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The GOP on Foreign Policy: Rhetoric v. Reality

March 14, 2013 in Economics

By Malou Innocent

Malou Innocent

As thousands of young true believers gather this weekend for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement continue to operate on a fundamental contradiction. Despite their rhetoric, many supporters of limited-government still embrace unchecked government power in one respect: war. A movement that opposes the leviathan state at home but empowers the government to centrally plan the world muddles its message and compromises its principles.

For many compelling reasons, conservatives and Republicans distrust the “nanny state.” They argue that government intrusions and wealth redistribution programs harm the free market, curtail individual freedoms, and concentrate power in the hands of incompetent bureaucrats. Government, they often claim, cannot do anything right. They often invoke President Ronald Reagan’s aphorism: “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The broader conservative movement must understand that its inclination for war is an inclination for more government.”

Conservatives and their major political party of choice, the GOP, recognize the limitations of the government’s ability to manage health care or educate America’s children. But that skepticism of centralized power and state-led social engineering apparently do not apply beyond America’s borders.

It was telling when Tea Party champion and Florida Senator Marco Rubio said last April, “I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business.” For years, President George W. Bush boasted of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to build schools, roads, and hospitals — in Iraq.

Conservatives and Republicans generally argue that the federal government’s primary constitutional function is national defense, and that America’s security and prosperity is linked to stability abroad. Few see the contradiction between their grandiose global ambitions and their principled opposition to the welfare state. Nation-building in the name of the “war on terror,” itself a counterproductive tool against terrorism, entails what conservatives deride: nationalist collectivism, curtailed due-process rights, and huge, open-ended fiscal commitments supported by government borrowing.

Economic historian Robert Higgs has long argued that the biggest increases in the scope of government power have historically been during times of war. Militarism has brought with it new federal bureaus, the nationalization of private industries, price and wage controls, and, most importantly for conservative proponents of limited constitutional government, the erosion of civil liberties and the suppression of dissent and free speech. As early 20th century progressive writer Randolph Bourne famously warned, “War is the …read more
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Drones Are the Price of the Perpetual Warfare State

March 14, 2013 in Economics

By Malou Innocent

Malou Innocent

The U.S. government’s drone program is the latest example of how war threatens the rights of ordinary citizens and corrodes their constitutional republic.

Domestically, most critics of the administration’s drone program have no love lost for Anwar Al-Awlaki. He was the American citizen, online propagandist, and recruiter for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who allegedly (all secret evidence) sought to use cyanide to poison Western water and food supplies, and attack American citizens. When the U.S. government drone-bombed Awlaki in September 2011, it was the first time an American citizen was targeted for death without being formally charged with a crime, without being allowed to contest the evidence against him in court and without being convicted at trial. The drone-bombing was in accordance with the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

The Obama administration and its drone policy supporters have argued that Awlaki forfeited his Fifth Amendment protections—which guarantee that a citizen’s life or liberty cannot be deprived without Due Process of law—because he plotted to kill Americans. But however evil Awlaki was, drone-bombing advocates’ preoccupation with him misses the point.

Since 9/11, Republican and Democratic administrations have been hiding their warfare procedures behind a veil of classification and bureaucracy while steadily increasing their ability to both spy on the private communication of American citizens and kill people based on the president’s sole discretion. The judgment of Congress and the president was intended to inform major decisions on foreign policy and national defense in order to protect the rights and liberties of Americans under the Constitution. When secrecy shields government accountability and transparency, it short circuits our democratic process. Currently, the U.S. government operates in the absence of checks and balances when the president and his lawyers can claim that the courts and the Congress cannot rule or set standards on whether its robust executive power violates constitutionally protected Due Process rights. The collateral damage unleashed on foreign civilians by means of war is egregious, but the altering of the structure of institutions dedicated to protecting our liberties is yet another upsetting implication of our permanent state of war.

Americans are finally waking up to how policies in the name of endless war and national security can lead to power grabs.”

Texas A&M University Professor Christopher Layne writes in “Kant or Cant: The Myth of Democratic Peace” that the greater the external threat a …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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Politicians' Public Service Often Creates Public Suffering

March 14, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

California Democrat Pete Stark finished 40 years in Congress in January. The 81-year-old proclaimed himself pleased with the half of his life spent in “public service” on Capitol Hill, yet the public has suffered disastrously from his efforts allegedly on its behalf.

Federal spending, deficits and debt have skyrocketed. The U.S. has engaged in endless, bloody and unnecessary wars.

Entitlement programs have exploded out of control, threatening America’s financial future.

The wasteful burden of inefficient regulation has climbed as job creation has stalled. The war on drugs has morphed into nanny-state regulation of cigarette smoking and soda drinking.

The U.S. has become a society in which public bailouts and liability judgments reward those who fail.

Washington has trouble delivering the mail but has taken control of the health care system.

Politicians are a necessary evil because government is a necessary evil. But Big Government is not necessary.”

People are still judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character, most often at the direction of government. People who once believed in a future of infinite possibilities now fear permanent decline.

Representative Stark was not directly responsible for all of these outcomes. He may even have opposed one or two of them.

But as a congressman he consistently promoted ever bigger government as the solution to every problem.

Is someone somewhere in need of something? Create a new government program, preferably in Washington. Tax or borrow, but always spend and regulate.

Yet he genuinely imagined himself as a crusader on horseback for the rest of us. He told NPR that he was going to miss getting up in the morning and looking into the mirror and saying: “ ‘Hey, I’m going to do something today that’s going to make life better for somebody.’ And that’s pretty neat.”

He contrasted that to his time as a banker when he got up and said: “ ‘Whose car am I going to repossess’ or ‘Whose house am I going to foreclose?’”

George Mason University’s Don Boudreaux makes the obvious point that if that’s what Stark did at his bank, then he was a lousy banker.

He should have been saying what family can I enable to buy a home which they can afford, and pay back the bank?

What entrepreneur can I fund to serve the public and make a profit? What new way can I serve people in order to enable the bank to make money?

In fact, if …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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Burma's Glass Half-Full

March 14, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

After decades of repression, reform has come to Burma. But much remains to be done. This week the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will debate Burma’s progress, and particularly whether to drop its designation of Burma, or Myanmar, as a “country of concern.”

For years Burma competed for the world title of worst government. North Korea usually took home the crown, but Burma’s leaders in the capital city of Naypyidaw never gave up trying. The long-lived military junta waged war on the Burmese people, suppressed democratic freedoms, and locked the nation into grinding poverty.

But now change is underway. The military has formally stepped back, though the institution retains enormous influence if not effective control of the government. Political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been freed. Controls over opposition parties and independent journalists have been relaxed. Peace agreements have been reached with many ethnic groups seeking autonomy. The government also has begun distancing Burma from China, the country’s assertive northern neighbor.

Western nations have responded by lifting sanctions and offering assistance. President Barack Obama visited the country last November.

Nevertheless, the reform glass, while half full, also is half empty. Conflict continues with the ethnic Kachin, and the Muslim Rohingya continue to suffer from sometimes violent discrimination. Political prisoners remain and no one knows if the military is prepared to yield power when national elections are held in two years.

In a world where much has gone badly, Burma is moving toward greater political and economic liberty.”

In preparation for the UNHRC debate, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, issued his latest report, which finds much progress, along with the need for additional reforms before Burma will have fully escaped a half-century of military dictatorship.

Ojea Quintana observed that “The reforms in Myanmar are continuing apace, which is a good sign for the improvement of the human rights situation in Myanmar.” He pointed to the release of additional political prisoners as well as attempts by the government to stem torture and create “a more open environment … for people to express themselves, including a freer media environment.” He also cited “Progress in realizing the right of people in Myanmar to assemble and demonstrate.” Parliament’s role was developing, along with “efforts to develop the capacity of judges and lawyers in international human rights law.”

However, much remains to be done, which is …read more
Source: OP-EDS