Archives: May, 2010

New Crime Stats Contradict Anti-Immigrant Hype

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

The Economist: “Efforts to Challenge Obamacare Are Gaining Momentum”

From a recent news item in The Economist:

[M]illions of Americans…think that Barack Obama’s health-insurance laws must be overturned…[P]olls suggest that many Americans still dislike them…

At the federal level Republican leaders in Congress have jumped on every bit of negative news—for example, a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office suggesting that the reforms will cost more than originally forecast—as just cause for overturning them…

The real action is outside Washington, though. Virginia, Utah and Idaho have outlawed the new individual mandate, which will require everyone to purchase health cover, and other states are looking at similar measures. Elsewhere, opponents have taken to the ballot box. Missouri will hold a referendum in August on the matter. Perhaps half a dozen other states may see a constitutional amendment blocking Obamacare on the ballot in November.

Critics have also filed various lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of health reform. In the most prominent nearly two dozen states, almost all led by Republicans, have banded together. Their chief legal argument is that the new individual mandate is unconstitutional. On May 14th the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group representing small companies (who worry especially about the costs of compliance with the new law), declared that it too would join in.

Repeal the bill.

Collin Peterson’s Cognitive Dissonance

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D, MN) is conducting a series of hearings in rural America to tout his support for big Ag listen to the people.

In the third paragraph of page 14 of an unofficial transcript of the recent hearings in Troy, Alabama, Mr. Peterson makes an excellent point about the fundamental inability of lawmakers or Washington bureaucrats to decide which farm size is best. “We are not going to get into the business of deciding how big a farm should be because that’s way beyond our expertise.” Mr Peterson has made cutesy, self-deprecating remarks before about how Washington isn’t smart enough to make farm management decisions. I guess even incredibly powerful incumbents feel some pressure from tea partiers to make cynical asides about Washington.

And yet. Here’s Mr. Peterson, in an interview with a upstate New York newspaper, offering his two cents’ on how to reform (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) U.S. dairy policy:

When lawmakers map out a new safety net, it will have to include a supply management system to keep milk production in check, Mr. Peterson said…

Supply management could include measures to discourage farms from expanding, as well as a program to spur more dairy exports. In the past, the government has tried buying out farmers’ dairy herds, but production eventually recovered and the beef industry suffered from the low prices resulting from so many cows suddenly entering the slaughter market.

“Production management will have to be in it,” Mr. Peterson said…

As part of the changes, Mr. Peterson said, he also expects Congress will add California to the federal milk marketing system, which sets the minimum prices farmers receive.

So farm size is beyond the federal government’s expertise, but “production management” for dairy farms is not? Make up your mind, Congressman.

I also have concerns with the substance of Mr Peterson’s suggestions for dairy policy. Just last weekend I attended a workshop in Toronto where a graduate student from the University of Guelph gave an excellent presentation on the recent problems in the Ontario quota exchange, the market on which quota rights to produce dairy products in Ontario, Canada are traded.  (The paper on which his analysis was based is not yet available.) Quota rights to, essentially, one cow trebled over recent years to more than C$30, 000. That’s just for the right to milk the cow, mind you. It doesn’t buy you the cow, or even the land or equipment or feed for the cow. Just the right to produce. As the student described the system, it sounded to me like the Canadian version of tulip mania, backed up by soviet-style supply management systems. Do we really want to introduce this sort of insanity to U.S. dairy markets, as if the current system wasn’t ludicrous enough?

Too Quiet on the Texas Front?

Over at Matt Yglesias’ blog, Ali Frick wants to know why she hasn’t detected any “conservative outrage” over the great Texas textbook tangle. Strangely, though, she only critiques Cato by name. That’s odd because (a) Cato is a libertarian organization, not conservative, and (b) there are many other libertarian – as well as truly conservative – think tanks out there.

Unfortunately, those things are just the beginning of the post’s odd twists.

Before I get into the weirdness, though, let me cop to the charge of relative silence. I’ve been meaning to hit the Texas situation harder, but have been dealing with a much greater education threat to the country – truly national curriculum standards – as well as other big issues.

Which reminds me: If Ms. Frick is very concerned about having one set of standards imposed on the entire nation, I invite her – and anyone else – to a major debate we’ll be having at Cato on the same day that proposed national standards are expected to be released to the public. Register here to attend!

So anyway, I have been relatively quiet on Texas. But not completely silent, and Ms. Frick could easily have found things that both I and others have written on the Lone Star social studies shootout just by searching for “Texas” and ”social studies” on Cato’s website. That search brings up this, and this, and this. Oh, and we sent this statement to media outlets, resulting in lots of radio interviews on the subject. How Ms. Frick missed all of these things, I do not know.

What is especially strange about Ms. Frick’s post, though, is not that she called Cato conservative (that’s all too common), or didn’t actually seem to check if we’d done anything on this. What is especially strange – or maybe just confused – is that she thinks people at Cato should be very upset about the Texas situation because the content of textbooks for Texas is often the content other states get stuck with.

For one thing, that Texas essentially dictates content for everyone else is an increasingly debatable point. More important for Frick’s piece, though, is that she asserts that somehow Texas being a big, centralized market is clearly something that creation of the U.S. Senate was supposed to mitigate, as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause:

[I]t’s hard for me to think of really anything so antithetical to the Founding principles than for one state to mandate radical changes that all the other states are forced to swallow. Indeed, avoiding such an outcome was in large part the purpose of the Senate, not to mention the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution — really, the scrapping of the Articles of Confederation altogether.

What?

First off, if you read Federalist no. 62, there is just no way to interpret it as saying that the Senate will represent states so that an individual state’s policies won’t adversely affect other states. It simply discusses the need to give representation to both states and people in the national government of the new republic.

But that isn’t Frick’s biggest stretch. That is reserved for her application of the Supremacy Clause, which reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Once again, this says absolutely nothing about whether it is constitutional for a big state to adopt textbooks even if it affects the textbook choices of smaller states. The clause is entirely about the supremacy of federal laws – when made to exert the specific, enumerated powers given to the federal government – over state laws. It says diddly about state actions that simply have some impact on other states, especially when those actions have nothing to do with federal powers.

All that said, libertarians do have good reason to be concerned about what has transpired in Texas, as it illustrates brilliantly the conflict, politicization, and academic dangers inherent to government schooling. But that is an issue about which many of us at Cato have dealt at great length.  I invite Ms. Frick to read it all.

Go Ahead: Ask. Tell.

Reports that the Obama administration and Congress are nearing a deal to repeal the misguided “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy is good news for military effectiveness, and consistent with the highest ideals of our society.

The repeal of DADT will ensure that the most qualified, most highly motivated individuals are able to join the military. It will halt the discharge of highly trained men and women who have served their country honorably, and wish to continue to do so.

Earlier decisions to expand military service to qualified Americans, from Harry Truman’s decision to end racial segregation in the military, to Gerald Ford’s opening of the service academies to women, were unpopular within some quarters of American society at the time, but wise on the merits. These and other policies aimed at ensuring the most exacting standards in our military are now seen as instrumental to making it the finest in the world.

President Obama and the leaders in Congress are to be commended for this wise decision.

The Most Powerful Privacy Setting

Amid the hullaballoo about Facebook and privacy, it’s easy to forget the most powerful privacy setting.

In my 2004 Policy Analysis, “Understanding Privacy—and the Real Threats to It,” I wrote about the “privacy-protecting decisions that millions of consumers make in billions of daily actions, inactions, transactions, and refusals.”

Inactions and refusals. Declining to engage in activities that emit personal information protects privacy. Not broadcasting oneself on Facebook protects privacy. Not going online protects privacy.

The horror, some may think, of not having access to the wonders of the online world. Actually, many people live full and complete lives without it, enjoying the perfect online privacy default. The irony is a little too rich when avid users of Facebook—which is little more than a publicity tool—complain about its privacy problems.

Facebook does have some work to do on rationalizing and communicating the privacy protections its offers its publicity-seeking users. But people will always have the privacy protecting option of not using Facebook.

Not so for government-sponsored incursions on privacy, like the national ID system proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Inaction and refusal of his national ID system would not be a practical option if Senator Schumer has his way. The irony isn’t just rich, it’s curdled and reeking when Senator Schumer leads the attack on Facebook for its privacy practices.

Ground-Breaking Constitutional Theories

As Larry Solum notes and Randy Barnett seconds, Georgetown law professor and friend-of-Cato Nick Rosenkranz has just published a tremendous article in the Stanford Law Review.  I saw an earlier version of it and can tell you that it offers one of those singular re-thinks of accepted learning.  As Randy puts it, “It is one of those rare pieces that hits you between the eyes and causes you to reconsider how you think about the Constitution.”  The article, entitled “The Subjects of the Constitution,” argues that all of us are going about our constitutional theorizing, at least with respect to judicial review, the wrong way.  Here’s the first paragraph of the abstract:

Two centuries after Marbury v. Madison, there remains a deep confusion about quite what a court is reviewing when it engages in judicial review. Conventional wisdom has it that judicial review is the review of certain legal objects: statutes, regulations. But strictly speaking, this is not quite right. The Constitution prohibits not objects but actions. Judicial review is the review of such actions. And actions require actors: verbs require subjects. So before judicial review focuses on verbs, let alone objects, it should begin at the beginning, with subjects. Every constitutional inquiry should begin with a basic question that has been almost universally overlooked. The fundamental question, from which all else follows, is the who question: who has violated the Constitution?

In thinking about who violated (or allegedly violated) the Constitution, Rosenkranz contends, we get to a truer understanding of whether the Constitution was violated, and how.  Fascinating stuff, which you can download here – and the sequel, titled “The Objects of the Constitution,” is coming soon to a legal journal near you (perhaps for next summer’s blockbuster law review article season).  (Coincidentally, today the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Nick in his first argument before the Court – a technical case regarding the award of attorneys fees under Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) – so we now know where his comparative advantage lies!)

And while I have you thinking about such high-fallutin’ theoretical matters, let me also direct your attention to a new article by an up-and-coming legal scholar, also a friend-of-Cato (and my sometime co-author), Josh Blackman.  Josh argues that the Supreme Court’s relatively new “class of one” doctrine, by which a single person can present himself as a class discriminated against in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, should be used to challenge eminent domain abuse.  That is, homeowners can establish a class of one (i.e., the person whose home the government takes) if their property is singled out for condemnation while other similarly situated properties are not.  The singled-out homeowner(s) can thus challenge the arbitrariness of the government’s taking of their property.

Josh obviously hopes that some court will accept this novel strategy of borrowing equal protection jurisprudence to check rampant eminent domain abuse and vindicate property rights.  Here you can download his article, which is titled “Equal Protection from Eminent Domain: Protecting the Home of Olech’s Class of One.”  Coincidentally, two years ago Roger Pilon wrote an essay on the Supreme Court’s most recent “class of one” decision, which you can read here.