debate in Washington about our grand strategy and about America’s real strengths and weaknesses. Does America really need so many redundant forces? Are we still focused on re-fighting World War II again with carriers, bombers, and fighter planes? When every missile on each fighter-bomber can hit its target, do we still need so many at the cost of $300 million each? When every nuclear missile can land within yards of its target, do we still need so many? When we have promised ourselves never again to invade a land power in Asia, do we need so much infantry? Do we need a thousand bases overseas and 4,000 within the U.S.? Shouldn’t we heed the greatest war historian of all, Sun Tzu, about how to fight our wars? Shouldn’t we recognize that America can’t win wars against guerrillas, especially with a neighboring sanctuary? Are we now going to have a new war in north Africa? Congressmen who say we must “win” in Afghanistan appear to expect a delegation of Taliban to sign surrender documents on a warship like the Japanese once did.

Sequestration is not something to postpone again. It is the beginning of the real battle against a future of unending wars, loss of our own constitutional freedoms, the creation of new enemies abroad, a declining standard of living, and eventual loss of our Republic—replaced with a bankrupt empire. This is what the real fight is about.

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16 Ways to Cut Defense Spending

Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “the greatest threat to our national security is our debt.” Senator Coburn said on “Morning Joe” on Feb 13 that “$100 billion could be cut.” Ron Paul says that only about half the defense budget is for defense, the other half is for militarism abroad.

So here are 16 ways to cut its waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayers.

1) The military is top-heavy with officers and generals compared to enlisted men, with far more proportionately today than during World War II. The military is still trained and designed mostly for mass mobilization to refight World War II: tanks, aircraft-carrier strike groups, and fighter planes for dogfights and to shoot down bombers only Russia has. Yet Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, plagued and demoralized by Putin-era corruption. China is dynamic, defensive, and prospers with peace.

Basing one’s military on past wars’ lessons is nothing new. British generals entered World War I with horse cavalry and the strategy of Napoleon. It’s common to start wars with the strategy of 75 years before.

2)  If every missile and bomb hits its target—unlike in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam—why do we need so many planes, tanks, and warships? Drones now can replace many pilots. In the Korean War it took 4 months of trying to bomb the Yalu River bridge by which most Chinese supplies arrived. Now a single missile from hundreds of miles away can do it. No aircraft carrier was used during the recent war in Libya because of fear of medium-range anti-ship missiles. Carriers today are very vulnerable against modern nations, although useful for attacking mostly helpless Third World ones. Do we need as many as the 12 strike groups we have? The whole way we fight wars needs to be re-examined. We can’t go on like in Iraq, shooting a quarter million bullets for each dead insurgent. The waste in our war-fighting is beyond comprehension. Rep. Mike Coffman details 15 ways some $50 billion per year could be saved—for example, some $100 billion over 10 years by adopting “sea swap” policies for cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious ships by flying crews out to ships instead of changing crews at home ports. Think of all the waste in fuel and wear-and-tear sailing thousands of miles each way back home to port.

3) Combine military medical services. Each of the armed forces has its own medical corps. An excessive number of Army colonels are doctors. The Navy and Air Force presumably have similar overstaffing, usually based on World War II models. Yet it’s the infantry and Marines who suffer nearly all the casualties. Other services face fewer risks to their lives and health.

4) Former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England urged cutting 100,000 civilian employees from the Defense Department when it had 700,000 employees, the same number as during World War 2. Now the number has grown to 800,000.

5) Tricare costs the Pentagon budget over $50 billion per year to provide almost free healthcare to all military retirees and their families for life, even if they are working in other jobs with health insurance. Former Secretary of Defense Gates tried in vain to establish reasonable co-pays and reforms.

6) Senator Coburn complained that the military schools were costing $50,000 per student. He urged reforms such as using more local civilian schools near military bases.

7) The military maintains some 4,000 bases inside the U.S. and 1,000 overseas with personnel in 140 nations; many installations have fewer than 100 troops. Many are simply tripwires filled with potential hostages so as to get America involved in new conflicts and wars. Vast cutbacks are possible. We need a new base closing commission to take the matter out of the hands of our corrupted Congress (see The Hidden Cost of Empire).

8) The military is paid vastly more than civilians. Officers and enlisted men earn an average cash income some 80 percent higher than civilians with similar skills and education. Their pension and medical benefits put them far beyond what any worker in the private sector earns. For details see the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation.

9) Retirement ages were set well over a hundred years ago when life spans were under 60 years. Surely noncombat personnel could retire with pensions after, say, 25 years instead of 20. The risk to their lives and health is marginal in most military occupations; Northern Virginia is not a combat zone, even if personnel wear combat uniforms and boots to work. Civilians now often must work well into their seventies.

10) Retired generals and admirals should be prohibited for five years from working for the military-industrial complex so that they will use their skills elsewhere to help the civilian economy. Remember the CNN and Fox News generals promoting more war who were outed by the New York Times for profiting from Pentagon suppliers.

11) It’s not just Pentagon waste. The CIA and other intelligence agencies have virtual blank checks without oversight. The Washington Post ran a series about their infighting and duplication of efforts with 50,000 yearly reports, many unread and unnecessary. When Leon Paneta went to the Pentagon, it was reported that he flew back to California at government expense every weekend. When he did the same while running the CIA, the information was classified secret.

12) It cost half a million in Iraq and nearly a million dollars in Afghanistan to maintain each soldier per year. Obviously fewer foreign interventions would save hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.

13) Weaponry is the greatest money sink of all. Weapons are designed to be built in key congressional districts, not to be the most efficient or cost effective, as during the Second World War. The F-22 had 1,000 suppliers in 44 states. The F-35 has 1,300 suppliers in 45 states in key congressional districts and is now estimated to cost up to $300 million per plane. Weapons manufacturing is started before finalized testing so as to build a constituency for programs’ continuation. Military contractors then get cost-plus contracts to modify the weapons, which won’t work properly because insufficient initial testing was done before manufacturing them.  Congressmen stick the Pentagon with suppliers at extra-high cost (see this report on oil pans for $17,000 each) from their congressional districts and then (often) get donations from the same companies for their campaign funds.  Other Congressmen put in spending for projects the Pentagon does not even want. The whole process contributes vastly to corruption in Washington and undermining America. The Wall Street Journal ran an article pondering what fighter planes would cost if Apple manufactured them like it makes iPhones.

14) Half of defense manufacturing workers are unionized, many with outdated work rules and few of the efficiencies instituted by competitive private industry, e.g., cutting out much middle management and using labor to maximum efficiency.

15) America maintains duplicate forces: two armies (i.e., Army and Marine Corps.) and four air forces (the Air Force, Marine Corps aviation, Naval Air Forces, and the CIA’s fleet of aircraft and drones). The Marines should be maintained for their special skills as an elite, smaller force, not as an auxiliary army. The air forces should cut out duplication. We still maintain some 50 nuclear submarines. Do we really need so many when a single one can bottle up a whole Third World navy, as England did with Argentina in the Falklands War?

16) Rand Paul has demanded that the Pentagon be audited, something Congress has so far been unable to do. The Defense Department does not even know all the cash, supplies, foreign bases, and inventory it has. Much more vast and incredible waste remains to be discovered.

These are some of the possible savings in military costs. They don’t include the largest benefit of all: the value many of the highly skilled and motivated men and women in the military could bring to the civilian workforce. The mostly wasted talent pool is incredible. All American strategy should be re-examined. Indeed, Washington now violates most of the precepts of the greatest military strategist in history.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.

Benghazi, Mali, and the Need for a Defensive American Strategy

The greatest threat to America is not what foreigners do to us; rather it is what we do to ourselves. The greatest recent example is 9/11, Bin Laden’s attack. Our response was to virtually bankrupt ourselves, lose the goodwill of much of the world, and make ourselves hated in most Muslim nations. Our trillion dollar “victory” in Iraq is followed by American businessmen and tourists fearing for their lives if they ever set foot there for the next 20 years, while business opportunities are taken up by foreign companies and other nations.

Now comes Benghazi. The end result of the American response will be to further isolate our diplomats and intelligence officers in even more nations, confining them to their castle-like compounds. American diplomats and CIA staffs are already isolated in fortress embassies far away from downtown in traffic-dense 3rd world cities. It can take half a day to have a lunch appointment. I have seen some of these new embassies. They are designed to withstand military attacks and even further isolate our diplomats from local citizens. Our wars have already put American diplomats at risk in many nations, isolating us just as was Bin Laden’s objective. The recent dismissal of top security administrators will make their replacements even more fearful of allowing diplomats to circulate freely among native populations. In Iraq U.S. diplomats now have MRAPs at their disposal.

Our widespread predator drone killings of “terrorists” and their families in assorted nations have also changed the rules of war. Benghazi shows that American diplomats are now considered fair targets in any Muslim nation and possibly others. Diplomats may not be combatants, but they are targets of our enemies. In addition, CIA officials who were safe in communist times now represent an armed force managing attack drones. Thus they become targets too. Washington uses the CIA because it is not bound by military law, but a consequence of that is all its agents can now be considered combatants. Read More…

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Cut Military Waste, Not Charitable Deductions

Did you ever wonder what tax “loopholes” cost relative to war and Pentagon spending?  The figures are now plainly available to compare with respect to other government spending. For example, mortgage interest deductions “cost” Washington some $100 billion in lost revenue. This “buys” America some 11 months of war in Afghanistan or some 14 percent of the whole $740 billion Pentagon budget. Charitable and educational tax deductions “cost” Washington $52 billion per year. These include all yearly tax-deductible donations to churches, universities, charities, thinks tanks, and all other non-profits. All of it equals some 7 percent of Pentagon spending, or just about the amount of the coming sequestration cuts.

The facts above come from an analysis by Politico on the amounts of all major tax preferences in an article titled “Tax Loopholes Alone Can’t Solve Fiscal Cliff.“ Altogether they equal about $834 billion. The loopholes include, in addition to the above, $164 billion for employer-sponsored health insurance, $162 billion for exclusion of employer pension benefits, $71 billion for lower capital gains rates, $76 billion for the exclusion of Medicare benefits, $54 billion for the deduction of state and local income taxes, and $52 billion for the exclusion of capital gains taxes on estates at death. These tax deductions are a mere drop in the bucket compared to all the waste and unnecessary costs associated with “Defense.”

Compare these with another study that breaks down all national-security costs. Those total some $1.2 trillion—far more than just the Pentagon’s costs, if one includes the CIA, veterans programs, pensions, interest on war debts, etc., but not the Afghan War, which is another hundred billion. The military establishment’s waste is so extraordinary that anyone in Washington who defends it either plans for America to start more wars (e.g., neoconservatives) or is on the take in some way—perhaps subsidized by a think tank getting money from military contractors. A good overall view of defense spending is by budget expert Winslow Wheeler, “The Defense Budget: Ignorance Is Not Bliss.” And this does not include big-ticket items like the F-35—scheduled to reach a trillion dollars for an average five hours of flying time per week over its lifetime—or a 12th aircraft carrier battle group. Would tax-paying Americans really prefer a new fighter plane, when America already dominates the world’s skies and seas, rather than have their home mortgage interest deduction?

The CIA and other intelligence agencies cost some $55 billion that we know about. In 2010 some $27 billion more was spent on military intelligence programs. Waste is incredible. The Washington Post ran a series of articles about waste and duplication of efforts at the many intelligence agencies. It pointed out among other numbers that some 50,000 intelligence reports are issued yearly. No congressman, to my knowledge, demanded an investigation. A recent interesting information tidbit was how Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has Air Force planes fly him home to California every weekend. The news came to light when he transferred to the Pentagon, which publishes such information. Earlier at the CIA he did the same, but it was a secret expense. The exploding cost of homeland security is also somewhat hidden: for example, airline passengers pay for much of the government’s costs in higher fares.

Other exorbitant costs are so legion as to be unfathomable. Military pay, for example, is 90 percent higher than that for exceeds that of 90 percent of civilians of similar education and age. Retirement age was set for the cavalry a hundred years ago. Service could easily be extended for non-combat infantry to 25 years from 20 today.

The Coming Attack on Non-Profits

It’s easy to understand that big government is now looking at charitable and educational tax deductions as a new source of tax revenue. As Willie Sutton, the bank robber, used to say (about banks), “that’s where the money is!” All the activists in Washington working for nonprofits should contemplate the handwriting on the wall. Think tanks, just like theaters and museums, depend upon wealthy people for the bulk of their donations, exactly those earning over $250,000 per year, “millionaires and billionaires,” as Obama calls them. Both Obama and Romney called for limits on tax deductions for charity and educational institutions. First they might separate charitable deductions from educational deductions, as is already done in many foreign countries. One way or another, the tax attack is coming. Just think also of all the big government spenders and lobbyists who would not be unhappy to see the demise of those Washington think tanks that study and expose government fraud, waste, and corruption.

The Washington media establishment is just amazing in how most reports constantly support tax increases instead of writing more about government waste. Of course, it’s not just in the defense budget. Medicare fraud alone is about $60 billion per year. Medicaid follows close behind. To understand the numbers, we should never forget that a billion equals one thousand million; a trillion equals one thousand billion.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of TAC.

Sucker Bait: Tax Rate Cuts for Lost Deductions

Romney’s campaign musings about how he would cut income tax rates by 20 percent (when half of Americans don’t even pay income taxes) has now floated the ultimate loser for all tax paying Americans. This is a $17,000 limit per person for all deductions including mortgage interest, charitable, and state taxes. The concept was first floated by Obama to limit charitable deductions to a maximum rate of 28 percent for high income taxpayers, even though marginal tax rates are at 35 percent and may go to 39 percent at the end of this year. Once the principle is established to curtail deductions, future congresses can then cut them more and more.

This was the left’s attempt to get the camel’s nose under the tent, that is to start curtailing deductions, especially for large charitable and educational foundations. They have quickly jumped to note “bi-partisan” support for their agenda, “Romney is now admitting that middle-class tax increases on housing, health care and charitable deductions are on the table,” said Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for Obama.

Tax deductions (denounced by the left as “loopholes”) are infinitely safer and more lasting than any cuts in tax rates which can easily be raised for the next war or crisis by any new Congress. Deductions, the large ones left, are for home mortgage interest, state income taxes, and charitable deductions. They are supported by all sorts of interests. These include employees of non-profits, homeowners, residents of high income tax states such as New York and California, charities, real estate brokers and a host of other Americans. Raising tax rates on the wealthy (over $200,000 income) is only opposed by a minority of Americans who actually pay these taxes.

Examples of higher rates after losses of deductions are legion. Former President Bush (41) and Clinton raised rates after Reagan cut out deductions supposedly in return for lower rates. Bruce Bartlett details the recent history in his book, The Benefit and the Burden. He writes how Reagan reduced the top rate to 50 percent and then, with the Tax Reform Act of 1986, took away many tax preferences in return for reducing the rate to 28 percent. Subsequently George H.W. Bush raised it to 31 percent and Clinton then raised it to 39 percent but none of the tax preferences were reinstated (and the temporary decline to 35 percent is scheduled to end this December). With the next financial crisis they could easily be put back to 50 percent. Although most of the agenda for higher taxes comes from the left, a contingent of Republicans also support higher taxes if the money goes for more “defense.”

As an aside to the above Bartlett explains a forgotten feature of Clinton’s tax increase to 39% during the prosperous 90’s, Obama’s proposal to copy it, is widely praised now as showing that higher taxes don’t affect economic growth. Clinton increased the threshold at which the highest rates kicked in from $80,000 to $250,000 of yearly income. In effect this meant that there was no increase for most taxpayers.

There is another major tax attack coming on non-profits–that is, charitable and educational foundations and their think tanks. These vast sources of wealth are looked upon more and more hungrily by Washington’s taxers. A good analogy is during medieval times when Europe’s kings desperately needed more money for their wars. They looked and saw church lands and monasteries as a vast source of untaxed wealth. It took them a while but soon they had seized such lands in most of Europe. The formerly wealthy Catholic church never recovered its former power.

Although most Americans would think of charity, medical research, theaters and schools as primary beneficiaries of tax deductible donation, political education is the area most vital to maintaining our freedoms from the warfare-welfare state. Think of the Cato Institute, the ACLU, the Federalist Society, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Brookings, the Hoover Institution and the new state think tanks. Tax deductible donations and bequests at death to these non-profits and hundreds of others like them allow independent sources of wealth able to challenge and (sometimes) limit government abuse and power. They don’t exist in most foreign nations precisely because governments don’t like them so there is no tax deduction for supporting them. They are much of the reason we have preserved most liberties in America.

If Romney wins election now and then becomes unpopular during the difficult times ahead, it’s quite possible he’d have a Democratic congress in 2014. Then we’d have the most toxic tax alliance, as history has proven time and again; a weak Republican president without strong anti-tax convictions and a Democratic congress pushing him to approve their agenda. Think about how this already happened with former presidents Nixon, Bush 41, and Gerald Ford, or Bush 43, who caved in with a medicare expansion, educational programs, and other big government agenda.

Jon Basil Utley is Associate Publisher of the American Conservative.

FreedomFest in Las Vegas

FreedomFest is the great annual meeting of libertarians in Las Vegas organized by author, economist, and editor Mark Skousen. Held close to the 4th of July every year, it celebrates a diversity of opinions rarely found among the “conservatively correct” who rule the Republican Party and brook little dissent – for example, against more wars. Steve Forbes, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, and Fox Business Channel’s Judge Napolitano are always there.

Sen. Rand Paul was the keynote speaker at this year’s conference, which took place July 11-14. He said that there is “consensus” in Washington — for higher taxes, more regulations, and few reforms. He questioned Defense Department waste and demanded a first time audit of Pentagon spending. He said his proposed cuts of just 1 percent across the board for all government spending were opposed by most of Congress, even though such a real cut would in 10 years balance America’s budget.

Speakers included a veritable Who’s Who of libertarian intellectuals and independent conservatives. (See links to their biographies and to the program topics.) Some hundred subjects were covered in lectures or seminars with panels of experts, a gamut covering the American and world economies, finance, investment, geopolitics, philosophy, history, art, healthy living, science, and technology. John Mackey spoke on food, saying that he approved of the “paleo” diet, based upon what ancient humans ate, but adding that whole grains (unrefined flour) were healthy as well.

A newly expanded feature was Anthem: The Libertarian Film Festival, with some 20 films on issues such as jury nullification, Liberty in film, Ayn Rand, Detroit’s underground economy, climate change, and many libertarian themes.

TAC editor Daniel McCarthy, contributing editor Sheldon Richman (who edits the Foundation for Economic Education’s Freeman), and myself participated in a panel on “Liberty or Empire—Freedom and Unending Wars.” I focused on understanding Third World nations, why democracies can’t run empires, and why America is unable to win guerrilla wars. McCarthy spoke on the connection between war and revolution as forces that transform society – another reason Americans should not take lightly the consequences of unending wars. Sheldon Richman discussed the original Articles of Confederation of the 13 American colonies and how many of our Founders were concerned that too strong a central government be able to go to war like the old European kings. (Audio recordings of the sessions are available here.)

Read More…

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Sequestration: The Way to Cut Defense Waste

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in formation with two F-16s. | Official U.S. Air Force / Flickr
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in formation with two F-16s. | Official U.S. Air Force / Flickr

Just like with base closings, taking cuts out of the hands of Congress is the only, repeat “only” way to cut waste from our trillion dollar defense/militarism spending. Reading and hearing how The Complex screams, here are a few points about the distortions and half-truths being put out by it and by Big Government Conservatives–Republican congressional leaders, Neoconservatives, Heritage Foundation, National Review, Fox TV,  Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their big government program is unending wars, imperialist foreign policy, and ever expanding Homeland Security.

The cuts to the Pentagon budget will be only 7% or some $40+ billion, not the $500 billion they bandy about! Anyone who confuses the (unlikely) ten year cut with next year’s cut is just promoting lies. A good example is the Wall Street Journal editorial, “The Coming Defense Crackup,” warning that the cuts would create the smallest navy since 1914. It intentionally confuses next year’s cut with the consequences of 10 year cuts.

Ok, but when every smart bomb and missile hits its target, why does one need as many shells as the old battleships where most shots missed? During the Korean war the Air Force tried futilely for months to bomb a bridge over the Yalu River. Today destroying a bridge takes one cruise missile from a hundred miles away. In Washington we find all the big media opposed to cutting defense spending, waste and all, even the Washington PostPolitico, usually a leftist paper, publishes articles also intentionally confusing 10 years of cuts with a one year cut. Today’s congressmen can’t oblige future congresses on what they will spend; defense apologists use the 10-year number to try to stop the sequestration for one year, 2013. All the big Washington newspapers are full of costly ads from defense contractors.

The money is not all for defense. At least half is for attacking other nations, as Ron Paul called it the defense/militarism budget. Roughly half goes for defense, the rest is for military adventures abroad, most of them quite unnecessary, indeed counterproductive as they just create more enemies for America. Look at Turkey where 90% of the population used to support America; now 85% oppose us. Obviously if we attacked fewer foreigners we could do with much less spending. Firing 250,000 bullets for each dead guerilla can get expensive. As also paying  $400 per gallon to get fuel to the front lines. Total defense costs are now well over a trillion dollars if one includes homeland security, nuclear bombs and off-budget stuff, e.g. $16 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office military satellites, just one of the 16 separate intelligence agencies.

Republican leaders claim that government spending to create jobs is a giant waste. But then they argue that such spending for military jobs is necessary to help the economy. Many openly argue that the defense budget is a jobs program. Think though of how many jobs the talented, ambitious people in the defense establishment could create in the private sector. Cutting fat, not meat is the important need. But faced with even marginal cuts to the defense budget, Republicans threaten voters like big city Democrats warning that the opposition will first cut firemen and policemen while leaving untouched all the fat, waste, pensions and welfare in city budgets. There are places we can cut without sacrificing effectiveness, and sequestration can help us find them. With that in mind, here are eight suggestions:

1) — $50+ billion in free health care for anyone who served in the military for any amount of time for them and their families for the rest of their lives. Former Republican Defense Secretary Gates recommended this cut. It’s also an unfair advantage in seeking jobs over other Americans whose employers’ must pay for their health care. True, America’s obese and partly corrupted health care system inflates costs incredibly, but another constituency without federal subsidies would mean more votes for real reform of medical care, e.g. promoting competition in health care, obliging hospitals and doctors to post prices, stopping payoffs to doctors from Big Pharma, allowing nurse practitioners with data bases to provide basic medical care and so on.

2) – Cut 100,000 civilians out of 700,000 in the military held over since the cold war, a cut suggested by former Republican Navy Secretary Gordon England. Instead we now have 800,000. The Complex loves to equate a few thousand Muslim terrorists with the giant former Soviet threat with thousands of nukes, half of Europe and a vast leftist network in America and Western Europe. The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute even argue that America should spend more now than even in communist times.

3) — Soldiers and officers now earn more than 90% of Americans with equivalent education, averaging some $50,000 yearly for enlisted men and $94,000 for officers, some 88% higher than civilians with the same education. Comparable civilian wages are far lower and without comparable benefits. See the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensationanalysis on Military.com. Every few years Congress passes more pay increases, even more than the Pentagon itself wants. Most military jobs are very safe nowadays; many now wear combat boots and uniforms to office jobs in the Washington suburbs. Infantry combat soldiers should maybe still retire after 20 years, but most of the military could easily work another 5 years rather than retire at 20 years and then be paid for another 40 by inflation-adjusted pensions. The retirement age was set in the 19th century.

4) — Weapons manufacturing has become a source of vast corruption and overspending. Fighter planes don’t need to cost some two to three hundred million dollars apiece. They do because contracts are awarded to companies in districts with influential congressmen, based on political expediency not efficiency or comparative advantage. This provides congressmen with donations from manufacturers in their districts and builds a congressional constituency to maintain production of weapons even if later it is found to be unnecessary, unimaginably costly or even dysfunctional. Former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehman criticized procurement in Wasteful Defense Spending is a Clear and Present Danger.

5) — The F-22 was designed in the 1980’s to fight now non-existent Soviet fighter planes with inputs from over 1,000 manufacturers in 44 states. The F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, now proudly advertises in Washington’s Politico newspaper that it has 1300 suppliers in 45 states. The ad does not say that each plane is now costing some $300 million each, nor that production models are sitting on runways still waiting for properly tested inputs. Some half of defense workers are unionized and contracts are often cost-plus, especially for modifications which always become necessary. The defense industry has not gone through the vast labor and middle management reforms in manufacturing which the private sector adopted. This means there is little competition among producers and many are still saddled with obsolete, unproductive union work rules. Also profits are highest in producing more aircraft carriers, tanks and fighter planes, based on World War II strategies, not for fighting guerrillas, terrorists, religious fanatics and cyber warfare.

6) — Many, many overseas bases are very superfluous and could be closed to save tens of billions. The website G2mil.com published a detailed list of suggested closings to save billions, explaining why each is superfluous and how much money could be saved. Closing more bases in America could equally save more billions. Most were set up in the days of horses, buggies and then railroads, when moving from one to another was slow and costly. The G2 website also published several other excellent suggestions to control and improve military spending.

7) — Do we really need over 50 nuclear submarines, as many as in communist times? This subject needs vetting. The English, with just one such sub, bottled up the whole Argentine navy during the Falkland War.

8.) — Audit Pentagon Spending—every effort to do so up to this point has failed. We just don’t know all the waste and duplication. Also the GAO should report on the cost of using subcontractors in different in different congressional districts compared to the old way of producing major weapons.

The above are just a few of the ways hundreds of billions could be saved. Sequestration is the way to start. Across-the-board spending cuts are a way to force a look at all the waste and thoughtless policies.

Jon Basil Utley is Associate Publisher of the American Conservative.

J Street and the Israeli Lobby

“J Street supporters are pro-peace first and pro-Israel second” is the criticism of hard-line Zionists and their allies in Washington. It well describes the growing fault lines in the Jewish community with those who want peace for Israel’s and America’s own long-term interests. Aggressive new settlements, international opprobrium, and unending, costly conflicts have lost Israel most of its worldwide support. As all-powerful and intimidating as AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, still appears, Jewish attacks are weakening it, even as Congress still trembles and Republican presidential candidates grovel before it. Its power is now being challenged as never before. Indeed, AIPAC’s leadership already only speaks for a minority of Jews, especially old ones, according to many participants at the conference. Today it increasingly depends upon the support of two main allies, the military-industrial complex and Christian Zionist millenarians.

Polls already show that a majority of American and Israeli Jews want peace and the removal of most of the settlements, and they support a viable Palestinian state. Israel’s Likud government, which long viewed J Street as a nuisance, this time felt compelled to send an emissary, Deputy Head of Mission Baruch Binah, to address its third gala dinner at Washington’s giant convention center  last March 26.

J Street’s motto of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Two States,” its open discussion of Palestinian suffering and rights, its espousal of Jewish values of humanism: they are all anathema to Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, to the subsidized settlers on the West Bank, and to American evangelicals wanting chaos and wars to hurry up God’s agenda for destruction and their longed-for Second Coming. Many of the panels dealt with the conflicts among American Jews in criticizing Israel’s occupation policies. Author Peter Beinart, a keynote speaker, argued that younger American Jews are simply turning off from the unending conflict and brutalities of the occupation, which itself is severely morally corrupting for Israel, and that Zionism, to regain its moral standing and legitimacy, must reach a two-state agreement with the Palestinians. He states in his book The Crisis of Zionism that AIPAC’s first allegiance is to the Israeli government, not to the Zionist ideals upon which Israel was founded. He and other speakers warned that Jews never in their history have had such political power as in America, but that they need to learn how to use it justly and wisely. In Jewish circles there’s an expression, “Is it good for the Jews?” Unspoken is the fear that abuse of their power could backfire with untoward consequences, as history attests. Read More…

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A Vote for Austerity Is a Vote for Peace

Americans who despair of Washington ever cutting waste from its trillion dollar defense/homeland security budget can take heart from pollster Scott Rasmussen’s book The People’s Money. The author argues that the public is always ahead of the politicians, that the time is ripe for an effective leader to win election with real budget cuts. His polling shows that most Americans believe that the greatest threats to America are cyber warfare and deficit spending. This is amazing if one thinks how most TV just constantly bombards Americans that Iran or China or Arabs or Russia or other nebulous foreigners are out to get us, that they irrationally hate us because we are so good, as former President Bush used to claim.  Today 82% of Americans believe economic threats are greater then military ones.

At a speech at CATO, Rasmussen used the analogy of the Battle of Lexington in 1775, the first in our Revolutionary War, that it came 18 months before the Declaration of Independence by America’s political leaders. He cited case after case where public opinion was way ahead of Washington’s policies.

Rasmussen’s book is full of interesting statistics and rebuttal of prevailing Washington wisdom. Only 35% of Americans share the Republican view of cutting everything except defense. He explains “respect and admiration for our troops exists alongside doubts about the jobs they’ve been asked to do.” He cautions that Americans are turned off by attacks on the military such as those during the Vietnam War. But nevertheless attacking Washington for misuse of the military could sell very well. Washington has made commitments to defend 56 nations, but the public only supports protecting 12; indeed only 4 garnish over 60% support. These are Canada with 80%, England with 74%, Australia, 65% and Israel, 60%. Of the 12 half are in West Europe plus Mexico, 53%, South Korea. 59%, Panama and the Bahamas, each with 58%. Read More…

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“The Gray”: A Man’s Movie

“The Gray” is about oil workers surviving a crashed plane in Alaska. They crash in a wolf pack’s territory. The survivors try to make their way out.  As someone who hikes and climbs in Alaska and loves it, I found the movie gripping and philosophical — it reminded me also of another wonderful movie, “The Way Back,” about concentration camp prisoners walking their way out of Siberia. In that film the starving men chase the wolves off their prey. In this one the wolves are the attackers.  Admittedly, the plot exaggerates a bit: wolves don’t fight one on one in the real world.

This is a man’s (not a teenager’s) movie. No happy ending, but about men under stress, the way life used to be. If you love the outdoors — and challenge — and have been around in life, you’ll like this film. Would one really rather die wasted in a wheelchair or old age home, drugged, cut up by myriad operations, and slowly, the American way? Great photography, a real story. I don’t think women would like it. But the characters in this film are certainly real men, a welcome change from the adolescents in most movies.

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Lessons in Empire

By Jon Basil Utley | February 17, 2012

The killing power of modern weaponry just wasn’t understood when Europeans first turned such firepower and technology upon themselves. Before then they thought that colonial victories were just because of the superiority of white races and European civilization. There were warnings such as the battle of Omdurman (1898) when England’s new “Maxim” machine guns, firing 500 rounds per minute, killed or wounded 26,000 Sudanese with the loss of only 48 Brits. Still, European generals blithely sent millions of their soldiers to certain death without comprehending consequences of new technology. To End All Wars is a book about the lessons from imagined “easy wars.” The author quotes army officers about the “ecstasy of battle” and the “rapture giving delight” experienced by the British soldiers winning easy battles against Asians and Africans. One is reminded how today most Americans thought of starting wars in the Middle East as a “cakewalk.” The attack on Iraq with “shock and awe” had hardly any American casualties. War is understood as exciting entertainment on television, experienced while comfortably ensconced in safe, warm homes. Witness today the assumption of an easy and cheap attack upon Iran with no thought for unforeseen consequences.

The commanding British General Sir John French’s first battle order was for his infantry to clear a path through the German barbed wire and machine guns so that he could order a horse cavalry charge.  Cavalry generals were the elites of the British Army just like former fighter pilots are the majority of highest ranks in the American Air Force and Navy. The Europeans ordered their soldiers to attack just the way it had been done nearly 75 years before In the American civil war. I thought of this last year when visiting the site of the Crimean War, Sevastopol. A great museum there shows the British cavalry in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade wearing bright red coats just like 75 years before in the American Revolutionary war.

It wasn’t only the British. Austrian officers in bright blue uniforms were easily targeted by enemy snipers. The Germans had the best army, but even they started the war with horse cavalry waiting in the rear. It’s not just that generals always start using the same tactics as their nations’ last wars, rather they use the tactics of nearly a century before. Today we see the American military still focusing training upon aircraft carriers, fighter planes and tank warfare like were used nearly 75 years earlier in World War II. In Iraq the generals fancied they could repeat World War II tactics with massive bombing and maneuver and then get tidy surrender documents. Instead they created a failed state and less security for America.

Most of us think we already know about the First World War, the senseless slaughter of the young men of Europe, the incompetent generals, the ruin of Western civilization’s self-confidence for a generation, bringing about the aftermath of communism and Nazism. To End All Wars well explains the psychology of Europe’s self destruction, the war mania, the unbelievable misery. It details how four great empires were destroyed. Their leaders also imagined it would be over in a few months, just like the think tank warriors of Washington fancied about Iraq and Afghanistan. Parents rallied to their sons and now daughters going off to glorious war; they also imagined that war would be “cheap.”  World War I showed how great nations could be trapped and even ruined by the actions of tiny allies, Serbia then, Israel or Taiwan for us today, plunging the world into war.

More Lessons

The book brings home more valid lessons:

•  When nations have not had war for a while its mystique and excitement become more and more appealing. Citizens warm to its siren call of conquest and “glory.” Leaders find it easy to lie and excite their peoples into wanting, what is always presupposed, an easy and quick war.  If one adds to this the power and profits of the American military-industrial-congress complex one finds overwhelming support for more wars. Equally we see younger Chinese officers chafing at American arrogance and threats. Recently England’s and France’s leaders were hot to have an easy war of their own, one against Libya. Kings always loved war and wars were a major reason European immigrants fled to America in past centuries. I often recall how my friend, Richard Viguerie, once told me that French immigrants first came to America primarily to save their sons from being drafted and killed by the French kings in perpetual wars.

•  Europe’s leaders feared the growing socialism and its virulent sister, communism.  War was fostered by many of Europe’s ruling classes as a way to rouse nationalism and weaken leftists’ appeal, to take their citizen’s minds off growing international worker solidarity.  English leaders argued that war would “rejuvenate the national spirit and the bonds of empire.”  Ironically, instead the war accelerated the leftist agendas. Indeed, it directly brought about the monsters of communism and Nazism.  I’m often reminded of the great Israeli general Yitzak Rabin, later murdered by Zionist fanatics, warning America against starting the First Iraq war in 1991.  He warned, as have many through history, that those who start wars never know the final unintended consequences.

•  Censorship is necessary for nations at war. Remember always, the first casualty of war is the truth. We see equally today how Washington is gradually increasing its powers to censor objections, e.g. its assault on the 4th Amendment and its growing monitoring of private communications.  Most Americans are either very supportive or don’t care. This assault comes from the Right more than the Left. Tony Blankley, Newt Gingrich former press secretary and subsequently long time editorial page editor at The Washington Times, wrote in his book about the necessity for censoring antiwar media. During the first years of the Iraq war he never allowed anti-war opinions on his editorial page.

•  The war’s casualties and deaths are still astounding to recount. Nearly ten million soldiers were killed.  21 million were wounded. Of every 20 English males between the ages of 18 and 32 when the war started, 3 were dead and 6 were wounded by its end. France had double the casualties of England and Germany had three times as many. 12 to 13 million civilians died.

The war was astonishingly lethal for the ruling classes. Whereas 12 percent of all British soldiers in the war were killed, 19 percent of officers died. Of Oxford’s graduating class of 1913, 31 percent were killed.  Wounded were at least an equal number. My own uncle, Basil Temple Utley, was a British officer with the Connaught Rangers. He was gassed and died some years after the war’s end, weakened by having only one functioning lung.

Author Adam Hochschild vividly describes Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 to celebrate the glory of the British Empire. Within 20 years the nation was on the rocks and war had sown the seeds which would dissolve its empire. One thinks today of America’s self glorification and pride upon the defeat of communism and now our growing bankruptcy just 20 years later.

To End All Wars is a fascinating read, with much about the effects of war on the home front and descriptions of the war’s dissenters and resisters.  Those who fear for America’s arrogance and incredibly wasteful, self-destructive war policies will find many parallels with England’s self destruction and loss of its primacy in the world.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.

 

Evangelicals, Ron Paul and War

Is supporting war more important for evangelicals than their social values? Isn’t Ron Paul a social conservative? He opposes abortion, gay marriage and promiscuous sex, he has never been divorced and certainly supports family values, but he believes in limited government. Two of his brothers are ministers. Why then are evangelical leaders now opting for Santorum, and before him Gingrich? The one big area of disagreement with Ron Paul is war; foreign wars and the domestic one against drugs. For this they oppose him. Santorum supports unending war in Afghanistan, backing Israel without limit and a new war against Iran.

Earlier there was a major far leftist candidate who supported all the issues that evangelicals oppose, and was a vocal proponent for expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank and promoting the war on Iraq. He was overjoyed when open homosexuality became allowed in the military, he supports abortion, gay marriage and the leftist agenda for big, intrusive government; power to labor unions as well as expanded, unconstitutional police powers within the U.S. Evangelicals adore him and went all out to support him 2006, when he lost his primary race and ran as an independent for the Senate. He is Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

All this shows how evangelical leaders put support for wars ahead of their social values. Their support includes every new law giving Washington ever greater police powers over American citizens, such as the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act which tear asunder much of the Bill of Rights. Most also supported torture of prisoners of war (with the notable exception of Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship).  All this comes with their “social values.” Read More…

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D.C.’s Bunker Mentality

Washingtonians had their city’s downtown cut in half after the 9/11 attack. Broad Pennsylvania Avenue, the city’s widest downtown artery, passes in front of the White House and was permanently closed to traffic. The security crazies then also shut down “E” street which passes way south at the back of the White House; a major purpose seems to have been to provide parking spaces for all the new security personnel, but it means a mile of the city’s heart near the White House will now remain forever impenetrable to crosstown traffic. The White House itself was reinforced long ago with 660 tons of steel-reinforced concrete.

The National Capital Planning Commission is now holding hearings to permanently close “E” Street at a cost of millions of dollars. No car bomb on “E” Street so far away could possibly threaten the White House itself. It’s just the abusiveness and self-concern of the Secret Service. Such security measures show Washington and President Obama run amuck with infinite security for themselves at whatever cost to the rest of America.

Interested citizens should write the National Capital Planning Commission at info@ncpc.gov and/or call 202-482-7200. They should protest the unending quest — at great cost — for security for government officials while most of America everywhere outside Washington is just burdened.

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Trade Deficits Are Made in America

Jon Basil Utley

Several writers in these pages have urged restrictions on trade with China and other protectionist measures, claiming these would produce large numbers of American jobs.

Although they make compelling arguments, they ignore key reasons for job losses that are mostly of America’s own making.

Below are seven factors to consider. The consequences of protectionism would be far more damaging to America than critics of free trade assume. Most of our trade deficits are the result of our own policies. Protectionism is a two-way street and would injure many American companies without bringing back large numbers of factory jobs—indeed, half of the profits for U.S. firms listed on the S&P 500 index are earned overseas.

American labor has always in the past competed effectively against low-wage foreign competition. Germany today has higher manufacturing wages than those in the United States, yet it has a very favorable trade balance. Obviously there must be other factors responsible for American job losses beside China’s lower wages.

1.) America’s trade deficit is primarily due to oil, which accounts for some 50 percent of imports. This imbalance could be curtailed by billions of barrels if Washington allowed new domestic drilling in Alaska and offshore in parts of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Such drilling would provide hundreds of thousands of solid, mostly blue-collar jobs—exactly the kind that have been lost in recent decades.

2.) Trade statistics are very misleading. Much manufacturing in China is done for American companies, which gain most of the profits. For example, the Apple iPhone adds $2 billion to the trade deficit with China, although it is entirely designed and owned by Americans and is made of parts imported from Europe and other Asian nations. China’s actual input is $6.50 out of the $178 wholesale cost, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, “Not Really Made in China.” It explains that the actual trade deficit with China is about half of what the statistics show.

The same consideration applies to many other imports—sneakers, for example. A pair of Nike shoes may cost $3 to produce, which goes to China. The rest of the retail price is accounted for by advertising, shipping, design, raw materials, and profits, most of which revert to Americans.

China’s imports of raw materials are bought from Latin America, but their value shows as part of our trade deficit with China. Latin Americans, meanwhile, use their surpluses to buy planes and software from the United States.

3.) Large numbers of manufacturing jobs have been lost because of increases in productivity from the computer and communications revolution, not from foreign competition. Add to this the factor of labor-union work rules and spurious law suits that so damage American industry.

4.) Is the dollar too strong relative to other currencies? We already have an example of a nation raising the value of its currency, as protectionists are demanding of China, without making a dent in America’s trade imbalances. That was Japan in the 1980s. Its rising currency did not reduce Japanese trade surpluses with America. It did, however, lead to Japanese companies producing more cars here. A cheaper dollar would similarly allow China to buy up more American industry.

5.) Healthcare costs are brutally destructive of lower-wage manufacturing. We pay double the proportion of our gross national product compared to Europeans and Canadians. Health-insurance costs bankrupted two of our auto manufacturers. A worker with a family who earns $30,000 per year can easily cost his employer over $8,000 for health insurance. The high cost of healthcare is our fault, not that of our Chinese competitors.

April 2011 cover6.) We are almost the only nation to tax its citizens working abroad. This makes it very expensive for companies to station American executives, salesmen, and engineers overseas.

7.) America’s incredibly high military budgets drain many of the best and brightest minds away from the civilian sector. Exorbitant warfare spending also begets high welfare spending—what is a few more billion for welfare when spending tens of billions for warfare?

Devaluing America’s currency or restricting imports is not the way to address job losses. Protectionists should focus on the items above rather than attacking China’s surpluses and free trade in general. Free trade has brought about the greatest degree of prosperity and development in history. Our businesses profit tremendously from it. Americans’ livelihoods depend on addressing the real sources of our problems, not devaluing our currency, reverting to protectionism, and trying to seal our economy off from the world.

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