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Government Reform

All articles with the "Government Reform" tag.

Published: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 19:52:09 -0500


Darrell Issa Retiring from Seat He Barely Won Last Time

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 15:00:00 -0500

(image) Darrell Issa, widely considered the most vulnerable Republican in this November's House elections, announced today that he is retiring from Congress.

Issa, who has represented his corner of California since 2001, chaired the House Government Oversight Committee from 2010 to 2015. There he led probes into whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted Tea Party groups; how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) lost track of illegally purchased U.S. guns it allowed to be taken to Mexico; troubles with Transportation Security Administration body scanners; and, of course, Benghazi. He also ended the preposterous congressional hearings into steroid use in baseball.

Unfortunately, little of this led to substantive action. Forget abolishing the IRS—Issa's investigations didn't even let us review or reduce the ATF's budget. As of 2016, nearly 800 body scanners were deployed at 157 airports.

Nevertheless, the investigations were still by and large far more useful than anything the committee, now obsessed with Russia, has produced in the last year.

Also on the plus side: In 2012, Issa prevented an amendment from gutting Texas Rep. Ron Paul's Audit the Fed bill. (Paul's legislation passed the House unanimously but died in the Senate.) Issa also introduced a sensible bill last year aimed at preventing state licensing boards from self-dealing. A vocal critic of asset forfeiture, Issa recently tried to defund the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture fund.

In other ways, alas, Issa was an orthodox Republican. He voted for the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act, and his zest for government oversight faded after President Trump took office.

He faced an uphill battle for re-election: Hillary Clinton won his district by nine points over Trump in 2016, when Issa won over his Democratic opponent by about half a percentage point. With today's announcement, someone else will have to carry the GOP's banner in the race.

'The New Center' Is Full of the Same Old Worship of a Powerful Federal Government

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 14:15:00 -0400

Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard and William Galston of the more liberal Brookings Institution have teamed up to explore what "the center" of politics looks like in an era of President Donald Trump. They've just released the results in a report called "Ideas to Re-Center America." The concept should be familiar by now—some guys on both sides think that what will fix our polarized America is a path right down the "middle" of American politics. Kristol told The Washington Post that the process of writing the report made him discover "there was more being missed by Republican politicians and think tanks than [he] realized." So what does this new middle look like? Well, apparently Joe Average is really, really angry about Chinese theft of intellectual property. Wait, what? "The New Center" cares so much about intellectual property theft and patent reform that it's one of the seven major planks of its platform. Read this policy proposal and ask yourself if it sounds like Main Street populism or if it sounds like the work of some think tanks and lobbyists with a vested interest in certain outcomes: Tariffs are the nuclear option of international trade and can spur a counterproductive trade war. But China and other countries must understand there are real consequences for violating U.S. intellectual property protections. Two measures passed by Congress in the 1970s—Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act—provide the president broad latitude to investigate trade practices that are harmful to the U.S. and to impose sanctions. I'm sure there's absolutely no self-interested parties in Washington, D.C., who recommended to Kristol and Galston that they include this bit: In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act—commonly known as the "sequester"— which slashed discretionary spending across the federal government, with little consideration for the effectiveness of affected programs. Economic returns from basic government research are so significant—with a $1 investment in basic government research spurring over $8 in additional industry investment—that Congress should restore and increase basic research funding. Setting sarcasm aside (briefly), the entire report reads like it was written by Beltway professionals, and Kristol acknowledges to the Washington Post that it's where many of these ideas came from. Let's not necessarily talk smack about think tanks. The libertarian Cato Institute was consulted for this report (and of course, Reason Foundation is a think tank that publishes this very blog and pays me). But this is the "No Labels" shtick. It sells technocratic management of citizens' lives as some "moderate" alternative to the left and the right, but it's still big government controlling what people can do and ignoring side effects that lead to corruption. Consider the abuse potential on this recommendation on skills training: In early 2017, there were 6 million job openings even as 6.8 million Americans were looking for work. This is a stark reminder that too many Americans don't currently have the skills employers need. One way to fix this imbalance would be for the federal government to make more of its educational funding (e.g. Perkins loans) conditioned upon students pursuing majors in areas where there are projected future job shortages. Who would be projecting these future job shortages and who will be lobbying for certain recommendations? An instructive warning: The economic stimulus plans pushed by President George W. Bush and supported by President Barack Obama created a land rush in the Southern California desert to develop dozens and dozens of solar energy projects. A small number of solar plants did get built. Many more did not. Meanwhile, colleges were flogging solar energy job training programs for all the many openings these solar plants were going to provide. Then they didn't happen (and even when they did, solar plants do not require significant numbers of employees compared to other types of p[...]

Gutting of Oversight Bill Puts Kibosh on Police Reform in California

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 00:30:00 -0400

There are two rules of thumb to keep in mind when following the California legislature. First, lawmakers love to prattle about pie-in-the-sky issues, such as halting global warming, but steadfastly avoid tackling nuts-and-bolts issues (pension liabilities, infrastructure repairs) that cry out for attention but run up against powerful special-interest groups. Second, you always know it's a cop-out when legislators promise to "study" something. The gutting of a police-reform bill last week combined both of those realities. Assembly Bill 284 had little chance of passage because it dealt with an actual problem and was getting pushback from some muscular lobbies. Instead of killing the measure and getting a bad rap among their minority constituents, legislators turned it into a meaningless study bill. The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) following an incident captured on a disturbing video. Last July, Sacramento police tried to run over a knife-wielding, mentally ill man with their police cruiser, then fired 18 shots and killed him. The city in February settled a lawsuit with the man's family for $719,000, but the district attorney cleared the officers of wrongdoing. Police said the man was a danger to the neighborhood. Obviously, several "use of force" incidents have been in the news, so the Sacramento situation wasn't unusual. What was unusual is that a legislator proposed something substantive in response. The legislation would have created statewide teams to investigate officer-involved shootings. This would provide outside involvement in the currently incestuous oversight system. The revised bill now merely requires the state Department of Justice to produce a report of times officers shoot people or when people shoot them. Let's deal with a few little-discussed realities. No matter how egregious any killing appears, officers are cleared by their own departments and district attorneys, who work closely with the same police departments they oversee. In the rare instance they do prosecute an officer, a jury will side with the cop. Police unions shield even the worst officers, who always claim their lives were in danger. I've covered a number of these cases, and the result is usually the same. Here are some more realities. Liberals see these police killings through an entirely racial lens. There is, of course, a strong racial element to many of them, but most of the ones I've covered have had white people as the victims. It's more a policing problem that centers on an insular paramilitary culture that downplays the value of "civilian" lives. Conservatives—you know, the folks who prattle about government overreach—instinctively side with the government's agents. Would they be OK with letting the IRS or the Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board investigate themselves when there are accusations of abusive behavior? Should we always side with government because, well, it's responsible for protecting us and its employees often have tough jobs? The gutting of AB284 also reminds us of this reality: Union-allied Democrats are as hostile to police reforms as Republicans. Democratic state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, for instance, opposed the bill in its original state but backed it after it was watered down into meaninglessness. I'm glad that civil-rights groups spoke out at the Capitol against the amended version. Perhaps they will realize that there's virtually no chance any substantive police reform will move forward, even with Democratic legislative dominance. Whenever there's a troubling incident, we're faced with a false choice. We can trust the process or get upset that the officers don't face criminal sentences. But there is a third option. We can analyze current policies, training, job protections and strategies—and institute reforms to improve the way those agencies operate. After the Sacramento shooting, the city instituted some reforms. Why is that a verboten idea in the legislature? Government [...]

Breaking Up California an Idea That Won't Go Away, For Good Reason

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Years ago, I was riding an Amtrak train from Virginia to New Jersey and was chatting with a couple from California, who were stunned at how rapidly the train went from one state to another. One can drive from southern Maine to North Carolina and pass through a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, in roughly the same distance as going from San Diego to Crescent City, California. Consider also that California's approximately 39 million population equals the total combined population of the nation's 22 smallest states. I can regale you with geographic trivia, but the closer you look, the harder it is to fathom why talks of breaking up California are not taken more seriously. California is too large in size and population to be governed fairly. Note the word "fairly." There's plenty of debate about whether California is governed properly. I think not, but I cover the state Capitol and listen closely to the zaniness. I own a historic home that would have been flushed down the Feather River like detritus circling a toilet bowl, had the Oroville emergency spillway collapsed. California's leaders lavish public employees with benefits and build silly bullet trains, yet can't maintain basic infrastructure. And then they strong-arm us into raising taxes, yet again. But, ultimately, the "properly" question is a matter of political philosophy. Most liberal Democrats I know are happy with the way California is managed, and with the priorities that emanate from Sacramento. And why not? They control every state constitutional office and have supermajorities in the legislature. That's where fairness comes in. People who live outside the metropolitan areas are always overruled in the Capitol. They have no effective representation, no way to govern according to local values. In late March, two leaders of the Brexit movement—the successful, underdog referendum to extricate the United Kingdom from the European Union—were in Huntington Beach to receive an award from the American Association of Political Consultants. While there, they touted the latest plan to chop up California into two or more independent states. This is Version 2.0 of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper's previous plan to create "Six Californias." I've read dismissive and even mocking media coverage of Draper's idea. It's ridiculous, some say, even though there have been dozens of efforts to break up California since the beginning of the state. The eastern borders were largely arbitrary—and designed basically by committee at a constitutional convention. But the imprimatur of two Brexit ringleaders, party leader Nigel Farage and financier Arron Banks, has put the issue back in the news, given that their British effort was once deemed too silly to contemplate. They beat the odds, so why can't we? While in Orange County, they met with former Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh, who has said the breakup idea would improve democratic representation. He's right. They were well-received when they spoke to local groups about Brexit and the possibility of partitioning California. There have been myriad ideas to address our representation problem. I've written occasionally about San Diego-area businessman John Cox and his efforts to qualify a statewide initiative that would vastly expand the size of the Legislature. It sounds unwieldy to elect 8,000 Assembly members, which is why his Citizen Legislature plan still needs revamping. But the general idea makes sense. In California, we have one Assembly member for every 483,000 residents. That's the worst ratio in the country. In New Hampshire, which has the best ratio, there are approximately 3,200 residents for every member of the statehouse. What are your chances of influencing or even reaching your legislator—or even his or her staffers—in California? In a state as big as ours, only the big guys—the political parties, labor unions and other special interests—matter. Breaking up one mega-state into multiple reason[...]

Friday Funnies: Draining The Swamp

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 06:13:00 -0500


Local California Political Duel Shows Limits of Ethics Reform

Fri, 10 Jun 2016 00:01:00 -0400

If you want to watch a heated political feud, forget about the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That presidential bad blood is toxic, but seems tame compared with what's going on in Orange County, Calif., between county Supervisor Todd Spitzer and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The two Republicans have been mixing it up for years, with Spitzer hoping one day to replace Rackauckas as the county's top cop. This nasty local spat is of broader significance because it shows the pointlessness of creating commissions and new regulations to "fix" whatever's wrong with the political system. A couple weeks ago, I wrote for Reason about Orange County's Measure A, an effort by good-government activists to start an ethics panel to police campaign finance rules. "Often, these commissions are the worst of all worlds. They give the impression of oversight without actually overseeing much of anything," I concluded. It's not too independent either, given that politicians who will be monitored by the new panel get to choose its members. Since then an intensifying spat between Spitzer and Rackauckas illustrates another crucial lesson: These commissions will almost certainly be gamed by political actors. Instead of clamping down on bad behavior, they offer tools for political actors to embarrass their opponents. The commission hadn't even been approved yet, and these two foes are using it to score points on each other. Spitzer is a key supporter of the measure, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters on Tuesday. After he recorded a "robocall" backing it, Rackauckas called a press conference to accuse Spitzer of falsely impersonating an assistant district attorney. Rackauckas pointed to part of the script Spitzer read: "I have always played by the rules. As an assistant district attorney, I know that many politicians do not." Spitzer used to be an assistant district attorney until he was shown the door by Rackauckas in 2010. Said Rackauckas at the presser: "Stunning isn't it? Not only does he falsely impersonate an assistant district attorney, he does not appear to follow campaign laws requiring 'paid telephone calls must identify the candidate who paid for or authorized the call.'" Spitzer, as quoted by the Register, responded: "The only person who could misinterpret what I'm saying in this robocall is a paranoid district attorney who has failed to do his job as the district attorney of Orange County." He said he clearly identified himself as a county supervisor at the beginning the call. The D.A.'s office sent me Spitzer's latest campaign statement, in which he identifies himself as "a business owner, father and assistant district attorney," and a video in which he previously has identified himself as a former Los Angeles police officer—even though he was only a reserve officer. Rackauckas isn't going to press charges or do anything else about it. That's a good thing given these seem like fairly minor infractions. At one level, this is great political theater. I've always been startled by Spitzer's tendency to play the first-responder card for maximum political impact. An amusing example: As a state assemblyman, he attended a press conference (regarding wildfires) dressed in yellow firefighter boots and a vest. In a less-amusing episode, last year he made a "citizen's arrest" of an unarmed man at a restaurant. After a youth counselor approached him to talk about the Bible, Spitzer went back to his car, grabbed a loaded gun and handcuffs and detained him until cops arrived. Spitzer said he was concerned for his safety because the man was acting in a bizarre way. He told the Register his law enforcement background gives him "some kind of weird sixth sense when something's not right." My journalistic background gives me a similar sense about politicians. Neither the supervisor nor the D.A. is behaving in a manner that seems right—and I doubt yet another commission will do much about [...]

Washington Post Undercounts Number of Unarmed Black Men Killed by Cops, Misses Bigger Picture

Mon, 10 Aug 2015 18:00:00 -0400

A year ago yesterday, the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, catapulted the issue of police violence onto the national stage. After Brown's death, subsequent cases of killings by police received more attention than they likely otherwise would've.   Even killings that happened before Brown's, like that of Eric Garner, who was killed by police on Staten Island last July after being accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, garnered more attention afterward. Garner's death saw protests in New York CIty and around the country on a scale not seen when police shot and killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham after chasing him into his grandmother's house over a small amount of marijuana. Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and even Sandra Bland subsequently became household names. If their deaths had occurred a few years earlier they would join the thousands of names of people killed by police unknown to Americans, like Graham, or David Lee Turner or Erik Scott or Ernesto Duenez or Bobby Bennett or Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams or even Seth Adams.  This year, victims of fatal police violence are counted by the media in a way they never have before. Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a long piece under the headline "Black and Unarmed" about the 24 unarmed black men fatally shot by police this year, based on their ongoing analysis of their database on fatal police shootings.  The Post does not offer a link to its database itself, but at least one other outlet has its own publicly available database. The Guardian has been collecting news reports of police killings this year and making the database available to the public online as a feature called "The Counted." The Guardian counts 26 unarmed black men fatally shot by police.   It includes six cases not in the Washington Post's report, those of Denzel Brown, Sam Holmes, Kevin Judson, Glenn Lewis, Demeris Turner, and Andrew Williams, while categorizing four cases in the Post's report as something other than an unarmed black man fatally shot by cops. The Guardian lists Albert Davis' race as unknown and Victor Larosa's armed status as unknown. Lavall Hall and Bobby Gross are listed as "armed (other)" because they were alleged to have been armed, respectively, with a broom stick and a tree branch. The Post says it considers victims of police shootings holding "an object unlikely to inflict serious injury" as unarmed.   Nevertheless the Post omits 23 other black men shot by police that The Guardian reports were armed with something other than a gun or a knife. The most recent, Darius Graves, barricaded himself in a motel room after being chased for allegedly committing a robbery. Police threw tear gas into his motel room and then shot him when he ran out with a steel pole.  By focusing on fatal police shootings, the Post missed about 28 other unarmed black men killed by police in some other manner. By focusing only on unarmed black men, the Post can say that the number represents "a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening." The Guardian counts 704 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015—about 83 percent of whom were shot. But less than half of the unarmed black men who were killed by police were shot. Ten died in police custody, including Jonathan Sanders and Freddie Gray. Four were struck by police vehicles—in each case police say it was an accident but in at leas[...]

Better Government Through Crowdsourcing

Sun, 21 Jun 2015 11:00:00 -0400

Approximately 220 million Americans are eligible to vote, but only 130 million or so are likely to cast a ballot next November. While the 90 million who fail to make a trip to the polls will inspire hot takes and handwringing about the public's apathy and its deleterious impact on democracy, what about the apathy on the other side of the transaction? The United States is a network of 330 million people, all with different interests, aptitudes, skills, and experience. Yet the primary way the government attempts to tap their collective brainpower on a regular basis is by asking them all the same simple questions at election time. Candidate A or Candidate B? Yes or No on Proposition X? Over the last two decades, great efforts have been made to use technology to democratize campaign fundraising and help people become more engaged and informed voters. In contrast, little attention has been paid to a far more ambitious and potentially transformative quest: using technology to help people become more engaged and productive citizens, in ways that truly harness the full range of their skills and expertise. One effort to do exactly that is Created in 2010 and run by the General Services Administration (GSA), it offers a common platform where federal agencies list prize competitions open to the public. In April, for example, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that it's seeking a turbine engine with two or more times the fuel efficiency of current small turbines and three or more times the power-to-weight ratio of a standard aviation piston engine. And it will pay $2 million to the first person or team who successfully fulfills these requirements. In its first five years of existence, hasn't generated a huge amount of attention or activity. To date, approximately 70 federal agencies have posted around 400 competitions, eliciting responses from 50,000 or so "solvers" and awarding $90 million in prizes. But even with this small data set, the versatility and potential usefulness of is clear. Some agencies are simply using it as a kind of outreach or publicity tool. In one recent contest, for example, the Department of Consumer Safety challenged schoolkids to create posters that convey the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Others, however, are essentially using the website as a new form of procurement. In some instances, the goods or services they seek are fairly general. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is now offering $100,000 for "bold new ideas" on how to manage and improve the clinical quality of addiction treatment. Others are far more specific. NASA recently solicited designs for a 3D printable handrail clamp assembly for the International Space Station. Traditionally, federal agencies engaged in procurement write very detailed specifications about what they're looking for, circulate requests for proposals in established channels like, then evaluate the proposals that come in. This approach essentially encourages the agencies themselves to frame and shape potential solutions, and to determine which of these proposed solutions will provide the best result. Shifting the frameworks of procurement to a prize format, however, alters the process. Instead of trying to define and thus solve problems in advance, agencies define a more general outcome they're seeking to achieve without telling potential vendors exactly how to pursue it. Jim Adams, NASA's acting chief technologist, addressed this dynamic in a May 2014 report on prizes published by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "NASA is one of many organizations that follow a strict procedural approach to solutions," Adams exclaimed. "This is valuable, but has the potential to blind problem solvers to alternative solutions." Like most crowdsourcing platforms, shifts much of the risk and resource in[...]

35 Percent of Americans Want Pension Reform to be “Top Priority” for Govt

Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:40:00 -0500

(image) The latest Reason-Rupe poll found that 72 percent of Americans are concerned about their state and local government’s ability to fund public employee pensions as currently promised. However, only 39 percent say they are “very” concerned while another 33 percent are only “somewhat concerned.”

This is reflected in how Americans prioritize dealing with public employee pension reform.  Thirty-five percent say public pension reform ought to be a “top priority” for government while another 41 percent say it should be “an important but lower priority” reform. In other words, Americans are moderately concerned about public employee pensions, but have not yet been persuaded it’s a crisis.

Part of the reason is that few Americans are aware public employee pensions are estimated to be underfunded up to $4 trillion dollars. (See here and here). To put this in perspective, this estimate exceeds the total amount of money the United States federal government spent in 2014—$3.5 trillion dollars.

Not surprisingly, older Americans, and are thus thinking more about retirement, and fiscal conservatives are more likely to say pension reform should be a priority.

(image) For instance, 32 percent of private sector employees think pension reform ought to be a top priority, compared to 44 percent of retirees. Prioritization steadily increases with age, for instance, 27 percent of college-aged Americans want government to prioritize pension reform, compared to 34 percent among those 30 to 44 years old, up to 44 percent among those over 65.

Tea partiers are also 10 points more likely to prioritize pension reform—and this cannot be explained by age. Indeed, even younger tea partiers prioritize pension reform. Forty-three percent of tea party supporters want pension reform to be a top priority compared to 33 percent of non-supporters.  Find more discussion of what the public thinks about public pension reform here.

The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1003 adults on cell phones (501) and landlines (502) January 29-February 2, 2015. The poll’s margin of error is +/-3.8%. Full poll results and methodology can be found here, including poll toplines (pdf) and crosstabs (xls).

78 Percent of Americans Say Voters Should Get to Vote on Government Employee Benefit Increases

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 13:34:00 -0500

(image) The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that nearly 8 in 10 Americans think that the public should be allowed to vote on increases to public employees pensions and benefits. Support is largely non-partisan with 73 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents, and 80 percent of Republicans favoring such votes.

Solid majorities of both public (61%) and private (82%) sector workers also favor allowing the public to vote on such increases. Nevertheless, as one might expect, public employees themselves are more opposed to such a proposal. Indeed government workers are more than twice as likely as private sector workers to oppose allowing the public vote on public pension increases (37 to 16 percent). Find more discussion of what the public thinks about public pension reform here.


The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1003 adults on cell phones (501) and landlines (502) January 29-February 2, 2015. The poll’s margin of error is +/-3.8%. Full poll results and methodology can be found here, including poll toplines (pdf) and crosstabs (xls).

New York Times Columnist: U.S. Government Is ‘most successful organization in modern history’

Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:36:00 -0400

Remember that number-cruncher extraordinnaire Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times became the go-to spot for electoral prediction and numerical analysis in 2012? Well, Silver has since moved on to his own broader venture (still called FiveThirtyEight), leaving the Old Gray Lady lagging in the fashionable (if scarequote-worthy) "data-driven journalism" space. The paper plugged that gap this spring with a new mini-pod called "The Upshot," edited by economics columnist David Leonhardt. Some of us have been skeptical about the rise in fact-checking, "explanatory" journalism, arguing that it too often attempts to bathe a solidly statist bias in the holy waters of above-it-all empiricism. As if to live out that theory, here are the first two paragraphs of a David Leonhardt Upshot piece today: If you wanted to bestow the grandiose title of "most successful organization in modern history," you would struggle to find a more obviously worthy nominee than the federal government of the United States. In its earliest stirrings, it established a lasting and influential democracy. Since then, it has helped defeat totalitarianism (more than once), established the world's currency of choice, sent men to the moon, built the Internet, nurtured the world's largest economy, financed medical research that saved millions of lives and welcomed eager immigrants from around the world. This is a telltale exercise in scoreboard-pointing, responsibility-assumption, and blurry timelines. For example, if a measurable chunk of the success of the United States is due to the revolutionary, limited-government architecture of the Constitution, which provided a framework protecting the non-governmental pursuit of happiness (including commerce), then that design victory technically belongs not to the current U.S. government, but to its immediate precursor, no? If the majority of America's globe-topping GDP–which created the conditions for the dollar becoming a reserve currency–emanates from the private sector, is it numerically sensical to assign primary responsibility to the much less productive sector that taxes and regulates the Apple Computers of the world? And though the raw numbers may be higher today, the continent was more legally welcoming to immigrants under British, French, and Spanish rule than it has been over the past century under the Yanks. Then there are the U.S. government's many egregious failures, ranging from slavery to colonialism to internment to pointless war to mass incarceration. In fairness, Leonhardt's column is actually about government screw-uppery and the need to correct it; the we're-number-one stuff is more of a sweetener to make the medicine go down easier: [P]rogressives in particular will need to grapple with these failures if they want to persuade Americans to support an active government. The fact that such a sentence still needs to be written 45 years after Charles Peters founded an entire public-policy journalism genre around the notion of intellectually rigorous, sacred cow-slaying policy analysis from the left, speaks volumes about how far the Democratic/media center of gravity has drifted. As I wrote in a May 2013 critique of the new New Republic, An entire valuable if flawed era in American journalism and liberalism has indeed come to a close. The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the "responsible" exercise of state power. If your starting point is that the U.S. government is the[...]

Government is on Autopilot. And Headed for Disaster.

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 07:49:00 -0400

(image) Philip K. Howard, the author of 1995's influential treatise against bureaucracy and stultifying regulations, The Death of Common Sense, has a new book out. It's called The Rule of Nobody and it's an important discussion of "automatic government" that combines the worst elements of technocracy and mindless do-gooderism; it's a demented version of "the rule of law." I talk about it in my latest Daily Beast column. Snippets:

“Under current orthodoxy,” writes Howard, “the ideal government runs like a software program: Input the facts and out comes a decision.” While stressing that such a “technocratic model...has many plausible virtues” and evolved as a way to combat favoritism and partisan whimsy, he convincingly argues that contemporary government has removed virtually all scope for human intervention and responsibility. The result isn’t a fairer, more predictable form of government, but “a form of tyranny,” says Howard. “The fact that the tyrant is a bureaucratic blob instead of Birmingham police chief Bull Connor means that our freedom is smothered instead of subjugated at the point of a weapon.”

Putting more and more decisions - especially spending decisions - on a sort of autopilot is good for pols, of course, and for favored constituencies.

It’s clear why politicians like “mandatory” spending: It absolves them of any real responsibility while also shoveling heaping servings of cash to high-turnout voters. For all the rancor in D.C., neither Democrats nor Republicans show the least bit of interest in seriously tackling entitlement reform or shifting “mandatory” spending into “discretionary” funding, where it would come up for an annual and on-the-record vote.

Of course, the problem is that putting increasing amounts of spending, including increasing amounts of automatic increases in spending, on autopilot means that governments can’t deal with changed circumstances. Does anyone seriously think that the need for and structure of Social Security—created during the Great Depression, for god’s sake, and at a time when there were 160 workers per beneficiary—is relevant to 21st-century America, in which households headed by seniors have 47 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35 years old?

Read the whole thing.

Poll: 57 Percent of Americans Say the Obama Administration Is Not the Most Transparent Ever

Wed, 11 Dec 2013 17:05:00 -0500

(image) “This is the most transparent administration in history,” President Obama has said. The new Reason-Rupe poll, however, finds 57 percent of Americans disagree with the president’s statement. Only 37 percent of Americans think the Obama administration is the most transparent in history.

Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents, and 34 percent of Democrats say the Obama administration is not the most transparent administration in history.

As income rises, Americans become more skeptical of President Obama’s transparency assertion. About half of Americans making less than $50,000 a year disagree with the president’s promise compared to 68% of Americans making more than $90,000 a year disagree.

A majority (54 percent) of Hispanics disagree that the current administration is the most transparent while 41 percent agree. Nearly two-thirds of white Americans disagree while more than two-thirds of African-Americans agree that Obama’s administration is most transparent.

A plurality of young Americans 18-24 agree with President Obama on his administration’s transparency, but 60 percent of older millennials (35-34) disagree.  Roughly 6 in 10 Americans over 35 also disagree the Obama administration is the most transparent in history.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted Dec 4-8 2013 interviewed 1011 adults on both mobile (506) and landline (505) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.7%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

57 Percent Say the Obama Administration Is Not the Most Transparent Ever

Wed, 11 Dec 2013 15:00:00 -0500

(image) “This is the most transparent administration in history,” President Obama has said. The new Reason-Rupe poll, however, finds 57 percent of Americans disagree with the president’s statement. Only 37 percent of Americans think the Obama administration is the most transparent in history.

Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents, and 34 percent of Democrats say the Obama administration is not the most transparent administration in history.

As income rises, Americans become more skeptical of President Obama’s transparency assertion. About half of Americans making less than $50,000 a year disagree with the president’s promise compared to 68% of Americans making more than $90,000 a year disagree.

A majority (54 percent) of Hispanics disagree that the current administration is the most transparent while 41 percent agree. Nearly two-thirds of white Americans disagree while more than two-thirds of African-Americans agree that Obama’s administration is most transparent.

A plurality of young Americans 18-24 agree with President Obama on his administration’s transparency, but 60 percent of older millennials (35-34) disagree.  Roughly 6 in 10 Americans over 35 also disagree the Obama administration is the most transparent in history.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted Dec 4-8 2013 interviewed 1011 adults on both mobile (506) and landline (505) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.7%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

Fixing California: How to Loosen the Union Chokehold

Wed, 04 Dec 2013 09:00:00 -0500

A common theme in much of the “Fixing California” series has been the central role of union power in preserving a Golden State status quo that helps the few and harms the many. In schools, the interests of unionized teachers trump the needs of students. In local government, the compensation given to unionized workers often reflects their political clout, not the pay and benefits necessary to keep them on the job. In the Legislature, public employees are so powerful that union lobbyists have been known to openly browbeat lawmakers who don’t do their bidding. So how can Californians loosen this union chokehold? By adopting a reform that’s both better for governance and fairer to union workers than the status quo. The reform, known by the shorthand of “paycheck protection,” typically requires unions to have the permission of individual members before their dues are used for anything but collective bargaining. Six states have adopted such a reform. Easily the most liberal of the six is Washington, where voters adopted this requirement as part of a popular campaign-reform push in 1992 that was opposed by unions but supported by many union members. What followed was a relentless 15-year campaign of subterfuge and sabotage by unions and their Democratic allies in Washington’s legislature and court system. But in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for implementation of the law following its original intent. Since then, the politics of the state have evolved in interesting ways. While voters embraced gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana in 2012 initiatives, they are increasingly represented by more pragmatic and less ideological Democrats. In spring 2012, such Democrats teamed with minority Republican senators to pass a fiscally conservative state budget. Later in the year, two Democrats decided to caucus with minority Republicans in a coalition running the state Senate in an attempt to force a more centrist course for Washington, which has had Democratic governors continuously since 1985. Perhaps these moderating developments would have happened without paycheck protection. But they would have been less likely. In Washington state politics, the same as everywhere, money talks. There is a good chance that California would have a similar evolution with paycheck protection in place. The social liberalism of most residents would still influence policy. But on fiscal, budget and compensation questions, if the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union could only throw their weight around using the dues of members who wanted such activism, government policy would reflect less union-first dogmatism. Unfortunately, the last time reformers brought paycheck protection before California voters — via Proposition 32 on the November 2012 ballot — they didn’t trust voters enough to just give them a straightforward up-or-down vote on whether union members should have a say on the use of their dues. Instead, the initiative included legally dubious provisions restricting corporate campaign spending that gave critics ample ammunition to depict it as a deceptive power play. The measure lost in a landslide. But state voters came fairly close to passing cleaner, simpler versions of paycheck protection in 1998 and 2005. The appalling story of former Los Angeles Unified elementary schoolteacher Mark Berndt would make a simple version of paycheck protection much easier to pass in 2014 or 2016. After evidence turned up indicating Berndt had been feeding sperm to his students, district officials had no choice but to pay Berndt $35,000 to get him to quit because of job[...]