Thursday, April 30, 2009 - The Truth About Cars and Trucks - Opinion: The Truth About Cars and Trucks

Nearly 25 years ago, a Los Angeles Times reporter innocently and accurately invoked the "M" word in describing the domestic auto sector, noting that the arrival of Japanese auto plants was "threatening the UAW's traditional monopoly on labor in the domestic auto industry."

The erosion of the Big Three's market share since then has really been the erosion of the market for monopoly labor-produced cars. The UAW standard tactic, "pattern bargaining," which it pursues without embarrassment, would have gotten Bill Gates thrown in jail under the antitrust laws.

For more than 40 years, a 25% tariff has kept out foreign-built pickup trucks even as a studied loophole was created in fuel-economy regulations to let the Big Three develop a lucrative, protected niche in the "passenger truck" business.

This became the long-running unwritten deal. This was Washington's real auto policy.

For three decades, the Big Three were able to survive precisely because they skimped on quality and features in the money-losing sedans they were required under Congress's fuel economy rules to build in high-cost UAW factories. In return, Washington compensated them with the hothouse, politically protected opportunity to profit from pickups and SUVs.

Doesn't sound much like what you hear incessantly from your Congressman, about how Detroit's problems are all due to management "incompetence" in deciding to build "gas guzzling" SUVs, does it?


Monday, April 27, 2009 - Teach for (Some of) America - Opinion: Teach for (Some of) America

Here's a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation's top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

If you've spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants.


Here’s an Extra on Education: - Opinion: The Union War on Charter Schools


On education policy, appeasement is about as ineffective as it is in foreign affairs. Many proponents of school choice, especially Democrats, have tried to appease teachers unions by limiting their support to charter schools while opposing private school vouchers. They hope that by sacrificing vouchers, the unions will spare charter schools from political destruction.


But these reformers are starting to learn that appeasement on vouchers only whets unions appetites for eliminating all meaningful types of choice. With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.


Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.



Thursday, April 23, 2009 - The Case for a Federalism Amendment - Opinion: The Case for a Federalism Amendment restore balance between federal and state power and better protect individual liberty, the repeal of the income tax amendment could be folded into a new "Federalism Amendment" like this:

Section 1: Congress shall have power to regulate or prohibit any activity between one state and another, or with foreign nations, provided that no regulation or prohibition shall infringe any enumerated or unenumerated right, privilege or immunity recognized by this Constitution.

Section 2: Nothing in this article, or the eighth section of article I, shall be construed to authorize Congress to regulate or prohibit any activity that takes place wholly within a single state, regardless of its effects outside the state or whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom; but Congress may define and punish offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States.

Section 3: The power of Congress to appropriate any funds shall be limited to carrying into execution the powers enumerated by this Constitution and vested in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; or to satisfy any current obligation of the United States to any person living at the time of the ratification of this article.

Section 4: The 16th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed, effective five years from the date of the ratification of this article.

Section 5: The judicial power of the United States to enforce this article includes but is not limited to the power to nullify any prohibition or unreasonable regulation of a rightful exercise of liberty. The words of this article, and any other provision of this Constitution, shall be interpreted according to their public meaning at the time of their enactment.

Except for its expansion of Congressional power in Section 1, this proposed amendment is entirely consistent with the original meaning of the Constitution. It merely clarifies the boundary between federal and state powers, and reaffirms the power of courts to police this boundary and protect individual liberty.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - Obama and the 'Amnesty' Trap - Opinion: Obama and the 'Amnesty' Trap

If Mr. Obama wants to be more successful than the previous administration when it tried to reform immigration, he should avoid getting bogged down in a debate over "amnesty."

The reality is that the 1986 amnesty was never going to solve the problem, because it didn't address the root cause. Illegal immigration to the U.S. is primarily a function of too many foreigners chasing too few visas. Some 400,000 people enter the country illegally each year -- a direct consequence of the fact that our current policy is to make available only 5,000 visas annually for low-skilled workers. If policy makers want to reduce the number of illegal entries, the most sensible and humane course is to provide more legal ways for people to come.

It's unfortunate that the "no amnesty" crowd has been able to suck up so much oxygen in this debate. Immigration hysterics on talk radio and cable news have used the term effectively to end conversations. And restrictionists in Congress have used it as a political slogan to block reform. But from a public-policy perspective, the fate of the 12 million illegals already here is largely a side issue, a problem that will solve itself over time if we get the other reforms right.



Thursday, April 16, 2009 - Pirates Vs. the Rest of Us - Opinion: Pirates Vs. the Rest of Us


But that pirate assault on an American-flagged ship, its captain's bravery, and his rescue by one U.S. Navy ship should be seen for what it is: A metaphor of the world as it is today. It is a world awash in pirates.


Some are small pirates like the Somalis, but many others are big pirates. They live in North Korea, Iran and in al Qaeda's hideouts along Pakistan's northwest frontier. They are Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Janjaweed in Darfur. Pirates strap themselves with dynamite to smash the routines of daily life in crowded town squares. Hugo Chavez is the pirate king of Latin America. There are others.


Each wants to replace our system of laws, rules, institutions and sovereignty with their disorder. Then disorder becomes normal.


We need to understand that these are not just security threats but a systemic threat. Each weakly answered pirate affront erodes the public's confidence in the West's promise of an ordered world.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tax 2-fer for in Honor of Tax Day

Tomorrow is April 15th, or Tax Day.  If you're not out protesting excess taxation at the many nationwide "tea parties" tomorrow, then you may enjoy reading up on current tax problems and proposed solutions.
Every year taxpayers and elected officials complain about the tax law's complexity. But despite the exasperation, no significant simplification has occurred since the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986. To the contrary, each new tax proposal is layered onto the existing code, rendering it more complex with every new act.
If tax compliance were an industry, it would be one of the largest in the United States. To consume 7.6 billion hours, such a "tax compliance industry" would require the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time workers.
Tax simplification would benefit all Americans, regardless of political party.

The president says he wants the wealthy to pay their "fair share." Who can argue with that? But he never defines what that means. Is it fair for 10% to pay 70% of the income tax? Does he believe they should pay 75%, or 95%, or does fairness mean they should pay it all? It's clever politics to speak like that, but it is risky policy.

Mr. Obama is adding to this trend with his "Make Work Pay" tax cut that means almost 50% of the country will no longer pay any income taxes, up from a little over 40% today. A certain amount of income redistribution in a capitalistic society is healthy, but this goes too far.

It's time to create an Economic Growth Code whose purpose is to fix and grow the economy, not redistribute massive amounts of wealth. A new tax code that creates growth and reforms our entitlement system is the only way to dig our way out of the hole we're in.

Under an Economic Growth Code, everyone in American would pay income taxes -- everyone. Such a system would be designed to foster broad-based growth for all, in contrast to the loophole-ridden system we have today. Not only is the current code flawed from top to bottom, it is used by politicians to divide the public along class lines and fails to promote prosperity.


Thursday, April 9, 2009 - Will Islam Return Obama's 'Respect'? - Opinion: Will Islam Return Obama's 'Respect'?

The subject of this column is the status of minority faith groups, mostly Christian, living inside Islamic countries. That status is poor. In some cases it verges on extinction, after centuries of coexistence with Islam. So it is useful to review what Mr. Obama said of his goals for living with Islam:

"I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. . . .

"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith. . . . Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."

This is an eloquent description of ecumenical civility. In reality, the experience of Arab Christians living now amid majority Islamic populations is often repression, arrest, imprisonment and death.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - Aid Keeps Latin America Poor

Latin America remains poor and backward not despite multilateral "assistance" but, in a large part, because of it.

Bauer spent a lifetime studying development. In 1972 he published "Dissent on Development" sharply criticizing aid for its focus on "symptoms and effects" of poverty while "divert[ing] attention from the determinants of development." For Bauer, foreign aid was not just a waste of money; it worked against getting things right in those areas that really matter to progress. Those "determinants" are now widely acknowledged, even by researchers at the World Bank. They produce an annual "Doing Business" survey that looks at the regulatory burden in 181 countries and points out the critical link between economically free people and prosperity.

It is obvious that economic liberty and property rights are the key drivers of development, and that there is no correlation between the volume of foreign aid a country receives and its respect for these values.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - Democrats and Poor Kids


Education Secretary Arne Duncan did a public service last week when he visited New York City and spoke up for charter schools and mayoral control of education. That was the reformer talking. The status quo Mr. Duncan was on display last month when he let Congress kill a District of Columbia voucher program even as he was sitting on evidence of its success.

Mr. Duncan's help in New York is in stark contrast to his department's decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March. The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population.

Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they'd support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would "not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids." Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.