Archives: 02/2009

Is Anyone in Washington Listening?

As my colleague Ian Vásquez wrote a couple of weeks ago, Latin Americans are fed up with the war on drugs. The F[ailure] Word is increasingly being used in the region to describe Washington’s prohibitionist strategy. Just take a look at today’s Wall Steet Journal op-ed by former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico).  And last week, Caracol TV, Colombia’s main TV network, started airing a highly-publicized three-hour documentary called “Won Battles, Lost War” on the futility of the War on Drugs in that country. Over the last year, other Latin American leaders have also been calling for a different approach to drug trafficking that range from decriminalization to legalization.

During last year’s campaign president Obama promised to treat Latin Americans as partners. It remains to be seen if anyone in his administration is listening to these calls.

Cato Scholar Swami Aiyar Named among Top 10 Opinion Makers in India

Congratulations to Swami Aiyar, research fellow at Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, for being named among the “Top 10 Opinion Makers” in India by the Indian Express this Sunday. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen ranked first, Swami was in eighth place because of his style of writing “economics for the common man.” Swami’s weekly column, “Swaminomics,” appears in the Times of India.

Tucker Carlson Joins the Cato Institute

Noted columnist and television commentator Tucker Carlson has joined the Cato Institute as a senior fellow.

“I’ve admired the Cato Institute since I first read its publications, passed around like samizdat on my college campus,” said Carlson of his new affiliation.  ”When I moved to Washington, I discovered that my impression of Cato had been right: The people I met there were some of the smartest, bravest and most interesting in the city. While others are blinded by expedience or group think, Cato stands on principle, always. I’m honored to be affiliated with it.”

Carlson will use his initial time with Cato to focus on writing a book on the state of the American polity.  Through other writings as well as media and public speaking appearances, he will also seek to educate the broader public about how the libertarian philosophy differs from the standard liberal and conservative orthodoxies embodied in the two main U.S. political parties.

“Tucker Carlson is one of the most effective communicators of libertarian ideas in the nation,” said Cato founder and president Ed Crane.  “We are delighted to have him associated with Cato as a senior fellow.”

Carlson was co-host of the staple CNN debate program “Crossfire” and also had his own programs on MSNBC (“Tucker”) and PBS (“Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered”), as well as appearing regularly on numerous other news programs.  Though sometimes showcased by these networks as the “conservative” point of view, Carlson became a dependable critic of numerous Bush administration policies, including wasteful spending and the war in Iraq.

After graduating with a degree in history from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Carlson worked as a print journalist and went on to write for Vanity Fair, Policy Review, Esquire, The Weekly Standard, Reader’s Digest, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications.

Last month, noted civil libertarian Nat Hentoff joined Cato as a senior fellow.

Topics:

Toxic TARP: Mr. Geithner’s Takeover Targets

A front-page story in the February 23 Wall Street Journal describes a plan to let the government convert its preferred shares in Citigroup to common stock, taking 25-40% ownership.

It could be worse.  A brilliant February 19 Journal report by Peter Eavis warned that “Government capital injections sit like ill-disguised Trojan horses in the nation’s largest banks,” showing that under Treasury Secretary Geithner’s socialist scheming the government could seize 74% of Citigroup and 66% of Bank of America. Meanwhile, most other reporters kept claiming bank stocks collapsed simply because Geithner had left out a few details.  On the contrary, he said too much, not too little.

The newer Journal report says, “When federal officials began pumping capital into U.S. banks last October, few experts would have predicted that the government would soon be wrestling with the possibility of taking voting control of large financial institutions… . Citigroup’s low share price already reflects, at least in part, a fear among shareholders that their stakes might be further diluted. A government move to take a big stake could backfire, potentially spurring investors to flee other banks, even healthier ones [emphais added].”

Why is any of this a surprise?  Even before the scary “capital purchase program” was unveiled, I wrote in the October 20, 2008 issue of National Review that, “Conservative legislators who expressed fear about letting the Treasury buy mortgage-backed bonds were strangely enthusiastic about inviting the Treasury to acquire equity in companies.  Critics of derivatives became enthusiasts for warrants … which would give the Treasury secretary virtually unlimited power to confiscate the wealth of stockholders of any company foolhardy enough to play this game.” 

More recently, in a February 11 New York Post piece (subtly titled “A Plan to Kill Banks”) I explained that, “Once a bank or insurance company gets in bed with the government, the property rights of that company’s stockholders become uniquely insecure. When the government jumps into the cockpit, smart stockholders bail out.  And depressed stock prices deflate the banks’ capital cushion.”

If “few experts” predicted these consequences of Treasury purchases of bank preferred shares and warrants, then why are they called experts?

The Federalist Society’s ‘War on Terror’

I have been a proud member of the Federalist Society and have long appreciated the institution as a a valuable resource for libertarians and conservatives. It has none of the sinister shadowiness that the left sometimes tries to stick it with.

But an event invitation I received today suggests that the organization is a little bit stuck - in reactive, undisciplined thinking about counterterrorism.

The War on Terror: Litigation Update is an event happening tomorrow at the National Press Club. The title and introduction six times use the term “war” with reference to terrorism-related cases and legal issues, and it asks, “Will the new administration’s policies remain grounded in the laws of war, or will they switch to a pre-September 11 law enforcement paradigm?”

Stating the alternatives this way is too slanted to go without comment. It implies that the lone alternative to a war footing is hapless dawdling.

Dawdling is not the only alternative to “war,” of course, and the Federalist Society’s tradition of thoughtful intellectual discourse is demeaned by the suggestion that it is.

At our counterterrorism conference in January, we explored how excessive reactions to terrorism and terrorist acts can be self-defeating. Among other things, trying terrorists in military tribunals and specially designed national security courts will tend to exalt terrorists and tell the world that they are a force we struggle to reckon with. This wins them support and recruits.

The better approach is to treat terrorists as criminals, with transparent fairness, which will drain the romanticism from their deeds and stories. Terrorists hate to be treated like criminals. The first of the “five demands” in the 1981 IRA hunger strike was the right not to wear a prison uniform. Treating them as ordinary criminals saps their legitimacy and the strength of their challenge to incumbent power in the eyes of key audiences.

By using an unfair characterization of the alternatives and binding its inquiry so tightly to the “war” metaphor, the Federalist Society is being intellectually dishonest and unhelpful in the effort to defeat terrorism. Hopefully, it will correct this error in the future.

This Week at Cato: ‘Obama and Presidential Power: Change or Continuity?’

Will President Obama follow through on his campaign promises about executive power and oversee a more modest presidency that recognizes constitutional limitations? Or will the new administration end up expanding the powers of the presidential office?

Please join us Wednesday, February 25th at 12:00 PM to discuss the prospects and possibilities for the presidency in the Obama era.

The forum will feature Louis Fisher, Specialist on the Constitution, Law Library of Congress; and Jeffrey Rosen, Professor, The George Washington University School of Law. It will be moderated by Gene Healy, Vice President, Cato Institute.

Reserve your seat for this free event today. Lunch will be served after the event. For those who cannot attend, the forum will be simulcast live online.