Taking the Right Fast Track on Trade

One aim of President’s Obama’s trip to Asia is coming to agreement on a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. To enhance that prospect, the President has asked that Congress resurrect “fast-track” trade negotiation authority, which puts trade agreements to up-or-down votes, with no amendments.

Without fast-track authority, such negotiations make little headway, because, as Peter Hakim has noted, “countries will be more cautious, even fearful, that whatever concessions and agreements they reach could be for naught if the United States Congress disagrees with them.” But many Democrats want just such a result, to maintain their ability to protect “pet” constituencies, and so oppose fast-track authority even for their own President.

Unfortunately, opposing a free trade deal because it might actually allow people to do what would most benefit them in the absence of government-imposed barriers is the opposite of good policy for advancing the general welfare, which cannot come from beggaring some Americans to enrich others. The real danger from a trade deal is that moves toward freer trade will be neutered, and new restrictions created, in the fine print or bureaucratic implementation.

Fortunately, there is a way to give the President the ability to negotiate treaties to do what they promise–reduce trade restrictions–but close the door to deals that would harm Americans, without giving Congress the ability to amend them to death. Instead of unlimited fast-track authority, the President should be delegated one-way fast-track authority. A one-way fast-track to freer trade would guarantee that any trade agreement that only reduces current trade restrictions or makes property rights more secure (paving the way for freer trade) would be considered without amendments. Any agreement or treaty that imposed any new trade restrictions, including side deals made as part of the negotiations, would have to be submitted to Congress, subject to amendments.

Granting one-way fast-track authority on trade would have several advantages. It would remove the President’s ability to continually blame Congress for his lack of progress toward freer trade. It would give him the powers he claims to be seeking, but only toward the goal he professes, forcing him to deliver on his rhetoric.

It also would reduce congressional posturing on free trade. Voting on one-way fast-track authority would be a “clean” vote on free trade alone. It would keep those who claim to favor free trade, but always find some excuse (the environment, labor standards, etc.) to vote against it, from hiding behind such protectionist excuses. Those other issues would still be open to separate negotiations in Congress, subject to traditional legislative rules.

One-way fast-track would also undermine the common treaty trick of imposing new restrictions immediately, but delaying market opening moves into the future, when they may well be rescinded. It would reinforce the spines of American trade negotiators, who would otherwise face strong pressures to pay off domestic special interests in search of support for a deal. It would also undermine attempts by other countries’ negotiators to extract such payoffs, since they couldn’t be offered without risk that they would be amended out of existence in Congress. It would keep future administrations from hijacking negotiations to a dramatically different agenda than advertised, setting a precedent requiring treaties to deliver on the rhetoric used to ask for more power.

Giving the President broad fast-track authority would provide the prospect of both benefits and harms to Americans, now and in the future. One-way fast-track authority, however, would defuse the threat of harm, while advancing America toward the goal of free trade. As the world’s largest exporter of free trade rhetoric, it is time for America to take the one-way fast-track to living up to our words.

(Gary Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University in Malibu.)

Prison Litigation Brings No Relief for Taxpayers

A panel of three federal judges recently granted California two additional years to bring the state’s prison system into compliance with legally mandated limits on incarceration numbers.prisons-wolverton-cagle-April-29-2014-300x202

Explained the San Jose Mercury News, “At the same time, the judges set strict guidelines for how the state must comply with the court orders, including limits on the number of inmates that can be shipped to out-of-state prisons.”

That means more medical and health care, too, and the costs to match. Combined with the prison release program that’s already well under way, the new rules add up to a burden that California taxpayers just can’t shake off — despite claims that keeping more Californians in jail is too big a drain on state budgets.

Last summer, wrote columnist George Skelton, Gov. Jerry Brown hoped to appease the courts’ demands by shipping prisoners to private and local jails, including some out of state. The plan, known as “realignment,” would set taxpayers back over a billion dollars in three years.

At the time, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the governor’s scheme “a waste of money.” Steinberg then began working for the same sort of outcome the judges imposed.

More expensive

This year, California’s compliance with judicial dictates has delivered a prison system that’s only getting more expensive — despite shedding inmates. In City Journal, Heather Mac Donald tallied the costs: “California has added well over $1 billion in new prison health-care facilities,” although “the prison population has dropped by more inmates than are housed in all but a few states.”

Excluding experts’ fees, over a decade of legal bills stemming from California’s prison cases have stuck taxpayers with a tab of some $38 million. Alone, the fees raked in by the special master appointed to supervise mental health treatment add up to $48 million.

These kinds of figures are set to grow even higher. Mac Donald wrote, “California now spends $17,924 per prisoner on medical treatment — six times what Texas spends, four times what the federal government spends in its prisons, and three times New York’s rate. Health care makes up one-third of California’s prison budget.”

Yet Steinberg called February’s ruling “an opportunity to redirect hundreds of millions of precious dollars from a strategy that didn’t get us anywhere to one holding out real hope that tens of thousands of people with mental health and substance abuse issues, with no housing or job skills, can become productive members of society.”

That kind of talk creates the illusion that moving taxpayer dollars around will actually decrease the long-term volume of Californians flowing into “the system,” not just flowing out.

Skelton pointed out that California’s recidivism rate, at 70 percent, is double the national average. He attributed the imbalance to “California’s old stack-’em-like-cordwood mentality.”

But just last year, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States, 58 percent of California prisoners still were returned to prison within three years of release.

To be sure, as Mac Donald indicated, a “reform” that all but eliminated punishment for parole violations helped drop the prisoner count by 24,000 in two years, down to 120,000. She reported that the number now is “at the lowest level in 17 years and well below the 150,000-person ‘operational’ capacity of the prison system.”

Yet even as municipal jails face the brunt of prisoner transfers, cities and counties now confront the additional prospect of having to arrest, try, convict and jail recidivists all on their own.

Pressure on Brown

Democrats and progressives nationwide view California as especially negligent, or worse, toward its prisoners. Brown has brushed off such criticism. California, he said, spent “billions and billions of money that’s not going to child care, that’s not going to schools, that’s not going to higher ed. It’s going to gold plate, at this point, our prisons.” Back then, he declared the “prison emergency” to be “over.”

But now, Brown’s January budget proposal for fiscal 2014-15, which begins on July 1, calls on California to sell $500 million of additional bonds to fund county jail construction. That’s a response to concerns that realignment would push big new costs onto municipalities and counties.

Brown’s proposal, however, doesn’t guarantee future state funding for subsequent county jails. As a result, Brown faces dissatisfaction from both sides of the aisle.

Brown releases the May Revision to his budget in two weeks. A key thing to look for will be if he changes any of the spending assumptions for prisons.

Republicans are opposed to more government spending. Democrats hope to reduce the state’s incarceration footprint. It remains to be seen how taxpayers will respond.

(James Poulos is a contributor to CalWatchdog. Originally published on CalWatchdog.)

Walton, Weingarten and Orwell

The Walton Foundation has donated millions to help charter schools prosper, but that’s a bad thing according to the teachers unions.

It’s no secret that the Walton Family Foundation is a major donor to charter schools. In 2013, it donated over $70 million to these special public schools and charter management organizations across the country. A good example of the Walton’s largesse is The Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, which is housed in a building across the street from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. Having received $250,000 from Walton in 2011, the school “used the money to buy computers for students, as well as chemistry lab equipment and recording gear for the school’s media studio.”

All of the school’s students qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced price lunches. According to Marco Clark, the founder and head of the school, one in five students have special needs and one in 10 have been involved with the criminal justice system.

… Several students noted that they had come from schools in which they either did not feel safe or were not learning much. Dr. Clark acknowledged that the school was still working to raise test scores, and had added extra math and reading classes.

“Those who want to criticize any philanthropy group for giving money to kids to change their futures,” said Dr. Clark, “there’s something wrong with them.” (Emphasis added.)

Really. Just who would criticize these philanthropists for helping better the lives of thousands of kids across the country? Teacher union leaders, that’s who.

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel’s loopy comment on the Walton’s generosity:

Any foundation that invests the money has to ask themselves, is their money impacting the system as a whole?

What in Hades does this mean? If the Waltons can’t help every school in the country, they shouldn’t help any?

But the award for effrontery has to go to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a hair curling statement, she declared,

What they’re doing in terms of education is they’re trying to create an alternative system and destabilize what has been the anchor of American democracy.

Hitting a bulls-eye, longtime education reform warrior Whitney Tilson fired back:

Your union, Randi, has been a major contributor to the rise and entrenchment of an ineffective, unjust system that, rather than anchoring American democracy, is destabilizing it. It’s a system that provides a mediocre education to the middle 60% of students and a catastrophic failure to the bottom 20% – almost entirely poor, minority students – the ones who most need great schools and teachers to escape the circumstances into which they were born, yet we instead stick them with the worst.

Maybe Weingarten was just cranky. Her ridiculous comment came on the heels of a lawsuit that AFT’s New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, lost earlier in April.

On Tuesday, a judge tossed out a suit brought by the United Federation of Teachers to block the opening of 13 charter schools in September, including seven charters run by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

The union had argued (former mayor Michael) Bloomberg improperly pushed through the co-locations, which place a charter in the same facility as an existing public school. The space-sharing would make teachers’ jobs harder, the UFT said.

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter ruled the union had not exhausted “all administrative remedies” before filing the suit, and that “there is no basis for the claim that the proposals were issued prematurely.”

Ironically, as Weingarten wages war on charter schools (and every other kind of school choice that would benefit kids and parents), she managed to pick up the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, “for her lifelong commitment to improving America’s education system.” And who might bestow this late April Fool’s joke of an award on a teacher union boss?

Answer: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is comprised of labor unions and other far-left organizations. (Lavishing this honor on Weingarten is the equivalent of the sugar lobby granting a nutritious food award to Cool Whip.)

Perhaps the late Milton Friedman, father of school choice, said it best. Putting things into perspective, he wrote in 2005 that the deterioration of schooling can be traced to 1965, which was when

… the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union. Concern about the quality of education led to the establishment of the National Commission of Excellence in Education, whose final report, “A Nation at Risk,” was published in 1983. It used the following quote from Paul Copperman to dramatize its own conclusion:

“Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.

… Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.

So the war continues. In our bizarre newspeak world, the leader of a labor union who tries to force kids to stay in their failing public schools gets a “human and civil rights” award and the Walton Foundation, which gives millions to help free those kids, is vilified. 2014 is the new 1984.

(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. Originally published on Union Watch.)

Sebelius Ponders Senate Run

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Toyota Joins the Exodus from California

From U-T San Diego:

The news that Toyota is preparing to move its North American headquarters from Torrance to Dallas is fresh evidence of the downside to California’s high-cost, high-tax, regulation-heavy business climate. Will the likely loss of 3,000-plus middle-class jobs wake up Gov. Jerry Brown and leaders of the Legislature?

In a rational state, of course it would. But not in California. The Golden State has the nation’s worst poverty rate and the second highest percentage of willing workers unable to find a full-time job. Yet Brown and his fellow Democrats insist California has bounced back from the Great Recession — even though the recession has never ended for millions of people without college degrees and those who live more than 50 miles from the coast.

(Read Full Article)

middle class california


Obama’s Support Reaches Record Low

From The Daily Caller:

President Barack Obama’s approval rating has fallen to 41 percent among registered voters, threatening his second-term priorities and the Democratic majority in the Senate.

The Washington Post and ABC poll result was a record low for Obama, and it even showed his overall approval below the anemic 42 percent rating he gets for his handling of the economy.

His ratings are being dragged down by his handling of health care and foreign policy, which fell to 37 percent and 34 percent approval, respectively.

 (Read Full Article)

laborday-2 obama barack

Brown Urges Committee Support for Reserve Plan

From The Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Jerry Brown urged members of the Assembly’s budget panel Monday to support his plan for a new rainy-day reserve before voters in November.

Making a rare appearance before a legislative committee, Brown received a friendly reception from Democrats and Republicans alike during an informational hearing on reserve legislation put forward by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

Brown said his plan would provide “protective restraint.”

(Read Full Article)

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

EPA Chief Promises To Go After Republicans

From The Daily Caller:

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy has issued a warning to Republicans who continue to question the integrity of the agency’s scientific data: we’re coming for you.

McCarthy told an audience at the National Academy of Sciences on Monday morning the agency will go after a “small but vocal group of critics” who are arguing the EPA is using “secret science” to push costly clean air regulations.

“Those critics conjure up claims of EPA secret science — but it’s not really about EPA science or secrets. It’s about challenging the credibility of world renowned scientists and institutions like Harvard University and the American Cancer Society,” McCarthy said, according to Politico.

(Read Full Article)


CA Graduation Rate Rises, but Achievement Gap Remains

From The Sacramento Bee:

Let’s assume, at least for discussion, that maximizing high school graduation rates is – or should be – the primary goal of any public school system.

A corollary assumption, of course, is that a system’s diploma is meaningful, that it indicates the graduate is prepared to enter the workforce or seek post-high-school education.

State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced Monday that California’s high school graduation rate surpassed 80 percent last year with 184,557 of the 244,730 youngsters who entered ninth grade in 2009 receiving diplomas in 2013.

(Read Full Article)

college graduate student education

Kerry Backpedals on Israel ‘Apartheid State’ Comment

From Politico:

Secretary of State John Kerry, under fire for warning that Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state” in the absence of a peace deal, released a statement Monday evening pushing back hard.

“I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes,” Kerry said in a release put out by the State Department. “… If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution.”

(Read Full Article)

Photo courtesy DonkeyHotey, flickr.

Photo courtesy DonkeyHotey, flickr.