The NEA: America (Gulp!) in Microcosm

The National Education Association, the most powerful labor union in the country, wants it both ways. It wants every single nickel it can squeeze out of federal taxpayers, but it doesn’t want anyone in Washington telling public schools what they have to do for the money. So despite advocating an ever-greater federal role in education for nearly a century, and practically ramming the U.S. Department of Education down the nation’s throat in the late 1970s, the NEA has declared in the fact sheet for a new “great public schools” manifesto that “constitutionally, education is reserved to the states.” Of course, in just the next line it declares that “the federal government has a vital role to play in advancing the quality of America’s public schools”—that role primarily being to spend lots of money—so you can see the contradiction.

No doubt the NEA’s message would be different were it not for the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush’s administration’s signature domestic achievement that’s supposed to make schools show some progress for their federal booty. The law, as has been well documented, is at best unproven and at worst a cruel sham that promises high standards but delivers empty promises and deception. But that’s not why the NEA hates it. They hate it because they don’t want anyone telling them what to do with education money. They want to dictate terms, but the Bush administration prefers to do the dictating itself.

The root problem—aside from the fact that dictatorships pretty much only work for the dictators—is the utter disregard for the Constitution demonstrated by the NEA, big-government conservatives, and the millions of Americans who for decades have treated the Constitution as a wonderful relic to be admired in the National Archives, trotted out whenever they don’t like something the feds are threatening to do, but ignored when they come up with something they think it would be nice for Washington to give them.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand that the federal government fund something it’s not supposed to be involved in and then expect it to leave you alone. You can’t demand that the Constitution protect you from what you don’t like and then cast it aside to get things you do. You can either always respect the document that gives Washington only a few, specifically enumerated powers, or you can forget about having any protection at all.

That’s a lesson the NEA needs desperately to learn. Unfortunately, it’s far from alone.

Happy 4th of July…

Rescue Us from the Che Guevara Myth

The rescue of 15 hostages from the clutches of Colombia’s Marxist rebels yesterday is a riveting story with major repercussions for the region, as my colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo blogged earlier. But one minor detail of the drama should not go by without comment.

The Colombian Army rescuers involved in the ruse were wearing Che Guevara T-shirts as they landed in the guerrilla camp to claim the hostages. Guevara, of course, is the late Argentine communist revolutionary and sidekick to Fidel Castro. Che T-shirts are apparently popular in FARC rebel camps, as they are on U.S. college campuses.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal that was coincidently published on the day of the hostage rescue, Peruvian writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa tells the real story of Che Guevara. Far from being a hero, he presided over mass executions, prison labor camps, bloody and failed insurrections, and economic ruin.

Yesterday’s rescue was a welcome blow to everything Che Guevara stood for.

Time to Skedaddle?

ABC News reports that the Bush administration may be on the verge of closing Guantanamo.  This is because the recent Boumediene ruling will be bringing judicial scrutiny to the facility.  In other words, from the standpoint of Bush administration lawyers, if the law pertaining to habeas corpus is coming to Guantanamo Bay, it may be time to get out of Dodge!  Quick, move the prisoners to places where the judiciary can’t find them.  This might be called the “executive flight privilege” because when a person (who is not in the employment of the state) tries to evade the course of justice by leaving town to avoid arrest or the institution or continuance of legal proceedings, prosecutors say it is unlawful flight.

This turn of events was foreseeable.  Too much emphasis on Guantanamo (i.e., who has sovereignty?  The U.S. or Cuba?) would perhaps inevitably lead to more cat and mouse games between the executive and the judiciary.  If the courts would focus more on the jailor and less on the jail, the cat and mouse stuff might finally stop.    

A Home Fit for a President

According to the Washington Post, Barack and Michelle Obama

wanted to step up from their $415,000 condo. They chose a house with six bedrooms, four fireplaces, a four-car garage and 5 1/2 baths, including a double steam shower and a marble powder room. It had a wine cellar, a music room, a library, a solarium, beveled glass doors and a granite-floored kitchen.

It sounds – and looks – like a home fit for a Roosevelt. Of course, the old-money Roosevelts had their homes, so they didn’t have to go through the costly and distasteful process of taking out a mortgage to buy them. Fortunately for the Obamas, the Chicago-based Northern Trust made the process a lot less costly than it might have been for other people. (See also a comment here from Clio1, who claims to know that the deal was even better than the Post suggested.)

Repeat after Me: FISA Doesn’t Expire

One of the hazards of running a grassroots campaign is that sometimes those grassroots supporters raise a ruckus if you don’t live up to your primary campaign promises. The New York Times reports that 7000 of Obama’s supporters (the number is up to 13,000 as I write this) have created a group on Obama’s own campaign website to pressure him to reject the “compromise” FISA legislation that the House passed last month. Obama declared his opposition to any FISA legislation that included retroactive immunity back in February, and many of Obama’s liberal supporters feel betrayed that while he is still nominally against the immunity provision, he has signaled a willingness to support the overall legislation whether or not the immunity provision is stripped out.

Not surprisingly, the Obama campaign’s response is both lame and misleading:

Greg Craig, a Washington lawyer who advises the Obama campaign, said Tuesday in an interview that Mr. Obama had decided to support the compromise FISA legislation only after concluding it was the best deal possible.

“This was a deliberative process, and not something that was shooting from the hip,” Mr. Craig said. “Obviously, there was an element of what’s possible here. But he concluded that with FISA expiring, that it was better to get a compromise than letting the law expire.”

I feel like a broken record, but FISA, which was enacted in 1978 and updated in 2001, doesn’t expire. It will remain the law of the land indefinitely, whether or not Congress passes new legislation this month. The Protect America Act, which was passed last August, has already expired – back in March. As I pointed out at the time, the expiration of the PAA simply returned us to the permissive surveillance regime that Congress enacted with the Patriot Act in 2001. That regime isn’t perfect, to be sure, but it leaves our intelligence community with plenty of tools to spy on terrorists.

What Mr. Craig is most likely referring to is the fact that the first surveillance “authorizations” under the PAA will begin expiring in August. These “authorizations” are good for a year, so any authorizations approved in August 2007 will expire in August 2008. But that simply means that intelligence officials will have to apply for a FISA order under the still fairly permissive Patriot Act rules. Those rules include a lower legal threshold than exists under ordinary criminal wiretaps, and an “emergency” provision allowing wiretapping to begin immediately and authorization to be sought after the fact. The net result will be a modest increase in the NSA’s paperwork burden, but there’s no reason to think any reasonable surveillance activities will cease. (Some indiscriminate vacuum-cleaner surveillance may have to be stopped, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing)

Indeed, Pres. Bush himself praised the changes Congress made to FISA in the wake of the September 11 attacks, noting that the Patriot Act’s FISA amendments “will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including e-mails, the Internet, and cell phones” and makes the intelligences community “able to better meet the technological challenges posed by this proliferation of communications technology.” That’s the legal regime that will apply if Congress declines to enact a FISA bill this year. There hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on American soil in the six and a half years that legal regime has been in place. Surely it will serve us well enough for another six and a half month until Obama himself is likely to be sitting in the Oval Office and can negotiate a FISA reform more consistent with his supposed liberal principles.