Topic: General

School Choice Prospects Improve in SC

Becky Martin, an incumbent South Carolina state representative, won’t be returning to the legislature next session. She was defeated in yesterday’s primary race largely due to opposition from supporters of market-based education reform. Martin was one of a dozen or so Republicans who voted against an education tax credit program championed by Governor Mark Sanford.

Another Republican incumbent who voted against the school choice tax credit bill, Ken Clark, received only 34 percent of the vote. He’ll face a run-off against Kit Spires who received 44 percent.

Most interestingly, Karen Floyd, a pro-school-choice candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction (!!!), appears to have won an outright majority of the vote in a primary race against four other candidates. With 98.2 percent of the vote counted, she leads with 50.49 percent.

It’s too early to declare victory, but things are certainly looking up for kids in the Palmetto state.

For more SC election results, click here.

Tipping Credulity on Student Aid

Yesterday, USA Today ran a front page article on the arrival of six-figure student debt, highlighting especially the $116,000 in debt accumulated by a Rutgers University master’s student.

Now, the article didn’t say whether the scholar in question was an in-state student or had been a Rutgers undergraduate, but if both were applicable his would be a Guinness-worthy borrowing feat, especially since the article said that Rutgers paid the young man’s tuition for his final year of grad school.

Let’s go to the numbers: In the 2005-06 academic year, the cost of tuition, fees, room and board for an in-state undergraduate at Rutgers was $17,800. If the student had paid that for four years—which he obviously didn’t since he must have graduated before 2005-06—his entire undergraduate education would only have cost $71,200. As a graduate student, if we assume he lived in university housing and had the biggest possible meal plan, he would have paid about $20,000 a year. The grand total for both his undergraduate and graduate education, then, would have come to approximately $111,200—$4,800 less than his total accumulated debt! Oh yeah, and Rutgers paid the young man’s tuition in his final year—about $10,000—so he actually owes $14,800 more than the entire cost of his education. Amazing!

Asserting that students have no option but to go into six-figure hock to attend college is, of course, ridiculous. But, predictably, that hasn’t stopped student advocates and interest groups from celebrating USA Today’s story. Indeed, Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt, even dubbed the article a “tipping point” in the battle to convince America that its students are impoverished and need more taxpayer-funded student aid. Sadly, when it comes to her assessment of the article, Kamenetz might be right.

Virginia Tees up a Senate Race

Virginia’s voters – about 1.5 percent of them, anyway – have given James Webb a narrow victory in the Democratic Senate primary, setting up a race with incumbent George Allen that promises to be among the most interesting in the country. Allen, who has mysteriously been regarded as a leading presidential candidate, will now have to spend some time at home fighting off the bestselling novelist and former Navy Secretary.

Webb is not your typical Democrat, which is why he had trouble winning the nomination over a lesser-known party activist. But he should be strong in the general election. He’s a Vietnam War hero who was appointed Navy Secretary by Ronald Reagan and was an early and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, warning in 2002 that “there is no exit strategy.” He can appeal to both leftwing Democrats and moderates who are increasingly disillusioned with the war and the Republicans.

Polls indicate that some 15 to 20 percent of voters hold libertarian views, differing from both liberals and conservatives. Webb’s opposition to the war and his boast that he’s  “pro-choice, pro-gay rights but also pro-Second Amendment” should give him strong appeal to those voters. He thinks the GOP-controlled Congress “rubber-stamps” whatever the Bush administration does, and as a result “we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis in this country … far more serious and far more widespread than anything we saw during the Watergate era.” However, the Washington Post editorialized that his ”somewhat strident populism on trade policy tends toward xenophobic sloganeering and business-bashing.” He’ll have to develop a more thoughtful position on economic issues to make much headway with libertarian-leaning voters.

If he does, it will be interesting to see what libertarians make of the choice between an orthodox conservative Bush Republican and an unorthodox antiwar Democrat. As governor, George Allen scored a 40 on Cato’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors (his predecessor, putatively liberal Democrat Doug Wilder, scored 75), and he has no notable achievements in the Senate. He voted for the war, the Patriot Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and the No Child Left Behind Act.

Let the battle for the libertarian center begin.

AMA to the Devil: “Let’s Make a Deal”

A reporter at the AMA annual meeting informs me that the House of Delegates has adopted a resolution with the adorable title of “Individual Responsibility to Obtain Health Insurance.”  An early draft [.doc] of the resolution (prepared by the AMA’s Council on Medical Service, and which may have been modified before passage) recommends this change to AMA policy:

That our American Medical Association support a requirement to purchase a minimum of catastrophic and preventive health insurance coverage for individuals and families earning greater than 500% of the federal poverty level, with substantial tax penalties for noncompliance. 

Once sufficient government subsidies are put in place, the resolution calls for slapping everyone with an individual mandate and “substantial tax penalties for noncompliance.”

As I wrote earlier, the AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  Yes, the AMA used to oppose tax-and-mandate schemes.  But ”in light of shifting public opinion in favor of requiring some individuals to purchase coverage” the AMA now supports requiring consumers to purchase a product that — wait for it — increases the quantity of physician services that consumers demand.

The Council’s reasoning also includes this gem:

In considering an individual requirement for health insurance, the Council believes that at some point incomes rise to a threshold where personal responsibility should be required…

Hmm.  And when incomes rise even higher, say to physician-like levels, what should be required then?

In September, Cato will publish a book by professor of law and medicine David Hyman that catalogues the damage done by physicians’ last deal with the devil.

The Power to Seize

You already know about the Duke University lacrosse players that have been indicted for rape.  The investigation is ongoing and the prosecutor is now ordering Duke University to turn over personal records for the other athletes on the team.  If Duke balks, the government could levy fines until the information is surrendered.

The power to seize private property is supposed to be divided between the executive branch and the judicial branch.  That is, the police file a search warrant application with a judge.  If the judge approves, the search takes place.  What does the judge look for in the application?  Well, the Fourth Amendment speaks of “probable cause” and “particularity” –  so the judge is basically looking for a good basis for the police to interfere with someone’s liberty.   No judicial approval, no search.  (There are exceptions, but that’s the general idea).  The “basis” for the prosecutor’s subpoena to Duke University amounts to …  ”they’re on the lacrosse team.”

The executive branch (police) bypasses the judicial “check” whenever it can get away with it.  If a search warrant application would be shaky, just use a subpoena. When most people think of subpoena, they imagine an official-looking envelope that arrives via certified mail.  Think again.  The government likes to claim that it is not using subpoenas as substitutes for search warrants, but you decide for yourself.  This is not a police raid, it’s an “administrative inspection.”

If Cato could subpoena the government, we might get a clearer picture on how officials use these powers, but the state is fierce about its own records.  For background on how prosecutors have been using grand jury subpoenas to bypass constitutional safeguards, read this.

Thanks to Crime and Federalism for the pointer.

SC in SC

South Carolinians go the polls today to vote in primaries and for several state office holders, and the future of school choice in the state could be substantially affected by the results. The position of state superintendent is up for grabs, with both pro- and anti-market candidates. There are also several legislative primary races in which incumbent foes of parental choice are being challenged by pro-choice candidates.

Stay tuned for an update tomorrow.

An Actual Anti-Communist Movie

At a time when most of Hollywood still sees Fidel Castro as a hero, it is interesting that a new movie portrays him as anything but.  The Lost City, starring Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, and Bill Murray (Dustin Hoffman also has a terrific walk on) is a chilling story of the communist rise to power in Cuba.  The love story is bit sappy, but the movie is worth it just for the scene in which the communists ban saxophones as “an imperialist instrument.” And the soundtrack is a treat.   If you’re looking for a change from Al Gore, check it out.

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