A Disservice to the Poor

There’s much ado at the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the federally funded organization intended to provide legal assistance to the poor.

Last month, the AP catalogued a pattern of excessive spending at the LSC. Then, as I indicated in my National Review Online article, the LSC Board contemplated firing the employee who had unearthed much of the extravagance. This employee, LSC Inspector General Kirt West, has also found other questionable practices at the LSC and begun an investigation of the Board itself. 

Earlier this week, at a congressional hearing, the chairman of the LSC Board denied that board members had considered dismissing West. This was shocking given strong evidence to the contrary — namely, meeting transcripts from January in which the board’s vice-chair said of West, “[H]e’s got to shape up or we will ship him out.” At the same meeting, another board member said flatly, “He doesn’t belong as the Inspector General of this organization.” 

This is yet another sorry chapter in the history of the LSC. For over 20 years, this organization has continued to misuse taxpayer dollars to advocate political causes. Is it time to pick up the mantle of Ronald Reagan and finally abolish the LSC?

Defending the Constitution

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter expects the Supreme Court to invalidate a law that he voted for:

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) voted for the bill after telling reporters earlier that he would oppose it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face.” He cited its denial of the habeas corpus right to military detainees. In an interview last night, Specter said he decided to back the bill because it has several good items, “and the court will clean it up” by striking the habeas corpus provisions.

Don’t be surprised if one or two Supreme Court justices respond with something like this: “This is a grave matter and judges are ill-suited to make national security decisions and so I think it proper to defer to the considered judgment of elected representatives of the people in the Congress on this habeas corpus matter.” 

As I point out in this paper, too many people seem to think that the Constitution will somehow automatically check the government when it goes too far. Not so. The Constitution cannot enforce itself. This latest episode in anti-terrorism legislation shows that we have not broken out of a vicious political cycle and that’s a very bad indication of the political and legal trends in America.

Republican Congressman Demands Answers!

Via Doug Bandow, here’s an illustration of the depth of analysis we’ve come to expect from our Congress on foreign policy issues:

Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.
Trent Lott

Let’s not wonder why we’re in such a mess overseas. This tells you all you need to know. God help us.

America’s “Help Wanted” Signs

While the U.S. House and Senate compete with each other to see who can authorize the longest wall along our border with Mexico, evidence continues to grow that the U.S. economy could use more foreign-born workers. Here are three examples from just the past few days:

The Washington Post reported this morning, in an article headlined, “Visas for skilled workers still frozen,” that the number of H1-B visas available each year remains capped at a number far below the ongoing needs of U.S. employers. As the article explains: “[M]any of the country’s largest technology companies and most prestigious research laboratories have said they are unable to find enough U.S.-born scientists and similar workers to fill their openings. … But only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, and demand has been so high recently that all of them are taken instantaneously.”

Earlier in the week, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher, noted in a speech in Monterrey, Mexico, that the U.S. economy has reached full employment and is beginning to feel the pinch of labor shortages in certain sectors. As Fisher told his audience:

I am hearing more and more reports about the difficulty of finding labor to work our oil fields or run our chemical plants. Bankers complain of a paucity of bank clerks and tellers. Truckers are experiencing a shortage of drivers. In Houston, we are hearing complaints about the difficulty of finding cashiers for retail establishments. A major hotelier told me last week that there is a shortage of housekeeping staff. … companies are now voicing the kinds of complaints about labor shortages most often heard in a full employment economy.

Adding to the evidence, a major report released Wednesday on the need to modernize America’s agricultural policies included a recommendation that Congress enact comprehensive immigration reform. The report, by a task force appointed by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, noted, “Immigrants today play a vital role in nearly every aspect of our agricultural and food processing system, often taking jobs that are low-paying or shunned by native-born workers.” The report cited Hmong poultry producers in the Ozarks and Hispanic workers in the meat processing plants in the Midwest, calling such workers “vital to the [agricultural] sector’s competitiveness.”

As members of Congress seek to reform U.S. immigration law, they should keep in mind that our nation’s economy is made stronger and more dynamic when peaceful, hard-working people are allowed to come here legally to fill jobs that not enough Americans are willing or able to fill.  

Why Is a Good Teacher Like a Needle in a Haystack?

If you have children, they’re likely settling into their school-year routine at this point.  But how much are they actually learning?  The answer to that question depends heavily on your child’s teacher.

With so much riding on teacher selection, surely school administrators go out of their way to hire the best, right?  Not so, I discovered!  My new policy analysis, Giving Kids the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need, reports that administrators seem to hire mediocre candidates even when standouts are waiting in the wings.

While many of the qualities of good teachers are difficult or impossible to measure – charisma and dedication comes to mind – studies reliably show that a teacher’s own academic aptitude and a strong math or science background can make a difference in his effectiveness.  Nonetheless, aspiring teachers with top test scores are actually slightly less likely to be hired than their average counterparts.  More surprising still, education majors are inexplicably hired more frequently than math and science majors despite a recognized shortage of highly-skilled teachers in those fields.

School choice reforms could put an end to the madness by creating incentives for principles to hire teachers who will satisfy parents.  Finally: a way to separate wheat from chaff in the teaching profession.

New Jersey LOVES Education Tax Credits

A recent poll conducted by Monmouth University’s Polling Institute on behalf of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), showed that an overwhelming 74 percent of New Jersey residents support targeted education tax credits.

The support for tax credits is tremendous – you can’t find 74 percent support for apple pie – but it’s not all that surprising.  Education tax credits consistently outpoll vouchers and have been the most successful school choice legislation in recent years.  This new “blue” state poll adds to the mountain of evidence that people want school choice, and that education tax credits are the most promising way to get it.

The poll also found a solid majority, 54 percent, supports vouchers, although this is a significant drop from the 66 percent support found in a 2002 poll.  Only 38 percent oppose vouchers.  The level of support for vouchers is the same as it is for another popular reform, student-based funding, which determines funding for each student according to their need and allows that money to follow them.  54 percent of respondents support the proposal and 32 percent are opposed.

Maybe one more poll showing how big support for school choice really is will be enough to get politicians to stand up to the teachers’ unions … ok, maybe not.

Habeas Corpus

Today’s Washington Post has this to say about the detainee bill that is working its way through the Congress:

Some of the fiercest debates focused on whether foreign terrorism suspects should have access to U.S. courts for challenging the legality of their detention, a right known as habeas corpus.

House Republicans blocked Democrats from offering amendments, including one that would have extended the habeas corpus right to detainees.

Cato Institute adjunct scholar Richard Epstein, criticized the proposals to curtail habeas corpus in this statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days ago.

For additional background on the writ of habeas corpus, read this and this.