More Anti-Drug Aid to Mexico?

The Washington Post reports that despite reports of widespread violence and human rights abuses since Mexico increased its fight against the drug trade, the U.S. government is considering pumping more money to their failing efforts:

The Obama administration has concluded that Mexico is working hard to protect human rights while its army and police battle the drug cartels, paving the way for the release of millions of dollars in additional federal aid.

The Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion assistance program passed by Congress to help Mexico fight drug trafficking, requires the State Department to state that the country is taking steps to protect human rights and to punish police officers and soldiers who violate civil guarantees. Congress may withhold 15 percent of the annual funds – about $100 million so far – until the Obama administration offers its seal of approval for Mexico’s reform efforts.

…In recent weeks, after detailed allegations in the media of human rights abuses, the Mexican military said that it has received 1,508 complaints of human rights abuses in 2008 and 2009. It did not say how the cases were resolved, but said that the most serious cases involved forced disappearances, murder, rape, robbery, illegal searches and arbitrary arrests. Human rights groups contend that only a few cases have been successfully prosecuted.

Sending additional anti-drug aid to Mexico is a case of pouring more money into a hopelessly flawed strategy. President Felipe Calderon’s decision to make the military the lead agency in the drug war–a decision the United States backed enthusiastically–has backfired. Not only has that strategy led to a dramatic increase in violence, but contrary to the State Department report, the Mexican military has committed serious human rights abuses. Even worse, the military is now playing a much larger role in the country’s affairs. Until now, Mexico was one of the few nations in Latin America that did not have to worry about the military posing a threat to civilian rule. That can no longer be an automatic assumption.

Washington needs to stop pressuring its neighbor to do the impossible. As long as the United States and other countries foolishly continue the prohibition model with regard to marijuana, cocaine, and other currently illegal drugs, a vast black market premium will exist, and the Mexican drug cartels will grow in power. At a minimum, the United States should encourage Calderon to abandon his disastrous confrontational strategy toward the cartels. Better yet, the United States should take the lead in de-funding the cartels by legalizing drugs and eliminating the multi-billion-dollar black market premium.

Citizens United and False Consciousness

The Washington Post offers a brief item this morning on the upcoming Citizens United reargument. Robert Barnes writes, “The court is considering whether to overturn its previous decisions that restrict unions and corporations from using their general treasuries to influence election campaigns.”

Actually, a better description of the case would be: the Supreme Court is considering overturning decisions that restrict corporations from using their general treasuries to try to influence election campaigns.

In the most important decision at issue, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the latter organization wished to run an advertisement naming a candidate and supporting his views on economic policy. That ad may have convinced some voters. It may have repelled others. Many voters would not have been moved at all. Whatever influence the ad might have had would have depended on its reception among the voters.

Many people would like to see Austin affirmed. Absent restrictions on corporate issue spending, they say, business would have too much influence on policymaking. But the Supreme Court said in Buckley v. Valeo (and more recently) that restricting speech in the name of equality violates the First Amendment. Others see corporate spending as a kind of corruption and thus subject to the restrictions of campaign finance law. But if Austin falls,  corporations will not be able to give candidates contributions in exchange for favors. They will be able to fund speech independently of campaigns and parties.

In truth, I think many people who support proscribing corporate spending in campaigns believe speech by business is “bad speech” that will make for bad policies. But “prior restraint” of speech clearly violates the First Amendment. Voters, and not censors, are supposed to decide what constitutes “bad speech” and “bad policy.” The fear of corporate speech often reflects a fear that voters will be persuaded by business interests to endorse candidates and policies that are not in the interest of the most voters. But coercion to preclude false consciousness is not compatible with the foundations of a liberal republic, the form of government ordained by the U.S. Constitution.

So the Court may well let corporations and labor unions try to influence elections. Voters will decide whether such organizations actually do influence elections.

Here’s a video produced by Cato’s Caleb Brown and Austin Bragg following the oral argument of Citizens United (and featuring Yours Truly):

Afghanistan Now Is Truly Barack Obama’s War

Afghanistan is voting for president. Unfortunately, the outcome, even if a fair result, is unlikely to matter much. The war will continue.

In 2008 President Barack Obama was seen as the anti-war candidate.  In fact, his reputation reflected his prescient opposition to the Iraq war, but he said little to suggest that he was out of sync with Washington’s interventionist consensus.

We see his status quo foreign policies with his support for continued NATO expansion as well as maintaining American garrisons around the globe, including in South Korea and Japan.  But his escalation in Afghanistan most obviously demonstrates that he is a man of the interventionist left.

He is now making it clear that Afghanistan is his war.  Reports Reuters:

President Barack Obama will seek to shore up U.S. public support for the war in Afghanistan on Monday just days before an Afghan presidential election widely seen as a major test of his revamped strategy.

Obama will address a military veterans group in Phoenix at a time when U.S. combat deaths are rising amid a troop buildup against a resurgent Taliban, and polls show a softening of public backing for the eight-year-old war.

Hoping to reassure Americans, Obama is expected to sketch out why he believes the Afghanistan policy he unveiled earlier this year is working and why the United States must remain committed to stabilizing the war-ravaged country.

The political risks for him are enormous.  Anything bad that happens in Iraq can be blamed on George W. Bush.  But any failure in America’s nation-building mission in Afghanistan – and failure is the most likely outcome in any nation-building in Afghanistan – will be seen as his responsibility.

And American and other coalition military personnel, as well as the Afghan people, will pay the price.

False Accounts of Massachusetts’ Health Reforms

Recent editorials in both the Boston Globe and The New York Times contained some staggering falsehoods about the cost of Massachusetts’ health reforms.  Here is a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of the Globe:

The editorial “Mass. bashers take note: Health reform is working” [Aug. 5] states that “the cost to the state taxpayer” of the Massachusetts health reforms is “about $88 million a year.”  That claim is unquestionably false.  The cost to state taxpayers is 19 times that amount, while the total cost is 24 times that amount.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation explains that the $88-million figure represents not the total cost to the state government, but the average annual increase in the state government’s costs.  Worse, the editorial completely ignores new spending by the federal government and the private sector, which account for 80 percent of the law’s cost.

According to Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates, health reform will cost at least $2.1 billion in 2009.  The total cost to state taxpayers is at least $1.7 billion and growing.  (The fact that other states’ taxpayers bear the balance should not be a source of pride.)

One wonders how such a falsehood comes to appear on a leading editorial page.

And one I sent to the Times:

The Massachusetts Model” [Aug. 9] understates the cost of the Massachusetts health plan.

The editorial claims, “the federal and state governments each pa[y] half of the added costs, or about $350 million” in 2010.  The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which generated that estimate, assumes that Massachusetts will eliminate $200 million in subsidies to safety-net hospitals next year.  Given that those hospitals are currently suing the Commonwealth and exerting political pressure to increase such payments, those assumed cuts are hypothetical.  More certain is the foundation’s estimate that the on-budget cost will reach $817 billion in 2009.

Yet the foundation’s estimates also show that the law (1) pushes 60 percent of its cost off-budget and onto the private sector; (2) costs about three times the $700 million that the editorial suggests, and (3) is covering 432,000 previously uninsured residents at a cost of about $6,700 each, or $27,000 for a family of four.  That’s more than twice the average cost of family coverage nationwide.

The editorial admonishes that “the public should demand an honest assessment, from critics and supporters” of the Massachusetts health plan.  Indeed.

A fuller response to these spurious claims may be found here.

I wish I could run a newspaper, so I could print false stuff and then not correct it.  Oh wait, I do blog…

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung Dies

At 85, former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung has died of heart failure.  Elected in 1997, he was the architect of South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” with the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, highlighted by the first South-North summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.  Kim Dae-jung’s presidency ended in disappointment – Pyongyang took advantage of South Korean generosity while corruption reached into his family.

But he fought heroically for human rights against the South’s old military regime.  He ran for president in an election stolen by Park Chung-hee and was kidnapped while in exile in Japan. He avoided death at sea when the Reagan administration, alerted to the crime, warned Seoul that he had better arrive alive in South Korea.

I met him in 1989 shortly after his defeat in the first free election after the dissolution of military rule.  Imperious but principled, he seemed destined to spend the rest of his life in opposition.  But he persevered and triumphed.

Kim Dae-jung’s flaws were manifest, but his personal courage and commitment to democracy were without question.  May he rest in peace.

We’re Paying Attention!

In a new column waxing poetic about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration’s efforts to transform American education, Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift suggests that the “right” is not paying attention to the looming “federal takeover of education.” If they were, they’d be screaming their heads off.

Au contraire! We at Cato are paying close attention and screaming (well, raising our voices) about it. In a recent New York Daily News op-ed, Andrew Coulson inveighs against national academic standards. In Cato’s latest Daily Podcast, I give the down and dirty on the so-called “Race to the Top” fund controlled by Duncan. And there are many other people on what Clift probably considers the right - libertarians and conservatives lumped together - who are most certainly paying attention. Unfortunately, many on the conservative side actually favor a federal takeover - whether they’ll admit it or not - which might be why Clift doesn’t hear the clamor from the right she’d expect. If anything, she might actually hear some modest - and mistaken - applause.