Archives: 11/2010

The New Isolationism

Retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) William J.  Astore has a great piece up on Asia Times Online about why it is so hard for Americans to grasp the horror, the savagery, and the sacrifice of the wars being fought in their name:

A new isolationism is metastasizing in the American body politic. At its heart lies not an urge to avoid war, but an urge to avoid contemplating the costs and realities of war… Marked by a calculated estrangement from war’s horrific realities and mercenary purposes, the new isolationism magically turns an historic term on its head, for it keeps us in wars, rather than out of them. [Emphasis added.]

Check out the rest here.

Voter Concerns: Jobs, Economy, Constitution

Here’s an interesting excerpt from November 1 NBC Nightly News:

Brian Williams, anchor:  Where’s the electorate?

Chuck Todd, correspondent, reports on a new survey where voters were asked the following: “ ‘Send us a message.  Tell us what message you would love to send with your vote tomorrow.’  Well, most people said, ‘Tell these members of Congress to focus on jobs and the economy.’  … However, look at what Republicans and tea party members said.  They said, ‘Yes, we’re focused on the economy, but we also want you to return to the principles of the Constitution.  Now, what this means is limited government.’”

NBC News/Wall Street Journal – Return to Principles of the Constitution

Republicans 41%; Democrats 8%; Independents 22%; Tea Party 50%

For Cato work on the Constitution, go here, here (pdf), and here.

How Do I Overturn Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Tomorrow morning, the United States Supreme Court will hear one of the most important education cases in a generation: the appeal of a 9th Circuit ruling that would cripple or end Arizona’s k-12 scholarship tax credit program.

As you’d expect, commentators aren’t sure how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule: it may decide to overturn the 9th Circuit on the merits of the case, or it could overturn the 9th Circuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs never had standing to sue in the first place. Heck, there might even be people who think SCOTUS will uphold the lower court’s ruling… can’t actually find anyone who thinks that, but they could be out there… somewhere.

On the merits, the law and evidence are clear. Arizona’s program allows private individuals to donate to non-profit k-12 scholarship organizations and get a tax credit when they do–much as federal tax deductions are available for donations to non-profit charities. Since federal deductions for donations to religious organizations are Constitutional, the same applies to the credits in the AZ case. Respondents (those trying to kill the program) didn’t marshal a serious argument to the contrary. In fact, one of the cases they cite actually eviscerates their own argument, as I noted in Section II (b) of the Cato Institute Winn brief co-written by Ilya Shapiro and myself.

The rest of Respondents’ merits arguments are equally ineffectual, not only taking a form (relying on a moving statistical target) that has already been explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court in Zelman and elsewhere, but actually being wrong on the facts as well (see Section IV of the Cato brief linked above).

But while I’ve been exclusively focused on the merits of the case, it seems that the legal experts defending Arizona’s tax credit program have been arguing that the Respondents (originally, the Plaintiffs) never had a right to sue in the first place (“standing”), because they cannot show, in the context of Supreme Court precedents, how they have been harmed.

Both the SCOTUS blog’s reporter and independent experts seem to think the Court will overturn the 9th Circuit on the standing issue before even considering the merits, and I’m confident that the Court will overturn on the merits if it ever gets that far.

If the ruling comes down in either of those ways, modern education tax credit programs will retain their perfect record of never having been overturned by a court–a record not enjoyed by any other private school choice policy. The reason that is so very important is explained in the final section (V) of our Cato brief.

Keep Fed Ed? What, Do You Hate Kids?

Yesterday, Tad DeHaven wrote about an interview with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee should the GOP take the House majority. Tad lamented that Kline seemed to declare any potential effort to kill the U.S. Department of Education (ED) already dead in the water. Unfortunately, Kline is certainly right: Any effort to kill ED in the next couple of years would not only have to get through a (presumably) GOP-held House, but (also presumably) a Dem-controlled Senate and Obama-occupied White House. There just aint no way ED will be dismantled – and more importantly, it’s profligate programs eliminated – in that environment.

That said, if many Tea Party-type candidates win today, it will be precisely the time to start pushing the immensely powerful case for ending fed ed. I won’t post them yet again, but Andrew Coulson’s charts showing the Mount Everest of spending and the Death Valley of student achievement over the last roughly forty years should, frankly, be all the evidence anyone needs to see that the federal government should reacquaint itself with the Constitution and get out of elementary and secondary education. When it comes to higher education, the evidence plainly points to student aid helping to fuel the massive tuition hikes – and major waste – that plague higher education. And let’s not forget the ongoing failure of Head Start

The biggest obstacle to ending federal intrusion in education is that no one wants to vote against more education funding or programs no matter how akin to money-sack bonfires they are. Politicians simply don’t want to be tarred and feathered in campaign ads as being against children, or education itself. (No doubt almost everyone has seen ads attacking candidates for just such impossible cruelty over the last, seemingly endless, few months.) But if Tea Party sentiment proves strong today, tomorrow will be exactly the right time to launch a full-on, sustained attack against the federal occupation of education.

For one thing, teachers unions – arguably the most potent force in domestic politics, and the biggest “you hate children” bullies – are on their political heels, with even Democrats acknowledging that the unions don’t actually put kids first. Next, people are very concerned about wasteful spending, and as Andrew’s charts illuminate,  education furnishes that in droves. Third, the latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll reveals that by large majorities Americans want state and local governments – not the feds – in charge of education. Finally, and most importantly, the evidence blares that federal spending and meddling hasn’t actually done anything to improve education. All of which makes this the perfect time to drive the argument home: We must get Washington out of education because it is bad for your pocketbook, and bad for education!

Now, some inside-the-Beltway types have counseled the GOP to ignore the Constitution and abundant evidence of federal failure because they think the feds can somehow do good. They should be ignored because logic, evidence, and the Constitution simply aren’t on their side. And for those who might say to drop the issue because you won’t win in the next year or two? They would be right about the time frame for victory, but absolutely wrong to not take up the fight.

Court Enforces Secrecy about Constitutional Abuses

The purpose of filing amicus briefs is to bring to courts’ attention certain supplemental arguments or relevant facts that go beyond those which the parties present.  It is also to show that a particular group – ranging from policy activists and think tanks to industry groups to ad hoc collections of academics to companies and organizations  that would be directly affected by the case – has a particular interest in a case, as well as educating the public about important issues.  Cato files its briefs for all these reasons, and we’ve found them to be an effective method of spreading our message, both in court and in the “court of public opinion.”

Now, imagine if, after filing a brief, you discover that the court has “sealed” it – meaning removed it from public view or access – precisely because your goal “is clearly to discuss in public [your] agenda.”  As Adam Liptak describes in a troubling New York Times column today, that’s the situation facing our friends at the Institute for Justice and Reason Foundation in a case before the Tenth Circuit (the federal appellate court based in Denver).

I won’t regurgitate the column here, but suffice it to say that the IJ/Reason brief shines a spotlight on various abuses by the Kansas U.S. attorney office, and supports a case in which the federal district court in Topeka has come down hard on an activist who thinks the government is too aggressive in prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medications.  As my friend and IJ lawyer Paul Sherman is quoted as saying, “It’s a profound problem.  We want to bring attention to important First Amendment issues but cannot share the brief that most forcefully makes those arguments.”

Read the whole thing.

Immigration and Election Day

Immigrants are a voting block worth courting, but it seems both Democrats and Republicans aren’t terribly concerned about earning immigrants’ allegiance. The sometimes-dehumanizing rhetoric hurled at immigrants by a small, vocal minority of Republicans would seem to push immigrant voters into the loving arms of Democrats. But Democrats have been in charge of two branches of the federal government for two years and have done nothing to reform our immigration system. For his part, President Obama pledged that 2009 would bear witness to comprehensive immigration reform.

Dan Griswold discusses the rhetoric surrounding immigration in light of today’s election for today’s Cato Daily Podcast (subscribe, already!):

High-Speed Pork

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson provides a blistering critique of the Obama administration’s plan for a national system of high-speed rail. Samuelson dismisses HSR as “pork-barrel” and “a perfect example of wasteful spending masquerading as a respectable social cause.”

The pork-barrel nature of HSR was underscored by last week’s politically-timed release of $2.5 billion by the Obama administration for rail projects across the country. From the news side of the Washington Post:

Eight days before midterm elections, embattled Democratic candidates cheered the release of billions in federal funds for high-speed rail projects from New Hampshire to California, saying they would help create jobs in their economically bruised states.

The Transportation Department notified lawmakers of the money on Monday and will make a formal announcement on Thursday. The timing of the announcement raised questions about whether the administration was trying to help some Democratic candidates.

The biggest winners of an estimated $2.5 billion pot of money were California and Florida, which have competitive governor, House and Senate races. But numerous other states scored as well.

California will get another $902 million to advance the design and construction of a high-speed rail system initially running from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The money is in addition to $2.25 billion in stimulus money that’s headed to California for high-speed rail.

Samuelson singles out the illogic of California HSR in particular. The state’s “budget is in shambles” he notes and it simply could not afford to fund the debt and operating subsidies that its proposed high-speed rail line would entail. And even if the money were there, it makes no sense for the government to spend billions of dollars on a mode of travel that would benefit so few individuals.

Federal taxpayers can’t afford high-speed rail in California or anywhere else. A Cato essay on high-speed rail points out that the cost of California’s HSR could be $81 billion and a national system could cost $1 trillion. Samuelson is right: the Obama administration’s HSR dreams “represent shortsighted, thoughtless government at its worst.”