Archives: 03/2010

Globocop vs. Nanny State

Max Boot opines in today’s WSJ that ObamaCare is a threat to U.S. global military power, and, by extension, a threat to global security. I disagree. Because we should be seeking to offload some of the costs of policing the world, I hope that our current fiscal difficulties will force an ultimately worthwhile trade-off.

To be clear, I share Boot’s disdain for this massive expansion of federal power. Similarly, I don’t dispute Boot’s characterization of the health care legislation as likely to impose a huge net cost. Rather, the central flaw in the piece is his unwillingness to think clearly about our government’s obligations to our citizens, and of other governments to theirs.

The rationale whereby the U.S. government defends other countries, and U.S. taxpayers pay for it, is flawed. Under our Constitution, the American people grant to the federal government explicit powers to protect and defend the security of the United States. Treaties negotiated during the course of the Cold War effectively equated the defense of other countries with that of our own so that today the U.S. government provides “public goods” for people who are not now, and have never been, parties to our unique social contract.

As such, today’s U.S. military chiefly fights other people’s wars, and builds other people’s nations. The primary role of the U.S. Department of Defense is the defense of others.

These commitments have been sustained since the end of the Cold War under the premise that the costs are both low and sustainable over the long term. But it is becoming harder and harder to maintain these pretenses. By seeking to provide global public goods for all of humanity, we are saddling our children and grandchildren with huge costs.

Fiscal pressures have the potential to cause the American people to scrutinize military spending, and this scrutiny could ultimately force Washington to revise some of the core assumptions that have driven force planning for a generation. If that happens, we might finally shift the burdens of defense spending back onto those who benefit from such spending.

Free Speech in Canada

Free speech isn’t exactly free in Canada, and even Glenn Greenwald and Mark Steyn agree on this point. When conservative commentator Ann Coulter (who can be uncivil, but shouldn’t be muzzled by the state for it) tried to give a speech at the University of Ottawa, she was warned by the political correctness police not to hurt anyone’s feelings:

I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here.

You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind… .

So much for inalienable rights.

Steyn highlights the view of the lead investigator of Canada’s “Human Rights” Commission: “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

I would offer a rebuke, but Ezra Levant has done it better than I ever could. Crank your volume up, sit back, and enjoy:

Obama Right on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Secretary Gates’s new guidelines for “don’t ask, don’t tell” are consistent with the Obama administration’s plan to alter—and eventually reverse—the misguided policy. Both the guidelines and their ultimate goal deserve broad public support.

In the nearly 17 years since it was enacted, DADT has impeded military effectiveness by prohibiting motivated and well-qualified individuals from serving their country.

A new generation of military leaders, both officers and enlisted, has seen the harm and injustice done by this policy, and is ready for change. As this cohort advances through the ranks, and as an earlier generation that was not willing to change retires from service, we should anticipate a relatively smooth transition to a policy that has been adopted in many other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Israel, and the United Kingdom. But the strong leadership shown by President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Chairman Mullen on this issue will likely prove the essential final ingredient to ensuring that DADT dies.

Click the player below for more about why it is time to scrap the policy:

Dealing with Police

Yesterday Cato hosted the premiere screening of the new film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, produced by our friends at Flex Your Rights. The Washington Post has a nice piece about the film and event here. And the Washington Examiner covered the event here.

10 Rules is a gold mine of useful information (both legal and practical) for handling police encounters.  Legal books are too often impenetrable and just too time-consuming for laypersons. 10 Rules is a media-savvy vehicle that can alleviate the problem of constitutional illiteracy in America.

In less than 45 minutes, you acquire the information you need to know.  Get the dvds and encourage others to show them at high schools, colleges, and other venues.

Catch the trailer below:

Thursday Links

  • Now that the health care bill is law, you should know exactly how it’s going to affect you, your premiums, and your coverage over the next few years. Here’s a helpful breakdown.
  • As the health care overhaul crosses home plate, global warming legislation steps up to bat.
Topics:

Social Security in the Red

Social Security is officially in the red.  The New York Times reports that the system will pay out more than it takes in this year.  Explains the Times:

The bursting of the real estate bubble and the ensuing recession have hurt jobs, home prices and now Social Security.

This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, said that while the Congressional projection would probably be borne out, the change would have no effect on benefits in 2010 and retirees would keep receiving their checks as usual.

The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.

Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.

The crisis is now, since the vaunted “trust fund” is filled with non-recourse government bonds–essentially worthless pieces of paper.  There’s no there there when it comes to financing future benefits.  Either payments have to come down or taxes have to go up, unless we adopt real reform centered around personal accounts.  And the latter course seems ever more distant after Congress voted to expand federal control over every Americans’ health care.

Is the Health Care Lawsuit For Real?

The Hill asked me the following question:

Thirteen state attorneys general have filled a lawsuit claiming that the new healthcare reforms are unconstitutional.  Is this a real legal challenge or a political stunt?

Here’s my response:

The challenge is very real—and necessary—but we are in uncharted territory here so it’s difficult to predict how courts will react.
 
The strongest and most important legal argument attacks the constitutionality of the individual mandate to buy a certain approved health insurance plan. Never before has the federal government—or any other—tried to force Americans to buy a particular good or service. Never before has it said that every man, woman, and child alive has to purchase a particular product, on penalty of civil or criminal sanction or forfeiture. And never before have courts had to consider such a breathtaking assertion of raw power – not even during the height of the New Deal, when the Supreme Court ratified Congress’ regulation of what people grew in their backyards on the awkward theory that such behavior affected interstate commerce.
 
The individual health care mandate is an even greater expansion of congressional power under the Commerce Clause. And it cannot be justified under the Necessary and Proper or General Welfare Clauses either, because these provisions guide the exercise of Congress’ enumerated powers without adding to them. In short, if the challenges to this health care “reform” fail, nobody will ever be able to claim plausibly that the Constitution limits federal power.

You can read here the responses of other pundits – including several non-lawyers, curiously.