Archives: 04/2009

Transparency for Thee but Not for Me

It appears that the Obama administration is high on transparency for everyone but its own allies.  There are a lot of good reasons to reduce federal regulation, but if the Labor Department is going to push coercive unionism, it should require unions to disclose their activities and finances to their members.

Not in today’s world, however.  The Obama administration is moving backwards.  Reports the Washington Times:

The Obama administration, which has boasted about its efforts to make government more transparent, is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation.

The Labor Department noted in a recent disclosure that “it would not be a good use of resources” to bring enforcement actions against union officials who do not comply with conflict of interest reporting rules passed in 2007. Instead, union officials will now be allowed to file older, less detailed conflict reports.

The regulation, known as the LM-30 rule, was at the heart of a lawsuit that the AFL-CIO filed against the department last year. One of the union attorneys in the case, Deborah Greenfield, is now a high-ranking deputy at Labor, who also worked on the Obama transition team on labor issues.

The only people served by this move are union officials who want less oversight over their use of dues payments, much collected from unwilling workers.  The new policy certainly runs counter to the president’s promise to set a new tone in Washington.

(Hat tip to Philip Klein.)

Time Magazine Covers Decriminalization in Portugal

This week Time Magazine has an article discussing the new Cato report, “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal” by Glenn Greenwald.  Excerpt:

The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

According to the Time web site, it is among the most frequently read and emailed articles in the current issue.  If the drug czar wanted to keep Portugal’s decriminalization under wraps, it is safe to say that we foiled that plan!

Glenn Greenwald has more over at Salon.  A Wall Street Journal op-ed mentioned the study over the weekend too.  Watch or listen to the Cato event where Glenn presented his findings.

Does the GOP Recognize Socialized Medicine When They See It?

Rumor has it that Republicans in the House and Senate will soon decide whether their alternative to the Democrats’ health care reforms will include an “individual mandate” – a legal requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance.

A recent Consensus Group statement shows that the entire free-market health policy community – including scholars from the Heritage Foundation – opposes such a move.

The Cato Institute has published one study arguing against an individual mandate in itself, and two studies critical of its use in Massachusetts. Cato will soon publish additional studies showing how an individual mandate has – as predicted – led to exploding costs and government rationing efforts in Massachusetts, and arguing against its use at the federal level.

Worse, as I explain in this study, an individual mandate is in fact a large leap toward socialized medicine – regardless of the fact that health insurance would remain nominally “private.” Republicans may oppose creating a new government health insurance program. Yet if they are willing to force Americans to purchase insurance, they will effectively nationalize the health insurance industry.

Finally, as I explain in this op-ed, an individual mandate is always accompanied by taxpayer subsidies to people who may (or may not) need aid to comply. The more people who rely on government aid for their health care, the harder life will become for the party of tax cuts. Bill Clinton showed that the best way to defeat tax cuts is to paint them as a threat to YOUR health care. Just in case doing the right thing isn’t reason enough to reject this horrid idea, Republicans should know that by supporting an individual mandate, they will be slitting their own throats.

All for an idea that doesn’t even command support from a majority of the public.

Poor Situation Management

Part of controlling the damage from disasters, terrorists attacks, and other national public incidents is controlling public reaction. So it is with the current swine flu “public health emergency.” So far, there have been twenty confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States.

In terms of managing reaction, there’s good and bad in the following quote from this morning’s Washington Post: “ ‘Clearly we all have individual responsibility for dealing with this situation,’ said deputy national security adviser John O. Brennan.”

The good: Brennan is correct on the merits. Controlling flu is mostly a matter of good hygiene.

The bad: A deputy national security adviser should not give quotes about flu outbreaks to a national newspaper. His title circumscribes his responsibilities, and he conveys wrongly by speaking about the matter that a (still largely potential) swine flu outbreak is a national security event. It is not under any reasonable definition of the phrase “national security.”

Just like the U.S. president shouldn’t be perceived as occupying himself with pirates off the Somali coast - the administration handled that situation well - a national security adviser should not weigh in on an inchoate outbreak of flu.

The result from suggesting that the flu affects national security could be more damage than the outbreak itself: canceled travel, reduced trade and commerce, pulling kids from school, staying home from work. An infantilized country is a weaker country, not a safer one.

Pundit Predilection: Reading a Lot into a Little

American policymakers have a tendency to ignore the viewpoints of other nations.  Such was the case when Gen. David Petraeus complained that Pakistan saw India rather than the Taliban as the more significant security threat.  I made the simple but still important (in my view, anyway) point that Pakistan had reason to fear India, including the latter’s role in detaching East Pakistan from what had been a geographically divided state.

Yet there appears to be predilection by some pundits  to read a lot into a short blog post.  Matthew Yglesias apparently believes that to point to India’s role in the 1971 war is to gloss over Pakistan’s ignoble conduct in what became Bangladesh.  Others may have seen “a happy Pakistan bouncing along” until victimized by a “rapacious” India, but my post said nothing of the sort.  In fact, in contrast to Mr. Yglesias, I was alive during the war and remember stories about Pakistani atrocities. 

 Nevertheless, the point remains:  there is a reason leading Pakistanis fears India more than the Taliban and other extremists.  And lecturing them that they are misguided, that Pakistan’s artificial geographic and social configuration was doomed and that the Khan government’s brutality gave India good cause for intervening, is not likely to change the current threat assessment of those in power, especially in the military.  So the point remains:  Washington policymakers have to deal with rather than dismiss Islamabad’s fears.

Update on Roxana Saberi

saberiRoxana Saberi

For readers interested in the ongoing case of Roxana Saberi, an American journalist imprisoned in Iran on highly dubious charges, this sad story will get you up to date.  After having given unofficial indications that she would be released shortly, the Iranian government sentenced Saberi to 8 years in prison on April 18.  She is now apparently 5 days into a hunger strike.  Trita Parsi runs down some informed speculation about the relationship between the upcoming Iranian elections, the U.S.-Iran situation, and Saberi’s arrest here.

Please keep Roxana in your thoughts and prayers.   Evin prison is bad news, and she doesn’t belong there.

The Problem with the EU in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has gone hat-in-hand to the Europeans to request (beg?) for more troops for Afghanistan.  Alas, the European governments gave him the back of their collective hand:  they may like President Obama more than his predecessor, but that doesn’t mean they, or their peoples, want to do any more in Afghanistan.

But then, it’s not clear that getting more European troops would help much.  Reports the (Australia) Herald Sun:

When asked by the Britons to attack Afghan rebels, the commander of a [Czech] special operations unit (SOG) said “we’re not going to, it’s dangerous,” then ordered his men to get in trucks and return to the base.

On another occasion, an SOG commander decided that the task the Britons had set ran counter to the unit’s mission.

Yet another time, a commander said he could not help as his soldiers were on vacation.

“I find it hard to recover from the news I get about this unit. It harms the reputation of the army,” Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova told the daily.

Some help.

Obviously, some European troops, including Czechs, fight hard and well.  But most of the countries deploy their forces to ensure that they don’t have to fight.  NATO provides precious few benefits for America in Europe or elsewhere.  After 60 years, the U.S. should leave NATO to the Europeans.