Topic: Government and Politics

“There Is No Gain to Keep Them”

Thus explained Khmer Rouge apparatchiks on why children of perceived regime enemies were killed.

In the midst of America’s political and economic mess, it is worth remembering how blessed we are and how deep humanity can fall.  Cambodia is in the process of trying the former commandant of Tuol Sleng, a prison that specialized in torture and murder, and from which only a handful of prisoners emerged alive.

Reports the Associated Press:

The Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s killed babies and toddlers — sometimes by holding their legs and smashing their heads against trees — so they would not seek revenge later in life, the group’s former chief jailer said Monday.

Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, commanded the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths.

Duch, 66, is being tried by a U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions.

Duch recounted a Khmer Rouge policy on detained children: “There is no gain to keep them, and they might take revenge on you,” which he said was told to him by the regime’s former defense minister, Son Sen.

Today Tuol Sleng is a museum.  I visited it several years ago, along with the “killing fields,” in which thousands of the Khmer Rouge’s victims were buried.  Seeing the former prison is an experience simultaneously moving, sobering, chilling, and depressing.  It offers a tragic reminder of the horrors that result when sinful human beings take control of powerful state institutions and seek to remake society.  No wonder liberty is so precious.

Money in Politics, Virigina Edition

Bruce Bartlett has a good opinion piece on money in politics in Forbes.  He mostly focuses on self-funding candidates who rarely win even when they contribute large sums to their own campaigns.  The recent Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia, which Bartlett mentions, saw Terry McAuliffe spend over $7 million and lose badly.  McAuliffe financed his bid in the usual way by attracting contributions. His success at fundraising may have cost him votes in the end.

Despite the McAuliffe example and others mentioned by Bartlett, people still believe “only money matters in politics” or “money buys elections.” The truth is, money matters but not all that much. Other factors, like circumstances, partisanship and the quality of  the candidate, have more effect on the outcome of any election. It is true that incumbent members of Congress generally raise more than their challengers and almost always defeat them. But if you take into account the quality of a challenger, money has little effect on the outcome of a race.

We hear little these days about money buying elections. The people who complain about the power of money to subvert democracy are almost always on the left. If money buys elections, is Obama’s presidency a subversion of democracy? After all, the current president is the most successful fundraiser in American history, and not all of his money came from small contributors. But Obama didn’t buy the election of 2008. He was running against an unpopular administration with the economy mired in a deep recession. Obama was a skillful candidate who ran an effective campaign. John McCain could have matched Obama’s fundraising and the Republican still would have lost.

Money is overrated in politics. Just ask Terry McAuliffe.

Campaign Finance Reform, European Style

Europe just held elections for the European parliament.  The British National Party — an essentially fascist, all-white grouping — won two seats.  And access to potentially a lot of money.

It isn’t literally public campaign financing, but once elected, parties in the European parliament often can get their hands on a lot of public funding.  Reports the Independent:

Both men will be entitled to about £310,000 in annual funding, including an £80,443 salary, a staff budget of up to £182,000 and £40,000 for office expenses. But the British National Party (BNP) could also unlock a share of the £22.8m allowance that is given to parliamentary groups if it can find at least 25 fellow MEPs from seven member states willing to form a bloc within the European Parliament.

Being part of a group is crucial in terms of power as it entitles members to EU funding, a party office, administrative staff and, crucially, the right to vote in committees which are the nerve centre of the Parliament.

A parliamentary group is also entitled to up to £5m of extra funding over the next five-year term.

A number of far-right groups have secured seats in the European Parliament, many of whom hold outwardly racist or neo-fascist policies. Prior to the European elections, high-ranking members of the BNP had attended rallies held by neo-Nazis in both Italy and Hungary.

It’s bad enough for Europeans to have to tolerate such folks in the European Parliament.  But subsidizing their activities seems ridiculous.  So it is with the public funding of elections and government restrictions on private fundraising and advertising in elections in the U.S.  The thought of jackboots at the trough, as some in Britain put it, is as good an argument as I can imagine against the public financing of elections here.

Save Free Enterprise—Starting Now

As Dan Mitchell noted below, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a “Campaign for Free Enterprise” to stop the “rapidly growing influence of government over private-sector activity.” Chamber president Thomas Donohue told the Wall Street Journal that an “avalanche of new rules, restrictions, mandates and taxes” could “seriously undermine the wealth- and job-creating capacity of the nation.”

Indeed. Given the scope and extent of the Obama administration’s assaults on private enterprise — national health insurance, energy central planning, pay czars, abrogation of contracts, skyrocketing spending, and so on – free enterprise can use all the help it can get. I welcome the Chamber to the fight.

But it would be nice if the Chamber had joined the fight for economic freedom a bit earlier, say back in February when many of us were trying to stop the administration’s massive “stimulus” spending bill. That bill’s official cost is $787 billion; with interest, it would be about $1.3 trillion; and if you assume that its temporary spending increases will be extended, it will cost taxpayers about $3.27 trillion over 10 years.

Back then, Donohue had a few criticisms of the bill, but

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, we’re going to support the legislation. Why? Because with the markets functioning so poorly, the government is the only game in town capable of jump-starting the economy.

Or they might even have started defending free enterprise last fall, instead of going all-out to push the TARP bailout through Congress.

Converts to the cause of limited government are always welcome. But we might not need a $100 million Campaign for Free Enterprise if American business had opposed big government when the votes were going down in Congress. Still, better late than never.

Fed to BoA: ‘We Will Not Leave You in the Lurch’

Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform questioned Ken Lewis about Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch and the subsequent injection of tens of billions of taxpayer funds into Bank of America.

While much of the hearing focused on Lewis’ leadership of Bank of America, the hearing also touched upon the more important questions of government regulators pressuring BoA to purchase Merrill even after BoA realized that Merrill’s losses were greater than expected.

One of the basic tenets of sound regulation, exercised in the public interest, is that regulators remain at “arm’s length” from the entities they regulate. As defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, “arm’s length” relates to “dealings between two parties who are not related or not on close terms and who are presumed to have roughly equal bargaining power; not involving a confidential relationship.”

If anything, it appears that BoA and the federal government were in a bear hug, rather than at arm’s length. As described in Lewis’ notes on one of his many conversations about the Merrill deal with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Bernanke told Lewis, “We will not leave you in the lurch.” Given the funds subsequently injected into BoA, one can say that Chairman Bernanke is at least a man of his word.

One of the significant problems arising from extensive government ownership of private entities is that in regulating those entities, the government no longer has the ability to be a neutral, objective arbitrator. Whether it is BoA or GM, government officials will come under increasing pressure to see a positive return on the taxpayer’s investment. One should not be surprised if that pressure manifests itself by government officials favoring the very companies they have invested in.

While BoA has been saved, it appears that the rule of law has been “left in the lurch.”

So-Called Stimulus Could Lead to $50 Billion of Fraud

MarketWatch reports that experts are predicting about $50 billion of fraud will result from the $787 billion pork-barrel spending bill approved by Congress earlier this year. That’s a huge amount of fraud being financed with borrowed money, but there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Using basic math, that means only $737 billion of the so-called stimulus can be classified as waste:

Swindlers, con men, and thieves could siphon off as much as $50 billion of the government’s planned stimulus package as the money begins flooding the economy in coming months, according to David Williams, who runs Deloitte Financial Services Advisory and counsels clients on fraud prevention.

…Earlier this month, FBI Director Robert Mueller warned the nation to brace for a potential crime wave involving fraud and corruption related to the economic stimulus package. “These funds are inherently vulnerable to bribery, fraud, conflicts of interest, and collusion. There is an old adage, that where there is money to be made, fraud is not far behind, like bees to honey,” Mueller said.