Why We Fight Today… and Tomorrow?

Two news items highlight how divisive public schooling in the United States is today, and how much worse it could potentially be were we ever to adopt a national curriculum.

The first article tackles Banned Books Week, an event organized by the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups, that will feature readings all over the nation of controversial books like Judy Blume’s Forever and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. According to the ALA, in 2006 there were over 546 challenges to books held in public and school libraries. Unfortunately, what the article neglects to mention is that in our public schools and libraries such battles are both inevitable and, no matter what the outcome, always result in the crushing of someone’s rights. As long as libraries are paid for by all taxpayers, all taxpayers have equal rights to demand both that the libraries carry the books they want and NOT carry material they find objectionable. One man’s book-banning battle is another’s revolt against compelled support of repugnant speech.

In Okinawa, Japan, the subject of the second article, we see just what kind of widespread acrimony a national curriculum can produce, again because all people are forced to support teachings imposed by the most politically powerful group, and because there is no alternative to government-sanctioned content, no matter how controversial that content might be. According to The Japan Times, on Saturday roughly 110,000 people rallied in Okinawa to protest a directive from Japan’s education ministry that history textbook publishers strike references in their books to military-imposed civilian suicides in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Were the United States ever to adopt a national history curriculum, imagine the fights we’d have over the treatment of race, religion, class, etc? And we don’t even have to think about something as inherently values-laden as history. Just look at the acrimony that’s accompanied our on-going “reading wars” and you can easily imagine the conflict any national standards would cause.

Debunking Coercion

The Congress for the New Urbanism has responded to my July policy analysis, Debunking Portland, with a paper titled, Debunking Cato. I am posting my reply on the Antiplanner blog.

New Urbanism refers to a recent architectural fad that includes mixed-use developments (retail and housing in the same complex), high-density housing (either multi-family or single-family on tiny lots), and pedestrian-friendly design (limited parking and storefronts on sidewalks instead of facing large parking lots). There is a demand for this type of development and no one objects to developers meeting that demand.

Portland, however, has decided to go far beyond market demand by imposing this type of development on many people. An urban-growth boundary has driven up the cost of single-family housing and the city uses subsidies, including tax-increment financing and below-market land sales, to promote high-density housing. A member of the Portland city council (and leading candidate for mayor) has even said that no new housing should be built in Portland that does not meet New Urban densities and designs.

My paper shows that Portland has achieved very little from this massive and cost coercion. The Congress for the New Urbanism basically argues that it has achieved slightly more than my paper says. But those benefits are still so tiny that they are overwhelmed by the costs to homebuyers, commuters, and taxpayers in the region.

Some people in the Congress for the New Urbanism say they merely want to build for the market and do not support coercive policies. Lovers of freedom can support New Urbanist efforts to dismantle obsolete zoning codes that prevent developers from meeting market demand for New Urban designs.

By the same token, I note in my reply, New Urbanists who oppose coercion cannot defend Portland’s policies, which are based almost entirely on coercive land-use regulations, taxation, and subsidies. Those policies don’t produce the benefits claimed for them and they do impose huge costs on the cities that apply them.

Police Create Roadblock to Collect DNA Samples for Private Research Firm

(This story was originally sent last week by Declan McCullagh to his politech e-mail group. Most of Declan’s e-mail follows.)

The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado, a rural area not that far west of Denver, recently set up a highway checkpoint where motorists were stopped and, at least in some cases, not allowed to leave until they gave breath, blood, and saliva samples for the benefit of a private research firm. A report by Ernie Hancock says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was involved as well.

A Denver Post article is here:
http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_6922089

More:
http://cw2.trb.com/news/kwgn-invasive-checkpoint,0,2092732.story
http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=57733

http://freedomsphoenix.com/Discussion-Page.htm?InfoNo=024006

The Post says the private organization in question is the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, or PIRE, in Calverton, MD. Their Web site seems to be down but can be viewed here:
http://web.archive.org/web/20050826173038/www.pire.org/

The thoroughly-misnamed PIRE is a major DC government contractor (and in fact its offices are within walking distance of the Beltway). It specializes in funneling over $35 million of taxpayer money a year into its own coffers through law enforcement contracts of dubious utility, mostly dealing with drugs and alcohol, from sources including the U.S. Department of Justice. 100 percent of its budget appears to come from government contracts or grants.

Although PIRE pretends to be a “nonprofit” organization – at least that label helps to collect those fat taxpayer-funded checks from the DOJ – in reality it spends about $1.35 million a year on lobbyists. Not a bad 30-fold return on investment. And its employees are paid six-figure salaries that would be handsome even by for-profit standards.

PIRE seems to specialize in devising new and intrusive ways of government meddling in personal lives. One PIRE success story helps to coerce retailers to card octogenarians who dare to try to buy a bottle of Cabernet. (“This method of enforcement gives retailers the necessary incentive to comply with the state’s law regarding the sale of alcohol, given that their next customer could be part of a compliance check. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) has developed a detailed document to assist in the development and implementation of compliance checks.” See:
http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/alcohol/dotpartners/chapter_5.htm

PIRE is an ardent supporter of the War On (Some Politically Unacceptable) Drugs, also known as an excellent way for Feds and contractors to fleece the public in a war that will never end, eviscerate the Fourth Amendment, and create a police state with perfectly legal no-knock raids. One PIRE researcher who focuses on “middle-school-based drug prevention programs” and has written a paper claiming anti-drug programs in schools actually work:
http://www.nida.nih.gov/Meetings/Prevention/PrevBios4.html

PIRE also supports higher taxes on alcohol and firmly opposes lowering the minimum drinking age to be akin to Europe or Canada (something that would probably do much to limit abuse). See:
http://www.higheredcenter.org/thisweek/tw010629.html
http://resources.prev.org/documents/BeerTaxesNewsRelease.pdf

LTE Fact-Checking Mitt Romney’s Health Care Oped

The following is a letter I submitted to the editors of the Wall Street Journal regarding Mitt Romney’s recent oped [$] attempting to differentiate his Massachusetts health care reform law from Hillary Clinton’s reform plan:

Mitt Romney goes beyond spin in his attempt to differentiate his Massachusetts health care reform law from Sen. Hillary Clinton’s proposed reforms [“Where HillaryCare Goes Wrong,” September 20].

Romney claims “the reforms I led in Massachusetts…[did] not raise taxes or increase spending.”  False.  The Massachusetts law requires residents to purchase health insurance, requires many residents to purchase more coverage than they want, and imposes similar mandates on employers – all tax increases.  Had Massachusetts not implemented the law, government spending would have been (at least) $385 million lower.

Romney notes that Clinton would “expand government insurance” by letting Americans enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.  He then writes that the Massachusetts law “instead allowed the uninsured to choose a private insurance product from one of the many private insurance companies.”  The contrast is false.  Clinton would open to all Americans a government program through which federal employees currently purchase coverage from private insurers.  Romney created a “Connector” that allows all Massachusetts residents to do the same thing.  Romney’s Connector is no more or less “government-run” than Clinton’s proposed FEHBP.

Romney claims his law resulted in “less regulation.”  Though it did eliminate the Commonwealth’s “any willing provider” mandate, on balance Romney’s law increased government regulation.  In addition to the individual and employer mandates, it created new requirements that consumers purchase drug coverage, prohibited many high-deductible plans, and added a new layer of government bureaucracy to Massachusetts’ already overburdened health insurance market.

The editors turned this LTE down, but ran some good critiques [$] of Romeny’s oped nonetheless.

So Many Reasons Government Shouldn’t Fund Newspapers

The Columbia Journalism Review has an article suggesting that the government should step in and stop the red ink at the nation’s leading newspapers. Declan McCullagh has a great post enumerating all the many reasons that’s a bad idea. Here’s one of the most important:

Government money tends to come with strings attached. Sure, at first, a handout may seem free. But over time, that tends to change.

Look at the ongoing controversies over the National Endowment for the Arts. In response to controversial photographs (including a provocative retrospective of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work) in an NEA-funded exhibit, Congress did two things. It reduced the NEA’s budget for the next fiscal year and then slapped a new restriction on the agency, saying that its grants must take “into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.”

Mapplethorpe was, of course, a brilliant photographer, and some of his work has inspired my own modest efforts. But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the NEA funding restrictions as constitutional, concluding that they’re perfectly OK “when the government is acting as patron rather than as sovereign.”

That patrons can muzzle the recipients of their largesse should be no surprise. Last decade, librarians lobbied Congress to create the E-rate program, which levied taxes on Americans’ phone bills to pay for wiring schools to the Internet. It was an unalloyed, billion-dollar political win for the librarians — until Congress decided to force them to filter out porn if they wanted the cash.

They howled, they complained, they sued. They lost. The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the law “is a valid exercise of Congress’ spending power.”

It’s also worth noting that, as Mike Masnick has pointed out repeatedly, news gathering isn’t in decline. Only the portion of the news business that involves shipping people reams of ink-stained paper is having trouble. Most other parts of the news business are thriving. Cable and satellite news channels are thriving, news websites are seeing record traffic, and the blogosphere is providing hundreds of thousands of new sources for news and analysis. The trends in journalism are only alarming for people who think that journalism is synonymous with the print edition of the New York Times. Ironically, that attitude seems to be over-represented among the people in charge of educating the next generation of journalists.

John Berthoud, In Memoriam

BerthoudWe have lost a good friend in the battle for limited government with the passing yesterday of John Berthoud, president of National Taxpayers Union. John was a scholar, a leader in public policy in Washington, and the head of a very important institution that helps Americans understand the huge cost of their government. John was an extremely kind and honorable person, and he will be missed greatly.

TechCrunch Exposes D.C. Trade Association Advocacy for REAL ID

In an excellent post, Michael Arrington at TechCrunch notes the advocacy of the Information Technology Association of America in favor of the REAL ID Act, our nation’s moribund national ID law.

His title “Conflicts of Interest: …” draws out nicely the schism that ITAA’s advocacy for REAL ID creates for its membership. They work to serve us when they sell products directly, but work to hurt us when they sell surveillance infrastructure to the government. Helpfully, he also provides links to information about the House and Senate bills to repeal REAL ID.

Asked in the comments how he would characterize himself politically, Arrington replies, “hard core libertarian.”