Think tanks wrap-up

Nov. 1, 2002 at 5:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for Nov. 1.

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 -- Iraq: U.N. endgame

"All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." -- U.N. Charter (Chapter I, Article 2)

-- James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, which monitors global policy-making at the United Nations.

"We understand that a deal is being struck -- after tremendous pressure and who-knows-what sweet deals ... There has apparently been delay in large measure because, according to a highly-placed source at the U.N., 'every word of text change had to go back to Washington and get argued over for two days.' But even the hawks understand that public support for a war without a U.N. resolution is dropping and is low; only 27 percent in a recent Pew poll said they would support the war 'if allies don't go along' ... Many of the worst 'trigger' language is out, but plenty of material remains in the resolution that the U.S. government will claim allows war, make no mistake about that. Council members know this, but now they are running for cover."

-- Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"What is going on here is completely outrageous. The Security Council, a body that was supposed to make war at the behest of one country illegal and impossible, is paving the way to a war of aggression. And worst of all, the U.S. will be able to argue that somehow it has its blessing."

-- Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law.

"If the U.N. Security Council gives the Bush administration this legal fig-leaf for its pre-planned aggression against Iraq, the Security Council shall prove its own legal and moral bankruptcy...."

-- John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy.

"If the UN is strong-armed into authorizing this war, then it will be acting contrary to the basic values of the UN Charter ... The U.S. may well get a resolution which it claims authorizes war in the case of Iraqi non-compliance; the U.S. and other countries could agree to disagree. This would undermine the United Nations ..."

The Cascade Policy Institute

(CPI is a libertarian nonprofit research and educational organization that focuses on local and state level issues in Oregon. The Institute's mission is to explore and advance public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Majority vote does not change wrong into right

By Kurt T. Weber

A sign in a government community center reads, "Exercise your freedom and vote!" This exhortation may sound good, but it should cause one to pause and ask: Is freedom really about voting?

Cato Institute President Ed Crane once remarked that the people in Poland, China, and other such places did not, and do not, rebel against oppression just so they can vote. Rather, they risk their lives to be free to live without government directing their lives. They were not national resources to be exploited to achieve someone else's societal goal.

Unfortunately, the whittling away of liberty in Oregon and across the United States has become acceptable -- so long as a majority approves it. Whether that majority is citizens, local officials, the legislature, or Congress, 50 percent plus one justifies almost everything these days.

Majority rule does not change wrong into right. If the majority of Oregonians voted tomorrow to bring back slavery, it would still be wrong.

These United States were founded as a Republic with a constitutionally limited government. Roger Pilon, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, points out, Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and the Tenth Amendment of the Bill of Rights succinctly spell out the limits to government power.

Alchemists believe you can turn lead into gold. However, believing something does not make it true. Whenever you cast a vote in a government election remember, majority support does not change a wrong into right.

(Kurt T. Weber is vice president of Cascade Policy Institute.)

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy

(MCPP is a nonpartisan research and educational organization devoted to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions through the objective analysis of issues. MCPP seeks to broaden the policy past the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution for various issues, and offers a comprehensive approach encompassing voluntary associations, business, community and family, as well as government.)

MIDLAND, Mich. -- Michigan Not a Big Supporter of National Certification Program

By Dr. George C. Leef

Everyone wants competent, effective teachers for America's schoolchildren. The question is how to go about getting them. One of the biggest dodges of the issue, used primarily by the education establishment, is to tout "teacher certification" as a kind of failsafe insurance against incompetence.

On the national level, the program that professes to confer unassailable legitimacy upon the capabilities of teachers is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, or NBPTS. Formed in 1987, NBPTS has standards for teachers that, it claims, "have forged a national consensus on what accomplished teachers know and should be able to do."

To obtain NBPTS certification, teachers with at least three years of experience can submit a required set of portfolios of student work, videos of classroom performance, and answer a set of essay questions on teaching designed to assess pedagogical abilities. Submissions are scored by teachers in the same field and grade level.

The NBPTS program is voluntary, and states have not responded uniformly to the chance to have their teachers certified. Some, such as North Carolina, pay the steep application cost of $2,300 for as many teachers as want to try for "national certification," and guarantee a large salary bonus for those who receive it. Other states, such as Texas, have done nothing to encourage participation in the NBPTS program.

Michigan provides funds to cover only half of the NBPTS application fee, for only 43 teachers per year. The state gives no salary bonus to teachers who receive NBPTS certification, although a few local governments do. Consequently, the number of NBPTS-certified teachers in Michigan is low, only 115. North Carolina, with a smaller population, has over 3,600.

Is Michigan missing a chance to upgrade its teaching corps by failing to provide more incentives for NBPTS? Or is it wisely holding back from putting money into a program of doubtful value?

There has never been a reliable study that verifies NBPTS' claim of effectiveness. One 2000 study -- overseen by the NBPTS itself -- was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It purports to prove that NBPTS-certified teachers are more effective than non-certified teachers.

But University of Missouri economics professor Michael Podgursky subsequently pointed out major flaws in the report. For one thing, it didn't use student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness, dismissing the idea with this rhetorical blast: "It is not too much of an exaggeration to state that such measures have been cited as a cause of all the nation's considerable problems in educating our youth."

Furthermore, Podgursky observed, the study was an exercise in circular reasoning. "In effect," he wrote, "the report really tells us only that teachers who were certified by the National Board were more likely to display the types of behaviors that the National Board favors."

A recent study by East Tennessee State University education professor John Stone found no discernable improvement in student learning when Tennessee students were taught by NBPTS-certified teachers. A crucial difference between Stone's approach and that of the NBPTS-sponsored study is that Stone relied on student test scores. Tennessee has a system of "value-added" educational reports that measures annual learning gains by students in grades 3 through 8.

After evaluating these data, Stone concluded that NBPTS-certified teachers "cannot be considered exceptionally effective in terms of their ability to bring about student achievement." Some NBPTS-certified teachers even showed learning gains well below average.

Such findings are in keeping with a growing mountain of evidence that teacher certification, whether on the state or national level, doesn't translate into teacher excellence. And if one looks closely at the NBPTS standards and certification process, it isn't hard to see why.

Former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education and education policy guru Chester Finn put his finger on the problem when he wrote, "the Board actually rewards teachers for being good at the opposite of what most parents think teachers should excel at. Its idea of a great teacher is one who embraces 'constructivist' pedagogy, 'discovery' learning, and cultural relativism -- not one who imparts to students fundamental knowledge, or even has it himself."

In choosing not to promote NBPTS, Michigan has made the right call.

(George C. Leef is director of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, N.C., and an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON --If the Bush tax cut is repealed, how much will your taxes increase?

By Ralph A. Rector

Repeal of the Bush 2001 tax plan in 2003 would increase taxes or reduce refunds for filers in all income classes in 2004. Overall, the rate of increase in income taxes after refundable credits would be greatest for those with incomes between $10,000 and $30,000. Many tax filers with incomes less than $15,000 would notice the tax change as a reduction in their refundable tax credits. Taxpayers with incomes over $500,000 would have the smallest percentage increase.

All tax filers, including those with incomes under $10,000, would lose the benefit of the new 10 percent tax bracket. This new bracket lowers the tax rate on the first $6,000 of income for single filers and the first $12,000 of income for married couples filing jointly. The new bracket is a major source of tax relief for tax filers with incomes less than $100,000.

Families with incomes between $10,000 and $30,000 would also lose the benefits provided by changes to the child tax credit. Repealing the 2001 tax cut would reduce the value of the child credit by over 15 percent in 2004. In addition, many taxpayers who pay little if any tax would no longer qualify for the refundable child credit. Prior to the Bush tax plan, the credit was refundable only for families with three or more qualifying children.

Repealing the tax rate reductions, which are the source of important economic incentives, would be particularly noticeable for taxpayers with incomes over $50,000.

Ralph A. Rector is a research fellow in the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis, where he also serves as project manager.

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security alert system: Why bother?

By Charles V. Peña

The latest FBI terror warning is that al Qaida may be planning to attack passenger trains, "possibly using operatives who have a Western appearance." This is the second terrorist warning in the last two weeks.

Previously, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that terrorists could strike soon while offering little assurance that his agency could thwart the next attack. And CIA Director George Tenet said that it was "unambiguous" that al Qaida intends to strike the United States.

Meanwhile, the homeland security advisory system -- which is supposed to "provide a comprehensive and effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to ... the American people" -- remains on yellow alert signifying a "significant risk of terrorist attacks."

One would think that the advisory system would bear some resemblance to actual warnings. Not so. Since its inception in March, the color-coded homeland security advisory system has been nothing but government sound and fury signifying much of nothing.

For six months, the alert level was flat-lined on yellow. This despite all manner of warnings about possible terrorist attacks in the United States. Warnings and dire pronouncements were at a crescendo in May. U.S. intelligence sources reported that Islamic terrorists were planning an attack on nuclear power plants on July 4. Vice President Dick Cheney warned that another terrorist attack was "almost certain." Mueller said suicide bombers like those who have attacked Israel are "inevitable," and the FBI asked apartment owners to report any suspicious activity. Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said a future terrorist attack was "not a question of if, but a question of when."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld echoed Ridge, stating that the "question is not if, but when, where, and how" another terrorist attack will occur. Capping those warnings, the FBI alerted New York authorities about possible terrorist attacks against city landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. And the Department of Transportation issued a warning about possible attacks against subway and rail systems. None of this, however, was enough to change the alert status from yellow.

The only time the alert level has changed was on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the change to "orange" signifying a "high risk of terrorist attacks" had absolutely nothing to do with any threats to homeland security. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the heightened terror alert was prompted by "specific intelligence" pointing to threats against U.S. interests abroad -- yes, overseas -- in South Asia and the Middle East. President Bush admitted, "We have no specific threat to America."

So why increase the homeland security alert level and thus the public's level of fear and anxiety?

After two weeks, the alert level was lowered again to yellow. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that keeping the alert status at "an artificially high level" would undermine the system. But if there was no real threat to the U.S. homeland when the threat level was first raised, then by definition it was raised to an artificially high level to begin with.

Even more absurd was a joint statement by Ashcroft and Ridge when the alert level was lowered: "Detained al Qaida operatives have informed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials that al Qaida will wait until it believes Americans are less vigilant and less prepared before it will strike again." So lowering the alert status means we're more vigilant and more prepared?

The sad truth is that the best purpose for the homeland security advisory system is for the federal bureaucracy to be seen as "doing something," to prove to the public that politicians and government officials are not asleep at the wheel -- if something actually does happen, they can claim they gave fair warning.

But it's of little use to state and local government officials, as well as the general public, because no clearly defined actions are associated with any of the alert levels.

Throughout all the various warnings -- including increasing the alert level from yellow to orange and back to yellow again -- the public has been told to go about their normal, everyday lives. Indeed, despite the latest warning of potential attacks against passenger trains, an administration spokesperson urged Americans to "continue to ride our nation's rails."

Ultimately, the homeland security advisory system is pointless and useless. And if it's any indication of how the proposed cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security will work, Americans have every reason to be concerned that the federal government will be able to do little to prevent another Sept. 11.

(Charles V. Peña is senior defense policy analyst at the Cato Institute.)

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