The Public-School-Choice Horror!

Here are a couple of articles discussing first the hope, then the disappointment, of charter schools and other public-school choice.

The problem especially with charters is that they dangle the hope of real change and competition in front of desperate parents but are all too often at the near complete mercy of their public-schooling masters. It’s why public-school choice alone simply will not transform American education from our current moribund, socialist monopoly into a thriving free system. Just because he lets you live doesn’t mean Col. Kurtz will set you free.

Macho Sauce Gives Cannon a Run for His Money

Here’s an interesting video in which the economics of health care are described in slightly more vernacular language than my colleague Michael Cannon would typically use. I venture to say that the presenter makes the eminently capable Mr. Cannon look quite staid.

This is a conservative, of course, and not a libertarian. Much of what comes after the first two minutes is off the mark in my opinion. But it’s good entertainment and it carries some good messages about how socialized medicine is a policy that’s best regarded as somewhat infelicitous.

The $700 Billion Honeypot

The Washington Post reports:

[There is] an army of accountants, financial advisers, asset managers, lobbyists and others descending on Washington as part of the government’s attempts to rescue the economy and bail out industries.

Big consulting firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young have booked extended-stay apartments and blocks of hotel rooms. Out-of-town financial experts are scouting for office space, expecting to lease it for several months as they help do work for Treasury and others.

Commercial real estate brokerage companies have pulled lawyers and salesmen who usually put together deals on downtown offices to work out loans and foreclose on properties. Some have dubbed themselves the “TARP team” after the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program created to sort through assets.

“Everything from the policies, the regulations, to the money and the contracts to do the work will be emanating out of Washington, so people want to be here,” [lawyer Larry] Wolk said. “Wall Street has moved to K Street.”

National crises often provide a stimulus to the Washington economy….

“Firms see this as a potential gold mine,” said Anirban Basu, an economist and chief executive of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore. For Washington, “that has to translate into business sales, high-powered restaurant meals, business suit purchases, and travel and luxury hotel stays. We often talk about D.C. being different economically than the rest of the country and this is perfectly true. I don’t see much evidence of a slowdown here.”

As I wrote two years ago, “When you spread food out on a picnic table, you can expect ants. When you put $3 trillion on the table, you can expect special interests, lobbyists and pork-barrel politicians.”

‘After’ the Imperial Presidency?

Jonathan Mahler has a smart, informative feature on executive power in this week’s New York Times Magazine. I object only to the title, “After the Imperial Presidency.” As Mahler’s piece makes clear, the title could have used a question mark, at the very least.

Mahler writes:

Come January, the current administration will pass on to its successor a vast infrastructure for electronic surveillance, secret sites for detention and interrogation and a sheaf of legal opinions empowering the executive to do whatever he feels necessary to protect the country. The new administration will also be the beneficiary of Congress’s recent history of complacency, which amounts to a tacit acceptance of the Bush administration’s expansive views of executive authority. For that matter, thanks to the recent economic bailout, Bush’s successor will inherit control over much of the banking industry. “The next president will enter office as the most powerful president who has ever sat in the White House,” Jack Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale and an influential legal blogger, told me a few weeks ago.

Some prominent commentators — Jack Goldsmith and Jeffrey Rosen among them — have noted the “irony” that an administration monomaniacally committed to the growth of presidential power has allegedly weakened the presidency with its unilateralism and contempt of Congress. Given the powers the office retains and continues to accrue, that’s an irony that’s hard to savor. As Mahler notes, “it’s worth keeping in mind that in the final year of Bush’s presidency — while facing a Democratic Congress and historically low approval ratings — he was able to push through a federal bailout bill that vested almost complete control over the economy in the Treasury secretary (who reports to the president), not to mention a major rewriting of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that will make it easier for the White House to spy on American citizens.”

Indeed, Mahler documents how political realities— and in Obama’s case, perhaps, the prospect of actually taking power — led both candidates to move away from their early criticisms of Bush-style “deciderism,” and flip flop on torture (McCain) and wiretapping (McCain and Obama).

In explaining the post-9/11 growth of executive power, Mahler properly focuses on the twin problems of congressional cowardice and poisonous partisanship. In the Bush years, all too many congressional Republicans put party unity over institutional responsibility. That’s a common vice under unified government, which may be why Mahler hardly sounds optimistic when he quotes Senator Levin: “When I asked Levin what needs to happen for Congress to take back the rest of the ground that it ceded to the executive branch during the Bush years, he replied predictably, ‘We need a Democrat in the White House.’”

For further reasons to doubt that the Imperial Presidency is behind us, check here and here.

Who Killed Big Pharma?

Prior to the election, The Wall Street Journal’s editors criticized pharmaceutical manufacturers for spending money to prop up Democratic congresscritters, who will no doubt reward Big Pharma by slapping price controls on prescription drugs.  The Journal likened this to Big Pharma selling the rope with which they will be hanged.

Yesterday, the Journal published my letter to the editor:

Big Pharma sold the rope with which it will be hanged back in 2003 (“Pharma Sells the Rope,” Review & Outlook, Oct. 29) when it agreed to make the federal government – specifically, the new Medicare Part D program – its largest customer. It is because of that Republican initiative that the specter of price controls now hangs loosely around Big Pharma’s neck.

The $13.2 million bribe that Big Pharma threw at the Democrats in this election cycle is merely an attempt to buy off the hangman.

How Many Psychiatrists Does It Take to Change the GOP?

Just one, but the GOP has to want to change.

There’s an interesting difference between the post-election opeds written by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in the Washington Post

Flake admits the GOP has made mistakes:

I suggest that we return to first principles. At the top of that list has to be a recommitment to limited government. After eight years of profligate spending and soaring deficits, voters can be forgiven for not knowing that limited government has long been the first article of faith for Republicans.

Boehner writes of the same principles and that the GOP has a lot of work to do, but betrays no awareness that the GOP may have done anything wrong over the past eight years.

I guess this may take a while.

P.S. - A suggestion for Mr. Boehner: drop the talking point that the GOP will “offer health-care reforms that empower patients and doctors.”  Physicians have many legitimate gripes, but government has already done too much to empower doctors at the expense of patients.  Just focus on empowering patients.

National Review Editor: Conservatives Need to Pay Attention to Health Care

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review, the magazine that helped launch the modern conservative movement. Writing in today’s Washington Post, Lowry stresses a weakness that conservatives must overcome:

[McCain’s] health plan was innovative…

But McCain didn’t seem to have a firm grasp on his own plan, and the Obama campaign successfully distorted it as a huge new tax increase. Conservatives were outraged by many things during the election season, but Obama’s dishonest and brutally effective attack on McCain’s plan wasn’t one of them. Even though it addresses a top public concern, health-care policy still doesn’t move the right.

At times, conservatives seemed bizarrely at odds with public sentiment…

Connecting better on the economy and middle-class pocketbook and quality-of-life issues will go a long way toward alleviating the troubles the GOP had in reaching moderates, suburbanites and even Latinos this year. It will require refreshing the conservative policy arsenal with innovative proposals that will look more like McCain’s health-care plan than the old tried and true…

Here are some suggestions regarding health-care choice, affordability, and Medicare reform.