Archives: February, 2011

Thoughts on the F-35’s Extra Engine

I’m a bit late to the party in commenting on the passage of the Rooney Amendment, a successful effort on the part of 2nd-term Republican Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) to strip funding for the F-136, an engine that the Pentagon doesn’t want for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A few additional thoughts: unlike nearly all other amendments to the CR, Rooney’s passed, and fairly easily. Part of the reason is strong administration support for the effort, key especially to securing votes from Democrats – those who don’t have F-136 plants in their districts, that is. But Gates had signaled his displeasure many times previously, so that alone doesn’t explain this rare victory for budget hawks.

I would guess that an additional factor is the slew of new Republicans elected on a platform of fiscal prudence. Having Rooney as a champion for the cause certainly helped, with 110 Republicans voting for the amendment (vote tally here). A majority within the GOP still treat weapons contractors with kid gloves, but claiming that every single weapon system is essential to the nation’s survival can get pretty laughable, especially when the Secretary of Defense and all the relevant uniformed officers disagree. 

(Speaking of laughable, wouldn’t it be absurd for the Obama administration to threaten to veto the CR because it now has too little money for the Pentagon? Wait. That happened.)

Much as I would like to dwell on the defeat of the F-136 in the House, however, I am sobered by the reality of budgeting for the military. This is hardly the final blow in this battle. Opponents and supporters of the extra engine in the Senate have already lined up their forces. The engine might yet re-emerge. And we must not lose sight of the fact that the total amount saved – $450 million – is tiny relative to the Pentagon’s budget of around $540 billion in this fiscal year. Perhaps rather than debating the need for a second engine, we should be debating the need for a plane that is grossly over budget, badly behind schedule, and riddled with performance problems?

So kudos to Congressman Rooney for leading this fight, but there is still much, much more to do to bring military spending down to reasonable levels. (For example, removing U.S. troops from Europe, a policy that already enjoys considerable support.)

Measuring Progress on Violence against Union Members in Colombia

During a recent Congressional hearing on President Obama’s trade agenda, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) stated his continued objections to the FTA with Colombia:

“Union worker violence in Colombia remains unacceptably high - if not the highest in the world. Limited progress is being made in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Additionally, reports indicate that threats against union workers and others have increased, and there has been little concrete action today to pursue these cases.” [Emphasis added].

Levin warned that, despite signs of a more constructive approach to this issue from Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos, “The only adequate measuring stick is progress on the ground.”

Rep. Levin should take a look at the Free Trade Bulletin that my colleague Dan Griswold and I published this week: “Trade Agreement Would Promote U.S. Exports and Colombian Civil Society.” When it comes to progress on the ground regarding violence against union members, Colombia already has a remarkable record. The number of assassinations of trade unionists has dropped 77% since its peak in 2001, compared to the total number of homicides in the country, which declined by 44% in the same period.

 

 

 Sources: National Union School (ENS) and Ministry of Social Protection (MPS).

If we look at the homicide rate as defined by the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the rate for union killings was 5.3 per 100,000 unionists in 2010, six times lower than the homicide rate for the overall population (33.9 per 100,000 inhabitants).

In our paper, we present evidence that shows that union members enjoy greater security than other vulnerable groups of Colombian civil society, such as teachers, councilmen and journalists. Also, we highlight research conducted by economists Daniel Mejía and María José Uribe of the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, which found no statistical evidence supporting the claim that trade unionists are targeted for their activities. Instead, their results show that “the violence against union members can be explained by the general level of violence and by low levels of economic development.”

As for Rep. Levin’s claim that there has been “little concrete action” to pursue crimes against trade unionists, once again the evidence says otherwise. In 2010 there were over 1,400 trade unionists under a government protection program—more than any other vulnerable group of Colombia’s civil society. In 2007, a special department was created in the Office of the Prosecutor General dedicated exclusively to solving crimes against union members and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Close to 85 percent of the sentences issued since 2000 for assassinations of trade unionists were issued after the creation of this department.

If Rep. Levin’s “adequate measuring stick is progress on the ground,” then he should recognize the tremendous achievements made by Colombia so far in reducing violence against trade unionists, and solving the crimes committed against them.

You can read the full paper here.

I’ll Take “Whatever Evidence I Like” for Hundreds of Billions, Alex

Right before the President’s 2012 budget proposal was released, I wrote a bit about what I was hearing the administration would call for with Pell Grants. Notably, ending year-round Pell on the grounds that the cost was too high and “there was little evidence that students earn their degrees any faster.” I found this argument a bit odd because eligibility to get more than one Pell award annually started in just the 2009-2010 academic year – way too recently to have any conclusive evidence on its effect one way or the other.  I was also surprised because, well, evidence of success has never been important in decisions to keep or kill programs.

Take the embattled – and near dead – Washington, DC voucher program. There is currently a concerted effort to revive the program, but the Obama administration and most congressional Democrats evinced no qualms about killing it despite its well-documented success with graduation rates and parental satisfaction. Documented, in fact, using “gold-standard,” longitudinal, random-assignment research methods. That documentation is why Cato Center for Educational Freedom director Andrew Coulson last week testified to the House education committee that “there is one federal education program that has been proven to both improve educational outcomes and dramatically lower costs. That is the Washington, DC Opportunity Scholarships Program.”

Sadly, the administration – and, to be honest, pols of all stripes – are as happy to ignore the evidence of success in programs they dislike as the very common evidence of failure in programs they support.

Take the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds after-school activities intended to keep kids off the streets and provide them with social and educational enrichment.  A series of studies – the last published in 2005 – found that not only didn’t the program appear to provide many positive results, it might have had overall negative effects:

Conclusions: This study finds that elementary students who were randomly assigned to attend the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program were more likely to feel safe after school, no more likely to have higher academic achievement, no less likely to be in self-care, more likely to engage in some negative behaviors, and experience mixed effects on developmental outcomes relative to students who were not randomly assigned to attend the centers.

 
In light of its (at-best) impotence, did the program go away? Of course not! In FY 2010 it was appropriated $1.17 billion, and the Obama administration has asked for $1.27 billion for FY 2012. And this despite not just poor performance, but a pesky $14 trillion national debt.

This is small potatoes, though, compared to some other programs. Take Head Start: Run by the Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start is supposed to give poor kids an early boost in life. In reality, however, it has proven itself to be largely worthless, with benefits disappearing after just a few years. It’s a finding that was repeated in a federal evaluation released in 2010, which reported that “the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.”

Despite this fecklessness, the administration wants to increase funding for Head Start from $7.23 billion in FY 2010 to $8.10 billion in FY 2012.

Clearly, “evidence” doesn’t drive budgeting decisions – it’s just a term that’s invoked when it’s politically expedient to do so. But maybe one more bit of evidence is in order to illustrate this. Compare increases in overall federal spending on K-12 education to the academic performance of 17-year-olds, our schools’ “final products”:

In light of this, if federal policymakers really cared about evidence, would they still be spending money on education at all? The evidence on that, unfortunately, is almost indisputable.

Schools for Misrule Spring Speaking Tour

The first copies of my new book Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America are here from the printer, and I’ll be touring the country to promote it in coming weeks. Some highlights:

  • February 21. Bloomington, Ind. Indiana University Law School, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
  • February 22. Urbana-Champaign, Ill. University of Illinois School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter. Commenting will be Prof. Larry Ribstein.
  • March 3. Washington, D.C. Cato Institute Policy Forum. Commenting on the book will be the Hon. Douglas Ginsburg, U.S. Court of Appeals, and moderating will be Cato legal director Roger Pilon.
  • March 10. University of Minnesota, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter. Commenting will be Profs. Brad Clary and Oren Gross, and moderating will be Prof. Dale Carpenter.
  • March 16. New York, N.Y. Manhattan Institute luncheon (invitation). Commenting will be James Copland, Manhattan Institute.
  • March 22. Washington, D.C. Heritage Foundation forum. Commenting/moderating: Todd Gaziano, Heritage Foundation.
  • March 28. Boulder, Colo. University of Colorado School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
  • March 29. Laramie, Wyo. University of Wyoming School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
  • March 30. Sacramento, Calif. McGeorge School of Law, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
  • April 6. New York, N.Y. Manhattan Institute Young Leaders evening event (private).
  • April 7. Washington, D.C. American University Law School, sponsored by Federalist Society chapter.
  • April 13. Washington, D.C. Book club appearance (private).
  • April 27-29. Dallas, Tex. Heritage Foundation Resource Bank meeting (private).

Always check in advance with the hosting group for venues and exact times; some events open to the public require advance registration. The book’s official publication date is March 1, and copies should be arriving in the bookstores soon.

Great Moments in Human Rights: Creating an Entitlement for Free Soccer Broadcasts in Europe

Forget the Magna Carta and the Constitution. Don’t pay attention to the end of slavery. Ignore the defeat of the Nazis or the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

If you want a real victory for humanity, European courts have ruled that people have the right to free soccer games on TV. Apparently, people are now “entitled” to anything that is “of major importance” to society.

Isn’t that just peachy? Europe is slowly collapsing under the weight of the welfare state. Nations such as Greece and Portugal already have reached the point of fiscal collapse. But rather than address these problems, the political elites at the European institutions have decided on a modern-day version of bread and circuses for the masses.

Here’s a blurb from the Financial Times.

European countries are entitled to ban the exclusive airing of World Cup and European football championship games on pay-TV in order to allow wider public viewing on free channels, one of Europe’s top courts has ruled. The ruling is a blow for Fifa, which organises the World Cup finals, and Uefa, which handles the European Football Championship finals. Both organisations depend heavily on the sale of broadcasting rights for much of their income and had challenged the extent to which games had to be shown more widely. But on Thursday the General Court in Luxembourg slapped down their arguments and ruled in favour of Belgium and the UK, which had included games organised by Fifa or Uefa on their lists of events they considered to be “of major importance” to society and so entitled to wider audiences.

President (and Governors) Should Heed Court and Stop Implementing ObamaCare

In yesterday’s Providence Journal, my colleague Ilya Shapiro and I argue that, since a federal court has voided ObamaCare as unconstitutional, the Obama administration should immediately cease all efforts to implement ObamaCare:

Federal courts do not issue advisory opinions. The parties to any lawsuit are bound by any resulting judgment.

At minimum, then, the government lacks authority to implement ObamaCare where the case was decided, in the Northern District of Florida, and the 26 state plaintiffs need take no action to do so. Likewise, members of the National Federation of Independent Business, another plaintiff in the case, may now be entitled to the same protection from Obamacare’s requirements.

Moreover, it is not unreasonable to argue that Vinson’s ruling applies to the nation as a whole. After all, this lawsuit facially attacked the law rather than just challenging its application to particular parties….

In so uncertain a legal context, it is simply reckless for financially strapped federal and state governments to pour resources into changing our health care system when those changes may not ultimately pass constitutional muster.

Governors should follow the example of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who recently told a Cato audience in Naples that Florida will not implement any aspect of ObamaCare.  Listen to excerpts from Scott’s remarks here.  Read the full Cannon-Shapiro oped here.

The State of State Subsidies

Chris Edwards recently penned a piece that makes the case for cutting federal subsidies to state and local governments. In a related budget bulletin, he shows that there are now over 1,100 federal aid programs for state and local governments.

I’ve produced two charts that illustrate the extraordinary growth in federal subsidies to state and local government using the latest figures in the president’s 2012 budget proposal.

The first chart shows the inflation-adjusted increase in federal subsidies to states and local governments since 1941, separated into “health” and “non-health” categories:

The second chart shows the inflation-adjusted increase in total federal subsidies to state and local governments since 2000:

Like countless other individuals and interest groups, state and local government officials have become addicted to federal taxpayer money. This addiction has encouraged irresponsibility and profligacy at all levels of government. It has also prevented citizens from appreciating the true cost of the services they demand from state and local governments.

In the next couple of months, state and local officials will wail and gnash their teeth over proposals from Washington to cut back on the federal feeding tube. Journalists who are tempted to be overly-sympathetic to state and local officials should look at these charts and ask themselves why these folks never seem to be able to get their fiscal houses in order despite all the “free” money they’re getting from federal taxpayers.

See this Cato essay on the need to revive fiscal federalism.