Tag: Wall Street Journal

A Lame Duck, a National/Voter ID, and the Pun That Makes it All Worthwhile

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this morning, John Fund speculates about a post-election, lame-duck strategy in which Democrats move a variety of controversial proposals before giving up power to November’s presumed victors. Among these proposals is “a federally mandated universal voter registration system to override state laws.”

The answer to that idea is No.

Part of the reason is because this proposal hasn’t seen any discussion or debate. Its benefits, costs, and consequences have had no public vetting.

Likely, a national voter ID system would also be a national ID system. Its utility in addressing whatever voter fraud there is would be matched or outstripped by its utility for controlling our access to health care, travel, guns, financial services, and every other thing that the federal government might like to regulate more thoroughly. That’s also part of why the answer is No.

I’m not too worried. Fund is interested in voter and election fraud, so he may be overweighting the likelihood of legislation to address it. And, as I said this morning in a broader WashingtonWatch.com blog post worth reading only for the pun, “Chances are that Fund is using the lame-duck speculation to goose (yuk yuk) his generally conservative readership, and that the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate aren’t thinking that far ahead yet.”

‘Perfect Citizen’: Congress’ Perfect Failure

Reliable national security reporter Siobhan Gorman at the Wall Street Journal has broken a story about an Internet surveillance program called “Perfect Citizen” to be managed by the National Security Agency.

Reading about it is frustrating, and for me blame quickly settles on Congress. Our legislature is utterly supine before the national security bureaucracy, which exaggerates cybersecurity threats and consistently uses the secrecy trump card to defy oversight.

If there is to be a federal government role in securing the Internet from cyberattacks, there is no good reason why its main components should not be publicly known and openly debated. Small parts, like threat signatures and such—the unique characteristics of new attacks—might be appropriately kept secret, but no favor is done to any potential attackers by revealing that there is a system for detecting their activities.

A cybersecurity effort that is not tested by public oversight will be weaker than ones that are scrutinized by private-sector experts, academics, security vendors, and watchdog groups.

Benign intentions do not control future results, and governmental surveillance of the Internet for “cybersecurity” purposes may warp over time to surveillance for ideological and political purposes.

These abstract criticisms of “Project Citizen” are all that publicly available information allows. Far better would come from me and others more qualified if Congress were to do its job.

Congress owes it to us, the United States’ true citizens, to have public hearings on “Perfect Citizen.” Congress should reject broad assertions of secrecy so that the whole body politic can participate in securing our country from all threats.

Congressional and public oversight—searching oversight that tests assumptions and asks hard questions—would strengthen any government cybersecurity effort we find warranted. It would also ameliorate the threat of such programs to our civil liberties, democratic processes, and privacy.

Two Cheers for the U.S. Economy

Two articles in today’s Wall Street Journal deal with the housing sector.  They complement each other. Journal reporters note that “Industry Speeds Recovery, And Housing Slows It Down.”  The story notes that that “ground-breaking for new homes and applications for building permits both plunged last month.”  Meanwhile, U.S. industrial output showed strong growth in May.

Bravo for both numbers, which are inter-related.  The headline (over which reporters have no control) reflects conceptual confusion.  U.S. industrial production is strong at least in part because construction of new homes is weak.   The bloated home sector is no longer absorbing a disproportionate share of economic resources.  The new homeowners tax credit has mercifully expired, ending that bit of misguided stimulus.

David Wessel’s article, “Rethinking Home Ownership,” further clarifies the reallocation of resources taking place in the U.S. economy.  Beginning in the 1990s, the federal government adopted a number of policies to stimulate home ownership.  As Wessel makes clear, it was a bipartisan effort.  Home ownership rates rose from around 65% to a peak of 69.4% in 2004.  It was an unsustainable policy, a true asset bubble.

Home ownership rates have now fallen back to where they began, or even below.  The experience of the 1990s and early 2000s in housing demonstrates why government stimulus is not a permanent source of demand, nor the path to sustainable economic growth. Lest we forget, the folly of these programs is measured not just in housing numbers, but in shattered dreams and hopes and ruined lives. And the terrible financial crisis to which these programs contributed

New York State Should Cut Property Taxes

The New York Times editorialists are at it again.  June 12th’s lead editorial, “The Latest Work Dodge: A Shutdown,” frets over the specter of the New York state government being shut down because Albany’s legislators can’t agree on a budget.  Well, the Times must have breathed a collective sigh of relief late Monday (June 14th).  That’s when the State Senate passed Governor Paterson’s 11th temporary budget extender, which allowed state offices to hang out “open for business” signs on Tuesday.

But, the Times wants a final state budget and claims that more taxing and borrowing and maybe some cuts in school aid will do the trick.  One item that the Times wants off the table in Albany is property taxes.  According to the Times, Democratic state senators outside New York City should stop pushing for restrictions on the rate of growth of property taxes.  I agree.  Instead, the legislators should start pushing for sharp cuts in New York’s oppressive property taxes.  When every U.S. county is ranked according to its average property-tax bill, as a percent of home values, 14 of the highest 15 are in New York state.

As Prof. Steve Walters and I concluded in “A Property Tax Cut Could Help Save Buffalo” (Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2008),  New York should follow California and Massachusetts and cut property taxes.  Voters capped property taxes in California at 1% of market value with Proposition 13 in 1978. That forced San Francisco to cut its rate by 57% overnight and brought forth a tidal wave of investment, even amidst a recession. By 1982, inflation-adjusted city revenues were two-thirds higher than they had been before Prop. 13. Massachusetts voters passed Prop 2 ½ in 1980, forcing Boston’s property tax rate down by an estimated 75% within two years. Massive reinvestment, repopulation and urban renewal followed.

Perfidious Albion?

Today’s Wall Street Journal excerpted a Peter Hitchens Daily Mail column and then inexplicably tried to stick it behind the pay wall on their website.  (Peter is the “Anti-War, Pro-God” Hitchens, not the “Pro-War, Anti-God” Hitchens.)

Because I’m feeling subversive–and because the column was a good piece of prose–let’s take a look.  Hitchens is talking about the Obama White House vs. BP in the context of the US-England relationship, and lets loose:

…Far too many people – many of them academics, many politicians – continue to jabber about a supposed ‘special relationship’ between our two countries.

I used to think that no such thing existed. Recently, I have become convinced that it does, and that it is in fact a Specially Bad Relationship.

Americans may say they love our accents (I have been accused of sounding ‘like Princess Di’) but the more thoughtful ones resent and rather dislike us as a nation and people, as friends of mine have found out by being on the edge of conversations where Americans assumed no Englishmen were listening.

And it is the English, specifically, who are the targets of this. Few Americans have heard of Wales. All of them have heard of Ireland and many of them think they are Irish. Scotland gets a sort of free pass, especially since Braveheart re-established the Scots’ anti-English credentials among the ignorant millions who get their history off the TV.

Words such as ‘arrogant’ and ‘snobbish’ occur – and the ceaseless use of English actors in Hollywood movies to portray haughty, cruel villains is not accidental. Sometimes it bursts out into the open. Mel Gibson’s atrocious anti-English propaganda film The Patriot pretty much equated the Redcoats with the Nazi SS. And it played to full and enthusiastic houses.

Some of this is deep-buried. The American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is a des­cription of a British naval bombardment of Baltimore. It refers to the presence of British troops on American soil as ‘their foul footsteps’ pollution’. There’s always been a rough, republican anti-English spirit, well expres­sed by the Mayor of Chicago, Big Bill Thompson, who threatened to punch King George V ‘in the snoot’ if he ever came that way. His Majesty didn’t.

Apart from the war of 1812 to 1814, the two countries have almost come to blows many times. It was American pressure that forced us out of the first rank of naval powers in the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which led to our defeat at Singapore 20 years later. The last physical clash was in 1956 when the US Sixth Fleet harassed the Royal Navy on its way to Suez, deliberately steering destroyers dangerously close to our battle line. But by then Washington had learned money spoke louder than guns, and Dwight Eisenhower forced us to abort the operation by threatening to bankrupt us.

During an assignment in Washington I watched Bill Clinton fawn over the grisly IRA apologist Gerry Adams. I learned that White House officials regarded us as on a level with, say, Yugoslavia – an annoying, backward European nation to be ordered about and forbidden to control its internal affairs.

That’s how it really stands. I would like a British Government to behave as if it understood this, instead of mouthing outdated and meaningless fake Chur­chillian ‘Finest Hour’ rubbish.

What Would Reagan Do on Immigration?

Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson tries to answer that very good question in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s a question my conservative Republican friends should ask themselves as the party tries, once again, to turn public opposition to illegal immigration into political success at the polls.

Robinson correctly observes that Reagan would have had nothing to do with the anger and inflamed rhetoric that so often marks the immigration debate today. “Ronald Reagan was no kind of nativist,” he concludes, noting that Reagan was always reaching out to voters beyond the traditional Republican base, including the fast-growing Hispanic population.

It’s worth remembering that Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which opened the door to citizenship for nearly 3 million people who had been living in the country illegally. Robinson is confident Reagan would have supported the kind of comprehensive immigration reform championed by President George W. Bush and approved by the Senate in 2006.

For the record, I made similar observations and included a few of the same Reagan quotes in an op-ed I wrote soon after Reagan’s passing in June 2004

My only quibble with Robinson is his assertion that Reagan would have insisted that we successfully enforce the current immigration law first before contemplating any changes. It’s true that the 1986 IRCA contained new enforcement measures and launched an exponential rise in spending on border enforcement. But by all accounts the 1986 law failed to stem the inflow of illegal immigration.

My hunch is that President Reagan would not have simply favored spending more money on an approach that has so clearly failed to deliver. Although he embraced the conservative label, Reagan was always ready to challenge the status quo and change the law to further his vision of a free society and limited government.

I wish more of the Gipper’s admirers today shared his benevolent attitude toward immigration.

New Crime Stats Contradict Anti-Immigrant Hype

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.