If Thanksgiving Travel Woes Get You Down …

… you might want to mark your calendar for December 13th.

The Cato Institute is having a book forum on Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them (Free Press, 2006). In the book, Ohio State University national security expert John Mueller puts terrorism in the context of other national security threats our country has faced in the past, and challenges us to assess the threat of terrorism rationally.

Yesterday, security expert Bruce Schneier published a TSA Security Round-Up that might make you thankful just to get to and from your family home this holiday. Our country and government can do better.

Strange Justice

Today’s Washington Post has a report on how the U.S. military is punishing war crimes in Iraq. Prosecutors initially charged a Marine with murder. Later, prosecutors dropped that charge when the Marine agreed to plead guilty to engaging in a cover-up of the crime.

In return for Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr.’s guilty pleas to charges of aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the government dropped other charges, including murder, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy.

Shumate is one of seven Marines and a sailor charged with kidnapping Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, in the rural town of Hamdaniyah, dragging him to a roadside hole and shooting him, and then trying to cover it up.

The Marine will serve less than 2 years in jail. That’s a strange notion of justice. But the state has strange notions of how to apply the law–sometimes it is incredibly harsh and sometimes it is incredibly lenient. The less we pay attention, the worse it gets.

Judging Kyoto

Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Massachusetts v. EPA, the blockbuster environmental case of the term. The issue: Does the Clean Air Act, a 1970s-vintage anti-smog statute, require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions from new American cars? A number of states and enviro groups say “yes!” The EPA–in an exceedingly rare example of administrative self-restraint–says “no.” The stakes? Big: If the petitioners win, American carmakers may face the equivalent of Kyoto global warming standards, imposed by judicial fiat, despite Congress’s umpteen rejections of the Kyoto regime.

Cato filed an amicus brief on the EPA’s behalf, written by environmental law whiz Jonathan Adler and joined by lawprofs James Huffman and Andrew Morriss. Read it here. We argue that the petitioners lack standing to sue the EPA and also argue, for good measure, that nondelegation principles should counsel against creatively translating the Clean Air Act into a template for federal global warming regulation.

Cato’s intrepid Pat Michaels also filed a brief, joined by a number of other prominent climatologists, which tackles the dubious scientific claims of the environmental petitioners.

For more on the case, and its implications, Professor Adler recently participated in a panel discussion of the case at the American Enterprise Institute, which will be replayed on C-Span 2 tonight at 6 p.m. However, you can watch the archived video anytime here.

Hoosier Tax-and-Spender

Editor’s note: This post was written on October 30, following a briefing by Indiana officials on Gov. Daniels’ proposed health care reforms.  It was posted briefly, then pulled when those officials asked ex post that the details be kept confidential until announced by the governor.  That happened today.

Indiana Republican Mitch Daniels received a grade of ‘D’ in Cato’s most recent governors report card, which grades the 50 governors on their record of cutting taxes and spending.  I’ve just returned from a briefing on a new health care proposal that Gov. Daniels has put together, and it doesn’t seem that he wants to improve his grade.

The Daniels proposal would:

  1. Increase cigarette taxes by 25 cents per pack,
  2. Use those funds to “pull down” additional federal Medicaid dollars (federal matching funds allow Indiana to almost triple their money), and then
  3. Offer new government subsidies to every able-bodied adult under 200 percent of poverty. 

In addition, it would have the state fund a health savings account (HSA) for each enrollee, and if an enrollee receives the recommended preventive care and does not touch their HSA funds (preventive care is 100 percent covered), at the end of the year an enrollee could withdraw $600 from their HSA to spend, say, on a color TV.  If he instead leaves that taxpayer subsidy in his HSA, he gets to roll it over and let it grow.  I’ve argued in a number of places that HSAs are not the solution to Medicaid, in part because they would resurrect within that program the same dependence problems that we tried so hard to kill in AFDC. 

Gov. Daniels is not proposing an entitlement, and participants would have to pay for a portion of their premium.  But those and other provisions (e.g., the income cutoff, the mandated benefits package, etc.) would be subject to revision on their way through the state house and by subsequent governors and legislators.  Pretty soon, it would be an entitlement, the participants’ contribution would be smaller, the HSA cash subsidies would be greater, the income cutoff would be increased, and the benefits package expanded.  How can I be so sure?  Because Indiana can do all these things and the feds will pick up two-thirds of the tab.  And heck, if this is a Republican proposal, where is the opposition going to come from? 

As I told the Gov. Daniels’ loyal foot soldiers, someone needs to shove this proposal in a drawer.  There is nothing worth saving. 

Where do Republicans keep coming up with these tax-and-spend health care ideas?  The party needs a health care revival, particularly when it comes to Medicaid.

Money Can’t Buy ‘em Learning

New York’s Court of Appeals has just ordered the state to spend an additional $1.93 billion on NYC public schools. It is the resolution of a 13-year lawsuit claiming that the city had been nickel-and-diming NYC students, but neither the plaintiffs nor the dissenting Chief Judge are satisfied.

The ruling “does not resolve the inadequate funding of the New York City public schools,” wrote Chief Judge Judith Kaye. Democratic City Councilman Robert Jackson, who helped organize the original lawsuit, called the decision “very disappointing because the amount of money that the court is talking about is not what’s needed.”

So what is the putative pittance that NYC spends per pupil in public schools, which will purportedly remain inadequate even after the injection of an additional $2 billion: about $14,000 per year. Back in 2003, NYC was already spending $13,640 per pupil annually – almost identical to the $13,826 per pupil average for the state as a whole. That was $341,000 a year, per classroom of 25 children. The current figure would of course be higher.

In the 1999-2000 school year, the average private school tuition in the United States was $4,689. Catholic schools, of which NYC has many, charge considerably less. And, as I found in a recent analysis of Arizona private schools, tuition typically comprises about 80 percent of total private school revenue. So private schools get by with thousands of dollars less per pupil annually than the supposedly underfunded government system, while offering far higher graduation rates and comparable or better student achievement. They even do a better job of promoting such social virtues as tolerance and civic engagement among their students.

How high will government school spending have to rise before the institution’s believers start to question their absolute faith in its beneficence? How many more children’s futures will they sacrifice to their ideological vanity before acknowledging that monopolies are just as dysfunctional in education as in every other field?

Freedom is Breaking Out all Over

Being a libertarian means you’re often the entertainment at cocktail parties.  ‘Let’s have Jim tell us why there should be no traffic lights!  It’ll be a riot!’

Now comes word that seven cities and regions in Europe are doing away with traffic lights and signs - indeed with most traffic regulations.

“The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior,” says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project’s co-founders. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.”

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.

“Unsafe is safe”

The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They’re constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.

The new traffic model’s advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves.

I first read about the weakness of traffic regulation in Regulation magazine and was reminded of the concept by a recent post on TechDirt which seems to have stirred some passion given the 100+ comments.

I’m entirely in favor of a deregulated, human-oriented traffic system - though I am slightly concerned about it diminishing my entertainment value at cocktail parties.