Gonzales and the Constitution

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales presumably resigned because he had lost support in Congress, especially over issues relating to the firing of U.S. attorneys. But Tim Lynch, director of Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice, has long insisted that the real problem with Gonzales was not incompetence, faulty memory, or his confusing explanations of how the U.S. attorneys came to be dismissed. Rather, he wrote in May:

In area after area — from habeas corpus to separation of powers to executive responsibility — he has sought to strip out the limits that the Constitution places on presidential power. His fiasco regarding the firing of federal prosecutors is a petty offense when compared to the legal advice that he has conveyed to the President. The real scandal is his disregard for constitutional principles.

That’s why you have to appreciate Gonzales’s decision to resign effective September 17, Constitution Day. Maybe he wants to send a subtle signal that the end of his tenure could be an occasion to recover our commitment to constitutional limits on federal power and on presidential power.

Constitution Day is also, of course, famous as the day that the Cato Supreme Court Review is released at an all-day symposium on the Supreme Court’s most recent term.

Posted on August 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Politics Today

The Washington Post reports today that John Edwards’s new strategy is to reposition himself as a “straight talker,” emulating the model that worked for John McCain in 2000. As someone said, “Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Meanwhile, the Post also tells us about the lifelong congressional insider who’s helping Barack Obama craft his image as a Washington outsider.

What a country. It reminds me of the presidential campaign manager who once told me, “We’ve made a tentative decision to run a bold campaign.”

Posted on August 27, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Privatization Revolution Reaches the Kibbutz

A fascinating headline in the New York Times today:

The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism and Gains Popularity  

It seems that one of the proudest accomplishments of socialism – one that never degenerated into totalitarianism! – the Israeli kibbutz, began to decline in the 1980s as even small-scale socialism proved not to work very well. People left the kibbutzim, and they seemed doomed. But now, as the Times puts it, “most are undergoing a process of privatization,” though just as in China and other reforming socialist societies, they prefer not to use such a word. Nevertheless, the Times says,

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

Once again, people are lining up to get in.

One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a libertarian society allows for voluntary experiments in socialism, while a socialist society can hardly accommodate people who prefer to live in a libertarian community. In a free society, if kibbutzim or other experiments in communal living can make a go of it, more power to them. And if the original design doesn’t quite work, then adjustments can be made. And the rest of us benefit by having more patterns and models available to choose from.

Posted on August 27, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

No Veterans of Foreign Wars Need Apply

“As some of the leading presidential candidates trooped before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City this week, there was one thing largely missing at the lectern — veterans of foreign wars,” writes Peter Baker in the Washington Post, contrasting this year’s campaign with past election years.

Baker grades both former presidents and current candidates on a steep curve. He writes, “Every president from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush served.” But LBJ, already a congressman, went on investigative missions for FDR, admittedly flying around the South Pacific combat zone. And the nearsighted Ronald Reagan made propaganda films in Los Angeles. He even counts George W. Bush as a veteran on the basis of his Texas Air National Guard service.

As for the current candidates, 

“The torch is being passed to a new generation that’s never worn a uniform,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a military historian at Columbia University. “It’s a significant change. It means people are now coming of age who are really the post-Vietnam generation.”

But is that really true? The leading Democratic candidates are a woman and a man born in 1961. But John Edwards, born in 1953, Bill Richardson (1947), and Joe Biden (1941) are not “the post-Vietnam generation.” They’re the non-Vietnam generation. A blogger has some more details about the Vietnam records of 2008 candidates here.

As for the Republicans, John McCain famously served, as Baker notes. But Mitt Romney (1947), Rudy Giuliani (1944), Fred Thompson (1942), and Newt Gingrich (1947) are, like their Democratic counterparts, within the age cohorts who went to Vietnam. They weren’t post-Vietnam, just nowhere-near-Vietnam. Mike Huckabee (1955) and Sam Brownback (1956), along with Barack Obama, would seem to the only candidates who are actually from the post-Vietnam generation.

Does this matter? It used to matter to voters. When I asked my parents in the 1960s, about 20 years after the end of World War II, why all the local candidates listed themselves as veterans on all their campaign literature, my mother told me that you’d wonder what was wrong with a man who hadn’t served in “the war.” Today, some worry that military veterans might be more eager to go to war. Historian Jackson sees it differently: “When you have leaders who haven’t gone [to war], I do think it changes the equation a little bit,” he told the Post. “It’s a little bit worrisome. People who have actually been to war . . . are actually a little less inclined to go to war. Generals know what war’s about, and they’re less enthusiastic to go rocketing off than civilians.”

That reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, often denounced as militaristic or even fascist, especially by people who have only seen the movie. In the novel, only military veterans were citizens with voting rights. But the basis for that was classical republicanism: that only those who were willing to defend the society, and who by facing combat had come to understand the real meaning of power and war and violence, could be trusted to lead the society.

At the very least, candidates who have never served in a war should have some special humility in urging that other Americans be sent to war.

Posted on August 24, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

24 Hours of Ronald Reagan

On TCM, that is. This Friday, the world’s greatest TV channel will broadcast 15 of Reagan’s movies from 6 a.m to 6 a.m. In primetime, they’ll start with “John Loves Mary.” I hope my sister Mary, who married a man named John, gets to watch it. And then at 8 p.m. it’s the classic “Bedtime for Bonzo.” It’s actually pretty amusing to see Reagan as a young liberal college professor trying to prove the “nurture” side of the nature-vs.-nurture argument and saying that there are no bad kids, just bad environments. And then stay tuned for two of Reagan’s best, “Kings Row” — which gave him the title for his first autobiography, “Where’s the rest of me?” — and “Knute Rockne, All American,” in which he said for the first but certainly not the last time, “Win one for the Gipper.”

Now if only TCM would bump one of the lesser movies and stick in “The Speech” from 1964, we could hear Reagan say something more important, like

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down — up to a man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

And wouldn’t that be a welcome alternative to alternating images of Bushes and Clintons on our TV sets?

Posted on August 23, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Don’t We All?

A headline in the Washington Post (print edition):

Midshipmen Face Tougher Rules and Less Liberty

Posted on August 18, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Evil in Qataniyah

More than 250 people were killed in four coordinated truck bombings in northern Iraq, in the villages of Qataniyah and Jazeera. The victims were adherents of the Yazidi faith, which predates Islam in the Middle East. Public radio’s “The World” interviewed Dutch scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, who has written books about Kurds and the Yazidi faith. He explained that Muslims and Christians sometimes denounce Yazidis as Satanists, claiming that they worship evil. But that’s not true, Kreyenbroek said; they don’t worship evil, they just don’t think it exists.

I wonder if they do now.

Posted on August 16, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Equal Justice?

Mary Winkler is out of jail. She served 67 days after her conviction for shooting her husband in the back as he lay in bed and killing him. Now she’ll go back to work at the dry cleaners in McMinnville, Tennessee, and seek to regain custody of her children.

Meanwhile, Will Foster was sentenced to 93 years for using marijuana to relieve the pain of his acute rheumatoid arthritis. An appeals court reduced the sentence to 20 years, and Gov. Frank Keating made him serve more than four years before granting him parole.

A few miles from Mary Winkler in Tennessee, 57-year-old Bernie Ellis has been confined for the past 18 months to a halfway house. His crime? Growing marijuana to treat a degenerative condition in his hips and spine. A public health epidemiologist specializing in substance abuse, he also provided pot to some other sick people.  10 officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force swooped in to put a stop to that, and to try to seize his farm as well.

In a more just world, Tennessee would set up a Murder Eradication Task Force, leave Bernie Ellis alone, and give Mary Winkler a tad more than 67 days for shooting her husband to death.

Posted on August 15, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bush: The Biggest Taxer in World History

The Treasury Department reported Friday that federal revenues reached $2.12 trillion ($2,120,000,000,0000) for the first ten months of fiscal year 2007. In both current and inflation-adjusted dollars, that puts the federal government on course for the most revenue it’s ever collected in a year. Indeed, it’s the most revenue any government in the history of the world has ever collected. And yet it’s not enough to satisfy the voracious appetites of the spenders in Congress and the administration. Spending was $2.27 trillion for the same ten months.

It seems that the deficit problem in Washington is not a result of insufficient tax revenue but rather the inexorable growth of spending on everything from earmarks to entitlements to war.

To be sure, the U.S. economy is the largest national economy in history, and that’s the main reason for record tax levels. And tax revenues are not at their peak in terms of percentage of GDP–though they’re getting close. Earlier in the year OMB estimated that revenues as a percentage of GDP would reach 18.5 percent in 2007. But as of a month ago that figure had reached 18.8 percent, approaching the levels that typically produce popular demand for relief. But as spending interests become stronger and more widespread in Washington, popular demand for lower taxes faces more resistance. It seems safe to conclude that George W. Bush will go down in history as the biggest taxer and the biggest spender ever.

Posted on August 12, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conservative Big Spending Goes Global

By now it’s old hat that President Bush, who remains inexplicably popular with conservatives, is the biggest spender since LBJ. Now it turns out that the Conservative government elected two years ago in Canada is trying to match him.

John Williamson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes in the National Post that “the Conservatives’ two budgets boosted spending by $24.4 billion over two years.” OK, it’s not Bush’s trillion dollars. But Canada is a smaller country, and “as a result the size of the federal government has grown by 14%.”

It looks like Patrick Basham was all too prescient when he predicted, to much consternation in Canada, that Harper would become “Bush’s new best friend.” 

Posted on August 10, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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