School Choice, Not Stalemate

A Washington Post editorial today rightly laments the seemingly insurmountable impasse reached by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Washington Teachers Union. Actually, scratch the WTU – I mean the American Federation of Teachers, the WTU’s parent organization, which has essentially taken over the negotiations because it thinks giving into much higher pay for somewhat less job security would be a disaster of national proportions. But the union’s stifling full court press isn’t what primarily bothers the Post. It’s that lowly John Q. Public isn’t getting even a crumb of information from the power brokers about major decisions that are all supposed benefit his kids.

But since when did the best interests of kids or the public really matter in public schooling decisions? Sure, parents and regular citizens can vote every few years, but what the heck else can they do? They can’t stop paying the taxes that fund both chancellors and teachers. They can’t form their own union and require teachers and chancellors to negotiate with them. All they can do is complain, and it’s pretty hard to hear them when you’re behind closed doors, arguing with some other guy about which one of you should be king.

And to think, someone thought it was a good idea to kill a program that actually gives parents some power…

How to Encourage Terrorists

The news yesterday that a Guantanamo detainee has been moved to New York to stand trial struck me with bemusement.

The Obama administration has apparently determined that it can roll over opposition to bringing detainees into the country for trial and imprisonment. Arguments against doing so are fear-based pap, and political losers.

House Minority Leader John Boehner has not failed to provide. He said in a statement:

This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America… . . There are more than 200 of the world’s most dangerous men held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Does the Administration plan to transfer all of them into our nation in this way?

Boehner’s apparent aim was to make political gains by appealing to the fears of a domestic U.S. audience, suggesting that President Obama is not safeguarding the country. He - and most U.S. politicians today - are “on tilt” about terrorism, playing to a “base” of caterwauling Islamophobes while the bulk of the American public looks on bewildered and disappointed.

But put aside domestic audiences. Think of what Boehner’s comment signals to international audiences, particularly, say, disaffected men in the Middle East: Americans are scared to death of terrorists. Just sitting in Guantanamo can make you “one of the world’s most dangerous men” to U.S. political leaders. Swathe yourself with the Al Qaeda brand and you can become a global menace. Boehner’s fear of terrorists encourages opponents of the U.S. to adopt terrorism as a tool against us.

Over the long haul, exhibiting bravery in the face of terrorism will tend to discourage it. Being brave is desirable and politically popular. Minority Leader Boehner has Republicans looking weak and scared in the face of terrorism and - having been ignored by Obama - politically weak too.

Should Judges ‘Have the Back’ of Police Officers?

Vice-president Joe Biden says we should rally behind the Supreme Court nomination of Sotomayor because she will “have the back” of the police.  Biden is a lawyer, a senator, and former chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, so he should know better than to pull a political stunt like that to curry favor with law enforcement groups.  The Constitution places limits on the power of the police to search, detain, wiretap, imprison, and interrogate.   The separation of powers principle means that judges must maintain their impartiality and “check” the police whenever they overstep their authority.  To abdicate that responsibility and to “go along with the police” is to do away with our system of checks and balances.

As it happens, The New York Times has a story today about one Jeffrey Deskovic.  He got caught up in a police investigation because he was “too distraught” over the rape and murder of his classmate.  When there was no DNA match, prosecutors told the jury it didn’t really matter.  Does Biden really want Supreme Court justices to come to the support of the state when habeas corpus petitions arrive on their desks and the police work is sloppy, weak, or worse?

On a related note, Cato adjunct scholar Harvey Silverglate fights another miscarriage of justice in Massachusetts.

P.J. O’Rourke, Driving Like Crazy

img_3445What do automobiles and  American founding principles have in common?

At a Cato forum Tuesday, P.J. O’Rourke, author of the new book Driving Like Crazy, said well, plenty.

“Cars fulfilled the Americans’ founding fathers’ dream and ideal,” said O’Rourke. “Of all the truths that we hold to be self evident, of all the  unalienable rights with which we are endowed, what is the most important to the American dream? It is right there, front and center…freedom to leave…freedom to get the hell out of town.”

Indeed, the American automobile as many have known it is fading fast. After years of government incentives to build certain types of cars, tax credits to buy smaller ones, higher gasoline tax proposals, and the government takeover of General Motors, the cars that so represented American freedom and individualism won’t last long, he said.

“Pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it,” he said.  “A light-weight vehicle with a small carbon footprint using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way– When I was a kid, we called it a Schwinn.”

O’Rourke said that going after the automobile is just a way for bureaucrats in Washington to take control over another part of Americans’ lives.

“I’m old enough to realize that freedom is always under attack,” he said. “This is a never ending struggle.”

You can watch his entire speech, or listen in on a Cato special podcast below.

Photo credit: Kelly Anne Creazzo

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Online Gambling: According to the Feds, You’ll Be Holding Today

From The Wall Street Journal today, an article about the federal freezing or seizing of 27,000 online gambling accounts (including that of one of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless but is $150 short today).

I blogged a few weeks ago about some (admittedly very dim) light on the horizon so far as the freedom to gamble online is concerned, but this is a setback indeed. The Poker Players’ Alliance (a lobby group for online poker players) says this is the first time that players’ accounts (as opposed to the gambling site operators themselves) have been targeted.

U.S. laws  against gambling online, and the way those laws are administered, are an affront to personal freedom and a threat to our trading relationships.

Remember, Government Control Ensures Good Health Care

Well, sometimes maybe. 

Reports the National Post:

An investigation has been launched after a woman admitted to Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital for an induced birth was forced into a do-it-yourself delivery last month, with only her common-law partner to assist.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” Dr. Matt Kalina, assistant director for professional services at the McGill University Health Centre, said. “We’re reviewing the specific events thoroughly with the family…. We’re using the lessons to improve our systems.”

At about 5 a. m. on May 13, medical help failed to appear even after Karine Lachapelle’s water broke.

Despite attempts to summon help by partner Mark Schouls, who was pushing the nurse-alert button with increasing frequency as Ms. Lachapelle’s contractions became more intense and closer, the two delivered their new son, Kristophe, entirely on their own.

Ms. Lachapelle pushed the child out past his shoulders and face down– allowing Mr. Schouls to get a grip and pull the newborn the rest of the way out, he recounted.

Obviously, the U.S. system has its problems.  But it isn’t even really a private system, since the government pays for such a large share of medical costs and skews the entire insurance system through federal tax policy.  Nevertheless, there are far more private options and patients have far more control than in government-run systems.  It is imperative that any “reform” effort preserves both private alternatives and patient choice.  Indeed, the only real reform would be to make health care truly consumer-directed.

How Many Jobs Saved? We Do Not Know

In the past couple of days the administration has been discussing the employment impact of its stimulus package. Employment has declined steadily since adoption of the package, so it might seem odd to claim that it has already had beneficial impacts. The administration’s response is that employment would have declined even faster without the stimulus, so hundreds of thousands of jobs have been saved.

The administration might be right, but how can we know? The short answer is, we cannot know with any confidence because we cannot know what employment would have been in the absence of the stimulus. Thus, the concept of “jobs saved” is problematic; it allows the administration to conclude, no matter how bad things get, that the stimulus worked because the economy would have been even worse without the stimulus.