“No School Choice for You!”

If you're the kind of revolutionary, trailblazing, damn-all-conventions parent who wants your child to have--gasp!--a quality education, and you would like to have the ability to get your child into quality schools just like rich people do, then you don't have a friend in the Obama administration:

One of President Barack Obama’s conceits is that he is a pragmatist who seeks policies that work rather than pursuing a partisan agenda. On school choice, he doesn’t live up to the advertisement. His administration has been relentless in its ideological hostility to the idea, and seized on every possible pretext to express that hostility.

The White House considers any government funding for private or parochial education, even indirect funding, to be a betrayal of the public schools. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program -- which provides federally funded vouchers for poor kids in Washington to attend private schools -- seems to have had some positive results, including higher high-school graduation rates for participants. Yet the Obama administration, not generally known for its tightfistedness, has repeatedly tried to end funding for it.

This position was terribly misguided, but it was at least open and transparent. Twice this year, the White House has gone after local school-choice programs -- which involve no federal funding -- in a more underhanded way.

In April, the Justice Department announced that private schools that participate in a choice program in Milwaukee will be subject to new regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will be treated as though they were government contractors. Never mind that the schools have contracts with parents, not with the government that aids the parents. Never mind, either, that in the program’s 22 years of operation no complaint about the treatment of a disabled student has ever been filed. A five-year study of the program found that being disabled had no bearing on a student’s likelihood of getting into a participating school.

The decision will nonetheless raise costs for the private schools. It will also make them think twice about participating, both because they want to avoid those costs and because they don’t want to compromise their independence.

Read on for a discussion of the administration's decision to sue Bobby Jindal's school choice program in Louisiana, which has been covered here. It is perhaps trite to recycle that old line about education being the focus of the civil rights struggle of our time, but just because the line may be trite doesn't mean that it isn't true. It's bad enough that the Obama administration won't promote school choice in DC. It is even worse that--as Ramesh Ponnuru notes--it is trying to suffocate school choice efforts in states and localities around the country, and that it is on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle as a consequence.

Now Under Attack: School Choice in Louisiana

I am one of those radical revolutionaries who believes that education is the great civil rights struggle of our time, and that as part and parcel of that struggle, parents who don't like the public schools where their kids are going ought to have the right to take their kids out of a failing public school and use vouchers to exercise school choice--including patronizing private and religious schools where kids can receive better educations.

I believe this strongly enough that if I were re-drafting the Constitution, I would make school choice--along with economic liberty--part of the Bill of Rights. I am glad to see that Bobby Jindal, one of my favorite governors, has decided to make school choice a priority in Louisiana.

Too bad that the Department of Justice has decided that it has nothing better to do than to sue to stop the school choice program. Note that "[a]lmost all the students using vouchers are black," which means that the Justice Department's actions will disadvantage minority students by a tremendously disproportionate amount. Should the Justice Department's suit succeed and should those students once again have to contend with failing schools, they will have Eric Holder to thank for their plight.

The Justice Department Is Fudging Statistics

Jonathan Weil calls Eric Holder out on the practice:

The Justice Department made a long-overdue disclosure late Friday: Last year when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder boasted about the successes that a high-profile task force racked up pursuing mortgage fraud, the numbers he trumpeted were grossly overstated.

We're not talking small differences here. Originally the Justice Department said 530 people were charged criminally as part of a year-long initiative by the multi-agency Mortgage Fraud Working Group. It now says the actual figure was 107 -- or 80 percent less. Holder originally said the defendants had victimized more than 73,000 American homeowners. That number was revised to 17,185, while estimates of homeowner losses associated with the frauds dropped to $95 million from $1 billion.

The government restated the statistics because it got caught red-handed by a couple of nosy reporters. Last October, two days after Holder first publicized the numbers, Phil Mattingly and Tom Schoenberg of Bloomberg News broke the story that some of the cases included in the Justice Department's tally occurred before the initiative began in October 2011. At least one was filed more than two years before President Barack Obama took office.

After their initial story, I asked a Justice Department spokeswoman, Adora Andy, several times over the course of a month for a list of the people charged and their case details so I could look them up myself. She promised repeatedly to provide one, until she finally stopped responding to my requests.

Her e-mails to me were priceless. On Oct. 19, Andy said: “We’ll have a list to you -- it will take some time to pull it together.” On Oct. 26, she said: “You will get a list,” explaining that “this is a labor-intensive process.” On Nov. 5, she said: “It looks like we should have the list to you by the end of the week if not sooner.” On Nov. 13: “Hold tight. Finalizing things on this end. Should have something to you tonight.” Again, no list. “I assure you I’m working as hard as I can to get this to you along with the lead agency on this matter, FBI,” she said later that same day. “It’s just very laborious with so much going on and so little staff.”

My column about the Justice Department's refusal to come clean ran a few days later last fall. And it seems obvious now why I wasn't given the list. The government would have been handing me the proof that the numbers it was touting were wrong.

I recognize that the attorney general doesn't like it when he and his department are made the subjects of congressional hearings, but alas, congressional hearings need to be held yet again. And however much Eric Holder may resent having to explain why the Justice Department inflated statistics regarding the work of its mortgage fraud task force, Congress should not relent until a full explanation is given.

Oh, and incidentally, perhaps it is high time that President Obama ask Eric Holder to go spend more time with his family.

Accountability Has Become Such an Antiquated Concept

Gene Healy  on the president who is never there:

"Hey, don't look at me -- I'm just the president!" That's the common thread in President Obama's response to his recent scandal eruptions, from IRS harassment of Tea Partiers to his Justice Department's spying on AP reporters. Like everybody else, Obama learns about these things via cable news, according to press secretary Jay Carney.

Obama's flight from responsibility punctured the stratosphere in his recent speech on "the Future of Our Fight against Terrorism" at the National Defense University in D.C. In the speech Obama seemed to position himself as the loyal opposition to his own administration.

He worried that "perpetual war ... will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways." Look at the current situation at Guantanamo Bay, Citizen Obama chided, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike ... Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?" Obama pronounced himself "troubled" by the proliferation of drone strikes in an ever-expanding war and "the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."

All valid concerns, compassionately expressed. So how can we get this guy into the room when the big decisions are being made?

Mitt Romney may have had his faults as a candidate. No, check that; Mitt Romney most certainly had his faults as a candidate. But I have a hard time believing that he would have been as disengaged a president as the guy we actually re-elected in November of last year has turned out to be.

 

Scandal Watch (The Saga that Won't End)

The latest:

  • The IRS targeting of conservative groups is only a "so-called scandal" in the eyes of some, who coincidentally, probably don't like conservatives all that much. Equally coincidental, I am sure, those calling the IRS scandal a "so-called scandal" are members of the media, which we are repeatedly assured is never ideologically biased and treats both sides of the partisan divide fairly and honorably.
  • Rich Lowry points out that the IRS scandal--which really is much more than a "so-called scandal"--"is a scandal of administrators and bureaucrats, of otherwise faceless people endowed with immense power over their fellow citizens and running free of serious oversight from elected officials." Which makes you feel good about all of the legislation passed that puts more power in these people's hands, right?
  • Eric Holder is in trouble, as he is facing possible perjury allegations regarding his comments on the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. He has responded to the allegations by inviting media outlets to a discussion with him on how the issue could have been better handled, and what can be done in the future to conduct leak investigations without shredding the First Amendment. Here's the catch: the discussion with the media outlets was supposed to be off the record. So presumably, Holder would discuss better ways to conduct leak investigations and media outlets could not tell the public--the same public that may actually be concerned about the shredding of the First Amendment--anything about his comments. To their credit, a host of media outlets refused to meet with Holder under these conditions. Oh, and the attorney general is “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” over how the leak investigation was handled, which is nice to know. Too bad he refuses to let the public find out how his "creeping sense of personal remorse" will translate into a change in policy at the Justice Department.

Scandal Watch (A Continuing Series)

So, let's review the latest:

  • Concerning the IRS scandal, we learn that Lois Lerner was "directly involved" in the targeting of conservative groups. This included signing letters that contained "a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate."
  • Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4), which means that it is supposed to act in a non-partisan capacity when engaging in advocacy. So naturally, the president of the United States--who is anything but non-partisan--has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Organizing for Action, which includes a request to register at this site, which as you will note, contains the name of the non-non-partisan president of the United States in its URL. As of two weeks ago, Organizing for Action has not yet applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they do, they will encounter no problems whatsoever with their application. To be sure, the IRS won't want to cause yet another scandal by giving yet another prominent 501(c)(4) applicant a hard time, but the point is that plenty of equivalent conservative groups have had to encounter a hard time at the hands of the IRS, while liberal groups have gotten nothing but the kindest cooperation.
  • I am pleased to note that Jonathan Turley has decided to continue to eat his Wheaties:
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration's sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder's leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Like dumber follows dumb, the scandal of politicized IRS tax enforcement has been followed by calls for a "special prosecutor." Republicans are predictably leading this call against a Democratic Administration, but this is one case in which the GOP should hope it doesn't get its way.

The case for a special counsel is that Attorney General Eric Holder can't be trusted to investigate his Administration, and that the Administration will stonewall Congress. We don't trust Mr. Holder either, but letting him pass the buck to a special prosecutor is doing him a favor. This scandal is best handled in Congressional hearings that educate the public in the next year rather than wait two or three years for potential indictments.

In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if American journalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:

What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?

What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?

What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?

What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?

These are not hypothetical questions—and yet there is an entire class of journalist so invested in a certain moral and ethical image of the president its members are unable to entertain facts that might tarnish that image. They are the pro-Obama equivalent of Birthers, never letting emerging facts cloud the conclusion they’ve already committed to hold.

The same journalists who did not hesitate to assume the worst of previous Republican administrations—
E.J. Dionne, Walter Pincus, Jack Shafer, to name a few—are now tying themselves in knots trying to explain that there is nothing to see when the IRS probes Obama’s enemies or that the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of one of their peers and his mother was really a good thing. One has to wonder if it were their mother and her records, how that mother-son conversation would play out.

“Well, Mom, you know, the president has to do these things, and I’ve told you time and again not to email Aunt Sally about my sources. Is that any way to keep hope alive?”

Stevens was Mitt Romney's chief strategist in the 2012 presidential election. If he strategized as tough as he wrote this column, we might now have a new president.

The Washington Post Editorial Board Eats Its Wheaties

And comments powerfully on the case of James Rosen:

A FREE press in a democracy demands a delicate balance. The First Amendment means the media must have the right to inquire without hindrance. The government has a legitimate interest in keeping some national security information secret. When these come into conflict, the balance often has been struck this way: The media are free to pursue secrets, but it is up to those in government to keep them. When the media come into possession of information that, if disclosed, could be damaging, the government can plead the case for secrecy — and the media generally are open to persuasion.

Up to now, there have been no prosecutions of reporters under the 
1917 Espionage Act, a reflection of this balance in action.

The balance has been upset by an affidavit filed by the FBI in a criminal investigation into a national security leak. Special Agent Reginald B. Reyes asked a court to grant a search warrant for the e-mails of a reporter, James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent of Fox News, on grounds that 
Mr. Rosen is a “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor” of the leak of classified information. The target of the criminal probe is Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who in 2009, when the leak occurred, was a State Department arms expert with a security clearance. The leak concerned intelligence information about North Korea.

What did the journalist do to become a potential criminal co-conspirator? According to the FBI agent, he “asked, solicited and encouraged” his source to disclose sensitive information. The reporter did this “by employing flattery” and playing to the “vanity and ego” of Mr. Kim. In other words, the journalist was doing what reporters do. Unfortunately, a judge signed off on this flimsy search warrant.

So did the attorney general of the United States.

Eric Holder: No Friend of Reporters

We now know that the attorney general of the United States signed off on a search warrant for the private e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen:

Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.

"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable," Obama said. "Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs."

Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails after an FBI agent said he had "asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information."

Obama's comments follow a firestorm of criticism that has erupted over disclosures that in separate investigations of leaks of classified information, the Justice Department had obtained private emails that Rosen exchanged with a source and the phone records of Associated Press reporters.  

This all leads to a natural and obvious question: If "[j]ournalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," then why does the attorney general still have his job?

Lest We Forget . . .

There is another scandal that is hobbling the Obama administration. And it has even stirred the New York Times editorial board to outrage:

With the decision to label a Fox News television reporter a possible “co-conspirator” in a criminal investigation of a news leak, the Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.

The 
latest reported episode involves James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News. In 2009, Mr. Rosen reported on FoxNews.com that North Korea planned to launch a missile in response to the condemnation of its nuclear tests by the United Nations Security Council. The Justice Department investigated the source of the article and later indicted Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department security adviser, on charges of leaking classified information. Mr. Kim pleaded not guilty.

Normally, the inquiry would have ended with Mr. Kim — leak investigations usually focus on the source, not the reporter. But, in this case, federal prosecutors also asked a federal judge for permission to examine Mr. Rosen’s personal e-mails, arguing that “there is probable cause to believe” Mr. Rosen is “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak.

An affidavit filed with the judge made it clear that Mr. Rosen’s comings and goings at the State Department were carefully monitored. It said further that he tried to elicit information by “employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.” That would hardly be a first in the relationship between journalists and government officials, and, certainly, it is not grounds for a conspiracy charge. Though Mr. Rosen was not charged, the F.B.I. request for his e-mail account was granted secretly in late May 2010. The government was allowed to rummage through Mr. Rosen’s e-mails for at least 30 days. (The New Yorker
 reported Tuesday that Justice Department officials also seized phone records associated with White House staffers and Fox News as part of the Kim case.)

Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of Fox News, said on Monday that it was “downright chilling” that Mr. Rosen “was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter.” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the 
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, added on Tuesday that treating “routine news-gathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press.”

The Justice Department has gone so far as to seize the phone records of Rosen's parents. Because, of course, they were in on the conspiracy. Or something.