Archives: 09/2010

What Constitution? What Monopoly? What Failure?

Yesterday, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute offered some less-than-sage education advice to majority-hungry congressional Republicans. They implored them not to “reflexively revert to weary old themes that emphasize states’ rights, local control, and parental choice—and tell Uncle Sam to basically butt out.” In other words, they strongly advise ignoring (1) the Constitution, (2) decades of failed federal education efforts, and (3) the inherent hopelessness of government monopolies. 

Just in case some in the GOP are inclined to take these very ill-considered suggestions, perhaps a few reminders are in order.

First, the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to interfere in education other than to prohibit discriminatory state or district provision of schooling. I direct both the GOP and Messrs. Finn and Petrilli to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution so that they can see firsthand that among the federal government’s specific, enumerated powers there is nothing about education. That means that the feds must “butt out.” And please, don’t cry “general welfare clause” – it just explains why the specific powers are given and confers no power itself.

Next, remember that the federal government has been heavily involved in elementary and secondary education since 1965. And what have we gotten for it? This:

Of course, as Finn and Petrilli point out, districts and states bear a lot of responsibility for our dismal otucomes, too. But why does that mean we should hand Washington more power? Given that all levels of government have failed, it seems the problem isn’t district or state government, but government itself!  That’s right: A government schooling monopoly tends to be controlled by the people employed by it – the people who have the greatest incentive to be involved in education politics and the easiest ability to organize – and what they naturally want is more money and little or no accountability.

So government control of education at any level is the problem. Which means that educational freedom – taking power away from government and returning it to parents – is probably the solution.

But wait, say Finn and Petrilli, we like choice, but “there isn’t nearly enough of it” and “a lot of parents…make mediocre education choices and then stubbornly persist with them.” Of course, one reason there isn’t nearly enough choice is that rather than fighting for it, far too many people waste precious time and money tinkering with a socialist system that cannot be fixed. Moreover, because we are dealing with a government monopoly, there are very few choices out there, and those that exist don’t have to be all that great to furnish something better than the alternative. Create a free market in education, however, and you’d get competition, which would spur innovation, which would lead to ever-improving options for everyone! It would essentially take education from a “very nice” gulag to an iPod world.

So please, GOP, I beg you: Don’t listen to Finn and Petrilli. Stick with those “weary old themes,” and absolutely do tell Uncle Sam to butt out.

Many Supporters Not Willing to Trumpet ObamaCare’s Achievements

An interesting update on the politics of ObamaCare appears in CongressDailyPM (subscription required):

The marking of six months since the signing of the healthcare law should be a moment of celebration by Democrats, especially as several popular provisions go into effect today. But the political realities of the midterm elections have made trumpeting the law, which remains unpopular with large swaths of the electorate, a delicate balancing act for Democrats…

House leaders tell their members to address the healthcare law in a way that best suits their districts…

some Democratic members in the House and Senate instruct staff not to write talking points on the law’s six-month provisions…

a former administration official questions if Democrats’ efforts to sell the bill are making any significant headway…

It’s little wonder, really.

But still.  Wow.

A Novel Way of Keeping Fiscal Deficits Under Control?

Having inherited an 8 percent budget deficit from the previous socialist government, the new conservative-liberal government of Slovakia has come up with a novel way of keeping budget deficits under control in the future. Starting in 2011, salaries of government ministers will rise and fall depending on the evolution of the fiscus. Thus, a budget deficit of 5 percent will translate to a 10 percent decrease in salaries, while an (unlikely) budget surplus of 5 percent will translate into a 10 percent rise in salaries, etc. It will be interesting to see if this new measure will truly result in a more responsible fiscal policy in the years to come.

Incidentally, had the United States adopted a similar measure, President Obama’s reported salary of $400,000 in 2009 would have fallen to $320,000 in 2010.

Prosecutorial Misconduct

A federal prosecutor’s misconduct tilted the scales of justice against Antonio Lyons, an Orlando businessman. Lyons served three years in prison before his attorney discovered statements from a witness that differed from the testimony given at trial. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

For more than a week in 2001, the jurors listened to one witness after another, almost all of them prison inmates, describe how Lyons had sold them packages of cocaine. One said that Lyons, who ran clothing shops and nightclubs around Orlando, tried to hire him to kill two drug dealers.

But the federal prosecutors handling the case did not let the jury hear all the facts.

Instead, the prosecutors covered up evidence that could have discredited many of Lyons’ accusers. They never disclosed that a convict who claimed to have purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons struggled to identify his photograph. And they hid the fact that prosecutors had promised to let others out of prison early in exchange for their cooperation.

An investigative project by USA Today documented 201 cases from across the nation in which federal judges found that prosecutors broke the rules. It includes a database and interactive map chronicling prosecutorial misconduct. Read the whole thing.

Check out Tim Lynch’s In the Name of Justice: Leading Experts Reexamine the Classic Article “The Aims of the Criminal Law” and Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent for more on the criminal justice system.

Pro-War, Anti-Immigration Folks Are Confused

USA Today runs an interesting article about the DREAM Act, which Senate Republicans torpedoed this week, and which would have paved the way for many illegal immigrants to become legal.

As journalist Alan Gomez notes, the “less publicized part of the [DREAM Act] is that the Pentagon is pushing for it as a means to staff the armed forces.”

When the Department of Defense published its three-year strategic plan, it listed the DREAM Act as a way it could replenish its ranks.

“If we needed to expand the pool of eligible youth, the (DREAM) initiative would be one of several ways to do it,” spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said in an e-mail.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Margaret Stock says a “crisis in military manpower” is looming as the population ages and the economy improves. She says the military struggled to recruit enough people when the economy was booming just a few years ago because people had more employment options.

“DREAM would give us the ability to tap into a huge number of people who grew up in the United States, were educated here, they talk like Americans, they look like Americans and their loyalty lies with America,” says Stock, a former West Point professor who teaches political science at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

[…]

The military part of the act worries Jorge Mariscal, director of Latino studies at the University of California-San Diego.

He says many illegal immigrant families are too poor to pay for college.

“Our concern is that people are just going to get trapped for economic reasons into the military,” says Mariscal, who otherwise supports the DREAM Act.

A few thoughts on this: First, we might be experiencing a “crisis in military manpower” because we’re fighting too many wars and trying to do too much abroad, rather than as a necessary consequence of our aging population.

Second, Mariscal’s concern about illegal immigrants joining the military out of financial considerations rather than support for the nation’s wars makes them…a lot like the people who are in the military already.  In a poll of active-duty military personnel published in the April 12, 2010 Defense News, responses to the question “What are the three most important reasons you would stay in the military?” were as follows:

  • Job security (50%)
  • Pension (49%)
  • Patriotism (48%)
  • Health care for my family and me (42%)
  • Career satisfaction (32%)
  • Pay (31%)
  • Educational opportunities (21%)
  • Travel, adventure (16%)
  • Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (11%)
Credit: Jamie Rose for The New York Times

 
Finally, those in Congress who support American militarism but oppose immigration have a few contradictions to reconcile.  The late Samuel Huntington, whose last book was searingly unpersuasive and draped a veneer of scholarly credibility over rank nativism, nonetheless got it right when he wrote that

[W]ars have furthered assimilation of immigrants not only by reducing their numbers but also by giving them the opportunity and the impetus to demonstrate their loyalty to America.  Readiness to fight and if necessary die in war cemented their attachment to their new home and made it difficult if not impossible for nativist, anti-immigrant groups to oppose their full membership in American society.

So if you’re in any way interested in “assimilation,” getting people into the military is one of the best ways to do it.

Further, when you have DOD pushing for a bill on the grounds that it provides for a future where the nation’s armed forces can be fully staffed, and congressional war hawks spiking it because–well, for whatever variety of reasons they might have–it raises the question what the pro-war, anti-immgration folks’ plan is for perpetuating American hegemony while keeping immigrants out of the armed forces.  Keeping unemployment at 10%?  Cranking up pay and benefits even faster, making the military budget even less sustainable?

Actually, one additional point: Mark Haas wrote an interesting article a few years back positing a “geriatric peace” on the grounds that large and powerful countries may age so fast that they may not have concentrations of young men (or women) needed to fight and die in war.  In that article, Haas wrote that

The United States is currently the youngest of all the Group of Eight nations.  Because it has the highest fertility and immigration rates of all these countries, it will maintain, even strengthen, this position in coming decades.

[…]

Both the opportunities and challenges for U.S. security in an aging world are substantial. The United States’ aging crisis is less acute than in the other great powers, and its ability to pay the costs associated with this phenomenon is significantly better than most of these states. These facts, however, should not disguise the magnitude of these costs for the United States nor lull U.S. leaders into inaction on this critical issue. The more the United States maintains its enviable demographic position (compared with the other great powers) and relatively superior ability to pay for  the costs of its elderly population, the more it will be able both to preserve its own position of international power dominance and to help other states address their aging (and other) problems when it is in U.S. interests to do so. A critical implication of these facts is that such domestic policies as means-testing Social Security and Medicare payments, raising the retirement age to reflect increases in life expectancies, maintaining  largely open immigration policies to help keep the United States’ median age relatively low, encouraging individual behaviors that result in better personal health, and perhaps above all restraining the rising costs of its health-care system are critical international security concerns.  A defining political question of the twenty-first century for U.S. international interests is whether U.S. leaders have sufficient political  will and wisdom to implement these and related policies. The more proactive U.S. leaders are in minimizing the scope of its aging population and the costs associated with it, the more protected U.S. international interests will be. To ignore these costs, or even to delay implementing various reforms designed to limit their size, will jeopardize the level of global influence and security that the United States enjoys today.

Food for thought.

Woodward, Resilience, and Virtues of Partisan Foreign Policy

On the National Interest’s Skeptics blog, I have a new post about my lack of outrage over the revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book about Obama and Afghanistan.

Unlike John Bolton and Heritage, I don’t think that the President’s comment that we can withstand another terrorist attack like 9-11 is offensive. After all, we can, and saying so doesn’t mean you want to try it.

As I put it there:

What’s truly outrageous is the notion that the only valid response to terrorism is cowering fear at home and endless warfare abroad. Somehow, for much the right, crediting our enemies with the ability to wreck our society is required, and it is verboten to say that we are something other than a pathetic, brittle nation that cannot manage adversity.

I also fail to get upset about the President’s worry that expanding the war in Afghanistan would alienate his base. Politics not only doesn’t stop at the water’s edge; it shouldn’t. I’m not sure exactly when popular checks on the war-making power went out of style, but I think we could use more of that in Afghanistan, not less. If pandering to the base can get us out of there one of these years, pander away.

The solution to bad policies is better politics, not no politics, to paraphase.

*I also recommend Paul Pillar’s post on the same subject. He says that the real news here is the Pentagon’s refusal to offer the President a policy alternative between population centric counter-insurgency and exit.

‘New Food Safety Bill Could Make Things Worse’

That’s not just my view; that’s the view of writer Barry Estabrook, an ardent critic of the food industry (“Politics of the Plate”), writing at The Atlantic. You needn’t go along completely with Estabrook’s dim view of industrialized agriculture to realize he’s right in one of his central contentions: “the proposed rules would disproportionately impose costs upon” small producers, including traditional, low-tech and organic farmers and foodmakers selling to neighbors and local markets. Even those with flawless safety records or selling low-risk types of foodstuff could be capsized by new paperwork and regulatory burdens that larger operations will be able to absorb as a cost of doing business. (Earlier here and here.)

Things could reach a showdown any day now. The food safety bill had stalled in the Senate under criticism from small farmer advocates, as the New York Times acknowledged the other day in an absurdly slanted editorial that somehow got printed as a news article. Now Harry Reid is talking about forcing the bill through before the midterms. Significantly – as advocates of the bill trumpet – large foodmakers and agribusiness concerns have signed off on the bill as acceptable to them. Well, yes, they would, wouldn’t they?

I was on TV the other week (Hearst news service) trying to make a few of these points. I borrowed my closing line from an excellent Steve Chapman column, which I was unable to credit on air, but can credit here.