Archives: 05/2013

Pakistan: Will the Third Time as Prime Minister be the Charm for Nawaz Sharif?

Pakistan always has been a good example of being careful for what one wishes when it comes to democracy in Third World nations. The Pakistani people theoretically rule the unstable nuclear state. Whether that actually is positive is not so clear.

In the latest election, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won a strong plurality, making him the almost certain prime minister. However, that position may be a poisoned chalice. When he was last premier, for the second time, in 1999, he found himself ousted in a coup, imprisoned for months, and eventually bundled into exile.

Despite the relatively free (though violence-laden) vote, Pakistan’s political, economic, and security problems are enormous. And the dangers of a failed state reach well beyond Pakistan’s borders. As I wrote in my latest Forbes online column:

for those who worry about an Islamic Bomb in Tehran, one already exists in Islamabad. Pakistan has between 90 and 120 warheads, and is producing more plutonium than any other nation on earth. The result likely will be an expanded arsenal. Observed Tom Hundley of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: “Pakistan could end up in third place, behind Russia and the United States, within a decade.” Yet the contest with India has left Islamabad officials “hobbled by fear, paranoia, and a deep sense of inferiority,” in Hundley’s words. At the same time, Pakistan has increasingly dispersed its warheads to frustrate any U.S. attempt to seize the weapons. The practice increases the possibility of radicals grabbing a warhead or fissile material.

Oh joy.

Although only the Pakistani people can fix their own country, Washington could help. It should wind down the war in Afghanistan, which is a destabilizing force in Pakistan. The U.S. should reduce its use of drones, which have made America hated by Pakistanis. Washington should resist the temptation to dump ever more foreign “aid” into the corrupt and incompetent institution known as the Pakistani government. Finally, Americans should hope—and pray!—that Nawaz Sharif has learned something during his 14 years in the political wilderness.

Cultural Sensitivity or Surrender?

One of the most important lessons one learns from traveling abroad is to be culturally sensitive. A self-professed sophisticate like myself would never want to be considered to be the prototypical “Ugly American.”

Yet as I’m visiting the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar I’ve been thinking about who gets to decide on culture.

Most of us believe that certain practices are beyond the bounds of tolerance. Consider the Indian practice of suttee—the burning of widows—which Britain banned. Set aside whether the British government should have shown up with soldiers, guns, and warships and claimed the Indian subcontinent as its own; once there, surely it was right to forbid murder.

In a story that may be apocryphal but should be true even if not, an Indian complained to a British colonial official that it was tradition to burn widows on their deceased husbands’ funeral pyres. The official replied, according to the story, that it was British tradition to execute those who burned widows on their deceased husbands’ funeral pyres.

Of course, nothing like suttee is going on in Qatar. Indeed, as Muslim societies go, it is a pretty liberal place. Observance of conservative Islamic tenets is routine but often not deeply held. Some younger Qatar citizens (and TV cameramen!) look a lot like their Western counterparts. I wasn’t the only person on my flight to arrive wearing shorts. Hotels that cater to Westerners serve alcohol and provide Western television stations. Men and women use the gym together.

Still, visitors are warned to be sensitive, especially of dress. People should be modest in all circumstances. Shorts are tolerated, but should hit the knee. Shoulders should be covered.

Support for School Choice Tax Credits Grows Once Implemented

The unanimous decision of the Iowa legislature to expand the state’s scholarship tax credit (STC) program yesterday once again demonstrates that school choice programs grow even more popular once implemented.

Iowa’s STC expansion bill raises the credit cap from $8.75 million to $12 million and expands the types of corporations eligible to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations. The bill adds no new regulations.

Six of the seven states with STC programs enacted before 2010 have subsequently voted to expand those programs. The chart below shows the legislative support and opposition in four of those states. (The expansions in Indiana and Pennsylvania were part of legislation covering other issues so they were excluded from this analysis. The chart includes information for Arizona’s corporate-donor STC program but not its individual-donor STC program, for a similar reason.)

 

Initial Vote For STC Program

Most Recent STC Expansion

State

Year

For

Against

% Difference

Year

For

Against

% Difference

Arizona House

2006

33

26

12%

2012

37

19

32%

Arizona Senate

2006

16

13

10%

2012

20

9

38%

Florida House

2001

76

39

32%

2012

92

24

59%

Florida Senate

2001

33

4

78%

2012

32

8

60%

Georgia House

2008

92

73

12%

2013

168

3

96%

Georgia Senate

2008

32

20

23%

2013

40

11

57%

Iowa House

2006

75

19

60%

2013

97

0

100%

Iowa Senate

2006

49

1

96%

2013

49

0

100%

The most dramatic shift was in Georgia’s State House, which moved in just a few years from a fairly even divide to overwhelming support. Support in Iowa went from overwhelming to unanimous. While Florida’s Senate barely moved, support has grown considerably in the House. Arizona has also had modest increases in support for school choice in both chambers.

A survey by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that 72 percent of the American public already supports scholarship tax credit programs. The survey found even higher support among parents, African-Americans, Hispanics, and registered Independents and Democrats.

There have not yet been any studies measuring whether support in a given state increases after enacting an STC program, but if legislative support is a reliable proxy then the answer appears to be in the affirmative.

Target the IRS—and the Abusive Administrative State

The IRS scandal has appropriately tarred the Obama administration. But IRS abuse is not new: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon all shamelessly used the tax authorities against their political enemies.

Thus, the problem is nonpartisan. More important, to paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, this scandal will be wasted if we don’t use it to advance the cause of liberty. The real issue is the expansive, expensive bureaucratic state, which threatens any system of limited government, rule of law, and individual liberty.

As I wrote in my recent article on American Spectator online:

the broader the government’s authority, the greater its need for revenue, the wider its enforcement power, the more expansive the bureaucracy’s discretion, the increasingly important the battle for political control, and the more bitter the partisan fight, the more likely government officials will abuse their positions, violate rules, laws, and the Constitution, and sacrifice people’s liberties.

One response to the scandal would be tax reform. But failing to address the broader underlying causes of the scandal would set the stage for a repeat performance in some form a few years hence. At the very least the latest IRS abuses should derail the Obama administration’s efforts to ever-expand the federal government.

The response should not be merely defensive. Americans should insist on abolishing the IRS as we know it. Ending tax-based social engineering would help. Moreover, government–and especially the national government–should do less.

Americans must decide if they want to live in a truly free society. Government increasingly attempts to run our lives at our expense. And now, we see yet again, public officials use their power to reward friends and punish enemies. Firing a couple of mid-level IRS employees isn’t enough. People must insist on real change in Washington.

Man Saves Child’s Life; Fined $1,000

Benjamin Srigley saw several pit bulls attacking an 11-year-old boy, so he ran into his home, retrieved his handgun, ran back, and shot one of the dogs. A bicycle policeman arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and shot the other two dogs. 

Here comes the twist: This incident happened in Washington, D.C., and even though the Supreme Court declared the city’s gun control regulations unconstitutional in 2008, the city government is still quite hostile to gun ownership. How hostile? Well, prosecutors offered Srigley a “deal”: pay a $1,000 fine and they would drop criminal charges against him. Turns out Srigley had lawfully purchased firearms when he lived outside D.C., but he had not registered them when he moved into D.C.

What kind of government would demand money from a guy who just saved a child’s life? The boy’s family can’t believe what is happening to their knight in shining armor. Srigley is now planning to move out of the city. One wonders if District officials can see any connection between their fine and the move.

On June 4, Cato will be hosting an event about the landmark Heller ruling. Registration information can be found here.

We Need an Independent Review of Government Spying on Reporters

Declaring that “journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” President Obama announced Thursday that he had directed Attorney General Eric Holder to review the Justice Department’s guidelines for spying on reporters in the course of leak investigations.

That would be more reassuring if Holder himself hadn’t signed off on a search warrant for the e-mail correspondence of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The warrant application dubbed Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act, on the disturbing theory that asking a source to disclose classified information—as national security reporters necessarily do routinely—is itself a crime, even if publication of the same material is constitutionally protected. In other words, the president is asking the fox to investigate mysterious disappearances in the henhouse.

If reporters were looking to take comfort in the press shield bill the President asked Congress to revive in response to the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records, they shouldn’t. Because the bill’s protections include a national security exception—and national security leak investigations are precisely when the government is most likely to spy on journalists—it seems unlikely to have made much difference in either the AP or Rosen cases. Indeed, as the Freedom of the Press Foundation points out, it could even make it easier for the government to obtain press records by overriding the common law safeguards some courts have recognized.

If the president really wants to demonstrate his concern for the potential of government spying to chill vital investigative reporting, he needs to take a very different approach, centered on greater transparency and a truly independent audit of Justice Department policy.

Transparency can begin with letting the public know exactly what the guidelines for investigating the press are—and how the Justice Department interprets them. As the FBI’s operational guidelines make clear, the rules requiring the press to be notified when their phone records are obtained only apply to subpoenas—not other secretive tools, such as National Security Letters, which can be issued without court approval. But the rules governing NSL demands for media records remain secret.

The Justice Department should also release any internal memos interpreting the rules governing press investigations. We know, for example, that there exists an informal 2009 opinion in which Justice Department lawyers analyzed how the rules would apply to sweeping demands—such as so-called “community of interest” requests—that can vacuum up a reporter’s records (among many others) even if the reporter is not specifically named as a target. Only brief excerpts of that opinion have been disclosed, thanks to a 2010 Inspector General report, and there is no way of knowing how many others remain secret.

Finally, we need an independent review—conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, not Attorney General Holder—to determine just how much surveillance of reporters has already occurred. It seems clear that the Justice Department does not think the current rules always require the press to be informed when they’ve been spied on: DOJ lawyers convinced a judge that the government never had to notify Rosen they’d read his e-mails. And because demands for electronic records can be quite broad, it would be all too easy for the government to end up with sensitive information about journalistic investigations even when no reporter was explicitly targeted.

When Congress and the public know what the rules really are, and how they have been applied in practice, we can begin a serious conversation about what reforms are needed to protect press freedom. Asking Eric Holder to investigate Eric Holder, on the other hand, is unlikely to protect much of anything—except, perhaps, Eric Holder.

Gerson: ‘The Other IRS Scandal’

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson writes that the IRS’s suppression of tea-party groups and the subsequent cover-up are the second-largest scandal haunting the agency.

Drawing from my article (with Jonathan Adler) on the illegal IRS rule meant to save Obamacare, Gerson concludes:

The IRS seized the authority to spend about $800 billion over 10 years on benefits that were not authorized by Congress. And the current IRS scandal puts this decision in a new light…

The whole enterprise [of Obamacare] is precariously perched atop a flimsy bureaucratic excuse. And the agency providing that excuse is a discredited mess.

When the IRS suppresses speech by the president’s political opponents, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither is it anything to sneeze at when the IRS tries to spend almost a trillion dollars against the express wishes of Congress.