Archive Page 2



Republicans: Federalism For Me But Not For Thee

Published October 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

One interesting feature of the debate over Proposition 19 in California, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, is the curious position many Republican leaders have taken.  Members of the GOP supposedly want as many policies as possible decided at the state and local level.  They complain loudly about an overbearing federal government that runs roughshod over the wishes of people in the various states.  At Republican gatherings, such phrases as “states rights” and “federalism” make frequent appearances.

But the attitude regarding Proposition 19 is strikingly different.  Republican leaders such as Texas Representative Joe Barton insist that if the measure passes, the federal government should strongly enforce federal laws against marijuana inside California.  In other words, Barton and his cohorts are perfectly willing to disregard the wishes of California voters and trample on their new, liberalized law.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that Republicans have displayed such inconsistency about “states rights.”  Overwhelmingly, they push to overide state laws or state court decisions legalizing gay marriage.  Again, they apparently have no problem invoking federal supremacy when it suits their policy preferences.

And it’s a long-standing pattern.  When Congress moved in the 1980s to establish a national minimum drinking age of 21, brazenly negating the wishes of states that had established 18 or some other lower age limit, the Republican congressional delegation split down the middle.  A major faction was willing to okay a measure whereby Washington blackmailed states into approving the 21-year-old threshold or lose a sizable portion of their federal highway funds.  Yet Republicans routinely screamed whenever Washington used that tactic to force state compliance regarding other matters. 

The GOP standard seems all too clear.  Republicans love states rights when they’re confident that voters at the state level will adopt policies conservatives favor.  But to Hell with states rights and federalism if those misguided voters might approve policies–especially social policies–that conservatives abhor.

There is a word for such a blatant double standard.  It’s called hypocrisy.

School Hair Police At It Again

Published September 14th, 2010 by tcarpenter

There is yet another story about a school district giving an in-school suspension to a boy for daring to have long hair.  And once again it’s in Texas, this time in the town of Itasca.  (There really must be something in the water in the Lone Star State.)

In this case, the authorities have suspended the sixth-grade boy, Kenneth Fails, for 14 weeks, apparently directing him do little but look at a wall all day.  His furious mother, Marsha Wisnosky, confronted the school board last night.  Their reaction?  Dead silence.  They would not respond to her complaints, the arguments she presented, or her request for a policy change.  They were the perfect symbol of an arrogant public school  bureaucracy.  How dare a mere peon parent criticize how they run their school system!

This case and others like it confirm the need for school vouchers or a program of school tax credits to produce a robust system of private schools.  As it now stands, about the only people who can send their children to private schools are the affluent or those affiliated with churches willing to provide a big subsidy.  The government-run schools (aka public schools) operate the way you would expect any protected monopoly to operate–with inefficiency, lack of innovation, and pervasive arrogance.

A robust private school system in competition with the government-run schools would enable parents like Wisnosky to have choices.  She could find a school that didn’t regard hair length on boys as more important than academics.  And parents who want their sons to look like Marine recruits could send their kids to authoritarian schools with strict dress and grooming codes.

The current arrangement denies the element of choice to most people.  Instead, we have a “one size fits all” model.  If pro-skinhead families are in the majority in your school district, your preferences simply get trampled.  Doesn’t sound very American, does it?

Our Tax Dollars: Supporting Child Rape in Afghanistan

Published September 2nd, 2010 by tcarpenter

I’ve long argued that the mission in Afghanistan has morphed from a limited, focused effort to damage al-Qaeda into a foolish and expensive–in both blood and treasure–nation-building crusade.  But there is now evidence that we are spending billions of tax dollars and risking the lives of our soldiers to protect the biggest concentration of pedophiles in the world.  Please read this article and then tell me if you think the war in Afghanistan is worth it.

Ground Zero “Mosque” Opposition: Some Thoughts

Published August 29th, 2010 by tcarpenter

I haven’t weighed-in on the “ground zero mosque” controversy before, although some of my colleagues at the Cato Institute have done so on both sides of the issue.  However, the tone of the opposition to the building of the mosque (actually a multi-functional Islamic cultural center) makes me increasingly uneasy.  

First of all, while most opponents of the Cordoba House project acknowledge that there is a legal right to buid the center, and insist that their objection to it is based solely on the lack of “decency” of erecting a symbol of Islam on that site, their actions often belie such assurances.  After all, the initial action  that opponents took was to try to get the New York City government to deny a building permit.   That didn’t exactly show respect for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment.

Second, opponents almost always stress the “hallowed ground” aspect of the proposed site for the center–some 2 1/2 blocks from ground zero.   But there are several problems with that argument.  Most notably, there are already two other (smaller) mosques and several other religious buildings in the immediate area–not to mention shops, restaurants, and porno outlets.  Do opponents of the new Cordoba House want those structures to be bulldozed?  They don’t appear to advocate that step.  So why the outrage over this project?

Third, while some of the opposition to the building of Cordoba House reflects genuine anguish on the part of people who lost friends or relatives on 9-11, and for whom the sight of a major Islamic center so close to ground zero would be a cause of further pain, there is something much broader–and uglier–at work.  The “proximity to ground zero” argument does not explain why there have been equally virulent campaigns against proposed mosques and other Islamic structures in such places as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.  What’s the justification in those cases?  Proximity to the Grand Old Opry, Lambeau Field, the Manassas battlefield, and Disney World?  No, those campaigns reveal an underlying religious bigotry.  Muslims may be the latest targets of that intolerance, but they’re hardly the only ones.  In earlier periods, Jews, Mormons, and other religious minorities experienced similar discrimination.

Finally, those who spew vitriol in response to the Cordoba House project need to understand that they are playing with social and foreign policy dynamite.  Contrary to some hawks who would like nothing better than a holy war against Islam, the United States is not at war with all Muslims.  We are at war with a small faction of radical Muslims.  But moderate Muslims in the United States and around the world are watching the Cordoba House controversy.  And some moderate Muslims are already being radicalized because of their anger at the opposition to that project.

Critics need to understand that an ill-advised position on this issue could help lead to a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy in which most Muslims, both here and abroad, do end up hating the United States and becoming mortal enemies of this country.  The consequences of that kind of religious war are too horrible to contemplate.  Even those Americans who do not like many of the values put forth by Islam, and I count myself among them, need to stand up for the principle of religious tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.  That is both the prudent thing to do and the morally right thing to do.

Bipartisan Economic Mess

Published August 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

The campaigns are well underway for the midterm congressional elections, and the vast quantities of hot air being vented could explain the extraordinarily high temperatures most the country has been experiencing this summer.  One of the most irritating features of this campaign season is the apparent GOP assumption that Americans have been afflicted by collective amnesia.  Republican officials and propagandists repeatedly savage the Obama administration for the ongoing Great Recession.

Some of their criticisms are valid.  The 2009 prediction by the head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors that the unemployment rate would be kept below 8 percent was spectacularly off the mark.  The $700 billion “stimulus package” was a combination of the usual pork-barrel spending and utterly goofy spending schemes.  And the apparent intentions of the administration and the Democrats in Congress to let most of the Bush tax cuts (one of the few good things that dreadful administration did) expire could well  make an already very bad recession even worse.

But Republican partisans apparently want everyone to forget about when this recession began and who was running economic policy when it did.  Obama’s policies have been unwise, at best, but he did inherit a colossal economic mess when he took office.  Republicans act as though the recession began on January 20, 2009.  But the plunge was underway well before then.  The residential housing market started to collapse in 2006 and 2007, and the economy officially went into recession in December 2007.  The financial system began to melt down in mid-2008, intensifying the downturn. 

All of this happened with a Republican White House and GOP appointees in charge of the Federal Reserve, the Department of the Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  One would like to see at least a little acknowledgment of responsibility for the debacle instead of the current cynical, partisan effort to put all the blame on the Democrats and the Obama administration.

The Great Recession is a bipartisan economic tragedy.  Republicans were primarily responsible for its onset, and the Democrats have managed to make a bad situation even worse.

Is Sarah Palin Really This Clueless?

Published July 8th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Sarah Palin has already acquired a reputation of being George W. Bush or Dan Quayle in a skirt.  In other words, there is a suspicion that there isn’t a lot of activity between her ears.  Her latest comment on the bloated U.S. “defense” budget won’t dispel those suspicions.

Palin has made it her mission to dissuade Tea Party activists from making the $700 billion military budget a candidate for cuts to reduce the enormous federal budget deficit.  Even though the United States now spends as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, Sarah regards it as shockingly unpatriotic to think that the Pentagon might be able to get by on a mere $500 billion or $600 billion a year.

During a recent speech, she quoted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had questioned the need for some of the U.S. Navy’s expensive weapons systems, including maintaining 12 aircraft carrier battle groups.  Noting that destroyers cost as much as $6 billion each, submarines $7 billion, and aircraft carriers $11 billion, he asked: “Do we really need [even] more strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

It was a very good question that deserved a serious, thoughtful answer.  But what was Palin’s brilliant response?  ” Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes we can and yes we do, because we must.”

So, no possible enemy that the United States faces–now or in the foreseeable future–can match even a small fraction of our conventional military power, America’s free-riding allies in Europe and East Asia are slashing their already anemic defense budgets (thereby expecting the United States to bear an even greater share of the burden for global order and security), and we’re running a budget deficit of more than $1.4 trillion this year, but we can’t cut even a dime from our military budget.  Right.

The best thing the Tea Party movement could do is to show the door to Sarah Palin and anyone who thinks the way she does.

Security Gestapo Strikes Again

Published June 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think that the guardians of airport security, the TSA (Terminally Stupid Agency), can’t get any more obnoxious in the way that it treats hapless airline passengers, along comes this little gem.  The arrogant TSA bureaucrats have now moved beyond frisking grandmothers and small children as possible terrorists and are now humiliating amputees as part of the airport screening process.  Ah, our tax dollars at work.  Our civil liberties RIP.

Death of Common Sense: More School Episodes

Published May 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Yes, our zealous educational bureaucrats are at it again.  This time, yet another school in Texas imposed a bizarre, one-week suspension on an elementary school student.  Her offense?  Possession of a Jolly Rancher’s candy that a friend had given her.  It seems the healthy food police insist that possession of such evil contraband was a blatant violation of the rules and could not go unpunished.  

Now, I love Texas.  My wife and I lived in the state for 14 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and we plan to have our primary retirement home there.  But after this latest incident, I was beginning to wonder if there was something in the water supply that was causing Texans to lose all semblance of good judgment.  (It could also explain why they inflicted both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush on the nation.)

It soon became apparent, though, that the loss of common sense is not unique to Texas schools.  School administrators in Georgia suspended an autistic student for drawing a stick figure gun with a caption that implied he would like to shoot his teacher.  Not only did he receive a suspension, he now faces possible felony charges.  Although the child is 14 years old, his parents and others insist that he has the mental capacity of a third grader.  Nice way to show compassion and a sense of proportion, Georgia bureaucrats.

South Pacific Realism

Published April 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Last month, I spent nearly three weeks in Australia and New Zealand.  In addition to delivering some speeches on U.S. foreign policy, especially the future of America’s role in East Asia, I held a number of meetings with defense and foreign ministry officials in both countries.  Three important insights emerged from those meetings.  First, although Australia and New Zealand have crucial economic ties with China, they are also increasingly nervous about Beijing’s growing power.  Second, despite repeated assurances from U.S. officials and nongovernmental foreign policy experts from America that everything is just fine and that Washington will keep military forces in East Asia and take care of the region’s security problems (as it has since the end of World War II) forever and ever, the Aussies and Kiwis look at our enormous federal budget deficits and have major doubts about those assurances.  Third, since they believe that U.S. military retrenchment is likely at some point, they want both India and Japan to play larger security roles in the region.  Otherwise, they fear that China will become totally dominant.

I found their thinking far more realistic than the drivel that passes for foreign policy analysis in the U.S. government and most American think tanks.  My reflections on the meetings and my analysis of East Asia’s security situation and the choices facing America’s allies can be found here and here.

My Least Favorite Cheney

Published March 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Vice President Dick Cheney always impressed me as the most dangerous and vicious member of the Bush administration.  He seemed to regard war as the answer to every foreign policy problem, and his contempt for the Constitution and civil liberties was legendary.

But his daughter, Liz Cheney, seems determined to outdo her father with respect to both of those repulsive attitudes.  She is fast becoming my least favorite Cheney.

Her organization, which has become a prominent lobbyist for war with Iran, has now taken dead aim at supposed terrorist sympathizers in the Obama administration.   Television ads are now running attacking the president for appointing officials to the Justice Department who had previously served as defense counsels–or even just peripheral members of defense teams–for accused terrorist suspects.  Smearing those attorneys as the “Al Qaeda Seven,” the ad implies that such legal work should disqualify them from appointments to office.

That is a “guilt by association” attack that would have made Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was notorious for such tactics) blush.  And it is an especially ugly tactic in this case.  Lawyers are expected to be willing to defend even odious individuals, and they routinely do so.  That is part of the code of their profession.  It is appallingly unfair to hold that duty against them, much less to imply that they endorse the values of those individuals.  Moreover, just because someone is accused  of being a terrorist does not necessarily mean that the person is one.  That’s why our justice system requires fair trials–and defense attorneys.

If the logic of Liz Cheney and her cohorts was correct, John Adams, America’s second president, should have been disqualified from ever holding any office of trust.  After all, he was the defense lawyer for the British Redcoats involved in the Boston Massacre.  Got an acquittal, too.  Wonder what Liz and her smear artists have to say about that episode?

The good news is that decent conservatives have rebuked Cheney for her odious tactics.  People should not have their patriotism or integrity impugned because they uphold the core principles of our legal system.  That she would do so says all we need to know about Liz Cheney and her neoconservative associates.