Topic: Government and Politics

The Administration’s School-Discipline Push, Cont’d.

As Andrew Coulson explained, the federal Justice Department and Department of Education have sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter discouraging schools from pursuing strict discipline policies against student misbehavior, especially against “routine” or “minor” infractions; Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited tardiness and disrespect as examples of the latter. 

Assuming that the federal government has somehow acquired the legitimate constitutional authority to begin dictating the fine points of disciplinary policy to local schools in the first place—a big if—it might seem at first that much of this is innocuous. Some early press coverage, for example, makes it sound as if the letter is mostly aimed at obtaining a reconsideration of zero-tolerance policies (long criticized by libertarians) as well as the sorts of suspensions and expulsions that are based on far-fetched dangers like finger guns or forbidden hugs.

Unfortunately, there’s much more. The letter represents the culmination of a years-long drive toward imposing tighter Washington oversight on school discipline policies that result in “disparate impact” among racial or other groups. Policies that result in the suspension of differentially more minority kids, or special-ed kids, will now be suspect—even if the rate of underlying behavior is not in fact uniform among every group. (Special-ed kids, for example, include many placed in that category because of emotional and behavioral problems that correlate with a higher likelihood of acting out in misbehavior. Boys misbehave more than girls.)

In 2012 Senate testimony, Andrew Coulson noted:

  1. Compared with the alternatives, the use of out-of-school suspensions appears to improve the learning environment for other (non-disciplined) students by protecting them from disruption.
  2. Zero-tolerance policies were adopted in the first place in part as a way for administrators to try to defend themselves against disparate-impact charges. In other words, the new supposed remedy (disparate-impact scrutiny) helped cause the disease to which it is being promoted as the cure.

If the policy helps speed the correction of some overly harsh, mechanical school policies (both under the zero-tolerance rubric and otherwise), it may have some positive side effects. But the disparate-impact premise is a pernicious one that’s sure to create many new problems of its own.

C/P and adapted from Overlawyered.

Privatize the TSA: Make Americans Safer by Letting Airports Handle Security

Any American who travels deals with the Transportation Safety Administration. The Bush administration made many mistakes in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; creating a government monopoly to handle air transportation security was one of the worst.

Government’s most important duty is protecting its citizens, but others can share that role. After all, no airport or airline wants a plane hijacking, and no airline (or railroad) passenger wants to die in a terrorist incident. 

Unfortunately, the TSA is a costly behemoth that is better at bureaucracy than safety. Created in 2001, the TSA spent $7.9 billion and employed 62,000 employees last year alone. The agency’s main job is to protect the more than 450 commercial airports, and two-thirds of the agency’s budget goes for airport screening. 

Unfortunately, as my Cato Institute colleague Chris Edwards has documented in a recent Policy Analysis, the TSA has lived down to expectations. Notes Edwards: “TSA has often made the news for its poor performance and for abusing the civil liberties of airline passengers. It has had a troubled workforce and has made numerous dubious investments.” For all the agency’s spending and effort, “TSA’s screening performance has been no better, and possibly worse, than the performance of the remaining private screeners at U.S. airports.”

The TSA has had an abundance of problems, as I listed in a Freeman column:

Wasteful spending of all sorts. “Unethical and possibly illegal activities,” according to the agency Inspector General. “Costly, counterintuitive, and poorly executed” operations, according to the House oversight committee. Employee misconduct. Ranking 232 out of 240 federal agencies in job satisfaction.

Washington Big Spenders: Wasteful as Essential

If you live anywhere but Washington, D.C., you probably believe that the federal government spends too much.  Today the national debt is more than $17 trillion.  CBO figured that existing budget plans would add between $6.3 trillion and $8.8 trillion in red ink over the coming decade. 

Social Security and Medicare alone account for more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, promised benefits for which no revenues are set.  Counting a multitude of other debts and obligations, American taxpayers are on the hook for more than $220 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

As I point out in my new Forbes online column:

However, denizens of Washington see things very differently.  Policymakers recently approved a bipartisan budget that increased discretionary spending, theoretically the easiest outlay to control, over the next two years.  Legislators ignored so-called entitlement outlays, which threaten to consume the entire federal budget.

It really doesn’t matter which party is in charge in Washington.  Most Republicans have little desire to cut federal outlays.  One man’s waste is another man’s vote-winning special interest hand-out.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) has issued a second “Wastebook” which contains 100 of the dumbest uses of taxpayers’ money.  Explained the Senator:  “While the president and his cabinet issued dire warnings about the cataclysmic impacts of sequestration, taxpayers were not alerted to all of the waste being spared from the budget axe.”

The Annals of Power: Christie, FDR, and Nixon

Experts tell Monica Hesse of the Washington Post that closing a few bridge lanes is pretty thin gruel as far as punishing your enemies goes. Journalism professor and scandal-culture expert Mark Feldstein scoffs, “If he’s not willing to be thinking of unauthorized wiretaps . . .”

Hesse asks, “In the grand scheme of diabolical political paybacks, how does this vision stack up?”

Take FDR, Feldstein says. During World War II, after the Chicago Tribune published news of broken Japanese codes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to order troops to take over the newspaper’s building. (He was eventually talked down from this martial plot.) The publisher was an old nemesis from prep school.

Take President Richard M. Nixon — always with Nixon — who tried to get the IRS to conduct field audits against people he perceived as political foes in the early, pre-Watergate 1970s. “It was really a matter of trying to destroy people personally” by using the governmental means available, says Joseph Cummins, the author of dirty tricks encyclopedia “Anything for a Vote.” “That was the way Nixon felt about things.”

 FDR knew the rule, “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” He wasn’t so squeamish when it came to retailers who defied his preferences. Sewell Avery, chairman of the big catalog company Montgomery Ward, opposed labor unions, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Roosevelt’s re-election. In 1944 Avery refused FDR’s order to extend his company’s labor contracts to avoid a strike. Roosevelt ordered the War Department to seize the offices of Montgomery Ward. Attorney General Francis Biddle flew to Chicago to oversee the army’s physical removal of Avery from his office, as the photo shows.

When Christie does that, he’ll be ready for the political big leagues.

Downsize the Department of Energy

The Department of Energy spends $29 billion per year on various schemes with a disastrous track record, often with bipartisan support. From regulations that destabilize markets, decrease domestic output and harm consumers, to subsidies that pick and choose winners and losers, this department is a perfect example of a white elephant – an expensive project of little to no useful purpose.

Solyndra is the best example of such waste. The solar panel company received a $535 million loan before filing for bankruptcy in 2011. The federal government will likely recover just $27 million from that loan.

The department can be abolished by relegating security and clean-up-related tasks to the EPA or the Department of Defense and by returning research functions to the private sector. In all, abolishing the Department of Energy would save taxpayers about $7 billion a year. To that end we’ve created a short video which makes these and other points, which you can watch below.

Downsize the Department of Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture spends over $150 billion dollars per year on various programs related to agriculture and food. It spends tens of billions on farm subsidies that largely go to growers of just a few crops: wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton. Beyond this, it subsidizes food through the federal food stamp program, which is rife with waste and corruption. It also regulates many agricultural products, most notably milk and sugar, setting minimum prices which artificially keep food prices high for consumers.

The federal government has little reason to be engaging in any of these activities, which should be left to the states in the case of food stamps, or eliminated entirely in the case of regulations or subsidies. This could save taxpayers $140 billion per year. To that end we’ve created a short video which makes these and other points, which you can watch below:

Even the Establishment Media Is Now Admitting the French Economic Model Is Fatally Flawed

Some things in life are very dependable. Every year, for instance, the swallows return to Capistrano.

And you can also count on Dan Mitchell to wax poetic about the looming collapse of French statism.

Geesh, looking at that list, I guess I’m guilty of - in the words of Paul Krugman - being part of the “plot against France” by trying to discredit that nation’s economy.

Or maybe I’m just ahead of my time because we’re now seeing articles that almost sound like they could have been written by me appearing in establishment outlets such as Newsweek. Check out some amazing excerpts from an article by Janine di Giovanni, who lives in France and serves as the magazine’s Middle East Editor.

…what is happening today in France is being compared to the revocation of 1685. …the king closed churches and persecuted the Huguenots. As a result, nearly 700,000 of them fled France, seeking asylum in England, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and other countries. The Huguenots, nearly a million strong before 1685, were thought of as the worker bees of France. They left without money, but took with them their many and various skills. They left France with a noticeable brain drain.

It’s happening again, except this time the cause is fiscal persecution rather than religious persecution. French politicians have changed the national sport from soccer to taxation!

Since the arrival of Socialist President François Hollande in 2012, income tax and social security contributions in France have skyrocketed. The top tax rate is 75 percent, and a great many pay in excess of 70 percent. As a result, there has been a frantic bolt for the border by the very people who create economic growth – business leaders, innovators, creative thinkers, and top executives. They are all leaving France to develop their talents elsewhere.

It’s an exaggeration to say “they are all leaving,” but France is turning Atlas Shrugged from fiction to reality.