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What’s Wrong with Internet Sales Tax

Daniel J. Mitchell

Let’s assume you live in Utah, Hawaii or South Carolina, and you go to Nevada for a vacation. While in Las Vegas, you spend some money in the casinos.

Gambling is illegal in the state where you live, so should the cops in your home state be able to track your activities and arrest you for what happened in Nevada?

The answer, needless to say, is no. Or at least it should be no. Common sense tells us that state laws should only apply to things that happen inside a state’s borders.

But this sensible principle is being tossed out the window by the U.S. Senate, which has approved a proposal that would give states the ability to impose their taxes on out-of-state sellers.

Many people think this is a debate about “taxing the Internet,” but that’s a misleading characterization.

If a merchant in your state makes an online sale to you or your neighbor, that seller will collect the sales tax levied by your state.

And if a merchant in another state makes an online sale to you or your neighbor, that seller is subject to any taxes imposed by the state where it is based.

But some governors and state legislators don’t like this system because many states don’t bother imposing any tax on sales to out-of-state consumers. And even if states levied taxes on sales to out-of-state consumers, what about the five states that don’t have any sales tax? Wouldn’t those states become “tax havens” for Internet sales?

For these reasons, some politicians fret that the Internet will put competitive pressure on them to keep their sales tax rates from getting too high.

These concerns are overblown. People generally shop online because of convenience, not tax savings. But it’s also a good thing when states are forced to compete with each other.

States with no payroll income taxes, such as Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and New Hampshire, help restrain the greed of politicians in states that have punitive income tax systems, such as California, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts.

And if politicians in the high-tax states refuse to adjust their bad tax policies, then people should have the freedom to escape and earn income in other states.

The same principle applies to sales taxes. If politicians in, say, Arizona are worried that consumers will go online or travel across the border to avoid the punitive sales tax, then they should reduce their sales tax rate.

Politicians can choose to maintain uncompetitive tax systems, of course, but they also should be prepared to accept the consequences. I don’t think California and Illinois should try to become the France and Greece of America, but that’s something for the voters of those states to figure out for themselves.

In any event, they shouldn’t have the right to force out-of-state sellers to act as deputy tax collection officials if they decide to impose bad tax policy.

But this debate isn’t just about tax policy and the proper limits of state government power.

The bill still must go through the U.S. House, where the GOP is divided on the issue. If politicians in Washington approve the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, they’ll not only be authorizing extraterritorial tax enforcement, they’ll also be setting in motion the creation of a database that will erode privacy for consumers and create opportunities for identity theft.

This is because the legislation only can be enforced if governments set up some sort of system for tracking where consumers live, what they buy and how much it costs. With 9,600 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States (cities and counties also impose sales taxes), this is a compliance nightmare.

And it means that your personal and financial details will be collected and stored in a database that will be a magnet for criminals and hackers from all over the world.

To be blunt, a sales tax cartel is bad news for tax policy and bad news for privacy. Let’s limit the power of state governments so they can only screw up things inside their own borders.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


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Tax Havens Should Be Emulated, Not Persecuted

Daniel J. Mitchell

When the financial crisis hit, politicians from high-tax nations didn’t let the crisis go to waste. Acting through the G-20, they launched an attack on so-called tax havens, asserting that “hot money” from the offshore world somehow had caused the banking system to become unstable.

This campaign against low-tax jurisdictions made no sense. Nobody in the Cayman Islands or Monaco was responsible for the Federal Reserve’s easy money. Nobody in Panama or Singapore had anything to do with the corrupt system of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac subsidies. As Yogi Berra would say, it’s now déjà vu all over again. Tax havens are being attacked again, though this time they’re fighting a two-front battle.

The first attack was launched a few months ago by a left-wing international bureaucracy based in Paris. Funded with American tax dollars, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report on “Addressing Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,” (BEPS) and will follow up in a few months with specific recommendations.

What makes this debate so surreal is that the United States actually is one of the world’s biggest tax havens.”

This new OECD scheme is targeting multinational companies for a big tax hike, probably by requiring global tax returns, but that means tax havens are in the cross hairs because their pro-growth tax policies make them attractive locations for cross-border economic activity. Indeed, the OECD specifically has complained that “small jurisdictions act as conduits, receiving disproportionately large amounts of Foreign Direct Investment compared to large industrialised countries and investing disproportionately large amounts in major developed and emerging economies.”

In other words, the bureaucrats (who rather conveniently get tax-free salaries while trying to raise the burden on the rest of us) think well-run jurisdictions such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands somehow are bad because big companies are attracted by their non-destructive tax policies.

The OECD deserves credit for consistency, as its new campaign isn’t just targeting small tax havens, but will also undermine the relatively attractive fiscal systems in nations such as Ireland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Slovakia, Singapore, Estonia, and the Netherlands. The burden of this will fall not on companies, but on workers, consumers, and shareholders.

The second attack was triggered by the recent theft of client data from service providers in a couple of low-tax jurisdictions, including the British Virgin Islands. This led to news reports that some shady individuals utilized tax havens. The Washington Post tried to foment a scandal because 30 out of 4,000 Americans on the list had some interaction with the legal system.

That’s actually a very low rate. You almost certainly would find far more evidence of misbehavior if you took a random sample of 4,000 Americans from just about any cross-section of the population. Particularly if you examined the financial affairs of 4,000 people from Wall Street. Or 4,000 Prius owners. Or 4,000 people who wear Birkenstocks.

It’s wrong to stereotype and profile based on certain characteristics, yet anti-tax haven demagoguery is perfectly acceptable in political circles since it is seen as expanding the power of government over taxpayers.

The real issue we should be addressing is whether we need some sort of external constraint to protect us from fiscal crises that are triggered by the overspending and overtaxing of the political class.

For a couple of decades following the Reagan and Thatcher tax cuts, governments around the world have been forced by tax competition to lower tax rates, reduce double taxation of saving and investment and reform their tax system.

Defenders of the welfare state and proponents of class-warfare tax policy have resented this liberalizing process and grab any opportunity to demonize tax havens, particularly since these jurisdictions have strong human rights laws that protect the financial privacy of investors.

What makes this debate so surreal is that the United States actually is one of the world’s biggest tax havens, both because of attractive incorporation laws in states such as Delaware and Nevada and because we don’t tax — or require the reporting of — much of the interest and capital gains paid to non-resident foreigners. These policies have been very beneficial to the United States. According to the most recent Commerce Department data, we have more than $20 trillion of foreign funds invested in our financial system.

Instead of persecuting other jurisdictions for doing the same thing, we should be reforming our tax system with a simple and fair flat tax so that American citizens also can benefit from such policies.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


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Budget Problems Continue in Washington

Tad DeHaven

The President on Tuesday signed the continuing resolution that funds the government through September and (gasp) keeps the sequester cuts intact. Now that it appears sequestration isn’t going away (and yet the earth continues to spin merrily on its axis), the focus should be on how this small step might be extended.

Unfortunately, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s relatively modest budget indicates the fight for smaller government will continue to be an uphill battle in the current political climate. The Ryan budget has brought predictable condemnation from the political left. Sen. Harry Reid called it “extreme,” and the New York Times called it “the worst of the Ryan budgets.” The plan’s sin: restraining the growth of federal spending to 3.4 percent instead of 5 percent.

Serious policymakers need to start explaining to the American people how the federal government doing less will do more to enhance their personal and economic well-being.”

While there are some of us that don’t feel the Ryan budget goes nearly far enough, it was never going to become law as is with a Democratic White House and Senate. But here’s the important question: does sequestration and Ryan’s follow-up give proponents of limited government a reason to be optimistic?

Currently, the answer is no.

Sequestration has yet to cause a public revolt and the markets have treated it with indifference throughout. Although the cuts that happened under sequestration are hardly an occasion for a victory lap, they are a small and welcome bit of evidence that government can spend less without society as we know it coming to an end.

Sequestration reduces federal spending by $44 billion this year, which is a relatively small sum considering that total spending will be around $3.5 trillion. The budget deficit alone is projected to be around $850 billion. That means to balance the budget this year, the spending cuts would have to be almost 20 times larger. However, sequestration barely scratches entitlement programs, which dominate the federal budget and are the source of our long-term fiscal problems. And because it doesn’t actually terminate any agencies or programs, spending can be restored in the future.

So in the big picture, sequestration hasn’t changed all that much. Federal spending is still on a dangerous upward trajectory. Unfortunately, while there is much talk about the need to reform the welfare state in order to make it more affordable, the underlying desirability of our centralized system of cradle-to-grave entitlement programs remains virtually unchallenged on Capitol Hill. And while the Pentagon’s bloated budget is being challenged, only a handful of policymakers are questioning the underlying desirability of the United State’s global military footprint.

The size and scope of the federal government needs to be dramatically reduced. Republicans are commonly understood to be in favor of limited government, but their track record suggests otherwise. Federal spending went through the roof under Republican rule in the previous decade. After reclaiming the House in 2010, Republicans positioned themselves as the frugal alternative to the debt-happy Obama administration. Unfortunately, the manner in which Republicans handled sequestration indicates that they are still unwilling or incapable of making a principled argument for smaller government.

Ever the defenders of the warfare state, Republicans bemoaned the sequestration cuts made to the Pentagon’s budget. Mirroring the administration’s orchestrated hysteria over cuts to domestic programs, some Republicans even claimed that the cuts would “gut” the military – a specious assertion considering that military spending under sequestration would be higher in real dollars than peak Cold War spending.

So if sequestration doesn’t do a whole lot to shrink the size and scope of government, what about Mr. Ryan’s proposal? In his budget, Ryan calls for ending Obamacare, but that wouldn’t end the federal government’s involvement in health care. Ryan says that higher education subsidies should be capped, but that wouldn’t end the federal government’s involvement in education. How the federal government delivers the goods might change, but a more efficient government isn’t the same as limited government. And if the goal is limited government, as Republicans often claim, then there has to be actual limits on what the government is involved in.

The tough reality is that the average voter is content to spend other people’s money on programs that they benefit from. And every government program is backed by a special interest that will fight tooth-and-nail to protect their share of Uncle Sam’s loot.

That’s an obviously difficult dynamic to overcome. But if progress is to be made, serious policymakers need to start explaining to the American people how the federal government doing less will do more to enhance their personal and economic well-being. That means making the case for limited government. Until that happens, the question of whether or not proponents of limited government should be optimistic will remain no.

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).


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Countdown to Climate Change: It’s Only 297 Years Away!

Patrick J. Michaels

Every several years, an acronym of federal climate poobahs produces a new “National Assessment” of climate change effects on the U.S. The latest one, by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) has been sent out for “expert review” to ham-and-eggers like yours truly.

After seeing it, I should add another thing to the list of things you don’t want to see being made in Washington. The new list now includes legislation, sausage, and climate assessments.

This is the third go-round, and as it stands, it’s the worst of the lot.

That’s saying something. The first one, in 2000, used two (out of the dozens available) climate models. One predicted the largest precipitation changes of all, and the other the largest changes in temperature. They were both wrong at the time the Assessment was published, predicting three times as much warming as was observed, and having absolutely no forecast skill estimating changes in precipitation. It seemed impossible, but the temperature predictions were worse than one could get from a table of random numbers, a rare example of what should be called negative knowledge; kinda like getting less than 25% correct on a four-way multiple choice test.

You would think $3.5 billion per year of global change science spending would get you some honest background analysis.”

The second one, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 2009, was so bad that I produced an entire look-alike document (available here) for direct comparison to the government’s version, available here. The amount of material missing from the federal report was truly mind-boggling. Ours had hundreds more endnotes. The feds somehow missed hundreds of scientific papers repeatedly documenting the pervasiveness of the growth-enhancing effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which are obvious from satellite images of our getting-greener planet.

But the new one — the capstone of $3.5 billion per year’s worth of public monies — takes the cake.

These reports only rarely contain blatant lies. Instead, we are fed a mélange of half-truths, incomplete statements, and misquoted citations. Who really expects reviewers to dig so deep as to uncover all of these?

Well, I’ve been doing just that for the last six weeks, and will continue until the end of the comment period, which is on April 12. I’ve uncovered some real whoppers, an example of which isn’t going to do much for the sagging reputation of climate types, wounded already by climategate and various data scandals.

Most anthropogenerated climate change is mediated through changes in the two basic variables of temperature and precipitation. Here’s a precipitation forecast, given in Figure 2.12 on page 44 of the 1200-page tome.

image
Per cent change in precipitation between the 1901-60 average and the 2070-99 average, under the “A2” (“higher emission”) scenario.

 

I’m showing the “higher emission” forecast because, in the following analysis, that is the one that cuts the NCADAC the most slack. At any rate, these maps still look like B-A-D stuff’s a-brewin’.

Where there are stripes on the map, NCADAC says that “confidence is large” and the changes are all predicted to be the same sign by their suite of 18 models.

But, nowhere in their 1200 pages is there any context or background. One can be highly confident of a forecast change, but the change can also be operationally meaningless. I’m pretty confident tomorrow is going to be a couple of degrees warmer than today, but does that make any difference to me?

So, to provide this background, I looked only at the high-confidence state-season combinations. I then calculated the standard deviation around the total observed (1901-2011) data and, given the magnitude of the predicted changes through the end of this century, totaled up how many years, with a 50-50 probability, it will take for any change in rainfall to poke its way out of the year-to-year noise. In other words, how long will it take for any forecast to become a detectable change?

There were 84 separate season-state combinations where confidence is large. First, the good news. In nine of these, the predicted change has already come out of the noise. Now the better news — eight of them are precipitation increases, with the most in the spring. Farmers should do handstands over that.

From there on, it’s downhill, fast. On the average, it will be 520 years before a state’s precipitation changes significantly in the summer. In the winter, 330 years. Averaged across all seasons, 297 years. That’s three centuries from now.

You would think $3.5 billion per year of global change science spending would get you some honest background analysis…or maybe you wouldn’t, because, given that detectable statewide rainfall changes are about three centuries away, why would we continue to spend this kind of money on such an overblown bunch of sausage?

Patrick Michaels is Director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute and a senior fellow in research and economic development at George Mason University.


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DPRK Is the World’s Responsibility, Not Just China’s

Ted Galen Carpenter

The satellite launch and subsequent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have greatly increased the level of concern in the United States and its East Asian allies. A frequent response is to demand that China rein in its troublesome ally. There is a growing view in the West, now verging on consensus, that China holds the key to taming Pyongyang’s behavior and solving the crisis caused by the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs. And there is mounting anger that the Chinese government seems unwilling to use its influence in a decisive manner.

Washington Post writer David Ignatius stated in a March 13 column that “through two administrations, the underlying US strategy toward North Korea has been to seek China’s help in containing this destabilizing force in northeast Asia”. But that policy “has largely failed, and the United States should be running out of patience. With depressing consistency, China has failed to step up to its responsibilities as a regional superpower”.

The view Ignatius expressed is neither rare nor recent. A December 2012 editorial in the conservative financial newspaper Investors Business Daily urged the Obama administration “to scrap the weasel words and start shaming China, whose actions are making the UN good for nothing in the face of a rapidly progressing nuclear threat”. More than a decade ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asserted that Beijing could end the North Korean nuclear crisis with a telephone call threatening to cut off aid, and he found it highly suspicious that Chinese officials were unwilling to make that call.

US policymakers and pundits should perhaps examine how a change in US strategy might produce better results.”

Such views overestimate the extent of Beijing’s influence, and often seem designed to make China a scapegoat for the international community’s inability to end Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations. True, China is one of the DPRK’s few allies, and is by far that country’s largest and most important ally. Since the late 1940s, mutual strategic interests and ideological factors have cemented the alliance. Today, China also provides the DPRK with much of the food and energy supplies it requires.

Both the history of the alliance and the current economic relationship mean that Beijing has more influence than any other country in Pyongyang. But that does not translate into being able to dictate to the DPRK’s government. Kim Jong-un’s regime has its own interests, policies, and priorities. Although it certainly listens to its Chinese ally and takes Beijing’s views into account, the decisions are its own.

Indeed, there have been several instances in which Pyongyang has acted contrary to the Chinese government’s wishes. In the weeks leading up to the DPRK’s latest nuclear test, Beijing urged its ally not to take such a disruptive, provocative step. Kim’s government ignored the advice and went ahead with the test.

China has repeatedly signaled to the DPRK that it is disturbed by that country’s destabilizing actions regarding missile and nuclear issues. Beijing has admonished Pyongyang to behave in a more constructive, responsible manner, and China voted for the most recent sanctions in the UN Security Council.

Those in the West who demand that China curb the DPRK’s behavior overrate China’s influence and underrate the potential adverse consequences if Beijing adopted more coercive measures. Short of severing all food and energy assistance, any unilateral sanctions that Beijing might enact would probably not have a decisive impact on Pyongyang’s behavior. The DPRK regards its missile and nuclear programs as high-priority goals, which it is not likely to relinquish — especially without major diplomatic, security, and economic concessions from the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

As such, a decision by China to cut off all food and energy assistance would not only inflict great suffering on the DPRK’s people, it would risk the onset of chaos in the country. That development could produce a major refugee crisis for China and the ROK, as well as other unpredictable but likely very dangerous consequences on the Korean Peninsula. That outcome would not be in the interest of China or any other country involved in dealing with the DPRK.

It is certainly reasonable to ask Beijing to make a more concerted effort to prevent the DPRK’s nuclear crisis from spiraling out of control. But the US and its allies need to do more as well. For decades, Washington’s strategy has emphasized increasing pressure and penalties on Pyongyang while offering few (if any) meaningful incentives — such as normalized diplomatic relations, greatly reduced sanctions, and a peace treaty formally ending the state of war on the Korean Peninsula — for more responsible, conciliatory behavior. That approach of “all sticks and no carrots” has not worked and is not likely to work in the future. Instead of reflexively blaming China for the continuing impasse, US policymakers and pundits should perhaps examine how a change in US strategy might produce better results.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is a co-author of “The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations With North and South Korea.”


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Europe between Planners and Searchers

Dalibor Rohac

In his 2006 book, The White Man’s Burden, William Easterly makes the distinction between “planners” and “searchers” in economic development. Planners like to believe they already have the answers to big questions of economic development, which they often see as simple engineering problems, waiting to be fixed by enlightened political elites.

In contrast, searchers display more humility both in the choice of questions they attempt to address and the answers they provide. Searchers try to address local, context-specific problems, instead of coming up with a “Grand Theory of Development,” and are willing to accept that answers might arise from the bottom up, through experimentation, and trial and error.

Although Easterly’s interest is in economic development, the distinction between planners and searchers is at the heart of many public policy disagreements. And in spite of appearances, the planners versus searchers dichotomy is not an ideological distinction. Some free-marketeers are keen on particular one-size-fits-all solutions (think about proponents of the gold standard), and there may well be people on the political left who understand the idea of context-specificity and local knowledge.

In fact, there is a place for both. Hayek once famously wrote, “this is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not,” but rather a dispute about whether it “is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.” Individuals, firms, and governments do—and should—plan. A problem arises, however, when the limits of planning are not recognized and when it is expected that the planner always has a correct answer to any policy question.

We’ve yet to see the final bill for the ideological blindness of European planners.”

Hayek devoted his life to explaining the pitfalls of one instance of such hubris—the command economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. While in no way commensurable with the atrocities of communism, the ideological commitment of European political elites to the European integration project may well enter history books as yet another illustration of such bloated self-confidence.

Europe has a long-standing “planning” tradition, which the European integration process has mirrored. This intellectual undercurrent encompasses the belief that governments should play an important role in the economy, but more importantly the belief that European countries need to move towards a political union. A corollary is the notion—implicit in European policy debates—that Europe’s problems require a common European response.

Though initially prompted by an ambition to enlarge markets and preserve peace in Europe in the late 1980s, economic and political integration became a one-way street. The Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, stipulated that a single European currency would be created—famously without devising any mechanism for leaving the monetary union.

From then on, the European Union has been on a unidirectional track towards becoming a political union. The Lisbon Treaty, which became effective after Czech President Václav Klaus begrudgingly signed it into law in November 2009, cemented this trend by moving from unanimity to qualified majority in several important policy areas and empowering the European Parliament, among other features. At the same time, however, a sovereign debt crisis began to unfold in the European periphery.

Europe’s response to the crisis reflected the planning mentality of its leaders. Rather than recognizing that the monetary union—instead of being the promised catalyst of prosperity—contributed to accumulation of fiscal and external imbalances in the periphery and trying to find ways to go back, politicians insisted that there was nothing flawed with the existing institutional structure that more political unification could not fix.

Instead of a prudent devolution, Europe got more planning and a “whatever-it-takes” attitude—bailout funds have been created to shield ailing banks and governments from markets and closed-door European summits have become the principal venue where decisions over Europe’s financial future are made. A full fiscal union, unthinkable until recently and still unpalatable to voters in countries like Germany, is now being entertained as a perfectly respectable, though slightly premature, option.

As often happens whenever ideology is confronted with unpleasant facts, Europeans also face a cognitive dissonance between the promise of a better functioning, more closely integrated union, and the ongoing economic mess—which is arguably getting worse, not better. If planning is not working all that splendidly for us, maybe it’s time to let searchers give it a try.

The economic and financial problems that the construction of the Eurozone generated are not historically unprecedented. Governments and firms often found themselves in too much debt in the years predating the creation of the Euro. And there had been mechanisms for dealing with such situations—not just the political fiat we’ve seen in the past four years.

A searcher would thus point out that we might want to try local procedures, such as bankruptcy. True, financial panics are not pretty, and have costs for the real economy, but that is not a reason for treating financial institutions as too big to fail, but rather, as Paul Seabright argues, to develop mechanisms that can determine seniority of different claimants without necessarily prompting everyone to go withdraw their cash out of banks simultaneously.

Similarly, it has not been unusual for governments to enter and leave different monetary arrangements at will, especially if it turns out that an unrealistic exchange rate is contributing to a chronic macroeconomic malaise—as it may have in the case of Argentina in the late 1990s. While European politicians, with their planning mentality, have taken orderly departures of individual countries from the Eurozone off the table, there exist a wealth of examples of countries that have successfully dealt with such problems in the past, such as Czechoslovakia (in 1919 and in 1993).

In short, a searcher’s approach towards solving current economic problems in the Eurozone would readily recognize complexity and involve looking for bottom-up, country-specific solutions without necessarily endorsing any specific political vision for Europe from the outset. Yet, that is not the approach by those believe that they have the answer—i.e. more and deeper integration—regardless of the problem they are trying to address, and regardless of economic reality. We’ve yet to see the final bill for the ideological blindness of European planners.

Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.


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Rand Paul Can Shape the Future of Conservatism

Ilya Shapiro and Francisco Gonzalez

In recent weeks, Sen. Rand Paul galvanized the nation with a 13-hour filibuster, became the toast of the Conservative Political Action Conference and embraced immigration reform before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

It’s naive to think that a few speeches can reshape the Republican Party, but Paul may well represent a tectonic shift on the American right.

The junior senator from Kentucky has a vision of the Constitution in full, advocating the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms and the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

He’s for civil liberties — to protect against police abuse or presidential drones, as well as economic liberties and the freedom to run a business without unnecessary regulation. And he wants to give the blessings of those liberties to those who come to America in search of a better life.

Rand Paul has some ideas for Republicans

As a libertarian and a traditional conservative, we disagree with Paul on a number of issues. Yet we both see his constitutional conservatism as auguring a future in which social tolerance, fiscal temperance and a humbler role for government are pursued not as ends in themselves but because that’s the best path.

Conservatives “conserve” society by reacting to the excesses of previous generations, but the issues that prompt the reactions vary according to the times. Even the solutions to the same problems may shift with new information and reflection. National Review founder William F. Buckley, a key figure in the modern conservative movement, famously changed his mind about civil rights, the drug war and even Iraq.

Conservatives started the environmental movement with Theodore Roosevelt’s protection of national parks at a time when natural resources were plundered without regard to public health. But now, environmentalists abuse the Endangered Species Act to protect salamanders at the expense of jobs and the Clean Water Act’s wetlands protections to prevent development.

It’s naive to think that a few speeches can reshape the Republican Party, but Paul may well represent a tectonic shift on the American right.”

Similarly, conservatives argued for larger police and military forces in response to crime and communism, but now that cost is part of our fiscal problem.

Opinion: Rand Paul is right

Modern conservatives need to remember these lessons as they consider the future.

Their predecessors were largely successful in defeating communism, liberalizing the economy and reducing crime. But those policies weren’t perfect (or cheap): the crime-fighting of the 1980s and ’90s, with an emphasis on policing and incarceration, contributed to current problems such as unfunded pensions, bloated government unions and overcrowded prisons.

After the election losses in 2012, some Republicans have advocated a need to change. In comes Rand Paul, who may well be on the leading edge of a new conservatism, which will focus on four areas:

1. Its social policy will focus primarily on protecting freedom of conscience in an increasingly pluralistic society, while undoing the excesses of the drug war and punitive sentencing for nonviolent crime. For example, as the country moves toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, some states have restricted the ability of Catholic charities to continue functioning without violating key religious tenets. People may disagree on moral issues, but a nation where religious charities can’t operate is a far worse place.

2. This new conservatism will align with the ideas of governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who are fighting battles for domestic policy reform. At stake are the power of public-sector unions and the future of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The challenge is to fix our fiscal woes while protecting the vulnerable in society, as religious conservatives understand is required by their faith. Without fiscal temperance, as well as education reform and a better regulatory environment, there will neither be the opportunity for social mobility nor resources for a social safety net, public or private.

3. We also need to unwind our military engagements while maintaining flexibility in a rapidly changing world. Numbers don’t lie, and our debt and deficits demand a reduction in military spending. Conservatives should aim to achieve the necessary reductions in a smart fashion that maintains readiness and doesn’t endanger America’s interests. This will be a challenging balancing act, but it should be driven by strategic concerns rather than arbitrary benchmarks.

4. Finally, conservatives should consider comprehensive immigration reform that would allow skilled and unskilled workers to seek their American dream while granting parole, not amnesty, to those hard-working migrants now here illegally.

Paul, Rubio provide competing glimpses of a revamped GOP

This recipe may not be the “ideal” that conservative pundits would like to see, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect our utmost individual preferences, but it reflects the practical realities of this age.

Rand Paul hasn’t (yet) changed conservatism, but his views will shape the movement’s future.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review. Francisco Gonzalez is vice president of advancement at the James Madison Institute, based in Tallahassee, Florida.


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Three Years of Broken Promises

Michael D. Tanner

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare,  turned three years old this week. But unlike fine wine, the ACA is not getting better with age. A torrent of recent studies and reports has provided new evidence — as if we needed more confirmation — that nearly everything we were told about this law was untrue.

Compare these promises to what we’ve found out about the law in just the past two months:

If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period.

— President Obama, June 15, 2009

People are finding it increasingly difficult to do what the president promised. According to the California health-care-consulting firm HealthPocket, in a study of more than 11,000 plans on the individual market released this month, less than 2 percent of existing plans are in compliance with the law’s benefit requirements. While current plans are technically grandfathered in, allowing people to keep them for now, any change in the plans requires that their coverage be brought into full compliance, even if that means more expensive plans that include new and unnecessary benefits. Moreover, because non-compliant plans cannot enroll new members, most of the existing plans will eventually disappear, requiring even those members who have been grandfathered in to switch plans eventually.

The president’s health-care law has done almost none of what he suggested it would. ”

The same applies to many business plans, especially for employers in the “small group” market. In a survey of small businesses, the National Federation of Independent Business found that 12 percent of companies have already been notified that their current coverage will be canceled or will not be renewed because it doesn’t meet Obamacare requirements.

At the same time, the CBO has raised, from 4 million Americans to 7 million, its estimate of the number of workers who will be dumped from their employers’ health plans and forced into the exchanges.  

And it may become increasingly hard to keep your doctor, too, or at least to see him reasonably quickly. Because the Affordable Care Act curtails physician reimbursement, medicine is apt to become a less desirable profession. A survey of physicians conducted by Deloitte found that 59 percent of them expected that at least some doctors will retire early as a result of the health-care law and that others will scale back their hours.

At the same time, by increasing coverage, Obamacare will increase the demand for health-care services. One doesn’t have to be an economic genius to predict what happens if you increase demand while decreasing supply in a market where prices can’t adjust: You have shortages. But if you want evidence, look at Massachusetts, where, under Romneycare, the average wait to see a primary-care physician increased from 33 to 55 days.

This law will cut costs and make coverage more affordable for families and small businesses.

— President Obama, June 22, 2010

One can forgive President Obama’s claim in the 2008 presidential debates that health-care reform would save the average family $2,500 per year in premiums. This law, with all its compromises, may be different from what he envisioned then. But as the above quotation shows, the president has continued to make similar claims since the law passed.

Health-care costs have indeed risen somewhat more slowly over the past three years, a fact that the administration has trumpeted loudly. But nearly all outside observers attribute that slowdown to the recession. Most analysts, including the government’s own actuaries, expect health-care costs to rise much faster in the future.

And despite the overall cost slowdown, skyrocketing premiums are just around the corner. According to the Wall Street Journal, insurers are warning that enactment of the law’s provisions next year could as much as double some people’s premiums in the small-group and individual markets. To be sure, these are worst-case scenarios, but there can be no doubt that the health-care law is raising premiums for small businesses and those buying insurance on their own. The young and healthy (and businesses with young, healthy work forces) will see the biggest hikes.

Of course, defenders of the law point out that some, though not necessarily all, of the increased costs will be offset by the new subsidies that the law provides. But that merely shifts the burden from individuals to taxpayers. The average projected cost of a subsidy in 2014 has increased by $700 since last year’s estimates and now exceeds $5,500. Indeed, according to the CBO, the total cost of exchange subsidies under Obamacare has increased by $125 billion, on a year-over-year basis, since initial estimates.

This legislation will also lower costs for … the federal government, reducing our deficit by over $1 trillion in the next two decades. It is paid for. It is fiscally responsible.

— President Obama, on signing the Affordable Care Act

One wonders how defenders of Obamacare can continue to make this and similar claims with a straight face. It has long been apparent that the bill’s costs were grossly understated, leaving out more than $115 billion in implementation costs, for example, double-counting Medicare savings, and relying on cost savings that even government actuaries suggest are unlikely.

Senator Jeff Sessions, in an analysis based on information provided earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has found that Obamacare would actually add $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years, and as much as $6.2 trillion over the next 75 years. It is true, as the GAO pointed out, that this is only one interpretation of the data (though one they call “reasonable”), but the scenario that Senator Sessions lays out reflects the concerns expressed by the Medicare trustees, the Congressional Budget Office, and the office of the chief actuary that the cost-containment mechanisms in the health law will not be sustained over time. Even if Senator Sessions’s analysis is off by, say, a couple hundred billion, it stretches credulity to call Obamacare “fiscally responsible.”

It’s about jobs…. In its life [health-care reform] will create 4 million jobs, [and] 400,000 jobs almost immediately

— Nancy Pelosi, February 25, 2010

Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount that Obamacare is a job killer. For example, a new study from the National Federation of Independent Business predicts that Obamacare will result in a loss of 146,000 to 262,000 private-sector jobs by 2022, with 59 percent of the losses coming from small businesses. This is roughly 20,000 more lost jobs than NFIB had previously predicted, in 2011.

Another new study, by the International Franchise Association, warns that Obamacare puts as many as 3.2 million jobs at risk, particularly in industries such as chain restaurants. As many as one-third of all franchise-related jobs in every state could eventually be lost, with California, Florida, and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Even more significant, the March edition of the Federal Reserve’s “beige book,” a compilation of regional economic surveys, reports that employers continue to cite Obamacare and uncertainty over the rising cost of health insurance as a reason they are not hiring in the wake of the recession. “Employers in several Districts,” the report says, “cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff.”

It’s hard to imagine how Obamacare could ever create jobs, given the enormous burden it is placing on the private sector. According to a study released this week by the American Action Forum, the health-care law has already imposed more than 111 million hours of paperwork on American business, at a cost of more than $30 billion. That’s $30 billion that won’t go to create jobs.

Of course, this doesn’t begin to consider the broad effects of the roughly $1 trillion in new taxes that Obamacare imposes over the next ten years.

Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans

– Title 1 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

All Americans? Not even close. The latest CBO estimates suggest that, by 2023, there will still be more than 30 million uninsured Americans. For all the enormous cost and disruption caused by the Affordable Care Act, it will provide insurance for less than half the Americans currently without coverage. Further, only 25 million of them will actually receive proper insurance (and subsidized plans, at that). The remaining 12 million are merely dumped into Medicaid, hardly known for high-quality care. (Outcomes of Medicaid patients are actually, by some measures, worse than those of the uninsured.) According to the CBO, by the end of the decade almost 11 million fewer Americans will have private unsubsidized health insurance than do today.

Once upon a time we were told we needed to pass this law to find out what was in it. As Obamacare gets older, we are discovering the answer: broken promises.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.


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Stay out of Other Nations’ Civil Wars

Doug Bandow

The long-standing Syrian dictatorship is an abomination. The ongoing Syrian civil war is a tragedy. America should stay out.

A decade ago another administration began another war with a promise of enshrining Pax Americana on the Euphrates. Unfortunately, the result was a wrecked Iraq, empowered Iran, and discredited America. With the decade-long attempt to implant liberal democracy in Afghanistan finally coming to a close, Washington should reject proposals for another unnecessary war of choice.

It has been two years since a peaceful rising began against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Despite hopes of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that he was a reformer, Assad responded with brute force.

Even then the Assad family and many of his fellow Alawites were too invested in power to yield gracefully. Now, after an estimated 70,000 deaths, surrender is inconceivable. Noted Joseph Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War: “Fears of retribution have pushed conventional and paramilitary loyalists to converge upon the common goal of survival, resulting in a broadly cohesive, ultra-nationalist, and mostly Alawite force.”

As the conflict grinds on the Assad regime is the likely loser, but the fractured opposition — whose competing groups have begun targeting each other — does not appear close to victory. Many more people will die before the fighting ebbs. And then the peace is likely to be anything but, as endless scores, ancient and new, are settled with blood.

This is precisely the sort of conflict America should stay out of. The case against joining the Syrian fratricide is simple yet overwhelming: Americans have nothing at stake that warrants going to war. War should be a last resort, employed for interests that are truly vital. War should not be just another policy choice for impatient internationalists and frustrated social engineers.

First, there is no impartial intervention. Entering the conflict is to take sides. Ronald Reagan, 241 Marines, and 17 American embassy personnel learned that lesson in Lebanon in 1983. Washington had proclaimed its commitment to peace by aiding one force in a multi-sided civil war. By becoming a de facto combatant the administration turned Americans into targets. Aiding Syria’s opposition means becoming a participant in that conflict.

Paradoxically, aiding the resistance could drive some Syrians who desire a negotiated solution toward the government. The Financial Times recently reported: “As the civil war becomes ever dirtier, rebels’ actions are starting to mirror those of the regime.” In fact, opposition fighters increasingly kill regime soldiers and supporters, and have turned to crime, including kidnapping, to raise funds.

America knows that’s the lesson of Syria.”

Second, there is no magic elixir that combines riskless intervention with speedy conquest. In Libya the allies provided the rebels with air support, but only enough to drag out the conflict for five months, during which time thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of Libyans died. By being prudent and cost-conscious the allies were not humanitarian, their professed objective.

The Obama administration has promised an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to resistance forces, a palliative that offers only a modest boost to rebels. Some, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking minority member Eliot Engel, and Senate GOP rising star Marco Rubio, advocate providing the rebels with weapons, which several Arab states and Turkey are doing already.

Doing so would require deploying personnel to ensure the arms get to their intended recipients. After all, who receives weapons now will help determine who has them when a new government is established. Even if the arms don’t go directly to bad guys — Washington has designated the increasingly important opposition group Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization because of its ties to al Qaeda—they still could leak to dubious groups, as in Libya. This prospect worries Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

Further, there would be pressure to train as well as arm combatants. And if doing so failed to accelerate a rebel victory, calls would grow for more aggressive intervention. Every additional “investment” would create increased demand for results lest American credibility suffer.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has joined the chorus for establishing a “no fly zone.” However, in Syria’s urban landscape such a step would be of only limited utility. It might satisfy the urge to “do something,” but would not materially change the balance of power on the ground. At the same time it would be an act of war that would expose allied planes to missile fire.

Those most serious about intervention, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, want to do everything. Their joint statement demanded: “provisions of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad’s aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria.” Graham also argued that “you’ve got to get on the ground” to seize chemical weapons stockpiles.

Third, intervening would give Washington ownership for the conflict’s outcome without control. Americans have no moral obligation to support either warring side in an increasingly complex conflict — think Spanish Civil War, for instance. However, helping one side win would make Washington accountable for the winner’s conduct.

In Kosovo NATO went to war to stop ethnic cleansing and stood by as the victorious ethnic Albanians defenestrated a quarter of a million Serbs, Roma, and others. In Syria the potential for a violent breakdown if the rebels triumph is even greater. Warned Holliday: “The remnants of the Syrian military and the powerful pro-regime militias are likely to wage a fierce insurgency against any opposition-led Sunni government in Syria if the Assad regime collapses.” At the extreme, imagine Iraq redux.

Fourth, concerns over regional stability do not compel U.S. involvement. The war already is spreading violence and refugees to surrounding states. The conflict has become a Shia-Sunni proxy war in which Iran and Iraq (theoretically an American ally) are arrayed against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. Israel has struck inside Syria to prevent weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Instability already is here.

The good news is that the Middle East routinely muddles through despite persistent instability of this sort. A fractured Syria is a mess, but not as threatening as Iran. Israel and Turkey certainly can cope. Lebanon is in greater danger, but maintaining its equilibrium cannot justify making Syria’s instability America’s own. The duty of the U.S. government is to protect the stability of this nation, which means not jumping into irrelevant and unpredictable wars.

Fifth, taking out Assad would not solve the problem of Iran. Assad’s fall would be a blow to Tehran, but would not be fatal for a regime that has survived internal political dissension and external economic pressure. In fact, embattled Iranian leaders may escalate the Shia-Sunni battle elsewhere, such as in Bahrain. Moreover, the loss of its ally could increase Tehran’s determination to create nuclear weapons as the final weapon for self-defense.

Sixth, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Syria’s chemical weapons offer no meaningful “red lines.” (For instance, Rep. Rogers advocated that “we respond with swift and devastating military force” to any use or planned use of chemical weapons.) Despite their fearsome reputation, chemical weapons are difficult to use, especially by terrorists in faraway lands. Weapons leakage if the Assad regime lost control would pose a greater worry for Syria’s neighbors, but that is primarily their, not America’s, problem. In fact, this prospect warrants serious contingency planning among Israel, Turkey, and Jordan.

Nothing would change if Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces. Chemical agents only seem more horrific than simpler killers: Bullets and explosives already have killed some 70,000 Syrians. It is not in America’s interest to give Damascus an opportunity to deploy chemical weapons against U.S. military forces by intervening.

Seventh, undermining the regime makes weapons leakage of all sorts more likely. If the status of Syria’s chemical arsenal greatly concerns the administration, the latter should rethink its commitment to Assad’s overthrow. U.S. officials might decide the benefits of his ouster outweigh the risks, but Washington must set priorities.

Eighth, the steadily rising death toll in Syria is a warning against, not an invitation for, American intervention. The human cost is horrid, but still far below those in Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, or Sudan, conflicts which the West watched without ever seriously considering action. Or in Iraq, which the U.S. invaded, ultimately leading to mass carnage: estimates of civilian casualties vary widely but over 200,000 seem likely.

Moreover, U.S. intervention would more likely transform than end the bloodshed. If the victors started killing the losers, would Washington intervene? And what if Syria cracked open as religious and ethnic minorities sought to create their own statelets? With the rise of radical Islamist factions the violence could transcend the borders of traditional Syria. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported that the CIA already is considering Islamist Syrian opposition leaders for possible drone strikes. Long experience demonstrates that war is a dubious humanitarian tool.

Ninth, Washington has no idea how the conflict will end. There are a number of possible outcomes, most of them bad. Yet the U.S. government has done a bad job of late predicting the results of similar conflicts. There’s no reason to believe that Washington would be more successful in manipulating events in Syria than in Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Like good trial attorneys who only ask questions to which they know the expected answers, statesmen should only intervene in wars for which they know the expected outcomes. That may not be possible in a genuine war of necessity, but the last one of those for America, and the only one in the 20th century, was World War II. Syria doesn’t come close.

There is no good outcome in Syria. More people will die before the war comes to a close. However, the Obama administration should not compound the tragedy by intervening in another conflict not America’s own. The worse it gets there, the more reason for Americans to keep their military here.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, includingThe Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).


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The High Court’s Marriage Jitters

Walter Olson

“Can I filter out the gay marriage tweets?” wrote one Hartford lawyer on Twitter. “Coz like it’s already legal here so I don’t care.”

I think he was kidding. But even if you live in a state like New York or Connecticut where gays can already get married, this is no time to check out of the debate — not with things really heating up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday, at oral argument on the California Proposition 8 case, there was little sign that the court’s liberal wing was itching for any so-called “50-state solution,” a sweeping ruling decreeing gay marriage lawful nationwide on equal protection grounds.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg approvingly brought up the obscure 1964 case of McLaughlin vs. Florida, in which the court unanimously struck down a law against interracial cohabitation, but dodged the opportunity to overturn laws against interracial marriage. Three years later — after much intervening advancement in public opinion — it got around to doing that in the much more famous case of Loving vs. Virginia.

After Tuesday, the chances of a D.I.G. resolution — and wedding bells for gay couples in California, but ending at the state line — seemed higher.”

Instead, Associate Justices Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer concentrated on arguments that would knock out the Proposition 8 proponents’ standing to be in court on the ground that they are unelected private citizens with no particular stake in the case’s outcome. If they find a fifth justice to agree on this point, California would go back to having gay marriage — which a new KPIX-TV poll finds its citizens would welcome, by a whopping 67% to 30% — but the other 49 states wouldn’t see any change.

There’s an irony in standing having become a tool for possible liberal victories at the court.

Not long ago, conservative judges like Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito were the ones known for using tough standing rules to throw out cases, while liberals were more broad-minded.

These days, standing doctrines have become more like castle drawbridges, raised or lowered depending on whether foe or friend is at the gate.

The liberals’ strategy ran into one serious difficulty Tuesday: Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom both sides expect to be the swing vote, appeared sympathetic toward granting standing to the Proposition 8 defenders. That would mean, at least potentially, progressing to the merits.

So what did Kennedy think of the merits? Whether purposely or not, he made his sympathies not entirely easy to discern. At one point, in language likely to send hopes soaring among gay-marriage advocates, he called on the “voice of these children,” namely some 40,000 children in California living with same-sex parents, who “want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of these children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

Hearing that, you might think it’s all over: If that’s how the court’s swing vote feels, the gay-marriage side wins.

But it’s not as simple as that. Only moments earlier, Kennedy seemed to agree that the sociological study of families headed by gay couples was too new and recent to get a lot of weight as a reason to strike Proposition 8 down. “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more,” he said, in language that might have come verbatim from conservatives Scalia or Alito.

A couple of months ago, the smart money was on a narrow decision in the Proposition 8 case, and despite all the excitement and public-figure endorsements of recent weeks, that’s exactly where we may be back to.

If not a dismissal on standing, what kind of narrow decision might that be? Well, there’s the narrow, California-only grounds devised by 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the lower court opinion that’s under appeal. But Tuesday, few justices had a good word to say for Reinhardt’s rationale, and Kennedy in particular called it “odd.” (This never bodes well.)

Nor did the justices show any enthusiasm for the Obama administration’s argument that states with civil unions should be required to step up to marriage, while other states should be left alone for now. Led by Breyer, the liberals shredded this idea as one that would punish states for being relatively progressive. In the end, it was a too-clever-by-half argument that seemed more geared to solve the administration’s political problems than to persuade the court.

At least one lawyer left the court chanting under his breath “D.I.G.” — shorthand for Dismissed as Improvidently Granted, the court’s last-resort way of ridding its docket of a case it regrets having taken. After Tuesday, the chances of a D.I.G. resolution — and wedding bells for gay couples in California, but ending at the state line — seemed higher.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.


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Teachers and Education Reformers Bypass Individual Students

Nat Hentoff

The March 18 headline in USA Today blares: “More teachers are grouping kids by ability.” What’s wrong with that? Because the actual problems of individual kids are overlooked when students, especially those starting in elementary schools, are tracked as a group by what they’ve learned.

But Patrick Boodey, principal of the Woodman Park School in Dover, N.H., tries to remind us in the same story: “As a teacher, you know in your heart you need to meet the needs of each child” (Greg Toppo, USA Today, March 18).

Really? How many teachers do know that and act accordingly?

Disturbing answers to that question are documented in the most important article on education I’ve seen in many years: “The ‘Quiet’ Troubles of Low-Income Children,” by Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard School of Education. The article was first published in the March/April 2008 issue of the Harvard Education Letter and is also included in a valuable book: Spotlight on Student Engagement, Motivation and Achievement (Caroline T. Chauncey and Nancy Walser, editors; Harvard Education Press, 2009).

I have been an observer and interviewer of students in many classrooms around the country, and caught signs of some of these “quiet troubles.” But I had nowhere near the research depth of Weissbourd, whose revelations should be seen by teachers, principals, school boards and legislators in cities, states and the U.S. Congress.

His article, of course, should also be seen by those parents whose own troubles give them hardly any breathing room to focus on how well their children are actually able to learn in school.

Weissbourd, whom I have also interviewed, cites a study he conducted with other researchers:

“Some teachers fail to detect vision and hearing problems and sleep deprivation. Kids who are depressed and withdrawn can also escape teachers’ notice. One reason may be that teachers are often consumed by small numbers of students with loud problems. Teachers may also stop registering these quieter problems because they know that their schools don’t have the resources or time to deal with them.

“As one school counselor puts it, ‘You have to be extraordinarily withdrawn to be referred to me.’”

At a school where I was a guest lecturer on the Bill of Rights for a short time, one female eighth-grader in the back row never said a word in class or looked in my direction. After class one day, I came over to her and found that when she listened closely — she was hard of hearing — she was very interested in poetry. We talked for a while about Emily Dickinson. It was quite a large class, and she told me no teacher had noticed her hearing problem.

That reminded me of another school I once visited, where teachers did pay close attention to “the whole child.” There, a fifth-grade boy said to me: “Gee, in this school, they know my name!”

Weissbourd writes, “The number of children with undetected or untreated vision problems is a national scandal. In any urban classroom, it’s not uncommon to find one or two children squinting at their books or at the blackboard. By one estimate, at least 25 percent of urban students have uncorrected vision problems.

“Part of the problem is that kids lose their glasses easily, and it can take Medicaid up to six months to replace them. When they do come, they’re often big and chunky — the kind of glasses that no school-age child wants to wear.”

A “quiet trouble” I hadn’t known about: “Staff members in one elementary school I have worked with estimate that about one-quarter of their students experience sleep deprivation consistently enough to interfere with learning,” he writes. “That percentage is likely to be far higher in high school.”

Weissbourd suggests that “schools can … work with community health centers to prevent sleep deprivation among children — for example, by coordinating messages to parents about the importance of establishing bedtime routines and reducing late-night television watching.”

And what about the “quiet troubles” of some of these children’s parents?

Weissbourd writes: “Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of parents will suffer from acute, severe depression, experiencing some combination of fatigue, loss of appetite, withdrawal, hopeless moods and suicidal thoughts.

“But a range of studies suggests that 30 to 60 percent of low-income parents will suffer from moderate depression for longer periods of time.

“I am not talking about mental illness. I am talking about the steady drizzle of helplessness and hopelessness that can afflict those trapped in poverty for many years, especially when these adults are isolated and in constant stress.”

While “many of these people, despite their depression, are warm, effective parents … children of depressed parents are more likely to suffer from an array of problems, including development delays, juvenile delinquency and depression. What’s more, it’s far harder for depressed parents to do the things critical for their children’s school success.”

Are you aware of these quiet, smoldering troubles being recognized — and acted upon — by many school boards, education reformers and legislators? Presidents who have school-age children send them to private schools, so they’re often silent about all of this, including in their state of the union addresses.

If more of the citizenry were not silent, many of these students’ blighted lives could begin to be revived. They’d be surprised at their new capacities to become lifelong learners.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.


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Same-Sex Marriage May Define Current Supreme Court Term

David Lampo

This week the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in not one but two historic cases that may dramatically alter the legal trajectory of same-sex marriage in the United States. The first one, Windsor v. United States, will examine the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996 under President Clinton with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. DOMA defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman for the purposes of the federal government and was meant to discourage various states from adopting gay marriage. But as many conservative and libertarian constitutional scholars have argued, it impinges on the right of the states to define marriage as they see fit by denying legally married same-sex couples more than a thousand federal monetary benefits and legal privileges. And it clearly violates the constitutional principle of equal protection by treating legally married couples in different ways.

The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is an appeal of a lower court ruling that supported the overturning of Proposition 8 in California, a 2008 voter-backed measure that added a prohibition of same-sex marriage to the state’s constitution. Ted Olson, former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, will challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8, arguing that it violates equal protection and due process of gay couples in California. If a majority of the Court agrees, it’s possible that the Justices could void all state laws against same sex marriage (not just California’s) by finding a fundamental right to marry for gay and lesbian couples in the Constitution. Not only would that be an historic development, it would be the ultimate irony since this case is now before the Supreme Court precisely because the proponents of Proposition 8 appealed a lower court’s decision. Even a narrow decision by the Court (one that simply upholds the lower court’s decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional), would make same-sex marriage legal once again in California, making it the tenth state with same-sex marriage.

A victory in one or both cases for those supporting same-sex marriage rights would add dramatic momentum to a movement that has already made enormous strides in the past several years.”

In a sign of the times, over 100 prominent Republicans and conservatives signed an amicus brief to the Court in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, including conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, former Representatives Mary Bono Mack and Deborah Pryce, Bush national security advisor Stephen Hadley, Representatives Richard Hanna and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, Reagan budget director David Stockman, and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Wittman. Although he did not sign the brief, Sen. Rob Portman, once on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, came out last week in favor of marriage equality, the first Republican senator to do so.

A victory in one or both cases for those supporting same-sex marriage rights would add dramatic momentum to a movement that has already made enormous strides in the past several years. It was only four years ago, after all, that all public opinion polls showed a majority of voters (shrinking though it was) opposed to same-sex marriage. But three years ago, most polls began showing a flip to majority support for same-sex marriage, and it has continued to grow. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month, for example, showed support has climbed to 58 percent (with just 36 percent opposed), a dramatic jump from just six months ago and a new high in support. Among Millennials (ages 18 to 29), however, support is even higher: 81 percent in the Washington Post poll. Even among Young Republicans, support for marriage is now over 50 percent, and Millennial evangelicals are not far behind. Is it any wonder, then, that even the CEO of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, has said, “We’re losing on [gay marriage], especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage… We’ve probably lost.”  Independents, another group crucial to the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party, are also uniformly pro-gay rights, with support for same-sex marriage now above 60 percent.

Many Republicans are finally waking up to the challenges this overwhelming support for equality will cost the party if it doesn’t change, and the Republican Party establishment has finally specifically responded to its lack of support for even modest gay rights measures. In a report issued last week by the Republican National Committee, the all-important issue of the Party’s outreach to previously shunned groups like gays and lesbians was specifically addressed in a respectful way. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them,” the report said. “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays—and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” it continued. The report did not mention the Republican Party platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and endorses a federal marriage amendment, but that platform will have to change if these recent attempts at outreach are to be successful.

Predicting what the Supreme Court will decide in a particular case is never a slam dunk, but according to most Court watchers, it seems likely that it will overturn DOMA, which means all legally married gay couples in Washington, Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and the District of Columbia (and soon California) will have all the same legal rights and privileges as heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage.

There is still strong opposition in part of the Republican base to the Party changing its views on this issue: Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, warns that such a change “would place the Republican Party on a path to a permanent minority,” a clear threat that social conservatives would abandon the party, one that dramatically highlights how little they really believe in the party’s traditional principles of individual rights and limited government. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage promises a primary challenge to Sen. Rob Portman in 2016 for his recent announcement, and many Christian Right leaders will no doubt join in. But the real trend in the Party and in the nation is toward greater legal equality for gays and lesbians, in spite of people like Perkins, Brown, and others. Their histrionics will be on full display when the Supreme Court announces its decisions in these cases in June.

David Lampo is the publications director at the Cato Institute.


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Where the Neocons Went, Rubio Is Following

Justin Logan

The Republican Party has admitted it has a problem. Something has to change to restore the party to a place where it might be able to get one of its own elected president.

Senator Rand Paul, R-KY.,  has made clear that he agrees. Paul is focusing on the “things we need to do to be competitive on the West Coast, to be competitive in New England and Illinois.”

But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., apparently thinks the way to get the GOP back into power is to move it backward—back to the Republican Party of Dick Cheney and John Yoo. Yesterday, Rubio traveled to Paul’s home state to suggest that Paul is an “isolationist,” and that:

We can’t solve every humanitarian crisis on the planet, we can’t be involved in every dispute, every civil war and every conflict. But we also cannot retreat from the world. It’s not that America will continue to function as the world’s police officer. The problem is that like anything in the world: If you pull back from it, a vacuum will be created… The alternative to U.S. [engagement] on the global stage is chaos.

Mouthing another neoconservative slogan, Rubio pronounced—ahistorically—that “Every single time that nations have retreated from the world, every single time this nation has retreated from the world, we have paid for it in the long run. We have paid for it dearly.”

As Daniel Larison points out, it isn’t clear which “retreats” Rubio was thinking of, but a few that call into question his argument would be Vietnam, Iraq, and hopefully someday Afghanistan. Whatever “dear” costs Rubio thinks we incurred by extricating ourselves from those wars, they pale in comparison to the American corpses and squandered trillions of getting into them.

Rubio looks, walks, and quacks like a dyed-in-the-wool neocon.”

Larison also notes that “since he has been in the Senate, Rubio has made a point of getting on the more hawkish or assertive side of every foreign policy debate.” That reality—that promises he isn’t hawkish on every issue in theory, but he is in practice—seems like cold comfort.

It’s also worth moving down from this high level of abstraction to more practical considerations, and here it becomes clear that Rubio looks, walks, and quacks like a dyed-in-the-wool neocon. If the Bush years taught us anything, it is that personnel are policy. The people staffing the Rumsfeld Pentagon and the Bush National Security Council made invading Iraq a foregone conclusion. When you surround yourself with people of a particular view, the information you get skews a particular way. So whom has Rubio brought in to advise him on foreign policy issues?

Jamie Fly, the former head of Bill Kristol’s neoconservative “Foreign Policy Initiative” think tank. In announcing the hire, Rubio declared that Fly “brings great experience to the office, and will be a valuable addition to our team as we look forward to the year ahead. Our nation is facing serious challenges around the globe, and it’s critical that we do everything we can this Congress to ensure that America remains a leader in the world.”

And Fly’s experience immediately preceding his hire by Rubio has been promoting neoconservative policies like bombing Iran until its government collapses. He argued this in a coauthored Foreign Affairs piece, as well as in his remarks at a Cato Institute event I hosted on Iran.

So let’s be clear here: beyond airy abstractions about “leadership” and “retreat,” Rubio is drawn to, and informed by, neoconservative ideas. When he says “leadership,” people should read that as “bombing Iran.”

This is one aspect of the choice before the Republican Party: taking Paul’s advice and rediscovering that conservatism doesn’t mean trying to run the world with the U.S. military, or taking Rubio’s advice and turning the reins back over to the neocons.

Justin Logan is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.


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OUSD Made Wrong Decision to Close American Indian Charter Schools

Andrew J. Coulson

The Oakland school board has voted 4-3 to shutter three of the highest-performing schools in the state: the American Indian Model charter schools. The decision was based on alleged fiscal improprieties by Ben Chavis, former head of the schools and the man who raised them to educational greatness. It was the wrong decision.

I’ve visited the AIM schools several times, interviewed students, staff and graduates, conducted regression studies of the performance of California’s charter schools, and gotten to know Chavis a little. Last December, I testified before a U.S. Senate committee on how AIM schools have created an island of calm and learning in a sea of scholastic dysfunction.

In a 2011 study, I found that AIM is the highest-performing charter school network in the state, by a wide margin. That is after controlling for student characteristics and schoolwide peer effects.

It would be a tragedy to deny current and future generations the opportunity to attend these schools.”

Low-income black and Hispanic AIM students actually outperform the statewide averages for wealthier whites and Asians. AIM even outperforms Lowell, one of San Francisco’s most respected and academically selective high schools.

One young man who attended the original American Indian Public Charter School before Chavis’ time witnessed its transformation firsthand. Before Chavis’ arrival, he told me the school was filthy, failing and dangerous. With visible anguish, he described how students — middle school students — had sex on school grounds. That ended, and a safe, studious environment began under Chavis.

AIPCS has no metal detectors, school police, expulsions, or out-of-school suspensions. Disruptive students don’t get less school, they get more: after-school detentions and Saturday classes — both of which are used as instructional time.

The middle-school environment is strict, but by the time students reach high school, they have excellent study habits and show respect for their peers, their teachers, and themselves.

These schools aren’t for everyone. No single approach ever could be.

The pre-Chavis middle-schooler mentioned above thrived under the new environment, attended the AIM high school created on the same campus and ultimately graduated from Dartmouth.

AIM’s overwhelmingly low-income and minority graduates regularly attend colleges such as UC Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. The college acceptance rate is 100 percent.

Yet the board voted to close them because Chavis — now retired — is accused of fiscal improprieties. Not knowing the facts behind these accusations, I can only assess the big picture: Chavis raised AIM schools to a level of excellence never before seen in the city despite receiving less funding per pupil than district schools.

AIM teachers are dedicated and well paid. Graduates are not only accepted into good colleges, they are equipped to succeed there.

By contrast, OUSD spends more per pupil, has far lower test scores and college acceptance rates, more dangerous classrooms, and is steadily losing students as a result.

It would be a tragedy to deny current and future generations the opportunity to attend these schools.


Andrew Coulson
 directs the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and is the author of Market Education: The Unknown History.


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A Bad Week for Drone Lovers

Gene Healy

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza gave his most recent “Worst Week in Washington Award” to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whose assault weapons ban got stripped from a Democratic gun control package last Tuesday for lack of support. Fair enough, but if nonhumanoids can be eligible for the award (and why discriminate?), I’d say that drones had the “worst week in Washington” last week.

On Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members from both sides of the aisle seemed genuinely disturbed by the idea of “government drones buzzing overhead monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens,” as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, put it. When one of the witnesses, an industry lobbyist, complained that the very term “drone” had unfairly “hostile connotations,” he ran into a buzzsaw courtesy of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who snapped, “We’ll decide what we’ll call them.”

On Friday, it was more bad news for friends of our robot friends. In ACLU v. CIA, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit forcefully rebuked the Obama administration for stonewalling on an ACLU request, under the Freedom of Information Act, for records related to targeted killing with unmanned aerial vehicles. Given administration officials’ repeated public comments on the CIA’s drone program, the agency’s refusal even to confirm or deny the existence of responsive documents was “neither logical nor plausible,” the court said.

We’re starting to see pushback from the courts and Congress on the use of flying, spying robot weapons at home and abroad.”

In the wake of the 13-hour filibuster of March 6 by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — in which he used the word “drone” some 245 times — we’re starting to see pushback from the courts and Congress on the use of flying, spying robot weapons at home and abroad.

In an influential 2011 article, “The Drone as Privacy Catalyst,” law professor Ryan Calo predicted that the dystopian images that drones evoke could spur much-needed reforms to American privacy law. Their association with military spying and targeted killing, the way they “represent the cold, technological embodiment of observation,” would provide the “visceral jolt” that reformers need to make their case.

That’s certainly happening on the home front. CNET’s Declan McCullagh reports that a bipartisan “anti-drone revolt” has prompted the introduction of new federal and state legislation restricting “law enforcement plans to fly more drones equipped with high-tech gear that can be used to conduct surveillance of Americans.” Professor Calo, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, warned that “American privacy law places few limits on aerial surveillance” and urged Congress to “instruct the FAA to take privacy into account as part of its mandate to integrate drones into domestic airspace.”

The “visceral jolt” that Sen. Paul’s filibuster provided seems to be shifting the debate on the drone wars abroad, as well.

As Slate’s Dave Weigel observed yesterday, public opinion polls show “A 50-Point Swing Against Targeted Drone Killings of U.S. Citizens” abroad since Sen. Paul’s anti-drone marathon. Even erstwhile Obama allies are speaking out: Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned about “blowback” from perpetual remote-controlled war. And on March 13, John Podesta, the former head of the Center for American Progress, took to the pages of the Washington Post to praise Sen. Paul’s filibuster and warn that with his secretive approach to drone warfare, “President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days.”

Some say the filibuster is an obstructive anachronism. Sen. Paul’s marathon session earlier this month argues otherwise. With it, he started a national conversation about the use of drones at home and abroad that promises to go on much longer than 13 hours.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.


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