Tag: Heritage Foundation

The ‘Spectacularly Misnamed Radicals’ Fire Back on Military Spending

Bill Kristol has a plan to help the US military

George F. Will has called neoconservatism “a spectacularly misnamed radicalism” whose adherents are “the most radical people in this town.”  (It is a shame that the Heritage Foundation has fallen so far from its sensible opposition to the neoconservative vision and evidently bought into the neoconservative program in toto.)

Like other radicals, however, they are pretty good at politics, which is clear from reading their latest offering, a talking points document [.pdf] produced by the “Defending Defense” initiative intended to demonstrate that U.S. military spending is not that large and should not be cut.

I have several things to say about the document, but all of the internet sniping and providing adversarial quotes to journalists probably aren’t the best way to adjudicate the debate.  To that end, on behalf of my colleagues I extend the offer of an open, public, live debate to the Defending Defense people:  Let’s debate the security of the United States, the strategy to best protect it, and the resources needed to fund the strategy.  Any time, any place.

The overarching problem in this debate is that the big spenders keep inserting the red herring of defense expenditures as a percentage of GDP into the debate.  This is relevant only as it pertains to their claim that “current levels of defense spending are affordable,” but last time I checked the mere fact that something wouldn’t, in itself, bankrupt the country is not a sufficient conservative justification for a government program.

The logic of basing the military budget on a percentage of GDP would imply that security and economic growth are inversely related.  Of course, the simple fact is that economic growth does not pose a threat to the United States and economic contraction does not make us safer.  During World War II we spent roughly 40 percent of GDP on our military, and given where we were, that seems sensible to this analyst.  But the “given where we were” part of that sentence is doing a lot of work.  Where are we today?  What are the threats we face?  How should we deal with them?  How much would it cost to do so?  Answers to those questions should provide the grounding for our military budget, not the deeply unconservative justification that “it won’t bankrupt us.”

Another point: It might sound pedantic, but many of what they characterize as “myths” can’t be myths.  They might be wrong.  They might be poor analytic points.  But they can’t be “myths.”  To correct just a few of what they call “myths”:

“Pentagon budgets were a “gusher” of new money in the Bush Administration.”
-    A metaphor can’t be a myth.

“The United States should not be ‘the world’s policeman.’”
-    Preferences aren’t myths.

“Defense spending should focus primarily on ‘winning the wars we’re in.’”
-    Again, preferences aren’t myths.

Myths are mistaken empirical claims that people believe, or the stories surrounding mistaken empirical claims that cause people to believe them.  For example, lots of people think President Obama signed the TARP.  That’s a myth.  President Bush did it.  The way the neoconservatives are using the word “myth” in the document is something more like “argument I disagree with.”

But let’s take these “myths” one by one and have a look at the analysis.

1)    “Additional defense spending is unnecessary as the United States already spends more on defense than half the world combined.”

Interestingly, the authors nowhere argue that additional military spending is necessary, although they strongly imply that it is.  In 2005 Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt wanted 5 percent of GDP to go to defense, which today would be roughly $730 billion.  It wasn’t clear whether they wanted to keep the supplementals going with the 5 percent comprising just the base budget, but with the wars we’re already spending roughly $730 billion on the military as it is.  (Also, just a factual correction, the best estimate is that we spend just under what the rest of the world spends combined, not just over.)

The authors also spirit in a normative claim in the first sentence to fend off scrutiny: “No other country in the world has the enduring vital national interests of the United States, and therefore the U.S. military has global reach and responsibilities.”  Given the weight hung around this claim, it would have been good if the authors could have offered even a superficial defense of it.  They did not.

Instead, they move on to observing that using purchasing power parity, Chinese defense spending is closer to $150 billion than the $78 billion that market exchange rates would indicate.  This is solid analysis.  I am glad to see that someone has convinced Heritage president Ed Feulner, a leader of “Defending Defense,” to distance himself from his problematic 2007 judgment that “Beijing’s military spending, in purchasing power parity terms, would be around $450 billion - about what America spends.”  (Maybe he read my blog post correcting him.)

2)    “Pentagon budgets were a ‘gusher’ of new money in the Bush Administration.”

Again, “a gusher” is in the eye of the beholder.  For facts, you should turn to the study authored by my colleagues Ben Friedman and Chris Preble.  There they point out that U.S. military spending has risen by 50 percent over the last 12 years, not including inflation or the wars.  If you include the wars, U.S. military spending has increased by more than 80 percent since 1998.  Military spending constitutes 23 percent of the federal budget.  That’s real money where I come from.

3)    “Cutting waste and excess from the Pentagon budget will provide sufficient funds to make up for shortfalls.”

Depending on whether we change our grand strategy, this is definitely true.  Our foreign policy is insolvent today.  Given our commitments, defense spending is too low, but the commitments are the problem.  We could spend less with fewer commitments and still be safe.

4)    “Current levels of defense spending are unaffordable.”

Even though the rhetoric the authors assemble to knock down this claim isn’t very good, I agree with them.  (I agree based primarily on Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth’s excellent book, which makes a strong case that the United States can afford a massive military budget.)  Big, fabulously wealthy countries like ours can afford to do lots of expensive things, like Medicare Part D or funding a chunk of the defense of Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Israel ourselves.  But it doesn’t mean we should, necessarily.

5)    “The United States should not be ‘the world’s policeman.’”

Again, this is a preference, not a myth.  But the authors’ central defense of the implied claim that we should be the world’s policeman comes in the argument that “the cost of preserving America’s role in the world is far less than would be the cost of having to fight to recover it or, still greater, the cost of losing it altogether.  While many Americans would prefer to see our allies and partners play a larger part in securing the blessings of our common liberty, no president of either political party has backed away from America’s global leadership role —a bipartisan consensus that remains strong evidence that American leadership is still necessary to protect the nation’s vital interests.”

This argument, in turn, is based on an unstated theoretical premise, which is that when America isn’t somewhere, all hell breaks loose, and that when all hell breaks loose, it tends to land on our heads.  The balance of power doesn’t work, we live in a bandwagoning world not a balancing world, and therefore if we aren’t everywhere, chaos will be, and if chaos is everywhere, it’s going to hit us eventually.

I think this is a silly claim, and I also think the theoretical roots of neoconservative foreign-policy thought are underdeveloped, but it would be good if an actual neoconservative could speak for himself about his own theory of international politics rather than allowing others to try to assemble coherent theoretical groundings for his ideas.

6)    “Defense spending should focus primarily on ‘winning the wars we’re in.’”

This might be a surprising area of agreement, but as someone who has long thought that the wars we’re in are dumb (and deeply unconservative), I believe strongly that focusing our defense dollars on winning the wars we’re in is a dumb idea.

Again, though, there’s lots left to discuss, so let’s hope AEI, Heritage, or the Foreign Policy Initiative will agree to a debate.

Cato Unbound: The Digital Surveillance State

In the years since September 11, 2001, the secret digital surveillance state has grown enormously. Given heightened security measures, heightened anxiety, and cheaper-than-ever data collection and storage, such growth was perhaps inevitable.

But what are the proper limits on the secret collection of information? Where do our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties stand in this new era? Do the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance even accomplish the security tasks at hand?

Constitutional lawyer and columnist Glenn Greenwald argues in this month’s Cato Unbound that the digital surveillance state is out of control. It’s also failed to deliver on its promises of greater security. Rather than helping to find the needle in the haystack, we have only made the haystack bigger.

Commenting on Greenwald’s essay will be Professor John Eastman, of Chapman University Law School; Paul Rosenzweig, now of the Heritage Foundation and formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security; and the Cato Institute’s own Julian Sanchez, a prolific journalist on the interface of technology and civil liberties. Please stop by through the rest of this month for a discussion of one of our country’s most pressing issues in both civil liberties and national security.

Overcriminalization in the Financial Reform Legislation

The Heritage Foundation and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) made a stir by announcing their joint report, Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. The report highlights the growth of federal criminal provisions in the 109th Congress. Many criminal statutes are drafted without the traditional requirement of criminal intent. When there is no requirement that the government prove you “willfully” or “knowingly” broke the law, mistakes are treated the same as intentional criminality. Some laws are written so broadly that it is impossible for anyone to know what conduct is illegal. Criminal provisions are included in statutes that are never reviewed by the judiciary committees of either chamber of Congress.

The NACDL has a follow-up analysis of the financial regulatory reform currently being considered by Congress. The Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 has passed both houses and is heading into committee.

This 1600-page bill does everything that the Without Intent report warned against. The “reckless disregard” intent requirement is imported from tort law in several provisions and many others have no mental state requirement at all. New bribery and mail/wire fraud provisions are included where none are necessary. Bribery and fraud are already illegal.

Read the whole thing (direct .pdf link here).

Ninja Bureaucrats on the Loose

Quinn Hillyer has an excellent piece at the Washington Times highlighting the simultaneously farcical and frightening use of armed agents in enforcing suspected regulatory violations.

”The government,” wrote 50-year-old Denise Simon, “is too big to fight.” With those words, in a note to her 17-year-old son, Adam, she explained why she was committing suicide (via carbon monoxide) three days after 10 visibly armed IRS agents in bulletproof vests had stormed her home on Nov. 6, 2007, in search of evidence of tax evasion. Her 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, was there with Simon when the agents stormed in.

“I cannot live in terror of being accused of things I did not do,” she wrote to Adam. To the rest of the world, in a separate suicide note, she wrote: “I am currently a danger to my children. I am bringing armed officers into their home. I am compelled to distance myself from them for their safety.”

The IRS is not the lone culprit. The EPA, National Park Service, Small Business Administration and even the Railroad Retirement Board have acquired a taste for tactical enforcement of administrative sanctions.

Read the whole thing. And when you’re done, check out Tim Lynch’s book on the proper role of the criminal law, Radley Balko’s work on the unwarranted expansion of SWAT teams within American law enforcement, and the Heritage Foundation’s report on the uncontrolled growth of the federal criminal code.

Without Intent

One of the major problems with the growing body of federal crimes – over 4,500 and counting, expanding at the rate of 500 each decade – is that many lack the traditional requirement that the defendant has acted with a guilty mind, or mens rea. Highlighting the overcriminalization of nearly everything is necessary to educate the citizenry and put pressure on politicians not to pass overbroad and ill-defined criminal offenses. At some point, however, Congress must act to address the existing flawed statutes and put procedural barriers between bad ideas and the federal criminal code.

Enter the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers with their groundbreaking report, Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law.

The report studies the legislation proposed or passed by the 109th Congress (2005-2006) and finds that a majority lacked an adequate mens rea requirement. The report closes with a strong case for several fundamental changes in the way that Congress creates criminal laws:

  • Enact default rules of interpretation ensuring that guilty-mind requirements are adequate to protect against unjust conviction.
  • Codify the rule of lenity, which grants defendants the benefit of the doubt when Congress fails to legislate clearly.
  • Require adequate judiciary committee oversight of every bill proposing criminal offenses or penalties.
  • Provide detailed written justification for and analysis of all new federal criminalization.
  • Redouble efforts to draft every federal criminal offense clearly and precisely.

This report is indicative of a broad effort developing across the political spectrum to fix a federal criminal code that has become disconnected from traditional notions of punishing blameworthy conduct. Northwestern Law’s Searle Center on Law, Regulation and Economic Growth held its 2009 Judicial Symposium on Criminalization of Corporate Conduct.

The Heritage Foundation is hosting an event highlighting the findings of Without Intent on Monday, May 24 that can also be viewed online.

The Greek Model

It was a good idea to get science and democracy from the ancient Greeks. It’s not such a good idea to get fiscal policy from the modern Greeks.

But that’s the way we’re headed.

Greece has a budget deficit of 13.6 percent. We’re not in that league – ours is only 10.6 percent, the highest level since 1945.

Greece has a public debt of 113 percent of GDP. We’re not there yet. But the 2009 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports show the combined unfunded liability of these two programs has reached nearly $107 trillion.

Under President Obama’s budget, debt held by the public would grow from $7.5 trillion (53 percent of GDP) at the end of 2009 to $20.3 trillion (90 percent of GDP) at the end of 2020. It could rise to 215 percent of GDP in 30 years. Welcome to Greece.

Here’s a graphic presentation of the official debt and real net liabilities of various countries, including the United States and Greece at the right. (From the Telegraph, apparently based on Jagadeesh Gokhale’s report.)

offbalancesheet

And here’s a Heritage Foundation chart on where the national debt is headed in the coming decade:

Paul Krugman wrote, “My prediction is that politicians will eventually be tempted to resolve the [fiscal] crisis the way irresponsible governments usually do: by printing money, both to pay current bills and to inflate away debt. And as that temptation becomes obvious, interest rates will soar.” Now he was writing in 2003, when a different president was in office, but he was also warning about the possibility of a ten-year deficit of $3 trillion. Presumably the same warnings apply to today’s much larger deficit projections. And he was absolutely right to fear that government would turn to inflation as a supposed solution.

Can Romney Lead the Fight against ObamaCare?

Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have just run major stories on presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s difficulties in getting people to understand the difference between his Massachusetts universal-health-care plan, which featured an individual mandate, subsidies, and forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi plan, which features an individual mandate, subsidies, and forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions.

President Obama is putting Romney on the spot by telling Matt Lauer that his bill is similar to Romney’s. Daniel Gross of Newsweek recommends that Obama hire Romney – someone who has management experience, no current job, and “relevant experience in implementing a large-scale health-care reform program, ideally one that involved using an individual mandate and the private insurance system to attain near-universal health insurance” – to run ObamaCare.

As Romney attacks the Obama bill as an unconstitutional “government takeover,” he makes two basic arguments in defending his own plan: First, that the Massachusetts law was passed on a bipartisan basis, hardly a substantive defense. Second, that his was a state plan, not a federal intrusion on state authority. He also offered a “conservative” defense of the individual mandate:

But he did so by adopting a more GOP-friendly vocabulary, declaring it a matter of “personal responsibility” for all people to buy into insurance pools so that “free riders” without insurance can’t stick taxpayers with their hospital bills.

“We are a party and a movement of personal responsibility,” he said at a book signing in Manchester. He invoked the same idea at the college, calling it a “conservative bedrock principle.”

That’s a point that Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation made as far back as 1992, but most conservatives didn’t embrace the argument. And they’ve strongly opposed the mandate in the Obama bill.

Conservatives have campaigned for more than a year against the Obama health care bill, with its mandate, subsidies, and insurance regulations. Now they are backing “Repeal It!” efforts and lawsuits to have it declared unconstitutional. Yet such conservative leaders as Rush Limbaugh and the editors of National Review endorsed Mitt Romney, the man who wrote the prototype for ObamaCare, in 2008. Romney is leading Republican polls for the 2012 nomination. Romney just won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Council (with only 24 percent, to be sure, and just 1 vote ahead of Rep. Ron Paul). Can the Republican effort to defeat President Obama and repeal ObamaCare really be led by the first American political leader to impose a health care mandate on citizens?