Archives: 11/2010

Dept. of Education to Survive GOP

For those of us who recognize that federal k-12 education spending has been a costly failure, it’s been great to hear some tea party candidates call for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

Unfortunately, the party favored by tea party supporters at the moment has no interest in shuttering the DOE. After all, it was Republican House minority leader John Boehner—possibly the next speaker of the House—who worked with the departed Sen. Ted Kennedy to give us the expensive and intrusive No Child Left Behind law.

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who would be in line to chair the House Education and Labor Committee, says abolishing the DOE wouldn’t happen on his watch.


“Those who call for abolishing the Department of Education, that’s simply not going to get done,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who is in line to chair the Education and Labor Committee if the GOP wins control of the House.

Kline knows he will have to contend next year with a crop of scrappy new committee members who might not want to delve into the specifics of student testing or curriculum standards, but he has an answer. “It’s not simply enough to say, ‘I’m only going to vote for abolishing the Department of Education,’” he told National Journal in an interview. “No Child Left Behind is the law. It’s moving forward.”

The last I checked, laws can be repealed. But I suppose that when you’re in line to control a big pot of other people’s money, the temptation to play with it is just too great.

A recent press release on Kline’s website lists federal education dollars that would be sent back to his Minnesota district’s schools this year if the government “fully funded” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Here’s a novel idea: why not just let Minnesota and the rest of the states keep their citizens’ tax dollars and control their own education agendas?

Trying to run the nation’s schools from Washington has failed. Andrew Coulson’s chart shows that federal education spending has gone through the roof while k-12 test scores have remained flat:

Kline’s press release is titled, “A Promise Made To Our Children Should Be a Promise Kept.” Right now the only promise that Washington seems intent on keeping is promising our children a mountain of government debt.

See these Cato essays for more on why we should “simply” abolish the Department of Education.

Count Every Vote — Just Once

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Given the Civil Rights Commission’s investigation of DOJ’s handling of the New Black Panther case, talk of voter irregularities in Arizona, and the request by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that DOJ investigate whether tea party groups are intimidating black and Hispanic voters in her Houston-area district, how serious a threat are voter intimidation and irregularities?

My response:

Relative to elections in many parts of the world, American elections are fairly clean. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have voter intimidation and election irregularities. I speak from personal experience: As graduate students, my wife and I were election judges in Chicago during the reign of the first Mayor Daley. We saw up close how big city political machines operate, and it isn’t pretty.

Especially in close elections, voter fraud matters, whether it’s fraudulent voting and vote counting, as Republicans often charge, or voter intimidation, as Democrats sometimes charge – although it’s mainly Republicans making that charge in the Philadelphia New Black Panther case. Against those abuses, a robust two-party system is the best defense, with the parties policing each other. But in many of our cities, and some rural counties, we don’t have an effective two-party system. In those cases, we have to depend on impartial, after-the-fact investigation and prosecution to ensure honest elections. That’s what makes the Holder Justice Department’s handling of the New Black Panther case so troubling, to say nothing of the mainstream media’s failure to cover the story.

An October 27 Washington Times editorial captured that problem exactly:

After 17 months of averting its eyes, The Washington Post finally ran a major front-page feature on the controversy on Saturday. Three current Justice Department lawyers told the Post that whistleblowers J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates are accurate in stating that anybody who tries to enforce civil rights laws in a race-neutral fashion will be ostracized, criticized and denied promotions because leaders at Justice believe “it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters.” One senior official confirmed and even defended that view.

Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which earlier dismissed the default judgment that career DOJ lawyers had already obtained in the case, has been anything but cooperative with the long-running investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights of Justice’s handling of the matter. That contrasts sharply with the interest Justice is showing in monitoring the polls tomorrow in Arizona’s Maricopa, Apache, and Navajo counties to determine whether voters are being discriminated against on the basis of race or ethnicity. When the back-up protection for honest elections is not itself impartial, we start to look like some of those electoral systems we see abroad.

Again, we’re nowhere near that yet, but that’s no reason not to monitor the monitors. Election fraud is far from our biggest problem: that’s runaway government untethered by the Constitution. But we’ll not get a grip on that problem without honest elections that truly reflect the will of the people – this year, it seems, to tie our government more closely to the Constitution. Elections are only a means; but they’re no less important for that, because they’re a means to honest government, which itself is defined by fidelity to the Constitution.

Taser Cameras

UPI is reporting that the Taser Corporation is selling cameras that mount on their stun guns.

The cameras automatically turn on when the Taser is removed from its holster and its safety device is released.

“Video is going to help the officer,” said Cmdr. Steve Wilkinson, internal affairs investigator for the West Melbourne (Fla.) Police Department. “And if you don’t record it, the kid down the street with a cellphone is going to use it.”

As I wrote in this post and said in this video and this forum, this is the future of law enforcement. Taser-mounted (or handgun-mounted) cameras can show the circumstances leading up to a use of force and prevent lawsuits where force was justified. The camera’s presence on a weapon, however, can provide officers an incentive to present the taser or handgun sooner rather than later. Departments would be better served with head-mounted cameras, which are also likely to capture more of the events before an officer employs physical force. Expect more of this as these devices become cheaper (and tamper-proof).

Regardless of the form, use of recording technology to provide more transparency and accountability in law enforcement is a good thing.

Should We Blame Obama, Rangel, and Baucus if People Die to Escape the Death Tax?

The death tax is a punitive levy that discourages saving and investment and causes substantial economic inefficiency. But it’s also an immoral tax that seizes assets from grieving families solely because someone dies. The good news is that this odious tax no longer exists. It disappeared on January 1, 2010, thanks to the 2001 tax cut legislation. The bad news is that the death tax comes back with a vengeance on January 1, 2011, ready to confiscate as much as 55 percent of the assets of unfortunate families.

I’ve criticized the death tax on many occasions, including one column in USA Today explaining the economic damage caused by this perverse form of double taxation, and I highlighted a few of the nations around the world that have eliminated this odious tax in another column for the same paper.

Politicians don’t seem persuaded by these arguments, in part because they feel class warfare is a winning political formula. President Obama, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus have been successful in thwarting efforts to permanently kill the death tax. But I wonder what they’ll say if their obstinate approach results in death?

Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming is getting a bit of attention (including a link on the Drudge Report) for her recent comments that some people may choose to die in the next two months in order to protect family assets from the death tax. For successful entrepreneurs, investors, and small business owners who might already be old (especially if they have a serious illness), there is a perverse incentive to die quickly. 

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis says some of her Wyoming constituents are so worried about the reinstatement of federal estate taxes that they plan to discontinue dialysis and other life-extending medical treatments so they can die before Dec. 31. Lummis…said many ranchers and farmers in the state would rather pass along their businesses – “their life’s work” – to their children and grandchildren than see the federal government take a large chunk. “If you have spent your whole life building a ranch, and you wanted to pass your estate on to your children, and you were 88 years old and on dialysis, and the only thing that was keeping you alive was that dialysis, you might make that same decision,” Lummis told reporters.

The class-warfare crowd doubtlessly will dismiss these concerns, but they should set aside their ideology and do some research. Four years ago, two Australian scholars published an article on this issue in Topics in Economic Analysis & Policy, which is published by the Berkeley Electronic Press. Entitled “Did the Death of Australian Inheritance Taxes Affect Deaths?”, their paper looked at the roles of tax, incentives, and death rates. The abstract has an excellent summary.

In 1979, Australia abolished federal inheritance taxes. Using daily deaths data, we show that approximately 50 deaths were shifted from the week before the abolition to the week after. This amounts to over half of those who would have been eligible to pay the tax. …our results imply that over the very short run, the death rate may be highly elastic with respect to the inheritance tax rate.

And here’s a graph from the article, which shows how many affected taxpayers managed to delay death until the tax went away.

Obama and other class-warfare politicians now want to run this experiment in reverse. I already noted in another blog post that there are Americans who are acutely aware of the hugely beneficial tax implications if they die in 2010. In other words, Congresswoman Lummis almost certainly is right.

I don’t actually think that Obama, Rangel, Baucus and the rest of the big-government crowd should be blamed for any premature deaths that occur. But I definitely think that they should be asked if they feel any sense of guilt, remorse, and/or indirect responsibility.