Archives: 05/2008

Back to the Past

Lyndon Baines Johnson, May 22, 1964, at the University of Michigan:

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization…. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society….

The Great Society … is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community…. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods….

Worst of all, expansion [of the economy]  is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference….

The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities….

For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation…Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?…There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree….”

David Brooks, May 9, 2008, everywhere:

It used to be that American conservatives shaped British political thinking. Now the influence is going the other way….

[T]he central debate of the 21st century is over quality of life. In this new debate, it is necessary but insufficient to talk about individual freedom. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”…They’re trying to use government to foster dense social bonds…. They’re offering something in tune with the times….

American conservatives won’t simply import this model. But there’s a lot to learn from it.”

Question: How do these two differ?

Answer: They don’t. Both “hunger for community.” Both condemn a “soulless wealth.” Both promise decentralization. Both believe in the end that community can and should be created by coercion.

Cracking Down on Legal Permanent Residents, Pt. II

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a legal permanent resident who was arrested because he shared a common name with a suspected illegal immigrant. It illustrated how the E-Verify program would foul things for legal workers, a prominent subject of this paper.

Here’s another story of legal permanent resident mistreatment. This illustrates how overblown terror fears can cloud officials’ judgments and foul things for … well, everyone.

It seems that a woman in Florida asked her relatives in Monterrey, Mexico to ship her the birth certificates of two relatives who want to apply for their Mexican passports at the consulate in South Miami. At the behest of U.S. Customs and Border Security, the envelope is being held by the United Parcel Service in Louisville, Kentucky until she identifies herself further.

Asked to explain, a CBP spokeswoman in Washington asserted the U.S. government’s right to examine everything entering or exiting the country and said, “Identity documents are of concern to CBP because of their potential use by terrorists.”

This is a terrific example of poorly generated suspicion. In our paper on predictive data mining, Jeff Jonas and I wrote about how suspicion is properly generated in the absence of specific leads: “[T]here must be a pattern that fits terrorism planning … and the actions of investigated persons must fit that pattern while not fitting any common pattern of lawful behavior.”

False identities and forged documents have been used by terrorists, but with little purpose or effect. There just isn’t a proximate relationship between false identification and successful attacks. But obviously some terrorists have believed that they need false or fraudulently-gotten IDs. So there is a weak but plausible relationship between shipping identity documents and terrorism planning.

But that doesn’t end the inquiry. We have to ask a second question: Does shipping identity documents fit any common pattern of lawful behavior? Yes it does, such as the example here: legal permanent residents seeking to apply for home-country passports at consulates in the U.S. There are probably dozens of other reasons for shipping identity documents as well. CBP’s suspicion of this woman and her documents is not well founded.

One is reminded of the cases where photographers have been harassed or arrested for photographing buildings and monuments. Yes, photography of big things is potentially consistent with terrorism planning! Oh, but it’s also consistent with having an interest in architecture, having an interest in photography, taking a vacation, working as a photographer for a newspaper, and so on, and so on …

This woman should get her documents without further delay.

Will They Vandalize Pepsi Machines This Time, Too?

In an encouraging step for New Jersey children, the state’s Senate Economic Growth Committee has approved a K-12 scholarship donation tax credit bill like the ones already operating in Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Iowa, and Rhode Island. It would allow businesses to make donations to nonprofit scholarship funds that would in turn bring the option of private schooling within reach of low-income families.

Needless to say, the bill has earned the “intense opposition” of New Jersey’s large and powerful public school employees union. The last time somebody offered Jersey’s poor kids an escape from the union-dominated public schools, the union made that somebody an offer that was difficult to refuse.

The “somebody” in question was PepsiCo. As I wrote in Market Education:

In late October of 1995, officials of the Pepsi company announced at Jersey City Hall that their corporation would donate thousands of dollars in scholarships to help low-income children attend the private school of their choice. The immediate response of the local public school teachers’ union was to threaten that a statewide boycott of all Pepsi products could not be ruled out. Pepsi vending machines around the city were vandalized and jammed. Three weeks later, company officials regretfully withdrew their offer.

And you thought the Sopranos were nice.

Global Warming and the Burmese Cyclone

In his excellent blog, Roger Pielke, Jr., notes that “On NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this week, Al Gore suggests that Typhoon Nargis, which may have killed 100,000 people in Myanmar, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, or does he? He said ‘we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming.’”

So I checked the sea surface temperature (SST) “anomalies” (that is, differences in temperature from the long-term average) along the track of Cyclone Nargis to see if SST might have been unusually warm from April 28th to May 3rd (when it hit Burma) of this year compared to last year. Comparing the SST anomalies from NOAA for April 28, May 1, and May 5 of 2008 against April 28, May 1, May 3, and May 7 of 2007, SSTs along the track of Cyclone Nargis don’t look that much different from last year. And for April 30, May 3, and May 7 of 2005, the Bay of Bengal seems to have been noticeably warmer.

Granted, this is based on a cursory eye-ball view of the maps using a non-continuous data set. I await more detailed analysis with bated breath.

“Ideologues” Strike Back—with Evidence!

It’s an all-too-common tactic employed by opponents of educational freedom to demonize school-choice advocates as hell-bent ideologues rather than actually tackling their arguments and evidence. One suspects that this occurs for two primary reasons: (1) smearing is easier than debating, and (2) too many choice opponents don’t have the evidentiary ammunition they need to defend their arguments.

Well, on Jay Greene’s blog today, at least one ardent supporter of school choice — the Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster — fires a huge shot across the bow of choice detractors especially on the right, letting them know that he’s had it with their ignoring empirical evidence and resorting to playground name-calling. (In fairness to the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern, Forster’s primary target, he did come to Cato to debate his recent critique of choice — more than others on his side seem willing to do — though that doesn’t mean he isn’t still dodging inconvenient evidence).

With a little luck, Forster’s essay will help ignite a rational debate on market education reform that’s long overdue, and this time conservative choice detractors won’t just hide behind “ideological” smoke.

Improving the Business Environment in Paraguay… Really?

President Bush addressed the Council of the Americas yesterday, a business organization whose stated goal is to promote democracy and free markets in the Americas.  Among the different subjects he touched in his speech, Bush highlighted the work of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in Latin America.

The MCA’s goal is to provide bilateral aid to countries whose policies promote good governance and economic freedom. In Latin America, some of the standard bearers of good governance and economic freedom according to the MCA are Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

Bush proudly said in his speech that “In Paraguay, we’re working… with local leaders to reduce the cost of starting new businesses.” It sounds quite good, but when you look at the MCA’s Threshold Quarterly Report for Paraguay, you find among the accomplishments of the program this:

The Finance Ministry conducted simulated purchases to detect firms not following local tax regulations, resulting in the suspensions of more than 70 businesses. The business suspensions received significant positive media coverage and have generated greater tax compliance overall.

It sounds like U.S. aid money is being spent to shut down businesses in Paraguay. That hardly fits my idea of encouraging economic freedom in Latin America.