Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) is an important man in Congress. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs its Military Personnel Subcommittee which spends $85 billion annually.
Whether he knows how that money is spent is an open question. The Hill reported today that McHugh voted for a defense authorization bill that included a provision "he said he philosophically opposed." (The provision overrode a federal court's decision in a dispute between National Guard members and the government about who should pay for correspondence courses).
McHugh apparently had not read the defense authorization bill. Never mind, everyone does it, as The Hill reports, "It is no secret that some — if not most — lawmakers vote on bills that they do not read in their entirety." McHugh notes that "hundreds and hundreds" of provisions come through, and he relies on his staff "for judgment on more routine matters."
Members of Congress are elected to work on behalf of their constituents. How can they do that if they don't read the bills they pass? It is true that the government is so large that supervising how well past laws are being implemented, much less reading bills, takes a lot of time and effort. Maybe more time and effort than even a hard-working member has.
Here's a thought for members of Congress: maybe the fact that you don't read the bills you vote for means the government has grown well beyond anyone's control. Maybe — and this will be shocking to you — the government is too big.
The right half of the blogosphere is abuzz with Senator Santorum's revelation that since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered some 500 pre-1991 artillery shells and other munitions that contain "degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent." (Not much of a revelation, given that in 2004 the Coalition's Iraq Survey Group acknowledged the existence [.pdf, p. 18] of pre-Gulf-War shells).
It's all a bit sad and embarrassing. Do the folks trumpeting this story really expect Americans to hear it and gasp: "My God: Saddam might have put some of those degraded mustard gas shells on his unmanned aerial vehicles, and dusted an American city. I've had my doubts about this war, but in the end, it was worth it after all!"
The WMD-based justification for the war never made much sense. As Gregg Easterbrook (among others) has pointed out, "WMD" is a misnomer, particularly when applied to chemical weapons: "Chemical weapons are dangerous, to be sure, but not 'weapons of mass destruction' in any meaningful sense. In actual use, chemical arms have proven less deadly than regular bombs, bullets, and artillery shells." Sure, all of that stuff will kill you, if used properly. But none of it is worthy of the scare term "WMD"--certainly not the sort of decrepit ordnance Santorum's talking about. Still less can it serve as post hoc justification for the war.
In a recent blog post, I mentioned L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's quest for control over his city's public schools.
Well, he got it. Sort of.
After concessions to appease both the teachers' unions and the school board, the L.A. school district chain of command will soon look like it was designed by Rube Goldberg. On acid.
The Mayor will have more or less complete control over a dozen or so especially troubled schools, and veto power over the Superintendency. The superintendent will gain budgeting powers, except over the union employee contract (which is, of course, the biggest budget item). Teachers and principals will be made no more accountable to parents, but they will gain the power to set their schools' curricula. The board will negotiate the union contract -- except of course that they will lose control over what teachers actually teach. Oy vey.
Had Villaraigosa won the supreme authortity he was seeking, it would have meant a transfer of monopoly power from the board to the mayor, and would have done nothing for the city's kids. The deal that has been cobbled together amounts to a monopolist with multiple personality disorder. Its prospects are, if anything, even bleaker.
What L.A. needs is for power to be returned to parents. The educational chain of command should involve two parties: the school and the family. If the school fails to measure up, the family should be able to easily move its children elsewhere.
Any other "accountability reform" is self-serving political quackery.
Higher education policy is being driven by the assumption that to compete in the global economy, especially against burgeoning powerhouses like China, the United States will need a lot more college graduates. It’s the foundation of President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, and the ivory tower’s justification for demanding ever more taxpayer dollars.
Ironically, China itself illustrates the pitfalls of having the government set education policies based on predictions for the future. Several sources have reported unrest among Chinese college students and recent graduates, whose unhappiness appears to have a single underlying cause. From today’s New York Times:
In 1998 the government encouraged a vast expansion in college-level education. Hundreds of new colleges were founded almost overnight to accommodate millions of new students thought to be needed as engineers, bankers, traders and marketing experts in the fast-growing economy.
So what happened?
The number of college graduates has multiplied fivefold in the last seven years, to an estimated 4.1 million this year. But at least 60 percent of that number are having trouble finding jobs, according to the National Development and Reform Commission….
As I wrote in a recent op-ed, don’t believe the hype: Special interests and politicians will try to scare you about the future economy in order to take your money. But as China itself has shown, the only thing we can predict with any reliability is that the government’s predictions will almost certainly be wrong.
Evergreen State elementary school teachers, take note: Olympia is moving against some of your more affluent failures.
Everyone knows that doctors' horrible handwriting causes problems for patients and pharmacists. As of this month, it is illegal for doctors in Washington state to write prescriptions in cursive. (Will italics be next??)
The sad thing is that health care markets have become so calcified that this really, really dumb law might actually enhance efficiency. I just hope we won't have to wait long before some medicine-socializer argues that this proves that government planning is superior to free-market health care. (Any takers?)
So much of medicine is probabilistic. If you wanted to really cut costs, you'd take a coldly statistical view of the whole thing, with those who ended up on the wrong side of the numbers regrettable sacrifices. As a society, we're not ready or willing to do that -- and rightly so. But this is the essential conflict: politicians and hospital administrators look at the global budget, while doctors and patients look at the individual's health. The latter militates for constantly seeking the lowest possible error, the former for going with the statistics and saving money where you can.
He should read the chapter, "Dollars and Decisions," in Crisis of Abundance.
So, if there were a procedure that cost $10 million, and it could reduce the probability that Ezra would get cancer by one ten thousandth of one percent, would Ezra spend that money? Or would he say that "society" is obligated to spend that money?
I am sorry, but there really are cost-benefit trade-offs in medical care. You can hide your head in the sand and pretend that they do not exist, but in the end they are going to have to be made somehow.
The AZ legislature has been busy. Back in the spring, it decided to allow businesses to take a tax credit for donations to tuition scholarship organizations. These organizations help low-income families pay for tuition at independent schools. The bad news is that the legislature originally capped the total value of such creditable donations at a mere $5 million annually. The good news is that they just doubled the cap to $10 million, and put it on a track for reaching $21 million within four years.
Lawmakers also created two new voucher programs: one for disabled students and another for children in foster care.
Not everybody is happy about it, but the families who will benefit from these programs are lucky indeed. And with the passage of these bills, Arizona inches closer to the time when every family in the state will be able to easily choose the public or independent school best suited to their kids.
One thing to watch out for: while education tax credits have already survived constitutional challenge in Arizona, vouchers have not. The two new voucher programs may well be challenged by the public school employee unions and their fellow travelers on state constitutional grounds, and if so the outcome is not at all clear.
Even if the voucher programs are challenged and struck down by the courts, however, a combination of donation and personal use tax credits can provide universal access to the education marketplace.
The future is freedom. The monopolists just haven't realized it yet.