Archives: 10/2006

Feds Approve Separate But Equal Schools

The federal Department of Education has granted public schools “broad freedom to teach boys and girls separately.”

Presumably, however, school districts will not compel parents to send their children to same sex schools, but rather give them the option of choosing such schools. But if the public school system is willing to grant that same sex schooling might be good for some students and not for others, and that the decision should be left to parents, it begs the question: Is this the only respect in which children should be treated as individuals, and families afforded educational choice?

Surely we could add that some students might benefit from an orderly, structured classroom environment while others might learn more quickly and deeply when allowed greater freedom to explore on their own. Or that some children might be unusually advanced in certain subjects, and require an unusually challenging curriculum, while others might need extra emphasis on the basics.

Offering same sex schooling as an option to families is an admission that children are not identical widgets to be processed by a one-size-fits-all education factory. But once we admit that point, we reveal our current education monopoly for the travesty that it is.

The best way to advance our ideals of public education is not through a monolithic government school aparatus, but through a liberated system of independent schools competing for the privilege of serving each and every unique child.

Racing toward Socialism

When Washington Post racing columnist Andrew Beyer says “democracy,” he means “communist country”:

At a time when the populations of Arab countries are seething with resentment against their own leaders, the rulers of Dubai don’t hesitate to engage in self-indulgence on a gargantuan scale. They are unembarrassed that this money is derived from the natural resources of their country – resources that, in a democracy, would belong to the nation.

He’s writing about the use of oil wealth to build a powerful and expensive stable of racehorses. He’s right that in a free society, all that oil wealth wouldn’t belong to a small group of hereditary rulers. But countries that declare that their natural resources “belong to the nation” end up poor countries.

Tampering with George Mason’s Bill of Rights

I have an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Virginia’s proposed constitutional amendment to restrict marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and various contractual arrangements:

This amendment goes too far. But even its first sentence — the ban on gay marriage — is unworthy of a state that was the birthplace of American freedom. It is a cruel irony that this amendment to restrict contract rights and exclude loving couples from the institution of marriage is to be added to Virginia’s Bill of Rights, a document originally written by the great Founder George Mason.

Mason’s eloquent words inspired Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence and James Madison in writing the Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution. We should not add language to Virginia’s Bill of Rights that would limit rights rather than expand them.

Gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, and there’s no prospect of changing that in the foreseeable future, whether by legislative or judicial action. Ballot Question No. 1 is unnecessary and will create legal uncertainty.

The Libertarian Vote in the New York Times

A big tip of the hat to John Tierney for his column today. It’s hidden behind a TimesSelect wall, but here’s a selection:

These federal intrusions are especially scorned by independent voters in the Western states where Republicans have been losing ground, like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Montana. Western Democrats have been siphoning off libertarian voters by moderating their liberal views on issues like gun control, but Republicans have been driving libertarians away with their wars on vice and their jeremiads against gay marriage (and their attempt to regulate that from Washington, too).

Libertarian voters tend to get ignored by political strategists because they’re not easy to categorize or organize. They don’t congregate in churches or union halls; they don’t unite to push political agendas. Many don’t even call themselves libertarians, although they qualify because of their social liberalism and economic conservatism: they want the government out of their bedrooms as well as their wallets.

They distrust moral busybodies of both parties, and they may well be the most important bloc of swing voters this election, as David Boaz and David Kirby conclude in a new study for the Cato Institute. Analyzing a variety of voter surveys, they estimate that libertarians make up about 15 percent of voters — a bloc roughly comparable in size to liberals and to conservative Christians, and far bigger than blocs like Nascar dads or soccer moms.

Find the study here.

America’s National Truck?

As another election approaches, Americans have probably grown jaded toward politicians who use naked appeals to patriotism to win votes. Now patriotic appeals are being enlisted to sell pickup trucks.

Baseball fans watching the World Series game Friday night witnessed an ad by General Motors that had nothing to do with the finer qualities of its Silverado pick up truck. Set to the driving beat of a John Mellencamp song, “Our Country,” the ad flashed images designed to tug at the heart of every red-blooded American. (It certainly tugged at mine.) Here’s how a New York Times story today described the ad:

As the commercial begins, an industrial history rolls out, touching the usual icons of the Statue of Liberty, busy factory workers and Americans at their leisure. But then a more conflicted narrative emerges, quickly flashing on bus boycotts, Vietnam, Nixon resigning, Hurricane Katrina, fires, floods, then the attacks of Sept. 11, replete with firefighters.

All that’s missing is a plague of locusts, until the commercial intones ‘This is our country, this is our truck’ as a large Silverado emerges from amber waves of grain.

The not-so-subtle message is that if you are a real American, you buy a real American vehicle. Of course, this is not the first time patriotism has been exploited to sell a product, but the ad obscures an important fact about the American automobile industry: it is far more diverse today than the Big Three of Ford GM, and Chrysler.

In a Cato Free Trade Bulletin published over the summer, my colleague Dan Ikenson and I showed that, while Ford and GM in particular have struggled with declining sales and huge losses, the U.S. automobile market remains healthy. Last year, American workers produced about 12 million cars and light trucks domestically, including those made in factories owned by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and BMW. American families can chose from a wider range of affordable, quality vehicles than perhaps ever before.

The Big Three have been losing market share, not because Americans are any less patriotic than in the past, but because Americans are increasingly exercising their freedom to decide for themselves what  is “our truck.”

Even Spitzer Loves Education Tax Credits!

With Eliot Spitzer running almost 50 points ahead in New York’s gubernatorial “race,” it seems safe to crown him the winner.  Most of us know Spitzer for his anti-corporate crusading as the state’s swashbuckling attorney general.  A lot of ink has been spilled predicting how he will govern, but little attention has been paid to the consequences for education.  Although he may be bad for business, Spitzer is, surprisingly, pro-school choice.

The New York Daily News reports that Spitzer, “speaking to Orthodox Jews at a Brooklyn yeshiva, said it is unjust that private schools educate 15% of the state’s students but get only 1% of the education budget.”  He supports encouraging private means of educating the public, and appears increasingly unabashed in discussing the topic.

Earlier in the year, he flipped from hazy opposition to support of what was then an education tax credit proposal.  “I support the idea of education tax credits,” claimed Spitzer, the same month he declared that “vouchers would destroy the public school system.”

The education tax credit at issue was re-formed as a blanket child tax credit, but Spitzer still supports the concept of education-specific tax credits.  His spokesman said that “if elected, Eliot will explore the feasibility of expanding such programs.”

Spitzer’s still no fan of vouchers, but education tax credits are emerging as both the “third way” choice policy for Democrats and the preferable policy for social and libertarian conservatives (Spitzer stole the issue from his current opponent, Faso, who sponsored the ETC bill as minority leader of the state Assembly in 2001).

Hopefully the school choice coalition at TEACH NYS are gearing up to ask for the moon next year, when they have a popular Democratic ally in office.  School choice supporters should think big in this political environment and put the opposition on the defensive – start with a broad-based bill that covers all parents and make them whittle it down in negotiations.

Google (et al.) and Government Surveillance

Ars Technica reports here on the “provocative claim that Google is currently cooperating with secret elements in the US government, including the CIA.”  This is a possibility I blogged about here a couple of weeks ago.

It’s something people should be concerned about, and people’s concern is something Google should be concerned about.  

People averse to the risk of exposing their online activities to government surveillance should take Google’s studious silence as confirmation.