A Victory for Transparency in Government

October 21, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

For decades, the Congressional Research Service has worked very hard to keep its reports to Congress hidden from public view. But now, thanks to the efforts of a group of activists and two members of Congress, the cat is not only out of the bag, but it is eating up all the spilled beans:

A guerrilla group of open-records activists struck a major blow for sunshine in government Wednesday when it posted more than 8,200 reports from the Congressional Research Service, Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan think tank whose research is usually closely guarded.

Demand Progress posted the reports at EveryCRSReport.com, giving the public an unprecedented look at the kinds of information accessible to lawmakers on nearly every subject that comes before Congress.

The reports have been available to lawmakers and thousands of staffers on Capitol Hill with access to the internal computer network, but the CRS balked at requests to broaden access, saying its mission was to report to Congress, not to the public.

“For more than 20 years, the public has clamored for Congress to systematically release CRS reports to the public,” said Daniel Schuman, a former CRS attorney who is now policy director at Demand Progress and who spearheaded the effort. “Congress must do better, and this new website points the way forward.”

He said his group has posted every publicly available report and redacted only the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the analysts who wrote them. The group also added a statement about copyrights of information in the documents, addressing one of the concerns the CRS had offered.

Congress has jealously guarded its reports, with lawmakers even voting down efforts to have CRS itself make the documents readily available.

But that has never been a unanimous stance, and some lawmakers have fought for more access.

Stymied by their colleagues, two members of Congress — one Democrat and one Republican, whom the group did not name — are providing access to the reports to Demand Progress.

They include 723 reports on constitutional issues, 211 reports on immigration policy, 592 on health policy, 18 on Indian affairs and more than 1,500 reports on Congress‘ spending powers and the programs it chooses to fund. Each of those reports is publicly available to all Capitol Hill staffers on the network.

You can find the reports at the aptly named EveryCRSreport.com. Reports of likely interest to JayBlog readers include:

  • The Law of Church and State: Public Aid to Sectarian Schools” (2011): “This report gives a brief overview of the evolution of the Court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause in this area and analyzes the categories of aid that have been addressed by the Court. The report explains which categories have been held to be constitutionally permissible or impermissible, both at the elementary and secondary school level and at the postsecondary level.”
  • Campus-Based Student Financial Aid Programs Under the Higher Education Act” (2016): “Three Higher Education Act (HEA) student financial aid programs—the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program, and the Federal Perkins Loan program—collectively are referred to as the campus-based programs. […] This report describes the FSEOG, FWS, and Federal Perkins Loan programs. It also presents historical information on appropriations provided for the programs and the federal student aid that has been made available to students through the programs.”
  • Charter School Programs Authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA Title V-B): A Primer” (2014): “While the charter school programs have not been reauthorized since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; P.L. 107-110) in 2002, they continue to receive funding through the annual appropriations process. In addition, since FY2010, substantive changes have been made to the programs through annual appropriations acts, including allowing or requiring the Secretary to make grants to nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) and other nonprofit entities for the replication and expansion of successful charter school models.”

If you find anything interesting, be sure to let us know in the comment section below.

The Maestros Sit Awkwardly on their Dunce Caps Hoping that You Won’t Notice

October 21, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

It’s  become increasingly difficult not to suspect that the Federal Reserve and other central banks have traded in their maestro status for a dunce cap that they are desperate to hide from the rest of the class.  The former head of the Reserve Bank of India was kind enough to admit that central bankers basically don’t know what they are doing. Today this piece from Jeffery Snider- Economists are Blind to What they Don’t Know– makes an important point:

What all these have in common is more than just interest rates or TED spreads, even global depression; it is the entire idea of technocracy itself. Since before Plato, people have dreamed of a utopia where enlightened, dispassionate philosophers would govern and guide messy, often awful human existence toward and into “optimum” outcomes. It took until “economics” in the latter half of the 20th century for such hubris to take literal hold; there is an entire branch of the “science” dedicated through statistics just so to determining both “optimal outcomes” as well as the duty to “nudge” people toward them using the power of government if need be.

Economics is where technocracy was tried in widescale fashion first, and where it was thought at one time perhaps perfected. The Greenspan Fed, before the dot-com bust it needs to be pointed out, was believed by far too many the Socratic Ideal brought at long last to our world. So enthralling was the arrogance that it has been rationalized down by reality to what looks more like a cult than anything. Don’t believe market warnings, continue to believe The Fed Chair even though she finally confessed that economists can’t afford to keep assuming how little they know is enough. I am absolutely positive the next great psychological case will be written of the consistently imaginative dissonance leftover from When Policies Fail. It has already been started.

The Florida Legislature Renames Florida ESA for Senator Gardiner over his humble objection

October 20, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In this time of cynical politics it is refreshing to see something as fantastic as this floor debate in the Florida Senate.  Earlier this year the sponsor of a bill to expand Florida’s ESA program for special needs children offers an amendment on the floor to rename the program after Senate President Gardiner, a special needs father and advocate and the original sponsor of the legislation. Gardiner objected and appealed to the Senator to drop his amendment, noting that he had promised to send the bill over to the Florida House without amendment.  Not to be thwarted, the Senators secure a release from this promise from the Speaker of the Florida House, and then the Senate co-sponsors the amendment 39-0.

There is still some good in this world Mr. Frodo- and it is worth fighting for.

UPDATE: I am told that after all of this Senator Gardiner still refused to allow the program to be named after him, so the legislature named it after his family instead.

Which American State will be first to go upside down on the diaper market?

October 17, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Japan now sells more adult diapers than baby diapers.  Remember when someone from Japan bought Rockefeller Center (at an inflated price) and they were going to take over the world? Heh- here is how things really stand:

Japanese GDP and fertility rates are even further under water than those of our poor cousins across the Atlantic. Across the globe the Baby Boom generation has begun the process of entering into retirement, for which no one seems prepared, although some better than others. Watching your fertility rates collapse at the same time your society ages spells trouble.

The United States has a higher fertility rate and is an attractive destination for immigrants. What American states that might follow Japan into an adult diaper age demographic death spiral? Well if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere:


Remy for The Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 16, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

If you’ve never heard of Remy Munasifi (a.k.a. GoRemy), I feel sorry for you for two reasons: first, because you have until now been deprived of his comedic genius, and second, because you will get no work done for the rest of the day as you cycle through hilarious music video after even more hilarious music video.

Remy deserves to win the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award because, like previous winner “Weird Al” Yankovic, he has improved the human condition “by making us laugh at the the absurdity of many who think highly of themselves,” whether corrupt or vacuous politicians, incompetent or abusive government bureaucrats, clueless celebrities, inane media outlets, smug activists or Petty Little Dictators of all stripes.

If ever there were a year when we needed more of that, it’s 2016.

Remy is a thirty-something, Arab-American comedian who, like Weird Al, satirizes society and culture through parody music videos. His first video to go viral was his 2009 gangsta-rap parody of the lily-white “Whole Foods” culture of the D.C.-suburb, Arlington, Virginia–a video that racked up more than 300,000 views in one day and has now been seen more than 2.3 million times. His series of videos about Arab culture are even more popular–his video “Saudis in Audis” has more than 9.5 million views. However, much of Remy’s work is more explicitly political, although not partisan, particularly the videos he has produced for the libertarian ReasonTV.

For example, Remy’s “Cough Drops-The Mandate” mocks both Republicans and Democrats for the different ways in which they use government to intrude on our lives, and suggests to the viewer that perhaps we can solve many of our problems without getting the government involved.

But politicians and bureaucrats aren’t the only targets of his satire. Remy brutally mocks people who think they are saving the world on Twitter in “I Need a Hashtag!”:

Remy strikes a similar chord in “How to React to Tragedy.” In recent years, but particularly in 2016, we’ve seen a disturbing trend in the wake of tragedies as people rush to exploit them for their own political ends. Remy doesn’t spare either side:

Remy’s videos are striking not only for their clever wordplay and witty pop-culture allusions, but also for offering a taste of the highest form of social criticism. As the great political theorist Michael Walzer described in his seminal work Interpretation and Social Criticism, there are different types of social critics. The type favored in academia idealizes “radical detachment,” the social critic as “dispassionate stranger,” whose freedom from any attachment to the people whom he criticizes allows him the necessary emotional distance to speak painful but necessary truths. This form of criticism can be beneficial, but it can also lead the critic to despise the people whom he is criticizing, and they know it. That reduces the effectiveness of the critic, sometimes reducing the criticism to mere virtue signaling.

Another model is what Walzer calls the “connected critic,” who stands somewhat apart from the community and can therefore see it in ways that the masses often do not, but who is nevertheless “one of us.” As Walzer writes:

Perhaps he has traveled and studied abroad, but his appeal is to local or localized principles; if he has picked up new ideas on his travels, he tries to connect them to the local culture, building on his own intimate knowledge; he is not intellectually detached. Nor is he emotionally detached; he doesn’t wish the natives well, he seeks the success of their common enterprise.

As with blacks and Jews in America, Remy’s status as a native-born American-Arab in the post-9/11 world makes him an insider-outsider, giving him a perspective that is ripe for both comedy and social criticism. He combines them well. His comedy is biting, but not mean-spirited. His videos contain sharp indictments of the American government and society more generally, but you can sense in them a deep love for the ideals of America. He is not a Chomskyite social critic condemning America as irredeemably corrupt and founded upon the wrong values, but rather a connected critic, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., calling on America to live up to its highest ideals.

Take, for example, “Why They Fought,” in which Remy contrasts the spirit of liberty for which American soldiers have fought and died against today’s domestic surveillance, airport security theater, pervasive and complex taxes, and mountains of micromanaging regulations (which are recurring themes, as the previous links attest).


As an Arab-American, he’s also an insider-outsider in relation to Arab society and culture. His satirical takes on Arab culture–from a hip-hop paean to hummus to an ode to grape leaves set to the tune of a Nirvana classic–are humorous and even loving. However, he satirizes institutions like arranged marriage, laws against women driving, niqabs, morality police, etc.–topics that many comedians fear to touch lest they be labeled a racist or Islamophobe. Coming from someone else, these critiques may have been seen as mean-spirited and fallen on deaf ears, but Remy has a following among people with Arab heritage. He even toured with other Arab-American comedians in the “Axis of Evil” tour as his alter ego, Habib Adbul Habib, who is “Baghdad’s worst comedian.”


Whether satirizing Arab or American culture, this Arab-American’s comedy holds up a mirror that exposes our worst selves but also calls on us to be our best selves. He is the comedian and social critic that America needs and deserves right now. Remy may not need to win The Al, but he certainly deserves it.

 *          *          *          *          *

BONUS MATERIAL. Here are a couple of Remy’s education-themed music videos that JayBlog readers will enjoy:

“Straight Outta Homeroom” on the absurdity of “zero tolerance” policies (think Pop Tart guns):

“Students United (Tuition Protest Song)” on clueless college students who can’t understand why the tuition at their fully loaded, theme-park campus is so expensive:


Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: Yair Rosenberg

October 16, 2016

The 2016 presidential election is a reminder of just how horrible the world can be.  Like Ben Shapiro, who was a star reporter at Breitbart before their pro-Trump-putsch, I used to think that tales of right-wing anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other backwoods fascists were largely ghost stories the Democratic party told Jews to keep them from venturing out of the party’s tent.  I imagined that maybe 10% of the population adhered to these fringe beliefs on the right and perhaps another 10% believed in the left-wing version of Jew-hating conspiracy craziness.

Like Shapiro I now have to admit that I was wrong.  This election has brought the crazies out of the woodwork and it is clear they are not a tiny fringe.  America is not as moderate and sensible as I always believed.  We can see evidence of this not only from the huge spike in “alt-right” activity in social media, but also from the large number of voters supporting hateful nonsense in the primaries and in general election polls.

America has a real fascism problem. So, what are we supposed to do about this?  One essential weapon in the anti-fascist arsenal is humor.  Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler in The Great Dictator. Stanley Kubrick ridiculed Soviet despots as weepy drunks in Dr. Strangelove.  Latin American dictators in the mold of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro were portrayed as silly madmen in Woody Allen’s Bananas and in Alan Arkin’s The In-Laws.

Part of the attraction of these dangerous despots to their crazed followers is the appearance of strength and stature.  And part of the attraction of fascist movements to the stupid and weak is the illusion that they may be part of something great and powerful.  Mocking fascists undermines this appeal by revealing how ridiculous they actually are.

This is why my nominee for the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award is Yair Rosenberg.  Rosenberg is a journalist who writes mostly for Tablet Magazine, but his work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Magazine and elsewhere.  But the forum in which Rosenberg excels in mocking anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other backwoods fascists is Twitter.  You might say that he is the Picasso of trolling the “alt-right” and Twitter is his canvass.

One of Rosenberg’s most common methods for mocking the alt-right is to take internet memes they have adopted to spread their views and modify those memes so that they advocate for the opposite.  For example, the alt-right has adopted “Pepe the Frog” as one of their symbols.  Rosenberg turns the meme on its head by putting a Mossad t-shirt on Pepe that declares “It’s Never an Accident.”

Similarly, the alt-right has adopted images of Taylor Swift (much to her horror) as their symbol of blond-haired, blue-eyed purity and have her saying horrible neo-Nazi statements.  Rosenberg modifies the meme, making Taylor a Zionist Jew:
Another strategy Rosenberg has for mocking anti-Semites on Twitter is to treat their conspiracy theories seriously and suggest what the consequences might be if they were true.  For example:

Smarick on the Quiet Revolution of Charter Schooling

October 14, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Good read from Andy on charter schooling at the quarter century:

All these particular issues, however, underscore a basic point: Chartering has quietly revolutionized public schooling. It didn’t happen through clever, technocratic administrative fixes or a gigantic, rapidly passed omnibus legislative package. Nor did it humbly take for granted longstanding arrangements or merely tinker with the mechanics of existing programs. Instead, chartering took the long view. It trusted families and communities, carved out space for a new approach, and then allowed civil society to slowly create and change the new system. The result has been more individual empowerment, educational options, respect for pluralism, competition, civic-sector activity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

That is indeed how charter schooling looks like out here in the Cactus Patch- a long term bet on self-determination that paid off in an absolutely spectacular fashion. Well, I mean, if you consider getting a large majority-minority student population to score near the average student in Massachusetts for about half the per pupil funding given to schools in that high-income and pale complected state spectacular. I mean I guess it really depends on where you put the bar and all.  Little Ramona for instance doesn’t like it because the sector isn’t as prone to regulatory capture in ultra low turnout elections dominated by organized employee interests governed by school districts.

I also see much wisdom in the incremental gradualism that has marked the first 25 years of charter schooling, but also a ton of reasons to speed things up.