On this edition of the City Journal Books Podcast, Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis discuss presidential power with Stephen F. Knott, author most recently of Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics (University Press of Kansas). Knott, a professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, contends that historians have done a disservice to their profession by judging President Bush's record too harshly, too soon. His previous books include Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth, Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency, and At Reagan’s Side: Insiders’ Recollections from Sacramento to the White House.
Among the questions we discuss:
• How did George W. Bush's national security decisions differ from former presidents?
• Do historians give some presidents a pass on abuse of power more than others?
• Is the role of Congress in wartime to write checks and shut up?
• Should Congress have formally declared war on the Taliban in 2001?
• Have the courts carried out a "quiet constitutional revolution" in the way presidents may handle national security?
• Did the Bush Administration's wiretapping program go too far?
• Did Bush invite the judgment of history?
• And much more!
Please visit and "like" Ben and Joel and City Journal on Facebook to comment or to share this interview. There you will also receive regular updates about new stories from City Journal and City Journal California, along with links to Ben and Joel's weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. Thanks for listening.
Ben Boychuk is joined by Lenore Skenazy, "the World's Worst Mom" and author of the 2009 book, Free-Range Kids. Ever since Skenazy caused a scandal by allowing her then-9-year-old son to ride the subway home alone, she's been waging a sometimes lonely war against what she aptly calls "worst-first thinking." Recently, Skenazy has turned her biting wit against the emerging trend of "Alcatraz Parenting", which was the impetus for what turned into a fairly wide-ranging interview.
Among the questions we discuss:
• Why isn't her Discovery International reality TV series on in the United States?
• How much has really changed since Free Range Kids was published?
• How did the Etan Patz case change public opinion and the laws?
• Just how bad is the kidnapping problem today?
• Should parents take their kids to parks and leave them there?
• How does worst-first thinking threaten self-government?
• Which do you prefer: "Alcatraz parenting"? "Prisoner parenting"? Or "Panopticon parenting"?*
• What are some really dumb products that parents can buy to provide an illusion of safety for their children?
• "Tooth Prints"? Seriously?
• Is the fear of lawsuits overblown?
• What are some of the most important things children should learn before they are 12?
• And much more!
* This is really embarrassing, but when we recorded the interview, I misidentified the originator of the "panopticon" concept. It was, in fact, Jeremy Bentham. For some reason -- age? a small stroke? lack of caffeine? -- I identified the man behind the idea as John Stuart Mill. (Well, I had good reason: Mill was, after all, a student of Bentham's.) It's especially galling because I asserted with supreme confidence that most people listening to this podcast would know what the panopticon is or was. If you don't, just follow the links. Anyway, I cut that part of the exchange from the interview -- about two minutes in all -- although Lenore's musings on the panopticon remain intact.
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Greatest Love of All," Big Daddy
• "The Kids Are Alright," The Queers
• "I'm Your Boogie Man," KC and the Sunshine Band
• "Overlove," Dio
• "Fearless," Pink Floyd
• "Take a Chance," The Bomboras
Please visit and "like" the Ben and Joel page on Facebook to comment on this interview, as well as to receive regular updates about the podcast and links to our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service. You'll be glad you did!
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 11 for 2012. Joel Mathis was on vacation when we recorded this one. I should have posted this sooner, but events conspired against it.
What a show! Returning to the podcast, possibly for the last time, is Steven F. Hayward, author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, the two-volume Age of Reagan, and other fine books. Hayward has been stirring up trouble on the right lately, first with his essay in the fall issue of the Breakthrough Journal on "Modernizing Conservatism"; then with his recent article at National Review Online and follow-up posts at Powerline comparing Newt Gingrich to Winston Churchill.
We asked Steve to come on the podcast to confess and recant his heresy. Instead, he embraced the charges and doubled-down. Listen and judge for yourself.
(Incidentally, Hayward laid the groundwork for some of this in the second volume of his Age of Reagan. We discussed his assessment of the Reagan Revolution and the present state of the conservative movement on this podcast in 2009.)
Among the questions we discuss:
• Is conservatism failing?
• What, if anything, can replace the Republicans' "starve the beast" strategy?
• Is the welfare state really a "fact of life"?
• What would an ideal tax system look like? How about a progressive consumption tax?
• Can politicians ever stop tinkering with the tax code?
• What can Republican governors teach us?
• Does the United States need a third party?
• Is the gap between left and right unbridgeable?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "The Inquisition," Mel Brooks
• "Family Affair," Bobby Hutcherson
• "Heretics," Andrew Bird
• "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason
• "Good King Wencesles," Unknown Artist
Programming note: We've changed the way we identify the episodes. This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 4, No. 8. You might be wondering, whatever happened with Vol. 4, No. 1? Eventually, "lost episodes" become corny clichés.
Steven F. Hayward, F.K. Weyerhauser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, historian and author of The Age of Reagan, co-author of the annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, and cookbook aficionado, joins Ben and Joel for a freewheeling conversation about the coming election, the environment, and U.S. foreign policy.
Among the questions we discuss:
• If the Republicans retake Congress, what will they have to do to hold it?
• Should Obama emulate Ronald Reagan on the economy?
• Who is the most worrisome congressional Republican in the leadership? (It isn't John Boehner.)
• What is "post-partisan power"?
• Would a limited carbon tax work?
• Can California's Global Warming Solutions Act change the climate?
• What happens if Californians defeat Prop. 23?
• Could AB 32 be suspended anyway?
• Are liberals blind to their own domestic policy hubris?
• Are conservatives blind to their internationalist hubris?
• And much, much more!
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Power," Rainbow
• "I Pay the Cost to be the Boss," Blues De Picolat
• "Natural Science," Rush
• "Masters of War," Judy Collins
• "So It Goes," Nick Lowe
The timing may not have been expected, but the outcome certainly was: Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of Washington, DC’s public school system, announced her resignation this morning. I wrote about Rhee’s impending departure this morning at School Reform News, with comments from policy experts at Reason, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Foundation for Educational Choice. I also published an op-ed in Investor’s Business Dailya couple of weeks ago examining Rhee’s record and likely legacy as a reformer that’s worth revisiting, if I do say so myself.
Was Rhee overhyped? In IBD, I wrote:
Nobody is indispensable, and Superman lives only in comic books…
Rhee’s likely ouster shows the perils of placing the mantle of change in the hands of one person, however capable. Her charisma earned her plenty of fans among reformers—and the lasting enmity of the education establishment. Their money brought down the mayor who appointed her.
That view is echoed in the story today:
“Rhee was overhyped in the sense that reformers need to put broad systemic reforms in place, like the DC charter law, in addition to strong leaders,” says Matt Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix. “Rhee lasted approximately the average tenure for an urban superintendent. Leaders come and go, but the struggle for reform goes on.”
But Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice, disagreed with Ladner slightly.
“Rhee was not overhyped,” said Forster. “What was overhyped was the whole heroic reformer model that says the system can work as long as we put the right people in charge of it.”
“Now we know that if you ever really do get the right people in charge of it, the unions just pull out all the stops to destroy those people,” he said. “We need to change the system in a way that breaks the unions, and only universal school choice can do that.”
Lisa Snell at the Reason Foundation described Rhee’s tenure in DC as “a cautionary tale” of what happens when a supposedly strong leader attempts to reshape powerful bureaucratic institutions. Reform is sometimes easier said than done. Explained Snell:
“Charter schools are a case in point. While there are many charismatic charter school leaders, these schools still only thrive in states where the laws make it easier to open a charter school.”
Over at Cato’s @ Liberty blog, Adam Schaeffer calls Rhee’s resignation the “least shocking news of the year.”
“No man or woman, mayor, chancellor or superintendent can significantly and permanently reform the government education monopoly,” Schaeffer writes. “It is unreformable.” He goes on to say, “Only systemic reform that creates a market in education will bring sustained, continual improvement.”
Meanwhile, at Heritage’s Foundry, School Reform News contributing editor Lindsey Burke delves into Rhee’s reform legacy:
Since taking office [three] years ago, Rhee has fired hundreds of ineffective teachers and administrators, closed poor-performing schools, and reworked contracts to include performance pay. Not surprisingly, union opposition to Chancellor Rhee’s reforms has been strong.
In the nation’s capital and throughout the country, education unions have worked to thwart attempts to reform the failed status quo, seeing any opening for children to escape monopoly public school systems as a threat to their power. While Washington, D.C. still has a long way to go to improve the school system, Chancellor Rhee has worked to place the well-being of children ahead of the demands of special interest groups such as the education unions.
The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder muses on what the future might have in store for Rhee, and sums up what made her such a lightning rod:
It appeared at times as if Rhee was dismissive of her real audience: the educational bureaucracy. She seemed indifferent at times to the emotions of teachers, parents, and students, most of whom were black and didn’t trust her, initially, because she was just different. This sounds like a small point, but had Rhee kept her disdain for the current system and its leaders to herself, she might have built stronger and more lasting relationships with the constituencies she had to deal with. But Rhee doesn’t self-censor. That’s part of who she is.
It’s worth remembering that the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten wasn’t Rhee’s only opponent. Diane Ravitch, who’s strange intellectual course has been widely documented, criticized, and speculated about, leveled some pointed criticism at Rhee’s management of DC’s schools after last month’s mayoral primary:
Rhee believed that mayoral control gave her the power to work her will and to ignore dissenters or brush them off as defenders of the status quo. Mayoral control bred arrogance and indifference to dialogue. She didn’t need to listen to anyone because she had the mayor’s unquestioning support. Mayoral control made democratic engagement with parents and teachers unnecessary. It became easy for her to disparage them and for the media to treat them as self-interested troublemakers.
… If D.C. had had an independent school board, Rhee would have had to explain her ideas, defend them, and practice the democratic arts of persuasion, conciliation, and consensus-building. We now have an “education reform” movement which believes that democracy is too slow and too often wrong, and their reforms are so important, so self-evident that they cannot be delayed by discussion and debate….
There may be a kernel or two of truth in this. Fact is, Rhee was not an effective communicator of her reform plans. She gave the Washington Teachers Union and the AFT ample ammunition to use against her. Consider it a valuable lesson in politics. But, as Matt Ladner told me earlier, “I suspect that Rhee and her allies and admirers are sadder, wiser and undeterred.” Indeed.
(Cross-posted at Somewhat Reasonable.)
Joel Mathis and I tackle the question of whether a multi-million dollar judgment against the contemptible Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church is an affront to the First Amendment. Joel elaborates on this post, in which he sides with Phelps and flatly asserts: "Either you believe in the First Amendment... or you don't." And Joel worries that "silencing Fred Phelps might be a step down the slippery slope to silencing us all."
This is simply hyperbole, I'm afraid. It's not a matter of merely "believing in" the First Amendment, because nothing is ever that simple. And while we should be ever mindful of slippery slopes, we should take care to avoid slippery slope fallacies.
But it's certainly fair to say Joel's position is shared by the American Civil Liberties Union, UCLA libertarian law prof Eugene Volokh, University of Chicago liberal law prof (and two-time podcast guest) Geoffrey Stone, the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro, and the editorial pages of most major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal -- a lot of smart people who just happen to be wrong.
"Hard cases make bad law," Joel writes in the column. "Albert Snyder deserves our sympathy. But his hard case shouldn't lead the Supreme Court to make bad law for the rest of us."
Here's my take:
This isn't a hard case at all.
Fred Phelps and his congregation have the right to believe anything they please. They have a right to assemble peaceably and exercise their religious beliefs freely. They have a right publish newspapers and weblogs preaching against homosexuality. But the Westboro Baptist Church has no right to impose itself on a private funeral.
Context is crucial. When a group of people stands outside a military funeral -- even if it is 1,000 feet away -- holding signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and worse, you needn't be an Ivy League constitutional scholar to get the point.
As Sean Summers, Snyder's lawyer, explained: "(Phelps and family) turn funerals into a circus. They send out fliers in advance. There were... state, local, county police. There were ambulances. There were fire trucks. There was a SWAT team." Police even rerouted the funeral procession so the Snyders wouldn't see the protest.
In short, Phelps turned a private event into a massive public nuisance.
Phelps's broader message may be a sinful and unrepentant nation brings such calamities upon itself. But if you're the grieving family of a dead Marine, why should you have to entertain that idea for even one moment? What makes the case "hard" is the amazing logical contortions the Supreme Court has performed over the decades in the realm of First Amendment law. Fact is, the freedom of speech is not unlimited. We make exceptions for libel, slander, and "fighting words," for instance.
When free speech collides with the right to privacy, privacy should prevail. Phelps has a right to be "outrageous." But his outrageous speech in this particular context -- the context of a family privately mourning the death of a son -- is a breach of the peace, an assault.
Barring the Phelps circus from future funerals does no harm to the First Amendment whatsoever.
Given the space constraints of the column, some elaboration is in order here. (Click "Read More" below the icons.)
Tim Kurkjian, marvelous sportswriter for ESPN, laments the end of his personal sports "streak" -- one he legitimately compares to the streaks of Ripken, Gehrig, DiMaggio:
For the first time since 1989, I no longer clip every box score of every baseball game from the nearest newspaper and tape each one into a spiral notebook, a daily task that I've estimated, at roughly 15 minutes per day, has cost me 40 days of my truly pathetic life.
And why? Could it possibly be marital bliss, or encroaching maturity? No:
my equally unbreakable streak was stopped by the slow death of the newspaper business, the business I grew up in, the business I will always love. But in 2009, it became clear that my Washington Post, due to deadline issues, was no longer providing enough box scores in the edition delivered to my house in Darnestown, Md.
I enjoyed having the hard copy of the box score at the ready, be it in a car, a cab or a plane. Having every box score of a season by my side wherever I went gave me a sense of comfort. If I wasn't sure how the Padres were using their bullpen, for example, I could go through a month of Padres box scores, and I would know. I remember in 1993, right about the start of the steroid era, counting by hand the number of players that had gotten four extra-base hits in a game that season. The search took from Dallas to San Francisco. ... The box scores start every day for me because there's always a chance you'll see a pitching or batting line that you've never seen before, and might never see again, such as Ben Petrick's 3-0-0-4 a few years ago. Four RBIs without a hit!
I find this public confession of Kurkjian's comforting, myself. It is the sort of thing I could see myself doing, in a slightly different cosmos (I still buy 2 packs of baseball cards every spring training). And I understand his delight in scanning page after page of data, attempting to tease information out of it. I completely "grok" that. It is, in fact, a good part of how I make my living.
Roger Ebert has been Twittering ironic twits (tweets?) contrasting e-books to real books. Kurkjian and I (and my mom, actually) have a sympathetic preference for hard-copy as well. Touch, and smell, as well as see.
Today, I raise my glass of RC Cola (since I can't get Dr. Pepper in a glass bottle any more) to Tim Kurkjian and his 20-year streak: Hoopla!
I've been too busy with paying work to read everything on this kerfuffle. But I see now that the story line has shifted to even people on the right giving Andrew Breitbart blowback for supposedly taking Shirley Sherrod's comments — as the saying goes — "out of context."
According to a transcript of Sherrod's comments James Taranto dropped in his "Best of the Web" column at The Wall Street Journal Online the other day, the former Ag official said this:
The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him.
I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he--I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that or the Georgia Department of Agriculture. And he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him.
So I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided, because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farmer. So I figured if I take him to one of them that his own kind would take care of him.
That's when it was revealed to me that it's about the poor versus those who have, and not so much about white — it is about white and black, but it's not — you know, it opened my eyes, because I took him to one of his own.
Now, Taranto thinks Sherrod got a raw deal. Fair enough. However, what's got me scratching my head about the flak Breitbart's getting from some on the right is the simple fact that an official in a Republican administration would have been vaporized for saying what Sherrod did. That it was "taken out of context" would not matter.*
Imagine for a minute that an official in the Bush administration at a CPAC convention said:
Joseph Wesley Postell, assistant director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for American Studies, has a pretty good piece in the Washington Times today on the decline of constitutionalism and the rise of the administrative state:
The Founders confronted a basic problem: How to vest government with sufficient power to get things done without giving it the instruments to exercise tyrannical control? To protect individual liberty and rights, they established (among others) two basic principles at the center of our constitutional order: representation and the separation of powers. To assure that government operated by consent, they provided that those responsible for making laws would be held accountable through elections. Moreover, legislative, executive and judicial power would be separated so those who made the laws were not in charge of executing and applying them.
Our modern administrative state violates these principles. That also is by design, courtesy of the progressives - the original architects of the administrative state. Progressives such as Woodrow Wilson disdained the idea of government "by the people" and sought to replace it with government by the experts. Wilson complained of America's "besetting error of ... trying to do too much by vote." "Self-government does not consist in having a hand in everything," he argued.
Postell argues, in brief, that conservatives need to do a better job explaining to the public the evils of the administrative state and develop a roadmap for restoring representative government and separation of powers, rightly understood.
"The question is not necessarily how to make government smaller," Postell writes, "but how to get it back under popular control and accountability."
(Hat tip: Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns.)
(Cross-posted at Freedom Pub.)
Greg Sargent reports that Democrats are amassing "bipartisan support" for legislation aimed at limiting the Supreme Court's small but vital affirmation of free speech in Citizen's United v. FEC. "The bill that Dems are planning will have more bipartisan support than expected, a Dem leadership aide confirms," Sargent writes at the Plum Line.
How much more support? "[A] Dem leadership aide says it will be introduced tomorrow with at least one more GOP sponsor in addition to Mike Castle, though the aide wouldn’t reveal who. This will allow Dems to push back by pointing out that the measure has GOP support." So at least two moderate-to-liberal Republicans will sign on. That's nice.
And what would this bill do? "The legislation seeks to increase transparency and disclosure of political spending, including provisions forcing heads of organizations spending big money on elections to reveal their personal involvement," Sargent writes. "It also seeks to prevent foreign money from influencing elections, and ensures that recipients of Federal money — contractors, TARP recipients — can’t spend cash in elections."
Foreigners are already barred from contributing to U.S. elections, not that they don't try. Prohibiting recipients of taxpayer largesse from spending on elections has visceral appeal, especially where I'm sitting.
An earlier New York Times story notes that Democrats are indeed pushing for more disclosure: "One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said." Sounds like fun.
Disclosure is controversial, of course. I tend to favor more disclosure rather than less in conjunction with fewer limits on who can give what to whom. Politics is a public business, after all. Here's what I wrote in the Scripps-Howard column in September:
The cure for campaign finance reform is fewer rules, not more. There should be little or no restriction on money in politics. There should be no limits on what a candidate can raise and spend. Political parties, corporations, unions... let them all in. The only exception should be for foreign contributions.
Transparency and instant Internet disclosure make most of the old objections and warnings about quid pro quo corruption irrelevant. If a political candidate receives the financial aid of large corporations, and public knows about it, then the question of undue influence falls to the voters to resolve. As it should be.
I realize, of course, there are strong arguments against more government-mandated disclosure rules. As Bradley Smith, the former federal elections commissioner, argued recently in City Journal: "Disclosure has resulted in government-enabled invasions of privacy—and sometimes outright harassment—and it has added to a political climate in which candidates are judged by their funders rather than their ideas." Justice Thomas dissented from part of the majority in Citizens United on that very basis.
We'll see what other odious provisions appear in the new legislation. I'm sure there will be plenty of nasty surprises. Congress has a rather elastic reading of the First Amendment. It says "make no law," ladies and gentlemen. "Make NO law."
(Cross-posted at Freedom Pub.)
After a hiatus, the podcast returns at the tail-end of tax season and tea party mania. Ben Boychuk and Robb Leatherwood last month interviewed John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes. We very much wanted to post this sooner, but paying work got in the way. Our apologies to O'Hara, who gave a great interview here.
Among the questions we explore:
• Who's running these tea parties?
• Are the tea parties really creatures of the Republican Party?
• Is there a coherent tea party platform?
• Aren't tea parties really just astroturf?
• Can the tea party movement move beyond street protests to shape political reform?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Anarchy X," Queensryche
• "Gun Battle," (From the "Billy the Kid" Ballet Suite), Aaron Copland/London Symphony Orchestra
• "New Avengers-Raw Deal Mix," Snowboy
• "Tax Free," Jimi Hendrix
• "Traitors (Verräter)," Peter Thomas
• "Always Tomorrow," The Shazam
• "Eyes of a Stranger," Queensryche
Mike Fumento recounts what happened on Good Friday in 1992, when he, his then-girlfriend Mary, and his brand new Toyota MR2 took a fateful drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. He writes:
When it comes to any report of miracles, I’m highly skeptical. The vast majority can be debunked in an average of two minutes and 37 seconds. And I’m sorry, but I’ve heard too many stories about Jesus appearing on a taco shell and thousands of the faithful lining up for a peek. I’ve also known too many famous miracles that have been debunked. But it must be admitted that the ones most likely to be real are the ones you never hear about — the ones that don’t lead to best-selling books or inspire tourist centers that sell plastic figurines of the saints.
It's a powerful, astonishing story. By all means, read the whole thing.
I expect this essay in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal will have people animated. Here's the crux:
A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, "We still have the power to shape history." But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history. And, oddly, he may be a more effective liberal precisely because his liberalism is something he uses more than he believes in. As the far left constantly reminds us, he is not really a true believer. Rather liberalism is his ticket to grandiosity and to historical significance.
Of the two great societal goals—freedom and "the good"—freedom requires a conservatism, a discipline of principles over the good, limited government, and so on. No way to grandiosity here. But today's liberalism is focused on "the good" more than on freedom. And ideas of "the good" are often a license to transgress democratic principles in order to reach social justice or to achieve more equality or to lessen suffering. The great political advantage of modern liberalism is its offer of license on the one hand and moral innocence—if not superiority—on the other. Liberalism lets you force people to buy health insurance and feel morally superior as you do it. Power and innocence at the same time.
It's not just about Obama, then. It's about what Obama's America will look like after the man is out of office. Is freedom really in tension with the "good" society? Or is this a narrow understanding of what is "good" and just?
You must obey an order -- no matter how trivial -- by a police officer, or face
electrocution a serious shock (see update, below) or other bodily harm, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Friday. Or, as James Joyner of Outside the Beltway put it, "The 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that police can Taser pregnant women posing no risk so long as judges can concoct an implausible risk years later."
Clearly, they can give you a robe and a gavel, but they can't give you good judgment, either.
This outrageous decision stems from a 2004 traffic stop in Seattle. Malaika Brooks was driving her son to school when she was stopped by officers for doing 32 mph in a 25 mph school zone. Brooks told officers the car in front of her was speeding, so she refused to sign the ticket for fear of admitting guilt.
That's where it got interesting. The officers could have given her the ticket or let her go. Or they could have arrested her. They went with the latter. She told the police she was pregnant and refused to get out of the car. They threatened her with the Taser. She remained still.
The officers—Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones—then zapped her three times, in the thigh, shoulder and neck, and dragged her out of the car, placing the pregnant woman face-down in the street.
Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby a couple of months later. But the mother has scars. Brooks sued, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones allowed the case to continue. He declined to grant the officers immunity for performing their official duties and said Brooks' rights were clearly violated. Friday's decision overturned the trial court's ruling.
Here is the 9th Circuit's rationale. Read it and weep:
Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall [Reagan appointee] and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain [Reagan appointee] held that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest.
The use of force was also justified because of the threat Brooks posed, Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."
They also noted that the force used wasn't that serious because the Taser was in "touch" mode rather than "dart" mode, which hurts more. They reversed the lower court's opinion and held that the officers were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit.
The officers' lawyers, Ted Buck and Karen Cobb, said the officers made the right decision under the circumstances they faced.
"Police officers have to have the ability to compel people to obey their lawful orders," Buck said. That's all the court recognized today. The 9th Circuit just applied the law instead of getting caught up in the otherwise unfortunate factual circumstances."
Judge Marsha Berzon, a very liberal Bill Clinton appointee and the one dissenter, called the decision "off the wall."
"I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense," she wrote in her dissent.
Berzon pointed out that under Washington law, the police had no authority to take Brooks into custody: Failure to sign a traffic infraction is not punishable by arrest, as it turns out, and it isn't illegal to resist an unlawful arrest.
Berzon also noted in her dissent that to obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer's official duties, "and the officers' only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks' failure to sign did not interfere with those duties."
It's rare that I find myself agreeing with the liberal side of the 9th Circuit, but this is one of those cases where the default "conservative" position on the supposed side of "law-and-order" is not justified. This is an sickening decision that grants far too much deference to police, promotes the us-vs.-them mentality pervasive in far too many law enforcement agencies, and may endanger police officers and members of the public alike.
"Judges have been, for going on four decades now, loathe to second guess police officers and the principle of Terry v. Ohio, that officers have a right to briefly violate the Constitution if they are scared (I paraphrase) has been stretched beyond belief," Joyner writes. "Judges and other public officials, not unreasonably, want to give officers a wide berth because their jobs are indeed dangerous and the prospect having their instincts questioned ex post in the calm light of day might make them take excessive risks."
But, as Joyner notes, this is a clear cut case -- not of some 200-pound crackhead on a rampage, but of three big cops domineering a pregnant mom.
"Yes, her refusal to sign a ticket after being told (and it being printed on the ticket) that signing is merely acknowledgment of receipt and not an admission of guilt, is annoying," Joyner writes. "But, clearly, this was a case of officers frustrated that a citizen dared question their authoritay, not an overreaction to reasonable peril."
It's a sure bet that decisions such as this one will in no way diminish confrontations between police and civilians. People don't like to be treated as subjects.
I would reiterate a point I made in an earlier post: I hope this decision doesn’t lend credence to the effort to ban law enforcement from using Tasers altogether. I don’t dispute for a moment that police have abused Tasers. But what would these dumb cops have done to Malaika Brooks if all they had were nightsticks, pepperspray and guns?
Joel sent me this story by way of a link from Digby's Hullabaloo. She was doing great, until she threw this elbow at the end:
BTW: where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.
Update: Eric at Classical Values shares the outrage about the case, while he admonishes and corrects:
What I do not agree with is (Digby's) ridiculous attempt to scold libertarians:
...where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.
That is such a crock. I've lost track of the number of posts I've written complaining about police abuses, and I'm not even going to dignify his argument by supplying links.
As to the "right not be be electrocuted" he does not know what the word means. This woman was tasered. Shocked with electricity. Stunned, not killed.
The word "electrocute" is not complicated, and I think most people know that it means killed:
1. to kill as a result of an electric shock
2. (Law) US to execute in the electric chair
[from electro- + (exe)cute]
So, while I believe that people do have a "right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket," that is not what happened here.
I don't know what is more shocking: the underlying story itself or its mischaracterization and gratuitous smear of libertarians as people who "fail to care about the constitution [except] when it comes to taxes and guns."
I'm going to stick my neck out here and venture that if there is a "right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket," then it follows that libertarians also have a right not to be electrocuted for allegedly remaining silent about a police outrage they might not have known about -- mainly because it was only reported yesterday.
I'm shocked! Stunned!
But I'm about as surprised as I am electrocuted.
Good point on electrocution. I should have been more careful.
Rick Moran has a pretty shrewd take on the Tea Party movement over at Rightwing Nuthouse (though I wish he had an editor to correct his minor factual errors as well as some of his grammatical infelicities). I don't agree with the analysis all the way, but I think he's on to something here:
Misinformed? Yes. Shallow? An understanding of the Constitution that runs a mile wide and a centimeter deep. Fearful? Beyond being manipulated by the cotton candy conservatives on talk radio, the fear of change is so ripe you can smell it in many sections of the country.
I’m not talking about Obama-type change. I’m talking about the undercurrent of change that constantly runs through history and that occasionally, breaks ground in a flood that, when it ebbs, reveals a much altered landscape. Most people who inhabit such a place are not prepared for, nor can they manage the seminal changes that have made the familiar, unfamiliar.
America has been undergoing a radical change for more than 20 years. Our entire economy has flipped from being industrial-based to service-based, with the consequent changes in wages, lifestyle, and mores occurring faster than many can absorb. The old moorings by which most of us clung have been torn away and some have been let adrift — strangers in their own land.
The catalyst that revealed this was the financial crisis and the growing realization that recovery will be a slow, painful process no matter whether we stupidly try to spend our way to prosperity or cut taxes and risk even higher deficits, thus stifling growth. Millions of jobs are gone and it will take years to recreate the kind of economy where anyone who wants a job can get one.
With all of this happening, can you blame the tea partiers for grasping at the one talisman that has served as a steadying influence on America for 222 years? The Constitution as legal document and patriotic connection to our past is as a life buoy tossed to a drowning man. Given that there are far worse symbols upon which citizens could tie themselves — including the Communist Manifesto as some of the anti-war protestors appeared to have embraced — you would think that critics would grant tea partiers a little slack in their choice of iconic American notions to idolize.
That last is a bit naive, I think. The Constitution of the Tea Party movement is a decidedly unprogressive document. What right-minded 21st-century American could possibly take such a thing seriously? I guess we'll find out soon enough.
It's almost getting tiresome to me, this picking on Peggy Noonan for her naivete concerning Barack Obama. Almost. She's coming around to the truth of Obama's hard leftism and the phoniness of his HopeyChange campaign rhetoric slower than my quest to lose that extra 20 pounds I've been carrying around for five years. At some point, I expect Noonan's BS meter to finally redline, and read a column in which her great talents are righteously unleashed on Obama. But no matter The One's transgression, so far, Noonan never takes on the persona of a woman scorned. And scorned she has been.
Alas, much of the right side of the blogosphere that still cares about Noonan's work has been aflutter about this week's column, titled "Now for the Slaughter." One would think such a headline means Hell fire follows. Alas, all we get the flicking of a Bic. Noonan begins by accusing the Obama administration of being "bush league" (small "b") for blowing off a trip to Australia and Indonesia so the president can stay in town to
shepherd through bribe and threaten for passage his health care debacle. After Gibbs made the announcement this week ...
The reporters didn't even provoke or needle in their questions. They seemed hushed. They looked like people who were absorbing the information that we all seem to be absorbing, which is that the wheels seem to be coming off this thing, the administration is wobbling — so early, so painfully and dangerously soon.
Nice of you to notice, Peggy. You noticed that this week? It's not like Obama's approval ratings went south from its great heights just yesterday. And this is your first observation that the press has been merely "absorbing" information from the administration, rather than reporting and questioning? Oh, well. Many of us "absorbed" the wheels coming off this administration for some time. At least Peggy was cogent enough to recognize that Bret Baier's interview with Obama the other night was the exception to the rule of reverential press treatment of our president.
It revealed [Obama's] primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety.
No kidding. Welcome to the reality based community, which has noticed Obama's tendency to dodge since the campaign days. Noonan was amazed that the excellent Baier, who would not be bullied or filibustered, pressed Obama to concede "that no, he doesn't know what's in the bill right now."
It is still amazing that one year into the debate this could be true.
Really. Really? Has Noonan even read her own newspaper's editorial pages in the last two months? Or even in the last week? Obama has never cared what's actually in the health care bill. That's why for all his talk in the Baier interview of the Congress voting on "his" bill, it's never been his bill. It's been Harry Reid's bill. It's been Nancy Pelosi's bill. It's been the bill of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. All that matters is that the government becomes Master and Commander over 1/6th of the U.S. economy. The rest is merely details down the line — the kind of details that exact how, not why, politicians and bureaucrats exercise the power that comes with this take-over.
Noonan notes that "throughout, Mr. Baier pressed the president."
I have a new op-ed in the Sacramento Bee arguing against the Common Core Standards Initiative, which sounds like a great idea until you realize that President Obama wants to use it as leverage to further centralize education policy.
Here's the gist:
The standards are billed as “voluntary,” but that’s a joke. The Obama administration has already announced plans to make $14 billion in federal Title I funds and another $15 billion in future Race to the Top grants contingent on states adopting the national standards. In short, the standards would be as “voluntary” reporting personal income to the IRS, regulating the drinking age, or maintaining the speed limit. Just try to opt out and see what happens.
The standards are also supposed to be “flexible,” but it’s difficult to see how. The draft reading and math requirements include detailed, year-by-year prescriptions for every child, regardless of ability. A student who struggles with reading, writing, or arithmetic would have an even tougher time keeping up, as teachers would face mounting pressure to cover all the material in federally sanctioned lesson plans.
Of course, that assumes the final standards won’t be homogenized and dumbed down to the point they would be considered “high standards” in name only. Judging by history, that’s probably a bad assumption.
One thing’s for sure: transforming common core standards into a common curriculum would turn an already contentious policy issue into a brawl as bruising and divisive as the fight over health care reform. Where health care is about our bodies, education is about our children’s minds.
Obviously, you should read the whole thing. (Try not to be scared off by the mugshot.)
And while you're at it, check out the new School Reform News Web site at the Heartland Institute. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing daily content, and weekly interactive and multimedia features, including polls, videos and podcasts.
Update: Cato's Neal McCluskey writes at NRO:
All kids are different. They mature at different rates, have different interests, and face different obstacles. In light of this, it simply makes no sense to try to force them all to learn the same thing at the same pace. It’s something that most conservatives — who recognize the primacy of the individual — fully understand, yet Finn asserts that it’s liberals who oppose a single standard for all.
If that’s so, then why aren’t more liberals supporting widespread school choice — the key to ending special-interest control of education and enabling unique kids to find schools specializing in their needs — the way conservatives are? Oh, right: Because it’s typically liberals who love big, one-size-fits-all government solutions to problems fundamentally rooted in a lack of freedom.
The CCSSI standards might look great on paper. But federally extorted standardization? That’s something conservatives should never embrace.
Meantime, Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns picks up a thread that I think deserves elaboration in a separate piece:
A perceived problem for those advocating on behalf of keeping standards at the state level has been the rancorous and, in many ways, ridiculous fight over history standards in Texas that has produced, in the words of Boychuk, "a politically correct mishmash." Any objective observer of the outcome in Texas would have to concede that their "solution" has been less than wonderful. As Ben says in the comment section under his piece, "including the Declaration of Independence in the social studies standards while excluding Thomas Jefferson is... confusing." It is also stupid and deserving of all the mockery and derision it is getting--however wrong-headed and mean-spirited some of it may be. (One way to avoid being called a fool is to avoid doing foolish things!) But this result is in no way--as left-wing critics eager to score points against the "rubes" in red states might hope--an argument in favor of national standards. It is an argument AGAINST them. Why would we want to nationalize that fiasco of a fight in Texas? For that is exactly what would happen.
More on the Texas textbook controversy soon.
One would expect from that headline that former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines would have used an opportunity to speak from the pages of The Washington Post to provide a mea culpa on his dereliction of duty for allowing the alarmingly shoddy journalist Jayson Blair to commit serial plagiarism and fiction on his front pages in the early 2000s. And one would be wrong.
One might also expect from that headline that the former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines would have used an opportunity to speak from the pages of The Washington Post to lament his former standard of American journalism's dereliction of duty on misreporting the Tea Party phenomenon. Or how The Times continues to get its clock cleaned by British newspapers on the ClimateGate scandals? Again, you'd be wrong. Two times.
Nope. Raines says the "one question" that has "tugged" at his "professional conscience" lately is this:
Why haven't America's old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
That Raines — who trumpeted the MSM's dogged criticism of the Nixon administration as a highlight that he did not characterize as "a propaganda campaign" but something "well covered" — feels the burning urge to slam the only major television news outlet in this country to cover the Obama administration with a critical eye says all you need to know about the self-induced destruction of the MSM.
Does he call out Fox News citing examples of the kind of fiction that he presided over at the helm of America's "Newspaper of Record"? No. He does not. Instead he laments that Ailes allows on his network a "cadre of raucous commentators" that have "overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II."
Hey, Howell. Those are commentators. MSNBC, CNN and even The New York Times has them, too. A former media big shot like you should know the difference between news reporting and commentary, of which Fox News has successfully achieved both if ratings are any gauge.
OK. I'm not being 100 percent fair. Raines attempts to provide a glaring example of malfesence on the part of Fox News. Pointing to Fox's coverage of the health care debate, Raines writes:
It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform."
Fox repeats this as gospel.
Gee. Why would Fox do that? It's not like there are scads of polls showing that the American people wholly reject the vision of "health care reform" that Obama and the Democratic Congress are trying to shove down our throats. The "news" of "health care reform" is not consumed with the vague and historic notions of "reform" that Raines then cites for support. "News," as Raines should know, is what's happening now. And what's happening now on that front is extremely unpopular. Why, pray tell, is reporting — and in commentary shows, reflecting — the "gospel" of public opinion somehow a sin against journalism?
Seriously, the idiocy of Raines' piece is a wonder to behold, and explains why The New York Times is losing readership faster than Monkey Ben is losing hair. Stupid didn't leave the building with Raines, but is institutionalized at the paper.
Mark Steyn and Greg Gutfeld have torn Raines a couple of new ones over his diatribe. And they are worth reading for the giggles. But I'm gonna pull out some more asininity for the dozens of readers of Infinite Monkeys (which includes family). Raines writes:
I've said it before, but in light of this column today by none other than Jonah Goldberg, I'll say it again: "Big business" and "big government" are two sides of the same coin, and it's a mistake for conservatives to side with one over the other. The problem again is the adjective, not the noun.
Here's Goldberg making a related point in USA Today:
The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not "right wing," it's vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these "crony capitalists." But only if the politicians can actually deliver. The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.
That's good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it'd be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer.
This also relates to the arguments we had here and at Joel's place about the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United campaign finance case. If you're going to inject politics into business by way of regulation, it's only natural that business will seek to inject itself into politics to protect its interests. Hence: "Vampiric" big business.
The Orange County Register editorializes Wednesday on Jerry Brown's official entry into the 2010 governor's race:
In his announcement video, Mr. Brown spun his age and experience – he has also been California secretary of state and mayor of Oakland and currently is the state attorney general – as an advantage during a time of crisis. The question of the day is: which Jerry Brown will show up?
In the 1970s he acquired the moniker Gov. Moonbeam for his advocacy of sometimes utopian, or just plain eccentric, projects. He had a strong environmental record (as these matters are understood in conventional political terms) and railed against Big Oil. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 and 1980. In 1982 he lost a U.S. Senate race to Republican Pete Wilson, who later became governor.
Jerry Brown's experience as mayor of Oakland – a position in which people can see readily whether potholes are being filled or the fire and police departments show up when called – may have tempered his eccentric utopian streak with some fiscal realism. In his announcement he promised no new taxes and a downsizing of state government.
Actually, what Brown promised was no new taxes without the approval of the electorate. That could be interpreted in all sorts of mischievous ways, and I'm sure we'll see a ballot initiative or two, and a tax hike or two with or without the people's endorsement. Brown is shrewd -- very shrewd -- and all of Meg Whitman's (or Steve Poizner's) money may not be enough to overcome old Jerry's savvy.
I've been writing lately about the centralization of education under the Obama administration. Nothing is available online at the moment, but it should be real soon now. The problem is, centralization and bureaucratization -- two horrible words -- lead to rigidity and... well, stupidity.
Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes, offers a trenchant critique of Barack Obama's centralizing tendencies:
From health care reform and transportation to education to the environment, the Obama administration has--from the beginning--sought to expand the power of the central state. The president's newest initiative to wrest environment, wage and benefit concessions from private companies is the latest example. But this trend of centralizing power to the federal government puts the political future of the ruling party--as well as the very nature of our federal system--in jeopardy.
Kotkin, who currently teaches at Chapman University, still considers himself a "social democrat." He would rather see government foster economic policies that work to the benefit of the lower and middle classes. Inasmuch as that requires government to get the hell out of the way, it's tough for me to disagree. Kotkin's latest book is "The Next Hundred Million: America at 2050."
As a sucker for lost causes, I'm a Chuck DeVore guy pretty much all the way. But when I read that Mickey Kaus mounting a challenge against Barbara Boxer for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, I'm sorely tempted to pull the donkey lever in the primary. At least Kaus can feed and dress himself without assistance. I'm not so sure that's true of Boxer.
Unfortunately, switching party allegiances would preclude me from voting for John Eastman for attorney general in the GOP primary, and I can't have that.
Sorry, Mickey. I hope you can give Boxer a run for her money, though.
Update: From Kaus's blog:
This isn't the place to make an electioneering spiel--I don't want to be a test case of campaign finance law if I can help it. But the basic idea would be to argue, as a Democrat, against the party's dogma on several major issues (you can guess which ones). Likeminded Dem voters who assume they will vote for
Sen. BoxerThe Incumbent in the fall might value a mechanism that lets them register their dissent in the primary.
Next phase: Lowering expectations!
I'm sure Joel will have something to say about John Yoo's commentary in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which begins thus:
Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.
Ooooh, that's a thrown gauntlet if ever I've seen one. Have at it, comrades!
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday has a magnificent editorial on Congress's efforts to undo the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. (See posts here and here and from Joel here.)
Here's the Journal:
It didn't take long for Congress to try an end-run around the Supreme Court's landmark January decision in Citizens United v. FEC. With a campaign finance bill due to be introduced this week, Democrats are proposing to repeal the First Amendment, at least for some people.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland want to prevent any company with more than 20% of foreign shareholders from spending money in U.S. elections, ban TARP recipients and government contractors from campaign spending, and require CEOs to pop up at the end of television commercials to "approve this message" just like politicians.
Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards and Michigan Democrat John Conyers are going further and proposing to amend the Constitution so it bars corporate free speech. John Kerry and Arlen Specter are also on board for a First Amendment rewrite. At least these Constitutional amenders are honest about their goals and what it requires to be legal.
I don't object to barring TARP recipients from contributing to campaigns, actually. The idea has great potential for extension to other interests that rely almost exclusively on the government dole. (We can hope.) But the rest of it is foolish and would only be a genuine outrage if a constitutional amendment had any hope of ratification.
It's funny how people in power despise would-be challengers. The legislative reaction to the Citizens United decision is so transparently self-serving, it's hard to believe that voters would be dumb enough to buy in. As the Journal concludes:
Citizens United blew a huge hole in the campaign finance rules, and there is no Constitutional way to refill it. The campaign-finance restrictionists should give up their misbegotten and illegal regulatory model and try deregulation and transparency instead. States like Virginia and Utah have no contribution limits but require disclosure and are among the best-run states in such traditional hallmarks of good government as economic health and development. The First Amendment has worked pretty well for 230 years. We don't need a rewrite.
Not that legislators and other do-gooders won't try.
Daniel Weintraub's new, independent and nonprofit news site is up and running. The mission of HealthyCal.org, which is funded in part by the California Endowment, is "to inform Californians about public health and community health issues, to engage readers in an ongoing conversation about matters ranging from health care policy to land-use, transportation, environment, criminal justice and economic policy, and to show how all of these things are connected."
Joel and I talked to Weintraub about the project back in November. Congratulations and best of luck to Dan, who is a very fine journalist. I hope HealthyCal.org is hugely successful.
Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't think much of the Tea Party people:
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was dismissive of the Tea Party movement in a “This Week” exclusive interview with Terry Moran. "The Tea Party is not going to go anywhere,” Schwarzenegger told Moran. “I think the Tea Party is all about just an expression of anger and dissatisfaction.”
There's video, naturally.
Governor Schwarzenegger ran for election and reelection on a platform of fiscal restraint. He failed. Schwarzenegger last year backed an ambitious slate of ballot initiatives that would have extended tax hikes on Californians. The voters crushed those initiatives utterly. Schwarzenegger doesn't think the Tea Party is going anywhere? The Tea Parties are likely to go much further than Schwarzenegger's agenda in his final year in office.
As long as I'm on a Reason kick today, Nick Gillespie's hilarious takedown of Keith Olbermann is must reading.
The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.
But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: "Parents are voting with their feet. ... As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."
How revealing is that?
Public schools are supposed to exist for reasons other than simply to provide a jobs program for ed-school grads. The point of public education is to educate the public in the requirements of good citizenship. Who says the government alone is qualified to carry out that mission? And if it is in the public interest to ensure we teach our children well, why not give parents options to send their kids to the school of their choice?
Study after study shows that private schools tend to perform better than government-run schools; that more funding does not automatically equate to higher quality (because if you spend millions on shoddy ideas, you get shoddy results); that private school voucher programs in Wisconsin, Cleveland, Florida and Washington, D.C. are popular and, what's more, they're successful at giving "at-risk" and low-income kids first-rate educations. As Stossel writes: "Choice works, and government monopolies don't. How much more evidence do we need?"
Stossel will be discussing school reform tonight at 8 pm and 11 pm on his Fox Business Channel program with Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform and Kevin P. Chavous. Should be interesting.
(By the way, all of this relates to my new job, but I'm not speaking for my employers here. Just popping off on the subject as I've done for years and years.)
Sean Penn was on Larry King Live the other night talking about Haiti. And Penn certainly knows more about what's going on over there than me because he showed up to help after the earthquake hit. Penn warrants praise for lending his celebrity to the cause and physically helping the always poor and now horribly devastated people of Haiti. (There's video evidence on Fox News, of all places). We should all tip our hats to him for that.
But King, to his credit, challenged Penn on what appeared to the host to be a newfound appreciation for the United States military — which, predictably, proves to be Johnny-On-The-Spot when a natural disaster hits while the United Nations is still debating on whether to put on its shoes.
PENN: We work in strong collaboration with the 82nd Airborne, who have been extraordinary. To see the United States military with all its skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings that there are doing this when it's a human aid effort is unparalleled.
KING: You were so praiseworthy of the military, and normally you're not a big fan of military.
PENN: That's not true. If anyone looks back at the things I've written, I've always been a supporter of the troops. I think that we have a responsibility to only deploy our troops constitutionally and responsibly.
In this case, there's no question. I think this is the most noble mission likely that the United States military has been involved in since World War II, but I support the military in right wars or unright wars.
The problem is the use of the military and the misuse of it at times. In this instance, this is the most efficient force in the country. And I would plead to our president that he keeps the United States military there for longer than I understand is currently planned.
Stop the presses! I agree with Sean Penn. Our forces should remain deployed there for longer than currently planned. (The people of Haiti would be better off today if we long ago invaded the country or won it as a prize in a war with France ... but let's put that aside.) As long as our troops can help, and our efforts there do not negatively affect our ability to respond to the war on terror, I'm all for it. But it's time to call bullshit — of which Penn's comments have tons.
As Tim Graham at NewsBusters notes, it was just last year that Penn won the Best Actor Oscar — and used his moment in the international spotlight to rip the kinds of people who join the military. And Penn was even less charitable toward those people in a 2006 HuffPost screed. So it's pretty rich for Penn to pretend he's "always been a supporter of the troops" in "right wars or unright wars." That's a joke.
Penn is among those liberals (especially among the Hollywood set) who only really love our men and women in uniform when they don't shoot anyone — when they act as an International Red Cross response team in fatigues. Of course, this is not the purpose of any nation's military. It would be nice if the "global community" that people like Penn so admire could dedicate itself to creating a rapid-response force with the "skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings" found in the U.S. military. Alas, we are stuck with the incompetent, yet expensive, blue helmets of the United Nations — who occasionally rape the subjects of their humanitarian care.
I'm also intrigued by Penn's view that he's OK with military deployments when it's done "constitutionally." Funny. I don't remember a Congressional authorization for the U.S. military's deployment to Haiti. But I remember one for Iraq. Guess Penn's memory is sketchier than mine.
There's a by now old saw that liberals support military deployments when they are not in the national interest, but are all for them when they are for some sense of the "global interest." I recall Hollywood Hero Bill Clinton deploying troops to depose Slobodan Milosovic in the Balkans. Some conservatives growled, but nothing like the left did toward Bush. Personally, I supported it — but not enthusiastically, because I didn't see the vital U.S. interest in the endeavor. But it's a good thing that Milosovic is gone (dead, even). I'd like to hear Penn and his like-minded liberals say it's a good thing that Saddam is gone (dead, even) — without qualification. Still waiting.
Haiti is a military deployment that is justified for humanitarian reasons. No doubt. The "global community," and even Sean Penn, smiles upon our efforts. Which is nice. (Though, it should be noted, that Penn's good friend Hugo Chavez, calls America's humanitarian effort in Haiti a nefarious occupation. If Penn has weighed in publicly to correct his friend, I've missed it.) And it would be great to accept those well-wishes at face value.
But the left's historic hatred of the proper use of American military might on the global stage (Penn and his like-minded Hollywood friends opposed Reagan's stance in the Cold War, too) make Sean Penn's newfound appreciation for the troops — not to mention who sends them and how they are deployed — a little hard to stomach.