As I have explained on numerous occasions, supporters of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) -- which would end federal guaranteed student loans, turn everything into lending direct from Uncle Sam, and spend the resulting savings and way much more -- have often shamelessly promoted the bill as a boon to taxpayers when it will almost certainly cost them tens-of-billions. Where they have generally been right is in rebutting criticisms that SAFRA would be a federal takeover of a private industry. With lender profits all but assured under federal guaranteed lending, the vast majority of student loans haven't been truly private for decades.
Unfortunately, SAFRA advocates are just as clueless -- or, more likely, rhetorically unbridled -- about what constitutes a private entity as are status-quo supporters. Case in point, an article in today's Huffington Post that, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, attempts to portray the suddenly rocky road ahead for SAFRA as a result of evil lender lobbyists dropping boulders in the selfless legislation's way:
Taking aim at Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the country and a driving force behind the lobbying effort, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday accused the company of using taxpayer funds to lobby and advertise, and cast its executives as white-collar millionaires uninterested in serious education reform.
"Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists -- the backbone of the new economy -- face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs," Duncan said.
Here Sallie Mae is painted in the same ugly hues as Lehman Brothers, AIG, and all the other supposedly rapacious, unscrupulous companies whose unchecked greed, we're told, brought the American economy to its knees. (We also get the baseless but obligatory pronouncement about "crushing debt" for teachers and other toilers for the "public good.")
But wait! Doesn't "Sallie Mae" sound a lot like"Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac"? Of course! That's because just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie was created by the federal government, only with Sallie's job being to furnish lots of cheap college loans. And guess what? Just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie became by far the biggest kid on her block because her huge federal creator fed her and protected her for decades, not setting her off on her own until 1996. But that part of her story doesn't fit anywhere into the evil corporation narrative, so it's just not mentioned. All we need to know is Sallie is private, her owners and employees make a lot of money, and that is why she is evil and dangerous.
And so the politics of demonization and denial, a staple of the recession blame game, continues. Private institutions are portrayed as malevolent predators and government as a warm, pure, protective father-figure. But there is much more accurate imagery possible when it comes to Sallie Mae: Egomaniacal Dr. Frankenstein furiously blaming the monster he created for doing exactly what he built it to do.
And some wonder why there's such widespread outrage -- the real reason SAFRA is in trouble -- about ever-expanding federal power?
- A libertarian primer on the real meaning of the phrase "campaign finance reform." For more, read John Samples' book, The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform.
- New report shows that Head Start, a sacrosanct (and very expensive) federal education program, doesn't work. So what should we do about it? Give it more money of course!
- "In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed spending another $4 billion annually on K–12 public education. He did not mention that state, local, and federal governments already spend well over twice what they did in 1980, or that there has been no discernible improvement in student achievement during that period." Just sayin'.
- Michael Tanner on Obama's faith-based boondoggle: "The faith-based initiative was a typical example of Bush-style "big-government" conservatism. It has been co-opted by the Obama administration as another weapon for social engineering."
Yesterday, I wrote about President Obama's proposal to extend the Race to the Top program, this time letting school districts completely bypass state governments and apply directly to the feds for funding. I pointed out that the proposal was one among several troubling signs that Obama intends to put Washington fully -- and, of course, unconstitutionally -- in charge of American education. At the time, I didn't realize how right I was.
When I was writing yesterday I was basing my comments on documents from the White House's website and hadn't yet read the details of what went on at the President's photo-op announcing the proposed extension. I sure wish I had: At the dog-and-pony show, the President just came right out and said that he wants to push aside states -- mentioned by name was famous holdout Texas -- that dared to invoke the Constitution and not participate in a program that was, Constitution or no Constitution, supposed to be voluntary.
"Innovative districts like the one in Texas whose reform efforts are being stymied by state decision-makers will soon have the chance to earn funding to help them pursue those reforms," intoned the President.
Fortunately, Texas Governor Rick Perry wasn't about to be cowed: "I will say this very slow so they will understand it in Washington, D.C.: Texas will fight any attempt by the federal government to take over our school system."
So it's pretty certain now, more so even than just 24 hours ago: President Obama wants to federalize American education.
Thankfully, a lot can clearly happen in 24 hours. Yesterday's election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts could very well send shockwaves of fear through the ranks of Democratic (and maybe even Republican) legislators in DC, who might finally get the message that Americans just don't like federal takovers. Heck, perhaps even the President will get the message. If so, then maybe even something as relatively small as a $1.35-billion scalpel designed to cut through states and get right at districts could be seen as too dangerous to handle.
That's speculation, of course, but we should know a lot more in just, oh, the next 24 hours.
In his ongoing effort to micromanage the U.S. economy President Obama used his Dec. 12 weekly radio address to promote his proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. It will be filled with bureaucrats second-guessing entrepreneurs and is sure to improve the performance of our financial institutions -- much in the manner of the SEC’s bureaucrats alertly nailing Bernie Madoff just 30 years into his Ponzi scheme. Never mind that the federal government had much more to do with the financial meltdown than the banks did, the real knee-slapper in his address was his claim that the CFPA "would bring new transparency and accountability to the financial markets…" This, from a man demanding passage of a 2000-page health care reform bill that no one, including Mr. Obama, has read. So much for transparency and accountability.
In his Brookings Institution speech yesterday, President Obama called for more Keynesian-style spending stimulus for the economy, including increased investment on government projects and expanded subsidy payments to the unemployed and state governments. The package might cost $150 billion or more.
The president said that we've had to "spend our way out of this recession." We've certainly had massive spending, but it doesn't seem to have helped the economy, as the 10 percent unemployment rate attests to.
It's not just that the Obama "stimulus" package from February has apparently failed. The total Keynesian stimulus is not measured by the spending in that bill only, but by the total size of federal government deficits.
The chart shows that while the federal deficit (the total "stimulus" amount) has skyrocketed over the last three years, the unemployment rate has more than doubled. (The unemployment rate is the fiscal year average. Two months are included for FY2010.)
The total Keynesian stimulus of recent years has included the Bush stimulus bill in early 2008, TARP, large increases in regular appropriations, soaring entitlement spending, the Obama stimulus package from February, rising unemployment benefits, and falling revenues, which are "automatic stabilizers" according to Keynesian theory.
The deficit-fueled Keynesian approach to recovery is not working. The time is long overdue for the Democrats in Congress and advisers in the White House to reconsider their Keynesian beliefs and to start entertaining some market-oriented policies to get the economy moving again.
Speaking of White House gate-crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi (as we were trying to think of an excuse to do, to increase blog traffic), Slate says they might be guilty of a federal crime. What crime? Well, possibly trespassing on federal property. Or maybe the "broad prohibition on lying to the federal government." Title 18, section 1001 of the U.S. Code
can be used to prosecute anyone who "knowingly and willfully … falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact" or "makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" to the government. That could include lying about your arrest record on a government job application, claiming a fake deduction on your taxes, or telling someone you're on the White House invite list when you're not.
I can't help wondering, is there any equally broad prohibition on lying by the federal government? If the federal government, or a federal agency, or a federal official "knowingly and willfully ... falsifies, conceals, or covers up" information or "makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" -- about the costs of a new entitlement, or how a candidate for reelection will act in his next term, or case for going to war -- is that prohibited? Or are the rules tougher on the ruled than the rulers?
The Associated Press reports:
The federal government is wading into deliberations over the future of journalism as printed newspapers, television stations and other traditional media outlets suffer from Americans' growing reliance on the Internet.
With the media business in a state of economic distress as audiences and advertisers migrate online, the Federal Trade Commission began a two-day workshop Tuesday to examine the profound challenges facing media companies and explore ways the government can help them survive.
Media executives taking part are looking for a new business model for an industry that is watching traditional advertising revenue dry up, without online revenue growing quickly enough to replace it. Government officials want to protect a critical pillar of democracy—a free press.
"News is a public good," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "We should be willing to take action if necessary to preserve the news that is vital to democracy."
Language mavens, observe the lede: The federal government is "wading into deliberations." I infer that in Newspeak, this may mean something like "trying to spend more money." Perhaps I should look forward to the federal government wading into deliberations over my salary? (On second thought, maybe not.)
Some of the proposals aimed at saving traditional journalism are relatively innocuous, like letting newspapers become tax-exempt nonprofits. At least this wouldn't do too much harm, and, given recent performance in the industry, it approaches being fiscally neutral.
Other ideas, like forcing search engines to pay royalties to copyright holders, would have far more serious consequences. It's hard to see whom this proposal would hurt worse, the search engines, socked with massive fees, or the copyright holders themselves -- if search engines don't index you, you don't exist anymore.
The surest loser, though, would be the rest of us. Restricting the flow of news for the financial benefit of Rupert Murdoch seems a far cry from our Constitution, which allows Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Burdening search engines seems only to inhibit the progress of science and the useful arts, while enriching a small number of people. It might pass the letter of the law, but I doubt that this is what the founders had in mind.
But anyway.... shame on Americans for our "growing reliance on the Internet"! Don't we realize that, as the article notes, "a free press is a critical pillar of democracy" -- and that a free press only counts, apparently, if it's on dead trees?
I'm all in favor of the good the press can do, but it strikes me as shortsighted to think that this good can only be done in the traditional media. It also seems foolish to me to think that tying the press more closely to the government will make it more critical and independent. Often, the very best journalism comes from complete outsiders. I'm reminded of Radley Balko's recent (and excellent) takedown of the claim that Internet journalists are basically parasites:
In 20 years, the Gannett-owned Jackson Clarion-Ledger never got around to investigating Steven Hayne, despite the fact that all the problems associated with him and Mississippi’s autopsy system are and have been fairly common knowledge around the state for decades. It wasn’t until the Innocence Project, spurred by my reporting, called for Hayne’s medical license that the paper had no choice but to begin to cover a huge story that had been going on right under its nose for two decades.
... That’s when the paper starting stealing my scoops. Me, a web-based reporter working on a relatively limited budget. Like this story (covered by the paper a week later). And this one (covered by the paper weeks later here). Oh, and that well-funded traditional media giant CNN did the same thing.
Tell me again, who's the parasite here? And why should taxpayers bail out yet another industry that isn't delivering what we want?