Get Rid of the Surgeon General’s Office

The Surgeons General have been in the news recently, complaining that they are forced to follow the policies of the Presidents who give them their appointments (gee, what a radical notion). But the real question is why this national-nanny position still exists. As argued in a column for National Review Online, the office of Surgeon General should be retired:

When the position of surgeon general, then called supervising surgeon, was first created in 1781, the appointee actually had something tangible to do. … Since then, the duties of the surgeon general have been demoted so many times he’d barely be a buck private if his title kept up with the changes. In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson took away the responsibility of overseeing the PHS and made the position of surgeon general into one of a glorified adviser who is answerable to the assistant secretary to the secretary of Health and Human Services. … The position of surgeon general today has become mostly one of a bully pulpit to serve as a federally funded advocate for various health causes… Today, the office has a budget of $3 million and the surgeon general is paid close to $200,000 annually. However they have little or no authority to coordinate the federal government’s public health activities. This coordination is already being done by more than 50 different federal offices. …to save the taxpayers’ money, to eliminate yet another unneeded voice in the health-care cacophony, to free up a uniform for the local high school’s Pirates of Penzance performance and to save C-SPAN viewers from any more surgeon-general alumni reunion tours like last week’s hearings — eliminate the Office of Surgeon General today.

Taxpayers Lose Again

In Maryland, as in many other states, legislators have to wait a year before becoming lobbyists.  The idea is to put some distance between being a member of the legislature and turning around and immediately lobbying your colleagues. Maybe it helps to reduce the impression that some legislators are thinking about their next job as they make legislative decisions.

So how can Sen. P. J. Hogan go directly from the State Senate to a cushy job as the chief lobbyist for Maryland’s university system? Because “the one-year prohibition on legislators lobbying state officials does not apply to someone moving from one state post to another.”

So if you want to lobby for the private sector, for businesses or unions or environmentalists, you have to wait a year to alleviate any appearance of impropriety. But if you want to lobby on behalf of the government itself, you can use your contacts immediately, before they get cold and distant. Indeed, you’d have to wait a year to lobby on behalf of a taxpayers group, but you can start lobbying against the taxpayers the next day. Just another way that government stacks the deck against taxpayer interests.

Chapman on Iraq

Here’s libertarian columnist Steve Chapman on Bush’s Iraq report card, released last week:

On Thursday, the White House released its latest assessment of the war, and it concluded that on eight of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress, there has been “satisfactory progress.” That was enough for a presidential seal of approval. In other words, getting right answers on less than half the exam questions earns a pass. If the standards for No Child Left Behind were that low, we would be descending toward mass illiteracy.

[…]

By now, we should all know that the president is determined to portray Iraq as a success in the making no matter how much it looks like a failure. He said Thursday that the results of the surge so far are “cause for optimism.” But in September 2004, he was “pleased with the progress.” In January 2005, he said, “I’m optimistic about it.” A year later, he said “we are winning.” The president’s mood is always good and always wrong.

It’s worth pointing out that the White House moved the goalposts–yet again–in its assessment metrics. The Dems in Congress thought they were being tricky by asking the president to assess whether the Iraqis were making “satisfactory” progress on the various metrics, hemming him in by forcing him to either a) put his stamp of approval on what they suspected would be obvious non-progress, or b) concede publicly that the political process was not progressing. Here was the White House’s response, from pages 7-8 of the report, clarifying its assessment techniques:

Standard of Measurement: Section 1314(b)(2)(A) states: “The President shall submit an initial report to Congress, not later than July 15, 2007, assessing the status of each of the specific benchmarks established above, and declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.” In order to make this judgment (e.g., whether “satisfactory progress … is, or is not, being achieved”), we have carefully examined all the facts and circumstances with respect to each of the 18 benchmarks and asked the following question: As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a “Satisfactory” assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is “Unsatisfactory.” For those benchmarks receiving the latter assessment, we have explained what, if any, strategic adjustments may be required to improve the present trajectory. (All emphasis in original.)

So the White House defines “satisfactory” as demonstrating a “positive trajectory” that is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment “in the near term,” a date which remains undefined. Thus, the X-axis in this case, time, could be unlabeled; it represents an infinite timeline constrained only by however the White House cares to define “the near term” at any given moment. Any upward trend could be thus deemed “satisfactory.” We got no evaluation from the White House on how fast the Iraqis should be making progress.

The White House decided to grade themselves on a significant curve, and still could only fudge the report card such that they scored a 44%. Chapman is right; if NCLB had standards like this, the future would look even bleaker.

Major Ruling in KPMG Case

In a closely-watched white collar crime case in NY, Judge Kaplan has dismissed criminal charges against 13 defendants because of the federal government’s interference with the constitutional right to counsel.

Excerpt from today’s Washington Post:

Kaplan said the Department of Justice “deliberately or callously” prevented many of the defendants from getting funds for their defense, blocking them from hiring the lawyers of their choice.

“This is intolerable in a society that holds itself out to the world as a paragon of justice,” Kaplan said, adding that he reached his conclusion “only after pursuing every alternative short of dismissal and only with the greatest reluctance.”

Previous coverage here.

Last year Cato published Trapped, which examines the problems in this area of the law.  The author, John Hasnas, spoke about his thesis here.

A Perverse Burst of Honesty from Europe

European elitists want to create a bureaucratic super-state, but their efforts to further centralize power in Brussels are complicated by the fact that voters generally are opposed to the loss of national sovereignty. In an effort to circumvent these voters and avoid holding referenda, the proposed European constitution has been cosmetically modified and is now being called a treaty. Every so often, however, a politician blurts out the truth and admits (apologies to Hans Christian Andersen) that the Emperor has no clothes.

As reported by the EU Observer, an Italian minister who was closely involved in the drafting process has acknowledged that the text of the constitution/treaty was deliberately made unreadable in order to keep voters from understanding the radical changes that are being proposed. Mr Amato deserves credit for telling the truth, but his admission also is a sign that Europe’s elite have utter disdain for public opinion:

The new EU reform treaty text was deliberately made unreadable for citizens to avoid calls for referendum, one of the central figures in the treaty drafting process has said. Speaking at a meeting of the Centre for European Reform in London on Thursday (12 July) former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato said: “They [EU leaders] decided that the document should be unreadable. If it is unreadable, it is not constitutional, that was the sort of perception”. …Mr Amato, who is now minister of the interior in Italy, has been a central figure in all stages of the year-long process of writing a new constitution for
Europe. He was vice-president and leader of the socialists in the Convention, the body that wrote the first constitution-draft in 2002-2003 under the leadership of former French president Giscard d’Estaing. …Following two years of ‘reflection’ Mr Amato headed the 16-strong group of politicians which prepared a simplified version of the document. Unofficially known as the “Amato Group” the group stripped the rejected constitution of its constitutional elements - including the article on the EU’s symbols. But the main elements of the original constitution were kept in. …”This is an extraordinary admission from someone who has been close to the negotiations on the EU treaty”, said Open Europe director Neil O’Brien. “The idea of just changing the name of the Constitution and pretending that it is just another complex treaty shows a total contempt for voters.”

DC Government to Petition Supreme Court

The Mayor of Washington DC just announced that the city will ask the Supreme Court to reverse a landmark Second Amendment ruling from the DC Court of Appeals.

This is great news–as the whole idea of this lawsuit has been to get a good case up to the Supreme Court.  Had DC officials not filed an appeal, they would have had to amend DC’s 30 year ban on guns, but they could have kept the case out of the Supreme Court.  By filing an appeal, DC officials are hoping that the lower court will be reversed, but the risk is that the High Court will rule otherwise.  For opponents of the DC firearm ban, it is nice to have a favorable precedent from the DC Court of Appeals–but it is even better to have a favorable precedent from the Supreme Court.

The ball is now with the Supreme Court.  DC has decided to appeal but review by the High Court is hardly automatic.  The Supreme Court declines to hear hundreds of cases every year.   To hear a case, four justices must agree that a particular case ought to be heard.  We will likely learn whether this case, Parker v. District of Columbia, will be reviewed when the Court reconvenes in early October, after its summer recess.

Background on the lawsuit here.  Cato’s Second Amendment work is here.