Time to End the War on Drugs

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for a large-scale study on the question of  whether to legalize marijuana.  Arnold wants the study to include international comparisons to show the possible impact of such a change.  Cato just released such a study concerning Portugal.

Our friends at NORML are running ads like this in some markets.

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum takes a look at national Zogby poll numbers, which shows that a majority of voters support marijuana legalization.

New Doherty Book Review

There is a new review of Brian Doherty’s book, Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment, over at The American Spectator.

The review captures the uphill battle that the Heller litigants faced in the District of Columbia:

When an employee on the Taxicab Commission once suggested that taxicab drivers be able to arm themselves for self- defense, a spokesman for then mayor Anthony Williams said, “The proposal is nutty, and obviously, it would not be entertained seriously by any thinking person.” After D.C. readjusted its laws in the wake of Heller so that guns were no longer prohibited but regulated to the point of making ownership exceedingly difficult, Mayor Adrian Fenty justified it thusly: “I don’t think [the people of D.C.] intended that anybody who had a vague notion of a threat should have access to a gun.” Apparently the mayor doesn’t know or doesn’t care that once a threat is real, it’s probably too late to go through all of the city’s regulatory hoops.

Cato held a book forum for the event, which is available here.  Also check out Reason TV’s videos of Brian discussing this historic legal battle, both before and after the decision came down.

Taxpayers Deserve Better from the President

President Obama’s estimated $17 billion budget cuts for fiscal year 2010 amounts to a measly .5 percent of the president’s total proposed spending, and 1.5 percent of the president’s proposed deficit for the coming fiscal year. His offerings to cut the budget should be dismissed as unserious. In fact, this is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s annual list of minuscule proposed cuts in the face of profligate spending and mounting federal debt.

President Obama says his efforts “are just the next phase of a larger and longer effort needed to change how Washington does business and put our fiscal house in order.” Promising more spending and more debt while celebrating relatively insignificant cuts and ignoring the looming entitlement crunch represents businesses as usual, not change. Current and future taxpayers deserved a serious proposal to reduce the government’s burden on their wallets and the struggling economy. Instead, the president’s first budget represents an attempt to shove the government’s hand deeper into the American peoples’ pockets and lives.

The president made several questionable statements in his address earlier today. He promised “long overdue investments” in education. But federal spending on education has already increased dramatically with no positive results. He spoke of “undertaking health care reform so that we can control costs while boosting coverage and quality” and “investing in renewable sources of energy.” Yet we know any type of reform will mean higher taxes, government rationing, and slower economic growth.

Vouchers and Violence

The front page of the tabloid Washington Examiner blares

Violence mars students’ days
Weapons, assaults common at area schools

Now I know that headlines have to be short to fit the space. But a more accurate headline would read

Weapons, assaults common at government-run schools

Fights, sexual assaults, and deadly weapons, described in the article as happening “almost once a day at some area high schools,” are almost nonexistent at private schools. Which is why it’s such a shame that the small number of District of Columbia students who have been granted a voucher to escape the D.C. public schools are going to lose that lifeline if the Democratic majority in Congress gets its way. I once proposed in the Washington Post:

The D.C. school board should declare an educational emergency and offer a voucher good in any private or public school in the District to every student who is assigned to a school that has had a shooting or stabbing or more than one weapon confiscation in the past year, whether on school property or on school buses.

I called it the “voucher trigger provision,” but the Post went with the more sober title “A Right to Safer Schools.”

But the policy shouldn’t be restricted to D.C. students. The Examiner article is in fact not about the D.C. schools; it’s about the suburban schools in Maryland and Virginia. Suburban kids would also benefit from more choice, including the choice to move from dangerous to safe schools.

Obama’s Budget Cuts

The Obama administration has issued a modest list of budget cuts for programs that are “duplicative” and “ineffective.”

That’s a good start for spending reforms, but a more substantial way to end “duplication” would be to terminate all $500 billion of federal subsidies sent to state governments each year, which duplicate properly state-level activities such as highway building.

Further, cutting some “ineffective” programs ignores the broader question of whether programs represent just and legitimate uses of government power. We can make farm subsidies more “effective,” for example, but that does not make it ethical to transfer $20 billion each year from hard-working taxpayers to often high-income farm businesses.

I’d like to see the Obama administration attack Washington’s overspending problem in a more dramatic and fundamental way.

For now, here’s a great place to start:

Bank Stress Tests: Full of Sound and Fury…

Even with the stress tests completed, the Obama Administration lacks an exit strategy for its deepening involvement in supporting these banks.

What the administration needs to do is give the American people a road map for getting out of the business of owning banks. However, instead of a roadmap, the Administration keeps digging more potholes. Secretary Geithner’s recent remarks, in which he suggested imposing additional requirements before letting banks repay their TARP obligations, raise serious questions regarding the administration’s desire to actually exit the current situation. Treasury should reconsider its position and not only allow banks to repay, but encourage them to do so. The quicker we get these institutions out from under the government, the quicker our financial markets will get moving again.

As the witching hour of 5 pm on the East Coast approaches, when the Treasury will release both aggregate and individual stress test results, the overwhelming feeling in Washington and on Wall Street is one of closure: finally the circus can come to an end. In terms of the actual results, details of which have been leaking for days, the stress tests come close to telling us absolutely nothing we did not already know.

One purpose of the stress tests was to determine if the 19 bank holding companies could withstand “higher losses than generally expected.” However, what started out as extreme economic projections are beginning to look like the consensus forecast. For instance, the stress tests assume a base case level of unemployment of 8.9 percent for 2010, and an extreme “stress” level case of 10.3 percent for 2010. There’s a good chance that we’ll reach that extreme; what the new extreme is, one can only guess, but what we do know is that the banks have not been tested for it.

While the aggregate results have yet to be released, it is a good bet that they will fall somewhere within the range of exactly just how much TARP funds Treasury has left. We can expect Treasury to announce capital shortfalls of just over $100 billion, while the real shortfalls are likely to be in excess of $200 billion. Treasury is understandably reluctant to go back to Congress for additional TARP funds, so it will likely do its best to stretch its existing resources.

One way of stretching those resources is converting preferred equity holdings into common stock. How this is to be done, and what kind of voting rights Treasury will have is yet to be seen. As Treasury has repeatedly said it will not let any of these banks fail, shifting the government’s holding from preferred to common equity is little more than an accounting game that fails to address the underlying economic realities at many of these institutions.

And the Bombs Go On: Killing Afghan Civilians

We want to talk to the Afghans about corruption.  They want to talk to us about killing civilians.

Reports the London Times:

Up to 100 civilians, including women and children, are reported to have been killed in Afghanistan in potentially the single deadliest US airstrike since 2001. The news overshadowed a crucial first summit between the Afghan President and Barack Obama in Washington yesterday.

President Obama, after White House meetings with President Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, pledged “every effort to avoid civilian casualties” in the war against the extremists.

His comments followed the expression of deep regret by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during an earlier appearance with Mr Karzai in Washington.

News of the airstrikes came as Mr Obama met Mr Karzai and Mr Zardari for a trilateral summit aimed at pressing both leaders to join forces in confronting al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Mr Karzai had travelled to Washington to meet an Obama Administration that has little faith in his ability to take on the Taleban, the massive opium trade funding it, or rampant corruption.

Despite the Afghan leader’s pre-summit vow to make the airstrikes a focus of his meeting with Mr Obama, a top aide to the US President said that Mr Karzai was given a clear message in the Oval Office that he had to do more to clamp down on the bribes and influence-peddling that is poisoning Afghan governance.

That Afghans have got a point.  (So do we, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.)   Mistakes are inevitable in war.  But killing civilians is a potent recruiting tool for the other side.  Alas, apologies voiced by Washington don’t offer much solace to the individuals, families, and communities suffering the casualties.

Yet bombing continues upward.  Reports the Navy Times:

Air Force, Navy and other coalition warplanes dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during April, Air Forces Central figures show.

In the past month, warplanes released 438 bombs, the most ever.

April also marked the fourth consecutive month that the number of bombs dropped rose, after a decline starting last July.

The munitions were released during 2,110 close-air support sorties.

The actual number of airstrikes was higher because the AFCent numbers don’t include attacks by helicopters and special operations gunships. The numbers also don’t include strafing runs or launches of small missiles.

Unfortunately, this increases the likelihood of more civilian casualties.

Squaring the circle won’t be easy.  But the conundrum highlights the need to look for political accommodations which would safeguard our basic security interests even if they meant abandoning any illusions about creating a liberal Western-oriented Afghanistan.