How Can They Deny Freedom?

Maybe those people who constantly spew the mantra against school choice that it would “destroy public education” have never considered what putting some faceless, bureaucratic system above actual human beings really does. Well, there’s a great piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today by Lydia Glaize, a parent who’s struggled mightily to keep her children out of atrocious public schools, that directly attacks this sorry, but all-too convenient, excuse for denying parents freedom. There’s only one critique I’ve got for Ms. Glaize: She doesn’t make the distinction between public schooling, which is the real problem, and public education, into which a school choice system would fit very nicely. But that’s a distinction we’re just starting to get people to recognize.

So how will the public-schooling-at-all-costs crowd respond to Ms. Glaize? I suspect, sadly, with more of the same.

A Few Points on Georgia

  • Read Fred Kaplan on whether the prospect of NATO membership and other forms of Western support for Georgia helped cause this war. If Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili thought the US would rush to the trenches for him, he was badly mistaken, but one can see how wishful thinking and US behavior might have created a powerful cocktail. It is also possible that the prospect of Georgia entering NATO created a window of opportunity that Russia jumped through.
  • As Justin Logan mentioned, we owe the Germans and French thanks for preventing NATO expansion and potentially getting us mixed up in this war. Like all wars, this one is tragic, but it would be far more tragic if it provoked a wider war or nuclear crisis between the US and Russia.
  • Ignore Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol and Richard Holbrooke. Even if Russia takes all of Georgia (and it may do so as a bargaining chip), Cold War II is not nigh — although we can bring it closer by further encircling Russia with security guarantees that encourage its neighbors to avoid getting along with it. The Cold War happened because post-World War II Western Europe lacked the capacity to defend itself from Soviet attack and, we feared, from Communist subversion. We sent our troops and funds to Europe to restore the balance of power. Today Russia has an economy about the size of a medium-sized European country. At $70-80 billion a year, it spends about 1/4 of what Europe does on defense, and less than we spend on researching and developing new weapons alone. Its military spending depends on high energy prices, and it has a declining population. It is a threat to its weak neighbors, not Europe, and not us (unless we consider inadvertent nuclear war.)
  • That neocons like Kristol are attacking the Bush’s administration’s reaction to this crisis, which shows how far the administration has moved toward pragmatism. John McCain, on the other hand, continues to reveal a preference for military confrontation over safety.
  • This is not a simple struggle between freedom and its enemies. We sympathize with Georgia because it is a young democracy and mistrust Russia because it is autocratic. But there is ethnic chauvinism and blame on both sides. Russia cares whether its neighbors are anti-Russian, not whether they are democratic per se.
  • The idea that the credibility of our commitments to defend our allies will be undermined by failing to stand up for Georgia is wrong. We do not lose credibility by not defending states where we have few interests and no defense commitment. On this matter, read Daryl Press.
  • Unless we want a war with Russia, there is very little the United States can do to defend Georgia, and we should stop pretending otherwise.
  • That 2,000 Georgian troops were sent to Iraq does not mean we owe Georgia participation in their conflict with Russia, or even a ride home on US aircraft. Russia is unlikely to take a shot at these planes for fear of provoking us, but accidents happen, and it’s not clear why we ought to take such risks.

Cato Unbound: Jim Manzi on the Costs and Benefits of Climate Policy Alternatives

In the lead essay for August’s Cato Unbound, Jim Manzi weighs various climate proposals and finds them wanting. He begins by putting the economic costs of global warming in perspective:

This is the central problem for advocates of rapid, aggressive emissions reductions. Despite the rhetoric, the best available estimate of the damage we face from unconstrained global warming is not “global destruction,” but is instead costs on the order of 3 percent of global GDP in a much wealthier world well over a hundred years from now.

It should not, therefore, be surprising that formal efforts to weigh the near-term costs of emissions abatement against the long-term benefits from avoided global warming show few net benefits, even in theory. According to the modeling group led by William Nordhaus, a Yale professor widely considered to be the world’s leading expert on this kind of assessment, an optimally designed and implemented global carbon tax would provide an expected net benefit of around $3 trillion, or about 0.2 percent of the present value of global GDP over the next several centuries. While not everything that matters can be measured by money, this certainly provides a different perspective than the “Earth in the balance” rhetoric would suggest.

This month’s issue should be a lively one, with responses on the way from Joseph Romm, Indur Goklany, and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. We hope you’ll find much to think about as the debate unfolds.

GOP Governors Lead the Way!

In recent years, Republican governors have been doing a fantastic job of carrying the torch for fiscal conservatism and burnishing the GOP’s brand name as the tax-cutting party. This leadership is clear from two stories in State Tax Notes today [subscription req’d]:

  • “In an effort to break the budget impasse that has lasted over a month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed a temporary 1 percentage point sales tax increase. The increase would run for three years and is expected to raise between $5 billion and $6 billion yearly, or over $15 billion for the three-year period.”
  • “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said August 4 that he would plug the state’s $90 million Medicaid funding hole by raising taxes on state hospitals. Barbour wants to raise hospitals’ gross revenue assessment – the tax hospitals pay on the money that flows into their coffers – from 0.45 percent to 1.08 percent. … The increased tax rate would raise $88 million; the remaining $2 million would be saved by cutting funds from other services. But don’t expect the state’s hospitals to accept this plan lying down. The Mississippi Hospital Association filed a lawsuit against the governor in 2005 when he proposed something similar. …’It’s a good, fair deal that taxes the hospitals, not our citizens – and rightly so,’ Barbour said in a press release describing the plan.”

Voters and taxpayers in these states will appreciate the strong conservative thrust of these policies. Schwarzenegger’s tax hike is only “temporary,” and will surely expire after runaway state spending has been cut and current fiscal problems solved. And Barbour wisely wants to impose his tax hike on hospitals, which clearly won’t burden the people of Mississippi or the state economy at all.

Putin: “War Has Started” with Georgia

Some unfortunate “he said/he said” violence in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia looks likely to escalate into full-blown war. Unsurprisingly, Eduard Kokoity, the leader of the province, and the Russian prime minister and president are blaming the Georgians for starting it. The Georgians are blaming the Russians for starting it. Washington is several thousand miles away, so it’s hard to tell from here.

What’s not hard to tell, however, is how dangerous the situation is. Recall that President Bush made a full-court press to get Georgia (and Ukraine) onto Membership Action Plans at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest. In a heroic move, the Germans spiked the deal, saving us from ourselves. But both Barack Obama and John McCain favor Georgian accession into NATO — and with it, a full-on security commitments as Article V of the NATO charter makes clear. 

Here’s Barack Obama’s absurd statement on the question from last month:

As I stated in April this year, I am committed to upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. This commitment has long been a fundamental building block of U.S. policy, and it will not change under the Obama administration. I also affirm Georgia’s right to pursue NATO membership. This aspiration in no way threatens the legitimate defense interests of Georgia’s neighbors.

I’m sure the Russians are interested to learn that Obama considers himself an expert on “the legitimate defense interests” of their country. I wonder what the Kremlin thinks are the legitimate defense interests of the United States. 

Unfortunately, of course, McCain is hardly a paragon of good sense on the question. He has been fairly pawing at the ground for years to get a run at Russia, and this opportunity seems as good as any.

Also of note is the fact that McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was a paid lobbyist for Georgia until March of this year — even acting simultaneously as McCain’s chief adviser on foreign policy while he was being paid by the Georgians.  A man of many hats, Scheunemann apparently could separate out (a) being paid by the Georgians to lobby for them, (b) advising McCain on foreign policy (including, presumably, U.S.-Georgia relations), while (c) lobbying McCain’s Senate staff on behalf of Tbilisi.

The other point is how robust U.S. support for Georgian NATO membership may have created a moral hazard situation where the Georgians may have convinced themselves — any official urgings from the U.S. administration aside — that they would have U.S. backing should any conflict break out.

For any U.S. president, current or future, to give so much as a second’s thought of committing American blood and treasure to the defense of a tiny Caucasian country that few Americans could so much as point to on a map is ridiculous and unforgivably reckless. It would raise the prospect of restarting the Cold War, and completely poisoning our relations with a country that happens to possess both a large quantity of nuclear weapons and a permanent spot on the UN Security Council.

We sometimes joke that the worst ideas in Washington are bipartisan. Here’s another data point to support that thesis.

Update: Commentary magazine’s Gordon G. Chang is now calling for President Bush to make clear, publicly, to Prime Minister Putin that the United States “is prepared to cut off diplomatic relations, end trade, and use military force to protect this young democracy.”

Inflate Your Tires; Save 100% of Your Gasoline

Here’s how.

Get your favorite politician. Democrat, Republican, or whatever; it doesn’t matter.

Connect mouth to valve.

Ask, “What’s your energy policy.” Hot air will inflate tire.

“What about the environment?” More inflation.

“Should wind be subsidized?” And so forth, until tire blows.

Flat tire! Now you aren’t going anywhere.

And — voila! — gas consumption now zero.

You’ve saved 100 percent of your gas.

… Only problem – you’ll need a new tire, which is mainly petroleum.