Sunlight, we're told, is supposed to be a pretty good disinfectant. Certainly it never hurts to discuss the effects of public policy openly and clearly. Three stories in this issue of Reason clean out some shadowy corners in contemporary America.
"How to Fire an Incompetent Teacher" (page 50) offers an appalling guide to public school bureaucracy. Adapted from ABC News anchor John Stossel's eye-opening new book Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity, the piece presents a flow chart from hell. Or, more precisely, from New York City's school system, where hundreds of bad teachers are taken out of classrooms and placed in "rubber rooms [where] they read magazines, play cards, and chat, at a cost to New York taxpayers of $20 million a year." Even Terry Colon's humorous illustrations can't quite make this a laughing matter. As the chancellor of New York's public schools told Stossel, it took six years—and $350,000 in back pay—to get rid of a teacher who confessed to sending sexual e-mails to a 16-year-old student.
Radley Balko's meticulously reported exposé of "The Case of Cory Maye" (page 36) underscores how drug prohibition, racial distrust, and the increasing militarization of police departments (even in small towns) are having tragic consequences. Maye is sitting on death row in Mississippi after shooting and killing a police officer during a SWAT-style raid on his apartment. After writing about the case for months on his blog, theagitator.com, Balko traveled to the Magnolia State and came away with a terrifying tale of overzealous cops, courtroom blunders, and well-intentioned screw-ups that have resulted in what can only be called a miscarriage of justice. Now Mississippi officials seem set to compound the death of a well-respected police officer by executing a man who thought he was defending his baby daughter from invaders. This story vividly illustrates how the drug war is waged—and why that standard operating procedure needs to stop.
"Ova for Sale" (page 18) tells one woman's story of becoming part of a thriving fertility industry that refuses to forthrightly acknowledge that it is, in fact, an industry. "Donor #15" takes the reader into the clinics in which hopeful mothers and willing "donors" (who are paid as much as $10,000 for their eggs) buy and sell genetic material while insisting on the language of altruism and charity. "The result," writes Donor #15, who supports a fully open market, "is a bizarre juxtaposition of crass commerce and high rhetoric, of conceptions cooked up in a lab to fill a demand for natural childbirth and an industry selling illusion along with DNA."
The fertility industry talks the way it does partly to blunt attacks from neo-Luddite critics and partly to comply with reactionary legal restrictions placed on all sorts of biomedical technologies. Either way, the result makes us less able to have honest and open discussions of public policies that affect us all. And that's never a good thing.