Monday, October 31, 2005

Bauer on the Reasonable Person

Bob Bauer has posted his comments to the FEC "Soliciation Rulemaking."

Bauer shreds the Commission's thought to use the "reasonable person" standard when dealing with questions related to soliciting funds. The reasonable person standard appears frequently in law, most notably when dealing with torts. But Bauer points out:

Distilled into the principal themese, these questions express the Commission's concern with enforcement, clarity and compatibility with normal, protected political practice. The reasonable person standard adds little to this quest an dit will more likely complicate it.

The reasonable person standard is the legal equivalent of common sense. But as we all know, common sense in campaign finance regulation is an oxymoron. In the post-McConnell age, trying to apply common sense to the world regulated by the FEC is like Quixote tilting at windmills, it is a thing of imagination in a world of fiction.

Bauer writes further:

When an appeal is made to a "reasonable person," it is often made more to explain, rather than to reach, a result.It does not help to answer the question posed by hte Commission, --"would the proposed definition be too broad or too narrow?"--becaue it can be invoked on behalf of breadth, or with equal rhetorical vigor, to narrowness, depending on the facts under review.

Used in a different way, to clarify what conduct is epxected, the "reasonable person" standard must rest on some assumptions about the standpoint and characteristics of the fictional person. Someone who knows how fundraising is conducted? Or someone who does not raise but gives money...and who can distinguish between general political talk and a solication, that is, a bid for a contribution?

In essence, Bauer argues that the reasonable person cannot give guidance to the regulated community. Adding insult to injury, you may have different standards for the same person depending on their activity. If I were acting as a lawyer, I might have one interpretation of reasonable person designed to keep my client out of trouble. But if I were trying to raise funds, even in my legal capacity, I would be looking for the broadest definition possible. Each could be valid and each could be wrong.

Redistricting Reform's Dead End

This op-ed from Harvard student Eli Rosenbaum, illustrates a classic problem in the understanding of what the goals of redistricting reform are as currently defined and the current efforts at reform.

Reformers argue that taking redistricting authority away from state legislatures would make congressional elections more responsive and competitive. Yet in the past two House election cycles, every incumbent in New Jersey, Washington and Arizona won. Since Arizona's panel was created in 2000, the average margin of victory for House races has skyrocketed: In 2004 every district in the state was decided by a margin of more than 20 percentage points. New Jersey and Washington, where panels were first used after the 1990 Census, tell similar stories. By the end of the 1990s, average margins of victory in both states were just as high as before the advent of their independent commissions, and there was almost no partisan turnover.

The premise of this argument is that having a redistricting commission, by definition seeks to make elections more competitive. This is not so by any stretch of the imagination. In the three states cited by Rosenbaum, only Arizona has a mandate to seek competitive elections when presented with that possibility. However, such a mandate is very low on the list of criteria to be used.

Most states have redistricting criteria which states that the districts must be contiguous, i.e. not pockets of a district here and there, and preferably compact in shape. However, the very nature of human society tends to create pockets of like-minded voters as Rosenbaum notes

More important, political scientists now theorize that Americans are becoming increasingly segregated on the basis of partisanship. The more this is so, the more likely it is that compact, contiguous districts will inevitably produce safe seats for both parties, for reasons having nothing to do with gerrymandering.

Very true, the mere fact that incumbents are re-elected is not a direct result of redistricting, but rather the plethora of advantages incumbents have, from the fundraising edge to the favor of the media for incumbents. What needs to be done is to try and figure out ways to minimize the incumbent advantage. You can't eliminate it all together, but you can minimize it.

Whoever does the redistricting, polarization in Congress may be increasingly unavoidable. Reformers would do well to spend more time exploring the rise of the incumbency advantage and geographic polarization and less time lobbying for commissions that will have no effect on either of these trends.

Any redistricting plan that favors contiguity and compactness is likely to result in districts with overwhelming partisan proclivities. Not in all districts, mind you, but enough to generate landslide election results. but Rosenbaum does not discuss what can and needs to be done to correct the issue.

First, there needs to be a realization that the current method of contiguity and campactness runs counter to any stated intention to increase competitiveness. The very admission of political segregation means that unless you are willing to crack that "segregation" you are likely to end up with intensely partisan districts.

Second, the states and the courts would have to agree to a scheme in which continguity and compactness are sacrificed upon the altar of competitiveness. This would a difficult road to hoe under the best of circumstances. No redistricting criteria that does not favor competitive districts over any other criteria save contiguity is not likely to result in competitive districts.

Third, and most importantly, the DOJ needs to rethink its criteria for dealing with pre-clearance states. Under current rules, if a district has a certain percentage of minorities, i.e. blacks or Hispanics, it is almost impossible to reduce that percentage, even if there are significant demographic changes that would make such a change necessary.

Districting is the heart of the electoral process. The people on the side of the debate need to re-think their spin. An "independent" redistricting panel may eliminate the conflict of interest of the state legislature drawing lines, but unless properly instructed by the law, it is unlikely to produce competitive elections.

Arundel School Closes Achievement Gap

The Washington Post describes today a school that has achieved the current holy grail of education--a non-existant achievement gap. This school, in the middle class neighborhood of Glen Burnie, MD (just south of Balitmore) achieved this success with:

a new county superintendent, Eric J. Smith; a new statewide test, the Maryland School Assessment; five new teachers; and a new principal, Maurine Larkin, a giddy educator who occasionally allowed herself to be wheeled around the campus on a dolly.

The story points out that personalities matter, more so than money or curricula. This school boasts a 94% proficiency rate among third graders and 82% among third and fourth graders combined--as good or better than other racial groups.

Well, I was partially right

Last week, I noted, in a half-informed manner, that I thought President Bush would nominate a state supreme court justice from the south or midwest with 15-20 years expereince. In three categories, I got one right. Judge Alito has 15 years experience on the federal bench.

There is a large paper trail, but here are the cases likely to get the most attention:

Judge Alito once ruled that married women who intend to get an abortion must inform their husbands. Sen. Schumer and the pro-choice left are going to go nuts with this, and of course everyone is going to assume that Alito wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. Who knows and really, no one should care, but they will.

Judge Alito once ruled that a NJ township could have a nativity scene and a menora on display. The ACLU will cry that a theocracy is on the way. Of course, it is complete bunk, but that is the fear.

Already, there are indications that the Democrats may be considering a filibuster. According to the AP:

While Alito is expected to win praise from Bush's allies on the right, Democrats have served notice that his nomination would spark a partisan brawl. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Sunday that Alito's nomination would "create a lot of problems." (emphasis added)

With the President's poll numbers in the tank, a filibuster looks like a really good idea to Democrats, but would be perceived by most Americans as petty and unnecessary. Unless the Dems can show that Alito is unqualified to be a Supreme Court Justice, unlikely given his record, then a filibuster is likely to backfire.

My vote prediction: party-line out of the Judiciary Committee

Senate Vote: 68-32.

It is going to be a fun holiday season!!

Linked to OTB.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Corporate Political Contributions Need Shareholder Approval says Governator

Hat Tip to Allison at Skeptic's Eye

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a town hall meeeting where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made comments in support of corporations obtaining shareholder permission before making political expenditures.

The dispute swirls around Proposition 75, which would force public employee unions to get written permission from members before using their dues for political purposes.

But when the moderator of a televised town hall meeting in Walnut Creek on Monday night suggested that it might not be fair to treat the unions who typically back Democrats differently from Schwarzenegger's own corporate supporters, the governor surprised the crowd by quickly agreeing.

Public corporations should be required to get permission from their shareholders before giving money for political purposes, he said.

"If there's an initiative on the ballot next year, I'll support it," said Schwarzenegger, who had hinted at that support in an interview earlier this year. "Because no one, if it's a corporation or stockholder or union member, no one should have money taken out of their paycheck without permission and have it used for political purposes."

Of course, the concept of shareholder information regarding political contributions is not new. The Center for Political Accountibility advocates for more transparency in corporate political giving. The CPA's goals include sponsoring corporate shareholder resolutions

A report, updated annually, disclosing its policies for political contributions (both direct and indirect) made with corporate funds. The reports shall include, but not be limited to, contributions and donations to political candidates, political parties, political committees and other political entities organized and operating under 26 USC Sec. 527. This Report shall be disclosed to shareholders through the Company’s web site or to shareholders in published form.

A semi-annual report of political contributions, disclosing monetary and non-monetary contributions to candidates, parties, political committees and other organizations and individuals described in paragraph 1. This report shall contain the following information:
  • An accounting of the Company’s funds contributed or donated to any of the persons described above;

  • A business rationale for each of the Company’s political contributions or donations; and

  • Identification of the person or persons in the Company who participated in making the decisions to contribute or donate.

Gov. Schwarzenegger seems to advocate more than just shareholder reporting, but actual shareholder approval for using shareholder funds for political purposes. As most lawyers will tell you, several obstacles exist to obtain shareholder approval. First, most large, publicly-traded corporations may have tens of thousands of shareholders, most of who could care less about the political operations of a company so long as the value of hte stock continues to rise. Second, many large shareholders are institutional investors, i.e. retirement funds, mutual fund companies, etc. Since these groups tend to hold a larger percentage of stock, would their preferences have influence, and what if the political preferences of the fund manager run counter to the average stockholder, or even the members of the mutual fund? What then?

Third, shareholders tend to try to buy low and sell high. Thus, stockholders may have spent far less money to purchase the stock than the stock is actually worth. For exammple, if I bought 100 shares of Starbucks for the fictional prices of $20 per share, I would have invested $2,000. But if the value of the shares increases to $50 per share, the value of my investment is $5,000, but I still only put $2,000 into the company, how much of "my money" can the spend? Which is my money, the $2,000 or the $5,000.

On a legal front, the business judgement rule generally applies to contributions of a political, charitable or educational nature. Thus, the corporation may make such contributions as a part of doing business, assuming that such corporate contributions are legal in the context. The entire purpose of the corporate form is to allow investors to owe a part of an enterprise, but without the attendent issues of having to manage the business. The CPA has asked the SEC to require disclosure of political contributions.

What is important to remember is that, in California at least, corporation may make political contributions directly from corporate funds, although corporations may sponsor PACs as well. The distinction is an important one to make. The current context of union spending, at least in California, is that a portion of membership dues is diverted to fund political operations and make political contributions. Given that a large part of any union of any size will have personal political convictions contrary to those of the union is what has driven Prop. 75.

But in most cases, corporations make political contributions to candidates through a political action committee, which is voluntarily funded by members. There is no mandatory diversion of an employee's pay to fund political contributions. In California, unions take dues, which are often required to be paid because in many cases, like teachers unions, particiaption and payment to the teacher's union is required.

I think that the very fundamental differences between a corporation and a union make the requirement of shareholder approval for corporate political giving difficult.

New Site Added

I want to point everyone to a blog I discovered (courtesy of Forbes Magazine). Petrelis Files specializes in combing throught campaign finance filings for the political activity of media figures.

Petrelis found that new CBS news Chief Sean McManus contributed to both Patrick Leahy and the Bush/Cheney campaign. Not that these contributions have any impact on on McManus getting the nod to head CBS news, but at least conservative commentators can't say that this media never supported Republicans.

Ohio Fundraiser Indicated for Campaign Finance Violations

Ohio coin dealer and Bush Fundraiser Ted Noe was indicted yesterday for his role in a campaign finance scheme.

Tom Noe was accused in a federal indictment of giving money directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who then made the campaign contributions in their own names. In that way, he skirted the $2,000 limit on individual contributions, prosecutors said.

"It's one of the most blatant and excessive finance schemes we have encountered," said Noel Hillman, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's public integrity section.


Noe wrote several checks just under the maximum allowable amount of $2,000 to avoid suspicion, the indictment said. All of the checks were written in the eight days leading up to the fund-raiser — the largest a $14,300 payment.

Federal investigators also allege Noe made his friends and associates fill out contribution cards and forms falsely certifying they were making the contributions themselves.


U.S. Attorney Gregory White said prosecutors were negotiating Noe's surrender with his lawyer, and they have not discussed a possible plea agreement. A message seeking comment was left for Noe's attorney.

If convicted, Noe faces up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $950,000.

In general, I think few campaign finance violations make it beyond civil penalities assessed by the FEC. But if this laundering scheme sticks, it will make Tom DeLay's efforts look positively amatuerish.

I also wonder what happens to the friends who complied with Noe's scheme. These people are not without some guilt in the scheme--they after all signed a paper saying they did something they cleard did not.

Of course, Noe is the big fish here.

Additional coverage: Cleveland Plain Dealer Reaction story, courtesy of WTOL news.

Steele in Spotlight as Campaign Kicks Off

As Lt. Governor Michale Steele begins his campaign for the Senate, I have to admit that I have been an admirer of the man since I met him in 1998 when he was a candidate for Attorney General and I was working on a Congressional campaign.

What impressed me most was his easy-going manner, but also the fact that he is clearly focused on really helping people. I will say this, I am an unabashed supported of Mr. Steele and I very much hope he is elected. Here is his campaign website, which is a little sparse on information.

The Washington Post story above notes quite well that Steele supported the Ehrlich administration whole-heartedly--even to the point of intimating that the Ehrlich administration muzzled Steele. I disagree. Steele understands his place in the administration (and it is not to be the token minority). His job as Lt. Governor was to advance the political agenda of the governor. I am sure, and have heard second-hand, that in private Steele voiced his opinion to the governor, hoping to persuade. But when the governor gave orders, Steele followed them. In an era where backstabbing politics is the norm and "informed but anonymous sources" is the way in which petulant politicians whine when they don't get their way, Steele stayed away from it. The Post seems to indicate that is a bad thing, I think it an honorable thing.

Steele will now stand on his own in teh spotlight and I think he will do well.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Their clout rising, blogs are courted by Washington's elite |

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the growing impact of blogs on official Washington. If blogs really had clout the Porkbusters campaign would be much further along than it is, so I am not so sure about "clout." But on the other hand:

Last week, House Republicans convened the first ever "Capitol Hill Blog Row." In a small committee room in the Capitol, a dozen bloggers, selected by an informal poll of GOP staff, were provided soft drinks, a high-speed Net connection, and access to top Republican figures for half a day. Issues discussed ranged from how to cut government spending to the future of the GOP.


Movers and shakers in Washington, especially their younger staff, pay attention to blogs and, increasingly, seek to engage them.

Finally, I wonder how John McCain feels about this statement:

At the Democratic National Committee (DNC), chairman Howard Dean, who pioneered the use of the Internet to raise funds for his 2004 presidential campaign, has set up an Internet Department to get his message out to the blogs.

McCain was raising internet funds in 2000.

A New Jewel Of a School In Ward 8

Here is a rather glowing article about a very successful charter school in DC, courtesy of the Washington Post.

One of the things I find very attractive about this idea is the school was started by group of lawyers (see, even lawyers have a heart) and focuses on preparing children to be a part of democratic society while at the same time preparing them for college.

The facility serves 300 students in grades 9 through 12 as the new home of the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School. Founded in 2001 in a rented church building on Alabama Avenue SE, the academy quickly established itself as one of the best public high schools in the city, according to a 2005 Washington Post Magazine survey. This year every member of its first graduating class was accepted to a college.(emphasis added)

While that looks good, the numbers may seem a little daunting:

Students accepted into the academically rigorous school are not assured of quick success: Only 18 of the 80 ninth-graders who entered Thurgood Marshall in 2001 graduated this spring. Most of the others were held back at least one grade. Others dropped out.

Yet, not all is bad:

Unlike traditional public schools, the Thurgood Marshall Academy requires students to attend from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and often to come in on Saturdays, Kern said. There is a mandatory summer program, and students who can't do the work are not passed on to the next grade in the name of social promotion.

There is must to take heart in the Thurgood Marshall Academy. If a graduating class, comprised of some of the most socially impoverished areas of the city, can achieve 100% acceptance in to college, there is much to applaud.

To the leaders of Thurgood Marshall Academy, good luck and great job.

Politics - Kerry calls for pulling 20,000 troops -

The last I heard, the voters had rejected Kerry as a leader. His calls for removal of troops seems more to capitalized on the 2000 deaths and that fervor than any other motivation.

Politics - Kerry calls for pulling 20,000 troops -

Miers Withdrawal

As is being reported all over, the withdrawal of Harriett Miers from the Supreme Court nomination is being greeted by the conservative blogosphere with accolades. See and Captains Quarters.

OTB has this to say:

While I am glad this is over, this controversy reflects badly on President Bush, not Harriet Miers. From all indications, Miers is a decent, honorable woman. The fact that she did not meet the incredibly high threshold of being qualified to sit on the Supreme Court is no shame. Unfortunately, the president put her in a position to become the target of public ridicule. She did nothing to deserve that.

I could not agree more. I was always prepared to give Miers the benefit of the doubt, particularly since she is following on teh heels of one John Roberts. But the President screwed himself and Miers on this.

My pretty ill-informed prediction: Look for a state supreme court judge with 15-20 years of appellate experience to be nominated, probably from the South, but the Mid-West looks petty good bet too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wilma's Aftermath a la NY Times

According to the New York Times, millions in Florida are still without basics two days after the hurricane barrelled through the state.

A day after Hurricane Wilma struck, leaving at least six dead, power had been restored to several hundred thousand households and businesses by Tuesday evening. But 3.1 million still had no electricity, including about 93 percent of customers in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Eleven other counties also reported power failures, many of them widespread. Officials at Florida Power and Light said some customers might have to wait four weeks.

Wow, 48 hours after a hurricane and no power in the state? Such a travesty!!! Hang em all!!

Have we become a society so used to immediate gratification of every need, that any delay, no matter how reasonable under the circumstances warrants incredulity by the press? Hurrican Wilma body slams Florida on Monday. On Tuesday, some power has been resotred!! That is pretty damn fast work and I am impressed.

Of course, the Grey Lady couldn't help but start to play the class card:

In Miami-Dade County, where only 6 of 11 ice and water stations opened around the promised time of 2 p.m., Mayor Carlos Alvarez promised that the rest would open by day's end and said that all things considered, the delay was not bad.


Across the state in Naples, just north of where the hurricane made landfall early Monday, ice and water distribution appeared to be going more smoothly. At one station, members of several National Guard units were operating with assembly line precision. By 9 a.m., hundreds of cars, from Mercedes Benzes to jalopies, had lined up on a road leading into the parking lot of Barron Collier High School.


The storm clogged the streets of Naples, one of the wealthiest cities in the country, with fallen shrubs and trees. But even as the wind was dying down Monday afternoon, yellow frontloaders were pushing and shoving and lifting away debris, and by Tuesday afternoon the main streets and most residential byways were clear.

No mention is made of the fact that the people in Naples knew sometime on Thursday or Friday of last week that they were going to hit and, I don't know, made preparations. I am not surprised that Naples was prepared, the rich people spent money to make sure they were prepared--why is that such a bad thing? I just seems to me that if you prepare for the worst and the worst happens, you can respond better. If you don't prepare and the worst happens, response time slows down.

Aside from money, there is the issue of scope. Naples is a relatively small city, Miami is something on the order to ten times larger, the larger the city, the bigger the logisltical headaches.

Florida has a long history with hurricanes and is making pretty good headway in response to Wilma. As a nation, we have learned much in this hurricane season, hopefully people will learn patience along with perseverance.

Linked to the OTB Traffic Jam, the Political Teen, and Jo's Cafe

Satsify Your Political Fix Early

The Carnival of Campaigns is Up. For political junkies, interested in politics, this is the place to get news on some people whose names are being bandied about in political races.

2000 Sacrifices I Honor

Every time today I have seen a headline in the news papers about the death toll in Iraq, I get angry. This post about2,000 American Deaths in Iraq over at Cao's blog brings to light some very good points. These deaths, while each is to be mourned, they are not tools for the media to advance an anti-war agenda or for Cindy Sheehan and her wannabe war protesters to beat us over the head with. Cao also provides this link to this list of stats:

2,403: Americans killed at Pearl Harbor
2,976: Americans lost on 9/11
9,386: American soldiers killed taking Normandy
12,500: American soldiers killed taking Okinawa in WW2
24,000: American soldiers on both sides killed at the battle of Antietam during the Civil War
54,246: American troops killed in Korea
58,198: American soldiers killed in Vietnam
116,516: American soldiers killed in World War 1
133,811: Confederate troops killed in the Civil War
295,000: American soldiers killed in World War 2
364,511: Union Soldiers killed during the Civil War

If we are beginning to get squeemish now, Lord help us if we are ever asked to do this difficult work again.

Each time I see the press and war protesters argue about this, I am reminded of my own service and and event that happened during my time in the Navy. I once had a very cushy job showing the public around the Pentagon (this was before security concerns ended such tours).

While showing a group the Hall of Heroes, which lists all the people who have received the Medal of Honor, a woman got pretty incensed at the idea of military. (don't ask me why she was taking a tour). She seemed particularly incensed at "pointless violence of war." I pointed out that war is not pointless violence, but violence with a very specific political purpose. The military does not make war upon anyone or any country without some sort of poltical determination by the elected leadership of this country. She responded with, "well I didn't elect this president." Referring to George H.W. Bush (41). This was just after the Gulf War. She said, she couldn't understand why young men and women like me would do what we do, knowing that it could cost us our lives. We then engaged in this exchange I remember vividly. Slightly edited since some of her language would offend most--although not this sailor.

ME: "Ma'am, you have beliefs you obviously hold very dear, correct?"

Her: "of course."

Me: "Are you willing to admit that others may have views in direct contravention to yours that they hold just as dear, including people in teh military."

Her: "Yes, I guess so."

Me: "If you hold some beliefs particularly strong, would you, if forced to, be willing to die for such beliefs."

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Would you be willing to die for the beliefs of someone whose very opinions and speech makes your blood boil with anger, whose contrary beliefs run so counter to your own that you cannot stand their very existence?"

Her: "No."

Me: "And that is what separates the military from you. They are willing to die for your right to insult and belittle them and their sacrifices made on your behalf."

I am also reminded of the speech given by Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men:

You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You me there! We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I'd prefer you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to.

To all those in the media who will make a spectacle of this tragic milestone, remember, your freedom of the press is guaranteed by a few rough and ready young men and women who guard your freedom. They have now brought those same kinds of freedom to 25 million more people who sleep under a blanket of freedom they did not have 5 years ago.

To my Shipmates, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen, past, present and future, I salute you, I thank you, and if you ever need anything you have but to ask. I am honored and humbled to have been, if only for a short time, in your company.

Linked to Cao's Blog

Interesting College Degree Requirement.

From Today's NY Times, Goucher college in Baltimore is going to make studying abroad a requirement for gradution.

I am not sure why requiring a 2-3 week course at a minimum overseas somehow enchances one's education. A full semester or year, perhaps, but not a two week vacation.

The Canival of Education Is Open

Check it out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why Racial Gaps Persist

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked this question in today's op-eds:

Like a lot of African Americans, I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused -- or what?

I don't think Rice is any of those things. Clearly she is neither confused or in denial as to her race, as even Robinson admits:

She doesn't deny that race makes a difference. "We all look forward to the day when this country is race-blind, but it isn't yet," she told reporters in Birmingham. Later she added, "The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact."

She knows that she is a black woman four heartbeats from the Presidency (the highest level of government any black woman has achieved). She is aware of her prominent place in the world. I think she continues to work for President Bush because she doesn't put her race before her political sense or ideals. She believes in many of the same things as the President and knows for a fact that this President, for all his faults, has elevated more minorities to positions of real power than any other President, Republican or Democrat, ever has.

But what Robinson really means is that Rice doesn't subscribe to his world view, one in which blacks are supposed to be the natural recipient of help and support:

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. Rice has been a foreign policy heavyweight for nearly two decades; she spent four years in the White House as the president's national security adviser. In the interview, she mentioned just one black professional she has brought with her from the National Security Council to State.

One could credibly argue that Condoleezza Rice made the most of the breaks she received, but made it to the rarified status she occupies through her own hard work. Why then would she have to "bring others along?" She no doubt feels that exellence and success is earned through hard work, not "given" as Robinson seems to indicate. And while we are on the subject, why is it that in black America, one is expected to "reach back and bring others along." What if they don't want to come along--Rice's path certainly is an unusual one and not one many blacks would have chosen, so why does she have to do this. Why is not being an example of what hard work can achieve not enough--it certainly seems enough for white America.

I wonder what Robinson thinks of Bill Cosby, who has rankled the black establishment with his blunt assessements of modern black culture in America. Cosby has routinely given huge amounts of money and time to historically black colleges and long espoused higher education and hard work for black America. Cosby has certainly reached back, but that has been his choice. Rice's choice has been to make America, including Black America, safer so that op-ed writers like Robinson can spout his brand of idiocy.

Robinson's world view is one which perpetuates the "forty acres and a mule" mindset of many of his generation. Robinson evidently believes that America owes him something because he is black. Therefore any black who makes good, like Rice or Cosby, must give back, but only on his terms, meaning "gimme, but I ain't gonna work for it." This mindset is no more apparent that in these passages:

As we were flying to Alabama, Rice said an interesting thing. She was talking about the history of the civil rights movement, and she said, "If you read Frederick Douglass, he was not petitioning from outside of the institutions but rather demanding that the institutions live up to what they said they were. If you read Martin Luther King, he was not petitioning from outside, he was petitioning from inside the principles and the institutions, and challenging America to be what America said that it was."

The civil rights movement came from the inside? I always thought the Edmund Pettus Bridge was outside.

I know very few black Americans who think of themselves fully as insiders in this society. No matter how high we rise, there's always that reality that Rice acknowledges: The society isn't colorblind, not yet. It's not always in the front of your mind, but it's there. We talk about it, we overcome it, but it's there.

By constantly reminding people of race, and its importance to people like Robinson, Robinson makes sure that we remain conscious of race. No doubt Rice is conscious of her race, but it doesn't define her. Nor would I suspect that Rice contemporaries and colleagues think of her as black first. Rather, Robinson is the person who thinks of himself as black first and not American, or a writer or a diplomat. Until black America can see themselves first as something other than black, there is always going to be that perceptible divide, that perception, among blacks and whites, that blacks are on the outside.

Rice is correct. Both Douglas and King argued, urged, cajoled and begged for an America that lived up to is stated ideals of equality. Neither man harbored any illusions that America was perfect, nor did they expect perfection. But equality cannot simply be imposed and it cannot be given. Equality is earned and Douglass and King which is why they rose above parochial racial world views and pointed out the failures of America as a nation rather than the failures of one race or another. In fact, Douglass and King knew, and expressed in their writing, speeches and life's work, that the history of America is about the creation of a "more perfect union."

Got Drive Through Specials at Jo's Cafe in order to sit in the OTB Traffic Jam listening and reading The Political Teen. Check out also Below the Beltway for their take.

Steele Announces Md. Senate Bid

Earlier today, Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele formally announced what had, for all intents and purposes, been a public campaign for U.S. Senate. In his announcement speech, Steele, who is black, recalled Martin Luther King:

I began my service to you, the people of Maryland, on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And as I look to this moment and to the future, I cannot help but recall the words of Dr. King who said...

"Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?
Vanity asks the question - is it popular?
Expediency asks the question - is it political?
But conscience asks the question - is it right?"
Dr. King reminds us... there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, popular, or political; but because it is right...

In the politics of Washington today, we have come to accept as certain, divisions so set in stone that we can identify them one color at a time.

Just listen to what the evening news tells us...

Red states must be red. Blue states must be blue. Black always black and white always white.

It may look that way to Washington...

But I know that is not the view from main street Maryland.

Steele, who is facing an electorate that is 2 to 1 Democratic and 25% black, has routinely challenged old notions of politics. In fact, he is the only African American Lt. Governor in the country and one a just a few black republicans in high elected office. Steele's notion of a New Civil Rights Struggle, is not one that is familiar to many black, or Democratic voters, but may resonate with swing voters who view equality of opportunity more important that pure equality.

As a young man I realized that the front lines in the New Civil Rights Struggle would be different.

Instead of just hope... we needed action.

Instead of just government protection... we needed opportunity.

And instead of the right to sit at the lunch counter... the New Civil Rights Struggle would be a struggle for the right to own the diner and to create legacy wealth for our children.

To win that struggle, we must all come together and work for the same freedom... the same growth... and the same opportunity.

In a recently released poll, as reported by WTOP News, Steele is just 9 points behind Democratic frontrunner Ben Cardin and leading black Democrat Kweisi Mfume. Steele will benefit from the conservative base of the the GOP, which he helped court while service as running mate to Governor Bob Ehrlich. But Steele will no doubt benefit from his own outreach into minority communities during the past four years.

This is not to say that Steele will have an easy race, indeed, like the 2002 election that put Steele into the Lt. Governor's chair, this Senate race is going to be bruising.

Teacher Contract Language

Warning: Long Post Ahead!!

Last week, Polski3 published a post about why the union contract negotiators routinely bargained away pay increases. In the comments, I posted this question:

As I am considering a run for the local school board and having less than zero experience with collective bargaining negotiations, I wonder what would satisfy you about contract langugage? Beyond pay raises that is.

We are all adults and know that the money to pay teachers is both finite and rediculously low. But barring pay increases, what provisions would increase your happiness?

Polski then responded with this post, which I have quoted below. With due respect to Polski, I have rearranged many of the complaints and interspersed my comments. Although this began as information exercise for me, I am hoping the dialoge between us will enlighten others. I have pulled the contract for my local school district, which can be viewed here.

  • How about having hot water available when we wash our hands?

  • How about having restroom facilities for the teachers and staff that don't entail making a dash across campus during a four minute passing period ?

  • How about teachers having the proper furnishings in their classrooms, including a soft, district office minion sort of chair for the teacher for when we have a chance to sit.....

  • How about full internet access for our computers and the trust that as professional educators, we won't neglect our students while we are playing online poker abusing the internet in other ways.

  • How about each and every classroom having modern technology to use in helping our students learn ? This means more than a telephone, a single computer and a small screen TV and VCR.

  • How about making sure there is enough toilet paper for the staff restroom ?

  • How about a teachers "lounge" that has a restroom facility ?

  • How about a printer for our computer that can print in color?

  • How about actively seeking funding to build someplace indoors with air conditioning where our students can eat lunch when it is 100+ degrees (and maybe humid), in August, September and October, April, May and June ?

  • How about actively seeking funding to just paint our peeling, sun blistered schools. Some color other than 'beige' or 'desert tan' might be nice too.

  • How about actively seeking funding for new classrooms to replace the trashy portable trailers in which too many teachers are holding class.

Unless you happen to be a teacher in a school built in the last ten years, many of these issues seem to be a function of school construction and design. In my district of Frederick County Maryland, many of these issues would fall into the capital budget, which is subject to a number of vagaries, including politics at the state and county level.

But casting that side, a few common sense items would helpful here. First, no offense to all the teachers out there, but if you have to run across campus to go the bathroom, why not go in the nearest one? Just because it is a "student" bathroom, doesn't mean it has different plumbing. Having a bathroom in the teacher's lounge is a good idea, but unless the lounge was planned from the start, that ain't going to happen.

Now the technology issues should be addressed. Personally, I can see no reason why every teacher should not have a county issued laptop, with full, unfettered internet access. You don't need fully wired schools any more. A wireless hub (which cost about $70 at Best Buy or Staples) can be placed in clusters around the school, which then provide network and internet access, with various network printers available, including color printers (which can be obtained commercially for pretty cheap these days.) The fact that these are not addressed by a school system seems to be a travesty to me. But on the other hand, while teachers may ask for these on a district wide basis, I figure that the availability differs from school to school.

Working Conditions
  • How about reducing class sizes by two or three students, from 35 to 32 max. per class ?

  • How about NOT forcing the district PE teachers to teach "over the contract class size limit, and teaching on their prep period. How about hiring some more PE teachers for your junior high schools so the PE teachers are not teaching classes of 45-50 students in 100 degree plus heat?

Fine. But keep in mind that the smaller the class size, the more teachers that have to be hired. As I argued before, hiring more teachers, while politically a good thing, has consequences for teacher quality and pay. I am all for this on a parental level, but on a school board level, it has consequences. Of course, I can also imagine a different scenario.

Would teachers be willing to exchange smaller classes for fewer classes? If you could take one class a day and divide those kids into other classes, would teachers be willing to do it? Thus instead of 28 or 30 kids in a class, you get 34-35 a class. Consequently, instead of one planning period, you have two no-class periods. In return, the extra period would be used for school administrative duties, not your own. Thus, I could reduce the number of administrators at a school, if teachers would be willing to do some administrative work, including answering the phones. I figure, I could have six teachers replace one full-time administrative person, saving that money and disbursing it to teachers. Of course, union negotiators would go nuts, but I could get teachers a pay raise.

Professionalism and Professional Development
  • How about a teacher to teacher mentoring program for newly hired, new to the classroom, teachers ? As it is, newly hired new to the classroom teachers are thrown into their classrooms and maybe told, "good luck".

  • How about a paid sabbatical after ten years of full-time teaching for us to take classes, travel, or just take a break.

  • How about release time to go visit other schools to see what our fellow teachers are doing and perhaps get some new ideas ?

  • How about teachers being allowed the time and professional status to get our classrooms ready for school and not stuck in dreadfully boring meetings that have nothing to do with our kids or performing our job?

  • How about teachers being allowed to make the professional decision to attend, on our own time, 'Back to School Night' or 'Open House Night' to talk to parents instead of it being mandated by the district office

  • How about teacher input on inservice training that fits our professional development needs and the needs of our students instead of having our professional growth day inservices provided by lackeys of Dr. KOP or the latest form of regurgitated educational theory and newly created vocabulary for the same ideas that were around 25-30 years ago?

  • How about teachers having the freedom to teach the standards as we feel would best serve our students instead of a cookie cutter program that seems to emphasize being on page 32 on a certain date and teaching it until the students demonstrate they have learned it.

I know that some superintendants, (at least the Ed Wonks' Dr. Evil) don't view teachers a professionals, but what do these things cost? Certainly, in service training has some costs associated with as well as other professional development. If these costs were picked up by the school district (or the union), what would teachers be willing to give up as a unit? (remember this is a negotiation) Would a larger class size limit, instead of 32, make it 35, be acceptable?

Why is it a union, with the supposed purpose of improving the professional lot of its members ignore such things as development and networking? Why is not one day afforded to all teachers to attend other schools and observe and talk to their peers? Aside from the cost of the substitute, what other costs are involved?

From a school board persepective, how will these professional development exercises impact student learning? Can you show me data that such exchanges improve student performance? As a potential school board member, I have an obligation to the citizens to make sure that student achievement comes first. If that means I have to screw over the teachers a little, that may be the price. From my own professional viewpoint as an attorney, professional development is required and often comes out of my own pocket, although generous employers will cover some costs.

I suspect that many of these issues are not raised by union negotiators. If they are not raised, how then can they be negotiated into a contract? If union members start to agitate a little more about issues like this, on a group basis, then such items may appear on a bargain list.

Because I couldn't easily classify these, each will get a separate response
How about sending your multitude of educational experts you call "coordinators" into the classrooms to model how to teach our high ELL, Low Socio-Economic population of students instead of hammering the teachers for not following the *&^%$#@% pacing guide produced by the textbook company ?

I don't know. I agree that real world modeling is important. This is more a function of poor R&D by curriculum experts and not necessarily a negotiable item.

How about a district-wide alternative school for those students who just cannot keep from consistently interfering with the educational opportunity of the vast majority of students who DO want to learn ?

I know a lot of retired military drill instructors who could do the job sought here. Yet, at the same time, the ACLU and the "self-esteem" instructivists outthere will say the DI's are damaging the kids. Maybe so, but there will be discipline. But again, this is a money and location issue. Where should we put these kids?

How about automatically making COLA payments from the state part of teacher salary and not forcing the teachers to negotiate away contract language for every freeking nickel of a pay raise ?

This seems a no brainer since the money is appropriated by the state. Why exactly is this negotiated away? What are the teaches getting in return? If these issues are not raised by your union negotiators, you need to get better negotiators.

How about spending the Federal and State money allocated for Special Ed. students for teacher aids to come into regular classroom where these children have been mainstreamed to provide the extra help and attention many of these RSP kids so desperately need ? And to truly place the RSP kids in their 'least restrictive environment', which is usually NOT a crowded classroom with 34 of their peers.

How about some classes for our high achieving students? (Currently, our k-8 district only offers, on a very limited basis, GATE Language Arts; no science, no social studies, no math)
Yes, Parents do complain about this, and are simply put off by Dr. KOP that it is a money issue and out of his hands. YET, he begs grant money to operate a "not-based-on-State Standards Math and Science Center and to hire his special friend to "consult" with him and attend conferences around the world with him. He seems to have the attitude of "Screw" the kids in his own district!

While such sentiments are great, why would these be a matter of negotiated contracts between teh school board and teachers. Dr. KOP sounds like a total buffon, but that is a matter for parents, not teachers.

Special Items
These two in particular need to be specially addressed.

How about fully paid health care insurance benefit, not paid in part by the teachers?

Forgive me everyone for my impertinence, but quit whining. Every private employer I know of, including the largest and wealthiest employers require their employee to pay a portion of their premium. The federal government requires workers to pay a share. Why should you get a taxpayer subsidized benefit that is available to almost no one else? I agree that teachers are paid poorly and that in many cases the pay raise is eaten up by the insurance premium increase. If that is the case, you need to negotiate either a higher pay raise or a lower premium increase. This is the one area where public sector unions and union members are, in my opinion, flat out wrong.

Of course, every teacher out there is liable to flame me for my viewpoint, but if and when I am negotiating contracts, you can bet that this will be a deal breaker for me.

How about teachers from the various school in our district just being able to sit down and talk about things with the members of the board ? Not to negotiate, just to communicate.

Two things here. First, why not insist upon it? I don't think the problem is on the board's side, but rather on your union's side. In short, they want to control communications between teachers and the school board so that they don't have teachers "going off the reservation" with the board.

Second, if you live in the district that employs you and most school boards are elected, you are constituents. You have a constitutionally protected right (in the First Amendment) to petition for the redress of grievances. If you can't get in as teachers, get in as private citizens who happen to be teachers. I for one would welcome teacher input and I would have no problem telling a union rep who gets their nose bent out of shape to sit down and shut up. Your rights as citizens are not circumscribed by your union. Exercise them, even if you live in a different school district than the one in which you work.

This has been a very long post and very informative. As always, comments are welcome.

Is Congress Ready for Another Revolution? Not So Fast

In yesterday's Roll Call (subscription required), guest columnist Randy Evans debunks the growing thought among some that Congress is ready for another revolution, this time with the Democrats taking control. Evans expounds on a couple of points I made here a couple of weeks ago.

True, some of the ethics problems that GOP Congressional leaders are experiencing are similar to those experienced by Democratic leaders in the late 1980's and early 1990's. True, there is a growing sense among Americans that, as a nation, we are heading in the wrong direction. And true, there is a growing image of arrogance perceived in the current Congress. All these assertions are, to some degree, true. But these factors do not provide even the seeds of a revolution.

As I pointed out, and Evans confirms, Democrats have no rallying platform.

The Gingrich strategy was built around a different set of ideas embodied in the “Contract with America,” which offered a positive alternative to both the incumbent Democratic Party and to the drifting Republican Party. It was a conscious effort to offer an agenda that was conservative and also appealed to the values of the vast majority of Americans — what Gingrich now refers to as America’s Natural Majority.

Currently House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have not postulated any theory of a platform or issue set that will unite Democrats all over the country. The current Democratic platform, like the Kerry platform, seems more interested in being Anti-Bush rather than pro-Democrat. Indeed, unlike the Contract with America, Democrats cannot agree on any set of issues due to regional differences. Without such a unifying theme, it is difficult to rally support.

Evans makes a crucial observation that I had missed. The Gingrich revolution was a revolution not only against Democrats who had controlled the House for 40 years, but also against senior Republicans, led by then Minority Leader Bob Michel.

The Gingrich plan in 1994 did not involve just overthrowing the Democrats; his plan also involved changing the leadership and direction of his own party. Although he held the position of Minority Whip in the House, neither Gingrich nor his band of reformers was ever considered part of the Republican establishment. Indeed, had Gingrich simply rallied his troops around Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) as the representative of the same ideas that had been failing for 40 years, it is unlikely that Republicans would have gained the majority.

The 1994 Revolution was one in nearly every sense of the word. Don't expect to see a revolution in 2006.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Insurgents Attack Foreign Journalists' Hotel in Iraq

Will the MSM wake up and realize that the "insurgency" is not aimed at just the military but every foriegner? These criminals are obviously aiming to kill anyone and everyone they see.

Of coure, the "heroic" journalists will say their "sacrifice" is just further evidence that the troops should come home now.

Hmmm! Reaction will be interesting.

Insurgents Attack Foreign Journalists' Hotel in Iraq

Florida: Legislators to fight redistricting initiative

In my last post I talked about who should be doing the redistricting in the states and I said that it should not be the legislature. Well in Florida, the battle seems to be whether the state legislature should spend tax dollars to fight a ballot initiative to hand the redistricting commission to a 15 person panel instead of the legislature.

Now, politically, if the legislature wants to fight the initiative, that is fine, but they absolutely should not be using tax dollars to do so. The ballot question committee cannot use tax dollars.

By the way, redistricting in Florida is a major concern. In the 2004 elections, 9 incumbents in Congress, out of 25 seats, faced no opponent at all. In the remaining 16 seats, the average percentage of the vote won was a mind-blowing 67.1%. The lowest margin of victory was Katherine Harris, the much embattled Congresswoman who won with a comfortable 55.3 percent. No incument lost in the general election.
Source CSPAN Election Results.

Competition is good for the country and good for democracy. Competition tests ideas, improving on the goods ones and rejecting the bad ideas. Time has come to change the way in which districting is done.

For more, see here.

Who Should Redistrict? Not the Legislature.

In less than two weeks, voters in Ohio and California will vote on ballot initiatives that may change the way in which political and legislative districts are drawn. The New York Times has a decent article , if esoteric, on some of the challenges faced in this effort.

At the end is this pithy little paragraph:

When I visited Berkeley, Karin Mac Donald had just returned from giving a talk on redistricting, this one to the League of Women Voters, which considers [California] Proposition 77 flawed because the panel of retired judges would be too small to reflect the state's diversity. One lesson that she has taken from the lecture circuit is that many Americans, no matter how much they complain about the poison of partisanship, are comfortable with their like-minded communities. "People always say it would be great to have competitive districts," Mac Donald explained. "But you talk to them for two minutes about what that would mean, and in the end they say, 'I don't want to live in a competitive district, but everyone else should."' Why, I asked? "Because in a competitive district they might not get what they want." (emphasis added)

Earlier in the article, the author poses the key question:

Which is more important to democracy? Compactness or competitiveness? Or something entirely different?

I believe competitiveness is more important as a criteria than is normall given. As the article reads:

Gerrymandered districts ... have been blamed for a host of ills: complacent incumbents, polarized politics, cynical voters, dull elections.

I think all of these ills are better addressed by instilling a criteria in elections that favor competitive districts when possible. To be sure, not every district is going to be competitive, after all, some districts, when drawn in a compact fashion will always end up favoring one party or another. Yet, not all districts are like that. The electoral battleground of suburban and exurban areas are often segmented in such a way as to segregate out voters of each party to bolster the electoral prospects of one party or another. But if these areas are drawn into a particular district, the legislative districts will begin to mirror electoral politics, we will in essence have more swing districts.

In swing districts, the victor will be the person who best addresses the issues of concern to the voters. These districts will likely swing control between one party or another, just as they should. The representatives will be more moderate by nature, more issue driven and certainly more responsive to their constituents than is the current norm.

To answer the big question posed, sometimes the most important realization is not positive, i.e. who should be doing someting, but a negative realization, that someone or some people should not be doing something. Thus, the people responsible for redistrciting should not be a self-interested legislature. Beyond that, I am willing to look at various experiments and see what happens over time.

Snacking at Jo's Cafe.
Appearing at The Political Teen

Friday, October 21, 2005

Unfairness at the FEC

The FEC has released an Advisory Opinion for EMILY's List that says they have to pay for all administrative expenses related to non-federal elections with at least 50% federal (hard money) funds. Allison Hayward noted

The FEC confirmed that the new regulations would require ANY committee that allocates - one with a 65-35 ratio of nonfederal-to-federal activity, or a 98-2 ratio, to spend 50% federal (”hard”) money on such general expenses. “Tinkering”? For a small group, perhaps the impact isn’t so big. We will stipulate, however, that the impact on Emily’s List is significant. Contrast this to the situation of a corporate or labor PAC. The connected organization - the company or the union, can pay 100% of those committees’ administrative costs with general treasury funds. That’s 100% soft money. (There’s a catch, of course, in that the PAC can only solicit money from its “restricted class” - union members, executives or shareholders.)

Moreover the Emily’s List AO confirmed that the new regulations require a federal committee that makes a communication featuring a federal candidate to use 100% hard money, even if it talks about non-federal races generally. Contrast this with an “issue advertisement” run by a group that is not a federal committee. In that case, unless the communication contains “express advocacy” or is within the electioneering period, the group can pay for it pretty much however it wants.

Here's the rub for me. EMILY's List has an avowed political purpose, to elect pro-choice women to office. It is a political entity, not unlike the national party committees. But they are treated like a PAC, but without the advantages inherent in corporate and labor union PACs, namely EMILY's list must pay its staff and overhead expenses out of the money it raises. Thus a percentage of the money it raises is not used for its primary political purpose. On the other hand, all the money raised by corporate and labor union PACs can be spent on political purposes, since the corporation or labor union can cover expenses themselves.

The solution would be to treat non-connected PACs more like the national parties. For example, as a non-connected PAC, EMILY's list may only collect up to $5,000 per year from an individual. However, the National Party Committees, like the RNC or DNC (which also have to pay for overhead expenses from the hard money they must raise), can accept up to $25,000 per year from a individual and $15,000 a year from a PAC.

Why then cannot an avowedly political organization like EMILY's List have limits similar to the national party committees. thus they would be able to raise more hard money and pay their overhead expenses without having to deal with a lower contribution limit.

The other option would be to allow EMILY's List to raise non-federal funds to pay overhead expenses like any labor union or corporation. If the concern about national party committees raising soft money is the corrpution of those in office, by definition, the non-connected PACs like EMILY's List are not subject to the same danger of corruption. Allowing them to raise money for the purpose of paying the bills like salary, rent and utilities would allow more funds for political purposes.

In short, it seems as though the FEC can't seem to make up its mind about what is fair for all political committees, but the very nature of the regulatory structure ensures that some groups are penalized more than others due to their characteristics. Is that not a form of discrimination?

In the OTB Traffic Jam

The Death of Common Sense

Yesterday, I posted on the lack of spines found in some school officials. The events in that post revolved around the music choice of a band teacher and the revocation of a reading assignemtn because they offended someone. The school officials caved when someone got a burr under their saddle.

Here is another, more egregious, example of spinelessness. It seems the Manassas, Virginia school board gave what amounts to a slap on the wrist for eight students, six boys and two girls, who engaged in sexual activity in the school auditorium. The school suspended the students for three days!! Additionally, some of the suspended students are on sports teams and will remain on those sports teams.

Leaving aside the issue of the fact that the kids were having sex to begin with, the fact that they were having sex in the school auditorium is a violation enough to warrant more than a three day suspension. Why did they only get three days? Apparently the reasoning behind the decision is that there is no rule against having sex on school property. Thus, without a rule, the school board figured they can not mete out a more stringent punishment. The school board then sent out a letter to parents.

It was not the typical school board letter. Manassas City School Board members wrote to parents this week that they were "shocked and offended" to learn that there had been sexual activity among a group of students inside the Osbourn High School auditorium.

The students, board members wrote, "gathered freely and voluntarily" in the closed and darkened auditorium after school at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28. Board members said they "had not considered the possibility that students would engage in sexual acts while at school."

This incident was the subject of local radio host Chris Core yesterday. The audio of his show can be downloaded here until 10/27/05. His question was the same as mine, what has happened to common sense?

The depth of common sense, particularly as it relates to education can be traced to the rise of the "self-esteem" model of education. In order to avoid damaging the self-esteem of children, we can't fail them or expose them to any sort of discipline or rigid moral code. If we do so, we can damage the children for life--at least so the theory goes. As a result we end up with a relativistic moral code, one couched in terms of what will do the least harm to the child's psyche. Those who stress this education model will tell you that the behavior these kids engaged in is normal and therefore they should not be punished. Further, if we punish these kids, they may look at sex in a negative manner for the rest of their lives.

But common sense will tell you--you shouldn't have sex on campus!! These kids shouldn't be having sex at all--but at the very least not on campus. In this world of moral relativism, there are somethings you just shouldn't do. The fact that there exists no rule in the student handbook forbidding sex on campus does not make it permissive. I am sure there is no rule in the student handbook that prohibits murder, that doesn't make it permissible to commit murder on school grounds.

Some parents felt that the school system or police should have released more information so they could assess whether their children were safe, said Tim Demeria, whose 14-year-old daughter is a freshman.

"I wished we got information. Was it criminal? Was it consensual? I know police had to do their investigation, but I would have liked to know what happened quicker," Demeria said.

The school's principal, Perry B. Pope, said he understands parents' concerns that more information was not released. "Since this was a student discipline issue, we could not discuss details, and parents were frustrated. And we were frustrated because we could not give it to them," he said.

To me what is also telling about this news story is the fact that the parents and this writer seemed more worried about whether the sex was consensual or coerced. In this case IT DOESN'T MATTER, for two reasons. First, it should not have happened period. These kids have no business engaged in sexual activity. Second, if the sex was coerced-that is obviously bad, but at least a police investigation has indicated it was voluntary. But even if consensual--it should not have happened at school!!!!

The school board response is troubling on many levels. First, the lack of disciplinary action of any significance implies a lack of conviction on the matter. Second, the legalistic reliance on the lack of a rule. True, if the school had summarily expelled the kids, someone no doubt would have sued, but let them. See this is not just an issue about kids and sex, but rather an issue of respect. It is disrespectful, both of your school and your community act in such a manner. Such behavior should not be tolerated. The fact that the school board is treating this so cavalierly is the biggest worry of all. Sure, they are expressing astonishment and outrage:

School Board members said they viewed the incident harshly, noting the contrast between their generation and the current one.

"I don't think it crossed anyone's mind that you would have high school students sneaking off into the auditorium for sexual activity. That's where we have assemblies and bring parents in," said School Board member Patrick D. Linehan.

"We wouldn't have seen this 30 years ago when I was in high school. Then again, maybe I am naive and I wasn't one of those guys."

Yet, their outrage in words is not matched with their actions. These kids, by getting only a slap on the wrist will be exalted to hero status among their peers (itself a problem). Had a harsher punishement been meted out, the other kids in this school and neighboring systems would think about the consequences of their actions. For these eight kids, there are no consequences but a mild rebuke.

Finally, on the common sense level, a three day suspension is what many schools give out if you bring aspirin to school in your backpack!!

How can we find common sense again?

Linked to: The Political Teen, Jo's Cafe, Cao's Blog, THM Bacon Bits, and Oblogatory Anecdotes

Thursday, October 20, 2005

FEC Debacles to Come

The Federal Election Commission issued an Advisory Opinion yesterday in response to a request by EMILY's List. Allison Hayard comments here and EMILY's List attorney Bob Bauer comments here. These two do a fine job detailing this AO, so I won't do so here.

I do want to say that the FEC says, in its own opinion, that the courts have given the Commission to set their own allocation rules regarding spending on federal campaigns and non-federal campaigns. So why do they persist in taking a non-sensical approach to this matter? I don't know, other than simplicity sake, particularly since over the past several months, FEC audits have found that the allocation rules have not been adhered to.

But EMILY's List is not done. Anticipating that the Commission would issue this opinion, the group have filed suit in the matter and the case is now pending before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and arguments will be held on Dec. 13.

Another interesting development is a new Advisory Opinion Request from Emil Franzi, a radio station host in Arizona who is asking, among other things, if he, on his radio show, permitted to discuss or interview candidates for federal office with 30 days of hte primary or 60 days of the general election. He also asks about his funding arrangements and if they run afoul of regulations.

In many respects Franzi is like the radio version of a blogger. He is not employed by the radio station, much like a blogger is not employed by his hosting service. Franzi pays for access to airtime through a radio station like a blogger pays for bandwidth (sometimes). Finally, Franzi supports his broadcast by selling advertising, like some bloggers do.

What will be interesting is how the FEC will treat Franzi's activities. Given the parallels between Franzi's radio show and bloggers, if the FEC grants and exemption to Franzi, how will the Commission justify treating bloggers differently? (assuming of course they do)

More troubling are the general issues. I approach campaign finance from a very hands off mindset. Disclosure of funding is good, beyond that people need to be able to discuss politics, ideas, and issues. These are essential to the orderly functioning of a democratic society. But FEC reuglations, in the name of preventing corruption, have become overly burdensome.

Parked in OTB's Traffic Jam

Students Show Few Gains Since 'No Child'

Students Show Few Gains Since 'No Child'

The spin from the Administration is huge. For a better angle on the spin, check out Ed Wahoo.

These results make me wonder two things. First, does NEAP measure the programs being pushed by NCLB? One would think yes, but it is worth discussion. Second, are these results just the start and can we expect better results as more and more children benefit from the standards of NCLB?

The Abramoff Saga: The Worst Hill Scandal in Our Lifetime?

The Abramoff Saga: The Worst Hill Scandal in Our Lifetime?

I am not sure, but Ornstein makes a good case. This stuff makes Monica and the check kiting scandal of the early 1990's look like child's play.

Spinelessness in Schools

This story is the second in a recent series of news items that have arisen in the Washington, DC area. The spinelessness of school leaders in this area has sunk to a new low. The tyranny of the minority has taken root in the DC area and it must stop. What kind of example do we set for our children if our school leaders duck and run at the first sign of adversity. In both these cases, described below from the Washington Post, the adults involved shamelessly caved to a minority concern.

It seems that teachers of advanced students at Cabin John Middle School in Potomac, MD asked parents and students to look at a list of 100 previously banned or challenged books, select one and read it. The purpose of the assignment was to attempt to understand why books have been banned.

English teacher Carole Tauber had given the same assignment last year, without objection. But this time, a few parents pronounced themselves shocked by a list that includes such children's standards as Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time," as well as titles such as "American Psycho" and "The New Joy of Gay Sex."

But before kids even began to read their books, parents got this note from English teachers and Principal Paulette Smith: "It has come to our attention that an eighth grade outside reading assignment contains material that some families may find controversial. In response to the concerns that have surfaced, the assignment will be replaced."

Wasn't it obvious that reading a controversial book might involve controversy? Smith had approved the assignment before it went home.

So why the about-face? "We did get some feedback," Smith says.

Some ? "How many parents does it take to get books pulled?" Strang wonders. Or, as Suzanne Weiss, former president of Cabin John's PTSA, asks, "Why does the first person who comes in to complain outweigh those who want their children challenged?"

Indeed. But as I said, this is the second such issue, albeit the reading assignment has a little more substance to it than this one:

After the devil went down to Georgia, it seems, he got censored in Prince William County.

In preparation for a guest appearance at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the marching band at C.D. Hylton High School had a logical and seemingly innocuous idea: play a Georgia-themed song. They decided on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," by the Charlie Daniels Band.

But early this month, a local newspaper, the Potomac News, published a letter by a Woodbridge resident who, after having seen the C.D. Hylton Bulldawg Marching Band perform the country-western hit at a football game, wondered how a song about the devil could be played at school events, because of the separation of church and state.

Fearing bad public reaction, Hylton's longtime band director, Dennis Brown, pulled the song from the playlist. "I was just being protective of my students. I didn't want any negative publicity for C.D. Hylton High School," he said.

Even Charlies Daniels himself has an opinion on the matter:

"I am a Christian, and I don't write pro-devil songs. Most people seem to get it. It's a fun little song," Daniels said Friday in a telephone interview from Mokena, Ill., where he was scheduled to perform a concert. "I think it's a shame that the [marching band director] would yield to one piece of mail. If people find out that he can be manipulated that easily, he's going to have a hard way to go."

I am going to leave issues of church and state out of this post. My issue is the fact that adults, caving to a tyranny of a minority have sent a signal to the students under their charge that it is alright to quit, to not stand up for what you believe is right if someone challenges you.

In the case of the reading list, I think the assignment a good one, full of the very kind of thinking we should be encouraging our children to conduct. Yet, because a few parents object to the books on the list, the whole assignement is pulled. The books were to be chosen by the parents and the student. The family could have chosen a book by Mark Twain, for example. But rather than accepting responsiblity for guiding their child's education, some parents took it upon themselves to destroy a worthwhile assignment, merely because they didn't like all of the suggested readings.

The issue of the band and "Devil Went Down to Georgia" just borders on the absurd. Caving because one parent objected, on a tenuous ground at best, exemplifies the fear that too many educators, indeed public employees, have about being seen as controversial. So a song that would have been very well received by its intended audience at the Peach Bowl is tabled--all because the band leader and the schools' administration have no spine.

As I noted, what bothers me most is the fact that school officials and these mealy-mouthed, whiny parents have essentially told the kids invovled, "if you whine loud enough you will get your way." This kind of "me first" mentality will not help the students later deal with adversity and challenges to their thoughts. They will back down, because they have been taught, if someone whines, you cave.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Carnival of Education Is Open

Check it out over at the Ed Wonks

Over at No. 2 Pencil, Kimberly discusses a chaotic approach to schooling which must have come from the mind of some self-esteem schooling driven, we can't regiment our children thinking idiot. There's indepedence and then there is this idea.

Dr. Stat has a great post on how education has changed over the past two hundred years. In essence, education has not changed, but culture around it has. The era of instant gratification does not include education:

Suppose you are a student a couple of hundred years ago, and you went to school. You'd know that everything important in life requires hard work and advance preparation. You'd take if for granted that nothing important comes easy. You'd automatically be prepared to work hard at school, just like everything else.

Today, every other experience of your life tells you that the things you want can be quickly and easily obtained. There is practically no chance that you would ever have to worry about not having your basic needs fulfilled, even if you do absolutely nothing. You see advertising that tells you how all the hardest jobs can be done without breaking a sweat, leaving you plenty of time to play and enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, there haven't been any major advances in education in the last 200 years. Learning proceeds pretty much just as it always has, with lots of hard work and advance planning. But you have no analogue for this. Nothing in your life has given you a context for it. So, you scoff at your teacher's admonition that you put hard work and effort into your learning. Life just doesn't work that way, in your experience. Certainly, there must be a way that you can flip a switch, or run to the store, or pop something into an appliance, so that your educational needs are quickly fulfilled, and you can get back to playing and entertaining yourself.

The Ed Wahoo talks about the achievement gap and its causes. Great stuff.

Go check out the Carnival. Cheney resignation rumors fly (10/18/05)

If any of the actions suggested in this article actually happens, the conspiracy theorists on the left will have a field day.

Assuming Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice becomes Vice President, it will once again highlight just how bad the Democrats really are when it comes to minorities in leadership positions. N and W: Cheney resignation rumors fly (10/18/05)

Hat Tip: Outside the Beltway

Challenging the Status Quo

Here is an interview of Edison Schools CEO Chris Whittle.

Whittle may be one of the most demonized men in education today. When origianally formed, Edison was lambasted as a private company trying to make money off the public dollar. But while Edison Schools have had its ups and downs, the company is still around 13 years later.

I am currently reading Whittle's new book, Crash Course (see link in the sidebar) and many of the ideas make sense. He has a very strong case for more education Research and Development. From the interview:

There is a good deal of "R" out there in education. There's almost no "D." "D" is when you operationalize "R." "R" might lead you to an insight. "D" is now what do you do to actually bring that into a school, change how a school operates, change how a school behaves, and actually get some results changed. So "R" might tell you leadership at the school level is critical. "D" might show you how to double or triple principal pay so that you actually get the kind of leaders that you need at those schools.

This is of course just one of the many ideas that Whittle puts forth in his book. Whittle does what all innovators do--challenge the status quo.

My fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, has a saying, "Merely because a practice is prevalent may be the poorest reason for continuing it." Whittle keeps asking the question, is what we are doing in public schools actually working. If the latest news, is any indication, even the much admired and maligned No Child Left Behind Act appears to not be changing in any drastic manner the educational achievement of our kids.

Maybe Whittle is right, maybe his ideas will work. I am not a Whittle convert just yet, but if he keeps asking the questions, maybe people will start to talk about really changing our schools, which is, I believe, Whittle's intention.

Snacking at Jo's Cafe

Wilma Strengthens to Category 5 Hurricane

I went to bed last night and the thing was a strong Category 1. I wake up this morning to a Category 5 nightmare, in like six hours. What the _____?

Gotta call my parents who live in North Florida. They got lucky last year, but this year I am not so sure. My mom is a nurse, so she may stick around. My dad would probably stay at the hospital with her since he can be of use.

This one is probably going to make landfall on the Florida peninsula.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New Plan To Renew DC Schools: Boost Taxes

When your school district already spends more per pupil than any other state in the country, is spending more money really the answer?

DC Councilwoman Kathy Patterson is suggesting raising taxes to generate $1 billion over 10 years for capital improvements to the DC schools. Of course raising taxes is a bold political step, but

The council in recent years has provided the school system with much smaller annual appropriations for its capital improvement plan than school officials had anticipated. The funding gap prompted the school board to scale back the construction program this year, from major modernization of most of the schools to renovations at seven senior high schools and modest repair work at other facilities.

According to Mike over at Education Intelligence Agency, DC spent $13,328 per pupil in 2002-2003. Many current estimates put DC per pupil expenditures somewhere around $15,000 a year. While capital improvements are necessary, perhaps DC needs to look elsewhere. I am not sure about the wisdom of this move since it seems to me like just another move to throw money at a problem.

For more reaction, check out the DC Education Blog.

Bigger Classes Are Better

If you talk to any politician and many educrats, they will scoff at the statement made in the title of this post. But there are several different advantages to bigger class sizes relating to teacher quality and teacher pay that often get overlooked in the political posturing known as educational policy. Smaller classes require more teachers, which drives down both the quality of teachers as a whole as well as their pay. The only people who benefit from more teachers are politicians who can claim they have done something for education and teachers unions who get more members. Larger classes, with high quality teachers, actually benefits both the children and the teachers.

Bigger Classes--Better Teacher Quality
The larger the class size, the fewer teachers that need to be hired. A fairly obvious statement. Concurrently with the idea of fewer teachers needing to be hired is that, in a perfect model, a school system can hire more teachers with a desired level of quality.

The definition of teacher quality is irrelevant in this model. No matter how a community defines a quality teacher, usually an amalgamation of education, experience, professionalism, and personal attributes, quality can be placed on a bell curve ranging from 1 (the poorest quality) to 100 (the highest quality). The peak of the curve would be about 75. Assuming you have a large enough population of potential teachers, all teachers would fall onto that curve.

If you must populate your school districts teacher population from people on that curve, you obviously seek to attract the highest quality--those at the upper end of the curve. However, the number of high quality teachers, defined as those with a quality score of 85 or better is finite and usually will not suffice to adequate man you schools. Thus, the more teachers you need, the lower the quality score you have to accept as teachers.

If your desired quality score for teachers is 80, there are far more potential teachers with a quality score below 80. If you have a school district of 10,000 students and a desired student teacher ration of 20:1, you have to fill 500 teacher positions. If your potential teacher pool is 1500, statistically, only 150 teachers would have a quality score of 90 or better and another 200 with a quality score of 80-90. You can then hire 350 teachers of desired quality, but still have to hire 150 teachers with less than desired quality. However, if you find that a desired student teacher ration is 25:1, then you have to hire 400 teachers of which only 50 are of less then desired quality. Finally, if you think 30:1 is a workable ratio, you need only hire 334 teachers--which means that all teachers are of the desired quality.

Of course, the argument for smaller class sizes is that students are able to get more individual attention, but if the individual attention is of lesser quality, are we really helping our students? Take this hypothetical: Teacher A (quality score of 75) and Teacher B(quality score of 90) each teach a 60 minute class of with the exact same lesson plan of 30 minutes of lecture and demonstration followed by 30 minutes of equally divided individual attention to students. Teacher A's class has 15 students and Teacher B, 30 students. In a strictly mathematical sense, using Class Learning Points (CLP)=Time(T) times Quality Score (Q) divided by class size (N) Teacher A would achieve more quality points (150) than teacher B (90). However, teacher quality includes a multiplier for the additional amount of useful information imparted by the teacher (U). The scale for useful information runs from 0 to 2, with 1 being average the amount of useful information imparted by an average teacher. Thus Teacher A (average at quality score of 75) has a U score of 1 and Teacher B a U score of 1.6. (1.6 is derived by Teacher B being 60% closer to high end of the scale than Teacher A based on quality score.)

Thus, if you alter the formula to be CLP=TQU/N, teacher A still have 150 learning points and teacher B has 144. Still teacher A has more learning points, but the marginal difference is much smaller, particularly when considering Teacher B is able to achieve nearly the same result with double the class size.

The next part of the lesson calls for individual attention. Obviously Teacher A can spend twice as much time with his students than Teacher A can with her students. But again quality and the useful information multiplier changes things. If each individual student learning points is represented by the formula SLP=Time (T) x teacher quality points (Q) x useful information multiplier (U). If teacher A spends 2 minutes with each student, the SLP is 150 for each student. Teacher B, if she spend 1 minutes with each student has an SLP for each student of 144, again not a significant difference considering teacher B has spent only one minute with a child.

By the way, if you reduce teacher B's class to 28, all differences between Teacher A and Teacher B are reduced. Re-compute all the stats above and you will see the difference.

Bigger Classes Means Bigger Paychecks for Teachers
Most school funding is based on a formula of state, local and federal monies calculated on a per student basis. The national average is about $7,500 per pupil in total expenditures. Nationwide, at 56 percent of that per pupil expenditure on is spent on teacher salaries and compensation, which for simplicity sake I will combine into one figure. Using these we can compute an average salary level.

In our hypothetical 10,000 student school district, our school budget is $75 million. Of that $75,000,000, 56 percent is $42,000,000 to be spent on teacher compensation. If we took our student teacher ration of 15:1, we need 667 teachers, whose average compensation in our $42,000,000 budget would be $63,968 in salary and benefits. By contrast, if we have a 30:1 student teacher ratio, we need 334 teachers, whose salary and benefits package would be $125,748 or nearly double the amount. Assuming a $20,000 benefits package cost, including insurances, vacation and other benefits (not an unreasonable number), bigger class sizes would mean that teachers would, on average, make a six figure income!! Even increasing the benefits package would yield a high five digit income--on par with what they should be making.

In addition to higher pay, you have higher quality teachers and would be attracting higher quality individuals.

Is the above model a little simplistic and based on irrational perfection. Perhaps, but the basic argument is the same. Smaller class sizes reduces the average quality of educators, no matter how quality is defined because there is a finite number of high quality teachers in any pool. With smaller class sizes comes the need for more teachers, which means lowering the minimum level of quality. As demonstrated above a teacher of above average quality, teaching more students can achieve the same level of learning as a teacher of lower quality teaching fewer students. If we desire high quality teachers, why not have them teach more students.

But it is the pay differential where we see the real benefits. The difference between a 15:1 student teacher ration and a 30:1 means half as many teachers, which effectively doubles their salary, assuming no other spending changes. Higher salaries attracts better teacher candidates which in turn increases student learning. Until we break out of the political groupthink that smaller is always better in schools, we will never see the kinds of achievement we expect.

Snacking at Jo's Cafe
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