Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Duty, Honor, Country, Service

This is an excellent article on what it means to be a military family and the mindset of many in the military and their families.

Mine is a military family through and through. May father served in the Navy, as did I. His father and uncles served in the military during World War II. My brother (the rebel in the family) currently serves in the Army in Iraq. My sister is married to a Marine Corps Aviator. In short service is our family tradition, one I hope my children will perform one day. But when it comes to talking to people who did not grow up with the service tradition, it is very difficult to explain what one must do in such a family.

For roughly 35% of my childhood, my father was on deployment somewhere. My brother is on his second tour in Iraq with about six months to go there, meaning he is away from his family. Having been single while in the Navy, I did not subject a wife to my absences. But since my wife did not come from such a background (despite her grandfather's service in the Army Air Corps in World War II), I have long had a difficult time expressing to her what it means to be in the service.

For those who stay in and for those families who have a long tradition of service, here is how I explain their sacrifice. These people and families have put something ahead of their personal wants or desires. Whether they serve one enlistment or make it a career, members of the military have placed the needs of their country before their own selfish desires. I am not denouncing those who chose not to serve for being selfish, but it takes a special kind of person to be able to say, "I will relinquish much of my freedom and perhaps even life and limb, to ensure the safety of my loved ones." That is what service means, that you will place your country and community ahead of your own needs.

If one views loyalty in terms of a heirarhcy, with loyalty to self and family at the bottom. The highest level of loyalty and duty is to those who you do not know, will not know and cannot know as anything as other than an abstraction, i.e. my countrymen. It is easy to be loyal to spouse, parents, siblings and children. It is marginally more difficult to be loyal to friends. Loyalty and the desire to protect your community is a big step on the pyramid, but may be somewhat understandable since you see those people everyday and they are often like you. But loyalty to and a desire to protect those whom you do not know, your country is extremely difficult. Often this protection extends to people whose words and ideas make your blood boil with anger. But a realization that they too are deserving of protection takes an understanding and love of country deeper than many Americans are capable of entertaining.

If this diatribe conveys the thought that I believe military families are in some respect morally superior to others, then you may be right. I do believe that military families make sacrifices in the name of country that most people cannot fathom. So the next time you feel inclined to question what loyalty and service means, think about the military family because they do all they do without the promise of something better, with no tangible benefit and the risk of the deepest sacrifice possible--to die in the service of one's country.

The Perspective of a Miliary Family

As Senate Returns to Angry �Normal,� What Will Get Done?

In a column by Morton Krondake in Roll Call, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) decried the lack of comity in the Senate as well as the lack of opportunity for true problems solving among Senators of different parties.

The unfortunate reality is, he said, “there’s almost no opportunity for that. The only times we have regular bipartisan gatherings is at prayer breakfasts on Wednesdays and Thursdays and on CODELs,” the Congressional delegations that make foreign inspection trips. “The rest of the time, you’re in team meetings or policy lunches. You never have time to swap ideas with anyone on the other team,” Alexander added.

As I have mentioned, the current climate of intense partisanship is the result of a number of factors, but the fact that most Senators and Representatives spend far too little time in the company of their colleagues reduces the level of comity and reduces the opportunity for informal debate, away from the cameras of CSPAN that lead to bipartisan solutions. It may take a drastic restructuring of political thought or perhaps the bill (H.R. 2642) of Congressman John Tanner (who is seeking to change the way Congressional districts are drawn to reduce the overwhelming number of safe seats in Congress) to change the way in which politics operates in Washington.

Sen. Alexander--No Hope for Senate Comity

Remaps Revisited

Here is a Roll Call editorial on Congressional remapping. The bill by Rep. Tanner is remarkably simple on its face. The law provides for a tie-breaking type of redistricting commission that must make districting decisions based purely on population numbers and on geographic considerations. While compactness and contiguity of districts is required, the law prohibits the use of voting history, partisan ID and other political factors in districting decisions.

The law is based largely on the experience and knowledge from the Iowa and Arizona redistricting commissions.

I would argue that the law should include a provision that where practicable, the districting commission should make districting decisions that favor competitive races over those whose population make up would lean toward non-competitive races. But other than that, we have a pretty good bill.

Of course, the problem with the bill is that most members of Congress are interested in getting re-elected and the current scheme all but guarantees that. Perhaps in conjunction with my campaign finance proposal, we could get truly competitive elections in Congress.

Remaps Revisited

Merit Scholarships--Purchasing Students?

Does the dissemination of merit scholarships equate to the purchasing of high quality students in order to increase a college's standing in the U.S. News & World Report rankings? According to former Major League Baseball Commissioner and multiple college Board of Trustees member Fay Vincent, the answer is yes--and it is ruining educational equality in America. Vincent was the recipient of a need-based scholarship for his collegiate education. But today, far too many schools are awarding a significant percentage of scholarship money strictly on merit, with no preference given or even considered for those who may need the aid--in essence schools are subsidizing the rich in order to obtain an increase in prestige that may be short-lived.

Over the last few decades, an increasing number [of colleges and universities] have been offering significant aid based only on merit, without regard to a family's resources. In pursuit of class averages that will support a strong national ranking, these schools are essentially buying better students...As a trustee at several institutions of higher education, I watched this development with dismay. To my mind, merit-based aid betrays the original goal of helping worthy but disadvantaged students; it spends donors' money in a way they may not intend, and it invests college resources in short-term promotional advantage instead of lasting improvements of substance.

Vincent is calling them like he sees them and he is probably right. Now, as a fundamental matter, I have not objection to merit scholarships. I think students should be rewarded by a school they will attend for their hard work. But Vincent argues that those with means are doubly advantaged in the race for merit scholarships.

The original goal of financial aid was to level the playing field for students with the ability but not the means to pursue higher education. But the very board scores that help to trigger today's merit awards are partly generated by income. So the high-income student is twice privileged -- once in affording the better schools or special tutoring that help get the high scores, and then in getting a financial award.

Vincent goes on to decry the market approach taken by most colleges due to the U.S. News rankings. Because schools are intent on maintaining a ranking in a survey most label and trivial and misleading, schools will do their best to improve the stats of their incoming class. Thus students with need who are more average than rich kids with high academic credentials are often passed over in order to pad the schools selectivity score or academic rigor scores, thus becoming more appealing. But building a better student body is, according to Vincent, a poor way to improve the school. Vincent argues that they best method is to build a better faculty and perhaps facility.

Vincent concludes: I am troubled by the use of financial inducements to sway a student's decision. In contrast, there is something noble about giving money to talented young people who could not pursue their education without it. I know what that gift can accomplish, and I am grateful. I wonder how grateful the recipients of merit aid will be.

I wonder too.

I also wonder if there is a better way to merit scholarships. To be sure, the use of merit scholarships to students whose family has ample resources for tuition seems to be a waste of funds. What is particularly galling is that in some cases, that merit scholarship is truly a waste of money. Regardless of their academic preparation in high school, a given percentage of students cannot replicate their high school success in college. Whether the self-discipline is lacking or the environment is too full of temptation, some students on merti scholarship waste the money by doing poorly.

I suggest that all merit scholarships awarded by any college or university be based on academic work in college. Thus, no merit scholarship is awarded without at least one year of college work. Thus, funds will not be wasted one students unable to perform in a collegiate atmosphere. Similarly, such a program will free up funds for need-based aid for the incoming class.

Just a thought.

No Merit in These Scholarships


I have been remiss in not posting for the past several days, but I GRADUATED from Law School on Saturday!!!

With family in town and so much to do, I have not had the opportunity to opine on many of the goings on over the past weekend. So here is a brief summary and my reactions:

The French fail to ratify the European Constitution--big deal. It just goes to show how obstructionist the French can be.

Pentagon Admits Koran scandal (sort of)--I think we are in for a great big "told you so" from Newsweek and the Mainstream Media--oh, boy, I can't wait.

Memorial Day--I can't say enough, but I salute all those who have served, who currently serve and all my shipmates, alive or dead. Thank you for allowing me to shoot my mouth off in this forum and for everything else you have protected.

Danica Patrick and the Indianapolis 500. Well done. As for the drivers who complained about her lower weight, no one ever said the Indy drivers couldn't be small. A great race all around.

I know other things happened, but when your weekend is packed with family and friends, the warmth that surrounds you in their presence, makes everything else seem irrelevant. I missed my brother and my brother-in-law over the weekend, but their service in Iraq will not be forgotten by me.

More stuff to come.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Politics - Dog-ear clipping survives - sacbee.com

I am beginning to wonder if the people of California are getting the best value for their money from the Legislature. In yet another example of rediculous legislation, the California legislature was actually considering a ban on clipping dog ears. Fortuneately saner heads prevailed and the bill died, but the fact that such a bill was even introduced and more incredibly considered in some depth astounds me.

California has enough problems that the legislature should be addressing than this, despite arguments from PETA and other animal "rights" groups that this legislation is necessary.

Politics - Dog-ear clipping survives - sacbee.com

Idiots...with Self-Esteem

From Joanne Jacobs:

Right, Wrong ... What's the Dif?

As this post points out, the extreme self-esteem coddling nature of the millenium generation may be leading us down the road to ingnorance. The author points to the damage being done to kids who think that viewing things from a different point of view necessarily leads to better education. On many occaisions there is one correct answer. No matter how much you try, 2+2 does not equal 22.

WSJ on the Filibuster Deal

And I thought the deal was a bunch of crap, the Wall Street Journal lets fly with this Seante Charade. The WSJ makes a couple of important points.

First, because the Constitution grants the President the power to appoint justices and judges and gives the Senate the power of Advice and Consent, but the "President is granted the power to nominate judges under the Constitution because he is the only official elected by the entire nation. He shouldn't cede that authority to 14 Senators in desperate search of political cover." The fact is that these 14 Senators (whose motivations I have discussed here and there) hope to be the kingmakers for any Supreme Court nominee surely to come in the next couple of years, if not this summer. But "[t]o vet his [Bush's] nominees with this Gang of 14 is a virtual guarantee of judicial mediocrity--of a lowest-common-denominator choice or a philosophic cipher."

It strikes me as odd that this gang of 14 have agreed to filibuster only in extreme circumstances. But what does that mean? Here is one example, which is quite funny, but demonstrative of the subjective nature of extreme. For example, having been a Maryland graduate, I would find anyone who attended Duke Law School to be an extreme choice, if only because they went to Duke.

But if President Bush nominates a true conservative, what then. As WSJ points out, such a move all but guarantees:

liberal interest groups will now be obliged to manufacture the very "extraordinary circumstances" that would give Democrats among the Gang of 14 an excuse to filibuster. Thus they will have even greater incentive than before to dig through a nominee's personal and professional life for any mud they can throw against him. In the name of consensus and comity, in short, these 14 "moderates" have increased the chances that the Senate will witness a future, bloody Borking.

Of course, the WSJ fails to point out that while 7 Democrats signed the agreement, the GOP would have to get 5 of them to vote on a cloture motion, six if GOP moderate Lincoln Chafee croses party lines. Getting five of these Senators to agree to cross their party line to bring cloture is an uphill battle, because one only need to invent some extreme circumstance to justify a filibuster.

This summer could be a lot of fun!!!

Constitution Day

I generally have no basis for agreeing with Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) on much of anything, but the man does believe in educating people about the Constitution. In fact, Byrd carries a copy of the Constitution with him at all times. (Full Geek Disclosure: I keep a copy in my briefcase as well).

Most Americans couch their understanding of the government in the belief in their "rights," including some rights that don't exist, but that is another matter. While many Americans claim to "know their rights," most couldn't point to any provision in the Constitution that gives them those rights. Because of hte failing nature of civic edcuation, Byrd included an amendment in an appropriations bill last year (a poor method for legislating, but again the topic of another post) that required all schools (colleges included) to teach the topic of the Constitution on Sept 17 of each year. Since most people can't tell you when the Constitution was adopted, it was on Sept. 17, 1787.

Even some of the most educated Americans show an alarming lack of knowledge of the basic operation and structure of the American government, failing to realize that such ignorance costs them money and time. I for one am glad that such an educational effort will be made.

For one day, schools must teach the same topic

Reworking Romance Novel Cover Art

For a good laugh. Courtesy of Matthew Homann at the [non]billable hour.

Longmire does Romance Novels

I know that I some times read fiction whose value may be questioned by many, including my wife, but I have never gotten romance novels. I think they create fantasies that are impossible to fulfill. Perhaps the reason I don't get them is because in order to understand romance novels, you can't have a Y-Chromosome.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More Teachers' Union Activity Against Education

In the past, I have said and linked to many posts about my issues with teachers' unions. Here is yet another example of teachers unions who won't support a bill in Colorado that would provide nearly two thrids of all education spending to the classroom.

Aside from the difficulty of saying what is and is not classroom money, the Colorado Education Association opposes the idea because they want support staff to be included in the spending. More likely, the CEA didn't come up with the idea and therefore can't support it. Similarly, the idea came from a Republican state Senator and my goodness, the teachers' union can't be seen supporting a Republican--even one with good ideas.

Colorado Teachers Unions Oppose More Money in Classrooms--sort of

Carnival of Education

Check out this week's Carnival of Education. Great stuff from great writers on all aspects of education.

CNN.com - U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review state's abortion law - May 23, 2005

As if the confirmation hearings for a new justice weren't going to be difficult enough. The nice thing about this case is that because it is pending, no potential justice is going to answer a question about abortion--which they shouldn't, but political points will be scored.

Having taken the case for review, I wonder if the Justices were anticipating a retirnement and wanted to spare their future colleague the pain of abortion litmus test questions by agreeing to take a case. HHMMM?

CNN.com - U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review state's abortion law - May 23, 2005

Social Class and Education

Below is the link to the New York Times lengthy article on socio-economic class, higher education and the new class of college-dropouts that seems to be increasing.

The report seems to offer few suggestions for improvement, beyond the efforts being undertaken by a few colleges, such as the University of Virginia. In fact the report specifically says:

Why so many low-income students fall from the college ranks is a question without a simple answer. Many high schools do a poor job of preparing teenagers for college. Many of the colleges where lower-income students tend to enroll have limited resources and offer a narrow range of majors, leaving some students disenchanted and unwilling to continue.

Then there is the cost. Tuition bills scare some students from even applying and leave others with years of debt. To Mr. Blevins, like many other students of limited means, every week of going to classes seemed like another week of losing money - money that might have been made at a job.

Schools cost money, to be sure, an for most low income students finances are a significant hurdle, but with the availability of need-based and merit-based scholarship funds, not to mention no collateral needed student loans, funding is not the issue. Nor do I think motivation is necessarily an issue. The article talks about a brother and sister, one of whom is a college dropout and the other with a Ph.D. A motivated student will overcome most obstacles.

No, I think the issue is related more to the sentence buried in the first paragraph quoted above, "Many high schools do a poor job of preparing teenagers for college. " Now the obvious statement would be that high schools do a poor job of preparing kids academically, and that is true to a certain extent. But the lack of preparation extends much deeper than that, the lack of prepartion comes in the form of students being ill-prepared for the differing nature of college life.

First, the differing demands of a college versus a high school are drastically different. In high school, students meet in the class every day. They see their teachers every day and there is an expectation of performance. The course material is spread out over an academic year and to be honest, bright students need to do little preparation for class. On the other hand, college course meet two or three times a week or at best four times a week in some cases. The course material that would be taught in a full academic year in high school is compressed into a 16-17 week semester and failure to prepare for class puts you even further behind.

Then there are the expectations of the instructors. In high school, you are required to attend, failure to do so carries consequences and penalities. The teachers and administration take pains to inform parents about the absences or delinquencies of students. In short, someone always cares. In college they don't care whether you attend class or not--its your money. In order for professors and teaching assistants to care about you, you have to make an effort, reach out to them. In summary, in high school the discipline to attend school comes from outside the student, the discipline is imposed. In college, the student must be self-disciplined, must act on their own.

To correct these issues, high schools need to do a better job of treating their students like responsible young adults. Don't do your homework--fine, the school should not be in the business of coddling students. Teh consequences of failure to do homework is poor grades which would have to be explained to parents and possible failure to graduate. If this seems harsh, so be it. I am not saying freshmen need be treated like this, but the treatment could be phased in.

College Freshmen, generally, are able to handle the academic weight of college courses, if not the intensity. After all, it is not as if college freshmen are being asked to tackle differential equations when their high school has only taught them pre-calculus. The steps up in academic course material are natural, it is the presentation that is different and the presentation can be overcome. High schools could do better by asking their juniors and seniors (and their parents) to act like young adults, treat them as young adults, and expect these young adults to accept the consequences of their actions, or inactions, like adults. Otherwise, college freshmen will continue to struggle and drop out, regardless of their economic class.

Class Matters - Social Class and Education in the United States of America - The New York Times - New York Times

The Filibuster Deal--part II

Here is my view on the motivations and the costs each of the Democratic Senators who signed the filibuster deal if a judicial nominee filibuster comes to pass, as will likely happen with a Supreme Court nominee.

Robert Byrd (WV) Byrd is an enigma. As a self-styled preservator of Senate traditions (at least when it suits him), Byrd may have been motivated solely by the desire to maintain the nature of the Senate's traditions. However, it is far more likely that Byrd, who is facing a tough re-election campaign in 2006, seeks to show his constituents that he is still relevant as a democratic leader in the Senate. his age, vitality and effectiveness will be called into questions, and in a state that has voted for Bush in two successive elections, Byrd cannot afford to be seen as tied too closely to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or the liberal Democratic establishment. If he survives a Democratic primary fight, Byrd will likely face Shelley Moore Capito, a relatively young, moderate Republican with a famous name in West Virginia politics since her father was governor. Byrd needed this deal to maintain his stature in West Virginia, if not the nation. In the end though, I don't think Byrd will vote to end a filibuster, it just does not seem to fit his character.

Daniel Inouye (HI) Inouye has the least to gain politically from this deal since he is not up for re-election until 2010 and given his advanced age, he may not have another election in him. His motivations in the deal may be philosophical, in that he hopes to avoid a blistering fight that would destroy the chamber. His vote to end a filibuster is probably not in doubt, he would not cross Democratic lines.

Mary Landrieu (LA) Landrieu is in a tough spot. She is one of very few Democratic Senators from the South. Louisiana, furthermore, has been wracked by close statewide elections, including her own and a very tight Governor's race in the past several years. But the state is trending Republican and she can't afford to alienate anyone. Her role in the deal means that she can claim victory for Democrats in the state and her base, but her vote is up for grabs because she cannot afford to be viewed as an obstructionist on an up-or-down vote on a judicial nominee. Landrieu is up for re-election the Presidential election year of 2008 and her Senate seat is sure to draw a solid GOP candidate.

Joseph Lieberman (CT) The elder statesman of the Senate and a national leader despite his dismal performance in 2004 for the White House, Lieberman has much to gain in stature by being a centrist and by supporting an up-or-down vote. I also believe that, as a bit of a moral arbiter in the sense of fairness, Lieberman in unlikely to deny a nominee a floor vote on purely partisan grounds. He may filibuster or support a filibuster if he believes a nominee to be unqualified for the job, but I find it very unlikely that partisanship will motivate Lieberman. His vote is in play.

Ben Nelson (NE) Like Byrd, Nelson is up for re-election in 2006 and hailing from one of the best Bush supporting states and being a Democrat makes Nelson an endangered species in Nebraska. Nelson needed this deal to show that he is a reasonable man, looking for solutions to tough problems. But the fact of the matter remains, going against Bush too many times in the eyes of Cornhuskers will likely cost him his seat. His vote, more than any other Democrat, is vulnerable to pick-up by the GOP, his constituents will not brook obstructionism.

Mark Pryor (AR) Pryor is an interesting player in this game. A freshman Senator, he may have been using this deal to raise his stature in the Senate. But Arkansas is also trending Republican and has a pretty conservative streak. The state's voters may very well support conservative nominees. Pryor may also want to see the bench filled, because as a former attorney general, he understands the role of the bench in the system and how vacancies impact the system. Pryor may want to see the bench filled and his vote on ending a filibuster is doubtful for the Democrats.

Ken Salazar (CO) Like Pryor, Salazar is a freshmen who is also a former attorney general. Additonally, Colorado is an interesting mix of politics and Salazar may be looking to build support back home among conservatives who voted against him last year. For many of the same reasons, it is likely that Salazar could be a target of the GOP to vote for cloture on any future filibusters.

Of these seven Senators, only Inouye is a sure vote for the Democrats. Byrd is a little less sure and depending on politics back home, he may acutally vote to end a filibuster. The remaining five are clearly vulnerable to pick up by the GOP for one reason or another. These are not the only Senators who could be vulnerable to being peeled off by the GOP to support an up-or-down vote on a judicial nominee. Max Baucus (MT), Evan Bayh (IN), Tim Johnson (SD) and Blanche Lincoln (AR) are also possibilities. In short, the Democrats will have to work hard to maintain party discipline on any future judicial filibuster.

The Filibuster Deal

By now, just about every blog involved in politics has had something to say about the filibuster deal or the nuclear option. But Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy has this to say:

Indeed, a high staffer with one of the major public interest groups that the Democrats rely on to evaluate judicial candidates told me to expect an attempt to filibuster Gonzales if he is appointed to the Court, even though she admitted that Gonzales was more liberal than anyone else that Bush could conceivably appoint. In other words, I expected that if Bush appointed someone closer to the political center than Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that nominee would nonetheless be filibustered as an extremist.

As has probably been said, one person's reasonable jurist is another person's extremist. Because the labels are so very relative, it is unlikely that anyone not firmly entrenched in the ideological center will be labeled an extremist. Indeed, such a person could be labled indecisive or worse, unprincipaled. The chances of any administration, Democratic or Republican, nominating someone so centrist as to be practically vanilla to everyone lie somewhere between slim and none. Thus the extraordinary circumstances are possible.

What this deal has done has limited the playing field for votes to not just a small pool of centrist Senators, but narrowed the pool to probably 8 Senators, any five of whom have the power to hold up a nomination.

Here are the Republican Senators who signed and my thoughts on their future actions in the event a judicial filibuster comes to pass:

Lincoln Chafee (RI). Chafee is a true moderate, like his dad, thus will be in play as a vote either for or against a nominee. Chafee as a Republican, represents a pretty liberal state and voting for an extreme conservative is not likely to win a great deal of support at home. Thus a vote to sustain a filibuster against a very conservative or even a run of the mill conservative is likely to play well in the state.

Susan Collins (ME) likely to be in play as a possible vote. Maine is a fairly independent minded state (they have two democratic Congressmen, two Republican Senators and for a long time an Independent governor). Collins has long favored abortion rights and is likely to be in the mix when judicial nominees come up.

Mike DeWine (OH) DeWine probably wanted to be seen more as a deal maker than some who actually had a desire to end the filibuster. This was a shrewd political move for him since he can say at home to both parties in a closely divided state that he helped broker a deal to avoid the nuclear option. But in the end, I believe DeWine will vote with the GOP to end a filibuster. I don't think he would buck the leadership or his President when he is up for election in 2006 and could use their help.

Lindsey Graham (SC) Graham too wanted to have dealmaker status. But with his fairly significant GOP presence back home, it is unlikely that he would ever vote to sustain a filibuster against a conservative nominee. To do so would be political suicide in a state with a large conservative base.

John McCain (AZ) The media darling "maverick" has long had pretensions to the White House and this deal cements his credentials with the media (for a while) as a bipartisan negotiator. His role also makes certain he can appeal to swing voters. But this is as far as he can go and avoid backlash by the conservative base, which he must have to win the nomination in 2008. The deal gives him cover in that he can now vote with the party to end a filibuster and appeal to conservatives, but still have the comfort of knowing that he may not have to actually vote for an arch-conservative judge and risk alienating centrist voters.

Olympia Snowe (ME) See comments on Susan Collins, these two are practically identical in motivations. Snowe will be a vote in play.

John Warner (VA) Of all the Senators on the GOP list, Sen. Warner is the biggest mystery to me. I find it incredibly unlikely that he would vote to sustain a filibuster on a nominee. Warner is not up for re-election until 2008 and in some Virginia GOP circles, there is thought that he may retire at the end of this term. He is not necessarily at risk at home, so I am left with the conclusion that Warner participated in this deal for the sake of the Senate as an institution, preferring to maintain the traditions of the Senate rather than for any political agenda.

There we have it. Among the GOP, there are only three possible signatories to the deal that would be in play in a cloture vote. The remaining four have more to lose if they vote against cloture, either back home or to their future aspirations.

Stay tuned for an analysis of what I see as the motivations behind the Democratic signatories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Judicial Criticism-Not a Threat

This from Professor Volokh regarding a Boston Globe piece:

Maintaining public trust in the judicial system isn't the most important goal, and sometimes serving other goals (such as, for instance, following the law when the law really does require an unpopular result) means having to do things that undermine public trust in the judicial system.

While I agree with the start of the sentence, I am not so sure about the conclusion. I don't see where following the law (even if the ultimate result is unpopular) necessarily undermines public trust in the judicial system--at least not on the whole. As a nation, we have a great respect for the rule of law. We may not like the law. We may want to change the law--and regularly do so. We may despise the law. But we respect the law because of its very nature. The law is a body of rules that cares not one whit how we feel about it, unlike judges.

Try as they might, judges unintentionally feel something when criticized by those outside of the legal community. A trial judge may feel upset when an appeals court over turns her decision, but most good trial judges absorb the criticism of the appellate judges in a constructive manner, striving to do their jobs better. But when people outside the legal system level charges of "judicial activism" (what ever that means) or decries the court as an undemocratic institution that should be brought to heel, I would find a judge who remains detached about the matter to be a rare find indeed. Particularly of concern is the partisan relativity of the charges. One person's activist is another person's champion.

I think that, over time, people will move beyond this judicial criticism. Although I was not alive, I would imagine that such periods of time are, like many things, cyclical. I can imagine the same thoughts about the Warren Court and their activities, or New Deal era court and their activties. The difference between judicial criticism and the criticism of other democratic institutions is that courts and the law evolves very slowly, over decades rather than years. Most of us were not alive or cognizant of the last round of vociferous judicial criticism.

Criticism comes in cycles and for the most part is healthy in nature. Periods of judicial criticism forces us as a nation to examine what kind of legal system we want. As a nation, judicial criticism forces us, and the judges who serve us, to re-evaluate what judicial principals we hold dear.

Because the law remains unfeeling about our concerns, it is not surprise that judges will leap to its defense. But I think Americans are more savvy about the issue than most reporters and pundits give them credit for. Americans can separate the judge from the system. We can therefore criticize individual judges with no impact on the general feeling about the legal system as a whole. For the most part, Americans will continue to respect the rule of law and the legal system--even if we question the participants in the system.

This Week's Listen--Eldar

As jazz goes, I have tended, in the past, toward saxophone jazz, with some notable exceptions such as Keiko Matsui or Diana Krall. My taste has been more David Sanborn and Michael Bracker. But at the same time, I have always admired young artists of any genre. Thus I come to Eldar Djangirov, who performs as Eldar, an 18-year-old pianist who, I assume, has ten fingers that play like 20.

To say that Eldar is fast on the ivories would be a major understatment. In fact in the opening piece, Sweet Georgia Brown, Eldar has populated the piece with stunning explosions of notes, moving so fast you can't keep up. He clearly has technique and speed to spare. He certainly has a promising career ahead of thiem.

But Eldar commits what I consider to be a sin of the young--that technique can make up for performance. Eldar substitutes speed for soul, having not learned that sometimes one note played in context can be far better than 20 played in sequence in the same space of time. His speed and ethusiasm overshadows the music and melody. In almost all of the pieces, Eldar packs in a flurry of notes, played at blinding speed, that takes the listener out of the piece for too long--thereby destroying the piece.

I hope that, over time, Eldar learns that speed does not replace sould, that technique is no substitute for taste and jazz is as much about evoking a mood as it is about playing music.

Having said that, there are a couple of redeeming tracks.

Point of View--this is a piece with Michael Brecker. I don't know if it is my predilection for Brecker or the fact that Brecker's experience has mellowed Eldar's speed, but this piece doesn't feel as rushed. The track is polished and well played, as well as very, very classy.

Watermelon Island--this Herbie Hancock penned track reminds me of one of the many reasons I love music--it is supposed to be fun. It is supposed to make you smile and smile I did with this track.

A Truism, A Reminder

From Darren at Right on the Left Coast:

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.
Father Denis Edward O'Brien USMC

Truer words were never spoken.

In a time when it is fashionable to "Support The Troops," we all need to be reminded of what The Troops have provided for us in the 229 Years since the Declaration of Independence. "Supporting the Troops" has become the modern platitutde mouthed by many who fail to understand the link between the sacrifice of The Troops and the freedoms we enjoy. It is easy to say "I Support the Troops" because it requires so little, just four little words and maybe a bumper sticker. We can assuage our guilty conscience with a simple platitude without realizing how such comments actually undermine the troops. Care packages and letters go a long way to boosting morale and I know that troops treasure such things. But it makes me wonder how may people who "support the troops" have actually done so.

The very fabric of our nation is tainted with the blood of The Troops, yet most people cannot see or understand the connection. As we struggle with our day to day problems, we often fail to recognize that simply mouthing words or putting a bumper sticker on our SUV does little to actually support the troops in the mission. The fact that people support the troops makes most of us feel good, but really does little for the solidier who is over there, away from home, away from family--maybe even getting shot at. Supporting the troops also means attempting to understand the mission--a mission they didn't get a hand in formulating. People can say, "I support the troops" and be accepted while at the same time denigrate the administration for its policies--never realizing the link between the two.

It is the policies of the administration that put the troops where they are. If you don't like the policies, fine, try to change them. But to stand up and say "I think President Bush and SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and their ilk are nothing but a bunch of war mongering idiots" insults, not the administration, but the Commanders of the troops and the troops themselves. Today's solidier is smarter than ever and to denounce their mission and their leadership while saying "I support the troops" is downright insulting to their intelligence.

CNN.com - Chief justice visits Capitol Medical Department in wheelchair - May 23, 2005

Given the current climate regarding judges on Capitol Hill, this could not be a good sign.

Do the terms "vicious confirmation battle" mean anything to you?

CNN.com - Chief justice visits Capitol Medical Department in wheelchair - May 23, 2005

Friday, May 20, 2005

It's Coming

According to the Washington Post (among others), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has filed a motion to close off debate on judicial nominees. The nuclear option is coming.

Despite efforts by the so-called Gang of 12, the vote on chaining the rules is coming. There has been a lot of talk about the constitutionality or propriety of changing the rules. I have heard all kinds of arguments, from tradition to minority rights. But the real problem is not a power grab by the GOP or the whiny self-righteousness of the Democrats, but rather the problem is the dichotomy between red state and blue state mentality.

Having studied history and political science for a while, I am struck by how divisive this particular issue is. In the end we are really only talking about a relatively minor rule change that could have implications on judicial nominees in the future, including Supreme Court justices. But the fact that so many people feel so strongly about it concerns me in that we, as a nation, seem to have lost the ability to agree to disagree. Arguments and differences of opinions between opposing sides no longer have the tone of genial respect, but rather the acrid tone of a battle to the death.

The nuclear option is, I believe, the result of two different factors that have destroyed an atmosphere of respectful disagreement. Those factors are the constant campaign and rapid air transit. These two factors have led Senators and Representatives to spend more time in their home districts than in Washington DC, meaning there is no effort by either side to spend time outside of the arena, talking about themselves, their similarities and politics. In short there is no time for informal compromises to form in the formal solutions.

The cost of campaigning, even for Senators, means that Senators and Representatives have to spend an inordinate amount of time on the constant campaign. They spend time in their home districts or their out of state campaign trail to raise money for a re-election campaign that may not come for six years. Thus instead of staying in Washington and talking, Senators rush out of town on Thursday evening or Friday to get back home to campaign. While being close to the electorate that sent them to office is important, one would think that the electorate expects their Senators and representatives to talk and solve problems of public policy.

So how to counteract this problem. One way could be to eliminate the need for constant campaigning by enacting a proposal to limit campaign fundraising to the election year only. Without the need to go home to campaign, Senators and representatives would be spending a little more time in Washington, at least for one year of every Congress.

The second factor is rapid air travel. In the days before air travel, Congress came to town for a few months at a time. They lived here, worked here and even played here. Thus Members of Congress, even from different parties would see each other outside of work, away from the Chambers and committee rooms. Friendships would form, often across party lines, that lead to working relationship that accomplished much. But with the availability of rapid travel and multiple departures for other parts of the nation, the restriction of time to travel no longer applies. Thus a Senator or Representative can leave after the last vote on Thursday (traditionally no later than 6 pm) and still get home to the West Coast before midnight local time.

Again, while rapid transit allows for elected officials to remain closer to their constituents, it creates an atmosphere of strangers working together, strangers who lack knowledge of and trust in the good natures of the opposing side.

Because there is no "forced" proximity among our elected officials in Washington, the partisan rancor and political posturing have become the staples of our national legislature. With nothing to lose in the nature of friendship, respect, and potential for working relationships, Members feel they can act with a certain amount of disdain for the opposing side, leading to the extreme positions taken by each party, extreme positions with little appetite for compromise. In essence, the atmosphere cannot help but create the circumstances for the nuclear option.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

State Sen. Tom McClintock

California State Senator Tom McClintock has a radical solution for the California School system--spend education money on the schools. If this particular section is accurate, McClintock's suggestion should be implemented immediately.

Across California, children are bringing home notes warning of dire consequences if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's scorched-earth budget is approved -- a budget that slashes Proposition 98 public-school spending from $42.2 billion this year all the way down to $44.7 billion next year.

By my calcualations, the school budget looks like it will increase by $2.5 billion. Sen. McClintock then takes us on a spending trip using commerically available methods to get the most out of a school budget. McClintock's exposition shows a gentlemen confident in his knowledge. But while McClintock is great to read, what troubles me is this section of the quote, "children are bringing home notes warning of dire consequences if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's scorched-earth budget is approved."

My question is who is sending these notes home? The school administration? The teachers? My guess is that it is the teacher's unions, once again, using their monopoly power over teachers to force them to distribute these notes. As a parent, I would take a note from a teacher on a political subject with a great big grain of salt, more like a boulder of salt. I am further troubled by the use of children as the messengers of the union's position. See, a note from the teacher is more likely to get read if the child is bringing the note home. If the union sent the same letter to the parents through the mail (which costs a lot more money that kiddie-mail) the letter would have to, no doubt, say who is paying for the mailing, because it is a political mailing.

I have sent an email to Senator McClintock. I will keep you posted on any updates I receive.

L.A. Daily News - Their Opinion

Is It Finally Going To Happen

Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is going to bring the nomination of Priscilla Owens to the floor for a vote today--subject to the threatened filibuster by the Democrats and a vote on the rules change--the so-called nuclear option.

Aside from the sadistic tempting of political junkies nationwide, I must say that it is about time. To be honest, I am tired of the waiting and I want to see what happens.

But the battle of judicial nominees carries some pretty significant baggage, the role of the three branches of government, the battle between the parties, and ultimately the fate of the Supreme Court. This much intrigue makes for high drama--if it weren't so childish.

The problem as I see it revolves around the Supreme Court--not Priscilla Owens or any other current nominee, but the Supremes. While it may be unclear whether Chief Justices Rehnquist or any other Justice will retire this year, it seems increasingly likely that President Bush will get between 1 and 3 appointments before leaving office. Given the nature of a Supreme Court appointment and their relative infrequency of late, the GOP wants to ensure a vote (which as I will explain will happen--no matter what) and the Democrats want to preserve a way of defending against appointments they consider ill-advised (which is a crock). The result in the end could be disastrous for both parties because a Supreme Court nominee that is more middle of the road is a wild card--with the potential for Anthony Kennedy-like rulings resulting in law and interpretations tending to the unpredictable.

The aim of social conservatives, including President Bush, is to get social and judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court. Their viewpoint is that the bench is too "activist" and constantly rewriting the Constitution to suit what ever social aims the justices and judges may have. Of course liberal fear this judicial conservatism for many reasons, some good and some bad. Judicial conservatives in the Scalia or Thomas mold may start scaling back some of the "rights" that have been hard won in the courts over the past 40 years. The trend is moving in that direction and the appointment of a judicial conservative or strict constructionist may accelerate that move--including the fear of all fears--an overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Democrats on the other hand are beholden to a large extent to the successes they have had in the courts, the one area of government where they have been successful in the past 20 years on a consistent basis. Liberals, in order to maintain the "rights" they have successfully won, including abortion, affirmative action, and others. But the GOP doesn't want to see the continuation of such a broad reading of the Constitution. Labeling such judges activist gives the impression that judges with a more liberal mindset would be turning the constitution on it ear, radically altering the constitutional order.

The current battle over judicial nominees for the appeals courts spills over in that neither side wants to lose their advantage when a Supreme Court nominee comes up. If president Bush nominates to the Supreme Court someone who is very conservative socially, the Democrats, by not fighting for the filibuster and the 60-vote cloture rule, would lose their ability to oppose judicial nominees they oppose.

The result would be that in order to avoid a filibuster, President Bush would nominate someone less conservative the perhaps he or his political base would prefer. Still conservative enough to garner a filibuster threat. Democrats are then placed in the unenviable position of either proving the nominee to be unqualified or filibustering the nominee. If they go the filibuster route, they run the risk of being not only labeled obstructionist, but actually creating a political situation in which they simply cannot win. It is one thing to filibuster an Appeals Court nominee when the particular appeals court can continue operating as before. It is another thing to filibuster, on political grounds, a Supreme Court nominee.

Although clearly a false impression from a legal and constitutional viewpoint, most Americans have come to believe that there must be 9 justices on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that there is nothing legal or constitutionally mandated about the number. Democrats cannot successfully filibuster for too long a time a Supreme Court nominee or else the American public will view such tactics as somehow counter to the good order and functioning of the Supreme Court. The Democrats will look to moderate the nominee.

The result cold very well be Justice whose rulings and opinions provide too much unpredictability. One need only look at Chief Justice Earl Warren to see what happens when a Supreme Court nominee does not act as predicted by either the administration who selected the nominee or Congress. By denying the opposing party an extremist, the result is a judicial centrist, whose rulings while legally sound, may be politically explosive. A centrist could vote to deny review of an abortion case, but once taken may vote to overturn Roe--a Democratic nightmare. Of course the opposite could be true as well. In fact, neither party could predict what may happen with any certainty, certainty that would be present if a more conservative or more liberal justice is appointed.

In the end, the fight of the judicial nominees and the filibuster, if it continues on this path may result in Supreme Court nominees who are so centrist as to be unpredictable.

Monday, May 16, 2005

This Week's Listen--Bond: Classified

I have, over the times I have written on this topic, talked about artists in the classical crossover genre. Bond is the first group I explored in that area and of all the artists I have explored, probably the least "classical" in nature. But the string quartet is perhaps the most well known. This is not your mother's string quartet, although all the instruments are present, but mixed with beat heavy dance grooves, a little world music flavor and wrapped in a physically appealing package, I am glad they aren't my mother's string quartet.

All four women are classically trained musicians who have taken their personal influences and what they like and mixed it well with classical music. Heavily influence by dance and club music, the band has done things from a modified classical song to a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." In their newest studio album, there is a bit more composition by the musicians in a decent album.

What is perhaps most stunning about Classified is that various musical styles that are present. A track like "Explosive" is almost rockish in its delivery, while a few songs later you get a jazzy feel in "Fly Robin Fly" followed again by a mellow, ballad feel of "Lullaby." Several of the songs, like "Adagio for Strings" and "Hungarian" have recognizable classical influences. At times though the backing beats, synthesizers and other instruments over power the quartet themselves. This could be the groups only fault.

However, you can't argue with success, and the group is hugely successful in Australia, Asia, and Europe. The group is catching on here in the U.S. and I hope they have a long career.

Now for my favorite tracks:

"Samba"--like the name implies, a beat heavy piece where the drum track overrides the strings at times. Still a fun track.

"Lullaby"--A quiet peice--soulful and mellow.

"Explosive"--pure power--nothing else to say.

Court Could Revisit "Buckley"

Given that the Circuit Courts of Appeals have split on the issue and the highly unusual way in which the 2nd Circuit denied en banc rehearing, the Court will probably take up Landrell.

For those campaign finance junkies among us, the potential for a rethinking of Buckley's holding that expenditure limits are unconstitutional holds a great deal of promise.

Time to break out the cases again. More on this after I have read all the stuff (could be a while).

Court Could Revisit 'Buckley"

Hillary Clinton Campaign Tanking Already?

If you believe the non-denial denials issued by the Hillary Clinton camp, one wonders what the impact of this trial will be. Certainly, there will be an interesting public record to comb through. I am not sure of the "sex" connection--like prostitutes is something new!!.

No, what will be interesting is the efforts of the Anti-Hillary crowd and what they will use from this story.

Just as Disclosure--the concept of a female president is a good thing--just not Hillary Clinton.

The Observer | International | Sex and funds trial damages Hillary hopes

Student-Athletes--They Really Do Exist

When I was a high school student many years ago, there existed a distinct dichotomy between the athletes of the school and the advanced students. I could count on two hands the number of varsity letter holders who had a GPA over 3.0 (I am proud to say I was one of them). A surprising number of them were soccer players, a coincidence I can't explain.

Once I was in college, I found that the dichotomy between students and athletes was exacerbated, particularly when dealing with the so-called money sports of football and basketball. But this story highlights the fact that true student-athletes do exist on campuses. Of course, I haven't seen a student-athlete of this caliber on a Division I campus, but maybe one day.

If this man doesn't get a professional soccer playing career, chances are that he will own a soccer team one day.

A Balance of Academics and Athletics - New York Times

The Four Horsemen of Bad Education

Sing it Brother!!!

62,000 school children in grades K-12...3,950 students in the 9th Grade...Only around 1,600 graduate...only 900 go to college. Of the 900 who attend college, only 258 graduate from college...There are four special interests that have blocked, clogged, and undermined reform for decades. It is all about money, control, and power. It is diseased value system that leaves our kids uneducated, exposed to violence and drugs, and with too few or zero opportunities to pursue the American Dream. Who are the four? Emphatically, I name names: the teacher’s unions, the University Schools of Education, the bureaucracies, and (unbelievably) the PTA’s.

This post is from Mike Piscal from the Huffington Post, finally an educator who can speak with authority about the broken public education system. I have long advocated that the teacher's unions were one of the biggest criminals in the education system (see previous posts here). It doesn't take a great leap of cognition to understand that bloated bureaucracies don't help educate kids (just look at DC). I am looking forward to Mike's posts in the coming months.

While his posts will undoubtedly be about the Los Angeles school system, I am sure lessons can be applied nationwide.

Mike Piscal--Naming Names

Writing-The Most Important Skill Not Taught Today

Brent Staples argues for a timed writing test for students in the New York Times from yesterday. For those who aren't in the know, the SAT now includes a timed essay section in addition to the traditional verbal and math sections. Staples refers to a survey of the members of the Business Roundtable issued by the National Commission on Writing.

About a third of the companies reported that only one-third or fewer of their employees knew how to write clearly and concisely. The companies expressed a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing produced by recent college graduates - even though many were blue-chip companies that get the pick of the litter.

The plain fact of the matter remains that most college graduates cannot write a concise report in a short period of time if their jobs depended on it, and increasingly their jobs are depending on that skill. Having spent several years as a tutor at the University of Maryland Writing Center, I can tell you that most freshmen come to college incapable of writing in a cogent manner. While the curriculum of English 101 focuses on the basics of expository writing, for many students, that Freshman English class is the last class that focuses on the mechanics of good writing. Certainly, other classes require writing of some sort, but few professors outside of the English department grade on the mechanics of writing, rather these non-English professors grade on the content. Content is important and should comprise a major portion of the grade, but if the grading included a mechanics segment(i.e. grammar, spelling, layout, paragraph structure, arugmentative flow) in addition to content, I fear that most students would fail--which of course looks bad for the schools.

A proper education must include writing, and the only way to ensure that writing skills are taught is to test them, thus the SAT now includes an essay section. But, as Staples points out,

The National Council of Teachers of English attacked the College Board for adding a writing segment to the SAT, the college entrance exam required by an overwhelming majority of America's four-year colleges and universities. The test, which consists of a brief, timed essay and a multiple-choice section, has already put schools and parents on notice that writing instruction needs to improve...The group questioned the validity of the tests and trotted out the condescending notion that requiring poor and minority students to write in standard English is unfair because of their cultural backgrounds and vernacular languages.

The council also tried to discredit the idea of timed writing tests. The report seemed to suggest that the only way to judge writing was to consider student work that had been rewritten and edited over longer periods of time. Long-term projects are important, but they do not cover all of the kinds of writing that students will be called upon to produce either in college or in their lives. On the contrary, substantive writing on demand for reports, correspondence and even e-mail is now a common feature of corporate life.
Let's break this down a little from an employer's perspective. As an employer I am not hiring someone who will write reports in their "vernacular language" nor do I care about their "cultural background." I need a person who can do the job and write reports, emails, and other assignments in standard English. I believe I am on safe ground when I say that other employers have the same criteria. On a societal level, if we allow minority and immigrant students to hide behind their "cultural backgrounds and vernacular languages" we then doom these students to employment beneath their skills because we have not provided them with the education and skills to compete.

The NCTE also suggests "the only way to judge writing was to consider student work that had been rewritten and edited over longer periods of time." What a load of rubbish! I cannot count the number of times I have been asked to produce a 2-3 page memo by the end of the day summarizing everything from client status to a change in the law or regulations. I didn't have the luxury of editing, rewriting, reviewing and then repeating. I had, on a good day, 6 hours to complete such a task--which often involved some research--not just six hours of writing. Usually I have less than 3 hours.

What these English teachers fail to grasp is that good writing is not about eloquent word choice or flowery grammar or exquisite sentence structure. Such concepts are good for novels and storied, but not for business memos or reports. Good business writing is about being concise and clear in your meaning. Good business writing should allow a manager or executive to be able to skim the memo, getting the major points and reading more in depth later.

As an employer, I would love to include a writing test as part of the interview process (but probably would get sued if I did because someone would argue that such a test is discriminatory). I can teach someone with a good mind and a solid foundation what they need to know to succeed in my line of work, what I don't have time to teach is how to write. The corporate world today floats on a sea of information, all of which has to be written about and explained. If a worker cannot adequately express an idea, in basic English, in a reasonably short space of text, then their value as an employee is greatly diminished.

In an era where testing has become the watchword, the fact that the College Board is now testing writing should be an indicator to English Teachers that there is more to English than good literature. The ability to write well, in a time pressured environment, is one of the keys to success. Schools, both high schools and colleges, need to spend more time teaching the mechanics of writing, the "American educational system that fails at every level to produce the fluent writers required by the new economy."

The SAT including a writing section in their test means that, at the very least, people will start to learn that writing matters, but significant steps need to be taken. Staples argues for a doubling of the time spent on writing instruction. I argue that writing instruction must go beyond the English classroom and should extend to all areas of education, including math and the sciences. Every instructor, at every level, should be grading for the mechanics of writing. Every teacher, regardless of their subject matter expertise, should not only know how to write well, but should be able to teach their students as well.

Failing to teach our children to write well leaves them ill-equipped for college and the workforce--just ask the Business Roundtable.

The Fine Art of Getting It Down on Paper, Fast - New York Times

What about Pelosi? - PittsburghLIVE.com

It makes you wonder. I remember this incident--my question is who was the lawyer who said this was OK or did Pelosi even consult a lawyer?

What about Pelosi? - PittsburghLIVE.com

CBS News | More Parents Outsourcing Etiquette | May 12, 2005�20:30:26

Hat Tip to Joanne Jacobs. This says a lot about modern parenting.

I can't say that I learned all the proper manners for a formal dinner, but certain rules of behavior were instilled by my decidedly middle class parents. Why do parents, particularly those featured in this article need to send their kids to etiquette school? I mean, as a teenager, I may not have known a shrimp fork from a salad fork, but I knew enough to to talk with my mouth full, or behave like an ass at the dinner table.

Apparently these parents didn't teach their kids from a young age so now they have to spend money teaching their kids as teenagers. What ever happened to the idea that parents take the primary role in the social education of their kids, leaving such things as etiquette training if you are going to some high society tea.

If they want to waste their money, perhaps I should open and etiquette school. Lesson number 1--parents teach your kids how to behave at the dinner table--I will teach them which fork to use.

More Parents Outsourcing Etiquette

Friday, May 13, 2005

NEA Again Screwing Over Members

This little gem from the Education Intelligence Agency, notes that the National Education Association the national teachers union, is sending $2.5 million to the California Teachers Association to oppose ballot initiatives sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger. According to the EIA, the $2.5 million comes on the heels of the nearly $11 million dollars spent by the NEA opposing ballot initiatives in California since 2000.

Once again, the NEA is spending dues money of teachers without consulting those dues paying members. This just further supports my belief the the NEA and other teachers unions care more about their "political importance" than their members and that unions should not be in teh business of commenting on education policy, but rather stick to their core business of representing union members in contract negotiations.

The NEA can't just stick to money either:

NEA will also take an active hand in the California campaign. The union will publish a list of those who financially support Gov. Schwarzenegger and his various initiatives.

It seems to me that if the California Teachers Association wants to oppose the ballot iniatives, they could (I don't think they should use "mandatory" dues money to do it though). But I fail to see what NEA has to lose in this fight--other than face.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bill Clinton Understands--Other Dems Don't

From the New York Daily News, Bill Clinton's advice to Democrats:

"Get better tactics. Don't wuss around. And quit saying, 'They're so mean and vicious.' They only do it because it works. When they don't do it anymore, we can go back to a more civilized way of doing business."

Of course, Congressional Democrats won't pay attention, maybe not even his own wife. What Democrats have forgotten is that they engage in the same bitter partisan rancor. There are times when taking the high road works and times when getting in the dirt works. Just like Bill says, change your tactics and don't whine when they don't work.

New York Daily News - Daily Dish & Gossip - Rush & Molloy: Bill: Wuss up with Dems' tactics?

Missing Music

Having spent most of the last week listening to CD's of law lectures to get ready for the bar exam, I have not done a "This Week's Listen" in a while. I thought I could go old school, but as I said, not much happening musically. However, Michael over at Highered Intelligence posted this short little quiz about music that I thought was entertaining. So here goes.

1. Of all the bands/artists in your CD/record collection, which one do you own the most albums by?
Probabably Joe Satriani. A close second would be Van Halen.

2. What was the last song you listened to?
"Onda" by Los Lonely Boys--great piece that is largely instrumental.

3. What's in your CD player right now?
The Girl in the Other Room by Diana Krall.

4. What song would you say sums you up?
Good Question. If you look at from my viewpoint, I would probably have to say "Dream" by Van Halen, "Flying in a Blue Dream" by Joe Satriani, or "Duck and Run" by 3 Doors Down. From the viewpoint of others, I think the most likely would be "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour or "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel since most people know about my penchant for politics and history.

5. What's your favorite local band?
Slackjaw (not really local to me, but more down in Charlottesville, VA, but I loved their stuff.)

6. What was the last show you attended?
For kids shows we saw The Wiggles, which for a kids show was quite good. For adult music--
Santana, when he was out promoting Shaman (with a young daughter, concerts are hard to go to.)

7. What artist do you consider to be very underrated?
Tesla. Everybody bashed them as unoriginal, but their straight ahead rock and roll did well. And oh yeah, their Five Man Acoustical Jam album was at the forefront of the acoustical set trend.

8. What's the worst band you've ever seen in concert?
I saw the Cranberries in concert and wasn't all that impressed. Their music was good, but I didn't really dig them live.

9. What band do you love musically but hate the members of?
Wow, a tough one. I don't really have one.

10. What is the most musically involved you have ever been?
This is it, I am a fan of music but never studied music or anything.

11. What show are you looking forward to?
Can't say.

12. What is your favorite band shirt?
I have this shirt from when Dave Matthews Band was on tour supporting "Before These Crowded Streets," for as much as I wear it and it has been washed, the shirt is in remarkable condition. Plus I love the logo.

13. What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?
For music discussion, either Diana Krall or Joe Satriani. To party, no doubt Sammy Hagar.

14. Metal question- Jeans and Leather vs. Cracker Jack clothes?
Jeans and leather.

15. Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

16. Commodores or solo Lionel Ritchie?
The Commodores.

17. Blackjack or solo Michael Bolton?
Anything but Michael Bolton. He is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

18. The Eagles or solo Don Henley?
Tough Choice, but I would go with Henley.

19. The Police or solo Sting?
Again a tough choice. Probably Sting since he has done a lot of different things. But the best musician in the Police was Stuart Copeland.

20. Doesn't emo suck?
I have no clue (seriously)

21. Name 4 flawless albums.
Van Halen--For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
Joe Satriani--The Extremist
Diana Krall--The Girl in the Other Room
Boston--Third Stage

22. Did you know that filling out this survey makes you a music geek?
And you point is.....

23. What was the greatest decade for music?
Right now. If you can't find something that appeals to you musically, you are trying hard enough. There is great jazz, rock, punk, classical, country, crossover stuff, even rap that is being made. For someone with a lot of musical tastes, this is a great time to be a musical consumer.

24. How many music-related videos/DVDs do you own?
Four or five.

25. Do you like Journey?

26. What is your favorite movie soundtrack?
Hmmm. Good Question. I liked the soundtrack for Singles. But for a more classical feel, probably Lord of the Rings.

27. What was your last musical "phase" before you wised up?
Each phase has its own wisdom even now.

28. What's the crappiest CD/record/etc you've ever bought?
Vanessa Carleton--I don't know the name of the album, but I get the feeling the album was put together too fast and centered on one song.

29. Do you prefer vinyl or Cd's?
CD's no doubt about it.

30. What is your guilty pleasure CD, that being the CD you love but would be ashamed to admit you have in your collection?
I can't name one. Every CD I own (even Vanessa Carleton) has an appeal that I would not be ashamed to admit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Arizona's "Attack on Illegal Immigrants"

From the state that brought you minutemen on the border, comes the veto of a bill that would have made English the official language of the state.

Supporters said the measure was needed to encourage assimilation of immigrants, but opponents said it was an attack on illegal immigrants.

In her veto letter, Napolitano said non-English speakers should be encouraged to learn the language, but that the bill did not do anything to achieve that.

Governor Janet Napolitano (D) may be right that the bill may not accomplish what it purports to be its goals and that is a legitimate reason for vetoing. Not having read the bill, I don't know.

What I do know is this--I am tired of all the liberal gushing about "attacks on illegal immigrants." Illegal immigrants are here breaking the law. They know they are breaking the law and I don't really care if some English as the official language law attacks them. American laws should not be crafted to accomodate the needs of those who are in this country illegally. If a law discriminates improperly against LEGAL immigrants, that is another case and a court of competent jurisdiction will surely strike such a law down.

We as a nation face a security threat for illegal immigration. The border is so porous that it takes volunteers to man it. We should be actively attacking the problem of illegal immigration.

News from The Associated Press

New Democratic Think Tank Created

Courtesy of Drudge comes a report that Markos Zuniga of the Daily Kos and former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi are forming a Democratic think tank. Their angle--politics, not policy will be their focus. Their goal will be to focus on new media technology that they think will help create Democratic victories at the polls.

Nice try guys, but focusing only winning has produced nothing but losses in the past few years. Why, you may ask? Voters want ideas, policies to talk about. There is no point putting candidates out there with no ideas--just look at John Kerry. The Republican revolution took decades to come to fruition, the Democrats aren't going to win just because they want to. You have to have ideas, real policy ideas to win. Voters don't want mindless dribble.

Furthermore, technology is not going to win the day if you have no message to carry on your new media.
Political Wire: New Democratic Think Tank Created

Carnival of Education

Check out the Carnival of Education which includes a compilation of great postings on the subject of education in general. It comes out weekly so check back often.

Shamless Plug Alert!!! I have a posting this week.

A Modest Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform

The following post is quite long--be forewarned.

Traditionally, campaign finance laws have been justified under the guise of prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption. Today, the concept has been carried forward by so-called "reformers" to include the concept of "circumvention," meaning that money men and women will look for ways around the laws. The fact that circumvention might happed does not take a great leap of congnition.

The problem with the current campaign finance system is not special interest money. Here are some facts.

  • In 1976, when the Federal Election Campaign Act as upheld by the Supreme Court in Buckely v. Valeo first applied to federal campaigns the average cost of a campaign for the House of Representatives was just over $80,000. The maximum PAC contribution of $10,000 ($5,000 for the primary and $5,000 for the general election) comprised about 13% of a campaigns budget.

  • In 2004, the average House campaign was $534,200 (this is for all candidates), meaning that a $10,000 contribution from a PAC comprised just 1.8% of their budget.

The simple fact remains, the impact of the special interest dollar is far less today that it was 30 years ago when campaign finance law really took effect. So the reform community really can't argue with the financially reduced impact of PAC or special interest money--even when pooled together. Furthermore, according the FEC statistics, "Contributions from individuals totaled $613 million and continue to be the largest source of receipts for Congressional candidates, representing 62% of all fundraising." (note that the FEC includes Senate races in those totals).

Is the problem money in general? Perhaps, but a greater concern should not be money in general, but the distrbution of money in the system. In most of my examples, I will be using House of Representatives data from 2004 because it is relatively recent and House races are roughly equal. While some district face higher advertising costs, those districts tend to be much more compact, making travel cheaper. For more geographcially large districts, the advertising costs are smaller, but travel costs are higher. In the end, the average house campaign is roughly equal in population and general costs.

  • Incumbents by far reap among the $613.8 million dollars raised by House candidates in 2004, incumbents received $445.9 million or 72% of the money and that was not for 435 candidates, but 405 incumbents, an average of $1.1 million per incumbent.

  • Challengers to incumbents garner far less funds, just $91.7 million or just shy of 15% of funds. For the 650 challenger candidates running for the House 2004, that equates to an average of $141,000 per candidates or a little more than 10% of the average incumbent war chest.

  • Open seat candidates gathered the remaining 13% of funds, totaling $76.2 million. But spread over just 94 candidates, the average open seat House candidate raised $810,000--a competitive sum.

As a result of the vast inequties of funding distrubution, open seat and challengers tend to rely on their own sources of funding, in the form of candidate contributions and loans from the candidates themselves. For all House candidates in 2004, candidate contributions and loans totaled $25.7 million or just over 4% of all sources of funding. But in 2004, incumbents turned to themselves for just $1.38 million of the $25.7 million. Meaning that candidate contributions to incumbent races equated to just 0.3% of funds raised by incumbents.

On the other hand, challengers went to their own pockets for $14.94 million, representing 16.3 percent of their funding. Open seat candidates raided their own piggy banks for $9.39 million, which comprises 12.3% of their fundraising. Open seat and challengers must spend of their own funds regularly just to compete. Adding insult to injury, Congress enacted the Millionaire's Amendment, which grants candidates facing self-funded candidates the right to raise funds under increased limits. Since, as we have seen, incumbent rarely self-fund, the candidates most likely to benefit from the Millionaire's Amendment increased limits are incumbents, further exacerbating the funding inequities.

So what can be done to relieve the funding inequities in congressional campaigns. One proposal has been to institute some sort of public financing of campaigns with voluntary limits on spending in order to obtain the public funds. However, the need for money in campaigns may far outstrip the willingness of taxpayers to support the system. Furthermore, I would object to having my tax dollars spent to enable someone to get elected.

Expenditure limits have been expressly struck down by the courts as violative of First Amendment rights. But oddly enough limits on receipts are okay. The Buckley logic still escapes me since the disclosure regime would ensure that candidates pass the "red-face" test on all contributions. Large contributions from individuals would have to be explained--something neither the candidate or the contributor may be willing to do.

However, what if the window of fundraising were limited. Already many states have a prohibition on fundraising during the legislative session. Clearly, limiting fundraising to periods when Congress is in recess would not work in a national legislature generally in session all the time. But what if the fundraising time for all candidates was limited in time by some other mechanism. Now the heart of the proposal.

I propose the passage of legislation that would:

  • Ban the raising of all funds for re-election or election campaigns until Jan. 1 of the year of the general election. Essentially, fundraising for campaigns would take place only in even numbered years.

  • Prohibit the carrying over of funds from previous elections. One common means to scaring off challengers is have a big bank balance, if all candidates have to start at zero or some de minimis amount, like $10,000 or so, the early funding advantage for incumbents is eliminated.

  • Those who are elected and have debts may raise funds to pay down the debts, but no more until the start of the next even numbered year.

  • For those who are elected, the candidate must dispose of excess campaign funds by March 31 of the following year in the means currently allowed, usually throught contribution to party committees or charities.

  • Special election fundraising can only begin when the governor declares the vacancy and all candidates must start from scratch.

  • Political parties and PACs would be able to continue to raise funds at all times.

  • Allowances for Presidential campaigns can be made, allowing fundraising to begin fundraising earlier.

This proposal does not completely elminiate the incumbent advantage since incumbents will still be able to command more from PACs and other contributors, but it does eliminate a significant advantage available to incumbents--fundraising during the off-year to build a treasury to scare off challengers. With everyone starting at zero, or close to it, the playing field is leveled to a good extent. The limited fundraising window may also serve to increase the competitiveness of elections, allowing candidates who otherwise would be so far behind in the fundraising competition that they simply do not enter the race.

Money is the life-blood of politics, it cannot be escaped and the efforts of reform groups to eliminate money from politics engage in a quixotic quest. The lack of turnover in Congress is also troubling, this proposal may not be the ultimate solution, but it is a start to try to truly level the playing field.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Not Reading History

Holy Founding Fathers, Batman!!

Also from the NY Times today, comes this troubling story about the civic education of our young people today. While the less than 20 % of young people in New York City not making the grade in social studies is downright scary, the fact that less that 44% of students statewide don't make the grade engenders as much fear in me as the New York City statistic.

While it can be admitted that the NCLB points the focus, rightly in many respects, on reading and math achievement, I am wondering what kids are reading. I love literature and fiction, but if you have to teach a kid to read, why then can't we require the reading to sometimes be about history, civics, government and current events?

As a student of politics, history and the government, I am continually shocked by the lack of emphasis being placed on the understanding of history and our government--at all levels of education. In addition to the dismal performance of elementary and secondary education to provide a foundation of knowledge, colleges and universities fail to require a class in government or history for all students. We must, as a nation, understand a common political heritage as it affects the very fabric of our nation. I used to laugh when Jay Leno's Man on the Street would ask who the Chief Justice was or who the vice President was, but now I find the questions demeaning, particularly when friends from other countries know more about our government than average Americans.

I cannot blame the students for this one. This quote from the article sent shivers down my spine:

New York State administers social studies exams in fifth and eighth grades, but officials said the results get little scrutiny because they are not among the criteria used to determine if schools are performing adequately, either under state regulations or the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"The truth is we do not use it as a measure of accountability," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Education.

Big points to the Department of Education for candor, but candor does not comfort in all cases. Yet, I still have a few problems.

  1. The taxpayer in me asks why test something (at a cost of millions of dollars per year) and then not including it as a measure of accountability. Test as a measure, but measure your tests.
  2. The parent in me would ask, why are you subjecting kids to a test with no purpose in terms of teacher/school/school system accountability.
  3. Finally, the citizen in my cries out for including social studies testing in measures of accountability, because as we all know, if it is tested (and means something) it will be taught.
The impact of failing civics education goes beyond standardized testing. A failure to understand government and history impacts the citizenry by not producing children with an appreciation of their role as a voter. We as the adult in the equation and the school board have failed these kids and if I were on teh school board, I would resign in disgrace with these numbers--in any subject. We have no one to blame but ourselves, our priorities have become skewed.

I beleive the lack of voting activity of more than third of Americans in presidential elections and over half in congressional elections is a direct result of the lack of a civics education in elementary and secondary schools. One of the tweaks that should be made to NCLB and state requirements is a stringent history and government requirement. What is the point of a child who can read, but can't understand how our country came to be or how the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches interact or who their Congressman and Senators are?

Most City 8th Graders Miss State Norm in Social Studies - New York Times

Paying for Illegal Immigrant Health Care?

From the NY Times today:

The Bush administration announced on Monday that it would start paying hospitals and doctors for providing emergency care to illegal immigrants....But Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said a hospital should not directly ask a patient "if he or she is an undocumented alien."

The humanitarian side of me says we should provide medical care to illegal immigrants who happen to need it and to a certain extent I am fine with that. I am also of the opinion that the federal government should pay--to a point.

But why are we not asking someone if they are an undocemented alien. These people come to our country illegally and unless they can qualify for some asylum status, they should be returned to their country as soon as their health allows. This Administration's policies on illegal immigration seems contradictory to their efforts to protect Homeland security. Every agency in America which possesses an opportunity to aid in homeland security should do so, even if it is a hospital. This requirement not to ask if a patient is an undocumented alien flies in the face of other policies.

Let's say, for example, a man comes in with a gun shot wound. Perhaps he was shot by a criminal and perhaps he is a criminal himself. Regardless, the hospital must report the gunshot wound to the authorities. Similarly, if a child comes in and the hospital suspects child abuse, they must call the authorities. If an injured criminal comes to the hospital, they will get treatment--and an escort to jail after treatment is concluded.

Why then should illegal immigrants be treated any differently. In fact, since the illegal immigrant knows she/he has come into the country illegally, they know they are in violation of the law and subject to sanction. Why shouldn't the hospitals notify the authorities if they suspect or know a patient is in the United States illegally? What about illegal immigration makes it different from child abuse or gunshot wounds or the treatment of injured criminals.

We have a moral duty to provide health care, but we also have a legal and moral duty to protect our nation's borders.

Payments to Help Hospitals Care for Illegal Immigrants - New York Times

"Congentially Democratic?"

In a report from the Washington Post about the gender gap in politics:

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said that she could not comment on the
specifics of the polls but that she agreed with the general thrust of Lake's
findings. "Women, if left to their own devices, are going to tend and trend
Democratic. That is absolutely the case," she said. "Women are still
congenitally Democratic -- and I'm the Republican pollster saying that."

I don't share the belief that women are "congentially" Democratic--despite polling evidence that speaks to the contrary. Women, while generally more Democratic than the population as a whole, tend to lean toward those issue which have a "fuzzy" edge: healthcare, Social Security, family and economic issues. But the flaw in the poll, as pointed out by the article, is based on the almost generic description of Congressional candidates. I have long held, in repeated posts, that the way parties treat voters assumes the intelligence level of an idiot.

But what appeals to women voters, just as much as male voters, is not issues with warm and fuzzy appeals, but rather candidates with ideas to address their issues. There will always be a segment of voters who will vote one or another based solely on party identification, which is fine. But the swing voters in America will always respond to ideas. Bush won in 2004 because he had ideas, right or wrong, and people could formulate an opinion based on those ideas. Kerry--well not so much.

Currently, the Democrats continue to fail to pursue ideas and base their strategy on being anti-Bush. Something that is not going to win friends and influence people--including women.

I believe that once candidates with real ideas are presented to people, you will begin to see changes in that gender gap.

Women Returning to Democratic Party, Poll Finds

Opinions Galore

Now that I am not suffering under the law school exam gun, the opinion machine begins to rage. Coming soon to a blog near you--Opinions Galore.

Here goes......

A semi-Endorsement for Arnold's Redistricting Plan

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed to change the way in which congressional and state legislative districts are drawn in California. Instead of the power residing with the legislature (who has a real conflict of interest in the matter), he proposed replacing the legislature with a panel of retired judges.

The wisdom of Schwarzenegger's proposal and politics for getting past aside, The San Francisco Chronicle (definitely not one of hte governor's media supporters) offered a back-handed approval of the goal of the effort.

California, like most states, suffers from the very long term service of most House members, perhaps to the detriment of the nation. Many members of Congress, once elected are virtually unbeatable save for scandal, ambition to run for another office, old age or death. The incumbent has so many advantages that need to be blunted, but the fact that a legislature can draw a district map that threatens no-one (called a sweetheart gerrymander) offends the notion of fair play.

Competition for Congress

For First Time, Scholars Link Voting, Religion

This looks like an interesting study discussed in Roll Call (subscription required). The link between Congressional voting and religion may be a bit more tenuous that seems to be suggested. I am not sure the link between regligion and party ID is not stronger than the researchers may believe, but at least someone is looking at the issue.

It has been widely known that churchgoers vote in elections far more regularly than non-churchgoers. But whethe Congressmen allow their religious beliefs to influence their voting patterns is not as well known. I would imagine that on inherenly moral issues (such as abortion or right to die matters) that there may some correlation between religion and votes, but whether religion influences the more day to day voting patterns seems a little far-fetched to me. So much of Congressional voting patterns can be traced to partisan identification and consitutent needs/desires.

I hope to be able to get this study sometime soon.

For First Time, Scholars Link Voting, Religion