Chastened Much?

Philip Weiss attends an event sponsored by the Middle East Forum in New York with former Cheney aide David Wurmser and reports back. Here’s a snip from the Q and A:

What are the 3 things he would tell John McCain if he were his adviser?

“Let me just bluntly answer that. One, abandon the two-state solution statement that we have right now vis a vis the Palestinians. Two—Well, let me start with number one. Number one is an open, publicly expressed regime-change strategy in Iran. Two, an open expressed regime-change strategy in Syria. 3, abandoning the two-state solution policy we’ve had frankly since the 9/11 attacks…”

One honestly has to wonder, what would it take these folks to learn from the disaster that their bizarre theories begot in Iraq? Meanwhile, today’s Washington Post lets us know (via Eric Martin) that we should keep an eye out for a new NIE on Iraq — except, despite its no doubt being chock-full of great news about how terrific things are over there, the administration apparently doesn’t want to release a version publicly.

As terrifying as each of the presidential candidates is in various ways, it’s going to be a relief when this long national nightmare is over. We deserve, at the very least, a new nightmare.

‘Wise’ Isn’t the Right Word

NRO’s Carol Iannone calls Checker Finn “wise” because his confidence in free market education has been chastened by his observation of charter schools in Ohio. To draw conclusions about free markets from a system that does not resemble them isn’t wisdom; it’s a non sequitur. As I have written elsewhere over the past month, U.S. charter schools and voucher programs deviate from free markets in crucial ways, and so tell us very little about the merits of real market reform.

The recent spate of neo-conservatives expressing disappointment that tiny, hobbled “school choice” programs haven’t produced free market results calls to mind the Cargo Cultists of the South Pacific. When American military forces left the Melanesian Islands after WW II taking their supplies and equipment with them, some islanders came to believe they could summon forth their own precious “cargo” by mimicking what U.S. forces had done — complete with air traffic control towers and radio headsets made of bamboo. Not surprisingly, this superficial mimicry failed to deliver the goods. To date, U.S. “school choice” programs are to free market education as bamboo headsets are to radio communication — insubstantial imitations of the real thing. They may well be improved in the future, but should not be expected to act like markets until they are.

Finn’s belief that the risible hand of the state is necessary to make markets drive up standards is conspicuously detached from reality. As I pointed out in a piece last year, standards advocates mistakenly assume that high government standards produce excellence, but in fact it is the competitive pursuit of excellence that raises standards:

We didn’t progress from four-inch black-and-white cathode ray tubes to four-foot flat panels because the federal government raised television standards. Apple did not increase the capacity of its iPod from 5 to 80 gigabytes in five years because of some bureaucratic mandate. And the Soviet Union did not collapse because the targets for its five-year plans were insufficiently ambitious.

Progress and innovation in these and almost all other human endeavors have been driven by market incentives: consumer choice, competition among providers, the profit motive. The absence of these incentives — as in the Soviet Union — has led to economic decline and collapse.

Charter schools haven’t produced market-like results because they aren’t markets. We will enjoy market-like results in education when we have real education markets, not before. The dirigisme now so in vogue among neo-cons will produce the same results for them that it did for the central planners who came before them.

Happy Birthday, Homeland Security!

I doubt that anyone outside Joe Lieberman’s office is happy with the performance of the Department of Homeland Security, which observed its five-year anniversary this week. To mark the occasion, CQ Homeland Security (part of Congressional Quarterly) asked me and a bunch of more important people to comment on whether creating the department was wise.

The competition for most negative response turned out to be fierce (even Michael Chertoff sounds ambivalent) but I think my entry is a contender. Here’s the first part of what I wrote:

Congress made a large but typical mistake with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security five years ago. James Q. Wilson wrote in 1995 that government reorganizations are usually driven by a perception of crisis that produces a political need to do something quick and extensive. He notes that these circumstances make thoughtful planning for the change unlikely. Reorganizations, he says, are usually victims of a facile urge to clarify lines of authority and end duplication without understanding the incentives of the organizations involved. Congress and the Bush administration followed this model in creating DHS.

The collection of comments is here.

‘Loyalty to the State’

The California court decision that essentially bans homeschooling has sparked a lot of concern, and rightly so. The decision quotes this revealing and chilling statement from a California court case in 1961:

A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.

Seldom do the defenders of the government education monopoly reveal in such forthright language the true purpose of their position; they are training children to be loyal subjects of the state, not free citizens of a republic. The logic behind support for a government education monopoly and opposition to school choice is chilling and clear. 

These fundamentals are too often obscured or lost in a forest of concerns regarding standards and curriculum, even in the case of those, such as Sol Stern and Diane Ravitch, who profess a desire to promote American values.

To all who feel a twinge of sympathy at the mentioning of civic education and patriotism, just remember the patriotism and attachment to American civic traditions that fueled the American Revolution grew from a diverse population without a government education system. 

And remember that our private schools do a better job teaching the principles and structure of American government and American history, the knowledge of which most often leads to a natural, uncoerced, organic patriotism that is the strength of this country. 

Freedom, not state indoctrination, creates good American citizens.

How Dare a Minority Get in the Way?

For years, a battle has been raging in Montgomery County, Md., over the school district’s sex education curriculum. Yesterday, the curriculum’s main opponents, while promising to keep fighting, announced that they would no longer do so in court. In celebratory response to the news, Brian Edwards, chief of staff for district superintendent Jerry Weast, declared that “a small group of opponents have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend this, so obviously we’re very pleased that it’s over.”

It certainly is regrettable that Montgomery County taxpayers have had to shell out big bucks to fight this battle, but Mr. Edwards seems to be suggesting that the main injustice is that the curriculum’s opponents are but a “small group.” The small group is itself composed largely of taxpayers, and one of the basic principles of American government is supposed to be respect for people’s rights no matter how few are having them trampled. We are supposed to hate tyranny of the majority.

The problem in Montgomery County — and districts all over the country — is not that a few troublemakers keep thwarting majority rule. It’s that public schooling, which forces taxpayers with diverse values to support monolithic school systems, makes such conflict, and often repression of minorities, unavoidable.

Thankfully, there is a solution to this problem that will benefit both majorities and minorities: Let parents, not government, decide to which schools their children and tax dollars will go. Let all people freely seek the education they want and you immediately vanquish the cause of war.

Certifiably Wrong

Last week, a California appeals court dealt a tough blow to liberty in the oft-freedom-challenged Golden State, ruling that parents may not home-school their children without first obtaining a state teaching license.

This is a regrettable ruling for at least two reasons: First, it appears to violate U.S. Supreme Court precedent rooted in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), in which the Court struck down an Oregon law requiring all children to attend public schools. The California ruling doesn’t force a child to attend a public institution, but in requiring that the child be taught by a state-approved teacher, it appears to conflict with Pierce’s most basic principle:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

The second major flaw in the decision is the underlying assumption that state certification somehow assures teacher quality. Research has found that certification promises nothing of the sort, and, in fact, often keeps people out of teaching who might be great at it but don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on education school. Indeed, an exhaustive review of teacher-quality research by the Abell Foundation determined:

There is a scientifically sound body of research, conducted primarily by economists and social scientists, revealing the attributes of an effective teacher, defined as a teacher who has a positive impact on student achievement. This research does not show that certified teachers are more effective teachers than uncertified teachers. In fact, the backgrounds and attributes characterizing effective teachers are more likely to be found outside the domain of schools of education.

Both basic freedom and educational quality are damaged by this anti-homeschooling ruling, and Californians can only hope that higher courts see this clearly.

Pentagon to China: Do What We Say, Not What We Do

This week brought the publication of the annual Pentagon report, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.” As James Fallows will tell you, this is an important document for China threat inflators, who use the report to make all sorts of lurid claims in their efforts to drag us into a Cold War with China. The report itself, while it tends to put a scary spin on things, is relatively sober.

What most irritates me about it (along with its contribution to the overheated cyberwar rhetoric so popular this year) is the implication that China is not allowed to behave like us. Here’s the final paragraph of the executive summary:

The international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities supporting China’s military modernization. China’s leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s modernizing military capabilities. For example, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures, and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown.

The briefer who presented the report to the media Monday, David Sedney, echoed this bottom line:

The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernization, the continuing acquisition of capabilities and the corresponding and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions of those and how they are going to be employed. What is China going to do with all that?”

Expanding and modernizing the military for unclear reasons, huh? Are the authors of this stuff completely blind to hypocrisy? The United States spends over $75 billion a year on research and development alone to modernize the military, never mind procurement. The non-war defense budget has grown 37% since Bush took office. And we are far from transparent. Do we not hide about a tenth of our regular defense spending behind a veil of secrecy? I’m confident we’re not giving the international community thorough briefings on our full surveillance capabilities. What about intentions? We’re vaguer than the Chinese. We explicitly justify our defense capabilities based on uncertainty. The Pentagon’s slogan could be, “Hey, it’s expensive, but you never know.” Will we defend Taiwan if China attacks it? Will we bomb Iran? Join in Sudan’s civil war? I study the U.S. defense establishment for a living, and I don’t know our intentions. No one does.

Maybe we should cut back on the lectures and let the Chinese run their own affairs.