It would be easy to misread the results of Tuesday’s elections, and it looks as if the leaders of both parties are doing exactly that. Bob Herbert Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are offering voters the kind of change that they seem so desperately to want. We’re getting mind-numbing chatter about balanced budgets and smaller government and whether Mitch McConnell and his gang can chase President Obama out of the White House in 2012. What voters want is leadership that will help them through an economic nightmare and fix a...
In offering himself as the next speaker of the House after last Tuesday’s sea-change election, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed of about 800 words. The word “debt” is not one of them, nor does the concept appear. That’s a bit odd, no?
The debt is what the election was about: the growth-killing tab that runs up another $4 billion every day -- even days when President Obama is not touring the Far East with 3,000 courtiers in his retinue. The debt, driven by unconstitutional and unsustainable federal intrusions into everything from how much carbon dioxide we emit to which light bulbs we use, is what in turn drives unemployment. The debt, coupled with government’s insatiable appetite for ever-greater control, is what impels the Obama campaign to tax every morsel of achievement, effort, and choice. As former Reagan official Peter Ferrara explains in President Obama’s Tax Piracy, a new pamphlet in Encounter’s Broadside series, production and employment have ground to a halt as a “natural result of the incentive effects” created by the swirl of confiscation and uncertainty.
#ad#Yet, Mr. Boehner is focused like a laser on#...#earmarks. They are, he says, “a symbol of a broken Washington.” Okay, but they are also less than one 1 percent of our unfathomable $3.8 trillion budget. The problem is not the symbols, it is the broken Washington.
It took the United States over 190 years from the start of constitutional governance to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. We now add a tril every nine months or so. At the start of World War II, our public debt stood at about $43 billion. That averaged out to $370 per American. On Election Day last week, with a population nearly three times as large, each American’s share had exploded to $44,370 -- and counting. Accumulated public debt now hovers near $14 trillion, and that’s only if we use the farcically forgiving math by which Washington insulates itself from the accounting rigors it foists on the real world.
Americans in the private sector (i.e., members of the public who create the value on which the “public servants” feast) get prosecuted for fraud when they doctor the books, even if it is to shroud an imperceptible fraction of what Uncle Sam hides: tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities that push into the hundreds of thousands of dollars the true per capita burden we bear, as will our children and our children’s children. Just ask any Bernie, from Ebbers to Madoff: If you fail to heed the SEC’s disclosure regulations, you go to jail. And what of the regs for government disclosure, like the Freedom of Information Act? Strangely enough, the Treasury Department is currently looking to hire FOIA experts with experience in using “exemptions to withhold information from the public.”
But let’s pretend that the debt is really only $14 trillion. Two-thirds of that staggering sum has been run up since 1991, when Boehner was first elected to the House. About half of it has been added since 2006, when Mr. Boehner became GOP leader. Obviously, Democrats have been running the show in Congress throughout Boehner’s leadership years, and they’ve controlled both political branches for the last two. The congressman doesn’t come close to making the Most Wanted list when it comes to assessing blame for our sorry condition. But neither do earmarks.
#page#The “broken Washington” Mr. Boehner deplores is the Washington that doesn’t know its place and has no respect for the limits the Constitution imposes on its rapacious tendencies. It’s the Washington that produces central-planning programs like “No Child Left Behind.” That’s the 2002 Bush administration initiative that Boehner, then chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force, regards as his signature legislative achievement. By contrast, as the Cato Institute pointed out in a 2007 analysis of NCLB, even the administration of Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt acknowledged that the Constitution provides no role for the national government in schooling, that “education is a matter reserved for the states.”
#ad#The grassroots uprising that has brought Boehner to the cusp of becoming speaker did not sweep the Republicans into power. It swept the Democrats out of power. Just as a similar wave swept Republicans out of power in 2006. The common denominator for both expulsions is the mind-blowing expansion of government, accompanied by a mind-blowing accumulation of debt. In the two centuries-plus before Pres. George W. Bush took office, the debt grew to $5.7 trillion. In just eight years, he added almost $5 trillion more.
Voters have just made congressional Democrats a rarer species because Obama’s breakneck spending and governmental metastasis make Bush look like a piker. That, however, does not mean Americans have suddenly fallen in love with Republicans. It means they have reluctantly given Republicans a second chance, finding them to be the only alternative readily available, and hoping the GOP’s stalwart opposition to Obama’s worst excesses means something more worthy than political opportunism is at play. But they are by no means convinced.
To put it mildly, Boehner’s got a lot to prove. His pose as anti-earmarks crusader is underwhelming, even as complemented by his call for a few good-government reforms to streamline legislation and make the process of passing it transparent. These are fine, as far as they go, but they go no farther than putting band-aids on a cancer. What we really want to know -- particularly those of us who are skeptical about the GOP’s seriousness of purpose -- is where he and the party stand on debt and on the role of government in our lives.
Very soon, Leviathan’s credit card will be tapped out. Shortly after President Obama took office, Congress quietly raised the debt ceiling from $12.3 trillion to $14.2 trillion -- an amount that strategically evaded the need to come back for more just before the midterm elections. At its current rate of profligacy, however, the government will steamroll past the current limit within a few months. It will need a new, higher max-out to keep the gravy train rolling. So, like clockwork, the punditocracy is in high dudgeon, warning the speaker-to-be and other GOP leaders: Don’t even think about not raising the cap. Unless the ceiling is raised, we’re told, life will end, the government will collapse, the global economy will sink into deep depression, the unemployed may have to make do on less than 99 weeks of “insurance,” etc. Go along, or prepare to be smeared as reckless maniacs. In short, it’s TARP time all over again.
Only in Washington is withdrawing a bankrupt debtor’s credit line deemed a form of dementia while running up nearly $10 trillion in red ink over a decade, with trillions more coming annually as far as the eye can see, is seen as perfectly rational. To the rest of the country -- that would be the people who said “No You Can’t” to the “Yes We Can” crowd on Tuesday -- grappling responsibly with bankruptcy means you are forced to pay down your debt and make the hard choices about what to stop spending on.
That will involve a lot more than ending earmarks.
-- Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.
Is Barack Obama as suave a diplomat as George W. Bush? His arrival in Bombay on Saturday morning, with 200 anxious American business executives in tow, will give him the opportunity to answer that question.
President Obama, sheepish recipient of the Nobel peace prize, is paying a visit to a world leader who actually deserves one: Manmohan Singh, who engineered the economic liberalization that has lifted many millions of Indians out of needless misery a decade before he took over the reins of government as prime minister. India’s consequent rise as a significant world economic power, like China’s, has been a source of bitterness and consternation for many Americans, particularly among Obama’s most energetic supporters, the union bosses and entrenched business interests who accuse foreigners of “stealing our jobs.” With U.S. unemployment hovering close to 10 percent despite a trillion dollars’ worth of ill-considered stimulus shenanigans -- and with the president himself freshly shellacked -- the pressure is on to cut some deals.
#ad#Obama has been blunt about his intentions: “The primary purpose is to take a bunch of U.S. companies and open up markets, so that we can sell in Asia,” quoth our American Gladstone.
As is the case with U.S. national-security matters, Obama, if he is clever enough to do so, has the opportunity here to profit from sound investments made by the administration of George W. Bush, whose cultivation of New Delhi was one of the great unsung diplomatic success stories of the era. The Bush administration’s careful negotiation of the U.S.-India nuclear accord was the key to thawing the sometimes chilly relationship between the world’s two largest democratic republics, an unhappy relic of India’s regrettable Cold War cuddling with the Soviet Union, back when socialism was chic. Obama’s challenge is to make that investment pay off by persuading New Delhi to allow American businesses, particularly retailers, better access to Indian markets, where narrow, parochial business interests and coddled unions hobble foreign competitors. Which is to say, President Obama is tasked with achieving a détente between his anti-trade union friends and corporate favor-seekers at home and their opposite numbers in India.
New Delhi wants three things that Washington should be pleased to offer -- but not without extracting significant concessions in return. The big one is American support for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, whose permanent members include such has-been powers as France, as well as two of India’s most important rivals: Russia and China. India is a large, liberal, trade-oriented democracy, one that suffers deeply from Islamic extremism and is threatened by Beijing’s predations. The American interest in elevating India’s stature as a counterbalance to China and the Islamic bloc is self-evident and worth supporting on its own merits. The other two things India wants are a freer hand in obtaining dual-use technology -- products with both military and civil applications, ranging from nuclear materials to biological matter -- and assurances that neither the Obama administration nor Congress will interfere unduly with its internationally oriented information industry, the hated “outsourcing” of work ranging from software development to customer services.
The president’s mind is on very little other than the economy right now, but the first two of these are not principally economic concerns, and our acceding to India’s interests in these matters should be conditioned mostly on stronger support from New Delhi for American national-security goals and closer defense cooperation. The time to think about tomorrow’s military necessities is today, and a stronger U.S.-India security relationship would tend to tamp down military adventuring in South Asia, potentially preventing conflicts before they become crises. But since Obama is a president with money on his mind, it may be worth pointing out that if New Delhi sincerely wishes to acquire military materiel from abroad, it could do worse than to take its business to the United States: Boeing and Lockheed are at the moment in negotiations to build a fleet of new fighter jets for India’s air force.
India’s purely economic petitions should be met with economic stipulations. Its tariff protection of its domestic agricultural sector is an even less defensible mess than the American farm-subsidy regime, a trade barrier that India should lower as a prelude to razing it (as we should ours). Likewise, India’s controls on foreign investment disadvantage too many U.S. businesses too severely; Obama can put the squeeze on India’s ruling class by threatening to limit the number of temporary visas that allow Indian professionals to work in the United States -- an earlier hike in the visas’ price grabbed the attention of India’s elites right where they felt it.
Given the protectionist mood at home, the United States does not enter into trade-liberalization negotiations with towering moral stature, but then neither does India. Negotiating a true free-trade deal would benefit both countries immensely, making the world a wealthier and freer place, but that is a project for which President Obama lacks sufficient political courage, to say nothing of the support of the diminished Democratic congressional caucus, which would crucify him for the mere thought of it. So we are left with the retro and slightly distasteful 19th century tit-for-tat political management of international trade, leaving only this question: Is Obama any good at it? We will find out this week.
Today, November 4, marks the thirtieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s election as president. It is a fitting time to dispense once and for all with the myth that there is any similarity whatsoever between Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.Washingtonians and insecure politicians obsess with comparisons but can anyone imagine Lincoln or FDR or JFK or Reagan comparing themselves to previous presidents? Far too secure in their own skin, they enjoyed the presidency as Kennedy said paraphrasing the ancient Greeks that it was "the full use of your powers along lines of...
WE’VE NOW had our first look at the pattern of pose-and-parry politics that may well dominate the next two years. If opening moves are any indication, Republicans will repackage conservative nostrums as the clearly expressed wish of the people — and urge the president to pay heed.President Obama, meanwhile, will profess a desire to work with Republicans, even while highlighting the consequences of their plans.
If Balzac were alive today, he would plant himself in that region of America that starts in central New York and Pennsylvania and then stretches out through Ohio and Indiana before spreading out to include Wisconsin and Arkansas. He’d plant himself in the working-class families in this area.He’d do it because this is the beating center of American life — the place where the trajectory of American politics is being determined. If America can figure out how to build a decent future for the working-class people in this region, then the U.S. will remain a...
WASHINGTON — At a time of tumult, the corner office in the West Wing is a center of calm. With the rest of Washington in a frenzy over the “shellacking” President Obama’s party took in this week’s elections, his new chief of staff quietly and methodically plots out a refashioned White House to manage his recovery.Pete Rouse, who took over as interim White House chief of staff a month ago, began planning a reorganization weeks before the vote, and despite this week’s losses, officials expect less of a shakeup than a reformulation....
The big news from Tuesday's elections - the GOP's gains of 60-plus seats in the House, recapturing the majority that it lost in 2006 - naturally makes one wonder about the divisions that the victories are likely to foment. Pundits are speculating on conflicts between the Tea Party and Republican regulars over spending; between the 25 remaining Blue Dog Democrats and the party’s liberal leadership; and of course between the two parties over budgetary matters, which could lead to gridlock.
Democrats, declared Evan Bayh in an Op-Ed article on Wednesday in The Times, "overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession." Many others have been saying the same thing: the notion that the Obama administration erred by not focusing on the economy is hardening into conventional wisdom.But I have no idea what, if anything, people mean when they say that. The whole focus on “focus” is, as I see it, an act of intellectual cowardice — a way to criticize President Obama’s record without explaining what...
France has been convulsed by violent demonstrations against modest pension reforms. Britain is imposing a tough fiscal “austerity” regime to plug a cavernous budget gap. Crisis-torn Greece is struggling to avoid a sovereign-debt default. Ireland, Portugal, and Spain are grappling with their own major-league financial woes. Is it fair to say that the much-ballyhooed European model is crumbling?
That depends on which “European model” you’re referring to. Though Western Europe is often lazily portrayed as a monolithic bastion of welfare-state sclerosis, it is in fact robustly heterogeneous. France has a brittle pension system and rigid labor markets, but the Dutch, Swedish, and Swiss pension systems are considered to be among the soundest in the world, and Danish labor flexibility rivals that of the United States. The aggregate tax burden is punishingly heavy in France, Germany, Italy, and the Nordic countries, but it is relatively light in Ireland and Switzerland. As for health care, the government-run systems in Britain and Scandinavia are much different from the consumer-driven Swiss model and the market-friendly Dutch approach, not to mention the French and German schemes.
#ad#Doesn’t Western Europe exhibit lackluster innovation prowess? And isn’t the region losing its global competitiveness? Some countries -- such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain -- are innovation laggards, but others are innovation leaders. Indeed, a 2009 Economist Intelligence Unit report classified Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden as three of the five most innovative countries on earth, with Germany placing sixth. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum reckons that Switzerland and Sweden have the planet’s two most competitive economies.
According to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom (compiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation), three Western European countries -- Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden -- offer greater business freedom, trade freedom, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, and property-rights protection than does the United States. In terms of overall economic freedom, Denmark (ninth) is virtually tied with America (eighth), which trails Switzerland (sixth) and Ireland (fifth). All of these countries -- plus the United Kingdom (eleventh), the Netherlands (15th), Finland (17th), Sweden (21st), and Germany (23rd) -- score well ahead of Portugal (62nd), France (64th), Greece (73rd), and Italy (74th).
Just as there is no uniform socioeconomic model in Western Europe, there is no uniform political culture. Transparency International’s 2010 CorruptionPerceptions Index ranks Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Norway among the world’s ten least corrupt societies, with the Danes sharing the top spot. By comparison, France (25th) ranks behind Uruguay; Spain (tied for 30th) and Portugal (32nd) rank behind the United Arab Emirates; Italy (67th) ranks behind Rwanda; and Greece (tied for 78th) ranks behind El Salvador.
Not surprisingly, there is tremendous variation in the efficiency of individual Western European governments. Despite the massive size of their bureaucracies and the lavish generosity of their welfare benefits, the Nordic countries stand out for having some of the best-performing institutions.In its 2010 global competitiveness survey, the Swiss business school IMD calculates that the public sector operates more efficiently in Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Ireland than it does in America. But IMD also reckons that the French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Greek governments function less efficiently than those in Jordan and Russia.
As these findings indicate, there are stark economic and political disparities between Scandinavia and Mediterranean Europe, as there are between Anglophone Europe and Franco-German Europe, which makes it problematic to generalize about the “European model.” A fascinating new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) study helps crystallize Western Europe’s diversity and illuminate its uneven embrace of structural reform.
MGI divides the original 15 members of the European Union (the “EU-15”) into three separate clusters: Northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), Continental Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), and Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain). Northern Europe is characterized by high labor-utilization rates and productivity levels “in line with the EU-15 average,” though Danish productivity has recently declined, and Irish unemployment has skyrocketed since the global financial crisis triggered a calamitous housing bust. Continental Europe (Austria excepted) boasts strong productivity but suffers from low labor utilization, though the Dutch have made extraordinary progress in reducing structural unemployment. Southern Europe is plagued by anemic productivity, and its record on labor utilization is a mixed bag; in Spain, for example, the utilization rate was barreling upward until the Great Recession pushed it back down.
#page#Speaking of Spain, it currently has the highest jobless rate in Western Europe, followed by Ireland. Small wonder: Both countries have been walloped by disastrous property meltdowns and painful deleveraging. According to a San Francisco Fed analysis of real house prices between 1997 and 2008, the pre-crisis bonanza saw prices jump by 172 percent in the Irish Republic and 118 percent in Spain, compared with 89 percent in Denmark, 75 percent in the Netherlands, and about 50 percent in America.
The Danes and Dutch are now enjoying impressively low unemployment, as they were before the recession. In many ways, they have been harvesting the fruits of ambitious, market-oriented labor reforms. Denmark has garnered widespread attention (and bountiful praise) for the “flexicurity” model it implemented during the 1990s, which helped the country slash its adult-unemployment rate from 8.9 percent in 1993 to 2.5 percent in 2008. The Dutch initiatives, while less celebrated than Danish flexicurity, have also proved remarkably successful. Between 2004 and 2008, MGI observes, the Netherlands had both the lowest average adult-unemployment rate (3.3 percent) and the lowest average youth-unemployment rate (6.8 percent) in the EU-15, and its rates were well below those of the United States (4 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively).
#ad#No discussion of recent European labor reforms would be complete without citing the neoliberal policy adjustments made by German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat who held power from 1998 to 2005. Thanks in part to his efforts, which substantially boosted labor flexibility, “the number of unemployed in Germany decreased by one-third” between 2005 and 2008, notes MGI. Prior to the global crisis, Europe’s largest economy did not experience a housing bubble. While Germany fell into a deep cyclical slump when world trade plunged, the strength of its export-led recovery has made it the envy of governments throughout the West. In October, German unemployment hit an 18-year low.
The extent of Western Europe’s reforms over the past two decades -- in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and beyond -- is not sufficiently appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. Consider the transformation of Sweden, a famously “socialist” country that has undergone dramatic liberalization since the early 1990s, when it was pulverized by a banking crash and a brutal recession. Fiscal retrenchment, deregulation, increased competition, and significant tax cuts have spurred huge productivity gains. Indeed, between 1995 and 2005, Swedish manufacturing became 60 percent more productive, according to MGI. Over that same time span, retail productivity grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the United States and 4.6 percent in Sweden. By 2005, America’s retail sector was 14 percent less productive than its Swedish counterpart.
“Sweden has shown on a national level how to turn a crisis into an opportunity for far-reaching structural reforms as a basis for long-term sustained growth,” says MGI. The Swedish revival, along with muscular economic growth elsewhere in Scandinavia and the British Isles, lifted Western Europe’s per capita–GDP growth between 2000 and 2008. Over that period, such growth was slightly faster in the EU-15 (1.3 percent) than it was in America (1.2 percent). For that matter, from 1995 to 2008, the EU-15 outpaced the United States in total new job creation (23.9 million to 20.5 million), even though its population growth was slower.
On the other hand, per capita GDP is still 24 percent greater in America than it is in the EU-15, and the productivity gap (which favors the United States) has gotten bigger since the mid-1990s (after narrowing from the 1960s onward). Most Western European countries still need to trim marginal tax rates, curtail public spending, and enhance labor flexibility. Moving forward, sluggish population growth -- and, in some countries (such as Germany and Italy), population shrinkage -- will present a raft of daunting challenges. But certain governments are much better positioned than others to address those challenges. In 2007, for example, the average age of Swedish and Dutch workers exiting the labor force was 63.9, while the corresponding age in France was 59.4.
Here’s how MGI sums up the root causes of the transatlantic per capita–GDP gap: Northern Europe’s problem “is mostly one of productivity; Continental Europe faces a gap in hours per employee; Southern Europe faces simultaneous challenges on productivity, participation, and unemployment.” In other words, the EU-15 economic landscape is kaleidoscopic, just like the policy frameworks of individual member states. Remember that the next time you hear a journalist or politician casually pronounce the death (or laud the virtues) of the “European model.”
-- Duncan Currie is deputy managing editor of National Review Online.
Pres. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both signaled their hope that the Senate will ratify New START during the lame-duck session, before a larger Republican minority can be sworn in. It is vital to our national security that the Senate disappoint them.
The president’s priorities on nuclear arms should be the pursuit of comprehensive missile defense, the modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, and the prevention of rogue states from acquiring WMD. New START does nothing on the last two goals and is actively hostile to the first.
#ad#Instead, what the treaty does is limit the number of deployed “delivery vehicles” -- missile silos, aircraft, submarines -- to 700 per side, approximately the level the aging Russian nuclear infrastructure is already struggling to maintain. But it does nothing to limit the Russians’ massive stockpile of undeployed warheads -- by one estimate, some 8,000 of them -- or to cut into their advantage in tactical nuclear weapons designed for use on the field of battle. Meanwhile, it encourages the Russians to “MIRV” their platforms, packing multiple warheads onto a single vehicle, at the same time the Obama administration has unilaterally discontinued that practice in an effort to “to increase stability.”
Unlike the original START, New START leaves whole classes of delivery vehicles, from rail-launched ICBMs to nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, undefined and thus uncontrolled by the treaty. An “understanding” included in the U.S. ratification document presumes that rail-based missiles are covered under the treaty, but such presumptions lack the force of international law. Worse, the Russians are already threatening to back out if the rail-launched “understanding” is not matched by similar language that would prevent us from expanding anti-ballistic capabilities.
This on top of the treaty’s explicit constraints on American missile defense, including a prohibition on the conversion of ICBM launchers into ABM launchers, and language in the preamble that implies the creation of new defensive capabilities is henceforth equivalent to the creation of new nuclear arms. Any one who doubts the Russians will use this as pretext to withdraw from the treaty should the United States improve its defensive posture need only listen to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who said New START “can be viable only provided there are no quantitative or qualitative increases in ABM capabilities.”
Even if New START’s substantive provisions were worth endorsing, its verification regime would not be. It represents a significant step backward from its predecessor in areas such as on-site inspections and information sharing -- and that’s just what we know about. On the eve of the September committee vote that sent New START to the full Senate, Sen. Kit Bond (R., Mo.), vice chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a classified letter to the Foreign Relations Committee detailing yet further objections to the treaty’s verification components, and Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) warned that new intelligence prompted him to question Russian intentions.
Which leaves President Obama’s admirable if naïve commitment to non-proliferation and eventual disarmament as the sole virtue of ratification -- in other words, it leaves precisely nothing. Proliferators such as Iran and North Korea will not find the moral force in the president’s example, nor will their strategic imperatives be altered a bit by even a substantially smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal. The former will continue seek a deterrent to the massive conventional superiority of the Great Satan, and the latter will continue to reap the benefits of its plutonium-powered extortion racket.
It goes without saying that Senate Democrats are overwhelmingly behind the president’s pet treaty. Unfortunately, some Senate Republicans, including Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), have also indicated their support. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has signaled he will follow Lugar’s lead and that of Republican whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), on the ultimate ratification vote. Kyl doesn’t share Lugar’s estimation of New START and has doggedly pressed the administration to commit to nuclear-force modernization and to open New START’s negotiating record to Senate scrutiny in advance of a vote. While Senator Kyl’s demands certainly would constitute improvements over the treaty as it stands, they would not be sufficient to salvage this fundamentally defective accord. And, in any case, ramming the treaty through a lame-duck Congress is reckless and unnecessary; the Russians will still be there in January. Senator McConnell should exercise restraint.
At the top of his Thursday cabinet meeting, President Obama said that the debate over the ratification of New START “is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but, rather, an issue of American national security.” That’s quite right. But it will take a unified Republican caucus to stop New START.
Do Americans share President Obama’s desire to impose redistributive social justice on the well-off? In liberal Washington State, of all places, voters gave a definitive answer this Tuesday: No! The resounding rejection of a punitive “Robin Hood” initiative shows that it’s not just red-state Republicans who oppose extreme tax hikes on the nation’s wealth generators.
As Capitol Hill resumes debate on whether to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts, the White House should pay special heed to the fate of little-noticed Initiative 1098. Its defeat by a whopping 65–35 margin doesn’t bode well for Team Obama’s class warriors still clinging bitterly to their soak-the-rich schemes. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner insisted this summer that saddling higher earners with higher taxes was “the responsible thing to do.” Given the chance to weigh in at the ballot box, a diverse majority of voters in the other Washington determined otherwise.
#ad#The Evergreen State is just one of seven states in the nation without a personal income tax. The ballot measure, which would have enacted a state income tax on the wealthiest 1 percent of Washington residents to raise $2 billion for bankrupt public schools, was sponsored by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his father, a left-wing corporate lawyer. Top donors? The Service Employees International Union, whose state and national chapters threw in a combined $2.5 million of its members’ hard-earned dues money, and the National Education Association, which pitched in nearly $760,000.
Hiding behind kiddie human shields, the I-1098 campaign assailed the wealthy for “not paying their fair share” and plastered their campaign literature with sad-faced students and toddlers. Big Labor has been pushing a punish-the-wealthy movement for months. According to Forbes magazine, “six of the 10 states with the highest income-tax rates -- Oregon, California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina -- raised their levies on high earners, at least temporarily,” last year.
But business owners large and small, representing companies from Bartell Drugs to Amazon.com, successfully fought back against the job-killing measure in Washington State. Disavowing the Gateses, Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer also joined the opposition. The software company’s senior executives expressed grave concern “about the impact I-1098 will have on the state’s ability to attract top tech talent in the future.” Liberal newspaper editorial boards including those of the Seattle Times and the Tacoma News Tribune added their objections, citing I-1098’s reckless targeting of wealth creation in the middle of a recession and the inevitable extension and increase of income taxes to the middle class. And economists at the independent, nonpartisan Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that I-1098’s tax burdens would lengthen and deepen the current economic downturn by destroying private-sector jobs, reducing residents’ disposable income, and prolonging the state’s high unemployment rate.
Amber Gunn of the free-market Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Wash., gave the bottom line on I-1098’s unreality-based advocates: “Initiative proponents like to operate in a Keynesian world where higher tax rates and their effects on human behavior and competitiveness among states don’t matter. But those effects are present in the real world and must be accounted for.”
I-1098’s promoters tried to disguise their wealth-suppression vehicle as tax “relief” by tossing in a few stray targeted cuts. But they were called out by a judge and slapped with a court order to make the income-tax burden explicit in the ballot title.
If only the taxmen in Washington, D.C., were required to do the same. Obama’s budget proposal is a soak-the-rich scheme adorned with a few business tax breaks that would -- for starters -- impose nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes on couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000. Some “relief.”
On Thursday afternoon, still smarting from the nationwide “shellacking” the Democrats received on Election Day, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs signaled that Obama would be willing to “entertain” temporary -- not permanent -- tax relief for the nation’s highest earners. But a time-limited reprieve in prolonged economic hard times is expedient politics and bad policy. Tax relief should be all or none. The new House majority should force the Democrats to choose.
Republicans must stop allowing the White House to demonize America’s entrepreneurs and producers. By continuing to allow Democrats to refer to them as beneficiaries of the “Bush tax cuts” instead of as the besieged victims of Obama tax increases, the GOP cedes the moral high ground. It’s time to make the White House own its noxious war on wealth.
— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery, 2010). © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Crossposted with TomDispatch.com.
When I was down in Guantánamo a few months ago, a veteran German journalist let it slip that she didn’t much care for the place. “This,” she confided in me, and many of the other journalists there as well, “is the worst place I have ever visited in my entire career.”
It’s not hard to see why my superlative-loving friend felt this way: We were covering the case of Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old Canadian captured after a firefight with U.S. forces outside Kabul in July 2002, tortured and interrogated for a few months at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, then transported to Guantánamo. He just reached a plea agreement that will avoid a trial before a military commission at Gitmo for five “war crimes.” Four of them, freshly invented for the occasion, are not recognized as war crimes in any other court on the planet. (Khadr pled guilty to all charges and will get at least one year more at Gitmo -- in solitary -- then perhaps be transferred to Canada for a remaining seven years.)
Aside from Khadr and about 130 other prisoners who may one day see a trial, Guantánamo also holds 47 more War on Terror prisoners who are expected to be “detained” indefinitely without being tried at all. This was one of the radical policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that is now cheerfully defended by the human rights grandees in Barack Obama’s State Department.
Gitmo and all other places without habeas corpus rights are indeed dismal places -- and there is certainly something disgusting about the first conviction of a child soldier since World War II. All the same, I couldn’t help but wonder if my vehement Kollegin had ever visited a homegrown federal prison like the one in Terre Haute, Indiana (whose maximum security wing was copied down to the smallest detail at Gitmo’s Camp 5), or even your run-of-the-mill overcrowded state lock-up, the kind you pass on the highway without even noticing that you’ve done so, or one of the crumbling youth detention facilities in New York State which, as we lawyers who have represented youth offenders know, are hellish.
Such prisons may lack the exotic setting of Gitmo’s Camp Delta, but they should not be forgotten. At the risk of sounding boosterish, it so happens that a great many of America’s unsung domestic prisons also routinely abuse inmates, Guantánamo-style, are unable or unwilling to prevent inmate rape, employ long-term, sustained solitary confinement (which gives waterboarding a run for its money), and in actual practice are often beyond the rule of law. Confessions, true or false, obtained through violence and threats, aren’t restricted to Guantánamo either. They are not all that hard to find in our contiguous 48 states. And for the rest of our prison system, where are the outraged German journalists? Why are no British “law lords” calling the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado, a “legal black hole” as law lord Johan Steyn termed Guantánamo?
Alas, in so many ways Guantánamo is not the exception but far closer to the rule of our criminal justice system, and the case of Omar Khadr, rather than being an anomaly of the War on Terror, is in all too many ways positively all-American. To be sure, taking a child soldier you’ve captured in a foreign land, whose interrogation entailed stringing him up half-naked in a five-foot-square cell with wrists chained to the bars at eye level and a hood clamped tightly over his face, then prosecuting him for “murder” because he allegedly tossed a grenade on a foreign battlefield, does present some legal issues that don’t ordinarily come up in Spokane or Chillicothe.
But Gitmo, a “betrayal of American values”? Would that it were! Alas, for nearly every grisly tabloid feature of the Khadr case, you can find an easy analog in our everyday criminal justice system. In a sense, much of our War on Terror has proven a slightly spicier version of our “normal” way of doing criminal justice. Using the case of Omar Khadr, let’s take this step by step.
Child Soldiers and Juvenile Offenders
The Khadr case should have been a bit queasy-making for us Americanos. Hasn’t there been a surge of concern for child soldiers in book clubs and church groups across the land? Turns out, however, that this long-distance compassion goes up in smoke at closer range. The second a child soldier points his gun at an American, not another African, it’s adiós victimized child, hello hardened terrorist.
The hypocrisy in all this is less flaming than it may appear. After all, clemency for youth offenders, be they child soldiers or just local kids, runs against the American grain these days. If we routinely prosecute children even younger than 15 as adults -- and we do -- why should a foreign child soldier be any different?
In fact the U.S. even has a few dozen inmates doing life without parole for acts committed when they were 13 or 14, and most of these sentences were mandatory rather than the prerogative of a particularly nasty judge. (Some small progress: last May in Graham v. Florida the Supreme Court decided that juveniles can get life without parole only if there’s homicide involved.) Overall, the U.S. has in recent years had precious little mercy for its children, or anyone else’s.
Coercive Interrogation of Minors
Back in May, the Gitmo press corps gasped when Khadr’s “Interrogator Number One,” Joshua Claus, described the veiled threats of rape he wielded at Bagram Prison to try to break the young prisoner. If Khadr should fail to cooperate, Claus told him, he would meet the same fate as another young (and imaginary) Afghan detainee who was supposedly sent to a U.S. penitentiary and raped to death in a shower room by “neo-Nazis, and four big black guys.” Claus, a court-martialed detainee abuser, had been the leader of the final interrogation of a mistakenly imprisoned Afghan taxi driver who was beaten to death by American guards at Bagram in 2002. Before receiving a rather light sentence in the case, Claus pledged his full cooperation with the Khadr prosecution, and he kept his part of the bargain with visible enthusiasm.
As it happens, Claus’s veiled threats of rape and violence to a minor would not have been that uncommon in domestic interrogation rooms. “From the stories I’m familiar with, threats like that are a pretty garden-variety police interrogation tactic,” says Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University.
With youths, it’s not that much of a challenge to get a false confession, even without the threat of or actual physical violence being brought to bear, as the case of Marty Tankleff in Long Island shows, not to mention the seven- and eight-year-old boys from the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago who, in the summer of 1998, “confessed” to murdering a girl for her bicycle. Even after DNA evidence from semen found on the corpse was matched to an adult serial sex offender, the Chicago Police Superintendent at first refused to exonerate them. The State’s Attorney might well have prosecuted the boys, too, if the entire South Side of Chicago hadn’t threatened to explode.
Okay, but what about torture? We bemoan with great feeling that America has “become” a state that uses torture. Alas, this, too, is not so new, nor has it ever been limited to foreign insurgents (be they Comanche, Filipino, or Vietnamese) or suspected terrorists. Take, for example, the former high-ranking Chicago police detective Jon Burge who, over a 20-year career, enhanced his interrogations with mock executions, suffocation, electroshocks, pistol-whipping, and yes, a form of waterboarding. All this was uncovered in 2002 in an epic special investigation which led to the reexamination of more than 100 cases, several overturned convictions, multiple Governor’s pardons and the usual massive lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department. Because the statute of limitations for Burge’s crimes had run out, the disgraced police officer was convicted this past June for perjury and obstruction of justice. He currently awaits sentencing.
Routinized Prison Abuse
As for routinized prison abuse, Bagram and Abu Ghraib have regularly been described as one-off aberrations, but the origins of such brutality are not hard to spot in our treatment of prisoners at home. This continuity is personified by Charles Graner, the ringleader of the Abu Ghraib torture. He had fittingly been a guard at maximum-security State Correctional Institute-Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania, itself subject to a major prisoner-abuse scandal in the late 1990s which got several guards fired, though not Graner.
Fact is, the abuse and/or torture of prisoners, though far from systematic, is not all that uncommon in many American prisons. What came out in the Abu Ghraib photos is, according to the (increasingly busy) United States program of Human Rights Watch, not so different from the abuse and brutality of many of our own stateside lock-ups.
In New York, for instance, a state task force convened by Governor David Paterson in 2008 deemed the entire youth detention system “broken.” The official report found that guards throughout the system regularly used “excessive force” on youth inmates, sometimes breaking bones and shattering teeth.
Prison abuse here at home can be just as fatal as at Bagram. In New York, an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old died in 2006 after corrections officers pinned him face down on the ground. (Remember, at Bagram the interrogators tried to make young Khadr talk by threatening to send him to an American prison, which they apparently considered at least as threatening as anything Afghanistan had to offer.)
This is not lost on lawyers representing Gitmo detainees. “I might well advise a client to take ten years in the communal wing of Guantánamo over three years in solitary at the supermax in Florence,” says Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Attorney Joshua Dratel, who took part in the very successful defense of Gitmo detainee David Hicks, told me recently that he thought the worst American-run prison is not Guantánamo’s Camp Delta, but rather the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. And yet, somewhat mysteriously, New Yorkers are more likely to know about the brutality of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib than the fatal abuse and abysmal prison conditions in their own state.
To be sure, in significant ways Gitmo and the CIA’s various global “black sites” were significantly worse. First, the use of torture has been far more widespread at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and the other secret prisons established in the Bush years than at home. In addition, the government has also made the decision to imprison some detainees without trial for the duration of what has often been described as a “multigenerational” global war on terror. Even those prisoners with habeas rights have had trouble getting release orders granted by the judiciary enforced. Half a dozen Guantánamo prosecutors -- prosecutors, mind you, not defense lawyers -- have quit in disgust with the whole process, offering harsh words about the structural flaws which tilt the system towards securing convictions at the expense of impartial justice.
In important ways, however, our domestic justice system is no better. Darrell Vandeveld is a former Guantánamo prosecutor. He resigned in a crisis of conscience in 2009. He was also once a public defender in San Diego where he found that many defendants were able to get only a semblance of justice. “Most of the defendants’ rights were honored only in the breach. It’s an overburdened system that has only become worse. Comparable to Gitmo? No doubt.” Vandeveld, who now heads the public defender office in Erie, Pennsylvania, stresses that, while the outrages are not identical, they are comparable.
Legal Black Holes, At Home and Abroad
Gazing into Gitmo’s black hole can also easily provoke disturbing reflections on the rule of law in wartime America. As another lawyer remarked 2,000 years ago while his republic was degenerating into empire, “Inter armas silent leges” (in time of war, the laws fall silent).
Keep in mind that the Global War on Terror -- a name the Obama administration has demurely dropped without dropping the war that went with it -- is by no means the only war deforming our justice system. For the past three decades, the War on Crime and the War on Drugs have been in full fury, becoming ever less metaphorical as budgets for police and prisons skyrocket, and then skyrocket some more. These domestic crackdowns have come with much martial rhetoric and political manipulation of fear and anger, clearing a wide path for the excesses of that Global War on Terror. By overburdening the criminal courts and prison system to a hitherto unimaginable degree, these “wars” also created legal black holes where the rule of law is notional at best.
Take the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which made it nearly impossible for inmates to sue prison authorities, and has put thousands of Americans beyond the reach of any kind of juridical authority. According to Bryan Stevenson, a peerless capital-defense litigator and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama:
U.S. prison officials have obtained greater and greater discretion to send someone to solitary confinement for years; to force people into their cells naked, without meals; to inflict punitive measures without any possibility of outside intervention. It’s often a closed system whose managers have all the authority, especially at our supermax facilities. They function in many ways like Guantánamo.
Gitmo and Bagram were well within our capabilities before 9/11. Yes, it’s true that Bush administration officials and pundits told us with excitement about how, in our counterattack on al Qaeda, “the gloves were coming off.” For a great many Americans already in U.S. prisons, however, those gloves had never gone on to begin with. This raises some vexing questions about how we budget our indignation. It is not at all clear why violent interrogations, abuse, and torture should be more scandalous when they happen overseas than in Chicago.
What explains this collective Jellybyism? Is it because so many of our domestic inmates, especially in the regions where national opinion is produced, are African American and Latino, whereas most of our professional social reformers in the nonprofit sector are white and Asian? Is it because most of our elite public-interest lawyers and white-shoe pro bono advocates come out of a top half-dozen law schools where they most likely got a nice taste of well-tended federal courts, but little if any exposure to our overburdened state criminal courts? Is it just too depressing to think about our crumbling, overstrained criminal justice system in Guantánamo-like terms? Does compassion fatigue for those atrocities closest at hand always set in first, and hardest? Whatever the reasons, the gaping legal black holes in our domestic justice and penal system have acquired the seamless invisibility of an open secret.
It is no coincidence that most of the American intellectuals who have pointed out these domestic precursors to the Global War on Terror -- journalists like Margaret Kimberley and Bob Herbert, and law professor James Forman, Jr. -- are African American. Black Americans, whose overall incarceration rate today is probably higher than that of Soviet citizens at the peak of the gulag, have had ample reasons over the centuries, and now as much as ever, to doubt the fundamental fairness of American justice. When advocates compare the military tribunals unfavorably to “the Cadillac version of justice” that U.S. citizens supposedly get (which was how one Gitmo defense attorney described America’s domestic courts), it is simply baffling to those aware of how our system actually works.
In fact, the ho-hum familiarity of much of the War on Terror’s nastiness may help explain why so many Americans view what’s gone on at Gitmo with a shrug, and often respond to the liberal shock and horror with exasperation. This has been going on right here for decades, where have you been?
Prosecuting a 15-year-old for “murder” with the help of a little torture and some threats of rape may not be the kind of thing we want show German journalists. They’ll just get upset. They lack the context. But we Americans really have no right to claim that we’re shocked. We got used to this kind of thing a long time ago. The prosecution of former child soldier Omar Khadr has been nothing, in other words, if not all-American.
Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York. He reviews and reports for the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, the American Conservative Magazine and CounterPunch. A Timothy MacBain TomDispatch video interview with Madar on why Guantanamo has not betrayed American "values" can be seen by clicking here or downloaded to your iPod, here.
Copyright 2010 Chase Madar
Now that the dust has settled on the 2010 midterm elections, it’s slowly becoming clear just how monumental the results really are. We saw an extreme left-wing agenda suffer a crushing defeat. At the ballot box, voters took Obamacare and the stimulus and wrapped them right around the necks of those same House members and senators who had arrogantly dismissed the concerns voiced in countless town halls and Tea Party rallies up and down the country. Voters sent commonsense conservatives a clear mandate to hold the line against the Obama agenda.
Does that mean Republican candidates can look forward with greater confidence to the 2012 elections? Yes and no. Yes, objectively speaking the next electoral cycle should be even more favorable than the one that just ended. A large number of red-state Democratic senators will have to defend their seats; and since Obama will be at the top of the ballot that year, they won’t be able to hide from the fact that their party leader is a detached liberal with a destructive tax-and-spend agenda. Whether Republicans will do as well as they did in this cycle depends on whether they learn the lessons from the 2010 election.
#ad#The first lesson is simple: Set the narrative. This year it wasn’t too difficult to tell the story of the election: It was about stopping an out-of-control Congress and an out-of-touch White House. In races across the country, Republican candidates ran on the message that the Left was bankrupting America with budget-busting spending bills that mortgage our children’s future, burden the private sector with uncertainty, and cripple our much-needed job growth.
The story of the next cycle, though, remains to be written. Its content depends on what Republicans do next. Just as in the 1980s, there are today millions of conservative-leaning Democrats and independents who are ready to join our cause. They gave us their votes, now we must earn their trust. And we do that by showing them that a vote for us will not be a vote for the big-spending, over-regulating status quo. The 2012 story should be about conservatives in Congress cutting government down to size and rolling back the spending, and the Left doing everything in its power to prevent these necessary reforms from happening. In the next two years, if all we end up doing is adopting some tax hikes here, some Obama-agenda compromises there, and a thousand little measures that do nothing to get us out of the economic mess we’re in, the same voters that put the GOP in office will vote them out in the next election. If that happens, the story of 2012 may well be that of the GOP going the way of the Whigs. No, the American people are expecting us to be bold and big in our economic reform to allow the private sector to create jobs and soar!
In the coming weeks, there will be those who lament that some of us endorsed conservative Republicans over liberal ones in blue-state races. It’s a good debate, and one I’m willing to have. First, we must keep in mind that there is no guarantee that any Republican will win in a deep-blue state (as evidenced by the exit polls in Delaware showing that the liberal Republican would have lost too). But even more to the point, we saw in the last decade what happens when conservatives hold their noses and elect liberals who have an “R” after their names. Our party’s message of freedom and fiscal responsibility became diluted. In 2008, it was difficult to claim on the one hand that we were the party of fiscal responsibility and on the other hand that our fiscal policies work. It was clear to the electorate that the GOP had not adhered to fiscally conservative positions, and that the liberal positions they did adhere to didn’t work. If we go on in that direction again, we won’t have a base, let alone a majority. Certainly we can and should back sensible center-right candidates in bluer states, but I see no point in backing someone who supports cap-and-tax, Obamacare, bailouts, taxes, and more useless stimulus packages. If you think such a candidate will be with us when it comes time to vote down an Obama Supreme Court nominee, you’re living on a unicorn ranch in fantasy land.
In the coming weeks there will also be a debate about the viability of particular candidates. Anyone with the courage to throw his or her hat in the ring and stand up and be counted always has my respect. Some of them were stronger candidates than others, but they all had the courage to be “in the arena.” The second lesson of this election is one a number of the candidates had to learn to their cost: Fight back the lies immediately and consistently. Some candidates assumed that, once they received their party’s nomination, the conservative message would automatically carry the day. Unfortunately, political contests aren’t always about truth and justice. Powerful vested interests will combine to keep bad candidates in place and good candidates out of office. Once they let themselves be defined as “unfit” (decorated war hero Joe Miller) or “heartless” (pro-life, international women’s rights champion Carly Fiorina), good candidates often find it virtually impossible to get their message across. The moral of their stories: You must be prepared to fight for your right to be heard.
#ad#Another important lesson is that we will need the mother of all GOTV efforts if we wish to win in 2012. Sending donations isn’t enough when push comes to shove. Millions of boots on the ground are needed, and voter-fraud prevention must be addressed before election eve.
The last, and possibly most important, lesson is that a winning conservative message must always be carefully crafted. If candidates are going to talk boldly on the campaign trail about entitlement reform and reducing the size of government, they must be prepared to word it in such a way as to minimize the inevitable fear-mongering accusations of “extremism.” We are quickly approaching a fiscal turning point where these crucial reform discussions will be mandatory. We need to speak about them in a way that the public will embrace. During his first run for the presidency in 1976, Ronald Reagan found out that election campaigns aren’t necessarily the best settings for quasi-academic discussions about issues like Social Security reform. So for his next campaign, he resolved to build his platform out of tried and tested policies like tax cuts. Successful candidates in the next election cycle will have to test and develop similar policy platforms that address the crucial issues of entitlement reform and shrinking government in a way that the voters will find pragmatic and even attractive.
If we manage to do these things, there is no reason why we can’t look forward with confidence to winning in 2012. I have said all along that this election must be seen in conjunction with the next. Ultimately 2010 must be viewed as just the first battle in a much longer fight that leads to November 6, 2012, and beyond. We cannot fully restore and revive America until we replace Obama. The meaning of the 2010 election was rebuke, reject, and repeal. We rebuked Washington’s power grab, rejected this unwanted “fundamental transformation of America,” and began the process to repeal the dangerous policies inflicted on us. But this theme will only complement the theme of 2012, which is renew, revive, and restore. In 2012, we need to renew our optimistic, pioneering spirit, revive our free-market system, and restore constitutional limits and our standing in the world as the abiding beacon of freedom.
Till then, I hope that commonsense patriots will join me in applauding the real heroes of this election year: the Tea Party Americans. In 2008, we were told that we had to “move beyond Reagan.” Well, some of us refused to believe that America chose big-government European-style socialism. American voters elected a politician who cloaked his agenda in the language of moderation. Once the mask was removed, Americans rejected his “fundamental transformation.” The Tea Party reminded us that Reaganism is still our foundation. I think the Gipper is smiling down on us today waving the Gadsden Flag.
— Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, was the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president.