Good Whippin’, Lost Teaching Opportunity

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has a great piece today on the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Democratic Party-line on education. Here’s a taste:

The litany of more and more when it comes to money often has little to do with what, in the military, are called facts on the ground: kids and parents. It does have a lot to do with teachers unions, which are strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Not a single candidate offered anything remotely close to a call for real reform. Instead, a member of the audience could reasonably conclude that if only more money was allocated to these woe-is-me school systems, things would right themselves overnight.

He rightly lambastes them for offering more money as their only solution … if $16,000 in DC is not enough, what is? 

And he is correct to focus on the important role that parents play in a child’s education. 

But it’s disappointing that Cohen neglects to mention the one and only solution that actually allows parents to take charge of their child’s education: school choice. 

The education-industrial complex, Big Ed, controls the system and places a brick wall of government-school bureaucracy in the way of parents who want to be involved. Cohen’s and Obama’s call for more parental involvement ring just a wee bit hollow when the government education system is specifically designed to exclude the voices of parents and taxpayers and to dance only to Big Ed’s tune. 

School choice empowers parents, encouraging their involvement in education and making certain that their voices will be heard.   

Cohen would do well to follow his great criticism of the absence of real solutions among the Democratic presidential nominees with an explanation of the only real solution left.

“He Has a Terrific Knack of Not Looking through the Rearview Mirror.”

So says Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) of President Bush in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Conaway, a “longtime friend who once worked for Bush,” meant this as a compliment, and it is – to a point. Even though I am a historian, I am willing to put the study of history into perspective. Sticking with the metaphor, I don’t drive down the highway with tape over my windshield. When you’re moving forward, you need to keep your eyes on the road.

But my driving instructor also told me to at least glance in that rearview mirror from time to time. And it is the president’s unwillingness to ask hard questions about his past decisions that so undermines his ability to fashion effective policy.

This story hearkens back to a widely-cited article by Ron Suskind, published just before the 2004 election, and particularly to a quote maddeningly attributed to a “senior adviser” to Bush. Suskind writes:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

George W. Bush will leave office on January 20, 2009. He’ll be creating his own reality for 567 more days. And there doesn’t appear to be anything that anyone, particularly those of us who “study…how things will sort out,” can do about it.

Commute These Sentences, Mr. President

President Bush has pushed the envelope of every aspect of executive power, except for two that might ease the burden of government, the veto and the pardon. Now he’s threatening to protect the taxpayers with his veto pen, and he’s just discovered his power to pardon or commute the sentences of people convicted of crimes. Whether Scooter Libby was an appropriate recipient of a commutation is subject to much debate.

But there are plenty of other people who deserve presidential pardons or commutations. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has highlighted a number of good cases here:

Mandy Martinson – 15 years for helping her boyfriend count his drug-dealing money.

DeJarion Echols – 20 years for selling a small amount of crack and owning a gun, causing Reagan-appointed federal judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. to say, “This is one of those situations where I’d like to see a congressman sitting before me.”

Weldon Angelos – 55 years for minor marijuana and gun charges, causing the George W. Bush-appointed judge Paul Cassell, previously best known for pressing the courts to overturn the Miranda decision, to call the mandatory sentence in this case “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.”

Anthea Harris – 15 years when members of her husband’s drug ring received sentence reductions to testify against her, although she had not been directly involved in the business.

A compassionate conservative should also use the pardon power to head off the DEA’s war against doctors who help patients alleviate pain. He could start by pardoning Dr. Ronald McIver, sentenced to 30 years for prescribing Oxycontin and other drugs to patients in severe pain. Or Dr. William Hurwitz of Virginia, sentenced to 25 years but then granted a retrial, convicted again, and awaiting sentencing, which could still be 10 years.

Commute these sentences, Mr. President.

European Union Squanders Money on Self-Promotion and Propaganda, Including Sex Videos

A story in the UK-based Telegraph discusses a new report that exposes the European Union’s expensive propaganda campaign. With a budget of more than $7 billion, the self-promotion effort is hardly trivial:

The European Union is spending £3.8 billion a year on “propaganda” to win over its sceptical citizens… As well as publishing a plethora of pamphlets and employing an army of public relations staff, the EU has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on teaching aids, school trips and even cartoons. According to Lee Rotherham, the author of a new book which examines the EU’s spending on its image, such initiatives are an “outrageous and cynical attempt to brainwash the young”. …Let’s Explore Europe Together, an online teaching aid aimed at nine to 12-year-olds, describes the EU as a “really good plan that had never been tried before”. …In Italy, reports Mr Rotherham, children have been confronted by Camillo e l’Euro in Europa, a cartoon that champions the single currency. …Europe’s Best Successes, a 51-page pamphlet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the EU, features lines such as “if you are lucky enough to be a citizen of the EU”, and “young people have really benefited from the development of a borderless Europe”. Mr Rotherham also details extensive spending on umbrellas, mouse mats, pencils and other items branded with the EU logo - part of a £2.4 billion budget for European Commission “projects”. He also reveals big grants to think-tanks and EU-funded trips to the European Parliament.

The U.S. government wastes money in similar ways, of course, including propaganda campaigns on behalf of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement and the President’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind education scheme. But the Europeans seem to have more creativity when it comes to wasting taxpayer money. The UK-based Times reports that part of the European Union’s self-promotion budget was used to produce a sex video. In the understatement of the year, a bureaucrat admitted that the EU is not quite ready to compete with Paris Hilton:

The latest promotional video from Brussels shows European citizens engaged in enthusiastic congress, but it is not the sort of union the founding fathers had in mind. The film, available on the European commission’s space on YouTube, the video website, shows 18 couples having sex. The video opens with a man and woman ripping each other’s clothes off in the bedroom while bottles rattle on a shelf. In the interests of sexual equality, two of the couples are gay. …The video is part of a campaign by Margot Wallstrom, the communications commissioner, to boost interest in the workings of the EU. …The scenes were compiled by the commission’s press unit, using footage from Amélie and All About My Mother. Both films were supported by the EU. Wallstrom’s spokesman was initially unaware of the video’s presence on the site and denied it was in questionable taste. …he added: “We can’t really compete with Paris Hilton yet.” …Godfrey Bloom, a UK Independence party MEP, said: “I suppose this film is appropriate. The EU has been screwing Britain for the past 30 years.”

If You Build It, They Still Won’t Come

A report commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development tells the planners what they want to hear: that a new sports and entertainment arena in Montgomery County, Maryland, could generate revenue for the county and would give residents a place to hold events without having to leave the county. Based on the Washington Post story, it’s not clear just how strong the report’s argument is: by definition, building a new arena would provide a venue for events, so that’s not much of a claim; and the news story does not tell us if the revenue generated would make it economically viable.

But maybe the report did claim economic viability. Most studies commissioned by planners do. But independent studies never do. This short review of the academic literature finds that “not only are there theoretical reasons to believe that economic impact studies of large sporting events may overstate the true impact of the event, but in practice the ex ante estimates of economic benefits far exceed the ex post observed economic development of host communities following mega-events or stadium construction.”

Last year the Wall Street Journal reported

But while arenas with big-time tenants may bolster a city’s self-image and quality of life, evidence shows they have a minimal economic upside. Most operate at a loss.

In “The Economics of Sports Facilities and Their Communities,” published in 2000 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, authors Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College and John Siegfried of Vanderbilt University argue that “independent work on the economic impact of stadiums and arenas has uniformly found that there is no statistically significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development.”

The authors cite several studies, including one by sports economist Robert Baade that found “no significant difference in personal income growth from 1958 to 1987 between 36 metropolitan areas that hosted a team in one of the four premier professional sports leagues and 12 otherwise comparable areas that did not.” The authors’ conclusion: Arenas put a drag on the local economy by hurting spending on other activities in the city and boosting municipal costs such as security.

“It doesn’t make sense to build an arena for economic reasons, even if you have a team,” Mr. Zimbalist says.

Several Cato studies have reviewed the literature on stadiums and arenas, as noted here.