Archives: July, 2013

Reality Hits Sunshine State “Accountability”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is arguably the leading supporter of both the Common Core national curriculum standards and top-down, standards-and-accountability-based reforms generally. And there is broad evidence that he had success with his overall education program as governor, though that included a sizable—and likely influential—amount of school choice. Given that success, why does the “accountability” piece of his overall program seem to be eroding, with the state school board voting last week to “pad” school grades, for the second year in a row, greatly reducing how many schools are deemed failures? Answering this is crucial to understanding why top-down reforms like Common Core—even if initially offering high standards and strict accountability—almost certainly won’t maintain them.

Once again, we have to visit our ol’ buddies, concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. Put simply, the people with the most at stake in a policy area will have the greatest motivation to be involved in the politics of that area, and in education those are the schooling employees whose very livelihoods come from the system. And being normal people like you or me, what they tend to ideally want is to get compensated as richly as possible while not being held accountable for their performance.

The natural counters to this should be the parents the employees are supposed to serve and the taxpayers footing the bills. But taxpayers have to worry about every part of the state spending pie, and can’t sustain their focus—or motivation—for long on any particular pie slice. Meanwhile, parents are much harder to organize than, say, teachers and administrators, and are only parents of school-aged children for so long. Political advantage: those whom government is supposed to hold accountable.

That said, in Florida it sounds like many parents and taxpayers may be getting fatigued by test-driven school grades, adding onto the power of employee groups. Like we’ve seen in Texas, Florida’s politics may be reflecting a general exhaustion with standards and testing that fails to treat either students, or schools and districts, as unique. In other words, the likely benefits to breaking down such systems are being felt by more parents and “regular” voters, which doesn’t bode well for standards-and-accountability in Florida.

Which brings us to the crucial point about the Common Core. Supporters have a tendency to promise the world with the Core (often neglecting to mention that it provides no accountability itself) largely because they think the standards are very high. But even if they are lofty, and even if they are initially coupled with common tests with high “proficiency” bars—an increasingly big “if”—because of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs the odds of them staying that way are poor. It is a huge problem that Core supporters need to address, even for people who like the idea of “tough” government standards for schools. But sadly, many supporters seem to ignore the problem, choosing instead to tout how supposedly excellent the standards are, and attack as loony opponents who dare to oppose the Core for numerous, very rational reasons.

Unfortunately, it seems a major reason for adopting that tactic is to shield from honest debate a policy that will, by its very nature, impose itself on the entire country. That’s something no one in the country should be happy about.

Washington Post: Democrats Are Abandoning Obamacare

From The Washington Post’s The Fix:

Moderate Democrats are quitting on Obamacare

By Scott Clement, Published: July 23 at 9:00 am

The landmark health-reform law passed in 2010 has never been very popular and always highly partisan, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that a group of once loyal Democrats has been steadily turning against Obamacare: Democrats who are ideologically moderate  or conservative.

Just after the law was passed in 2010, fully 74 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats supported the federal law making changes to the health-care system. But just 46 percent express support in the new poll, down 11 points in the past year. Liberal Democrats, by contrast, have continued to support the law at very high levels – 78 percent in the latest survey. Among the public at large, 42 percent support and 49 percent oppose the law, retreating from an even split at 47 percent apiece last July.

2013-07-22 hcare among Democrats

The shift among the Democratic party’s large swath in the ideological middle– most Democrats in this poll, 57 percent, identify as moderate or conservative – is driving an overall drop in party support for the legislation: Just 58 percent of Democrats now support the law, down from 68 percent last year and the lowest since the law was enacted in 2010. This broader drop mirrors tracking surveys by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation and Fox News polls, both of which found Democratic support falling earlier this year.

Read the whole thing.

This news comes on the heels of a significant fissure among House Democrats over Obamacare.

It also deflates an already weak talking point Obamacare supporters have used to pooh-pooh the law’s persistent unpopularity. As Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution once put it:

Of [the] 51 percent [who oppose the law], somewhere between a quarter and a third oppose the bill not because they are against it, but because they don’t think it went far enough.

They can’t use that excuse here. If Democratic support for Obamacare fell because more Democrats suddenly wish the law went farther, that drop would occur first and primarily among left-wing Democrats, not moderates and conservatives. It’s hard to come up with a story that explains why that dynamic would cause a drop in support only among moderates and conservatives. 

(HT: Veronique de Rugy.)

Immigration Reform Is Not Amnesty

Many opponents of immigration reform have labeled any type of legalization for unauthorized immigrants “amnesty.”  In common terminology, an amnesty is a general forgiveness for past offenses. Calling immigration reform amnesty brands it with a scarlet letter in the minds of many who are skeptical of reform.  A recent video made by the Cato Institute explains just some of the many steps an unauthorized immigrant will have to go through to become legalized if the Senate’s immigration reform becomes law: 

Here are some of the steps (this is not an exhaustive list) an unauthorized immigrant must follow to earn the initial registered provisional immigration (RPI) status:

  • In the country prior to 2012
  • Pays any and all outstanding tax bills (not back taxes)
  • Goes through national security and background checks
  • $1,000 fine
  • $500 fee
  • Then the unauthorized immigrant will receive a work permit valid for six years 

After six years, the immigrant will need to apply for another RPI permit:

  • Proves that she’s been employed for virtually the entire six year period
  • Be at no less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level
  • $500 fee

After four years, the immigrant can apply for a green card if she:

  • Proves she can speak English
  • Proves she hasn’t been on welfare
  • Passes another round of background and security checks
  • Pays all of the normal fees associated with a green card
  • The federal government meets most of its immigration enforcement goals

That doesn’t seem like amnesty to me.

Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible

Yesterday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released the results of a poll conducted by a Democratic polling firm supposedly showing that American parents don’t support a plethora of education reforms, including school choice, and would rather increase funding for public schools. A closer examination reveals that the some of the AFT’s poll questions were designed to push respondents into giving the answers that the AFT wanted, which is why their results are so different from previous polls from more credible organizations.  

Here’s an example of how the AFT phrased their questions:

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.

APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.

It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondants toward Approach A.

But what if we rewrote those options?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. Children will receive the best education if the public invests in better public school safety, curriculum, support services, and teachers.

APPROACH B) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to good public charter schools and private schools in their community. Children will receive the best education if the public invests in giving families the financial freedom to choose the schools that meet their needs.

This question is clearly more fair than the AFT poll’s since it employs similar wording in each answer. If we wanted to push respondents toward Approach B, we could replace “invests” with “at the public expense” and employ additional shenanigans like the AFT poll did (e.g. - “choose the schools with the most enriching curriculum and most effective teachers”).

Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine how the public would respond to fairly-worded questions. Harvard University’s Program on Education and Governance conducts an annual survey of the public’s views on education policy that meets the highest standards for fairness and rigor. The survey eschews language designed to push respondents in a certain direction and often asks the same question with multiple wordings. According to the 2012 Harvard poll:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice”  to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice”  to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

Note that while support fluctuates depending on the wording, no matter how Harvard asked the question there was still more support among parents for school choice than opposition.

Moreover, when asking about scholarship tax credits instead of vouchers, the support was even higher:

  • 57% of parents supported “a tax credit for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools” compared with 16% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 73% of parents supported “a tax credit for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools” compared with 27% opposed.

The AFT’s poll results only look so different from Harvard’s because their poll was designed to reflect what the AFT wanted to hear rather than what the public really believes.

Kick Egypt off the Foreign Aid Dole

The United States has spent decades attempting to micromanage the Middle East. The result is a long series of disastrous failures. Egypt is the latest example.

Almost everyone in Egypt now blames America—despite almost $75 billion in financial assistance to Cairo over the years. Instead of backing away, President Barack Obama is digging America in deeper. The administration is ignoring U.S. law by continuing financial aid.

The United States turned Egypt into a well-paid client during the Cold War after Egypt switched sides and later made peace with Israel. But the case for continuing subsidies has disappeared.

The law requires halting assistance. If what happened in Cairo was not a coup it’s time for an update to George Orwell’s 1984. In fact, it appears that the military planned its takeover for months. 

The Egyptian military is a praetorian institution which has been the foundation of dictatorship for a half century. Egyptian military officers are pampered apparatchiks who control as much as 40 percent of the economy. They always have served power and privilege rather than democracy and liberty. 

Moreover, foreign “aid” has subsidized Egypt’s catastrophic economic failure. Like government-to-government assistance elsewhere, American subsidies have discouraged economic reform. 

As for political influence, Cairo long ago realized that it could count on receiving Americans’ money irrespective of its behavior. Egyptian governments have never listened to Washington’s advice regarding either economic or political reform. That hasn’t changed since the coup.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns visited Cairo a couple weeks ago and activists on both sides refused to see him. The top military leader met with him, but ostentatiously ignored Burns’ pleas. 

Even if the money theoretically brought influence, the Gulf States have promised Egypt at least four times as much as Washington. Why should Cairo listen to America?

The military already is well-funded domestically, and much of America’s assistance goes for prestige weapons, such F-16s. Nor does Washington need to pay the generals not to break the peace with Israel. They know that conflict with Israel would be suicidal. 

Unfortunately, the liberal opposition is living an illusion if it believes that security forces which backed dictatorship for six decades now represent liberal values. As I point out in my new Forbes online column:

[I]t will not be long before those who advocate democracy and liberty find themselves in the army’s cross-hairs. Literally, given the military’s penchant for using live ammunition against protestors. Democracy advocates who subvert democracy should expect nothing less.

Finally, America’s reputation is on the line internationally. The Muslim Brotherhood may be no friend of liberty, but political Islamists are far more dangerous if excluded from the political process. And the coup will resonate beyond Egypt. To work so hard to avoid applying the law in order to support a coup against the man who won the first free presidential election in Egyptian history will make a mockery of any future pronouncements about America’s commitment to democracy. 

Washington’s best hope is to disengage, leaving Egyptians to decide their own future. That would respect the rule of law in the United States. It also would restore a degree of leverage, if Egypt’s military actually values Washington’s cash and support. It is time to halt American assistance to Egypt.

Current Wisdom: We Calculate, You Decide: A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press. In this special issue, we focus on the climate implications of a carbon tax.


A year ago, July 23, 2012 to be precise, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis famously predicted the facts on global warming will “overwhelm” GOP resistance to climate change action and alter the party’s stance.  In response, he proposed a carbon tax.

That’s the kind of thing that always pops up during the hottest time of the year, which is late July, and it’s again in the public yakstream.

Inglis is “former” because he lost his primary in a heavily Republican South Carolina district by an unprecedented—for an incumbent congressman with no scandal—70-29 margin, and he (correctly) blamed his defeat on his newly-found perseveration on global warming.

Since then, he has associated with R-Street Partners, which calls itself a libertarian think tank, but which is very vocal in support of his tax.

So, as discussions of a carbon tax continue in the halls and chambers of Washington, we provide a handy tool for tax fans to determine the global warming “savings” from whatever emissions reduction their hearts desire.

We leave it to the user (policymaker, Congressman, former Congressman, think tank scholar, President, voter, etc.) to decide how much of a carbon tax should be levied to produce the desired result.

Using our calculator, you can specify

  1. the carbon dioxide emissions reduction amount (calculated from the 2005 baseline) that will take place by the year 2050 (and remain in place thereafter),
  2. the region which will take part in the emissions reduction plan (the United States, or for the more optimistic, the industrialized nations of the world),
  3. and the climate sensitivity (how much you think the global average temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration). The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) modestly-educated guess is 3.0°C,  but a collection of reports from the recent scientific literature puts the value around 2.0°C, and based on recent global temperature behavior, a value of 1.5°C may be most appropriate.  Not wanting to leave firebrands like former NASA employee James Hansen out of the fun, we include the option of selecting an extremely high climate sensitivity value of 4.5°C.

We calculate, you decide.

Once you make your selections, the calculator will return the amount of global temperature rise that will be averted as a result of your choices by the year 2050 and also by the end of the century.

Try it using this example. Choose a 100% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States and the IPCC’s sensitivity value of 3.0°C. Hit “Submit.” The amount of temperature savings that results is 0.052°C by the year 2050 and 0.137°C by the year 2100. (Why we are using three significant digits is in the fine print at the end of this article.)

A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

Global Temperature Rise Averted

Your results will appear here.

Sorry, Major Kong (h/t to “Dr. Strangelove”), those are the figures.  That’s the right answer. Assuming the IPCC’s value for climate sensitivity (i.e. disregarding the recent scientific literature) and completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero, will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree (out of a total projected rise of 2.619°C between 2010 and 2100).

If you think that a rise of 2.482°C is vastly preferable to a rise of 2.619°C then all you have to do is set the carbon tax large enough to drive U.S. emissions to zero by mid-century—oh yeah, and sell that tax to the American people.

To explore other alternatives, use our handy-dandy calculator.

Have fun!

 

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The fine print:

Thomas Sowell on Immigration

Thomas Sowell is an influential and prolific writer whose books span the social sciences.  My shelves are full of them, decorated with underlines, marginalia, and dog-eared pages.  But in his recent columns and comments on immigration, Sowell has not approached that topic with the same rigorous attention to detail that he has in his books.  His reliance on incomplete historical examinations in his columns leads him to seemingly support a vast array of government interventions.  In these writings, Sowell makes the same mistakes that he accuses the “anointed” of making in many of his books.

In the column I’ll focus on, professor Sowell’s claim that today’s debate about immigration reform is not as fact-based as previous debates.  The implication is that a lack of facts will lead to poor policy decisions today whereas the policy changes 100 years ago were well thought out and fact-based.  He wrote:

A hundred years ago, the immigration controversies of that era were discussed in the context of innumerable facts about particular immigrant groups. Many of those facts were published in a huge, multi-volume 1911 study by a commission headed by Senator William P. Dillingham.

First, Sowell’s description of the Dillingham Commission’s commitment to facts is inaccurate.  It was a bi-partisan committee formed in 1907 to investigate the impacts of immigration on the United States – especially the so-called “new immigrants” from Eastern and Southern Europe.  The Commission was staffed by Progressives who believed that scientific managerial methods could effectively plan large parts of society and the economy by using the power of the government.  With the exception of one member, William S. Bennet of New York, the commission was stacked with members who had previously supported immigration restrictions. 

The Dillingham Commission produced 42 volumes by 1911, arguing that the “new immigrants” were fundamentally different from old immigrants who came from Western and Northern Europe.  Their culture, rates of economic success, and assimilative potential were supposedly severely constrained.  Those are the same claims made by today’s immigration opponents.  The Dillingham Commission suggested that immigration restrictions (ranging from relatively modest literacy tests to outright quotas and other massive interventions) could solve this “problem.”