Cass Sunstein and the Cato Institute

The Washington Post is reporting that Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein will be named director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House’s regulatory review office. The appointment is baffling, not because the Obama administration has chosen Sunstein (he is a first-rate thinker), but because Sunstein has (apparently) accepted it. OIRA chief is one of the most thankless jobs in Washington, and the office has historically shown itself to be a victim of the political winds no matter how sharp-minded and sincere the chief is.

Sunstein would not fit the label “libertarian,” but he is, in his own way, a supporter of liberty. And he has been a good friend to the Cato Institute, speaking here and writing for Regulation (1, 2).

I wish Cass well in this difficult new job.

Does Congress Deserve a Pay Hike?

Richard Rahn suggests they do not:

Most of us would like to be in the position of voting for our own pay raises from an employer who has almost unlimited access to money … . Given that members of Congress were in a large part responsible for the current economic mess, it is hard to see how they can justify a raise … .

Well, at least three bills in the new 111th Congress would deny members a pay increase in fiscal 2010.

One of them should be attached to any big “stimulus” spending bill. But I imagine Congress is less interested in shows of rectitude from its own membership than from the business leaders it has bailed out.

The Mixed Up Minds of Education Neocons

Today is the seventh birthday of the No Child Left Behind Act and I’d planned to celebrate it with a review of all that ails the decrepit law. In a stroke of luck, however, an op-ed appeared this morning that lets me address the most important political force behind NCLB – and its impotence – without having to go over all the law’s flaws for about the billionth time. (If you want the gory details, though, feel free to go here, here, here, here, here, here, here…)

NCLB is basically a neoconservative creation, a mangy mutt that tries to cram together both a supposed neocon distrust of government and a burning desire to use Washington to attack things neocons don’t like. So NCLB demands standards, tests and full “proficiency” by 2014 – an attempted assault on ”progressive” or just uncaring state and local education systems – while leaving states to write the standards and tests and define proficiency for themselves. The result is the exact opposite of what neocons say they want: Instead of “tight” accountability and “loose” bureaucratic directives, federal bureaucrats get a lot more power while state officials set “proficiency” levels at hovercraft elevations.

In light of NCLB’s failure – and decades of public-schooling stagnation – you’d think neocons would finally learn that no level of government is going to give them tough standards and accountability. The people employed by government simply have far too much sway over it, playing tireless politics to keep their power and kill accountability. Yet somehow even after they appear to have finally mastered this lesson, neocons turn right around and prove they’ve learned nothing at all.

On NRO today, leading neocon education analysts Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, put their contradictory thinking out for all to see. Almost immediately after decrying proposals to spend tens-of-billions on public schooling as part of a federal economic stimulus package – “taxpayers have spent decades funding an enormous, inefficient jobs program,” they write of public schooling – the neocon troika commences to list a bunch of federal undertakings they think would be just grand:

  • “Make the summers of 2009 and 2010 into ‘Summer of Learning.’ Invest billions to keep schools open from June to August across the land. Offer remedial classes, enrichment programs, sports camps, the works.”
  • “Create a service-learning program whereby teenagers can travel to national parks and landmarks, do valuable public works there, and get paid a little.”
  • Build “education data systems”

And, of course, there’s the obligatory call for national standards:

  • “Uncle Sam could also invest in creation of world-class national standards, tests, and even curricular materials”

Neocons, one can’t help but conclude, must be politically and logically bipolar, able to swing from “no more government” to “hell yes, more government!” in a single op-ed. At the very least, they evince little understanding of why government works or fails, or what it can and cannot do. They appear simply to call on government to get the things they want and decry its dangers to fight things they don’t. But that’s no way to make policy. I mean, it gave us No Child Left Behind, for crying out loud!

BART Shooting

There was a police shooting on New Year’s Day by a transit officer.  The shooting, which seems totally unjustified, was filmed by several people with cell phones and the video is now prompting angry protests in Oakland.  The officer worked for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.  He resigned Wednesday.

In the past, the police usually received the benefit of the doubt in cases of conflicting testimony.  Now that cell phone cameras are common and rolling, more people are going to be skeptical of police accounts and reach their own conclusions. There is also going to be more accountability when police commit crimes or enagage in other misconduct – and that is a very good thing.

Related Cato work here.

Enjoy the Bowls—You’re Paying for Them

In the Wall Street Journal, Mark Yost explores the taxpayer subsidies to major college football bowl games:

while everyone’s fretting over the bailout package for the auto industry, most taxpayers would be shocked to learn that they’re also footing the bill for some of these highly profitable bowl games. From 2001 to 2005, seven tax-exempt bowls received $21.6 million in government aid.

During that time, 38 percent of the Brut Sun Bowl’s revenue came from a Texas rental-car tax. Now that’s Brutish.

And what do the bowls do with those taxpayer dollars? Well, they put on a football extravaganza, of course. But also:

To ensure the bowl games maintain their tax-exempt status, the committees hire state and federal lobbyists. Watts Partners, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm run by former University of Oklahoma quarterback and Rep. J.C. Watts, has been paid more than $500,000 in consulting fees by the BCS.

So, as happens with many other government-funded enterprises, taxpayers’ money is spent on lobbyists to keep the taxpayers’ money flowing. Some of the money also goes to pay bowl executives upwards of $400,000. Leaving aside the issue of why tax-funded entities should pay their executives more than the president of the United States, I’m not surprised that bowl committees pay a CEO a handsome salary to make everything work perfectly. But I wonder: We hear a lot of complaints about the high pay of corporate CEOs. If the executive director of a $30 million bowl game is paid $400,000, how much should the CEO of a $30 billion company get?

More on taxpayer subsidies for sports business here and here. A lengthy bibliography here (pdf).