Category: Politics

The Daycare Dilemma

Once again, folks, we see the Law of Unintended Consequences in effect:

Programs for young children — whether you call them day care or preschool or even third grade — serve two purposes. On the one hand, they are educational settings that are supposed to help foster the kids’ long-term development. On the other hand, they are safe places where parents can put their children so they can go do other things during the day — things like work for a living. In an ideal world, of course, they do both. The best preschool programs have been shown to have significant lifelong benefits for their students, and they’re doubtless a huge help to parents too. But a sobering new analysis by Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber (yes, that Jonathan Gruber), and Kevin Milligan of Quebec’s effort to expand access to child care on the cheap is a painful reminder that the two issues can come apart.

The program was designed to increase mothers’ labor force participation rate, and it worked. Lots of people used the system, lots of moms went to work, incomes and GDP rose, and the program was quite affordable to the taxpayer. Kids’ test scores stayed flat.

But contrasting trends in Quebec kids with kids from other Canadian provinces, the authors find “a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life satisfaction among teens” who grew up exposed to the program* along with a “sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces.”

What happened was that the government of Quebec decided that everyone deserved cheap daycare — as a little as $5 a day. And a lot cheap daycare is what they got. With such a huge influx of children, poor quality daycare providers proliferated. And many of these providers were much worse than, you know, parents. Worse, many of them were focused on academics, at the government’s urgency. But most research (and almost all parents) will tell you that learning social skills is way more important to preschoolers than learning their ABC’s.

I’ve written about the idiocy of the push for universal pre-K numerous times. You can also check out Megan McArdle, who goes into detail about why the push for universal pre-K is ill-advised. Note, importantly, that the federal push is for more academics and “accelerated learning” — precisely the emphasis that has produced such a disaster in Quebec.

But this about more than the expected Democratic push for universal pre-K. This about the expected Democratic push for federally mandated everything. There is nothing more dangerous than good intentions. The Democrats have given us a series of financial reforms to “protect Americans” that have created a series of financial crises (with Dodd-Frank likely to precipitate the next one. They’ve poured money into making sure everyone can get a college education … which has made college obscenely expensive. They’ve given us “universal healthcare” that has caused insurance rates to skyrocket. And they’ve created a free public education system which is one of the worst-performing in the developed world.

The push for universal pre-K is on. Let’s use Quebec as an example of what not to do. Because it would really be a tragedy if one of the more functional parts of our education system — the dynamic and mostly private pre-K system — was wrecked the slime engine of big government.

Boehner Out

John Boehner is apparently resigning from Congress and stepping down as Speaker. I’ll most more as events warrant. We’ll have to see what the GOP does. I know a lot of people don’t like Boehner because he didn’t have enough government- and party-wrecking confrontations. He’s has had a delicate balancing act over the last few years. But I think he’s gotten a reasonable amount done with a Democratic President in charge. If the GOP goes with someone crazy — a non-zero possibility — that’s all the more reason to be nervous about a unified Republican government. Hopefully they’ll go with someone like Paul Ryan.

Governing is the art of the possible. Boehner wasn’t perfect but he found things to do that were possible. We’ll have to see if the next speaker is interested in that or is interesting in making big dramatic gestures that accomplish nothing (e.g., the recent effort to defund Planned Parenthood which was apparently part of the impetus for Boehner’s resignation).

Too Much Tolerance in Afghanistan

What the actual hell?

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

You can read the whole thing if you have the stomach. It’s appalling. The Obama Administration, of course, is saying they just found out about it from the news.

Look, I’m all in favor of cultural tolerance. If our soldiers are guests in an Islamic country, I’m OK with not having booze or something. But this is WAY beyond that kind of cultural tolerance, especially when it’s happening on an American military base.

As Jazz Shaw pointed out over at Hot Air, this isn’t really a partisan issue, despite my snarking. For all we know, this policy has been in place for many years. But whatever the origin, this needs to stop. It’s not as if letting militia leaders rape boys is going to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Walker Out

With his poll numbers dipping near 1%, Scott Walker has apparently ended his Presidential campaign. This is kind of surprising. Walker was an early favorite (as attested by the numerous idiotic MSM hit pieces on him) and was the front-runner as recently as April. There are numerous post-mortems out there, many asking if he peaked “too soon”. I think it’s pretty straight-forward. He had a poorly run campaign, flip-flopped on the issues (especially immigration) and pandered too obviously. He was one of several candidates who suffered from trying to outcrazy Trump.

Walker won’t be the last to drop out. Graham, Santorum and Jindal can’t keep up this pretense for much longer. Christie, Kasich, Paul, Cruz and Huckabee are lingering, but I doubt their appeal will grow so I expect at least two of those guys to drop out by the end of the year.

Right now, Trump is still in the lead, although his support has tailed off a bit. Carson is also starting to tail off while Fiorina is rising rapidly. But I’ll stand by my earlier prediction: the nominee will probably be Bush or Rubio. As we get closer to the election, experience will begin to matter more and more to the voters. And they are the most experience and the most Presidential among the second-tier candidates.

Islamophobia. And Conservaphobia

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen Donald Trump responding to a question about how we can get rid of Muslims:

Confronted with a questioner who called Muslims a “problem” and asserted that President Obama is a Muslim and not American, Donald Trump did not correct him on Thursday night.

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. Our current President is one. We know he’s not even an American,” said a questioner at a town hall in New Hampshire. “We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

“A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things,” Trump responded.

Trump has been a leading proponent of the discredited theory that Obama was not born in the United States.

I will be as fair as I can to Trump. Politicians tend to draw nuts to them. This is especially true of politicians who are perceived as outsiders challenging the system. Libertarians have had to deal with this kind of crap for decades. The nuts turn up not because they agree with Libertarian philosophy but because they are attracted to just about any political outsider. But even mainstream politicians get crazies. I’ve talked to Congressional staffers about some of the insane letters and calls they get from nutty constituents. Trump laughs nervously halfway through the question and doesn’t really address it. I don’t think he’s embracing the views expressed at all. He’s just not smacking it down.

That having been said, it’s been a couple of days and he’s had plenty of time to disown the man’s comments. He hasn’t. It won’t hurt him right now bceause part of Trump’s appeal to many is precisely that he doesn’t constantly apologize. But it’s yet another thing that could come back to bite him badly should he win the nomination and yet another reason for anti-Trumpers to dislike him. And it’s yet another way the GOP’s willingness to play footsie with the lunatic fringe has damaged the brand.

Here’s the thing, though. As bad as this question was and as bad as Trump’s response was, possibly the worst response has been that of the Left. They are gleefully citing this clip as an example of what conservatives are really like. They are trotting out every invective you can imagine. To hear them say it, conservatives a racist, bigoted, Religious Right fundies who want to purge the country of a religious minority.

And, to me, that’s much worse. The reason it’s worse is because the view that we need to rid our country of Muslims or that Obama is some kind of Islamic caliphatist Manchurian candidate is on the lunatic fringe. Someone says something like that and they are instantly branded as a nut. The question was so nutty, in fact, that some conservatives are wondering if he was a plant or if the question was a joke.

But the view that conservatives are evil racists is mainstream. It is propounded every day by mainstream blogs, mainstream pundits, mainstream comedians, mainstream politicians. And it has a far more malefic effect on our politics. Conservative views and conservative politicians are ignored because everyone knows they’re racist. Objections to things like Dodd-Frank and Obamacare — objections proving increasingly well-founded — were ignored because everyone knew the Republicans just opposed these laws because they were filled with hate.

The most dangerous tendency in politics is to see your political opponents as The Other. To see them as fundamentally deformed and immoral, rather than people who have a different set of values or a different perspective.

Conservatives, including myself, are not immune from this, obviously. We’ve had six years of people trying to tar Obama as a communist or an America-hater or whatever. But again, there’s a difference. The mainstream media writes those views off as irrational and partisan. But the view that conservatives are mean-spirited racists is never regarded as irrational and partisan; it’s regarded as a revealed truth.

No one has a monopoly on rationality or intelligence. I haven’t seen a political figure yet who didn’t have a good point about something. But this incident has once again revealed that the Left and their MSM dogwashers do believe they have a monopoly on racial and religious tolerance. And that’s not just wrong, it’s dangerous. Far more dangerous some fruit loop in New Hampshire who thinks we can get rid of Muslims.

Another Shutdown?


Congress is running out of time to agree on a spending plan that keeps the government open, as Republican leaders attempt to defuse the threat of another shutdown – this one over Planned Parenthood.

Dozens of conservatives in the House and Senate have already pledged not to vote for a spending bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood. But both House speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have rejected such proposals, worried that moderate and independent voters may blame the Republican party for a government shutdown.

Ya think? Shutting down the government two years ago accomplished little but had some support from the public. Shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood will accomplish nothing and have almost no support (current polling shows 70-20 opposition).

This is entirely about Planned Parenthood. The parties are in agreement on the budget, which basically sustains the fiscal path that has cut the budget deficit by 70% over the last six years. Right now, the leadership are trying to schedule a separate vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Even if that passes, however, the President would veto it. And even if he didn’t, Planned Parenthood would almost certainly sue over it. Most of their government money come via Medicaid, for medical services they provide to poor women (this does not include abortion, for which funding is forbidden). So this would amount to singling them out among many providers for activities which, so far, are not illegal. Moreover, stripping this funding would not stop a single abortion, since Planned Parenthood’s abortion business is a separate revenue stream.

I have no idea where the Republican Party is headed right now. The two men leading the polls are Donald Trump and Ben Carson, neither of whom has any experience and neither of whom has shown much policy knowledge. Meanwhile, the campaign of several promising governors — Christie, Perry, Walker — are imploding. And now we’re talking about a government shutdown to stop an admittedly unpleasant abortion provider from … also providing health services and birth control. And while the GOP is flailing around like this, the Democrats are getting ready to put forward Hillary Clinton or, God help us, Bernie Sanders, as a Presidential candidate.

Give the culture cons their vote on Planned Parenthood. But once that fails, just pass the damn budget. It’s one thing to shut down over spiraling deficits. I didn’t support the shutdown over Obamacare but at least that was partially defensible. But this … this is just silliness. And with an election coming up, it could prove to be very costly silliness.

Seize the Legislature

I’ve made it clear many times: asset forfeiture is one of the most vile things our federal and state governments do. This is the process by which law enforcement seizes people’s money, homes, cars and other assets and … well, sometimes that’s it. Sometimes they charge them with a crime … eventually. Some states have tried to reign it in, but the Feds have created an “equitable sharing” program in which law enforcement can bypass state regulations by having a “joint investigation” with the Feds. They turn over the money to the Feds, who take a cut and then give the rest back. The wonderful Institute for Justice calls this “policing for profit”.

If this sounds like a criminal enterprise it should. Entire sections of highway have now become revenue streams for law enforcement. And I’ll give you three guesses as to the skin color of the people this happens to the most often.

Earlier this month, California tried to pull the plug on this literal highway robbery. Yesterday, that effort collapsed:

Yesterday, California Senate Bill 443 went down in flames in the state’s Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Holly Mitchell in the Senate and Republican David Hadley in the Assembly, would have reformed the state’s asset forfeiture regulations to require that police and prosecutors actually convict citizens of crimes before seizing ownership of their assets to spend on themselves.

Imagine that. Almost as if no one should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

The bill originally passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate earlier in the year, but then police and prosecutors got wind of it and began a campaign of fearmongering against it, telling legislators it would threaten budgets and would cut law enforcement out of the federal asset forfeiture sharing program. The law had been stripped down so that the state would be able to continue participating in the federal program, but even that wasn’t enough. It didn’t even get close to passing the Assembly.

Here’s my proposal. The citizens of California should seize the assets of every legislator who voted against this bill under suspicion of corruption. After all, this is the body that once included Leland Yee, who has now pled guilty to racketeering charges that involved bribery, gun-running and money laundering. Under the rules of engagement that the legislature is clearly comfortable with, any legislator with a lot of money should be presumed guilty, his assets seized and onus put on him to prove his innocence.

Hey, fair is fair, assholes. If you’re going to treat the common citizen like walking law enforcement piggy banks, it’s time you ponied up too.

Sexting Panic

Meet the latest victim of our hysteria over sexting:

In October of last year, during an unrelated investigation, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department seized the cell phone of a 17-year-old boy. He had a 17-year-old girlfriend. “While our investigators went through the phone they saw there were photos of himself and another person on the phone,” Sergeant Sean Swain told a local news outlet. “Simple possession having it on your cell phone is a charge itself, and if you should send it out to another person that is another charge.”

Now the boy faces five counts of “sexual exploitation of a minor” and the girl faces unspecified charges. Laws intended to protect kids are being used to prosecute them.

Had these images gone undiscovered they’d likely have done no harm at all to these young people. But thanks to the authorities, the boy has now had his photograph and name––which I am withholding but is easily found––published in the local newspaper and broadcast on television. He has been suspended from his high school football team. For months, he has had to deal with the intense anxiety stoked by facing charges of this sort and the prospect of life as a registered sex offender.

This is insane. And it’s not an isolated incident. About a year ago, I noted a case where the police wanted to force a kid to get an erection to confirm that some sext pics were his. In that incident, I said:

Look, I don’t want teens sending naked pictures of themselves around willy-nilly either. But the legal system is not designed for the subtleties of a parental chat. Once you call in the legal system, it deals with things the way it is designed to: with maximum firepower.

At the very least, we need to rewrite our laws to deal with this. It is insane and ridiculous to charge teens with kiddie porn for taking pictures of themselves. Teenagers have been taking naked pictures of themselves since the camera was invented. Hell, somewhere out there is probably a cave painting some prehistoric teenager made of his dick in an effort to impress a cute cavegirl.

I can’t say I’m surprised that we haven’t gotten anywhere on this. Violent crime has plunged in the last twenty years and it seems like the government’s response is to invent new crimes to keep the law enforcement industrial complex going. Witness prostitutes in Alaska being charged with sex trafficking … themselves. Now we have yet another teenager charged with exploiting … himself. Maybe they’ll tack on a molestation charge if he turns out to have masturbated.

Charges like this are usually justified by law enforcement as being necessary to teach kids that sexting has consequences. The Kafka-esque logic behind that is absurd: “we have to teach you that sexting can ruin your life by … ruining your life.” But there’s really no one fighting against this dangerous nonsense.

Last year, Hannah Rosin wrote a long form piece on sexting: why kids do it and how communities are responding. The upshot is that our laws are way behind the times. Many states don’t want to lessen the penalties for fear of being called soft on exploitation. And others have lessened the penalties but still regard sexting by minors as a criminal offense which can eventually be a felony. Rosin focuses on Donald Lowe, a sheriff dealing with a sexting scandal in Louisa County, Virginia, trying to navigate the law without ruining anyone’s life.

About a month into the investigation, Donald Lowe concluded that the wide phone-collection campaign had added up to one massive distraction. Yes, the girls who appeared on Instagram had done something technically illegal by sending naked photos of themselves. But charging them for that crime didn’t make any sense. “They thought they were doing it privately,” he told me, reaching much the same conclusion as Levick. “We’re not helping them at all by labeling them at an early age.” Lowe recalled to me a girl in his own high-school class who had developed a reputation as “the county slut, and it took her years and years to overcome that.” These girls didn’t need their names in the paper to boot.

The case Lowe was dealing with a little more complicated because some boys had put a bunch of sexts onto Instagram without the girls’ consent. But one problem he was up against was enormous community pressure to “do something” about … well, whatever people imagined was going on.

Law needs to change. That much is certain. But we need to change too. We need to stop reacting to stories like this by seeing the boys as predators or the girls as sluts. We need to stop seeing predators behind every blade of grass. We need to realize that teenagers are both stupid and horny and they are going to do stupid things like send naked pictures to each other. In short, we need to find the path that works so well with other vices: harm reduction. Educate teens about sexting (although they won’t listen). Work on ways to get pictures off of the internet and to punish genuine exploiters. But for goodness sake, don’t charge kids with child porn for sending each other naked pictures.

When To Defy The Law

Earlier this week, I blogged about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of an edict from the governor and a court order. Yesterday, she was jailed for Contempt of Court and her deputies began to issue the licenses.

Eugene Volokh has a great breakdown of the relevant law. Long story short, Davis may have a claim under Kentucky’s RFRA law, which allows the state to accommodate religious beliefs if the accommodation is not a burden:

Davis’s objection, it appears (see pp. 40 and 133 of her stay application and attachments), is not to issuing same-sex marriage licenses as such. Rather, she objects to issuing such licenses with her name on them, because she believes (rightly or wrongly) that having her name on them is an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Indeed, she says that she would be content with

Modifying the prescribed Kentucky marriage license form to remove the multiple references to Davis’ name, and thus to remove the personal nature of the authorization that Davis must provide on the current form.

Now this would be a cheap accommodation that, it seems to me, a state could quite easily provide. It’s true that state law requires the County Clerk’s name on the marriage license and the marriage certificate. But the point of RFRAs, such as the Kentucky RFRA, is precisely to provide religious objectors with exemptions even from such generally applicable laws, so long as the exemptions don’t necessarily and materially undermine a compelling government interest.

If that is indeed the case, it seems that this issue could be resolved relatively quickly. Davis, as far as I know, is mostly pursuing a federal claim which SCOTUS had rejected. Hence, the Contempt order.

I think it is entirely appropriate to charge her with Contempt. As I noted earlier, her choices were to issue the marriage licenses or resign. Religion is something that can be accommodated. It is not a shield with which to defy the law.

However … a second debate has emerged from this with conservatives arguing that liberals defy the law all the time without consequence and that Davis is being persecuted because her objections are religious rather than political. This rebuttal has focused on several examples:

Gavin Newsom, while mayor of San Francisco, had his clerks issue marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of state law. Is this the same as Davis? No, it isn’t. Newsom was not violating anyone’s civil rights by issuing the licenses. Moreover, it was a publicity stunt, one that paid off for Newsom with the Lieutenant Governor’s position. In the end, the marriages were annulled and Newsom stopped issuing the licenses. There was no defiance of a court order. That having been said, Newsom was in the wrong and had he defied the Court order, I would have supported a Contempt charge. Even if what Newsom was doing was an act of civil disobedience, civil disobedience includes the consequences of your actions.

Sanctuary Cities are another touted example, but this too fails. As Jonathan Adler points out, whatever one may think of sanctuary cities, they are not defying federal law:

The Constitution establishes that federal law is supreme. But it is also well-established that the federal government may not “commandeer” state and local governments to implement federal law. What this means is that the federal government is free to enforce federal law, including immigration law, whether state or local officials like it or not. At the same time the federal government cannot dictate that state and local officials enforce that law on the federal government’s behalf.

This was upheld by SCOTUS when the Court ruled that the Federal government could not force states to carry out firearms background checks on its behalf.

Attorneys general and governors who refused to defend anti-gay marriage amendments in Court have also come in for scrutiny. We’ve debated this in the comments before. As Doug Mataconis points out, it is perfectly acceptable for a governor or President to refuse to defend a law in Court if they believe it to be unconstitutional. In fact, numerous Presidents, including Republicans, have done so before. It would not be appropriate for an attorney general to do it on his own; they are supposed to follow the orders of the President or the governor. But it’s acceptable for an executive. If a new President is elected, there is no requirement for him to embrace the Constitutional theories of his predecessor.

Marijuana legalization has been cited with people saying that it is lawless for the federal government to not go after state marijuana dealers in Wyoming and Colorado (as well as other states with medical marijuana laws). I don’t see this as comparable either. First, the federal government has been going after legal pot dealers, as we’ve documented numerous times. Second, this goes down to prosecutorial discretion, in which federal prosecutors have been told to concentrate their resources on other crimes.

That having been said, I would be much happier about the situation if Congress passed a law to protect state-legalized marijuana shops and clinics.

D.C. clerks have reportedly been refusing to issue conceal carry permits in defiance of a judge’s order. I’m having trouble finding documentation of this claim. As far as I can tell, there is still an ongoing lawsuit over the matter. DC is a restrictive may-issue state, so there is no obligation of clerks to issue conceal carry permits. And it appears that while a judge ordered them to start issuing permits, that order was stayed. If, however, the District receives a Court order to start issuing and refuses to, that would be comparable to the Davis situation.

I’m eager to find examples of people refusing to carry out the law with impunity, but the examples touted so far are not convincing. I’m not seeing any evidence that Davis is being unfairly singled out.