Time to Drop America’s Military Welfare Dependents

Matthew Yglesias takes me to task for sniping at poor little Iceland, which is thinking about closing its Defense Agency.  And I will grant that they are nice people who have just gone through an economic crisis worse than our own.  Still, there is something very tiresome about other countries being perfectly content to rely on the U.S. to pick up their defense tab.

The real problem comes with the big European states, which also rely on Washington, as well as all of the new additions to NATO, which are essentially military black holes, creating far greater obligations than assets for America.  Prospective new members, such as Georgia and Ukraine, would be even worse, bringing potential conflicts into the alliance.  Yglesias argues that “overall European defense spending is quite robust,” but that ignores output:  during Washington’s bizarre war against Serbia even the Europeans admitted that they had just 10-15 percent of America’s effective combat capability.  Few European states are capable of fielding significant units of combat personnel.  The largest states also are derelict.  German papers report that German soldiers in Afghanistan–stationed in the north, so they don’t actually have to fight–have been busy eating sausages and drinking beer, and aren’t particularly fit for combat service.  

None of that would matter if the U.S. wasn’t part of a trans-Atlantic alliance in which Americans are expected to do all of the heavy lifting if anything bad happens.  If war erupted with Russia over, say, Estonia or Poland, who do we think would send the bulk of the air wings and combat ships?  Who would be calling up battle-tested Army and Marine Corps units?  And who would be highlighting their strategic nuclear forces to deter any Russian resort to nuclear weapons.  Hint:  it isn’t likely to be the Germans or Italians.  And probably not even the British and French.  And certainly not the Icelanders. 

“Multilateral defense relationships” can be useful, but permanent security guarantees to populous and prosperous friends are not.  Especially when the U.S. is very busy elsewhere around the world, unlike the friends, who are far more interested in sustaining their domestic welfare states.

At a time of economic crisis, it would make sense for the U.S. to tell its rich international welfare dependents–Europe, South Korea, and Japan–that their defense will be their business.   The U.S. should retain a robust military, and be capable of cooperating with allied states if a hostile hegemonic power arose that actually threatened America, instead of a small client state half a world away.  But our “multilateral defense relationships” should become ones of genuine cooperation regarding shared interests, not ones of helpless dependency in which Washington guarantees the interests of others.  Which is what NATO has become.

It will be less painful if the U.S. voluntarily returns to a more normal role in the world.  America will long be influential, but the time is coming when it will be merely first among equals.  The American people will be far better off if Washington stops wasting their money and lives attempting to micro-manage global affairs.

You Just Gotta’ Love those Trial Attorneys

Lives likely would be saved if hotels stocked defibrillators.  Having even one might make a critical difference for a patient having a heart attack.  But hotels hesitate stocking the devices, which, while not cheap, are well within reach for most hotels. 

However, reports the Wall Street Journal:

Hotels worry that if they have the devices, which cost about $1,200 to $2,000 each, they could be sued for failing to have enough units, failing to put them in the right places, or failing to replace batteries or maintain them properly.

Great.  The American legal system is telling hoteliers that you’re probably safe if you don’t have any life-saving equipment on the premises.  (Though one can imagine a negligence suit eventually contending that you should have had defibrillators–and perhaps an entire operating room, too!)  But if you buy one and don’t adequately train your personnel, or let the batteries die down, or have it on the “wrong” floor, you could be sued.  This truly is legal insanity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like lawyers.  After all, I picked up a J.D. many years ago, even if Cato rescued me so I don’t have to actually use those skills.  But surely it is ridiculous to have a legal system which actually discourages companies from buying equipment which could save lives.

Our new president, a Harvard Law School graduate, might want to add legal reform to his lengthy list of desired transformations of America.

Cato Scholars Address Obama’s First Speech to Congress

President Barack Obama’s first address to Congress laid out a laundry list of new spending contained within the stimulus legislation and provided hints as to what will be contained in the budget - a so-called “blueprint for America’s future” - he’ll submit to the legislature. Cato Institute scholars Chris Edwards, Jim Harper, Gene Healy, Neal McCluskey, David Rittgers, John Samples and Michael D. Tanner offer their analyses of the President’s non-State-of-the-Union Address.

Subscribe to Cato’s video podcast here and Cato’s YouTube channel here.

No Taxation Without Representation? OK, I’ll Take the No Taxation

The Senate is taking up, and looks ready to pass, legislation granting the District of Columbia full representation in the House of Representatives.  And the bill is co-sponsored by Utah’s Orrin Hatch, whose state would also get one additional House member – but only until 2012, when the new census will again reapportion representatives nationwide.

The problem (setting aside the cheap politics of adding one safe seat for each party) is that the DC Voting Rights Act is facially unconstitutional. The plain text of Article I limits representation in Congress to voters residing in “states” – a species of jurisdiction that the District of Columbia is not.

Now, this simple legal fact does not affect the moral argument that the voices of D.C. residents should resound in Congress no less than those of their fellow citizens of the several states. To remedy this historical accident – the Founders did not conceive that anyone would live permanently in the federal district, because the government was not supposed to grow this large – we have two constitutional options:

1) A constitutional amendment – like the 23rd Amendment, which in 1961 (yes, only that recently!) gave D.C. presidential electors, and without which it would be unconstitutional for D.C. residents to cast votes for president; or

2) Retrocession to Maryland – akin to the part of the original District that was returned to Virginia, all but the land under the Congress, White House, and certain other federal buildings could rejoin Maryland, and the people living there would then be counted toward that state’s congressional delegation (and be represented by Maryland’s two senators).

Better yet, if the political rallying cry for the D.C. Voting rights movement is “no taxation without representation,” then I suggest that we focus on the first part of the equation and cease federal taxation of D.C. residents. Regardless of the optimal solution, however, the course that Congress has chosen simply will not fly if we take the Constitution seriously.

Who Is Chucking Kids out of the DC Voucher Liferaft?

As I blogged yesterday, Congressional Democrats have incorporated language into the 2009 omnibus spending bill that would spell the beginning of the end of the DC voucher program.

According to Capitol Hill sources, the new language apparently flowed from the pen of Senator Dick Durbin (D - IL) . But if so, Durbin is not alone in looking to end the program. The DC Examiner is reporting today that House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey has urged DC Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee to prepare for the return of voucher students to DCPS.

How will they – and everyone who votes for this bill – justify their decision to the kids whose dreams they aim to destroy?

David Brooks Unhinged

David Brooks went completely off the deep end last night in critiquing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s Republican response to Barack Obama’s address to Congress. According to Brooks, “in a moment when only the federal government is big enough to actually do stuff- to just ignore all that and just say ‘government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,’ it’s just a form of nihilism.”

Now, I thought Jindal’s speech was rather banal and poorly delivered, but since when is it nihilism to oppose “corruption, earmarks, and wasteful spending”? Apparently, government should just do “stuff.” It doesn’t really matter whether that “stuff” is good or not, whether it will actually stimulate the economy or not. And of course, there is no problem with the fact that that “stuff” includes a government takeover of our health care system, an unworkable and expensive energy policy, an extension of a federal education policy that has failed to educate our children, higher taxes, greater debt, and more spending on just about everything. To oppose all of that is “nihilism.”

Then count me as a nihilist – or maybe I just believe in liberty.

Prince of Darkness

Interesting interview with Robert Novak (AKA  The Prince of Darkness).

Some snippets:

Q: The atmosphere in politics today is so bitterly partisan. What do you ascribe that to?

A: I don’t agree that partisanship is more bitter now. In the 19th century, the overriding issue was slavery, and there was no more partisan issue than slavery. Preston Brooks, a proslavery Democratic congressman from South Carolina, walked onto the Senate floor and beat Charles Sumner, the antislavery leader of the radical Republicans, almost to death with the metal end of his cane. Now, that was partisan.

Q: You mention the names of a lot of sources in “The Prince of Darkness,” which is practically a who’s who of everybody in government or politics over the past 50 years. Who were the most skillful leakers, the ones who really knew how to give good leak?

A: The word “leaker” has an ignominious ring. It connotes giving you something you shouldn’t have. I think I should have everything. So there are no leaks – there are sources.

Q: In your memoir, you describe an early meeting in the Oval Office with Reagan in which he quoted a couple of obscure 19th-century British free-trade advocates and some little-known modern Austrian economists. How underrated intellectually do you think Reagan was?

A: He was extremely underrated, particularly by the press. The press was very derisive. They were derisive of Eisenhower, too – they thought he was just another Army officer – but the attacks on Reagan were harsher. He was portrayed as stupid, uneducated, out of his element. I think he was very well educated and understood a lot of things. He was also very flexible in his policies – too flexible for my taste.

Q: You’ve described yourself as a hero worshiper in a field that doesn’t have many heroes. Who were your heroes?

A: To be a hero – my hero – the person has to be in the process of risking his life or his livelihood or his way of life for a principle. That’s hard to find in the political world. I’ve talked about the great Czech distance runner Emil Zapotek, the greatest distance runner of all time, who ended up working in a uranium mine because he supported the 1968 uprising. He was a great hero of mine – an athlete who changed his whole life for principle.

Q: You’ve had a chance to look back on your life and think about what you’ve done that was good and what was bad. What stands out?

A: Looking back, I tried to find out what the politicians were up to, which is a difficult job. I find that politicians as a class are up to no good. Looking back on my life, I regret I was so determined to do that. I ended up writing a lot of political trivia, which really made my reputation. I think when people stop me now and say they miss my column, what they’re talking about is the behind-the-scenes trivia – the kind of thing that made me acceptable to people who disagreed with me. But I think I would have been better off to write about tax cuts and abortion and less about inside politics.

Q: Only those issues or others?

A: I was very negative about the invasion of Iraq. That’s another subject I should have written more about, explained more. I thought the war was unjustified. But my stand led to a Novak-hates-his-country piece in the National Review, which caused me a lot of grief and cut me off at the White House. I should have explained more about why I took the position I did.

Q: Let’s talk about the Valerie Plame affair, which caused you so much grief. If you had it to do over again, would you reveal who she was?

A: If you read my book, you find a certain ambivalence there. Journalistically, I thought it was an important story because it explained why the CIA would send Joe Wilson – a former Clinton White House aide with no track record in intelligence and no experience in Niger – on a fact-finding mission to Africa. From a personal point of view, I said in the book I probably should have ignored what I’d been told about Mrs. Wilson.

Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you.

I bet Mr. Novak recovers from his recent surgery and returns to work so he can report on the Obama presidency.