Surveillance and Doublespeak

The Washington Post has a story today about the government’s data collection activities. Unfortunately, the article repeatedly says the FBI is “requesting” information from the phone companies. That’s misleading. The FBI is using subpoenas and national security letters. Thus, federal agents are demanding information from the businesspeople. A refusal to comply means fines and jail. This is an area of law and policy that needs much more attention.

Barry Posen: The Case for Restraint

Director of MIT’s Security Studies Program, Prof. Barry Posen, takes to the pages of The American Interest to make “The Case for Restraint.” The gist is this:

Since the end of the Cold War, the American foreign policy establishment has gradually converged on a grand strategy for the United States. Republican and Democratic foreign policy experts now disagree little about the threats the United States faces and the remedies it should pursue. Despite the present consensus and the very great power of the United States, which mutes the consequences of even Iraq-scale blunders, a reconsideration of U.S. grand strategy seems inevitable as the costs of the current consensus mount—which they will. The current consensus strategy is unsustainable.

If we understand properly the current foreign policy consensus and review the four key forces affecting U.S. grand strategy, the contours of an alternative strategy will emerge. The alternative, a grand strategy of “restraint”, recommends policies dramatically different from those to which we have grown accustomed not just since the end of the Cold War, but since its beginning. The United States needs to be more reticent about the use of military force; more modest about the scope for political transformation within and among countries; and more distant politically and militarily from traditional allies. We thus face a choice between habit and sentiment on the one side, realism and rationality on the other.

It’s a great piece, and has rankled to no end the commentators invited by TAI, including Niall Ferguson and Ruth Wedgwood. Rarely can one be generally encouraged by the foreign policy debate in Washington, but this is one of those times, and Posen is quite a capable advocate for his–and my–position. Here’s hoping his phone starts ringing.

Not Burying the Good News

The New York Times reports:

Death rates from cancer have been dropping by an average of 2.1 percent a year recently in the United States, a near doubling of decreases that began in 1993, researchers are reporting.

“Every 1 percent is 5,000 people who aren’t dying,” said Dr. Richard L. Schilsky, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “That’s a huge sense of progress at this point.”

I’ve complained in the past that good news like this gets buried or ignored, while even minor bits of bad news make the front pages. In this case the good news was bannered on the front page of USA Today and was the lead story on the CBS Radio News. (It was on page A18 of the Times, but teased on page 1.)

The Times did manage to find the cloud in the silver lining: As is universally the case in all human affairs, the decline is not uniform across all demographic groups. In particular, groups who still have high rates of smoking are not seeing cancer declines as large as other groups. But the news still fits the message of Indur Goklany’s book, The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet

Why Can’t Republicans Embrace Corporate Tax Cuts Like Canadian Liberals?

When they were in power, Canada’s left-wing party reduced the corporate tax rate from 28 percent to 19 percent. Now they are proposing to reduce the rate even more (and by more than the trivial 0.5 percentage point reduction proposed by the incumbent Conservative Party). As reported by Tax-news.com, the leader of the Liberal Party makes a very strong supply-side/tax competition argument for the lower rate:

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has pledged to further reduce the Canadian federal corporate tax rate to better compete with other countries and strengthen Canada’s economic sovereignty. …Dion told the Economic Club of Toronto…“A lower corporate tax rate is a powerful weapon in the federal government’s arsenal to generate more investment, higher living standards and better jobs.” …The previous Liberal government reduced the federal corporate tax rate to 19% from 28%. Dion said he would go deeper than the Conservatives have done with their reduction to 18.5% in 2011. …“If you lower the corporate tax rate, you lower the cost of capital for Canadian companies. Therefore, these companies are induced to spend more on capital equipment. As for foreign investment, we need a big hook to snare investment, including Canadian investment, that might otherwise go south of the border. Finally, it would strengthen Canadian companies against foreign takeover,” Dion concluded.

Securing Land Rights for Chinese Farmers

A critical determinant of China’s long-term economic growth and social stability will be whether the wealth of its economic boom can reach the majority of its 700 million farmers, who make up approximately 56 percent of the total population. In the new Cato study, “Securing Land Rights for Chinese Farmers: A Leap Forward for Stability and Growth,” authors Zhu Keliang and Roy Prosterman confirm one fundamental cause of the widening rural-urban income gap: most Chinese farmers still lack secure and marketable land rights that would allow them to make long-term investments in land, decisively improve productivity, and accumulate wealth.

Universal Coverage: Check Your Freedom at the Door

Today, the Cato Institute releases a study by attorney Kent Masterson Brown titled, “The Freedom to Spend Your Own Money on Medical Care: A Common Casualty of Universal Coverage.”  Brown addresses a dark side of universal coverage that proponents tend to de-emphasize:

Most people would agree that a patient should always be able to spend his own money on the health care services he desires. Yet that freedom is often threatened or denied when government tries to provide universal health insurance coverage, as in the U.S. Medicare program, which provides health insurance to seniors and people with disabilities. Over the past 20 years, the Medicare bureaucracy—and to a lesser extent Congress itself—has limited the freedom of Medicare beneficiaries to purchase medical services with their own money. Those limitations violate beneficiaries’ right to privacy, undermine a tool that could reduce the burden Medicare imposes on taxpayers, and may deny care to Medicare beneficiaries outright, or deny them access to the highest quality care available.

Brown was the lead attorney in Stewart et al. v. Sullivan (1992) and United Seniors Association et al. v. Shalala (1999), two cases challenging Medicare’s efforts to eliminate beneficiaries’ freedom to spend their own money as they wish.

Note that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, and others want “Medicare for All,” while Hillary Clinton wants to open Medicare or a similar program to all Americans.

This debate is going to be fun.