Archives: 04/2009

In Education, Success Is an Orphan

Matt Ladner has a good commentary this morning on NRO, pointing out that the Obama administration must have known the positive results of the latest DC voucher study that it finally released last Friday, well before Democrats in Congress voted to phase-out funding for the program after the 2009-10 school year.

As I noted immediately after the study’s release, this program is achieving better results at a QUARTER the cost of DC public education: $6,620/pupil vs. $26,555/pupil.

But education secretary Arne Duncan and president Obama watched it die without mentioning these findings. 

Perhaps if Duncan were secretary of defense he might worry that journalists would investigate just when his department received the results of this study, publicly shaming him. But he isn’t, and so he won’t. In education, we have precious few investigative journalists, and even smoking guns like these arouse little interest.

Why We Fight

Neal McCluskey’s classic Cato Policy Analysis, “Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict,” is vindicated once again by the tiff over whether a porn film will be screened on the University of Maryland campus.

At this writing, students intend to go ahead with a showing of “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” despite threats from a state senator to withhold funding for the university if the film is screened.

Many people object to porn for legitimate reasons. The question is whether the state should weigh in on the subject, pitting the moral views of some against the speech rights of others.

Says McCluskey:

Throughout American history, public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people. Such clashes are inevitable in government-run schooling because all Americans are required to support the public schools, but only those with the most political power control them.

Hopefully, the students are learning the relevant free-speech lesson from this episode: Government funds always come with strings, including strings that threaten free speech.

LTE re CER in USA Today

I’ve got a letter to the editor in today’s The USA Today on comparative-effectiveness research:

Commentary writer Kevin Pho misrepresented my views on comparative-effectiveness research (CER), which is the analysis of which medical treatments work best (“Unbiased research for doctors is good medicine,” The Forum, March 26).

Pho wrote that “drug companies, medical device makers and think tanks such as the libertarian Cato Institute have expressed concerns that health care rationing and denial of certain treatments or drugs would follow” taxpayer-funded CER.

In the Cato Institute study linked to in the piece, I write that rationing is the intent behind such research, but I do not express concern that it will lead to rationing. Indeed, I express the opposite concern: that taxpayer-funded CER will not eliminate low-value services, just as it has failed to do so in the past.

Pho uses AARP executive Bill Novelli’s words to suggest that Cato, as well as drug and device makers, use “scare tactics” to oppose taxpayer-funded CER. Far from engaging in scare tactics, my paper makes precisely the same observations that Novelli does.

By contrasting Cato to CER “champion” Hillary Clinton, Pho also gives the false impression that libertarians support CER less than those who support taxpayer funding.

Yet two themes of my paper are that CER is crucial and that removing government obstacles to private production would provide a much more stable stream of research — and broader use of that research — than taxpayer funding would. I think that makes me the champion of CER, not Clinton.

At a minimum, it is misleading to suggest that libertarians oppose CER.

David Axelrod Isn’t a Parrot

So why would he talk like one?

On Fox News Sunday this week, Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod spoke with Chris Wallace about nuclear non-proliferation, saying, among other things:

[President Obama] wants in the next four years to lock up the loose nuclear weapons that are scattered around Eastern Europe, that could fall into the hands of terrorists. And, of course, that is the big threat. That’s why we have to step up the pace. This represents an existential threat and we need to meet it.

Controlling any loose nukes is important, but the chance of them being used by terrorists is exceedingly small, and it is not an existential threat.

For too long, U.S. national leaders have perpetrated the error of speaking about terrorist threats as “existential” when they are not. Talking this way needlessly riles the U.S. public and thrills would-be or wannabe terrorists the world over. When U.S. leaders donate awesomeness to terrorism, the disenfranchised simply have to join a terror group or make empty threats to impact our discourse, policy, and quality of life.

David Axelrod didn’t need the makeweight argument of terrorist access to justify controlling loose nukes.

(Axelrod’s error was made on the road, from a different time zone. To damn him with faint praise, he comes up looking pretty good compared to Newt Gingrich, who issued spectacularly inconsistent positions from the comfort of the Fox News studio: Gingrich first criticized the Obama Administration for avoiding “war on terror” rhetoric, then sought small-government credibility by criticizing Obama’s budget as the largest non-wartime increase in history. There is no such thing as a limited-government war-monger, and Gingrich should not modulate between treating the country as “at war” or “not at war” within a single television appearance.)

Comments on Criticism of Cato Ad

Our friends at www.realclimate.org and www.ryanavent.com have been taking shots at the statements in our ad, so I’d like to offer a little commentary.

We make three factual assertions.

First, we say that “surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest”. We cite Brohan et al., Journal of Geophysical Research (2006 and updates) and Swanson and Tsonis, Geophysical Research Letters, 2009. The first is the latest update of the East Anglia temperature history, which long has been the IPCC staple. It is the one most cited over the years by the IPCC because it was the first long history that contained much more than simply World Weather Records data updated with local records at the end of a month. At any rate, both it and other global histories indeed show modest warming, about 0.8degC from 1900-2000, and indeed it is episodic. Everyone (well probably almost everyone…there are some real people who don’t believe it is right) pretty much agrees that there are two periods of warming, 1910-45 and 1977-98, with a slight cooling in between and no trend after. If that’s not “episodic”, I don’t know what is. The Swanson paper in fact specifically quantifies these episodes. The paragaph near the end of it that says this may mean that warming will be faster than we thought was pure speculation. It could just have easily been argued (as I do) that the lack of recent warming more likely indicates that 21st century warming will be lower than forecast by oceanic feedback because lack of warming simply delays any water vapor amplification. Pure and simple.

The second assertion is that, “after controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather events”. The citation is short – a note in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, by Pielke Jr. et al, 2005. The et al. numbers over ten other large-name scientists/analysts, and the reference list is the important part. There are a large number of citations on climate-related damages for various places and/or periods. We couldn’t list them all in this format, so we chose a single citation that could be consulted and an interested reader would find all the subsidiary supporting material.

Finally we state that “the computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior”, citing Douglas et al., International Journal of Climatology, 2007, which showed the major disparity between forecasts of the upper tropospheric tropical “warm spot”, a hallmark of greenhouse projections, and observations in the radiosonde record. Yes it is true that Santer et al. have published a lengthy rebuttal, but it is extremely dense and marks just another go-round-and-round over this issue. Douglas et al. have a response but it hasn’t been published yet. The debate will go on and on. Further, it is quite apparent from comparing midrange multimodel estimates from the IPCC to observed temperatures, and those indeed projected for coming years, that there is a signficant disconnect developing between the models and surface temperature. They simply don’t anticipate multidecadal periods without warming. Oh yes, since this has happened, all of the sudden models can be forced to “explain” it, but that’s not prospective. Instead, it is retrospective adjustment. Such work wouldn’t be performed if there weren’t something wrong.

That’s more than enough to negate President-elect Obama’s statement that “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear”!

Week in Review: ‘Saving’ the World, Government Control and Drug Decriminalization

G-20 Summit Agrees to International Spending Plan

g-2The Washington Post reports, “Leaders from more than 20 major nations including the United States decided Thursday to make available an additional $1 trillion for the world economy through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions as part of a broad package of measures to overcome the global financial crisis.”

Cato scholars Richard W. Rahn, Daniel J. Ikenson and Ian Vásquez commented on the London-based meeting:

Rahn: “President Obama of the U.S. and Prime Minister Brown of the U.K. will be pressing for more so-called stimulus spending by other nations, despite the fact that the historical evidence shows that big increases in government spending are more likely to be damaging and slow down recovery than they are to promote vigorous economic expansion and job creation.”

Vásquez: “The push by some countries for massive increases in spending to address the global financial crisis smacks of political and bureaucratic opportunism. A prime example is Washington’s call to substantially increase the resources of the International Financial Institutions… There is no reason to think that massive increases of the IFIs’ funds will not worsen, rather than improve, their record or the accountability of the aid agencies and borrower governments.”

Ikenson: “Certainly it is crucial to avoid protectionist policies that clog the arteries of economic recovery and help nobody but politicians. But it is also important to keep things in perspective: the world is not on the brink of a global trade war, as some have suggested.”

Ikenson appeared on CNBC this week to push for a reduction of trade barriers in international markets.

With fears mounting over a global shift toward protectionism, Cato senior fellow Tom Palmer and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation are circulating a petition against restrictive trade measures.

Obama Administration Forces Out GM CEO

rick-wagonerPresident Obama took an unprecedented step toward greater control of a private corporation after forcing General Motors CEO  Rick Wagoner to leave the company. The New York Post reports “the administration threatened to withhold bailout money from the company if he didn’t.”

Writing for the Washington Post, trade analyst Dan Ikenson explained why the government is responsible for any GM failure from now on:

President Obama’s newly discovered prudence with taxpayer money and his tough-love approach to GM and Chrysler would both have more credibility if he hadn’t demanded Rick Wagoner’s resignation, as well. By imposing operational conditions normally reserved for boards of directors, the administration is now bound to the infamous “Pottery Barn” rule: you break it, you buy it. If things go further south, the government is now complicit.

Wagoner’s replacement, Fritz Henderson, said Tuesday that after receiving billions of taxpayer dollars, the company is considering bankruptcy as an option. Cato scholars recommended bankruptcy months ago:

Dan Ikenson, November 21, 2008: “Bailing out Detroit is unnecessary. After all, this is why we have the bankruptcy process. If companies in Chapter 11 can be salvaged, a bankruptcy judge will help them find the way. In the case of the Big Three, a bankruptcy process would almost certainly require them to dissolve their current union contracts. Revamping their labor structures is the single most important change that GM, Ford, and Chrysler could make — and yet it is the one change that many pro-bailout Democrats wish to ignore.”

Daniel J. Mitchell, November 13, 2008:  “Advocates oftentimes admit that bailouts are not good policy, but they invariably argue that short-term considerations should trump long-term sensible policy. Their biggest assertion is that a bailout is necessary to prevent bankruptcy, and that avoiding this result is critical to prevent catastrophe. But Chapter 11 protection may be precisely what is needed to put American auto companies back on the path to profitability. Bankruptcy laws specifically are designed to give companies an opportunity — under court supervision — to reduce costs and streamline operations.”

Dan Ikenson, December 5, 2008: “The best solution is to allow the bankruptcy process to work. It will be needed. There are going to be jobs lost, but there is really nothing policymakers can do about that without exacerbating problems elsewhere. The numbers won’t be as dire as the Big Three have been projecting.”

Cato Links

  • As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th birthday, there are signs of mounting trouble within the alliance and increasing reasons to doubt the organization’s relevance regarding the foreign policy challenges of the 21st century. In a new study, Cato scholar Ted Galen Carpenter argues that NATO’s time is up.
  • Should immigration agents target businesses knowingly hiring illegal immigrants? Cato scholar Jim Harper weighs in on a Fox News debate.
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