Archives: 06/2008

Should the Internet Be Nationalized?

Vint Cerf is the nominal “father of the Internet,” and currently a vice president and “Chief Internet Evangelist” at Google. His employer recently unveiled an “Internet for Everyone” public policy program, which I view with skepticism. (Julian Sanchez nailed the free-lunchism of “Internet for Everyone,” saying, “All this may have a whiff of ‘and a pony’ about it.”)

At the same conference where the Google campaign was introduced, Cerf made a casual comment suggesting that it might be better if the Internet were nationalized. This is a bad idea, and even the blogger who wrote up Cerf’s comment said so.

I posted about it at TechLiberationFront, where Cerf has been good enough to comment. I don’t think policies based on his predisposition in favor of government ownership and control would result in good outcomes. Same goes for Google’s public policy program to the extent it shares those premises.

McCain and Our Fundamental Rights

Sen. John McCain issued a ringing endorsement of the Supreme Court’s Heller decision:

Today’s ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right – sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.

You can’t get much stronger than that. Except …  wait … what was it McCain said about our sacred right to free speech? Oh, right, two years ago on the Don Imus show he said, “I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt.” So when McCain says that our Second Amendment rights are just as fundamental and sacred as our First Amendment rights, maybe he’s pulling a bait-and-switch. Because he’s thoroughly indifferent to the First Amendment.

In his statement on the Heller decision McCain went on to say, “This ruling does not mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. We must always remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms.”

So true.

For His Own Good

It’s not one of the big cases decided by the Supreme Court this term, but Indiana v. Edwards  shows how these justices are all over the map – from a libertarian legal perspective.  The issue was whether a person can choose to represent himself in court in a criminal case.  This corner of the law was in pretty good shape – the rule that courts followed was this: If the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives the right to counsel, he can proceed to defend himself (so long as he is orderly and follows the judge’s rules as all attorneys must do).  Some liberals object and say he’ll just screw up and the trial will not be fair.  The response has been that the trial judge should warn the defendant about such risks at the outset, but it’s his case, his liberty on the line, and thus his decision.

This term presented the case of a mentally ill defendant who wanted to represent himself.  The trial judge denied his request.  Some persons are found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial – even with an attorney’s help – but that was not the case here.  The defendant was found to be competent to stand trial but, according to the trial judge, incompetent to represent himself.  Counsel was appointed and he was subsequently convicted by a jury.  He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s handling of the case.  Interestingly, Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion (which Justice Thomas joined). 


In my view the Constitution does not permit a State to substitute its own perception of fairness for the defendant’s right to make his own case before the jury–a specific right long understood as essential to a fair trial. … [T]he loss of ‘dignity’ the right is designed to prevent is not the defendant’s making a fool of himself by presenting an amateurish or even incoherent defense.  Rather, the dignity at issue is the supreme human dignity of being master of one’s fate rather than a ward of the State–the dignity of individual choice. …

The facts of this case illustrate this point with the utmost clarity.  Edwards wished to take a self-defense case to the jury.  His counsel preferred a defense that focused on lack of intent.  Having been denied the right to conduct his own defense, Edwards was convicted without having had the opportunity to present to a jury the grounds he believed supported his innocence.  I do not doubt that he likely would have been convicted anyway.  But to hold that a defendant may be deprived of the right to make legal arguments for acquittal simply because a state-selected agent has made a different argument on his behalf is, as Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, to ‘imprison a man in his privileges and call it the Constitution.’  In singling out mentally ill defendants for this treatment, the Court’s opinion does not even have the questionable virtue of being politically correct.  At a time when all society is trying to mainstream the mentally impaired, the Court permits them to be deprived of a basic constitutional right–for their own good.

Good stuff. 

The liberal votes here are probably driven by their pursuit of a ‘just’ outcome – no matter what the constitutional text says.  Justice Kennedy recently joined the liberals in defense of habeas corpus and the conservatives in defense of the right to keep and bear arms.  One might have expected him to follow the text here as well – but he joined the majority.  Alas, he seems to pursue the ‘just’ outcome just like the liberals.  That Alito and Roberts would part company with Scalia and Thomas in a case like this shows once again their more statist bent.

For the full opinion in this case, Indiana v. Edwards, go here (pdf).

Tax Credits We Don’t Need, Tax Credits We Do … Maine #1

Yesterday I posted the first in a continuing series about tax credits we don’t need to illustrate how absurd it is that more politicians don’t support the one good kind of tax credit; education tax credits.

I noted that one of the more popular tax credits is for saving old buildings that some people don’t want torn down but don’t care enough about to save with their own money. So they subsidize the renovation with credits. Maine’s government likes their old buildings just as much as Ohio’s, so the legislature recently expanded the state building rehab credit:

A new law that makes up to $5 million available to developers willing to rehabilitate historic buildings in Maine drew a record crowd Tuesday, a bellwether of its potential to spur new life in old buildings, organizers said.

With an estimated 25 projects that could take advantage of the expanded credit, Maine is looking at somewhere around $100 million in credits for building rehab.

What most states don’t have are education tax credits – the one and only tax credit that makes fiscal sense because it really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

So, I have a question for Maine’s politicians; if it’s good to encourage developers to invest in building preservation, why isn’t it good to encourage all taxpayers to invest in education? Are developers and old buildings more important than a child’s future?

Will Representative Ted Koffman, Speaker Glenn Cummings, Senator Peggy Rotundo, and Governor John Baldacci, all of whom pushed hard for the building credit, come out in support of at least $100 million in tax credits for educating Maine’s children?

If not why not? Inquiring minds want to know …

Shall. Not. Be. Infringed.

To echo Tim Lynch’s previous post …

Bob Levy, Alan Gura, Dick Heller, and the other original plaintiffs in District of Columbia v. Heller are to be commended for securing a landmark Supreme Court ruling affirming that the Second Amendment protects the right of law abiding individuals to keep and bear arms.  It’s silly and sad that we needed such a ruling, and we should not forget the uncertainty and the threats to liberty that were made possible by so much constitutional revisionism over the past 40 years.

Levy and Gura deserve special recognition for their foresight and courage in pursuing this ruling despite considerable resistance.  That resistance came from a lot of people, with a lot of knowledge about the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court, a lot of influence, and a lot at stake in the outcome.  They argued this cause shouldn’t be pursued now, and they said it should be pursued by someone else.  Levy and Gura, as it were, stuck to their guns.  They have been vindicated, and we owe them big.

Praise is also due many such as Sanford Levinson, Robert J. Cottrol, and Stephen Halbrook, whose honest, careful scholarship ultimately defeated a very appealing myth.

Indeed, a good week for the Bill of Rights.

OK Preschool Study Provides No Evidence of Lasting Benefits from Preschool

USA Today reports today on the findings of a preschool study, which concludes that Oklahoma’s government-run preschool gives a boost to the performance of all students in the short-term. Its news because the collective conclusions of previous studies overwhelmingly suggest that preschool boosts at-risk children in the short-term, but not children from middle and upper-income families.

An ambitious public pre-kindergarten program in Oklahoma boosts kids’ skills dramatically, a long-awaited study finds, for the first time offering across-the-board evidence that universal preschool, open to all children, benefits both low-income and middle-class kids…

More than any other state, Oklahoma has pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, with the USA’s highest enrollment rate.

There’s just one tiny problem. Oklahoma’s achievement scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, AKA “the nation’s report-card”) suggest that the state’s universal preschool program is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to student achievement.

Oklahoma, “where state-funded pre-kindergarten has been in place for 18 years — and offered universally for nearly a decade,” has slipped below the national average on math and reading scores for both the 4th and 8th grades since it began expanding government pre-K in the 1990’s.

Oklahoma slipped from one point above the national average in 4th grade math in 1992 to two points behind in 2007. They slipped further behind in 8th grade math, from one point ahead to five points behind the national average. In reading the stories the same; 8th grade scores slipped from four points ahead in 1998 to one point behind. And Oklahoma’s 4th grade reading scores plummeted during the 1990’s at the very same time the state was aggressively expanding preschool access, increasing attendance, and building a system that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) rates 9 out of 10 on quality.

There is little evidence in the research that these kinds of preschool programs impart lasting gains to low-income students and no evidence that they benefit middle-class kids. The real-world evidence demonstrates that the test scores of children in Oklahoma have eroded significantly, as have our nation’s performance on international tests, at the same time that preschool programs have massively expanded and the quality of those programs has supposedly improved.

Will Sanctions Save Zimbabwe?

Events of the past few weeks have made it clear that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a dictator and a bully who presides over a sham democracy epitomized by today’s mock “election.” But does that sad fact require or even justify imposing sanctions against that already tortured southern African country?

European Union leaders are already talking tough about withdrawing their ambassadors. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council plans to discuss new sanctions against Zimbabwe as early as next week.

I share the dismay with Mugabe’s thuggery and mismanagement of the economy, but count me skeptical that trade sanctions, oil embargoes and other economic reprisals would achieve anything positive.

If 165,000 percent inflation, widespread hunger, and mass shortages and unemployment have not undermined Mugabe’s government, Western sanctions are probably not going to make a crucial difference. Zimbabwe’s president and his sycophants will continue to enjoy their palatial homes, catered meals and chauffeured limos. Sanctions would only deepen the suffering of their unfortunate subjects. As our research at Cato has shown, economic sanctions almost never work.

Another complication is that Mugabe’s government is not unique. According to Freedom House, Zimbabwe’s suppression of civil and political liberties is no worse than 15 other countries, including China, Belarus, and Saudi Arabia. A total of 44 other countries share with Zimbabwe the label of “Not Free.” Should the West aim sanctions at all of those countries, too, or is Zimbabwe to be singled out because, by a fluke, the opposition actually came close to winning a rigged election?

The ongoing tragedy in Zimbabwe will probably not end until that country’s closest neighbors, including South Africa, intervene aggressively, or Mugabe himself departs this world to meet his maker.