Archives: 04/2012

Obama’s Comments: A Gift that Keeps on Giving

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Does Senator Grassley’s tweet, that the American people “r not stupid as this x prof of con law,” make an important point or was it disrespectful? Is this a sign that Obama’s Supreme Court comments won’t be going away?

There’s enough disrespect to go around – for the president (Grassley), for the Supreme Court (Obama). It’s the larger question about Obama’s comments on the Court and the Constitution that’s more important, because it’s not going away, and for good reason. Look no further than to this morning’s Washington Post, where E.J. Dionne Jr. is falling all over himself in defense of Obama. After the Court’s oral arguments over ObamaCare, it’s finally dawning on modern liberals that their project for ubiquitous government is under serious political and even legal attack, so they’re fighting back.

Like others in the liberal establishment last week, Dionne links Obama’s and Franklin Roosevelt’s attacks on the Court. But he links those in turn to Obama’s ”social Darwinism” attack next day on the Ryan-Romney budget – a budget, Dionne writes, that would cut back “student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.” Indeed, it’s “so far to the right,” Obama said, that it makes the Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America “look like the New Deal.”

What Obama and his liberal apologists fail to accept, of course, is that their welfare-state project is spent, literally. They pose as defenders of welfare programs for the poor and, now, the middle class, while either ignoring the deficits and debt those programs have run up or, at best, arguing that taxing the rich will solve the problem, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Thus the Democratic Senate has failed to pass a budget in over a thousand days, and no one gives the administration’s budget a moment’s thought. Their pose is just that, because unless we come to grips with these systemic problems, there will be no student loans, Head Start, and all the rest, because “entitlements” and service on the debt will consume everything, until they too will go by the way.

Our Constitution for limited government was written to avoid this dilemma. Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust” thought they were wiser than the Framers, much like today’s liberals. Grassley’s mistake was in choosing the wrong word. It’s not “stupid,” it’s “irresponsible.” Santa Claus comes only once a year. The rest of the year we have to behave like adults.

Graduating Law Students: Come Work for Liberty!

For almost three years now, Cato has been running a highly successful legal associate program. Talented recent law school grads have come to work for us during the time that their law firms have “deferred” their start dates (from a few months to a full year), with commensurate stipends, and many law schools have created post-grad fellowships with similar conditions.

Now that we’re again approaching graduation season, I thought I’d put out my annual call for more potential legal associates. We can always use the extra brain, you can always use Cato on your resume, and your firms/schools can always use your getting substantive legal experience/counting as “employed” for US News rankings—we all win!

And so, the Cato Institute invites graduating (and recently graduated) law students and others with firm deferrals or post-grad funding—or simply a period of unemployment—to apply to work at our Center for Constitutional Studies. This is an opportunity to assist projects ranging from Supreme Court amicus briefs to policy papers to the Cato Supreme Court Review. Start/end dates are flexible.

Interested students and graduates should email a cover letter, resume, transcript, and writing sample, along with any specific details of their availability to Jonathan Blanks at jblanks [at] cato [dot] org. Note again that this announcement is for a non-paying job: we’ll give you a workspace, good experience, and an entree into the D.C. policy world, but we will not help your financial bottom line. You don’t have to be a deferred law firm associate or funded by your school, but you do have to be able to afford not being paid by us.

Please feel free to pass the above information to your friends and colleagues.

For information on Cato’s programs for non-graduating students—or graduates who would like to be part of our internship program (which does come with some minimal compensation)—contact Chip Bishop at cbishop [at] cato [dot] org.

Stossel Tonight

John Stossel has a special tonight at 10 on Fox News Channel. That’s right, the Fox NEWS Channel, not the Fox Business Network where his weekly show appears. The special is titled

NO, THEY CAN’T! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed

which just happens also to be the title of his new book.

John’s also doing a lot of speeches around the country for the book – at FEE in Atlanta, at Tattered Cover in Denver, at BookPeople in Austin, and many more. Keep an eye out.

Meanwhile, you can see Sarah Palin and me on John’s regular weekly show next Thursday night.

And catch John Stossel at the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty Dinner on May 4 at the Washington Hilton.

Bush or Obama: Can We Tell Who Shuffles the Edu-Chairs Better?

I’m a Paul Peterson fan, and I sure don’t think President Obama’s education grade should be very high, but I’m afraid Peterson is offering some pretty weak stuff in this op-ed hoisting President George W. Bush above the current POTUS in education policy.

The main problem is that Peterson is using broad National Assessment of Educational Progress data as his main evidence of Bush’s success and Obama’s failure. But not only are these data far too blunt to tell us much about a single administration’s policies—myriad forces are at work in education beyond federal rules and regulations—it’s a serious stretch to suggest that we should expect to see big testing gains from any policy within a year or two of its enactment. Peterson even hints as much late in his treatment of Obama, noting that “NAEP data are available for just the first two years of his administration, [but] the early returns are not pretty.”

“Early returns” is right, considering that President Obama only took office in 2009, the first winners of Race to the Top—Obama’s main “reform” driver—weren’t declared until late August 2010, and the NAEP exams were administered between January and March of 2011.

More troubling, though, is the praise Peterson heaps on President Bush and No Child Left Behind. I’ve broken down NAEP scores six ways from Sunday and won’t rehash it all again, but based on improvement rates the NCLB era hasn’t been all that special. More important for this discussion, again considering policy implementation lags, it is a big leap to look at NAEP scores and crown Bush the edu-winner.

Let’s break down Peterson’s biggest advantage-Bush claim: “Overall, the annual growth rate in fourth- and eighth-grade math was twice as rapid under the Bush administration as under his successor’s.” (Actually, his biggest claim is that Bush’s fourth-grade reading performance is “infinitely” better than Obama’s, but that’s because there’s been no gain under Obama, not because under Bush scores were numerically much better.)

By far the biggest increase in 4th grade math scores that included Bush presidency years occurred between 2000 and 2003, when the average score rose three points per year. Pretty impressive, but Bush didn’t become President until 2001, and NCLB wasn’t enacted until January 2002. With NAEP administered between January and March 2003, NCLB was only law for about a year in that time span, and it took much of that year for people just to figure out what NCLB was all about. In other words, it is unlikely—though, granted, not impossible—that the improvement in that period was due primarily to NCLB.  Pull that span out of the Bush years, though, and growth was just 0.83 points (out of 500) per year. Years 2009 to 2011 saw a 0.50 point uptick—so neither president saw growth that was too impressive.

For eighth grade math, again excluding 2000-2003, the Bush years registered another 0.83 point growth rate, and 2009-2011 was again at 0.50.

The Bush years are a bit better than Obama’s just looking at NAEP—which alone tells us little—but neither president’s tenure is all that great, especially considering, as noted, several pre-NCLB periods saw faster growth. And then there’s the big picture: When you get to 17-year-olds—our schools’ “final products”—NAEP scores have been utterly stagnant for decades despite per-pupil expenditures roughly tripling and Washington getting ever-more involved.

Even if you could tell who nudged an Adirondack chair a millimeter farther from the abyss, arguing about which president is the better chair-shuffler is really missing the sinking ship.

How to Make ‘Bless’ and ‘Love’ Fighting Words

I’m no theologian, but when a religious group asks God to bless something, I’m pretty sure that’s a sign they like it. So if some other folks show up and say they love that same thing, we’ve got a clear case of mutual agreement. They’re not going to fight over whether the thing in question needs a blessing or a loving—unless the setting is a public school.

Stall Brook Elementary School, outside Boston, recently told parents that they were editing the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” for an upcoming student assembly, and that their children would instead sing it as “We Love the U.S.A.” A furor ensued, and it wasn’t over the loss of assonance in the refrain. After a great sound and fury the school has relented and will allow, but not require, children to sing the words “God Bless.” Other children and parents, it seems, will be free to sing “We Love” if they prefer. So that will sound nice.

This captures, in small, a great problem with public schooling: compelled conformity. In every community in the country, there is only one public school district. It is the official education organ of the state. As such, it cannot engage in devotional religious activities under the First Amendment. More than that, it cannot possibly reflect the diverse values and preferences of every family. It just can’t. And that’s why we encounter these endless battles over the place of religion in the classroom and in plays, pageants, and ceremonies. It’s why the teaching of history and even of reading and math are fraught with conflicts over content or methodology. And it’s unnecessary. Totally unnecessary.

A truly free society needs a well-educated citizenry. It does not need a government monopoly on k-12 schooling. In fact, it needs to not have a government monopoly on schooling. Fortunately, there is a wonderful alternative to the monopoly status quo—a system that can ensure universal access to a quality education without forcing parents or taxpayers to violate their convictions. That alternative is education tax credit programs that cut taxes on families who pay for their own children’s education and on donations to nonprofits that subsidize tuition for the poor. These programs exist, they work, and they won’t make us fight over blessing or loving the U.S.A.

The Post: Not Even Loans for High-Speed Rail

The Washington Post is somewhat of a bellwether of public opinion on high-speed rail. Back in 2009, when President Obama first proposed to build a high-speed rail network, Post editorial writers were all for it as a way of reducing congestion. Then in 2010, the paper published an op-ed by a National Geographic travel writer who argued that the “benefits of high-speed rail have long been apparent to anyone who has ridden Japan’s Shinkansen trains or France’s TGV.”

By 2011, though, the Post was having second thoughts. In January of that year, the paper argued that the nation should “hit the brakes” on the California high-speed trains, the only true high-speed rail project in Obama’s plan (since Florida dropped out). (This editorial led to a letter expressing the opposite view from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.)

In February 2011, the Post argued that joining China, France, and Japan in a high-speed rail race would be joining “a race everyone loses.” Then in May, the Post again hammered the California project in light of new reviews questioning both the claimed costs and benefits of the project. “Somebody, please, stop this train” the paper added that November.

Yesterday, the Post even opposed just loaning federal money to a private high-speed rail company. A private company wants a $4.9 billion loan to help build a rail line from southern California to Las Vegas. But the memories of Solyndra and other solar companies getting federal loans, giving huge amounts of money to executives, and then going bankrupt may be too recent. The Post even understands opportunity costs, noting that, “As for jobs, any that the Vegas train creates will come at the expense of alternative uses of the money,” a reality not always recognized by journalists.

The Nevada group, which is backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, may get its money, although that money would come from a fund that has never been used for this kind or size of project before. But any expectation by Californians that D.C. pundits will support more federal funding for even a modified high-speed rail plan must be considered wildly optimistic.

Will Pennsylvania Join the REAL ID Rebellion?

Since Congress passed a national ID law called the REAL ID Act in 2005, states have been registering their objections. The law tries to coerce states into implementing the feds’ national ID and would have them issue uniform drivers’ licenses and put drivers’ personal information into a federal data exchange. By 2009, fully half the states had barred themselves from implementing REAL ID or passed resolutions denouncing the law.

The states continue to play their constitutional role in counterbalancing federal overreach. I noted a few weeks ago how New Hampshire is resisting E-Verify, the federal background check system. But—as I also recently wrote—federal “bureaucrats and big-governmenters” are working to revive their national ID.

Pennsylvania may soon join the REAL ID rebellion. The legislature there has sent Governor Tom Corbett (R) a bill to opt the state out of REAL ID’s national ID system.

As we often see, though, there is confusion about the relevance of IDs and a national ID to national security. In the story linked above, state representative Greg Vitali (D) is cited saying that the 9-11 hijackers were carrying multiple phony drivers’ licenses. “And I’m just concerned with regard to the message that we send by backing away from more secure IDs,” he says.

Representative Vitali is mistaken on the facts. The 9/11 hijackers did not have false identification documents. The 9/11 Commission report said: “All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud.” Those “frauds” were things like fibbing about the length of their residency in Virginia, not their names.

The security issues are complicated. I dealt with them in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood. But here’s what it boils down to: Had REAL ID been the law prior to 9/11 and operating perfectly—100% compliance, no corruption at DMVs, and no forgery of breeder documents or licenses—that might have required the 9/11 attackers to keep their visas current. That’s the extent of its security value.

How many hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars should we spend, how much of Americans’ privacy should we give up, and how much power should we transfer to the federal government when the only benefit is to mildly inconvenience some future attacker?

Many of the threats we imagined in the years after 9/11 were not real. Sleeper cells? Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.

Terrorism didn’t get its start on 9/11, and it will never be non-existent. But our strong nation can celebrate its victory over terrorism by deep-sixing the national ID card. That’s the “message” that would come from defeating the federal government’s national ID law.