Tag: Washington Post

As If Gov’t Spending Had Nothing to Do with It

This is how a front-page story in this morning’s Washington Post portrayed the cause of this year’s $1.5 trillion deficit:

Record U.S. Deficit Projected This Year
CBO forecasts tax cuts will push budget gap to $1.5 trillion

The still-fragile economy and fresh tax cuts approved by Congress last month will drive the federal deficit to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in U.S. history, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.

Federal spending and federal tax revenue play equally important roles in creating the federal budget deficit.  Yet the Post blames the deficit only on inadequate tax revenue.  Federal spending isn’t too high, the Post implies, tax revenue is too low.

This may not be an example of media bias.  But it is an example of why supporters of limited government believe that major news organizations like the Washington Post are biased toward bigger government.  At a minimum, the Post has some explaining to do.

Education and Society

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss asserted yesterday that “public education is a civic institution” and laments that it is seldom talked about as such (kindly citing our upcoming Cloning “Superman” event in the process).

Certainly the way children are educated can have a powerful impact on the kind of society they go on to build. And there are many social goals on which Americans strongly agree: that schools should prepare children for the responsibilities of citizenship as much as for success in private life; that they should encourage harmonious relations among people of different backgrounds (or at least not foment conflict); and that they should ensure that every child, regardless of background, has access to a quality education.

But does anyone seriously believe that our existing school system is doing a satisfactory job in any of these areas? I doubt that Ms. Strauss herself believes that, and suspect that she was merely expressing the view that our education system should do these things rather than claiming that it already was. Consider the hundreds of community conflicts around the country documented by my colleague Neal McCluskey as having been caused by public schools in a single year. Consider, too, the literature review performed by the University of Arkansas’ Patrick Wolf showing that the civic outcomes of freely chosen (usually private) schools are consistently superior to those of public schools, after controlling for differences in student and family background. And one needn’t have seen the documentary Waiting for Superman to realize that public schools have been failing far too many children, especially poor and minority children, for far too long.

If we are to remedy these profound shortcoming in American education, our best hope is to set aside our preconceptions about what kind of school systems should produce the social goods we seek, and instead ask which systems actually do produce them.

Having reviewed the worldwide econometric literature of the past 25 years, I’ve found that it is the most marketlike education systems that have consistently done the best job of serving disadvantaged children (indeed, all children) both here and abroad. Wolf’s literature review also favors private schools in their civic outcomes. And when people can get the sort of education they value for their own children without being compelled to impose their preferences on their neighbors, the conflicts caused by public schooling are avoided. Even with regard to meaningful integration among children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, the private education sector performs as well or better than the state sector.

If Ms. Strauss or anyone else has compelling evidence to the contrary, I’ll be interested to hear of it. And if she or anyone else would like to know what the social impact of decades of private school choice has been in a communitarian nation like Sweden, they’re welcome to come to Cato and ask Peje Emilsson on the 28th of this month.

Another Dubious Record in Mexico’s Drug War

Mexico ends 2010 with 15,000 illicit drug-related murders for the year—a record for the Calderon administration that began its term four years ago by declaring an all-out war on drug trafficking. Drug war violence skyrocketed since Calderon took office, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Though it is an unwinnable war whose consequences also include the rise of corruption and the weakening of the institutions of civil society, it is being used by drug warriors and skeptics alike to push for pet projects ranging from increased development aid to more military cooperation.

A recent example comes from the Washington Post this week. It editorialized in favor of an Obama administration plan to stem the flow of arms to Mexico, and it ran a story the same day citing the claim that 90 percent of guns in Mexico’s drug war come from the United States (though the Post also noted that the Mexican and U.S. governments refuse to release the results of their weapons traces). My colleague David Rittgers notes here that the proposed gun regulation is unlawful and here he has explained that a more realistic figure for guns of U.S. provenance is about 17 percent. In a Cato bulletin earlier this year, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda calculated a similar figure and explained why attempts at controlling the trade in U.S. arms are a waste of time:

In fact, we only know with certainty that about 18 percent of guns come from the United States, according to Mexican and U.S. sources. The rest is surely coming from Central America, countries of the former Soviet Union, and beyond. And as countries as diverse as Brazil, Paraguay, Somalia, and Sudan attest — all countries with a higher arms per capita than Mexico — you don’t need a border with the United States to gain easy access to guns. Nevertheless, the possibilities of really limiting the sales of weapons in the United States is not imminent, to put it mildly. Moreover, asking the United States to stop arms trafficking from north to south is like asking Mexico to control its border from south to north, whether it is for drugs, people, or anything else. It’s not going to happen.

TSA’s Strip/Grope: Unconstitutional?

Writing in the Washington Post, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen carefully concludes, “there’s a strong argument that the TSA’s measures violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.” The strip/grope policy doesn’t carefully escalate through levels of intrusion the way a better designed program using more privacy protective technology could.

It’s a good constutional technician’s analysis. But Professor Rosen doesn’t broach one of the most important likely determinants of Fourth Amendment reasonableness: the risk to air travel these searches are meant to reduce.

Writing in Politico last week, I pointed out that there have been 99 million domestic flights in the last decade, transporting seven billion passengers. Not one of these passengers snuck a bomb onto a plane and detonated it. Given that this period coincides with the zenith of Al Qaeda terrorism, this suggests a very low risk.

Proponents of the TSA’s regime point out that threats are very high, according to information they have. But that trump card—secret threat information—is beginning to fail with the public. It would take longer, but would eventually fail with courts, too.

But rather than relying on courts to untie these knots, Congress should subject TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to measures that will ultimately answer the open risk questions: Require any lasting security measures to be justified on the public record with documented risk management and cost-benefit analysis. Subject such analyses to a standard of review such as the Adminstrative Procedure Act’s “arbitrary and capricious” standard. Indeed, Congress might make TSA security measures APA notice-and-comment rules, with appropriate accomodation for (truly) temporary measures required by security exigency.

Claims to secrecy are claims to power. Congress should withdraw the power of secrecy from the TSA and DHS, subjecting these agencies to the rule of law.

Secrecy or Privacy? The Power of Language

My friend Kelly Young notes (on Facebook) this Washington Post article on guns used in crimes:

I am awed again by the power of language. The Washingt0n Post today claims that government protection of the identity of lawful purchasers of legal weapons is “secrecy” to be “penetrated” for the sake of the paper’s reporting. It is not “privacy” that is “violated,” as with release of airport scans of travelers, gathering names of minors seeking abortions, and warrantless searches of homes. And how about those secret journalistic sources?

(Language cleaned up slightly, as the original was typed Blackberry-style.) He’s right. The word “privacy” doesn’t appear in the article. Maybe a cynics’ dictionary would read, “Privacy is the ability to keep facts about myself hidden from you. Secrecy is your keeping facts about yourself hidden from me.”

Washington Post-ABC News Push-Poll on Strip-Search Machines

In public opinion research, “salience” is the word often used to describe what is at the forefront of people’s minds. Salience influences people’s responses to polls: If they’ve just thought about something, their responses will reflect what they’ve just thought about.

It makes sense, and it’s one of the theses of Jonathan Zaller’s public opinion reference book The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Most people don’t hold fixed views on most matters of public debate. They merely improvise, when asked, based in part on what issues are salient for them.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll out today finds that most people support the body scanning machines the Transportation Security Administration is installing in airports. The new “enhanced” pat-downs don’t fare so well.

How do strip-search machines get the level of approval they do? The poll itself pushes terrorism to the forefront before inquiring about TSA security measures. The first question goes to frequency of travel. The second two are:

2. Are you personally worried about traveling by commercial airplane because of the risk of terrorism, or do you think the risk is not that great? (IF WORRIED) Would you say you are very worried or only somewhat?

3. What do you think is more important right now - (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?

Before being asked about strip-search machines, poll-takers hear cognates of “terror” three times, “privacy” once.

Thinking about the taste of a dirty worm squishing around in your mouth when you bite into an apple, do you think pesticide use should be increased or decreased?

Radley Balko’s thesis that the media are more statist than liberal finds validation in a sampling of opinion pages, finds Matt Welch. You just might find it by sampling poll designs as well.

Provenge Controversy Argues for Medicare Vouchers

The new prostate-cancer vaccine Provenge (manufacturer: Dendreon) appears to extend life by an average of four months at the relatively high cost of $93,000 per patient.  This week, Medicare bureaucrats will conduct a national coverage analysis before deciding whether Medicare will cover the vaccine.  This “unusual“ step has sparked charges that government bureaucrats are rationing medical care to save money.

Today’s Washington Post includes letters from two cancer survivors that neatly illustrate why the government should not be in the business of providing health insurance or purchasing medical care at all.  Cancer Survivor #1 argues that Medicare should cover Provenge:

“Expensive” treatments have given me many extra years with my family. I witnessed my older daughters graduate from high school, start college and celebrate events doctors told me I would never see…Time is precious, life is priceless and every breath is a gift.

Cancer Survivor #2 says no way:

As a 63-year-old cancer survivor, would I forgo just four more months of life if it would cost $93,000? Yes, in a heartbeat…Let’s quit trying to live forever and put those millions of dollars into educating the next generation.

If the government stayed out of health care, or just subsidized Medicare enrollees with a voucher, then both cancer survivors would get their wish.  Cancer Survivor #1 could purchase coverage for expensive cancer treatments.  Cancer Survivor #2, and millions like her, could buy lower-cost insurance and donate the savings to scholarships.

Yet politicians and government bureaucrats dictate what type of insurance Medicare enrollees get, which means they also decide what enrollees will not get.  And no matter where they draw the line, someone loses.  Either Cancer Survivor #1 won’t get her expensive medical treatment, or Cancer Survivor #2 won’t be able to fund scholarships for kids.

The only way out is Medicare vouchers.  In addition to being the most plausible way to reduce Medicare spending, vouchers are the only way to protect Medicare enrollees from government rationing.