Reality Hits 4 Public Schooling

Perhaps with the Supreme Court hearing a case on Monday pitting a student’s right to proclaim “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” against a public school’s need to maintain order, it was inevitable that public schooling conflicts would get some attention. If nothing else, what media outfit would pass up the chance to grab peoples’ attention with a phrase as absurd – but vaguely subversive – as “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”?

But maybe it’s not just a banner emblazoned with a bizarre phrase – which then-high school senior Joseph Frederick says he held up as a joke that ultimately got him suspended when the Olympic torch was run past his high school in January 2002 – that has brought attention to the fact that public schooling forces people and their values into conflict. Maybe, as I chronicled in Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict, it’s that such battles are constant – indeed, almost inevitable – in public schools for which all people must pay, but in which only one set of values can prevail.

Illustrating just how common such fighting is, at the same time the bong hits case was grabbing headlines this week, several other public schooling conflicts were in the news, including skirmishes over dress codes, a teacher giving kids material containing Biblical references, photo standards for yearbooks, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the content of public school library and text books. And just yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a piece by columnist Patrick McIlheran that examined several battles being fought in public schools, and reached the only conclusion possible:

Nothing so fractures society as imposing beliefs people loathe….Of course the culture wars rage around schools. They will rage there as long as we hold to the idea that common schools can establish a unanimity that no longer exists, if ever it did. …

School choice is the answer. However it works, by charters or open enrollment or by vouchers, it recognizes that parents aren’t willing to think of their children as the common property of the state.

That schooling grounded in coercion and forced unity is doomed to constant rancor is a message, it seems, that might finally be getting out. If it does, we just might have the silly phrase “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” – as well as countless public schooling battles – to thank for it.

Is Hillary 2008 like IBM 1984?

The Washington Post has a big story on a “viral attack ad” about Hillary Clinton that’s been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. Jose Antonio Vargas and Howard Kurtz report:

It’s a “mash-up” of Ridley Scott’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial that portrayed IBM as an Orwellian Big Brother and introduced Apple’s Macintosh as the bright new vanguard of computing. But now it’s Big Sister, Clinton, vs. the upstart, Sen. Barack Obama.

The ad shows the oppressed masses staring in unison at a huge screen featuring Hillary Clinton as phrases from her deadly “conversations” lull the viewer into a stupor. As she drones on, a young blond woman in athletic gear twirls with a sledgehammer, then hurls it into Clinton’s giant image.

The ad concludes with the tagline “On January 14, the Democratic primary will begin. And you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like 1984.”

The most interesting point in the Post story is that Vargas and Kurtz were unable to find out who created and posted the ad. It ends with a plug for Barack Obama, but the Obama campaign denies any knowledge of it. On YouTube, the creator claims to be 59 years old and gives the user name ParkRidge47. He or she didn’t answer emails from the Post. But Vargas and Kurtz note that Hillary Rodham was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, in 1947, which makes her 59 years old.

Did she post the video herself? It hardly seems likely. But then – just last night, on FX’s “Dirt,” an actress gained great notoriety, then sympathy, then career advancement after a graphic sex tape featuring her was posted on the internet. And after much investigation, it was discovered that she posted it herself.

Still, it surely wasn’t Clinton or her supporters. It was created by someone who prefers Obama. And it’s a great example of anonymous pamphleteering for the internet age. As Jonathan Wallace pointed out in a Cato study, that’s a tradition that goes back to Cato’s Letters and the Federalist Papers. But our modern election laws have tried to stamp out anonymity. All expressions of political support are supposed to be disclosed, reported, and regulated. But why do we need to know who created this great ad? If you take offense at it, create a better one in response.

Europe’s Rising Tax Burden

A new report from Eurostat shows that taxes in the average EU nation confiscate nearly 41 percent of national economic output. Sweden and Denmark compete for the dubious honor of imposing the most onerous tax burden. Flat tax nations in Eastern Europe have the lowest tax burdens, and Ireland also scores well. For what it’s worth, the tax burden in the United States is lower than it is in any EU nation, almost certainly because America is not burdened with a value-added tax. Tax-news.com reports on the Eurostat findings:

The European Statistics Office (Eurostat) on Tuesday published figures examining taxation in the EU from 1995 to 2005. According to the Eurostat report, in 2005, tax revenue in the EU27 stood at 40.8% of GDP, compared with 40.4% in 2004. In the euro area, tax revenue was 41.2% of GDP in 2005, compared to 40.9% in 2004. Over a longer period, tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in both the EU25 and the euro area were in 2005 slightly below the levels recorded in 1995. …In 2005, Sweden (52.1%) recorded the highest ratio, followed by Denmark (51.2%), Belgium (47.7%), France (45.8%), Finland (44.0%) and Austria (43.6%). The lowest ratios were observed in Romania (28.8%), Lithuania (29.2%), Slovakia (29.5%), Latvia (29.6%), Estonia (31.0%) and Ireland (32.2%). …With regard to taxes on income and wealth, Denmark (31.2%), Sweden (20.1%) and Finland (17.5%) recorded the highest ratios to GDP, compared to an EU27 average of 12.8%, while Romania (5.3%), Bulgaria and Slovakia (both 6.1%) registered the lowest ratios. For actual social contributions, the highest ratios to GDP were observed in Germany (16.7%), France (16.4%) and the Czech Republic (15.1%), compared to an EU27 average of 13.0%, whereas Denmark (1.1%), Ireland (4.8%) and Malta (7.2%) recorded the lowest ratios.

Congress Is Concerned about Your Mental Health

Congress is debating a new “mental health parity” law, which would require those who purchase mental health care coverage to buy the same amount of mental health care coverage as medical and surgical coverage. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just released this not-too-technical summary.  The CBO projects that the law would increase the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance by 0.4 percent.  That means it could add another $46 to the (already rising) cost of a job-based family plan.  Not a huge amount.  But every little bit hurts.  And Congress wonders why the number of Americans without health insurance keeps rising.

Of all the purposes government might serve, there can be none higher than telling people how much insurance they should purchase for mental health care, if they purchase insurance for mental health care.

Romneycare: The Slippery Slope Slips Some More

Massachusetts has now set the minimum level of insurance required to comply with the state’s individual mandate. Not only will every resident of the state be required to have insurance by July of this year, but by January of 2009, no one in the state will be allowed to have insurance with more than a $2,000 deductible or total out of pocket costs of more than $5,000. In addition, every policy in the state will be required to cover prescription drugs, a move that could add 5-15 percent to the cost of insurance plans.

In my paper on then-Governor Romney’s plan, I warned that the state’s new managed competition bureaucracy, the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, would operate as a regulatory body, setting up just such a slippery slope to government control of health care. The more we see from Massachusetts, the more it looks like I was right.

America Ranks Only 14th in Property Rights Index

In an interesting new report, the Property Rights Alliance has published the first index measuring property rights. Not surprisingly, the report finds that nations with stronger protections of property rights also have more prosperous economies. It was discouraging to read, though, that America is tied for 14th place, behind welfare states such as Denmark, Sweden, and Germany (though the U.S. beat France):

…countries in the higher rankings of the IPRI are primarily advanced industrialized economies, particularly Western Europe (Scandinavia) and North America. Countries that show a weak performance with respect to property rights protection are African and Latin American nations, in addition to the Central European nations. … better performing countries (1st Quartile in ranking) enjoy, on average, a GDP per capita income of more than eight times their counterparts at the lower quartile of the Index. … citizens of countries in the top quartile in the IPRI ranking enjoy a per capita income that is more than seven times that of their counterparts in the bottom quartile. … the correlation between the IPRI rating and GDP per capita amounts to a value of eighty-nine percent.

Democratic Budget Threatens Repeal of Bush Tax Cuts and Adoption of Dorgan and Levin Anti-Tax Competition Bills

In a discouraging development, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee has crafted a budget that does not make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He implies that the tax cuts can be extended if other taxes are raised, and he specifically suggests that legislation attacking so-called tax havens could provide offsetting revenue. But these punitive and discriminatory bills would raise very little money (especially since they would force many American companies and entrepreneurs to reduce their efforts to compete in global markets). As the Wall Street Journal explains, Senator Conrad’s real goal is repealing the Bush tax cuts and imposing a huge tax hike on the productive sector of America’s economy:

Mr. Conrad has no intention of extending the Bush tax cuts… But Senate Democrats don’t want anyone to know this, at least not before the 2008 election. So Mr. Conrad says his budget revenue estimates “assume that Congress will take steps to counter the effects of the expiration of tax cuts in 2010 in a manner that does not add to the nation’s debt burden.” How so? Well, “this additional revenue can be achieved without raising taxes by closing the tax gap, shutting down illegal tax shelters, addressing tax havens, and simplifying the tax code,” he avers. …The 10-year revenue increase from repealing the Bush tax cuts is something like $2 trillion, according to Congress’s static-revenue models. Mr. Conrad is claiming that Congress will make up for all of that lost revenue by chasing down such illusions as the “tax gap,” which the IRS claims is the difference between the taxes people owe and what they pay. …All of this is really sleight-of-hand to disguise that Democrats are intent on repealing the Bush tax cuts. This would raise the tax on capital gains to 20% from 15%, more than double the tax rate on dividends to 39.6% from 15%, and sharply increase marginal tax rates at all levels of income. …The market fell 200 points on the day Mr. Conrad unveiled his magic act last week.