Sunday, March 1, 2009

WaPo: Ending D.C. school vouchers would dash the best hopes of hundreds of children

'Potential' Disruption? WaPo Editorial
Ending D.C. school vouchers would dash the best hopes of hundreds of children.
WaPo, Monday, March 2, 2009; Page A16

REP. DAVID R. Obey (Wis.) and other congressional Democrats should spare us their phony concern about the children participating in the District's school voucher program. If they cared for the future of these students, they wouldn't be so quick as to try to kill the program that affords low-income, minority children a chance at a better education. Their refusal to even give the program a fair hearing makes it critical that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) seek help from voucher supporters in the Senate and, if need be, President Obama.

Last week, the Democrat-controlled House passed a spending bill that spells the end, after the 2009-10 school year, of the federally funded program that enables poor students to attend private schools with scholarships of up to $7,500. A statement signed by Mr. Obey as Appropriations Committee chairman that accompanied the $410 billion spending package directs D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to "promptly take steps to minimize potential disruption and ensure smooth transition" for students forced back into the public schools.

We would like Mr. Obey and his colleagues to talk about possible "disruption" with Deborah Parker, mother of two children who attend Sidwell Friends School because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. "The mere thought of returning to public school frightens me," Ms. Parker told us as she related the opportunities -- such as a trip to China for her son -- made possible by the program. Tell her, as critics claim, that vouchers don't work, and she'll list her children's improved test scores, feeling of safety and improved motivation.

But the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn't about facts. It's about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program? Why wouldn't Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?

This week, the Senate takes up the omnibus spending bill, and we hope that, with the help of supporters such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the program gets the reprieve it deserves. If it doesn't, someone needs to tell Ms. Parker why a bunch of elected officials who can send their children to any school they choose are taking that option from her.

Conservative views: The Dangerous Allure of Arms Control

The Dangerous Allure of Arms Control. By John R. Bolton
Washington Times, February 27, 2009

The Ringwraiths of arms control are again with us, returned from well-deserved obscurity, and back in the saddle in Washington. Through public statements and private preparations the Obama administration is signaling clearly that its approach to Russia will center on Cold War-era arms control precepts and objectives.

Although the Washington-Moscow relationship has, at Moscow's behest, become increasingly contentious and unpleasant, arms control is an odd and backward-looking way to try to improve relations and ameliorate Russia's objectionable international conduct. A long Cold War history demonstrates that arms control tends to make the relationship even more adversarial than it needs to be, concentrates attention on peripheral issues, and fails to deliver the security that supposedly is its central objective.

The Obama arms control agenda reflects the longstanding, attractive and woefully simplistic notion that ever-lower numbers of Russian and American nuclear weapons will create a more stable strategic relationship, diminishing the threat of nuclear war. Arms controllers, relying on this superficial analysis for decades, argued that reducing weapons levels would not harm U.S. security because nuclear war was so destructive it was simply unthinkable, a concept known as "automatic deterrence." Later, they adopted a slightly more nuanced position, acknowledging the need for a small nuclear force that could survive a first strike, thus providing a "second strike" capability. These flawed theories are back from the dead.

Accordingly, we now see suggestions for U.S. weapons levels that have more to do with numerology than national security. Moreover, the Obama approach appears to ignore the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, which represented a substantial change in managing strategic relations between America and Russia, a change also reflected in U.S. development of strategic missile defense capabilities. Ironically, the treaty actually reflected the reduced role of nuclear weapons in American strategy and enhanced roles for long-range, precision-guided conventional weapons that the Obama administration now risks reversing by returning to the arms-control approach of the SALT (strategic arms limitations) and START (strategic arms reduction) models.

What should we do instead, and on what should Congress insist before the negotiations proceed beyond the point of no return?

First, we must understand that agreed-upon levels of nuclear weapons address only the most visible areas of military competition, not others that actually may be more important. This has been a central fallacy of arms control since the post-World War I naval arms negotiations, ignoring as it does wide and important variances between the United States and Russia, such as weapons production capabilities, levels of tactical nuclear weapons, intelligence assets, and total national economic strength.

Moreover, U.S. nuclear capabilities provide a deterrence umbrella for its allied countries, whereas Russia plays no such positive role.

Thus, the two countries are simply not "symmetrical," but treaties with specific warhead limits gave the illusion they are.

Second, the United States should decide what levels of nuclear forces we actually need, and make that our objective, not pursuing an arbitrary number and then trying to find national security justification for it. The latter approach is not only dangerous but opens us to manipulation by our negotiating adversaries, since under this approach one number has no greater intrinsic security value than another.

This is especially true when we understand that no current or prior arms control treaty has ever actually required destruction of existing warheads, nor do we have any known verification methodology that could actually demonstrate compliance even if we could reach agreement on warhead destruction as an objective.

Third, how we "count" nuclear capabilities is important. This is not a merely technical issue, but carries profound implications for both our nuclear and conventional capabilities. Under START counting rules, weapons levels were imputed based on the capabilities of delivery systems, rather than actual warhead levels. Thus, for example, each Soviet SS-18, capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads was imputed to do so no matter how many were actually under the nosecones.

Counting actual numbers is far more accurate. In the Treaty of Moscow, we did so by counting only operationally deployed strategic warheads rather than using imputed levels derived from artificial counting rules. Not only was this more accurate, it freed up large numbers of delivery systems for conventional warheads, making them more useful against the non-nuclear threats we increasingly face.

Abandoning Treaty of Moscow concepts and retreating to the START approach would severely impede U.S. conventional capabilities well into the future without in any way improving the U.S. strategic nuclear posture.

Arms control is one area where there will be substantial "change" between the Bush and Obama administrations, one fraught with considerable risks, especially if future negotiations embrace, as Russia wants, missile defense and space-based capabilities.

The real arms control debate is not between those relaxed about nuclear war and those seeking to avoid it, but between those who approach the problem realistically and empirically, and those who approach it as a matter of dogma. Unfortunately, the Ringwraiths now have the upper hand.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.