The Constant Bailer II

The superintendent of the financially inept Miami-Dade Schools wants a federal bailout, and it’s hard to blame him for desiring a piece of Washington’s ever-bigger Ineptitude Rewards Programs. But, as I wrote a couple of months ago – and a professor echoes in the article about the Supt’s request – public schools are, essentially, constantly being bailed out. They live off of government money, which come to think of it, might be why they seem constantly to be in trouble. Something about government control just always seems to end badly.

I’ll Tell You What’s Tedious

Jonah Goldberg finds “conservative complaints about Barack Obama’s public-schools hypocrisy…all a bit tedious.” Well, aside from my not having actually seen many conservatives complaining about Obama choosing a private school for his kids while telling the rest of us to support public schools, I find arguments like Goldberg’s main one tedious. Very tedious. Like, we-should-just-keep-trying-to-force-excellence-out-of-socialism tedious.

Here’s the meat of Goldberg’s contribution to education reform:

The real issue is why the public schools are unacceptable to pretty much anyone, liberal or conservative, who has other options.

His culprit, talk about tedious:

Teachers unions, arguably the single worst mainstream institution in our country today.

Now, I’m sure not going to tell you the teachers unions aren’t a pain. They are. But they are not our root education problem in any way, shape or form. The root problem is that we have a system in which no one has a choice – that’s right, boring ol’ “choice” – about financing a government education monopoly, and there is little competition, innovation, or anything else decent as a result.

Oh, and why does Goldberg think the unions have so much power, anyway? Surely he knows that private-sector unions have been disintegrating for decades while their public-sector cousins keep going strong. That’s because no one can choose not to fund the public sector – unless, that is, they enjoy time behind bars – while industries that are disciplined by consumer choice simply can’t afford efficiency-crushing unions.

So let’s get one thing straight. School choice – especially universal school choice – is not some boring cop-out that dull folks reflexively whimper about because they’ve got nothing better to say. No, it is the essential ingredient to getting an education system that actually works, and no amount of pooh-poohing it for the sake of excitement, giggles, seeming cool, or whatever, can change that.

Is Hillary Clinton Unconstitutional?

So Hillary Clinton is “on track” to be the nation’s top diplomat, huh?  Well, setting aside the wisdom of that decision – forget ideology; does she have both foreign policy expertise and a good working relationship with the President-elect? – it appears that there may be genuine constitutional problems with her expected nomination.  To wit, Article I, section 6, clause 2 reads:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased [sic] during such time…

That is, under this “Emoluments Clause,” members of Congress are expressly forbidden to take any appointed position within the government which was created or whose pay has been increased during their current term in office.  Now, a January 2008 executive order, promulgated in accordance with a statute from the 1990s that addressed cost of living adjustments for certain federal officials, raised the Secretary of State’s salary, thus constitutionally prohibiting any then-serving senator who remains in office from taking charge of Foggy Bottom. (Sen. Clinton’s current term began in January 2007 and expires in January 2013.) 

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time such a conflict has arisen in executive appointments and nominations and, equally not surprisingly, Congress has on several occasions legislated around it:  To enable one of its own to assume executive office, Congress simply decreases the pay of that office to the pre-raise level for the full tenure of that specific appointee.

Although this legerdemain has been around since at least the Taft Administration – and was most recently used when President Clinton picked Sen. Lloyd Bentsen to be his Treasury Secretary – the move is called the “Saxbe Fix” after Sen. William Saxbe, whom President Nixon nominated for Attorney General.

The Saxbe Fix is not uncontroversial.  UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, for example, cites Steptoe and Johnson partner John O’Connor’s objection that the Saxbe Fix is inadequate for circumventing the Emoluments Clause.  To O’Connor’s thinking, while simply lowering the salary – resulting in no “net” increase – does prevent the nominee from directly benefiting from a vote he or she cast, it would not substantively address the Framers’ intent to limit the size and scope of the federal government. That is, if, contrary to the Emoluments Clause’s terms, Congress can restore its Members’ eligibility for appointment by reducing the office’s salary, the Emoluments Clause ceases to serve its function as providing a constitutional disincentive for regular increases in the salaries of federal offices.

One could also argue that in this specific case, Congress did not act to increase anybody’s salary; it was that long-ago Congress that even gave that option to the president – and only in the form of an aross-the-board COLA, not some shady or opportunistic self-dealing.  But, of course, if we are to follow the text of the Constitution, there is no exception for offices “the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased” by a non-shady COLA granted via statutorily-enabled executive order.

Whether anyone could challenge Hillary Clinton’s appointment in the courts is another matter.  Perhaps someone denied a passport, or who has had some other adverse action done to them by a Clinton-led State Department, would have standing to sue.  In any event, in this time of constitutionally questionable bailouts, it cannot hurt to be vigilant even about the most obscure text from our nation’s governing document.

Much more on this issue can be found in Eugene’s fascinating post here.

There’s No Change Here

He’s still months away from officially becoming president, but on education Barack Obama is already indicating that his brand of change is much more about high-flying rhetoric than sober reality. Whether it’s choosing a private school for his kids, or promising to expend billions to “modernize” public schools, so far Mr. Obama is turning out to be just as politicized as everyone else in Washington.

Start with Obama’s choice of the Sidwell Friends School for his kids, which was sneakily announced around 5:00 pm on Friday — perfect timing to ensure the decision got as little press as possible (not that the press was going to be tough, anyway). There is nothing wrong with the president-elect selecting the best possible school for his kids — indeed, doing so is his obligation as a parent — but as documented by Andrew Coulson, the hypocrisy is glaring for those who choose to see it.

“We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them,” Mr. Obama declared to the American Federation of Teachers this summer. But, of course, by “we” he meant “you,” just like all those folks in Congress mean when they send their kids to private institutions while opposing school choice and singing the praises of saintly public schools.

But perhaps even more aggravating than President-elect Obama’s eschewing public schools for his daughters — again, it is his responsibility to get them the best education he can — is his proposal to include presumptive billions (I’ve not yet seen an itemized breakdown of proposed spending) on public-school construction as part of his ever-growing economic stimulus plan.

As I testified to Congress earlier this year, heap all the federal cash you want on school construction, you’re neither going to fix most of the true problems nor get any kind of value for taxpayers. Indeed, in 1999 the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that it would take about $127 billion to get all U.S. public school facilities into good shape. According to School Planning and Management magazine, however, since 2000 school districts have completed projects totaling more than $166 billion. So why is our schooling infrastructure still crumbling? Because many districts build absurd School-Mahals featuring extravagances ranging from television studios to planetariums, while others are so bogged down in red tape they can’t get anything done.

Of course, as is far too often the case, it probably doesn’t really matter to Obama or others in Washington that money on school construction is almost sure to be wasted. The primary motivation behind Obama’s proposal isn’t educational, but political, with any project backed with federal money almost certain to carry union prevailing-wage requirements — a nice little hors d’oeuvres before the card check main course — and the appearance of caring and “doing something” is most important, anyway.

For a “change” administration still months away from official existence, this does not bode well at all.

Scrap E-Verify

The 111th Congress and the new Obama administration should scrap “E-Verify.” The federal government’s inchoate immigration background check system is the culmination of 20 years’ failure to create a tolerable “internal enforcement” program for U.S. immigration law. Rather than building on past failure, the new Congress and president should pull the plug on E-Verify and reform immigration law so that it aligns with the nation’s economic need for labor.

More here.

The Broad-Mindedness of Richard Holbrooke

Lots of scuttlebutt today involving the name “Richard Holbrooke.”  An emblem of the Democratic Party foreign policy establishment, Holbrooke is revered by some for his ruthlessness and ability to crack heads.  A dedicated global interventionist, Holbrooke is high on the list of “people antiwar Democrats don’t want involved in an Obama administration.”  In addition to ruthlessness, let’s take a walk down memory lane and attempt to determine how well Holbrooke would fit in an Obama administration that is supposed by many to be broad minded and determined to evaluate all arguments on a policy before leaping in.  Here’s Holbrooke in 1994 chairing a meeting with mid-level officials to discuss NATO expansion:

Without having spoken to [Anthony] Lake or to the president, Holbrooke told the interagency group that there was a presidential policy to enlarge NATO that needed implementation.  Holbrooke also made clear that [Warren] Christopher had asked him to set up and run the mechanism to expand NATO.

The new assistant secretary of state had a reputation for abrasiveness, and at this meeting, he demonstrated why.  General [Wesley] Clark has recalled:

[Joseph] Kruzel spoke first, since he was the policy guy, and said, “Why is this the policy?  It’s supposed to be an interagency process.”  Holbrooke crushed him like a bug.  He said, “It is policy.”  Ash Carter walked out of the room.  Then, as the meeting was about to conclude, I said, “I don’t know that a decision has been made.”  Holbrooke said, “Anyone questioning this is disloyal to the country and to the president.”  My ears turned bright red…and I demanded that he take it back.  The room stopped.  I got ready to leave.  Holbrooke took it back.

That’s from James Goldgeier, Not Whether But When, pp. 73-74.  So here you have it.  Pursuing disastrous policies while impugning the motives of career military officials and labeling them anti-American if they have the temerity to object?  Check.  As compared to the tactics of the Bush administration, that’s not exactly “change,” but I sure can believe it.

The Left Embraces the Shock Doctrine

Last week Rahm Emanuel said to a prestigious audience, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

And that’s just the strategy that bestselling author Naomi Klein accuses right-wingers of employing. Weaving a convoluted yet superficially simple tale of world events, she claims in her book The Shock Doctrine that right-wing ideologues and governments both use and create moments of crisis to implement their nefarious agenda.

“Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters,” Klein writes. “Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas.” Which is exactly what American left-liberals have been doing in anticipation of a Democratic administration coming to power at a time when the public might be frightened into accepting more government than it normally would. The Center for American Progress, for instance, run by John Podesta, who was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and is now President-elect Obama’s transition director, has just released Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President.

The ideas in that report mesh well with the opportunities that Emanuel identified. After re-emphasizing the opportunities that crisis provides, he told his audience that the Obama administration wanted to use the opportunity to implement central planning of health care and energy, higher taxes, a federal program directed at “training the workforce,” and tighter control of financial institutions and capital flows.

But Emanuel isn’t the only one. As I mentioned previously, Paul Krugman has also endorsed the “don’t let a good crisis go to waste” power grab.

And now Arianna Huffington, the founder of the left-wing bulletin board HuffingtonPost, makes the same point in a public radio appearance. On KCRW’s “Left, Right, and Center,” November 21 (at about 27:20 in the podcast), she declared: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And it might be this particular crisis that will make it possible for the Obama administration to do some really innovative, bold things on health care, on energy independence, on all the areas that have been neglected.” (Hat tip: Thaddeus Russell.) Last year Huffington wrote a rave review of The Shock Doctrine, calling it “prophetic.” So it seems.

So … Emanuel. Krugman. Huffington. They’re all rallying around the theme that, well, that a left-liberal government should use this crisis to implement a more sweeping agenda than it could achieve in the absence of crisis. That’s the Shock Doctrine. Where are Naomi Klein and her legion of fans to expose and denounce it?

Of course, Klein might well decry their corporatist, big government/big business plans as just another example of Friedmanite/neoconservative/Pinochetist right-wing ideology. Anything other than local worker’s collectives smells like capitalism to her. So she can add the Obama administration to Milton Friedman, laissez-faire, the Bush administration, the Iraqi government, the Pinochet government, the Chinese Communist Party, and the ANC government of South Africa on the list of things that seem so many peas in a pod to her.

The San Francisco Chronicle says that Klein “may well have revealed the master narrative of our time.” The reviewer may have been more right than he knew.