Constitution Day

September 16, 2010

As tomorrow is the official “Constitution Day,” try to take the time to actually read the document here. Also, the National Constitution Center is another resource for all things Constitution.

On a related note, there is this recent news item on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer casting doubt on the extent to which the First Amendment protects the ability of people like the pastor in Florida to burn books. I may be blogging separately on that absurdity soon.


Post on Candidate’s Health-Care Views Fosters Lively Comment Thread

July 23, 2010

Over at the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) blog, my post from earlier in the week (posted here and on the YAL blog) on a Florida Attorney General candidate’s view that health care “should be” a right has fostered quite a long comment thread. Here are the comments.


Florida AG Candidate: Health Care ‘Should Be’ a Right

July 21, 2010

Nestled in an obscure Florida Attorney General candidates’ debate Friday was a fundamental disagreement over the nature of rights. The specific issue at hand was whether health care is a right.

Notably, one Democratic candidate, Dan Gelber, asserted the following on the matter:

Health care should be a right, not a privilege.

Note the verb “should be.” Gelber didn’t claim it “was” a right. Such phrasing seems to deny that rights are fundamental to all individuals (e.g.; “endowed by their Creator“) and not determined by the whims of popular opinion or government decree. He is suggesting, at least in his wording, that rights become rights after being acknowledged by government.

Florida AG candidate Dan Gelber

Government creation of rights is anathema to the framers’ understanding of rights. Rights, to them, were innate to being human. They were only to be protected by government, not dependent on government for their existence.

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Teacher Merit Pay in Florida: Were There Any Merits?

April 16, 2010

A recently vetoed bill in Florida that would have tied teacher pay to student test performance may have at first glance appeared to introduce something into the public education system that many have criticized it for lacking: an emphasis on results. However, the wisdom of such a significant change may not be so clear.

The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill that would base a large part of teacher pay on their students’ performance on standardized tests. It would also end tenure for new teachers. After much speculation, Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill Thursday.

In theory, such a move would have incentivized teachers to make sure their students are achieving academically. In reality, as with many government policies, there may also have been some unintended consequences.

Teachers and other opponents of the merit pay legislation protest in a walk from Lee Middle School to the CTA/OESPA office in Orlando on April 8, 2010. (JACOB LANGSTON, ORLANDO SENTINEL / April 8, 2010)

Since such merit pay would be based on improvement in standardized test scores, the degree to which these tests adequately reflect the knowledge that should be learned by students is of critical importance. Many in Florida have criticized the state’s chief standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), for not necessarily accurately assessing what students have learned. Critics, including teachers’ unions and students, have also argued that focus on such tests gives an incentive to teachers to teach solely to the test, de-emphasizing the students’ overall education. Under the merit-pay bill, the teachers’ pay would have been linked partly to their students’ improvement on the FCAT, further exacerbating the perceived problem with the emphasis placed on the much-maligned test.

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Hillsborough Web Site Gets Transparency Award

March 12, 2010

Kudos to the Web site for Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Schools for being among the 14 Web sites to obtain a perfect score on the Sunshine Review’s “Sunny Awards” — recognizing the most transparent government Web sites in the United States. Sunshine Review is a non-profit organization, and wiki, that reports on transparency in state and local government.

Also, consider this post a break from the cynical as we head into the weekend. At least one government department/agency is doing one thing right.


Sinkholes and Insurance

January 18, 2010

As a brief addendum to my previous post on the sinkhole problem in Plant City, Florida, I find it important to add one more note. Since posting the column, some have suggested that those property owners with property insurance would fare well under the circumstances. However, it’s important to point out that no matter who actually pays for the repairs, the money has to come from somewhere.

Insurance is a risk pool. When the risk is higher, the cost for the insurance is higher. Having multiple sinkholes in an area represents an increased risk. If the sinkhole repairs are paid by insurance companies, those companies would have to make up for that loss by possibly raising insurance premiums for areas at risk for these sinkholes.

In the end, there is no getting around the negative economic costs of the sinkholes. There is no free lunch.


Sinkholes and Optimism

January 16, 2010

Plant City, Florida and surrounding areas are sinking. Following the marathon of water-pumping in area fields, roads are being closed and property damaged. A rare cold snap combined with the need to protect the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World” from a season of damaged crops is to blame.

Some are pointing fingers at the farmers, others are not. Regardless of who’s to blame, the fact remains that the sinkholes developing across the area are a threat to people and their property. The cold weather is also a threat to the livelihoods of the area’s many growers. Good news is hard to come by right now.

photo: Chip Litherland for The New York TimesAmid this dilemma, however, some people – ever the optimists – have suggested that the proliferation of sinkholes will actually help the local economy. The same argument is often made when hurricanes ravage an area. In the recent sinkhole example, the argument goes something like this: The sinkholes will need to be filled and property will need to be repaired; the individuals and companies repairing the damage will benefit and then spend their earnings on other economic goods and services, thus creating a cycle of beneficial economic activity.

Economists, however, have referred to this reasoning as the “broken window fallacy.” In this example, the optimist may argue that there is a chain-reaction of beneficial economic activity that proceeds a vandal breaking a car window. The car owner will pay someone to repair the window. The window repairer will use some of that money to buy new shoes for his kids. The shoemaker will use the money from the window repairer to buy his wife a watch. The watchmaker will then spend the money from the shoemaker on something else … and on and on.

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