WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.
The Reason Foundation
LOS ANGELES -- Welfare nostalgia
By Ronald Bailey
Reactionary left-wingers just can't let go. They still believe that good intentions are the sine qua non of good social policy. A few days ago, the New York Times went through data contortions in an effort to undermine one of the most successful social policies in recent years -- welfare reform.
In a front page article, "Side Effect of Welfare Law: the No-Parent Family," the Times found that some small proportion of children whose mothers were once welfare recipients are now living with other relatives or in foster care. The story is illustrated with anecdotes in which children are being raised by grandparents while their mothers learn to cope with the world of work. While not stated, the chief implication of the story seems to be that in order to protect these children the United States should return to the old system in which welfare was an entitlement.
The Times article mirrors the denunciations made back in 1996 by reform opponents. For example, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, then predicted that reform would do "serious injury to American children." Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., condemned it as "the most brutal act of social policy since Reconstruction." They were spectacularly wrong.
The proper way to evaluate welfare reform is to look at how the welfare system's former victims are faring. Six years ago, Congress set deadlines for welfare recipients to find jobs and limited benefits to only five years. Since then, according to the Heritage Foundation, employment of never-married mothers has climbed 50 percent; employment of single mothers who are high-school dropouts has risen by two-thirds, and employment for young single mothers (ages 18 to 24) has nearly doubled.
The result is that 2.3 million fewer children live in poverty than did in 1996. Of course, under the old entitlement system, the percentage of Americans living in poverty in good economic times or bad didn't change for nearly three decades
The Brookings Institution concurs, noting, "A mother with no more than three children can escape poverty if she works steadily and full-time at a $7 an hour job and receives the benefits to which she is entitled."
No one is saying that life after welfare is a piece of cake, but as Brookings also noted, "Still, in the end, work pays better than welfare."
Brookings also found that after welfare reform that "teen pregnancies and births have declined dramatically, the share of children born out of wedlock has leveled off, and the share of children being raised in two-parent families has increased. The strong emphasis on parental responsibility in the 1996 law has been followed by large increases in paternity establishment and child support collections."
Claims by welfare reform opponents that it would harm children are wrong.
"So far little evidence of widespread harm has materialized," declared the Brookings researchers. The old welfare entitlement system favored by reactionary liberals practically mandated the destruction of two-parent families by bribing welfare mothers to throw out their husbands or partners in order to qualify for benefits.
Given decades in which whole generations of people lived in a debilitating welfare dependency culture, it is unreasonable to expect that welfare reform would be a miracle Lake Wobegon panacea in which all children and all families would be above average after only six years. The motives of the reformers may not have been as generous as The New York Times might have liked, but their analysis of the negative incentives that welfare entitlements had on people stuck in poverty turned out to be right.
Clearly, ideologues at The New York Times and elsewhere have not yet learned that the road to hell is still paved with good intentions.
(Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent.)
The Cato Institute
WASHINGTON -- Volunteer voyeurs?
by Gene Healy
The Justice Department's vague proposal for a legion of citizen-informants -- Operation TIPS -- didn't get a warm reception when the idea was floated recently. Public outcry led House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, to try to kill Operation TIPS in his markup of the Homeland Security Department bill.
But it's not dead yet. President Bush -- Congress be damned -- is going ahead with the program anyway. "The administration is continuing to pursue Operation TIPS," confirmed Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock.
Why worry about Operation TIPS? What could possibly be wrong with what the Justice Department calls "a national system for reporting suspicious and potentially terrorist-related activity"? Several things, actually.
First, TIPS (the Terrorism Information and Prevention System) appears to be designed to do an end-run around the Fourth Amendment, enlisting workers who have access to places that government agents can't get to without a warrant. Second, it's likely to waste law enforcement resources by requiring federal officials to follow up on millions of tips of dubious value. And third, it has the potential to degenerate into an unsavory network of volunteer voyeurs: a legion of self-selected busybodies helping the war on terror by spying on their neighbors.
An FBI agent needs a warrant to enter your house. Your cable provider does not. This may explain why, in its initial descriptions of the program, the Department of Justice made clear that it would recruit informants in jobs that give them unique access to private property, such as utility workers and letter carriers. (Interestingly, in the midst of public disapproval of the proposal, the administration revised the language on the Operation TIPS Web page, and removed the references to specific occupations.)
Having gained entry to your property through trust and consent, TIPS informants will then be able to report on anything they deem suspicious. With the post-Watergate restrictions on domestic spying eroding in the name of fighting terror, who is to say to what uses such information will be put?
Moreover, the program will almost certainly waste federal agents' time and taxpayers' money. Thus far in the domestic war on terror, the main problem has not been a lack of information. Instead, red tape, lack of communication among the authorities, and misplaced law enforcement priorities have hampered the fight against al Qaida.
As has been reported, the Phoenix FBI office knew about al Qaida activity at U.S. flight schools prior to Sept. 11 but could not get the Bureau's main office in Washington to take action. Agent Kenneth Williams' memo about Bin Laden-ist pilots-in-training disappeared down a bureaucratic black hole.
Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times and other sources, the FBI was engaged in an 18-month-long sting operation at a brothel in New Orleans that netted 12 prostitutes. While al Qaida was preparing for Sept. 11, federal law enforcement was down in the French Quarter acting like the local vice squad.
Plainly, federal authorities do not have their priorities straight and they have not developed clear lines of communication. They can't even effectively follow up on tips from federal agents. How will that situation be improved by diverting personnel and resources to follow up on literally millions of tips from untrained citizen-informants?
Many TIPS critics have invoked the specter of the citizen-spy network set up by the East German Stasi. But it's not necessary to go abroad for cautionary tales. During World War I, the Justice Department had its own corps of citizen spies, the American Protective League. The APL was a volunteer organization, some 250,000 strong, which worked closely with the Justice Department identifying potential "subversives." When the APL couldn't find enough German spies to keep busy, its members quickly turned to harassing labor organizers and turning in draft dodgers.
Will Operation TIPS become a latter-day version of the American Protective League? It's hard to say. The Justice Department has been characteristically vague about the program, giving its officials plausible deniability whenever anyone expresses alarm. Recently, Justice Department spokeswoman Comstock disingenuously professed her shock at the suggestion that TIPS is anything more than a 1-800 number for vigilant citizens.
But clearly, by focusing on workers with access to private places, the administration is aiming at something far more troubling. The program is ripe for abuse. Instead of spying on their neighbors, vigilant citizens should train a skeptical eye on initiatives like Operation TIPS.
(Gene Healy is a senior editor at the Cato Institute.)
The Institute for Public Accuracy
(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)
WASHINGTON -- Corporate wrongdoing: The new law, the FCC's role, Enron's global damage
-- Virginia Rasmussen works with the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy and wrote the article "Rethinking the Corporation."
"The legislation signed by Mr. Bush today is a quickly-devised effort to send a message that the people are 'winning,' when, in fact, nothing of the sort has happened. ... A law establishing oversight and imposing a few penalties we are told will set things right and get corporations in line, but will in fact leave the giant corporations and their complicit governments to proceed with business as usual. Such speedy acting is intended to divert us from the fundamental question of who governs in this country. ... We need to be rewriting corporate law in all 50 states and engaging in the struggle to build democratic institutions that put the people in charge."
-- Daphne Wysham, co-author of "Enron's Pawns: How Public Institutions Bankrolled Enron's Globalization Game," Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network.
"Long before Enron's tricks came to light in the United States, the company was infamous for even more egregious practices in the developing world ... Our research has uncovered that 21 agencies representing the U.S. government, multilateral development banks, and other national governments helped leverage Enron's global reach with $7.2 billion in public financing approved for 38 projects in 29 countries. Enron's overseas operations rewarded shareholders temporarily, but often punished the people and governments of foreign countries with price hikes and blackouts worse than what California suffered in 2001, causing social unrest and riots that were sometimes brutally repressed. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and other public agencies continued to advocate on Enron's behalf, threatening poor countries -- for example Mozambique was threatened with an end to aid if it did not accept Enron's bid on a natural gas field. Only when Enron's scandals began to affect Americans did these officials and institutions hold the corporation at arm's length."