Archives: 08/2006

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the House

Cleaning out some old magazines, I came across the September 2004 issue of the Washingtonian, which included a poll of congressional staffers on the “Best & Worst of Congress.” Libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul was voted “Worst Follower” in the House. That probably doesn’t bother him. But if it did, his feelings would probably be assuaged by the item just before that one: staffers said that the “Best Leader” in the House was Tom DeLay.

Selling the Rope with Which They’ll Hang Capitalism

From the Washington Post:

Late last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began broadcasting television ads that extolled several Republican lawmakers for supporting the new Medicare prescription drug program. The spots were part of the chamber’s $10 million midterm advertising and voter mobilization budget.

Even if the Medicare expansion were popular – which is not at all clear – the Chamber of Commerce’s ads would just encourage voters to increasingly expect transfers and handouts from Washington. If the Chamber of Commerce praises Republicans for expanding entitlements by a trillion dollars over the next decade, then it’s just contributing to an environment in which spending and deficits and unfunded liabilities continue to soar. Surely the Chamber could find something good the Republicans have done to highlight in its ads.

Couldn’t it?

Scalia’s New Police Professionalism

In his odd opinion in the Hudson v. Michigan case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed the exclusionary rule as an effective remedy when police conduct an illegal no-knock raid because, Scalia argued, police departments across the country have implemented better internal review procedures and oversight functions to deal with officer misconduct. In making that argument, Scalia went so far as to cite the work of respected criminologist Prof. Sam Walker, who later asserted that Scalia had misappropriated his work.

A scan of recent headlines suggests that when it comes to holding police accountable for botched raids, excessive force, and misconduct, Scalia’s “new professionalism” is nowhere to be found. A few examples:

• Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the SWAT raid on Anthony Diotaiuto, a Florida man shot and killed during an early-morning raid. The man’s bullet-riddled body was found in a bedroom closet. Police found all of an ounce of marijuana, and witnesses say they made no announcement before entering, as required by Florida law (police insist they announced). Diotaiuto’s death is the lead case in the introduction to my recent paper on paramilitary police raids. Gun rights advocates may want to take note: Diotaiuto’s possession of a legal conceal-carry permit was cited as a “major factor” in the police department’s decision to use a SWAT team and forced entry.

One year later, law enforcement officials still refuse to share any information about the raid with the media or with lawyers for Diotaiuto’s family. They’ve been met with stony silence when they’ve attempted to access copies of the police report, the internal police investigation, or Diotaiuto’s autopsy. The grand jury investigating the case has been cancelled twice. The internal police investigation apparently cleared the raiding officers of any wrongdoing, but the details are still under wraps.

• It’s been six months since the Fairfax, Va., shooting death of local optometrist Salvatore Culosi, also during a SWAT raid. Culosi was being investigated for placing wagers on sporting events. Once again, Culosi’s family has found only silence and resistance when they’ve attempted to gain access to documents related to internal police investigations into their son’s death. County and police officials won’t even give Culosi’s family a timetable as to when the results of the investigative report they were promised might be available. Fairfax County prosecutor Robert Horan announced last spring that he wouldn’t seek charges against the officer who wrongly shot and killed Culosi, though that’s hardly a surprise. Horan hasn’t brought charges against a police officer a single time in his 40 years on the job.

• 51-year-old Kenneth Jamar, a semi-invalid with severe gout and a pacemaker, was shot several times and nearly killed in a SWAT raid on his home last June. Jamar, asleep and behind two doors when police announced themselves, was holding a gun when the SWAT team kicked down his bedroom door. Police were apparently looking for Jamar’s nephew. Despite the fact that the address on the search warrant was incorrect (the address listed was that of the suspect’s father), police insisted that the raid on Jamar’s home was legal and that his home was the home they’d intended to raid all along.

Last week, an internal review cleared the raiding officers of all wrongdoing and blamed Jamar — who is still in the hospital recovering from the gunshots — for the entire incident. Despite the fact that he could barely walk, was hard of hearing, and not suspected of any crime, a police spokesman insisted, “If he had not done what he did, he wouldn’t have been shot,” and that, “He was only shot because he did not comply with the police officers commands.”

So, officials decide to use a SWAT team and forced entry on a sick man not suspected of any crime and whose only “transgression” was to be related to a drug suspected, somehow mistakenly have the address of the suspect’s father on the search warrant, shoot the man multiple times when he mistakes them for criminal intruders, then announce that the entire episode is the victim’s fault.

• Last February, deputies in Harrison County, Miss., beat a man to death while he was in their custody. Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. was brought in on misdemeanor charges, savagely beaten in a holding cell, then died after being belatedly transported to the hospital. The entire incident was witnessed by several people and captured on at least four jailhouse video cameras.

Six months later, there have been no arrests in Williams’ death. Lawyers for Williams’ estate and the media have been denied access to investigatory documents related to his death, including the videotaped accounts of the beating. Their civil suit has been postponed by a judge, in deference to the criminal investigation, which continues at a sloth’s pace. The officer who is said to have led the beating has been fired, but he hasn’t been arrested. Officers who assisted in the beating are still on the job.

In all of the above cases, one can’t help but wonder if the wheels of justice would be turning as slowly if the victim were a law enforcement officer and the assailant a civilian, instead of the other way around.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Nothing like a discussion of federal salaries to fill up my inbox with angry comments from federal workplaces across the land. In a post last week, I simply pointed out that new data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) showed that federal worker wages and benefits have been rising quickly, and by 2005 averaged twice the average in the private sector.  Then came the email.

Fedsmith, a very useful website that focuses on federal workforce issues, discussed the data this morning, and federal workers also responded with dozens of comments.

GovExec.com also ran a story today.

By the way, I can say nice things about federal workers–BEA economists do quality work, churn out loads of great data, and are very helpful when you send them a query.

Topics:

Libertarian Hedges

A headline over a Washington Post editorial reads:

Hands Off Hedge Funds

Sometimes libertarians deserve to win an argument.

Gee, thanks. I’m glad libertarian arguments against over-regulation made sense to the editorial writer in this case. But I’m disappointed in the suggestion that this is a rare occasion.

Indeed, I’ll bet the editorial writer agrees with most of the basic ideas that libertarians advocate: private property, markets, the rule of law, limited constitutional government, religious toleration, equality under the law, a society based on merit and contract not status, free speech, free trade, individual rights, peace.

In the West we live in a liberal world, and in the United States we call liberalism “libertarianism.” (When Americans say “liberalism,” they mean the welfare state.) The Post’s disagreements with libertarianism are really less rare than the headline suggests; they involve how often and how much national policy should deviate from the basic principles we already agree on.

Cross-posted from Comment is free.

“Private Schools Better. NCES Study Bunk.” — Harvard Profs

Last month, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that private schools consistently outscore public ones, but that their advantage goes away after controlling for differences in student and school characteristics.

In my response to that study, I pointed out that some of the authors’ statistical controls were incorrect and others were misapplied, undermining their conclusion.

Elena Llaudet and Paul Peterson of Harvard University have now run the numbers after correcting for these errors, and the verdict is in: the private school academic advantage is real.

That said, the central point of my earlier blog post remains: the current 10 percent niche of private schools in this country does not constitute a true competitive education industry. Yes, independent schools outpeform government schools, but according to the last International Adult Literacy Survey, nearly a quarter of 16-to-25 year-old Americans are functionally illiterate.

We don’t need a system that’s a little better than this. We need a system that’s a whole lot better. We need real market reform of our entire education sector.

Dog Bites Man

The Washington Post reports that Jack B. Johnson, county executive of Prince George’s County in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, is very generous to his friends. Since he took office,

…15 of his friends and political supporters have been awarded 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million, according to records and interviews.

In several cases, Johnson awarded county contracts to supporters after he failed to persuade the County Council or others to place them in county jobs. He has also created at least a dozen high-profile positions and filled them with supporters, including fraternity brothers. Some of those who received contracts or jobs had no expertise in the field, and others did not produce written reports required by the county.

In one case, Johnson hired a friend’s company, which produces a local cable show, to write a report on school construction financing and then gave him two more contracts to evaluate economic trends. He gave a similar contract to his campaign chairman.

Perhaps the surprise is that this is considered front-page news. What politicians don’t hand out tax-funded benefits to their friends? Certainly the various scandals swirling around the Republican Congress – involving Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, and others – provide fresh reminders.

As I wrote in Libertarianism: A Primer, one of the earliest and most charming descriptions of political reality came from Lord Bolingbroke, an English Tory leader in the early 18th century. He wrote to a friend:

I am afraid that we came to Court in the same dispositions as all parties have done; that the principal spring of our actions was to have the government of the state in our hands; that our principal views were the conservation of this power, great employments to ourselves, and great opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us and of hurting those who stood in opposition to us.

Jack Johnson should tell the Post, “Yeah, what he said!” But Johnson doesn’t have to reach back to Lord Bolingbroke for a precedent. In the same part of Libertarianism: A Primer, I told the story of Johnson’s predecessor as Prince George’s County Executive:

A particularly striking illustration of what we might call Bolingbroke’s Law is the record of Maryland governor Parris Glendening. Elected in 1994, Glendening seemed a clean, honest, moderate, technocratic former professor. He might give Maryland big government, but at least it would be clean government. So what did he do when he took office? Well, here’s how the Washington Post described his first budget:

In his first major act as Maryland governor, Parris N. Glendening unveiled a no-new-taxes budget that unabashedly steers the biggest share of spending to the three areas that voted most strongly for him: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore.

Lord Bolingbroke, call your office. A few days later, it turned out that Glendening and his top aide were collecting tens of thousands of dollars in early pension payments from Prince George’s County, where Glendening served as County Executive until his election as governor, thanks to Glendening’s creative interpretations of rules that gave early pension benefits to government employees who suffered “involuntary separation” from their jobs. Glendening decided that officials not allowed to seek reelection because of term limits, such as the two-term limit on the County Executive, had been “involuntarily separated” from their jobs. And he “demanded” the resignations of his top aides a month before he left his county job–making them also victims of “involuntary separation”–whereupon he hired them as his top aides in the governor’s mansion.

Like the Energizer bunny, the Glendening money train just kept on going. In May the governor asked the legislature to spend $1.5 million in taxpayer funds to rescue a struggling high-tech firm in Prince George’s County headed by one of his political supporters. Then in August, Frank W. Stegman, the state secretary of labor, licensing, and regulation, hired the wife of Theodore J. Knapp, the state personnel secretary and a colleague of Stegman’s from the Prince George’s government, for a job in his agency. No ingrate, personnel secretary Knapp then returned the favor by recommending a $10,000 raise in Stegman’s meager $100,542 salary.

Politicians reward their friends. What else is new? The best way to limit the damage from this sort of corruption is to limit government to a few specific functions and leave most important services in the marketplace.