The Current Problem in the Falklands

In 1982 the Buenos Aires government under General Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands off the south coast of Argentina with a force of several thousand soldiers, overwhelming the garrison of Royal Marines stationed on the island. On the same day the Royal Navy was ordered to assemble a task force to reclaim the Falklands by force. The history of the conflict can be found in many books but despite a British victory exacting over six hundred Argentine lives the causes of the war persist to this day, at least in Argentina.

The claim to the Falkland Islands (or Malvinas as they are known to Argentinians) is one of proximity and historical claim; i.e., that they are much nearer to the Argentina than they are to Britain. Secondly Argentina, after gaining independence from Spain, sent a ship to use the islands as a penal colony. This was never accomplished due to a mutiny aboard the vessel. In 1833 a British force arrived and claimed the desolate islands. They have since seen the establishment of settlements, from which grew the current population of Falkland islanders. In the minds of Argentinians however, the islands are “rightfully” theirs. Read more “The Current Problem in the Falklands”

Life, Liberty and the Right to Property

Since the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal warned that, “Government interventions in financial markets and the automotive sector have raised concerns about expropriation and violation of the contractual rights of shareholders and bondholders” in the United States, it is prudent to explore the necessity and the importance of the protection of property rights even as the question is largely ignored in modern day discussions about the proper role of government.

The United States Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, asserted the “self-evident” truth that men are equally endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), principal author of the Declaration, took inspiration here from George Mason’s (1725-1792) Virginia Declaration of Rights which was adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention of Delegates on June 12, 1776. It claimed:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

As much as people should have the right to pursue happiness, it is unfortunate that no explicit protection of the right to acquire and possess property, as expressed by Mason, was written into the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson however was no less convinced of both its necessity and righteousness.

Writing on April 24, 1816 to French economist and businessman Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817), Jefferson opined that “there exists a right independent of force; that a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings.” He argued against the democratic expropriation of property in the same letter, stating that “the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime,” and breaks up the very foundations of society.

In the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, issued by the Second Continental Congress on July 6, 1775, Jefferson explained what well-defined, legally protected property rights had brought about in his country: “The political institutions of America, its various soils and climates, opened a certain resource to the unfortunate and to the enterprising of every country and insured to them the acquisition and free possession of property.” Almost thirty years later, delivering his second inaugural address before the nation on March 4, 1805, then-President Jefferson decreed that “equality of rights [be] maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry or that of his fathers.”

“To every man from his own industry” — compare that to the marxist idiom, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which condemned so many nations to impoverishment if not outright starvation during the last century.

The United States were founded upon the very premise that each man is entitled to his own life and the fruits of his own labor and for well over a century, as Jefferson predicted, those freedoms brought forth a prosperity which man hadn’t known for hundreds of years.

Yet as the United States and the rest of the Western World industrialized, the significance of the protection of property rights was either disputed or neglected. French politician and self-declared anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) showed marxists the way in 1840 when he professed that, “Property is theft!” — a slogan happily reiterated by antagonists of the state up to this very day.

Although far from radical as Proudhon was, twentieth century Keynesians and similar do-gooders have given rise to the notion that private property is really not private at all; that it belongs to “society” which has mysteriously “granted” individuals to hold property in the first place.

In her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, philosopher Ayn Rand warned against what she callled the “fraudulent alternative” offered by modern day collectivists — that of “human rights” versus “property rights,” as though one could exist without the other. “The doctrine that ‘human rights’ are superior to ‘property rights’ simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others,” wrote Rand who declared that “no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right of property.”

In “Man’s Rights,” published in The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), Rand again stressed the inseparability of the rights to life and property; the latter being the “only implementation” of the former.

Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

Rand added that the right to property is a “right to action,” not the right to an object. “It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it.”

That is the full meaning of “the pursuit of Happiness.” No man is born in the United States, entitled to happiness or the efforts of others. Yet each man is born with the right to produce and trade for his own sake; to pursue happiness on his own terms, for, as Jefferson noted, America insures both the unfortunate and the enterprising “the acquisition and free possession of property.”

“To every man from his own industry” was and ought to be the guiding principle of proper government in the United States. A government dedicated to upholding such standard of justice will allow its nation to prosper whereas the very opposite wrecks havoc upon a country as half a century of Communist rule in Eastern Europe amply demonstrated.

The Government in Your Medicine Cabinet

In a society where regulation has replaced peoples’ sense of personal responsibility, government intrusion in any sector of the economy is easily accepted. In many countries around the developed world, government maintains a near monopoly on education; it manages health care and it curtails business with labor laws and price controls.

Medical care in the United States is — as in so many countries around the Western World — heavily regulated so there is little reason to presume that more legislation will make the system better.

Part of the regulation comes in the form of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which supervises the safety of cosmetics, food, tobacco, medications and medical equipment, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which is tasked to fight the use and trafficking of substances declared illegal by federal law.

At his blog, libertarian columnist and Fox News contributor John Stossel questions the legitimacy of these agencies and their right to limit Americans’ freedom of choice.

Stossel cites the story of Bruce Tower, a man struggling with cancer who wished treatment with a drug that the FDA hadn’t approved.

One bureaucrat told him the government was protecting him from dangerous side-effects. Tower’s outraged response was: “Side effects, who cares? Every treatment I’ve had I’ve suffered from side-effects. If I’m terminal it should be my option to endure any side-effects.”

Stossel agrees. “Why, in our ‘free’ country,” he asks, “do Americans meekly stand aside and let the state limit our choices, even when we are dying?”

In an interview with Stuart Varney on the Fox Business Network on February 23, Stossel explained why people are so quick to accept government control over which medicine they may and may not use. “It’s instictive to say, let [the FDA] be in there. There are all these guys who want to sell me snake oil. I’m glad the FDA is there to make sure the drugs are safe and effective.” People like the idea of someone watching over them, making sure that they aren’t exposed to bad products or corporate malpractice.

Without government intervention though, wouldn’t people be all the more vulnerable to bad medicine? But Stossel notes that a “private system” is not based on “trusting drug companies.”

Competition leads both drug companies and private regulators to be trustworthy. If they are not trustworthy, they die. Fear of losing business and fear of lawsuits […] “coerce them into honesty.” American food makers rarely poison us today not because of government regulation, which is largely ineffectual, but because they know that if they poison their customers, they’ll go out of business.

The FDA may protect people from “bad stuff,” said Stossel, “but it’s a far bigger injury that they protect us from good stuff, too.”

Bernanke Favors Stronger Fed

Appearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, offered an aggressive defense of the central bank’s role in the future supervision of the financial sector. “Stripping the Federal Reserve of supervisory authorities in the light of the recent crisis would be a grave mistake,” he said.

The Fed chief previously blamed the housing bubble that ignited the current recession on “regulatory failure.” Government oversight, he argued last month, simply hadn’t been sufficient, so the United States needed more of it.

“We’ve learned from the crisis,” said Bernanke now, that “large complex financial firms that pose a threat to the stability of the financial system need strong consolidated supervision.” That supervision can only be safe in the hands of the Federal Reserve, because of its — wait for it — “substantial knowledge of financial markets, payments systems, economics and a wide range of areas other than just bank supervision.”

This is the same Federal Reserve that, by Bernanke’s own admission, deepened the Great Depression of the 1930s; repeatedly, through a policy of low interest rates, inflated booms and their worsened their busts; and in recent years worked in conjunction with the so-called government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to encourage American homeownership. The result of this latest policy has been a financial crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Yet Bernanke believes that he and his bank are best equipped to prevent it from happening again. Indeed, he doesn’t understand why, “in the face of a crisis that was so complex and covered so many markets and institutions, you would want to take out of the regulatory system the one institution that has the full breadth and range of those skills to address those issues.”

Why? Because you did it, sir!

Why We Still Need Nuclear Weapons

The Obama Administration has made clear its intention to lead the fight against nuclear proliferation. Attempts are made at coming to a new START agreement with Russia while the president most recently spoke about reducing nuclear weapons in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Speaking at the National Defense University, Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to nuclear security.

“We have long relied on nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries,” he said. “Now, as our technology improves, we are developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective.”

Such non-nuclear means include the much-debated missile defense shield to be constructed in Eastern Europe and conventional warheads that have global reach.

“With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong,” according to the vice president. Read more “Why We Still Need Nuclear Weapons”

Subsidizing Jobs

The stimulus, it is true, has been a success. Jobs have been saved and the worst is averted. With unemployment figures hovering near 10 percent, two-thirds of the stimulus money has yet to be spent. Already the left is calling for more funding however with a so-called jobs bill recently accepted by the United States Senate.

The jobs bill includes modest measures like tax breaks for small businesses — always a nice thing to do, recession or no recession. But that’s not enough according to some of the more liberal economists who call upon Washington to spend money directly to create, not just save, jobs. A plan that reeks of New Deal state intervention.

Lawmakers aren’t enthusiastic and they shouldn’t be. After narrowly passing a $154 billion bill last December, the House is currently ambivalent about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s small success even though it amounts to less than ten times the size of their previous stimulus package. Individual states and counties have begun subsidizing jobs already, using taxpayers’ dollars to help companies meet payrolls.

The morality here is extremely questionable. Basically, those employed have no choice but to pay, if only in part, the salaries of those who otherwise wouldn’t be, with local governments acting as middle men. That is not a proper function of government nor a proper spending of tax money. It is not the goverment’s place to force such responsibility upon its citizens.

Freeing Children From Government Schools

In spite of ever rising costs and increasingly disappointing results, the government monopoly on education is hardly ever called into question. Education, defenders of the system argue, is too important to leave to the free market.

The arguments put forward by those in favor of a state-run system typically boil down to two misleading claims. First, that education cannot or should not be a profitable enterprise and second, that without extensive government regulations and controls, social inequality will widen.

The fact that private schools exist and prosper throughout the world disproves the first claim in part. There are many families who do not have the resources to pay for their children’s education which seems to necessitate government interference. Is their need ample reason to force others to provide for them however?

In spite of many decades of state-run schools and legislative restraints on private initiatives, social inequality is still present and in some societies, prevalent. While public schooling allows youngsters of ability to rise on the social ladder more easily, poverty as such has not been eradicated.

The downsides of the “government option” also deserve mention. The lack of fair competition means that private schools are more expensive than they would otherwise probably be while in public schools, especially in the United States, test scores are low. These schools, consequently, have come to oppose standardized testing, arguing that poor performance is harmful to a child’s self-esteem. Rather than allowing quick learners to advance, classes are rarely organized according to ability. Uniform curricula and peer pressure discourage excellence instead. Government-run schools now mass-produce mediocrity.

Pupils, and parents, deserve a better choice than this. Indeed, they deserve choice to begin with. John Stossel, libertarian columnist and Fox News contributor, tells the story of low-income families, desperate to get their child into a private school because the public system is failing them miserably. The answer? Competition. “It makes everything better.”

Parents care about their kids and want them to learn and succeed — even poor parents. Thousands line up hoping to get their kids into one of the few hundred lottery-assigned slots at Harlem Success Academy, a highly ranked charter school in New York City. Kids and parents cry when they lose.

Yet professionals and politicians oppose choice. The teachers’ union demonstrated outside Harlem Success the first day of school while President Barack Obama killed Washington DC’s voucher program.

Why do parents with meager resources pass up “free” government schools and sacrifice to send their children to private schools? Because, as one parent told the BBC, the private owner will do something that’s virtually impossible in America’s government schools: replace teachers who do not teach.

Allow fair and full competition between schools and Stossel predicts that test scores will go up. Parents, after all, will send their children to the best school available to them. But without choice, anything goes, and those trapped in the public system will never have the same chances in life as those who enjoyed the good fortunate of being educated in a private school.

Rethinking NATO’s Future

It wasn’t too long ago that NATO’s post-Cold War purpose seemed perfectly clear. During the Clinton Administration, the United Stated led allies in humanitarian efforts around the world but in Europe’s backyard especially. Up to this very day, Western forces are actively engaged in peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia and, of course, in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan mission however, within the context of counterterrorism and -insurgency, has cast doubt upon NATO’s proper role. European allies are increasingly weary about risking soldiers’ lives for the sake of ensuring peace and stability in regions far beyond their borders. Many countries contribute only modestly to ISAF; others, like Canada and the Netherlands, are preparing to pull out altogether while in the United States, traditionally the most supportive of military endeavors overseas, public support for the war is shrinking.

At the same time, former Cold War rival Russia isn’t at all enthusiastic about NATO’s eastward expansion. The Russian Bear roars anew, intend on safeguarding its former spheres of influence.

No wonder then that Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is planning for the NATO of tomorrow. He has invited former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to chair a panel that will make recommendations about the organization’s future. Albright is thrilled to do it. “NATO has been a thread throughout my life,” she told Politico last week.

Albright describes NATO’s challenge as follows: “How does an alliance that unifies peoples and values under a common defense, created to defend against a threat that no longer exists find relevance against a whole new set of threats?” Especially when at least part of that alliance doesn’t considering fighting wars in the Middle East directly in its own interest.

In NATO’s ill-defined twenty-first century role — serving as something of an international police force while trying to bring peace and democracy to other parts of the world — Western European member states, in spite of all their admiration for President Barack Obama, have been reluctant to pitch in. For a new Atlantic order to take shape, the alliance must find a way to get Europe more involved.

That is why current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington DC yesterday, stressed that the EU is no competitor of NATO. “We see a strong Europe as an essential partner,” she said.

“NATO’s success in providing a security foundation for Europe’s transformation is one of the great accomplishments not only of NATO but, as many of you also believe, of any political-military alliance in history.” The alliance has fostered political and economic reform and “helped create the stable, democratic Europe we see today,” according to Clinton. As such, the alliance should “continue to keep its door open to new members.”

Clinton is aware of Russia’s unease with NATO expansion. “While Russia faces challenges to its security,” she said, “NATO is not among them.” The secretary called on Russia to collaborate with the alliance on the missile defense of Europe and the fight against nuclear proliferation. “European security will benefit if NATO and Russia are more open about our armaments, our military facilities, and our exercises.”

As the United States see it, the original tenets of NATO’s mission — “defending our nations, strengthening transatlantic ties, and fostering European integration” — still hold. But in an interconnected world, the alliance cannot accomplish that mission by crouching behind its geographic boundaries. “Reality has redefined the area in which we operate.”

For the organization to survive into the twenty-first century, said Clinton, “we’ll need to ensure that the evolution of NATO’s political capabilities keeps pace with its operational capabilities.”

This means that it may also have to provide civilian capabilities, especially in the early phases of a crisis when it is the only institution in the field. For too long, our alliance has been hamstrung by those who argue that NATO is an exclusively military organization and oppose attempts to develop — or in some cases even to discuss — the alliance’s capacity to take on civilian responsibilities.

The war in Afghanistan has shown that NATO cannot fulfill its new, broader purpose without developing non-military means to resolve conflicts. “If we are going to succeed in counterinsurgency warfare,” said Clinton, “NATO must continue developing mechanisms to draw on the existing security-oriented civilian capacities of its member states.”

The PLAN and the Rise of China

Just a couple of decades ago the naval forces of China (People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN) was a weakling, barely capable of defending the Chinese Coast. Hong-Kong, a British station until 1997, was almost considered secure by naval if not military means even with just a few British warships at the station. Since then the PLAN has received much investment in materiel and research. This makes much sense for the Chinese government which in recent years has presided over a growth of the country’s military and economic potential to new levels, including an expansion in global and regional trade interests. China’s main oil supply is maritime and it is hardly surprising that this resource is of key import to the burgeoning Chinese industry. Chinese political influence has been present in Africa and the Middle East since the Cold War but now it is becoming more concentrated and noticeable. Read more “The PLAN and the Rise of China”

Too Much on Obama’s Plate?

In an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation this Sunday, Colin Powell expressed no regret for endorsing Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Although the president might have taken on too much too soon during the first year of his administration, the country, said Powell, is not less safe.

According to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993) and Secretary of State (2001–2005), the president has a lot on his plate. The United States is recovering from one of the worst economic crises in recent history and while people realize that health care, education and energy ought to be high up on the agenda, “they don’t see that as their main priorities.” With so much time apparently spent on reforming health care, people began wondering whether the administration knew what they were really concerned about — jobs.

The Republicans have been able to play into peoples’ fears with Obama “perhaps underestimating the opposition” there would against his agenda. “It’s nice to say, ‘let’s be bipartisan,’ but we’re a partisan nation.” Throughout his first year in office, the president tried to reach consensus while apparently refusing to admit that Republican lawmakers were never interested in compromise.

That is not to say that the whole legislative system is broken. As Powell put it, “it’s in trouble.” With increased media attention for what’s going on in Washington, it’s “harder and harder for our political leaders in [Congress] to quietly make the compromises that are necessary.”

Responding to criticism from fellow Republicans as Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin who state that the country is less safe today than it was under the last president, Powell pointed out that the counterterrorism initiatives launched by the Bush Administration are still at work. He praised Obama for intensifying the war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan while trying suspected terrorists in courts of law which, he stated, are much more effective at getting people behind bars than military commissions. “So I don’t know where the claim comes from that we are less safe.”

Powell specifically addressed waterboarding and other forms of torture. “Most of those extreme interrogation techniques and waterboarding were done away with in the Bush Administration. They’ve been made officially done away with in this current administration.”

The United States are still at risk though. “Terrorists are out there,” said Powell. “They’re trying to get through. But to suggest that somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration, I don’t think that’s borne out by the facts.”