House Bans ‘Driving While Mexican’

Buried in the $410 billion catch-all appropriations bill now before the U.S. Senate is a provision that would end a program that has allowed Mexican truck drivers to deliver goods to destinations inside the United States.

A provision in the original North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 was supposed to allow U.S. and Mexican trucking companies to deliver goods in each other’s country. But opposition from the Teamsters union and old-fashioned prejudice against Mexicans has derailed implementation of the provision.

Under current restrictions, goods coming into the United States from Mexico by truck must be unloaded inside the “commercial zone” within 20 miles or so of either side of the border and transferred to U.S.-owned trucks for final delivery. U.S. goods going to Mexico face the same inefficient and unnecessary restrictions.

The Bush administration established a pilot program that allows certain Mexican trucking companies that meet U.S. safety and other standards to deliver goods directly to U.S. destinations, while the Mexican government has agreed to allow reciprocal access to its market. But the Democratic Congress and the new Democratic president have vowed to finally kill the program, and the provision inside the appropriations bill will probably deliver the final blow.

As I argued in an article in 2007, the Mexican trucks that have been allowed to operate in the United States under the pilot program have actually had a better safety record than U.S. trucks.

As I noted in the article, and it still applies today: “The real objection they have to Mexican trucks making deliveries to U.S. cities is not that they are unsafe, but that those trucks are driven by Mexicans. In the eyes of congressional leaders, ‘driving while Mexican’ remains an unacceptable public hazard.”

Defense Cost Overruns

Wow, a bipartisan effort to actually do something about government waste. From the Washington Post today:

A bill to end cost overruns in major weapons systems would create a powerful new Pentagon position – director of independent cost assessments – to review cost analyses and estimates, separately from the military branch requesting the program.

Those reviews, unlike in the current process, would take place at key points in the acquisition process before a weapons program can proceed, according to legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

This seems like a step forward, but cost overruns are a big problem across the entire federal government, not just at the Pentagon. Federal financial management of energy, highway, and computer projects has been appalling, for example. I’ve written about this here and elsewhere.

The government needs to buy weapons, and so we should try to improve the Pentagon process as best we can. However, the federal government does not need to buy highways, airports, air traffic control computers and many other things that have chronic cost overruns. Those items should be privatized.

Homeschool an Option for Tough Times

Spouse out of work? Can’t keep up private tuition for the kids? Try homeschooling:

Christopher Klicka of Warrenton, Va., senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association and co-teacher along with his wife of seven homeschooled children, says hard times enhance homeschooling’s appeal as private school tuition becomes unaffordable and some public schools contemplate cutbacks.

“People are looking to homeschooling as an alternative more now in light of economic circumstances,” he said, citing its low cost and potential for strengthening family bonds.

At Allendale Academy in Clearwater, Fla., which provides resources for homeschoolers, enrollment has risen 50 percent over the past two years to about 900 students as families desert private schools, says academy director Patricia Carter.

“Often one parent has been laid off,” she said. “That makes private school tuition impossible, and they don’t want to send their kids back to public school.”

Her academy charges $65 per year to support students through 8th grade, $95 for high school students, compared to private school tuitions often running many thousands of dollars per year.

For frugal families, homeschooling can be a good fit. Used academic material is available at low cost; free research resources are on tap on the Internet and at libraries.

Will the ‘Rise of the Counterinsurgents’ Lead to Fewer Counterinsurgency Wars?

Matt Yglesias picks up on the Bacevich review I referenced below and points to a post from counterinsurgency (COIN) scholar Andrew Exum in which Exum argues that learning to do counterinsurgency better will lead to our doing less of it:

No one who really understands COIN wants to do it. Liberal interventionalists and neo-conservatives are likely to be much more enthusiastic than the practitioners themselves. Counter-insurgents, often knowing something of what they speak through practical and hard-won experience, realize all too well just how difficult and costly big schemes drawn up in Washington become when they have to be operationalized. Counter-insurgency is hard. Best to avoid it, actually.

This doesn’t make much sense.  Exum has previously excoriated COIN skeptic Gian Gentile for pursuing an “anti-COIN crusade.” But by Exum’s reasoning above, it is Exum who should be on an anti-COIN crusade.  Instead, Exum thinks that DOD needs to allocate more resources to doing COIN.

Academically, Exum is interested in insurgencies.  And indeed – they’re interesting.  But for the COIN clique to think that their realistic appreciation of the difficulties of COIN and their private reticence to do it is going to outweigh their technocratic advice and willingness to obey orders in the minds of policymakers, I think they’re gravely mistaken.  The work of the COIN crowd is going to create the impression in the minds of policymakers that the military knows how to win counterinsurgencies and therefore we don’t need an “Iraq syndrome.”  But we do need an Iraq syndrome.

Take, for one example of my argument, the thinking of Bush NSC official Peter Feaver.*  He thinks, as I do, that making COIN doctrine central to American foreign policy thought is going to create a future in which US foreign policy will continue to look like that of President Bush.  Except for Feaver, that’s a feature, not a bug:

The problem with Chris’s post on COIN is that it takes the existing debate at face value, as if it really were a debate about the best way to do COIN or its place in American national security. I don’t think it is.

Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that all of the COIN critics Chris cites are sincere patriots who honestly believe what they have written and have no deeper agenda. Setting them aside, the larger debate seems driven by one of three deeper considerations. First, anti-COIN is a convenient way to argue against American military involvement in any fashion because the most urgent near-term threats requiring military operations involve COIN. So if your ideology tells you that the dominant problem in the world is American militarism; if you look at recent history and can only find cases where we did use military force and shouldn’t have and can find no cases where we did not use military force and should have; if you think that getting defeated in Iraq (or Afghanistan) would have a salutary chastening effect on American adventurism; if any or all of that applies, then it makes sense to argue against Gates’ emphasis on COIN now. If the U.S. military cannot or will not do COIN, then the U.S. military cannot and will not be operational.

Does Exum think this policymaker’s view is wrong?  Aberrant?  I think its descriptive content is exactly accurate and characteristic.  Orienting planning and resources more toward COIN is likely to lead to more counterinsurgency wars.  I’m pretty confident in this prediction.  If somebody disagrees, I’d like to hear a better fleshed out argument behind the idea that telling policymakers “we now know how to do COIN pretty well” will lead to those policymakers to decide we ought to do it less.


* One really ought to note how sad it is to see this sort of mendacious, straw-man writing coming from an academic, intimating as Feaver does that anti-COIN scholars aren’t “sincere patriots” and that they have some “deeper agenda.”  Both Bacevich and Gentile, to whom Feaver is referring in particular, are military veterans, and Bacevich’s son was killed in the sands of Iraq while Mr. Feaver was working at the Bush NSC, trying to come up with innovative ways to convince Americans that the war was going well.

UPDATE: Professor Feaver writes in to say that by “Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that all of the COIN critics Chris cites are sincere patriots who honestly believe what they have written and have no deeper agenda” he meant to make the positive statement that these people are patriots with noble intentions and didn’t mean to intimate they could be insincere patriots of questionable honesty with deeper agendas. He also disputes the factual accuracy of the Times article linked above and points to this Commentary piece as the definitive account of his work at the Bush NSC.

The Bridge to Your Wallet

The Bridge to Your WalletThe airwaves and Intertubes are filled with images of this bridge in Missouri – the first transportation project in the nation to be funded through the stimulus bill signed by president Obama last month. In their coverage of this project, the media uniformly point to the jobs it has created for local workers, and neglect to reflect on its economic costs.

As Doug Bandow pointed out in his earlier post, even Congress’s own Budget Office expects the stimulus to shrink our economy in the long term. And the CBO’s analysis is arguably too rosy, neglecting the crucial psychological effect of Washington’s unprecedented spending spree on American consumers.

An NBC/WSJ public opinion poll found in January that “60 percent say they’re concerned that the government will spend too much money in trying to stimulate the economy, ultimately increasing the size of the debt.” That’s up from 57 percent who were already terrified by Bailout Mania back in November of 2008. What do people do when they’re scared about the state of the economy? They. Stop. Spending.

Supporters of bailouts and “stimuli” imagine that they can overcome consumers’ tight-fistedness in the short term, but they fail to realize that each new lavish increase in federal spending makes taxpayers more nervous about their ability to repay the ballooning federal debt and about the future of the U.S. economy. So while the Bridge to Your Wallet may have created a handful of local construction jobs in Missouri, it is almost certainly costing many others around the nation.

Cautious taxpayers look at that bridge project, at the mind-boggling accumulation of federal bailouts and stimuli and the biggest federal budget in history, and they cancel major purchases and family vacations. They eat at home instead of supporting their local restaurants. They do exactly the opposite of what the president and Congress are expecting.

If the media insist on doing more stories about the Bridge to Your Wallet, they should look at the polling and spending data showing how Washington’s spending spree is scaring the public into spending less – defeating the very purpose of the stimulus. They should interview restaurant and hotel owners and ask them just how economically stimulated they feel at the moment.

A ‘Stimulus’ Bill that Makes Us Worse Off

Even after being in Washington for nearly three decades, I still occasionally marvel at the stupidity and foolishness of the denizens of Capitol Hill.  Like the recent “stimulus” bill.  There’s no doubt that it is waste and abuse personified, much of it derived from the standard big-spending liberal wish list.  But we were told that wouldn’t matter, since spending, any spending, is what was necessary to get the economy moving.

But it turns out that even the Congressional Budget Office–the legislative branch’s own analytical agency–figures the legislation will make us worse in the long-term.  On Monday CBO reaffirmed its earlier conclusion:

In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, the legislation will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates. The principal channel for that effect, which would also arise from other proposals to provide short-term economic stimulus by increasing government spending or reducing revenues, is that the law will result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth as government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased debt will tend to reduce the stock of productive private capital. In economic parlance, the debt will “crowd out” private investment. (Crowding out is unlikely to occur in the short run under current conditions, because most firms are lowering investment in response to reduced demand, which stimulus can offset in part.) CBO’s basic assumption is that, in the long run, each dollar of additional debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital (with the remainder of the rise in debt offset by increases in private saving and inflows of foreign capital). Because of uncertainty about the degree of crowding out, however, CBO has incorporated both more and less crowding out into its range of estimates of the long-run effects of the stimulus legislation.

Since CBO expects the U.S. to return to full employment, the impact of the lower GDP will be lower wages:

The reduction in GDP is therefore estimated to be reflected in lower wages rather than lower employment, as workers will be slightly less productive because the capital stock is slightly smaller.

So, we are going massively into debt and mortgaging the future of the young for the purpose of … shrinking the economy!  Workers will find themselves paying higher taxes to fund wasteful spending while … earning less!  No wonder Washington is such an alien place to most Americans.  Even after spending most of my adult life here, I still don’t get it.

Your Government at Work

In case you are the careless sort who doesn’t ask who is funding all of those wonderful government projects around you, the Obama administration intends to create a special stimulus brand.  Really.

Reports ABC News:

President Obama announced today that his administration will begin stamping an emblem on projects funded by the economic stimulus package so that people can easily recognize the effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

All projects will be stamped with the ARRA logo (short for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and lists the recovery.gov website on the emblem.

Aara_logo_2

In remarks at the Department of Transportation this morning, Mr. Obama referenced the new emblems.

“We’re also making it easier for Americans to see what projects are being funded with their money as part of our recovery. So in the weeks to come, the signs denoting these projects are going to bear the new emblem of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Obama said. “These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people – a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely, to put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done.  So when you see them on projects that your tax dollars made possible, let it be a reminder that our government – your government – is doing its part to put the economy back on the road of recovery.”

Of course, I’m sure the program has nothing to do with the desire to win political points for bringing goodies to the voters.  No one in Washington thinks like that.  On the other hand, when the inevitable abuse and waste emerges, the administration might begin tearing off its brand as quickly as it once put it on.