Archive for October, 2008

The NATO Dinosaur

Published October 21st, 2008 by tcarpenter

Check out the excellent article by Doug Bandow of the American Conservative Defense Alliance on Washington’s policy of expanding the NATO alliance to include more useless security dependents in Eastern Europe.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO outlived whatever usefulness it might have had during the Cold War.  But the alliance is not merely an institutional dinosaur, it increases the danger of a needless military clash with a nuclear-armed Russia.  Several of the new NATO members have extremely unfriendly relations with Moscow.  Washington’s current proposal to add Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance would increase the danger even more.  The new administration would be wise to heed Bandow’s analysis.

Time for Serious Spending Cuts

Published October 11th, 2008 by tcarpenter

The price tag for the government’s attempted rescue of the nation’s financial system, which has been a spectacular flop so far, is likely to run into trillions of dollars.  Yet very few participants in the policy debate (with the exception of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr) have talked about making even modest cuts in federal spending to offset this vast new expenditure.  That is nothing short of irresponsible–and both major political parties are guilty.

It is imperative to jettison nonessential expenditures.  There are certainly plenty of candidates among domestic programs, starting with agricultural subsidies–a great reverse wealth-transfer mechanism in which taxpayers of even modest means are forced to fatten the bank accounts of even wealthy farmers.  I’m not an expert on wasteful and unnecessary domestic programs, so I will leave it to others to suggest additional cuts in what is clearly a target-rich environment.

If many of Washington’s domestic spending programs are luxuries we can no longer afford, that is doubly true of our military and foreign policy expenditures.  Foreign aid programs are obvious candidates for elimination.  America has spent nearly a trillion dollars (measured in 2008 dollars) over the past 60 years, and all too much of that money has simply gone into the coffers of corrupt politicians and their cronies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

But the wasteful spending goes far beyond foreign aid.  The United States spends roughly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined.  Promptly terminating the ill-advised crusade in Iraq would save $120 billion a year, but that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Our current annual military budget is nearly $700 billion.  Advocates of such a vast sum should explain why we need to have not one but two expensive new jet fighter programs when the U.S. already has overwhelming superiority in air power and there is no serious military competitor on the horizon for the next two decades–and perhaps longer.  At least one of those programs should be terminated.  The same is true of the program to build the Virginia class submarine, a weapon system that was designed to counter a Soviet system that was never built.

And someone ought to explain why the United States needs to keep nearly 100,000 troops in Europe to guard wealthy allies more than 6 decades after the end of World War II and nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Our trusty NATO allies, who have used the U.S. defense guarantee as an excuse to underinvest in their own defenses for decades, are now citing the global financial crisis as a reason to cut their already paltry military expenditures even further.  But at the same time, they don’t want us to cut our military budget.

A similar situation exists on the other side of the world.  The United States continues to subsidize the defense of South Korea, even though that country now has a population twice the size of its only adversary, communist North Korea, and an economy some 40 times larger.

It is time to expel the international military welfare queens in Europe and East Asia from the U.S. dole.  We should have done that years ago, but the current financial squeeze makes that move not just desirable, but essential.

Media Bias on the Bailout

Published October 4th, 2008 by tcarpenter

Yesterday, Congress passed the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, and the president signed the bill in record time.  The effort to save America’s financial system included such crucial items as a new tax incentive for plug-in electric cars and–my personal favorite–a tax break for wooden practice arrows.  Ah yes, your government (and your tax dollars) at work.

The most depressing aspect to me of this entire depressing episode was the incredibly one-sided coverage of the bailout issue in the media–especially television.  Polls showed consistently that the public was divided down the middle about whether the legislation should be passed.  But one would never have guessed that situation from the endless parade of guest experts on Fox News, CNBC, CNN or the major network news shows.  There, pro-bailout types outnumbered critics by about a 20 to 1 margin.  Even worse, the reporters and anchors didn’t even make a pretense of objectivity.   The programs amounted to an endless series of propaganda pieces that the world would come to an end if the bailout (which they increasingly referred to as the “financial rescue” bill) did not become law.  The overwhelming majority of the “experts” interviewed were Wall Street investment bankers, mutual fund managers, and stock traders.  Virtually all of them stressed how essential it was to pass the bailout–and do so with little debate or reflection.  One wonders if it ever occurred to the producers and reporters at the news outlets that, just perhaps, those guest experts might have a conflict of interest regarding this issue.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the only topic in recent years in which the media coverage presented only one side of the issue.   The same herd mentality and biased reporting was all too evident during the Balkan wars in the 1990s and in the run up to the Iraq war in 2003.   As in the case of the bailout, reporters too often on those occasions served as lap dogs of the government rather than the watchdogs they are supposed to be.