alien & sedition.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
  Right-Wing Think Tank Review - 2/21/07

Once again I was unable to get into Blogger all morning. Soon as I get a few bucks together this blog's moving to Typepad. Anyway, enjoy. If that's the right word.

Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)

"More: The crying need for a bigger U.S. Military"
Article by former U.S. Senator Jim Talent
Pub. 2/20/07; Orig. pub. in National Review, 3/5/07.

Recently-defeated Senator Talent makes the case for a significant and sustained increase in defense spending, both in FY 2008 and over the long term (the "4% for Freedom Solution").

After repeating the conservative narrative of Carter's weakness and Reagan's Cold War-ending strength, Talent suggests that, currently, "the situation facing the U.S. military is grave."
[T]he Army is too small, the Navy and Marine Corps may well be too small, and much of the equipment in all the services is too old and increasingly unreliable. Without a substantial increase in procurement spending, beginning now and sustained over the next five to ten years -- an increase measured not in billions but in tens of billions of dollars per year above current estimates -- the U.S. will be unable to modernize its forces to the degree necessary to preserve its security with the necessary margin of safety.
Talent calls President Bush's FY 2008 budget an "important first step" toward raising military spending, but insists that this is not enough: "[B]oth ends of Pennsylvania Avenue also need to adopt a rule that the core defense budget should never sink below 4 percent of the nation's GDP."

The current military, argues Talent, is both "too small and too old" to meet the requirements of the current official national defense strategy, which requires the capacity to simultaneously defend the homeland, maintain four peacekeeping engagements, and fight two major regional wars. Moreover, says Talent:
The military is entering a crucial phase of recapitalization. Beginning with the next budget, and intensifying over the next five to ten years, the services are scheduled to field the new platforms that will anchor American security for the next generation. No one can say that this spending is not needed or that it can be delayed any further. The Army must modernize and replace almost its entire capital stock of fighting vehicles. The Navy must buy new DDG-1000 destroyers, ramp up procurement of Virginia-class submarines, and buy large numbers of littoral combat ships and the next-generation cruiser. The Air Force must buy its new superiority fighter, the F-22, as well as Joint Strike Fighters or equivalent aircraft. In addition, the Air Force must fund its strategic-airlift requirement, design and build a new tanker, and develop an interdiction bomber to replace the B-52, an aircraft almost 50 years old.
All of this means that "the services cannot possibly meet their crucial requirements without an average budget over the next five to ten years that is at least $30 billion higher per year." Starting with the military's own requests and working backwards, Talent casts this 'missing' $30 billion as a "procurement deficit," to which he adds a further $4 billion required to add two more divisions to the active-duty Army (bringing the total to twelve). Thus:
to sustain our military at the level necessary to protect our security, we must increase procurement, personnel, and support spending by at least $34 billion above the FY 2007 budget.
Where to find these additional funds? Talent suggests that "$1 or $2 billion" each year could be saved through procurement reform - cutting down on the $1,000 toilet seats. But what he's really got in mind is something much more fundamental.

Talent is acting as the spokesmodel for a broader Heritage Foundation effort: the "4% for Freedom Solution." Currently, says Talent,
"the U.S. spends only 3.8 percent of its GDP on the core defense budget....That is far lower than during the Cold War, and almost a full percentage point less than was spent even during the Carter years. America's economy is so powerful that even after years of underfunding military procurement, the U.S. could still recapitalize and sustain its military strength by enacting the $34 billion increase I mentioned earlier, and maintaining defense spending at no less than 4 percent of GDP thereafter.
And here is where Senator Talent makes the agenda clear:
The 4% for Freedom Solution would also have a positive impact on our long-term fiscal position. First, it would focus debate about the deficit squarely where it belongs: on the entitlement programs. Even a glance at the government's budget shows that growth in entitlement programs, not in defense or other discretionary spending, poses the real long-term threat to solvency. If Congress reforms entitlement spending, there will be more than enough money for defense; if Congress fails to get entitlements under control, then funding defense on the cheap will not save the country from bankruptcy.
Curiously missing from Senator Talent's essay is any mention of the Bush tax cuts, which have already forfeited $1.7 trillion of revenue, and, if made permanent, would cost an additional $1.8 trillion by 2014 - amounting to $400 billion/year in lost revenues by that time. Meanwhile, the Iraq war - the greatest strategic disaster in American history, which Senator Talent has enthusiastically supported - is currently costing the United States over $8.4 billion per month. Responsible fixes for these Republican blunders would generate more than enough funds to cover the extra $34 billion Talent believes should be added to our defense spending.

Judging by the evidence at hand, it is difficult to conclude that Heritage and Senator Talent are serious about responsibly funding our military. They seem primarily interested in using pro-military sentiment to lock the country into a confrontation over entitlement spending, at a time when our deeply flawed tax structure is propelling us toward a fiscal crisis.

"A Better Answer for Education: Reviving State and Local Policymaking Authority"
Lectures by U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Jim DeMint
Heritage Lecture No. 994, pub. 2/20/07; originally delivered 1/8/07

Michel Franc introduces the Senators by nothing that "today marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind law." More to the point, Congress will have to re-authorize the law in this session. Conservatives widely believe that NCLB was a bill that started out with good intentions, until it was hijacked by "liberals" who gutted the school choice provisions, leaving NCLB as little more than an exercise in massive increasely increasing the federal role in education.
FRANC: For example, there are 3.9 million students in schools eligible for limited public school choice, but because of roadblocks and bureaucratic hurdles put up by the schools, fewer than 1 percent of those chil­dren have actually managed to get those services. The regulatory burden has gone up in the absence of all these choice revisions, and one study by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House found that the No Child Left Behind law has added an additional 6.7 million hours of paperwork, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements for state and local authorities.
Thus Senators Cornyn and DeMint will discuss options for re-conservatizing the legislation.

Cornyn cites Thomas Jefferson and the principle of federalism to frame his argument for "moving the decision-making power out of Washington and closer to parents and teachers." Despite 25% growth in federal spending on K-12 education over the past five years, "America continues to fall behind, both competitively and academically." Cornyn calls for "allowing the states the flexibility and free­dom to establish their own guidelines," free from federally-mandated bureaucracy. To this end, he and DeMint have introduced the "A-PLUS Act of 2007," which would "revitalize our edu­cation system in America by wisely applying the les­sons of federalism, this time in an education context."

Dan Lips, another Heritage analyst, described the Senators' proposal:
The DeMint-Cornyn plan -- called the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success or “A-PLUS” Act -- would allow states to opt-out of No Child Left Behind. These states would enter into a contractual agreement with the federal government, under which they would be free to control federal education funding and use it however state leaders believe would improve student achievement and assist disadvantaged students. In exchange, states would maintain performance transparency by measuring student achievement through state-directed assessments.
In essence, then, the bill would be aimed in part at reducing bureaucracy costs - but also at giving control of education policy to state lawmakers, who would, presumably, be free to experiment to their hearts' delight with vouchers and charter schools, the twin pillars of the conservative effort to undermine public education.

DeMint's comments further develop a rather perplexing argument made by the conservatives. Declaring his commitment to "developing the individual," DeMint goes on:
But that does not necessarily mean that we are committed to government-run and politically man­aged schools, particularly from the federal level, and I'm afraid that over the past several decades, our commitment has moved from developing the capabilities of the individual to a commitment toward government control of education at the federal level. [...]

You can almost peg the beginning of the decline in our edu­cation system to when the federal government began to support it. We're losing ground to other countries, and we have been for a long time. We're spending now, if you add capital costs in just about every state, well over $10,000 per student, and we continue to lose ground. [...]

The way I see it, as someone who used to be not only in research, but in quality develop­ment in consulting companies for years, you can't have quality development with a top-down approach, particularly if decisions are made at mul­tiple levels as we have with education at the local, state, and federal levels.
What is strange about this argument is that the countries to whom the United States is losing ground - DeMint cites China and India, but you might also add European nations - all have highly centralized, nationally-funded education systems. It may be true that federal spending on education has increased, and it may be true that, at the same time, standards have fallen. But correlation, as we edukated folk know, does not equal causation. In fact, the evidence from the rest of the world very much suggests that too much federal involvement in education is almost certainly not our problem. In fact, one might argue, given that state boards of education have a propensity towards politically-driven foolishness to the detriment of real learning, perhaps our problem is too much state and local power over education.

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