Archives: May, 2008

SCOCA Overturns Gay Banns Ban

As many expected, the California Supreme Court has overturned that state’s ban on gay marriage. So many expected it, in fact, that opponents have already submitted more than a million signatures through California’s initiative process to put an anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot this fall.

I wonder if opponents of gay marriage in California will rely on the same arguments as did the Washington Supreme Court

Educational Freedom Advances in South-East

Having so recently blogged about the expansion of Florida’s k-12 scholarship tax credit program, I’m delighted to be able to add that Georgia governor Sonny Perdue yesterday signed a similar program into law in his own state. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, a modest New Orleans voucher program was passed out of the House yesterday by a nearly 3 to 2 majority (a corresponding bill has already passed out of Senate committee and awaits a floor vote).

While none of these programs is yet big enough to create significant market forces, the growth of the Florida program and the bi-partisan support that it and the New Orleans program are enjoying are promising signs.

When Would McCain Intervene?

Matt Bai has a writeup in this Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine of McCain’s vision on foreign policy. Buckle up:

McCain considers national values, and not strategic interests, to be the guiding force in foreign policy. America exists, in McCain’s view, not simply to safeguard the prosperity and safety of those who live in it but also to spread democratic values and human rights to other parts of the planet….

[…]

[A]s we talked, I tried to draw out of him some template for knowing when military intervention made sense — an answer, essentially, to the question that has plagued policy makers confronting international crises for the last 20 years. McCain has said that the invasion of Iraq was justified, even absent the weapons of mass destruction he believed were there, because of Hussein’s affront to basic human values. Why then, I asked McCain, shouldn’t we go into Zimbabwe, where, according to that morning’s paper, allies of the despotic president, Robert Mugabe, were rounding up his political opponents and preparing to subvert the results of the country’s recent national election? How about sending soldiers into Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest by a military junta?

“I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa. The government of South Africa has obviously not been effective, to say the least, in trying to affect the situation in Zimbabwe, and one reason is that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of modern colonialism. So that’s a problem I think we will continue to have on the continent of Africa. If you send in Western military forces, then you risk the backlash from the people, from the legacy that was left in Africa because of the era of colonialism.”

The United States faced a similar obstacle in Myanmar, McCain went on, shaking his head sadly. “First of all, you’d have to gauge the opinion of the people over time, whether you’d be greeted as liberators or as occupiers,” McCain said. “I would be concerned about the possibility that if it were mishandled, we might see an insurgent movement.” He talked a bit about Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he called “one of the great figures of the 20th century,” but then wondered aloud if the American public would support a military intervention.

“It goes back to the Vietnam thing,” McCain told me. “I’m just not sure the American people would support a military engagement in Burma, no matter how justified the cause. And I can’t tell you exactly when it would be over. And I can’t tell you exactly what the reaction of the people there would be.”

Most American politicians, of course, would immediately dismiss the idea of sending the military into Zimbabwe or Myanmar as tangential to American interests and therefore impossible to justify. McCain didn’t make this argument. He seemed to start from a default position that moral reasons alone could justify the use of American force, and from there he considered the reasons it might not be feasible to do so. In other words, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy, while most politicians looked at injustice in a foreign land and asked, “Why intervene?” McCain seemed to look at that same injustice and ask himself, “Why not?”

Thankfully, though, the Washington Post is reporting that McCain apparently has a secret plan to win the war in Iraq by 2013.

BloggingHeads: Brownlee vs. Cannon

If you’re like most Cato@Liberty readers, you often ask yourself, “Self, what kind of artwork does Michael Cannon have on the walls of his office?” Thanks to the folks at bloggingheads.tv, not only can you find the answer, but you can learn an awful lot about medicine, health insurance, and health care reform. 

This week, BloggingHeads hosted a discussion between New America Foundation senior fellow Shannon Brownlee and me.  Brownlee is the author of the quite excellent book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.  (Disclaimer: I disagree with many of the conclusions in Overtreated, else we wouldn’t have much to debate.)  Brownlee was kind enough to plug my book, too.

Invade to Aid?

Should we force our way into Burma to aid cyclone victims? Since the May 3 storm, Burma’s military regime has barred most outsiders from delivering supplies and medical relief. The regime is accepting aid shipments, it appears, but lacks the capacity and maybe the will to efficiently deliver them. With people still dying – estimates so far range roughly from 40,000 to 130,000 – and another storm possibly on the way, several Western nations may push the UN Security Council to evoke the “responsibility to protect,” and authorize the use of military force to deliver the aid. National positions are still solidifying, but it appears that France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, maybe Canada, and even Pakistan endorse this tact. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, for one, is willing to do “whatever is necessary to help the people who are suffering” in Burma.

Less importantly, Robert Kaplan takes up the call in today’s New York Times, pointing out that US Naval forces now exercising off Thailand could escort in an invasion force. Kaplan doesn’t quite come out and call for the use of force but seems to be leaning that way, as is his wont.

Kaplan does concede that things could get messy. Even if the war were quick, the government could fall, and then the invaders might wind up trying to reorganize the country, which is fraught by ethnic tensions. Kaplan is cautiously optimistic about this endeavor – he thinks the fact that Burma has suffered insurgencies for 60 years is conducive to their settlement rather than indicative of their tenacity. Personally, I think the last thing the United States needs is another occupation to manage. We should wish the Europeans luck if they’re game, but we shouldn’t encourage them.

You could argue that the best way to get the junta to open Burma’s doors is to get legal authority to knock them down. But bluffing may be a bad tactic here. The Burmese military is reputed to be paranoid about invasion. According to the Times, “One of the generals’ most enduring fears is a seaborne invasion by Western powers it refers to as ‘foreign saboteurs.’” Along with the truth of the adage, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,” this fear indicates that threatening to break in may only cause the Burmese to double their locks. Painful as it is, diplomacy is a better route.

Kindergarten Cop Out

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just released his revised budget proposal. To close the $17.2 billion gap between the spending desired and the revenue growth projected, the governor is recommending securitizing future lottery revenue or increasing the sales tax. As soon as November, pending legislative approval, voters could have the chance to vote for even more state debt. Rejecting the proposed ballot measure would trigger a sales tax increase of 1 cent for up to three years. Schwarzenegger’s budget does keep some of the two percent across-the-board spending cuts the administration called for in January and renews his call for a spending limit and rainy day fund.

Interestingly, in his comments, the finance office director notes that the underlying problem in the state is the tendency to spend one-time revenues on spending increases that continue indefinitely. Unfortunately for Californians, their proposed solution is not to reduce the size of the state government, but to call for a rainy day fund to smooth fluctuations in revenue growth, which will be funded by more debt.

Hopefully, as legislators consider the spending plan for 2008-09, they will take a closer look at reducing spending and enacting a spending limit to address the underlying problem of unsustainable spending growth.

Is Bob Barr a Libertarian? Certainly Not on Trade

Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr announced this week that he wants to be the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2008. Party members have only another week to kick the tires of this former Republican before they decide at their May 22 convention whether he should be their standard bearer in the fall.

I’ll leave it to others to dissect his overall record, but on international trade Barr is no libertarian.

During his eight years in the House, from 1995 to 2003, Barr voted on 24 major bills and amendments affecting the freedom of Americans to trade and invest in the global economy. He voted in favor of lower trade barriers only four times, voting in favor of higher trade barriers 20 times.

You can check out his trade voting record (or that of any other member of Congress) by using the “Trade Vote Records” search tool on the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies web site.

On the pro-trade side, Barr did vote twice to approve presidential trade promotion authority, to expand visas for foreign-born doctors, and to relax computer export controls. But he also voted:

  • Numerous times to uphold the trade embargo and travel ban against Cuba.
  • Against normal trade relations with China and Vietnam. Denial of NTR would have resulted in drastically higher tariffs on imports from those countries.
  • In favor of mandatory “country of origin” labeling on imported food, a federal mandate aimed at discouraging consumers from buying imported food.
  • Against lower tariffs on imports from Andean countries, including Colombia.
  • Against capping farm subsidy payments to the largest farm operations.
  • Against lower tariffs on goods imported from Caribbean and Sub-Saharan African countries.
  • And in favor of quotas on steel imports.

Barr’s libertarian credentials were solid when it came to trade subsidies such as farm price supports and export promotion. He voted against both versions of the 2002 farm bill, against subsidies for sugar, wool and mohair, and against the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Market Access Program, which all shovel tax dollars to large multinational corporations.

His votes in favor of trade barriers are easy enough to explain politically. Georgia has lots of cotton farmers who have been protected and subsidized over the years. The state is also home to a small and shrinking textile and apparel industry that has traditionally hid behind trade barriers against lower cost imports from China, Latin America and to a lesser extent Africa.

The Libertarian Party, however, promotes itself as “The Party of Principle,” with those principles being “Smaller Government … Lower Taxes … More Freedom.”

Before Bob Barr becomes the party’s presidential nominee, he needs to explain to delegates why he voted so consistently to impose or maintain high tariff duties on products millions of Americans buy everyday, why he could not bring himself to cap farm subsidy payments, and why he supported trade and travel restrictions against a pathetic Cuba that poses no national security threat to the United States.

Free trade is not just a quirky side issue for libertarians. It is a basic pillar of free-market economics. None other than Adam Smith devoted an entire book of his monumental work The Wealth of Nations to arguing for the freedom of people to trade across international borders. Milton Friedman was an uncompromising advocate of free trade. The same Frederic Bastiat who wrote the libertarian classic The Law also made a career of ridiculing the kind of protectionist measures that so consistently won Bob Barr’s support during his time in Congress.

When he stands before the Libertarian Party convention next week, Bob Barr needs to tell delegates either that he was wrong all along about free trade or that Adam Smith was wrong.