Many Different “Problems,” Identical “Solution” in Every Case

Terrible working conditions
Lots of poor people
Industrial and financial instability
Economic depressions that won’t self-correct
Inadequate supplies of “affordable” housing
Widening economic inequality
Racial and ethnic discrimination
“Market failures” of many kinds
Environmental degradation
Threatened or disappearing species of animals and plants
Global cooling
Global warming
Climate change

These are among the many problems that people have perceived as plaguing economically advanced societies during the past century or so. They differ greatly and involve different causes, mechanisms, and consequences.

Yet in every case the solution has been widely seen as the same: vastly enlarging the power of government. It’s almost enough to make a skeptic wonder whether each perceived or proclaimed problem has been intended from the start to serve as a pretext for a government power grab—especially when one appreciates that somehow the problems that enhanced government power is supposed to solve never get solved to the satisfaction of those who sought the power, but only cry out in their view for even greater augmentation of government power.

Should California Lower the Bar?

Last year the pass rate for California’s bar exam, by some accounts the nation’s toughest, was 40.7 percent. Law school deans are now pressuring the state Supreme Court, which sets the standard for the exam, to lower the passing score.

“Should state adopt lower passing score for the bar exam? Current one may harm students of color,” runs the headline on a January 7 Sacramento Bee piece by Sawsan Morrar. The current bar exam “is too limiting for all applicants but especially harms minority graduates,” argues Morrar, who is not a lawyer. She cites unidentified “newly released data,” that if California adopted the national average score, “the number of African-American law graduates passing the exam would have doubled” and “nearly 24 percent more Latino law graduates would pass the exam.” So whoever compiled this data knows the results beforehand.

UCLA law school dean Jennifer Mnookin told Morrar, “More clients insist on having diverse lawyering teams,” so this is all about “diversity.” UC Davis law school dean Kevin Johnson worries that “we may be screening out a disproportionate number of minorities.” In diversity dogma, all groups are supposed to achieve in proportion to their percentage of the population, In reality, because of personal differences, effort, and choice, statistical disparities between people and groups are the rule, not the exception.

California’s public universities once rejected highly qualified applicants, most notably Asians, in favor of other minorities with lower academic scores. In 1996, voters halted that discrimination with Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which forbids racial and ethnic preferences in state education, employment and contracting. In a state where that law prevails, it makes little sense to dumb down the bar exam on the grounds that it “harms” some groups. It doesn’t, and the assumption that some groups need a weaker test in order to pass deserves a failing grade. So does the notion that the current exam is “too limiting for all applicants.” The 59.3 percent who pass might not think so.

Instead of dumbing down the bar exam, state law schools might assess the way they ground students in the law and prepare them for the exam. And no law forbids strenuous study and preparation on the part of law school grads.

Trump’s Wars After Mattis

Despite President Trump’s generally bad policy and potentially authoritarian behaviors outside democratic norms, it took his order withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and his plan to halve the number of American troops in Afghanistan to really rile the Washington establishment, especially Republicans. This program prompted Gen. Stanley McChrystal (Ret.) and incoming Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) to swing into action to denounce Trump. Trump’s foreign policy seems to have played a prominent role in triggering Romney to write in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, which began: “The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fought beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs all defined his presidency down.”

The Wasteful Priorities of Bureaucrats

We can learn a lot about the priorities of bureaucrats by what they choose to prioritize when they are forced to make choices in spending taxpayer dollars.

For example, the U.S. State Department is one of several agencies whose operations are being cut back as part of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Unfortunately, as the deadline to the partial government shutdown neared in December 2018, the State Department’s bureaucrats rushed to spend taxpayer dollars in a really strange way: to fund a film festival screening of a number of American-made LGBT movies in Mumbai, India six months later. Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon reports:

Red Seals in the Sunset

Back in 2010, fisherman Larry Legans was having some luck on the Sacramento River, not far from the state capitol, when a sea lion began raiding his catch. Legans duly shot the animal, for which he faced three years in prison and a $70,000 in fines. The sea lion, which locals dubbed “Sgt. Nevis,” recovered from his wounds and found a home at Six Flags Kingdom in Vallejo. Sea lions on the government’s hit list had no such luck. That year, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to target sea lions they believed were eating too much salmon. In 2019, the government continues to kill California sea lions, (Zalophus californianus) which can reach lengths of more than seven feet and weigh more than 700 pounds.

“Wildlife officials in Oregon have begun killing California sea lions that are eating too many of a type of vulnerable fish,” reports The Hill. The sea lions “can be killed if they are observed eating at least one steelhead near Willamette Falls between Nov. 1 and Aug. 15 or been spotted along the same stretch of river for two consecutive days.” Unlike Mr. Legans, nobody will be fined or imprisoned for killing the animals. They are not “euthanized” as the government claims. These were healthy animals that government officials executed for eating too many fish.

As we noted in 2012, the U.S. Forest Service has killed beavers, (Castor canadensis) for the crime of building dams, their natural activity. In several western states, the U.S Fish and Wildlife service was gunning for barred owls (Strix varia) which they view as an invasive species and overly voracious eater from the east. It was all part of an effort to save the celebrated northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), the object of federal protection.

Government conducts the same activity for which it prosecutes private citizens, an obvious and unacceptable double standard. Government tries to call the activity something it is not, and the presumption of superior knowledge only confirms ineptitude. As massive federal and state deficits confirm, government has great difficulty balancing a checkbook. Federal and state animal killings are evidence that government can’t balance nature either.

The DEA’s New $42,595 Vacuum Cleaner for Spies

The various branches of the federal government sometimes spend taxpayer dollars in very strange ways. And though strange often turns into a synonym for wasteful, that isn’t yet clear from the following report, by Quartz‘s Justin Rohrlich, on the special funding that the DEA approved and spent for a new spy camera-equipped vacuum cleaner.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has hidden surveillance cameras in everything from streetlights to traffic barrels to road signs. Now, the agency will be using a vacuum cleaner for surveillance, according to recently released, publicly available federal contracting data.

A Denair, California-based company called the Special Services Group, LLC won a $42,595 DEA purchase order at the end of November for a “custom Shop Vac concealment with Canon M50B.” Canon describes the M50B as a “high-sensitivity...PTZ [Pan-Tilt-Zoom] network camera” that “captures video with remarkable color and clarity, even in very low-light environments.” The M50B retails for about $3,400; the acquisition is being funded by the DEA’s Office of Investigative Technology and is presumably intended to assist agents in a specific operation, rather than for wider, passive monitoring.

Corruption Is Inherent in the Government Education System

Violent criminals have always been (former California governor) Jerry Brown’s favorite candidates for pardons, but on his way out the door, Brown saw fit to pardon Bill Honig, once the subject of a gushing profile in People magazine. The former state education boss was convicted on felony conflict-of-interest charges during the 1990s, but in 2011 Brown picked Honig for the state Board of Education. The convicted felon withdrew his name, but there’s more to the story.

Bill Honig knew government education was a bust, complaining that dumbed-down textbooks were “all horrors,” but he still defended the system. The alleged partisan of “quality education” would not allow parents in Compton and other inner-city areas to choose the schools their children attend. He said school choice would create “elite academies for the few and second-rate schools for the many” and authored “Why Privatizing Public Education Is a Bad Idea,” in The Brookings Review. Honig opposed 1993’s Proposition 174, the last school-choice measure to come before California voters. So did his successor Delaine Eastin, another close ally of the California Teachers Association.

FDA Approves Record Number of Generic Drugs in 2018

In the 2018 fiscal year, the Food and Drug Administration set a record by approving and tentatively approving 971 generic drugs, including a record-breaking month with 110 generic drug approvals in October. This eclipses the previous record set in 2017 of 937 approvals.

Generics drugs play an important role in the U.S. pharmaceutical market by providing patients with an alternative, and often much cheaper, treatment options. With U.S. drug prices among the highest in the world, generics provide significant financial relief for millions using prescription drugs. As FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently announced, “Through our efforts, generic drugs entering the market from January 2017 through July 2018 saved consumers $26 billion through the lower prices they enabled.”

Much of these record-breaking totals can be attributed to earlier policy changes. In 2012, Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which allows drug companies to utilize the FDA’s Accelerated Approval Process to receive an expedited FDA review by paying a fee. This process has cut nearly one year off the average time it takes for generic drug approval and has greatly expanded the generic drug market. Before the act passed in 2012, the FDA faced a backlog of about 2,800 generic drugs seeking approval. As of January 2018, the backlog was in the low 100s.

Teen Vaping Is Bad, but the Alternative Is Worse

In July 2017, the Food and Drug Administration enacted a comprehensive plan to regulate tobacco and nicotine products. The goal of this plain was “to better protect kids [from nicotine addiction] and significantly reduce tobacco-related disease and death.” Although most of the FDA’s efforts involved creating educational materials and bolstering warning labels, recent proposed regulatory changes have been described as a “historic crackdown” of the nicotine and tobacco products market.

The vast majority of the FDA’s “crackdown” occurred in the e-cigarette market, where the FDA has fined over 1,300 e-cigarette retailers, demanded five e-cigarette companies provide it with convincing plans on how they will prevent minors from using their products, and raiding one e-cigarette company’s headquarters to confiscate documents.

The Vice in Vice

Viewers with more than a passing familiarity with Republican national politics over the past thirty years are likely to leave theaters with mixed feelings (at best) after seeing the Golden Globe award-winning movie Vice. The narrative film by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Talladega Nights, Anchorman 2) is a line-blurring, occasionally satirical look at the political career of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his rise to power. Released nationwide on Christmas Day, Vice is creative and, at times, artistically brilliant. The distortions in the narrative, however, are so partisan and propagandistic many will have trouble, as I did, appreciating the movie’s artistry.

I am no Dick Cheney fanboy. As a libertarian, large swaths of the Republican policy agenda fashioned and implemented by Dick Cheney and others are an anathema to my views on governance and the proper scope of political power. These disagreements include those squarely in the sights of Adam McKay’s scathing narrative: the dramatic expansion of executive power in the White House, the terrifying abuse of surveillance and torture as part of a national anti-terrorism campaign, misguided military adventurism that continues to kill hundreds of Americans and thousands of innocent civilians. I also largely agree that Cheney has been a principal architect of the military and intelligence Deep State and the expansion of state control at the expense of individual liberty. But McKay’s narrative crosses several lines in his exuberance to vilify him, even in a narrative film.

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