Archives: March, 2011

Missing in Action: The Antiwar Movement

At the Britannica Blog today, I ask, What ever happened to the antiwar movement?

Maybe antiwar organizers assumed that they had elected the man who would stop the war. After all, Barack Obama rose to power on the basis of his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it. But after two years in the White House he has made both of George Bush’s wars his wars….

And now Libya. In various recent polls more than two-thirds of Americans have opposed military intervention in Libya. No doubt many of them voted for President Obama….

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that antiwar activity in the United States and around the world was driven as much by antipathy to George W. Bush as by actual opposition to war and intervention. Indeed, a University of Michigan study of antiwar protesters found that Democrats tended to withdraw from antiwar activity as Obama found increasing political success and then took office. Independents and members of third parties came to make up a larger share of a smaller movement. Reason.tv looked at the dwindling antiwar movement two months ago.

Like Gene Healy, I also reflect on these words from Senator Barack Obama in his campaign for president:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

End the Fed: More than Just a Bumper Sticker Slogan?

To put it mildly, the Federal Reserve has a dismal track record. It bears significant responsibility for almost every major economic upheaval of the past 100 years, including the Great Depression, the 1970s stagflation, and the recent financial crisis. Perhaps the most damning statistic is that the dollar has lost 95 percent of its value since the central bank was created.

Notwithstanding its poor performance, the Federal Reserve seems to get more power over time. But rather than rewarding the central bank for debasing the currency and causing instability, perhaps it’s time to contemplate alternatives. This new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity dives into that issue, exposing the Fed’s poor track record, explaining how central banking evolved, and mentioning possible alternatives.

This video is the first installment of a multi-part series on monetary policy. Subsequent videos will examine possible alternatives to monopoly central banks, including a gold standard, free banking, and monetary rules to limit the Fed’s discretion.

As they say, stay tuned.

Courts Must Review Agency Actions

There is a growing trend among federal agencies and courts to incrementally expand the government’s enforcement power by adopting statutory interpretations that go beyond their plain meaning and intent. National Corn Growers v. EPA exemplifies such government overreach.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Environmental Protection Agency establishes limits, or “tolerances,” for pesticide residues on food.  If a pesticide residue exceeds an established tolerance it is deemed “unsafe” and the product is removed from interstate commerce—effectively banned from use. The EPA must modify or revoke a tolerance it deems unsafe through a “notice and comment” process.  Both the FFDCA and its implementing regulations require the EPA to hold a public evidentiary hearing if any objections raise a “material issue of fact.”

In National Corn Growers, the pesticide carbofuran was registered for use in 1969 by the EPA and has been safely used for pest control for a variety of crops for more than 40 years.  Recently, however, the EPA overlooked “material issues of fact” raised by the National Corn Growers and revoked all tolerances for carbofuran without a public hearing. In a decision that gives sole discretion to the EPA to determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of products already in the market, the D.C. Circuit held that courts must defer to the agency.  The court declared that differences in scientific studies are insufficient for judicial review, essentially writing “material issue of fact” out of the Act.

Cato joined the Pacific Legal Foundation in filing a brief arguing that Supreme Court review is warranted because the D.C. Circuit undermined the legal requirement for a public hearing under the FFDCA.  Moreover, because this case sets a precedent for other regulated products and allows government agencies to unlawfully deprive citizens of their property without adequate access to court review, we argue that the Supreme Court should take this case to: (1) establish the proper standard for review under the FFDCA for a public hearing; (2) curtail abuse of the administrative process; and (3) establish that complete deference is not compatible with a summary-judgment-type proceeding.

The right not to be deprived of one’s property without fair process is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence.  The Court should reinforce this principle and ensure that statutory safeguards intended to protect this right are not ignored. 

Thanks to Cato legal associate Caitlyn McCarthy for her help with the brief and with this summary.

Libya: War Without Policy

No clear plan yet guides the foreign military intervention likely to start in Libya this weekend or shortly thereafter. There is instead a coalition forming in service of a hazy United Nations authorization of a tactic: a no-fly zone or air strikes on military targets. The goal is vague.  

According to the French, the British, the U.S. secretary of state, and the wishes of many of people we are trying to help, the aim is to overthrow Qaddafi and establish something resembling a representative democracy. According to the U.N. Security Council resolution passed last night, the U.S. president, and the Arab League, we are fighting to protect Libyan civilians.

If our goal is simply to minimize civilian suffering, it is not clear that we should take the rebel side, rather than hastening Qaddafi’s victory. Even a repressive autocracy will likely kill fewer civilians than protracted civil war. Every sentient observer understands, however, that we are taking sides in this war, not simply enforcing peace.

The tactic that all participants now agree on — a no-fly zone — does little to serve either goal. With the Libyan regime’s air force suppressed, the rebels will still likely lack the material and organization to hold the territory they now control, let alone conquer Tripoli. The danger to civilians comes chiefly from ground forces. If, however, air power is used for close air support, it might tip the balance of power in the rebel’s favor. If air strikes can target Qaddafi’s units as they drive east, the strikes can protect many civilians.

The vagueness on policy goals may be the price of gaining international consensus. Plans and tactics may clarify at tomorrow’s war summit in Paris. If they do not, our leaders will be guilty of military malpractice. Maybe that will not matter because  Qaddafi’s regime will simply capitulate. But without goals that match our tactics, the intervention in Libya is likely to fail.

Besides exercising the constitutional war powers that no longer interest it, our Congress, along with European parliaments, ought to demand answers to several questions on policy toward Libya, such as:

  1. What is our goal in Libya? What happens if the allies disagree on goals?
  2. Are we planning to enforce a no-fly zone, bomb military units that are attacking civilian targets, or provide the rebels with close air support and strategic bombing? Will we send in special operators to help target air strikes?
  3. If we manage to stop, by force or its threat, Qaddafi’s forces from taking Benghazi and the rest of the rebel stronghold in Libya’s east, are we prepared to indefinitely enforce the de facto partition of Libya?
  4. Would we offer air support for a rebel offensive?
  5. If Qaddafi consolidates his gains before or despite allied efforts to stop him, should we try to overthrow him? If so, how? What if he doesn’t kill many civilians?
  6. If the rebels win and ask for a peacekeeping force while they form a new government, do we provide it?
  7. If the rebels attack civilians, do we attack them?

Libya: What Now?

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding a cease-fire and authorizing a no-fly zone over eastern Libya by a 10-0 vote with five abstentions, all coming from relatively large, important countries (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India). The Libyan government, unsurprisingly, has immediately announced a cease-fire in acquiescence to the UNSC resolution. Equally unsurprisingly, the Libyan opposition has stated that the Qaddafi forces did not, in fact, cease firing.

We are now siding—to some degree—with the rebels. (Those skeptical on this point may wish to re-read their Richard Betts.) For all their chest-puffing and stern pronouncements, I doubt that David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Amr Moussa, or Anders-Fogh Rasmussen is going to figure out what our ultimate military objective is, where our red lines are, and, most importantly, what sorts of outcomes we are willing to tolerate. If the country becomes de facto partitioned, will we (or NATO/the Arab League/the UN) in turn recognize two or three countries birthed from the former Libya? Do we have reason to believe that something resembling “stability” is going to follow whatever result emerges from the military action? If not, do we intend to engage in stability operations in Libya? If so, who pays and fights?

President Obama, in his speech today, says that the UN resolution centers on “an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing, to include the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.” But then he also says that he wants “to be clear about what we will not be doing: the United States is not going to be deploying ground troops into Libya.” Logically, then, if the measures authorized by the UNSC resolution fail to stop the killing, what next? Either you’re moving away from your demand that the killing stop—imagine the Washington Post editorials!—or else you’re looking at introducing ground troops.

There are many more questions like this that could be asked. I certainly hope the administration and the Greek chorus of Beltway interventionists has thought a lot harder about these questions in this instance than they generally do. But I would not bet on it.

(Cross-posted from The Skeptics at The National Interest.)

This Week in Government Failure

Over at Downsizing the Federal Government, we focused on the following issues this week:

Follow Downsizing the Federal Government on Twitter (@DownsizeTheFeds) and connect with us on Facebook.

Local Officials Fight for ‘Free Lunch’

Everybody likes a free lunch. Local government officials really like a free lunch, particularly when that lunch is paid for by federal taxpayers. Spend other people’s money on projects that you don’t have to tax your constituents to pay for? What a deal!

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties aren’t happy that House Republicans want to trim funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. The CDBG program in particular is cherished by local officials because it affords them wide latitude on how they can spend the money.

The local government lobbies hired IHS Global Insight, a prominent consulting firm, to prepare a study on the economic impact of the CDGB program. The preliminary report — and this is truly shocking — finds that the CDBG program has had a positive economic impact on the 10 cities it surveyed. That’s because it appears to have only considered one side of the coin: the benefits (jobs, economic output, etc.) that resulted from the money being spent in a particular geographic area.

There’s another side to the coin: the cost. While the lunch might be free for local officials, it came at a cost to the country because the resources to pay for these projects had to be taxed or borrowed out of the economy. Those costs have a negative ripple effect on the economy, just as proponents will argue that the benefits have a positive ripple effect.

A Cato essay on community development programs explains that the cost of federal subsidies to local government outweigh the benefits. Ineffectiveness, waste and abuse, politicization, and excessive bureaucracy are just a few of the problems. Most importantly, these programs represent a morally dubious redistribution of resources from federal taxpayers to parochial interests. If the projects were as beneficial to the communities as the IHS report says, then the burden of paying for them should have been borne by local taxpayers.