Official Secrets

Sunday’s Washington Post has a fine piece by former Post managing editor Robert G. Kaiser explaining why papers like the Post publish official secrets despite government assertions that publication may be harmful to national security. Kaiser writes: 

We avoid the gratuitous revelation of secrets. … [but] no single authority should be able to decide what information should reach the public. Some readers ask us why the president’s decisions on how best to protect the nation shouldn’t govern us, and specifically our choices of what to publish. The answer is that in the American system of checks and balances, the president cannot be allowed to decide what the voters need to know to hold him accountable. 

Moreover, Kaiser notes that “labeling something ‘classified’ or important to ‘national security’ does not make it so. The government overclassifies with abandon.” ”Exhibit A” for Kaiser is the historic Pentagon Papers case, in which the Nixon administration, citing (you guessed it) the president’s authority as Commander in Chief, attempted to enjoin publication of the Pentagon Papers, a classified Defense Department history of the Vietnam war leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

In a June 14, 1971 oval office meeting with the president, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discussed whether to file suit (and whether to steal the papers from the Brookings Institution). Haldeman described what he feared the effect of publication would be:

But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: [unclear] you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the –- the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.  [Emphasis added]. 

That the “implicit infallibility of presidents” is no longer “an accepted thing in America” – that the very phrase now causes any thoughtful American to smirk – is one reason to give thanks that reporters no longer automatically wilt before government claims of secrecy.  

The Power to Seize

You already know about the Duke University lacrosse players that have been indicted for rape.  The investigation is ongoing and the prosecutor is now ordering Duke University to turn over personal records for the other athletes on the team.  If Duke balks, the government could levy fines until the information is surrendered.

The power to seize private property is supposed to be divided between the executive branch and the judicial branch.  That is, the police file a search warrant application with a judge.  If the judge approves, the search takes place.  What does the judge look for in the application?  Well, the Fourth Amendment speaks of “probable cause” and “particularity” –  so the judge is basically looking for a good basis for the police to interfere with someone’s liberty.   No judicial approval, no search.  (There are exceptions, but that’s the general idea).  The “basis” for the prosecutor’s subpoena to Duke University amounts to …  ”they’re on the lacrosse team.”

The executive branch (police) bypasses the judicial “check” whenever it can get away with it.  If a search warrant application would be shaky, just use a subpoena. When most people think of subpoena, they imagine an official-looking envelope that arrives via certified mail.  Think again.  The government likes to claim that it is not using subpoenas as substitutes for search warrants, but you decide for yourself.  This is not a police raid, it’s an “administrative inspection.”

If Cato could subpoena the government, we might get a clearer picture on how officials use these powers, but the state is fierce about its own records.  For background on how prosecutors have been using grand jury subpoenas to bypass constitutional safeguards, read this.

Thanks to Crime and Federalism for the pointer.

SC in SC

South Carolinians go the polls today to vote in primaries and for several state office holders, and the future of school choice in the state could be substantially affected by the results. The position of state superintendent is up for grabs, with both pro- and anti-market candidates. There are also several legislative primary races in which incumbent foes of parental choice are being challenged by pro-choice candidates.

Stay tuned for an update tomorrow.

An Actual Anti-Communist Movie

At a time when most of Hollywood still sees Fidel Castro as a hero, it is interesting that a new movie portrays him as anything but.  The Lost City, starring Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, and Bill Murray (Dustin Hoffman also has a terrific walk on) is a chilling story of the communist rise to power in Cuba.  The love story is bit sappy, but the movie is worth it just for the scene in which the communists ban saxophones as “an imperialist instrument.” And the soundtrack is a treat.   If you’re looking for a change from Al Gore, check it out.

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The AMA: Protectionist to the Core

Radley Balko catalogues some of the wackier things going on at the American Medical Association annual meeting this week.  However, those who were worried that the AMA may have abandoned its old tricks should have no fear.

Among the topics the AMA will consider this week is a call for increased regulation of “convenience clinics” that offer an alternative to the physician’s office (and thus threaten physicians’ incomes).  Such clinics are mushrooming in locations like retail stores.  They provide quick access to basic care by trained nurse practitioners, who refer patients to physicians when necessary.  According to a Chicago Tribune report:

“We see lots of minor illnesses like colds, sore throats, and write a lot of prescriptions, typically for viruses,” said Maxwell, who views her clinic as a complement to a physician’s care. “It’s a place they can go when the doctor’s office is closed.”

…As at most other retail clinics, the operators say their offices are open seven days a week, with evening hours, and no appointment is necessary. A doctor comes by to review charts and other decisions made by the nurse practitioners but typically does not see patients.

Such clinics advertise that they will treat patients with routine maladies in 15 minutes or less, the amount of time you might spend in a waiting room at a doctor’s office as physicians pack more patients into a day.

There’s a very simple solution that the AMA could recommend to physicians who feel threatened by the competition:

  1. Expand your office hours;
  2. Shorten your waiting times;
  3. Lower your prices.

But that’s wishful thinking.  The AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  That unsavory tradition is alive and well.

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Local Musician Tired of Being Hassled by the Man

A recent article on the new Massachusetts health insurance law quotes an aspiring young musician who is skeptical of both the individual mandate and the subsidies designed to help low-income individuals satisfy the mandate:

“I’m aware that I lead a lifestyle where you have to live really cheaply. So something I think about is what if I tried to do something to make a little more money?” said Crosby. “What if I get a job and I start having to pay several hundreds of dollars for health insurance just because I come out of making a low income? Sometimes I think the state does things that encourage people to stay poor.”

Rock on, Ryan Crosby.  Rock on.

Health Care Policy Interview

I am interviewed by Max Borders here.

There are various views on the right. Mine is probably a bit unusual. But the right is often put in the position of trying to defend our existing so-called private insurance system. I prefer to think of our insurance system as not being very private and being sort of more corporatist in the sense of designed by government and implemented by private firms.

There’s lots more. And even more in Crisis of Abundance.

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