Archives: 06/2013

Ed Sec to Media: Get Those Common Core Critics!

In a bid to prove that Washington never tried to strong-arm states into adopting the Common Core, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the American Society of News Editors that the media had better start attacking “fringe,” “misinformed,” Core opponents and their arguments.

Think about that for a moment.

Yup, seems like a self-defeating tactic to me, too. But it’s not the first time the secretary has launched into attack mode to show that Washington would never – ever! – get pushy on education.

Now, despite my fatigue with constantly debunking Core supporters on federal coercion, I was prepared to do a huge dismantling of Duncan’s speech. Thankfully, both for the public and my workload, one of those media types whom Duncan implied hasn’t been doing her job – Michele McNeil of Education Week – was, indeed, inspired to do some fact-checking by Duncan. Too bad for the secretary, it was on his claims. Among McNeil’s offerings:

  • “On a grading scale of 500 points, Duncan said adopting common standards and assessments was worth relatively little. ‘Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Undoubtedly. But it’s not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core,’ he said. In fact, adopting and implementing common standards and assessments was worth 50 points, or 10 percent. That’s the same amount of points allotted to a state’s plan for turning around low-performing schools. In a contest in which only a few points separated winners from losers, those points mattered—a lot. And it likely spurred states to actually adopt the standards; the first state adopted them in February 2010.”

Congress Spends Your Tax Dollars on a National ID

It’s appropriations season! – that wonderful time of year when the House and Senate pass competing versions of legislation to fund government agencies, bureaus, and…whatever pork and pet projects they can squeeze in.

Congress has made most of its spending decisions over the past few years through last-minute continuing resolutions or consolidated appropriations bills. That makes it harder to follow the money (which may be part of the reason they’ve been doing it that way), but it’s important to watch the dollars because some of that money is going toward national ID systems and biometrics.

Last week the House passed their FY 2014 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. As in years past, the legislation contains funding for three of everyone’s favorite identification programs: REAL ID, E-Verify, and US-VISIT/the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), a DHS office covering biometrics for travelers at airports, ports, and other points of entry.

For the coming fiscal year, the House appropriated $114 million for E-Verify, $232 million for OBIM, and $1.2 billion for the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), from which grants for REAL ID implementation get doled out to states.

These numbers are consistent with past levels of appropriations for these programs, with the exception of REAL ID, which had its own funding stream until it was folded into SHSGP in fiscal 2012.

Update on Arlington’s $1 Million Bus Stop

It looks like the cost of Arlington County’s gold-plated bus stop will be even higher than a $1 million. According to the Washington Post, taxpayers will also have to pay for an “independent contractor to review the cost and design” of the Transit Taj Mahal in Northern Virginia.

The bus stop is not actually gold-plated, but it does have “heated concrete flooring,” sort of like the lavish baths of the Roman Empire. But Roman baths were far more functional than this modern monument to bureaucratic excess:

 “But it wasn’t just the cost of the bus shelter that upset residents. It took 18 months to build, and riders have said the slanted glass roof does not keep rain and snow off them while they wait for the bus.”

The probable cause of the boondoggle is that federal and state governments are paying for 80 percent of the costs of this bus stop and 23 planned sister stops. A “typical bus shelter costs between $10,000 and $20,000” notes the Post. But these shelters—which don’t even provide shelter from rain and snow—are expected to cost $900,000 each.

If we want better governance, we need to create better incentives for politicians. The Transit Taj Mahal is a microcosm of the overspending problem caused by government-to-government subsidies. Abolishing the federal aid-to-state system would go a long way toward generating better fiscal decisions at the state and local levels.

As for the $1 million bus stop, how about Arlington officials pay for the “independent contractor” review out of their own pockets, rather than imposing that added burden on taxpayers?

  

Liberty’s Big Day at SCOTUS

Today, the Court upheld the equal liberty and dignity of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation with its ruling in United States v. Windsor. This represents a major victory for gay rights, of course, but more broadly vindicates a robust view of individual liberty as protected by the Constitution. It should be axiomatic that the federal government has to treat all people equally, that it has to accept the several states’ sovereign laws on marriage (and many other subjects), and today there were five votes at the Supreme Court for that proposition.

It is now clear that there was simply no valid reason to uphold DOMA Section 3, no reason to deny the equal protection of more than 1,000 federal laws. As Justice Kennedy wrote for the unified majority, “the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage.”

This is exactly the result we were hoping for. 

UPDATE:

The Court’s ruling in the Prop 8 case is weird, frustrating, and leaves great uncertainty in both the law and practical effect. It’s also wrong: to say that private parties can’t step in to defend a law when the state government declines to is to allow the executive to erase properly enacted laws and even state constitutional amendments simply by not defending them in court.

For practical purposes, those of us who support marriage equality can be heartened that Prop 8 has been struck down – but there will still be extensive litigation over whether California can only issue marriage licenses to the two couples who were the plaintiffs in Perry, to everyone in the federal district where the lawsuit originated, or in the entire state. The Supreme Court may have thought it was putting off the difficult issues for another day, but it may simply have complicated matters. While clothed in complicated, technical language, and surrounded by the unusual atmospherics of gay marriage, this ruling boils down to the Court’s shying away from the full implications of its other ruling today.

In short, Perry was a frustrating decision but doesn’t detract from the significant constitutional win in Windsor.

Service to the American People or to the American State?

One of the most persistent utopian visions over the last century and more is national service. By “national service” proponents never mean service to Americans. The United States long has been famous for the willingness of its people to organize to help one another and respond to social problems. Alexis de Tocqueville cited this activism as one of the hallmarks of the early American republic.

Rather, advocates of “national service” mean service to the state. To be sure, they believe the American people would benefit. But informal, decentralized, private service doesn’t count.

The latest proponent is columnist Michael Gerson, one-time speechwriter for “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush. Wrote Gerson:

How then does a democracy cultivate civic responsibility and shared identity? Taxation allows us to fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A rite of passage in which young people — rich and poor, liberal and conservative, of every racial background — work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.

To Gerson’s credit, he does not advocate a mandatory program, where people would go to jail if they didn’t desire to share the national purpose exalted by their betters. But many people, from Margaret Mead to Senator Ted Kennedy, did want a civilian draft. Indeed, a number of noted liberals who campaigned against military conscription were only too happy to force the young into civilian “service.” 

Did the President Give a Green Light to the Keystone XL Pipeline?

In his speech today laying out his Climate Action Plan, President Obama took a few minutes to address the Keystone XL pipeline.

The fate of the pipeline is still in the hands of the State Department, where the president said they are stilling mulling it over.

But he said today that he would only approve the pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon dioxide emissions and if the climate impacts of the pipeline were negligible. He said “The net effects of climate impact will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward. It is relevant.”

This is great to hear.

I testified before the House Subcommittees on Energy and Environment on exactly this topic back in the beginning of May.

Here is how I summarized the pipeline’s impact on the climate:

[I]f the Keystone XL pipeline were to operate at full capacity until the end of this century, it would, worst case, raise the global average surface temperature by about 1/100th of a degree Celsius. So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL’s impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable. [emphasis in original]

According to the president’s criteria, that should pretty much guarantee his approval of the pipeline.

The President’s Climate Action Plan: Intervention Where It Isn’t Necessary

In his speech today, President Obama laid out his plan—formulated around executive action—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of mitigating future climate change.

Funny thing is, absent his Climate Action Plan, the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been on the decline for a decade, and now are at about the same level as our emissions in the early 1990s. In fact, the decline in emissions is taking place at a rate faster than the one sought by the president.

So why mess with a good thing? There is no way that introducing a bunch of new government regulations is going to improve the situation. If the Great Recession is any indication, the outcome of government involvement in the energy industry will be a poor one.

And to what end? As I have repeatedly shown, reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has no significant impact on the future course of climate change.

On top of that, new science is accumulating that indicates that the future course of climate change is likely to be less steep than our current climate model-based estimates.

And despite the president’s long list of supposed climate wrongs that are consistent with human-caused climate change, there is an equally long list of climate wrongs that have been averted for reasons “consistent with” climate change.

Taken together, declining U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and declining estimates of climate change, should have been enough to convince the president that things were already on the proper track—no government intervention necessary.

But this administration is characterized by intervening where it is not necessary. The president’s Climate Action Plan is more of the same.