Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Terrell Owens Benching to Be Senate Investigation?

From Bloomberg news

Could Terrell Owens Circus' next stop be the U.S. Senate?

Terrell Owens's suspension and benching by the Philadelphia Eagles might violate antitrust laws and lead to a congressional inquiry, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said.

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and former Philadelphia district attorney, said at a news conference that he might refer the matter to the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel.

"It's a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws,'' Specter said yesterday at a news conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that was recorded by the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Hogwash and other explitives!!

Here's an interesting analogy. Let's say that a staffer on Senator Specter's staff decided to hold out for more money, then proceed to be disruptive in the office, bad mouth the Chief of Staff and call the Senator's office a "classless organization." What would be the result?

That's right, just like any other organization in America, the staffer would be fired, on the spot, with no recourse and maybe not even enough time to clean out his desk. People have been fired from Hill jobs for less.

Owens is a grown man, experienced in player contracts and represented by a man who obstensibly knows what he is doing. The two sides agreed to a contract under a collective bargaining agreement that permits teams to punish players for disruptive behavior. The Eagles are eating several millions dollars in salary they will have to pay Owens.

Owens is going to be, wait for it, paid for not playing. The Eagles are deactivating him, in order to prevent him from playing for opposing teams. But Specter shows that he clearly does not understand the situation with the contract between T.O. and the Eagles:

"I think he's in flagrant breach of his contract, and the Eagles would be in their rights to not pay him another dime, perhaps even sue him for damages they have sustained,'' Specter said of Owens. "But I do not believe, personally, it is appropriate to punish him. He's not committed a crime; he's committed a breach of contract. What they're doing is vindictive.''

This punishment is completely authorized by the collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the NFL. If the Eagles chose not to pay Owens, they could do that, but that means putting him on waivers, which means he could be suiting up against the Eagles on Sunday--clearly something they don't want to do in the run-ups to the playoffs. So while Owens is under contract, the Eagles will pay him for the rest of the season and then release him. It is their rights under the contract they are exercising, rights affirmed by an arbitrator.

Others: OTB, Conservative Outpost

Having Your Credentialed Cake and Eating it Too

For Thanksgiving, the Education Gadfly offered up a great little gem on the debate between the local autonomy of principals to hire teachers and the apparent need for teacher credentials regulations, namely subject matter expertise. At the end of it all, Mike Petrilli argues that it must be a one or the other option. I am not so sure.

I am all for flexibility and accountability at every level, including the principal level. But unless principals are given the power to hire, and more importantly fire, teachers, I find it difficult to hold principals fully accountable for every failure at their school. True, no matter what the circumstance, they are responsbile, but how can you blame a principal for the failings of a staff he cannot select or selectively reduce? No teachers' union is ever going to agree to allow school principals to fire a teacher.

Teacher credentialing sounds like a good idea. After all, they have to have a license and most are required to get a master's degree and are rewarded for such things. But the current "credentialing" regime does little guarantee quality teachers. We get well-educated men and women leading classrooms, but not necessarily "highly qualified" teachers as NCLB puts it.

But highly qualified is a subjective term given an objective definition that does not fit the real world. As Mike Petrilli points out in a hypothetical:

Imagine a school leader in Appalachia who employs a dynamic, inspiring math teacher who gets great results in the classroom and helps all her students reach proficiency. Should the state or federal government care if that teacher majored in chemistry instead of math? How should that principal feel when told that this fine math teacher must jump through a bunch of hoops to meet the "subject matter competency" requirement? It makes you want to yell: "Cut the red tape! Peel back the bureaucrats! Trust the results!"

This point is important, K-12 education is largely about basics. Students learn the basics of math, English, History, Science, Arts, and other large general fields with many subareas. K-12 students generally don't learn engineering, advanced physical sciences, or focus solely on early American History or Romance Language literature. All of these general areas lend themselves to specialization, with a great deal of cross-discipline learning in college.

The chemistry major-math teacher in Mike's example, probably had to do well in advanced mathematics, including advanced calculus in order to get their chemistry degree. Why is that not considered highly qualified? If an English Lit major was teaching math, perhaps you have a case, a little common sense goes a long way. But regulators and lawmakers don't do well with common sense, because common sense cannot be written down with enough specificity.

All of this leads to my thought about why can't we have both local level flexibility and real professional credentials. Mike, like many Americans, views this as an either/or situation, a zero sum game. But it really is a matter of sequencing. If we can get a more highly qualified teacher corps--subject matter scholars with an advanced, professional degree in teaching, we can then work on making sure local school officials have more flexibility to hire and fire.

We as a nation need to begin thinking of teacher training like we think of legal or medical training. It needs to be very high level, focused on potential teachers who are scholars in their field, whether it be chemistry or literature. Those potential teachers need to be throughly screened at multiple levels, extensively trained and constantly re-trained, both as teachers and as scholars. Lest you think this impossible,perhaps we ought to look closely at the Teach for America selection process:

Consider the experience of Teach for America. TFA recruits more teachers every year than all but the largest districts, and it seems to have cracked the code on identifying teachers who succeed in challenging classrooms. While the program is well-known for attracting Ivy League grads with lofty test scores, its unheralded genius is its extensive selection process (essays, interviews, practice lessons, etc.) that pinpoints subtle differences among candidates, differences that seem to predict classroom success.

I (and others) have argued before that we need to have a professional development of teachers, real development. Then the principals will have a pool of highly qualified teachers from which to hire.

Mike sees it as an either or problem, I see it as a sequence problem.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Wal-Mart--Better Welfare Agency than the Government?

That is the argument made in Sebastion Malloby's Op-Ed today in the Washington Post, which debunks a number of Wal-Mart Myths.

For example, Wal-Mart's low prices mean that Wal-Mart's customers, who make an average of $35,000 per year and spend more on food and other essentials than most Americans, can afford food and other essentials. Malloby estimates that Wal-Mart's lower prices mean a

$200 billion-plus assistance to consumers may rival many federal programs. Those programs are better targeted at the needy, but they are dramatically smaller. Food stamps were worth $33 billion in 2005, and the earned-income tax credit was worth $40 billion.
Not bad.

The Myth the Wal-Mart suppresses wages is also debunked:

Set against these savings for consumers, Wal-Mart's alleged suppression of wages appears trivial. Arindrajit Dube of the University of California at Berkeley, a leading Wal-Mart critic, has calculated that the firm has caused a $4.7 billion annual loss of wages for workers in the retail sector. This number is disputed: Wal-Mart's pay and benefits can be made to look good or bad depending on which other firms you compare them to. When Wal-Mart opened a store in Glendale, Ariz., last year, it received 8,000 applications for 525 jobs, suggesting that not everyone believes the pay and benefits are unattractive.

When you get more than 15 people applying for each and every Wal-Mart job--you can't say that they people are fools. In an era when unemployment is among the lowest it has ever been, Wal-Mart is a job creating machine--something the government cannot claim.

I make no bones about it, I love Wal-Mart. I was a former employee and I know they have their faults, but Malloby makes some powerful points. They are not perfect and to be honest, I usually don't shop there anymore, but I don't need to. For millions of Americans, they need Wal-Mart and they should have Wal-Mart, free from silly government restrictions--at least free from government restrictions that are not applied to all business.

Read it.

The Civil-Military Divide is Older than the Iraq War

Today, Ed Morrissey points to a Washington Post editorial by Michael O'Hanlon who writes of a growing rift between the military and the general public when it comes to the course of the war in Iraq. O'Hanlon writes:

In recent months a civil-military divide has emerged in the United States over the war in Iraq. Unlike much of the Iraq debate between Democrats and Republicans, it is over the present and the future rather than the past. Increasingly, civilians worry that the war is being lost, or at least not won. But the military appears as confident as ever of ultimate victory. This difference of opinion does not amount to a crisis in national resolve, and it will not radically affect our Iraq policy in the short term. But it is insidious and dangerous nonetheless. To the extent possible, the gap should be closed.

In the short term, of course, this civil-military divide matters only so much. The Bush administration has great political leeway in how it prosecutes the Iraq war. Officers in the field are not so stubborn as to resist smart changes in policy when the need becomes obvious. And on the other side of things, even those members of Congress and the public who think we are stuck in stalemate generally oppose radical alternatives to present policy.

But the dangers of a growing divide are real. In a year we will have a new Congress, and if the public has become fatalistic about Iraq by then, Congress may assert itself in demanding rapid moves toward complete withdrawal -- be they prudent or not. By contrast, if military officers see the good news more than the bad, they may feel increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. They may fail to understand why their recruiting efforts are not always appreciated by parents. They may be too reluctant to change tactics away from overly muscular combat operations that have accorded insufficient emphasis to protecting the Iraqi population. They may not feel enough urgency about advocating changes in policy that are needed there -- like much better protection for Iraqi security forces, which remain badly under-armored, and a jobs program to directly target the high unemployment rate.

Ed Morrissey directs his attention at what he perceives to be the root cause of the divergence in opinion--media bias:
O'Hanlon only barely mentions the root cause of this problem -- a national media addicted to a narrative that embues every story with fatalism. The media has become addicted to body counts even though, historically speaking, they have remained low for a conflict of this scope and size. The national media continues to avoid reporting any positive developments from Iraq except those which cannot be ignored, like the national elections. In fact, the reason the successful elections seemed like such a big story was because they were seen as such an anomaly, not because they represented a conscious effort resulting from American plans to establish democracy in stages throughout the country.

Until the media starts reporting honestly from Iraq, the divergence will continue to grow as civilians continue to operate from ignorance, while the military operates from a position not only of intelligence but from experience. The real danger presented will be the self-fulfillment of the Starship Troopers (movie, not book) paradigm, where the only people qualified to control the military are the military themselves -- and the press will have created that atmosphere based on their short-sighted adherence to their anti-military and anti-Bush biases.

I tend to agree that the media focus on the metrics of the war, i.e. the number of terrorist attacks, the number of Iraqis and Americans killed, tends to create a negative impression, although as body counts go, the American dead is far and away much lower than any other war of this scope. Media attention on metrics may be a result of the short-attention span nation we have become. We seek quick, SMS style updates of events, updates best suited by simple recitation of numbers. But numbers tell only part of a story, but that is another post. Regardless, I think Ed has made too simple a charge, media bias is only part of the problem.

For a long time, well before the current conflict, well before 9/11, and even well before the first Gulf War, there has been a growing cultural divide between the military and the general population. Since the advent of the all-volunteer force in the mid-1970's, the military has grown more culturally conservative. Prior to Vietnam, the military was much more reflective of society, a fact ensured by the draft. The social and military elites tended to be reflections of each other and there was much more coherence in message and purpose. Indeed, the old adage of the military is a reflection of the society it protects held true.

However, as the all-volunteer force to root and the Vietnam generation of officers and enlisted who remained in the service have retired, resulting in a force of all-volunteers, the conservativeness has taken hold at a time when much of the social elite outside the military has at best remained neutral or at worst tilted much more to the left of the political spectrum. The pace has accelerated as a result of the Iraq war, but the divergence has been growing since the mid-1980's.

Nor is the trend likely to be reversed anytime soon. As has been pointed out in many studies, the military, particularly its officer corps, tends to be comprised of southern, Great Plains, and midwestern men and women, largely from smaller towns who view service as a duty to be undertaken, where patriotism runs deep and a culture that is by nature somewhat more conservative.

This is not to say that because the military is more conservative they automatically support the President's plan or agenda. I believe the military's optimism reflects a more complete picture of the facts on the ground rather than the view through rose-colored glasses. On the other hand, the mainstream media seem less included to probe further into the facts on the ground, instead relying on simple presentations of the facts to the public it deems incapable of deeper understanding.

Rather, the divide Mr. O'Hanlon and Ed discuss is the result of much deeper cultural divide that has been present for a period of time pre-dating the current crisis. The solution for the divide is worse than the disease. A return to a conscripted military may eliminate the military-social diverge, but at an unbearable price. Outside of its expertise, that of warfare, the military will remain an institution not particularly amenable to change. By the same token, the pace of change socially does not accept the glacial pace of change in the military. Each segment has its place and instead of bemoaning military optimism as Mr. O'Hanlon does or media bias as Ed Morrissey does, perhaps we need to look for a real common ground--the safety of America and the maintenance of our legacy to the world.

Linked to The Political Teen, Jo's Cafe

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

DOJ Getting Tough on Campaign Finance Prosecutions?

U.S. Newswire reports on a recent plea deal on a criminal campaign finance violation.

William and Blanchi Dugatkin have pled guilty to making fraudulent misrepresentations for the purpose of soliciting campaign contributions, in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Without any authority to do so, the Dugatkins attempted to plan and carry out a bogus fundraiser for the 2004 presidential campaign of former Congressman Richard A. Gephardt. As a result of today's plea, each defendant faces to up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The defendants had been indicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in June and charged on information in Spetember with fraudulent misrepresentations and conspiracy to make such misrepresentations in violation of the FECA.

Today, the defendants pled guilty in the District of Columbia to the first count of the information, which charged them with making fraudulent misrepresentations for the purpose of soliciting contributions. It alleges that, from June through August 2003, the Dugatkins, acting under the aliases Bill Baulding and Jade Newhart and through a company they controlled called "Never Stop Dreaming, Inc.," fraudulently misrepresented themselves as speaking, writing, and acting for Congressman Gephardt for the purpose of soliciting contributions that would aggregate $2,000 or more. The Dugatkins made these misrepresentations in planning a fake Gephardt fundraiser at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. As part of their scheme, the Dugatkins met with officials from the Museum and others and said that they were close personal friends of the Gephardt family, that they had been authorized by the Gephardt campaign to hold the fundraiser, and that they were working directly with the candidate and his wife on the particulars of the fundraising event. In fact, the Gephardts had never heard of the defendants or their company. Moreover, neither Gephardt nor anyone on his campaign staff had authorized the fundraiser. The fundraiser ultimately did not take place.
Is the DOJ getting tough? We shall see.

U.S. Newswire : Releases : "CNN Caught OffGuard..."

I don't know how accurate this news release is, but even if partly true, WOW!!

U.S. Newswire : Releases : "CNN Caught OffGuard..."

Those with the least, give the most

Via Tapscott, Here is a stunning set of figures regarding charitable giving, Those states with the smallest incomes tend to give the most. Interestingly enought Tapscott also notes that those who give the most also tend to vote Republican.

Here are the top ten most charitable states:

Note: The dollar figure in parenthesis is the U.S. Census Bureau's latest available (2004) median household income figure, followed by the state's national ranking for that factor. The B indicates Bush carried in 2004. K indicates Kerry carried in 2004:

1. Mississippi ($31,642)(50)(B)
2. Arkansas ($32,983)(49)(B)
3. South Dakota ($38,472)(42)(B)
4. Oklahoma ($35,357)(45)(B)
5. Tennessee ($38,794)(41)(B)
6. Alabama ($36,709)(43)(B)
7. Louisiana ($35,110)(48)(B)
8. Utah ($47,074)(17)(B)
9. South Carolina ($39,837)(38)(B)
10. West Virginia ($31,504)(51)(B)

Food for thought. Here are the ten:

41. Michigan ($44,905)(21)(K)
42. Hawaii ($53,554)(7)(K)
43. Colorado ($48,198)(14)(B)
44. Minnesota ($50,860)(10)(K)
45. Connecticut ($60,528)(2)(K)
46. Wisconsin ($45,315)(20)(K)
47. Rhode Island ($48,722)(13)(K)
48. New Jersey ($61,359)(1)(K)
49. Massachusetts ($55,658)(5)(K)
50. New Hampshire ($55,580)(6)(K)

Six of the ten richest states appear in the bottom ten, at the same time, the three poorest states (DC is counted as a state for this purpose) appear to be the most generous and 8 out of the ten poorest states appear as the most generous. Go see the full report here.

Comparing Apples to Apples in education.

this recent news item from CNN reports on an argument that many people have been making about NCLB, that the method of measuring student proficiency and annual yearly progress is deeply flawed. States will now be able to compare apples to apples rather than apples to oranges.

The Scandal that Could Sink Hillary

Here is an interesting article comparing the coverage of Tom DeLay's campaign finance problems and those of Hilary Clinton. Oh, you didn't know Hilary Clinton has some campaign finance problems, perhaps this is why:

There have been no front-page stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald or any other so-called major daily with respect to serious allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton and her Senate election campaign committee.

But a question needs asking: What are the standards used by the press to determine who gets caught in the cross-hairs? And does this standard get applied evenly or does it (like so many in the public believe) vary from target to target?

Consider the contrasting coverage of DeLay with that of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Virtually every detail of alleged DeLay transgressions gets reported and in very great detail. But scant coverage has been given to equally serious allegations against the junior senator from New York.

While tens of thousands of inches (and scores of hours on broadcast and cable TV) have been used up to discuss allegations that DeLay "laundered" about $190,000 from corporate donors in Texas through the Republican National Committee and then back to GOP candidates in Texas races, there's been virtually nothing mentioned about accusations that Hillary Clinton and senior Democrats "laundered" nearly $2 million of improper or illegal gift-giving during the summer of 2000 when she began her run for the Senate.

While campaign finance violations are not particularly sexy in terms of criminal behavior, the AIM report does make a very strong case for media bias in favor of Mrs. Clinton.

The article makes the case quite well that there has been at the very least, a media white-wash or at worst a media cover-up of the Clinton problems, which have been the subject of a criminal and now civil case.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

EdCone.com: My column: Talking about abortion

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Ed Cone writes regarding the abortion debate:

Considering that the topic has been at the center of American politics for more than 30 years, it's remarkable how little people talk to each other about abortion. We talk at each other, and we preach to the choir, but actual dialogue across the ideological fault line is much less common.

Truer words could not have been written. In 2000, current Fox News reported Major Garret (he worked for Newsweek at the time) and former Congressman Timothy Penny published a book called The 15 Biggest Lies in Politics. The first Lie (and first chapter) is The Abortion Debate Matters.

Truthfully, the abortion debate has not signficantly changed in 30 years, yet it so dominates the poltical diablogue in this country you would think Roe v. Wade was on the Supreme Court docket every year. The proponents of both sides are so shrill, so vocal and so unforgiving that even a discussion is likely to devolve into, as Cone puts it, an argument in which
people don't even like to speak the whole truth of their own positions. They just dig in and mouth the party line. The result is that opponents and proponents of legal abortion have become caricatures in each others' eyes, instead of people with serious and heartfelt concerns about a complicated issue.

As Garrett and Penny point out, the rate of abortions performed in this country fluctuates with the percentage of women of child-bearing age. There has been no significant change in the number of abortions per woman of child-bearing years.

Of course, what gets lost in the shouting match, is the middle ground. Those people, of both parties, who take positions opposite the party line. Democratic Gov.-Elect Tim Kaine in Virginia and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger both hold positions on abortion significantly different than their party. There are those people who may find the practice morally objectionable, but also find it morally objectionable for the government to be involved in this decision, beyond simple safety regulations.

It is strikingly odd to me that if you took a group of both proponents and opponents of abortion, put them in a room and ask them questions on issues other than abortion, you are not likely to see the same fiercely held and fragmenting stances on other issues. Plus, on these other issues, these reasonably intelligent people can look at teh other side and at least acknowledge the soundness of the opposing postion. But when it comes to abortion, even the most intelligent of debaters becomes a rabid fountain of propaganda and spin.

Oddly enough, abortion issues need to be looking forward to other issues of more minute detail, such as abortion for sex selection, or abortion to avoid birth defects, no matter how minor. These issues, a result of growing medical technology and skill, need to weigh more in the public sphere, but until we can soothe the hackles of both camps, we are looking at more entrenchment of ideology--for no reason.

Developing Teachers--Lessons from Japan

Yesterday Brent Staples wrote a great piece in the NY Times regarding teacher development in Japan. Staples prefaces his comments about Japanese teachers' professional development with what may be the most public statement on this matter that I have seen:

Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad - especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

Of course, the minute anyone suggests studying the Japanese method of anything, someone objects, saying the Japanese are not like us. As the Ed Wonks point out:

One thing that seems to be overlooked by everyone is the fact that the Japanese are, for the most part, (A notable exception are the Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido.) a homogeneous culture with one language, shared values, (such as teamwork, traditional respect for scholars/learning, and obedience to authority) and a history of strongly-centralized government, which serves to facilitate the implementation of National Content-Area Standards.

This is, of course, true. However, I am not suggesting we necessarily replace our governmental and school bureaucracy with the Japanese methods. What I, and I believe Staples, suggest is that we study Japanese METHODS of teacher developement. The methods described by Staples reflect that Japanese philosophy of Kaizen. "Kaizen" is a philosophy of life and work that stresses continuous, incremental improvement. In fact, the word "kaizen" literally means "change to become good."

The foundations of kaizen are five-fold.
1. teamwork
2. personal discipline
3. improved morale
4. quality circles
5. suggestions for improvement

Thus teamwork and personal discipline (and success) work hand in hand with constant suggestions for improvement. The Japanese system, as described by Staples:

Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as "lesson study," allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom.

The lesson-study groups focus on refining methods that improve student understanding. In doing so, the groups go step by step, laying out successful strategies for teaching specific lessons. This reflects the Japanese view that successful teaching is the product of intensive teacher development and self-scrutiny. In America, by contrast, novice teachers are often presumed competent on Day One. They have few opportunities in their careers to watch successful colleagues in action. (emphasis added)

A while back, Polski3 and I had an exchange of posts where we talked about what he thinks teachers want. He described two particular desires:
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 release time to go visit other schools to see what our fellow teachers are doing and perhaps get some new ideas ?

I don't know how many teachers share Polski's ideas, but it seems to me that as a profession, teachers could benefit. But the Japanese methods of teacher training and development embrace as core functions the idea of teacher mentoring and exchange of ideas. This is but one area that must change if we are to considered teachers as the professionals they are.

This idea of collaborative, collective and incremental improvements is not new in America. In fact, other professions live by the idea. The medical profession in particuarly regularly collaborates to find improvements in methods to deliver a better quality of care to patients. It is not unheard of for doctors to review cases in an individual basis and make suggestions for improvements, indeed, it is required for hospitals to maintain the accredidation. The medical profession does it withing hospitals, across states and within professions. This constant incremental improvements, this kaizen of medicine has produced phenomenal results in American medicine.

We as a nation need to embrace the same idea in education, that continuous, incremental improvements in our teachers can yield fantastic results, but we need to let teachers talk to teachers and work collaboratively to find better solutions for educating our kids.

Others on this topic:
Jenny D
Alexander Russo
Jim Horn
JHS Teacher

My Top Ten Inspirational Movies

From Tapscott's Copy Desk, comes what I consider to be the 10 most inspirational movies. I have provided a little commentary on each relating to why I consider such movies inspirational. (These are in no particular order)

1. All Three Lord of the Rings Movies--the sacrifice of each character is central to their quest. But of all the characters, I like Sam (played by Sean Astin). Sam has no great skills or smarts, but what he has is an undying devotion and loyalty to his friend Frodo. Such unquestioned loyalty is so rare and to be admired.

2. Saving Private Ryan--so emblematic of the generation it depicts, dedication to duty, and placing the mission above personal gain--even when the mission seems counter-intuititive.

3. The Patriot--patriotism--what else can be said.

4. Phenomenon--John Travolta plays a man given an extraordinary gift with the greatest of consequences. Yet despite his travails, he seeks love and tries to live his life to the fullest. But the best character is his buddy Nate Pope, played by Forest Whitaker. Nate doesn't understand what is happening to his friend, but stands by him against all comers. Again, loyalty trumps understanding.

5. Apollo 13--the epitome of a teamwork movie. Three astronauts struggle to survive but it is the engineers and geeks back on earth who to a yeoman's work to save their lives. I love the geeky little engineer who has to figure out a way to get a square air filter to fit in a round hole to save the astronauts lives.

6. Chariots of Fire--the struggle that Abramson and Liddell face to compete in the Olympics. Liddell is my favorite character in the movie, when asked if he had any regrets about not running a race on the Sabbath (he is devoutly Christian), he says yes, but no doubts. Principled decision-making, even in the face of his prince.

7. Bull Durham--some may ask about this melancholy ending being inspirational, but the efforts of Crash Davis to come to accept that despite his smarts, sometimes you need a little talent too, make the movie. Plus the fact that he says he sees little dignity in being the minor league home run champ, but doesn't quit till he gets the record shows a great deal of pride. A great baseball movie.

8. Good Will Hunting--a great story, but another movie with a great friendship. This one is a little different as the character played by Ben Affleck must, in the ulimate expression of love and loyalty, force his best friend to leave his comfortable surroundings and use his genius.

9. The Right Stuff--more astronauts, bravery and loss in doses in this story of the early American space program.

10. The Shawshank Redemption--an unlikely friendship, a strange hobby and a fantastic escape by two men--one from prison and the other from the prison of his past make this a fabulous movie. The patience of Andy Dufresne--and his smarts--are terrific.

There you go--a little whimsy to brighten your day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Clueless in the air

This story from CNN.

A French woman apparently tried to open an airplane door for a smoke break.

Even though she was afraid of flying and apparently seriously doped up, you would think the fact that the door doesn't look like a regular door would be a clue to not open it.

Racism Alive and Well on the Left

For those of you who have been reading my posts on the Democratic racial smear of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, know what I think of that kind of activity.

I am also a fan of Michelle Malkin (a fellow Marylander and I would guess eventual supported of Mr. Steele). I don't agree with all she writes, but that is what makes a good writer, she makes people think and question. But many times I have perused her blog to see hate filled invective and flat out racism.

Well, she has taken yet another stand against the idiots of the left. Not content just to hurl racial slurs her way, the left now considers her an idiot not to mention a member of the world's oldest profession--of which she is neither, they must drag down her family.

I find such tactics disgusting on more than one level. I, like Michelle I believe, am willing to debate anyone, on any topic, at any time, and in any place. Mess with me all you want, I can take it. Mess with my family or my friends and you will suffer a wrath unknown on this earth. I do not have the honor of calling Michelle Malkin a friend, but such asinine activity has no place in the arena of political debate.

My only fear is that Michelle's children will have to attend school with a different last name, lest the children of hate-mongers have learned at the knee of their misguided parents.

If Michelle ever needs someone to watch her virtual back, I will galdly volunteer my services as I am sure others will.

NY Times Jumps Overboard With Hyperbole, Inaccuracies

Okay, I admit, not the best analogy, but then again, the Times, with its legions of experienced writers couldn't find the truth with both hands if the truth bit them on the hand.

Yesterday's editorial can't seem to actually mention a topic:

Waiting like a ship in the night for a quick, opportunistic vote is a Republican proposal that could devastate existing campaign controls by allowing politicians to collude with big-check donors from corporations, unions and lobbying blocs to finance unlimited amounts of campaign ads on the Internet. This would signal the return to unregulated soft-money politicking that a wiser and warier Congress outlawed three years ago.

Um--which bill are we talking about? Last I checked the introduced bills, I haven't seen one that repeals in any way, the ban on corporate or union giving? I admit, I no longer watch Congress like a hawk, but I think I would have seen this one.

If they are talking about H.R. 1606 (the Hensarling bill), perhaps they could benefit from this analysis.

The screed continues on a new topic:

As House leaders wait for some hurried moment to pounce, an even stealthier tactic is in the works. President Bush is reportedly planning to use recess appointments to restock the Federal Election Commission - the supposed regulator of politicians - with a fresh array of reliable wheel horses from both parties. This would continue the panel's notorious reputation for enabling, not controlling, campaign abuses. And it would happen beyond public notice.

First, it can't be too stealthy if everyone knows about it. Second, if you don't like the law, don't blame the FEC, get Congress to amend it, as was suggested here.

Finally, the supposed coup de grace,

The current F.E.C. had to be stopped by a court ruling from empowering soft money by exempting the Internet from all campaign controls. The waiting House bill would overrule that court's defense of the campaign law. The bill should be spiked in favor of the proposal of Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, to ban the soft-money plague from the Internet. His bill carefully protects the free-speech rights of individual bloggers, even those who choose to incorporate. They remain free to speak out - and we hope some of them use their forums to attack the power plays that Congress keeps concocting to protect itself.

OK, the FEC exempted the Internet from campaign regulation because they made an interpretation of a less that crystalline law passed by Congress. The Court said the FEC didn't adequately explain their interpretation--not that the interpretation itself was wrong. Second, the Shays Meehan bill to replace H.R. 1606, is a piece of junk that would create more complications and more uncertainly than even leaving the situation without guiding legislation.

The NY Times then contradicts themselves. Apparently it is OK for incorporated bloggers to try to influence elections, but corporations cannot. By definition, an incorporated blog IS a corporation. But then again, if the NY Times said corporations cannot spend money to influence elections, they too would be out of the electioneering business.

I have seen or heard about lots of plagues on the internet--from child porn to identity theft, from phishing to spamming, but I haven't seen a "soft-money" plague. I don't know if I am innoculated against such a thing.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Biggest Soft Money Loophole--Endorsements

Yesterday's approval of the Fired Up! Advisory Opinion by the Federal Election Commission is, rightfully, being hailed as a significant step in the protection of bloggers and websites who pursue political commentary and political purposes. At the heart of the AO (found here) is the granting of Fired Up! and other similarly situated websites the press exemption, which allows the site to freely link, discuss and even support candidates for federal office. The AO doesn't discuss, but there should be a debate about, the unfair ability of press entities to make endorsements, using corproate funds, when other entities cannot.

Now that they have the press exemption, Fired Up! will be permitted to openly endorse candidates, including exhortations to vote for or contribute to candidates for federal office. The Hensarling Bill (discussed here) represents the next step in expanding freedom for political discourse on the web. But supporters of a competing bill, have argued that granting the press exemption to websites and the blogosphere would permit the use of corporate and soft money, thus opening a loophole in the federal law.

Many have sought to use fear, uncertainty, and doubt to raise concerns that free speech on the internet is in danger. Here are the real facts about the differences between our bill, H.R. 4194, and the soft money loophole bill, H.R. 1606 introduced by Representative Hensarling.

Soft Money Loophole Under H.R. 1606

Unlike H.R. 1606, our bill would not exempt from the law soft money spent by political parties and by federal candidates in coordination with Washington lobbyists, corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, to buy campaign ads on the Internet. We prevent these soft money expenditures for campaign ads on the internet in order to protect both the soft money ban enacted in 2002 and the longstanding ban on corporate and union spending in connection with federal elections. H.R. 1606 would open the door to corruption and the appearance of corruption by allowing Washington lobbyists, corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to coordinate with a federal candidate to spend unlimited soft money to buy campaign ads on the Internet.

Complete bunk, as pointed out by Allison Hayward at Skeptic's Eye and Bob Bauer. But the comments of reformers have brought to light an even bigger problem--the power of the press, both online and traditional, to offer endorsements.

We have all seen the newspaper endorsements around election time. The newspaper's editorial board will write an editorial in which they endorse certain candidates for office, including federal office. But these endorsements are using corporate resources for the express advocacy of federal candidates--something that every other corporation in America is expressly forbidden from doing.

Campaign finance reformers often raise the soft money, corporate money boogeyman when dealing with any sort of regulation. However, media companies, whose business is admittedly the collection, reporting and dissemination of news, are still corporations themselves. The New York Times Co., Gannett, the Washington Post are all publicly traded corporations with a power that no other corporation has in the political arena. While the primary purpose of the media company is news reporting and commenting, the editorial page is the one area of the newspaper in which the editorial board is permitted to express itself without reservation. The editorial page is paid for with corporate resources and often expressly advocactes for the election of a federal candidate. Under FEC rules for all other companies, this would be a prohibited contribution.

Why would another company, say, financial services giant Citibank, not be in a position to offer valuable advice to the public about candidates and even endorse them. Surely the opinion of Citibank is just as informed at the NY Times. But Citibank cannot make such statements using corproate resources--they can use PAC money though. So Citibank cannot comment on politics in the same way as the Washington Post.

Rarely has anyone ever commented on the press endorsement because everyone simply acknowledges the notion that press endorsements are an extension of the freedom of the press. But why can't other corporations make endorsements?

The primary, and so far sole, purpose behind campaign finance regulation to be acknowledged by the Supreme Court is to prevent the corruption or appearence of corrpution of candidates for office. But it is difficult to see how a public endorsement by a corporation is somehow corruptng the candidate. Corporations may make contributions to ballot questions. The 1978 Supreme Court case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti held that corproation may make unlimited contributions to ballot questions because there is no candidate to corrupt.

How is an endorsment issued by a corporation or labor union any more corrupting than an endorsement issued by a newspaper? No money is changing hands and the corporation's name is attached to the endorsement, thus the disclosure of who is making the endorsement is clear. The voter can decide for themselves as to the value of the endorsement.

Of course, some in the reform community will argue that candidates seeking corporate endorsements may present an opportunity for corruption by seeking the endorsement. But every year, candidates appear before an editorial board seeking the endorsement of that newspaper. Again, what is the difference between asking a corporation for an endorsement any differnt than asking an editorial board controlled by a corporation? In short it is not.

I want to be clear. I am not saying we should prohibit newspapers from making and endorsement, I just think we need to allow other organizations the same privilege. Campaign reformers argue all the time about the soft money boogeyman, but not one of these groups ever thinks about the media endorsement as a soft money, corporate contribution. In this arena we need a little consistency.

Linked at: OTB Traffic Jam

Anti-Wal-Mart Bill in Maryland

The on-going battle to abuse Wal-Mart continues next year in Maryland, when a bill that passed last year but vetoed by Governor Bob Ehrlich, is taken up again.

The bill, which only affects Wal-Mart, would require the company to spend 8% of its payroll on health benefits or face a special tax to contribute to the state's Medicaid fund. Obstensibly the bill is targeted at any company with more than 10,000 employees in the state. While there are other companies in the state with more than 10,000 employees, most other companies spend more than 8% on health benefits.

This bill is a direct attack on Wal-Mart, in fact it is referred to in the Legislature as the Wal-Mart bill. The bill, and many other just like it, fail to understand why Wal-Mart doesn't pay its employees full health benefits like other companies--and it has nothing to do with greed.

Wal-Mart, like many retailers, employs a large contingent of part-time workers. Thus a large segment of their payroll does not include people who are eligible for health benefits. Another large segment of workers are elderly people--yes that is right, elderly. Wal-Mart is probably the largest single employer of workers over the age of 65. A fair number of elderly workers work at Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons; to supplement their retirement income, for social reasons or simple to do something with their time. Many of these elderly people do not need health benefits from Wal-Mart because they have Medicare or some other health coverage.

Wal-Mart also employs a large seasonal workforce-particularly in this time of the year. These people also don't qualify.

Finally, Wal-Mart has a large younger workforce who also have a high turnover. High School and college students who work at Wal-Mart (and there are a lot of them) are often covered under their parents insurance--thus they don't need health coverage.

So, I would expect that at any given time, fully 1/3 to 40% of Wal-Mart's work force, for one reason or another does not qualify for or opt into the Wal-Mart health plan. Such conditions automatically mean that the total Wal-Mart payroll contribution to health plans is going to be lower than employers of similar size.

This bill is simply another case of envy and lack of understanding of how Wal-Mart works. By the way, if working at Wal-Mart is so bad, why do so many people work there and continue to work there--all without Union protection? A good question.

FEC Approves Press Exemption for Websites/Bloggers

In yesterday's open meeting, the Federal Election Commission approved an Advisory Opinion for Fired Up!, an admittedly partisan website that comments on, editorializes about and reports on partisan politics.

Over at Red State, Adam Bonin notes:

Under the Commission's rules, "any person involved in a specific activity 'indistinguishable in all its material aspects'" from Fired Up! can rely upon this ruling unless Congress acts otherwise, and you can imagine what sites might feel better-protected today. Any such site engaged in news, commentary and editorial can continue in such activities without fear of falling into FEC filing requirements turning groups into political committees or incorporated sites into outlaws.


This is a tremendous victory for online free speech and will impact on the current debate in Congress. Kudos to Marc Elias and Brian Svoboda of the Perkins Coie law firm who are responsible, as well as the five FEC Commissioners who understood that neither the First Amendment, the statutes nor common sense could tolerate a different result.

Meanwhile, over at More Soft Money, Hard Law, Donna Lovecchio reports on the comments of various Commissioners:

Chairman Thomas questioned when an entity such as Fired Up might "cross the major purpose line" and be considered a political committee as defined by the Supreme Court. He notes that the major players involved with Fired Up have long-standing ties to the Democratic Party, and that the sites would advocate and solicit contributions to Democratic candidates

Of course, the major purpose test is already being litigated in the FEC v. Club for Growth case now pending in U.S. District Court in DC. See here for more information.

Vice Chair Toner strongly supported the Opinion, which in his view applied the press exemption broadly to online communications. He emphasized that express advocacy in no way removes the press exemption from Fired Up, even when the express advocacy is paid for with corporate funds. Vice Chair Toner also emphasized that soliciting for federal candidates, a profit motive, management by persons with strong political ties, and political bias of an entity in no way undermine the press exemption.

Vice Chair Toner believes the touchstone of the analysis in this instance is the sites' content of news stories, commentary and editorials, as well as the fact that they are not owned or controlled by a federal candidate or officeholder, or a political party.

In other words, Fired Up! is not different from any other press organziation like the New York Times or the Washington Post who have a profit motive, are managed by persons with strong political ties and have a political bias. Commissioner Weintraub agrees:

Commissioner Weintraub added that most media entities have political leadings, however pronounced, and that audiences often choose to read a publication or watch a particular program because of views generally expressed by the entity.

The comments submitted by various reform groups were addressed by Commissioner Mason

Commissioner Mason addressed the comments submitted by Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics. He believes those comments were misapplied. He did not understand how an entity like Fired Up could become a political committee "because it does too much politicking."

A few questions are raised by this AO, but over all this is pretty good news for the blogging community. Some of the questions that remain, include issues of express advocacy and solication of donations by a blog, even one that is a "press entity" or a personal blog. Would such activities change the "major purpose?" I am not sure, but even if a blatant partisan slant is present I fail to see how one person blogging on a personal blog can be considered either a campaign agent (particularly when there is no connection between the blogger and the candidate) or a political committee for purposes of the act. How is one person endorsing a candidate considered to be any different than a press entity like Fired Up! or the Post or Times or any of the thousands of other newspapers that expressly advocate and endores candidates? That particular question has not been asked of the FEC.

Linked At: Jo's Cafe, The Political Teen, California Conservative, Don Surber, Cao's Blog, TMH Bacon Bits, Blue State Conservatives, Blogging Outloud, Stuck on Stupid

Thursday, November 17, 2005

GOP Up the Creek without a Paddle

Are Republicans in a free-fall? The President's poll numbers are taking a continued nose-dive and the House and Senate GOP are in disarray. Want some proof? Here you go House Democrats Defeat Spending Bill.

In a bruising black eye for the House GOP, they can't get a spending bill passed.

Legislation to fund many of the nation's health, education and social programs went down to a startling defeat in the House Thursday, led by Democrats who said cuts in the bill hurt some of America's neediest people.

The 224-209 vote against the $142.5 billion spending bill disrupted plans by Republican leaders to finish up work on this year's spending bills and cast doubt on whether they would have the votes to pass a major budget-cutting bill also on the day's agenda.

Democrats, unanimous in opposing the legislation, said it included the first cut in education funding in a decade and slashed spending for several health care programs. "It betrays our nation's values and its future," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "It is neither compassionate, conservative nor wise."

Republicans said they may have lost votes because this year's bill, down $1.5 billion from last year, included no special projects or earmarks for lawmakers. "You take those out and you lose the incentive," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who voted for the bill.

Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure, many of them moderates who also are swing votes on the budget-cutting legislation.

The House GOP, which has long ignored the please of moderate Republicans are getting a lesson in coalition buildiing at the hands of the Dems and the moderate Republicans. Some House Republicans, according to Roll Call are calling for a leadership election in January. The primary impetus, at least publicly, has to do with the "Acting Majority Leader" status of Roy Blunt (MO). But after today's defeat, the GOP has to be thinking--"maybe we need new leadership across the board."

For months I have been saying that Democrats lacked a message and lacked cohesion within their ranks. I think the past several weeks have shown that theory to be trashed. At this point, the GOP is reeling from a lack of direction, a lack of discipline and a lack of message. While the President and the White House have gotten on their horse and started to beat back the Democratic message, the President still cannot break out of his slump.

Ever since Harry Reid's Secret Senate Session Stunt, the Democrats have run the table and controlled the message. President Bush and the GOP are answering the Democratic criticism-sure--but that answer is "they are being unfair and they are lying." Here is a news flash, Americans expect politicians to flip-flop and lie, we have come to expect it as the norm. The GOP needs to hone their message onto something else. A unified message on the economy, on success in Iraq, on anything other than "Bush Lied" and troop withdrawal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Diversity's Real Impact on Higher Education

Over at The Right Coast, Gail Heriot asks the question: Does diversity in enrollment actually improve education? According to studies she cites, the answer may be no.

Of course, the way in which people find out if diversity is a positive force on education is to simply ask in opinion polls:

Opinion polls are not always useful. Too many people answer the questions the way they think they are expected to. Doing so is a lot less likely to get them in trouble than answering truthfully or thoughtfully. It's the easy way out.

No one should be surprised, therefore, that when students are directly asked if they believe "diversity" has improved the quality of their education, they frequently answer "yes" even when they actually think "no" or have no particular basis for answering either "yes" or "no." Their teachers have been singing diversity hosannas to them since kindergarten. If the students are remotely well-socialized, they know exactly what answer is desired from them. And they dutifully give it.

Thus the mantra of diversity improves education has become so ingrained into our thinking that we don't question the response. The bell of diversity rings and everyone salivates like Dr. Pavlov's pooches.

Diversity became the new catchphrase on university campuses in the 80's and 90's as a way to justify affirmative action programs that favor some races over others. But Heriot points us to a study entitled "Does Enrollment Diversity Improve University Education?" (note: it will cost you $25.00 to get the report) in which the authors asked about diversity in an indirect manner.

Rather than ask students what they think of diversity, the authors asked students how satisfied they were with their overall university experience on a seven-point scale with 1 meaning "very dissatisfied" and 7 meaning "very satisfied." Students, faculty, and administrators were also asked (1) to rate their institution’s job of educating students as excellent, good, fair or poor; (2) to estimate the proportion of students at their institution who are academically ready prepared to be there-- almost all, most, only some, or almost none; and (3) to rate student work effort on a seven-point scale from "very lazy" to "very hardworking."

Contrary to what the "diversity" model would predict, students tend to be less satisfied with the their overall university experience the more racially diverse the student body. Students, faculty and adminstrators similarly were less impressed with the more "diverse" universities and their students. All this was done controlling for a host of factors concerning the kind and quality of the institution at issue as well as socio-economic and academic factors about the respondents.

Diversity may be a laudable goal and if diversity meant that all things being equal, a school may look at race, ethnicity or national origin when making determinations, I don't think people have a problem--or at least they have a different problem.

The failing point of diversity initiatives is that people, students in particular, feel, according to this study, that a school that pushes diversity above other academic goals somehow dillutes their educational experience. When people are shellling out tens of thousands of dollars for their education, they have a right to expect the best quality education for the money.

The side effect of diversity I witnessed at the University of Maryland, College Park was a growing insularity of races. The more diverse the campus became in terms of racial mix, the more the individual racial groups tended to congregate and isolate themselves from the rest of the campus. Part of this phenomenon was in doubt related to the natural desire to be with people like youself. On a micro scale, there is nothing wrong this, but on a macro scale, a big push for a diverse university community actually leads to a sort of self-imposed, de facto segregation. Such a scenario favors no one and does not improve the quality of education because there is no significant interaction between the groups.

Granted, I have only anecdotal evidence for my belief, but I would surmise that the hypothesis holds true. In a large campus, the greater the effort on diversity in admissions, the greater the self-imposed segregation among groups.

Linked at TMH Bacon Bits; EuphoricReality, Don Surber, bRight&Early

High School Newspaper Censorship

Hat Tip to the Ed Wonks

Because I know the schools involved, having grown up in Clay County Florida, this piece was of some personal interest to me. It appears as though a high school principal objected to a student newspaper column which claimed "Homosexuality is Not a Choice" because she thought the content was too mature for a high school audience. (you can judge for yourself)

The principal of the school prevented the distribution of the story, saying that the column's content was too mature, but the local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, published the column anyway. (See below)

Ok, I am not an expert, but this column does not appear to be too mature for a high school audience. As the student author, Katie Thompson, commented, "I didn't understand why - there's no reason to pull this. It wasn't overtly sexual or obscene or racist."

According to Supreme Court decisions, school administrators have a right to censor content in student publications if there is a justifiable educational reason. However, according to the Student Press Law Center and published reports, the principal gave no reason-other than it is too mature.

Thompson herself showed a fairly deep understanding of the law involved:

But Thompson said she won't sue because she said she knows principals have a legal right to censor student newspapers.

"I know she had the right, a lawsuit wouldn't work. I didn't see the point in pursuing it," she said, adding that as a student, hoping to pursue a career in print journalism, she's disheartened and confused. "Some people are really unfair and close-minded." Thompson said McCabe told her the essay could offend many Christians. (emphasis added)

Clay County is a pretty conservative county with a fairly large Christian community, but fear of offending Christians in the school is hardly a justifiable reason. But the action was taken, so what did our young journalist do, she began distributing here article at lunch--when she was threatened with suspension.

Thompson said she was called to McCabe's office and told the newspaper wouldn't be circulated because of her article. Thompson said she left crying.

"I didn't understand why -- there's no reason to pull this," she said. "It wasn't overtly sexual or obscene or racist."

Thompson said she made copies of the article and distributed them during lunch but was called back to McCabe's office.

"She told me if I kept handing them out ... she would suspend me," Thompson said.

Given that this article (copied below) is neither obscene, racists or contains any other sort of objectionable material, the principal clearly has violated rights of free speech. Had Thompson not used a printed medium, but stood in the halls of the school and made a speech on the same topic, she could not have been censored.

What kind of education are we giving our children when reasonable, well-written columns to apppear in the school newspaper are removed to avoid hurting someone's feelings. We are telling out kids that it is okay to censor someone whose ideas you disagree with, particularly if you are in a position of power.

Freedom of speech and the press is designed to protect that speech which is offensive to the majority, that challenges the status quo.

Homosexuality Is Not a Choice
by Katie Thompson
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) dropped homosexuality from its list of "mental illnesses." Since then, society has become more accepting of homosexuality. However, many people have different beliefs.

A few weeks ago, I was reading the newspaper, and a "face-off" article caught my eye. The question was "Can Christian counseling change sexual preference?" To me the obvious answer is no, it cannot.

The woman with the yes opinion used this statement to argue her point: "... hundreds of thousands of people who feel same-sex attraction, but do not want to live that way ..."

This backs up my point exactly. Homosexuals do not choose to be the way they are. It is a biological stimulation in the brain.

I can accept that some homosexuals don't want to be gay, but the fact is, they are. They can't help it and they can't change it.

On the subject, the APA also said, "No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight."

Now, human beings can choose not to act on their feelings, but they absolutely cannot change their feelings. It is ridiculous to think that you can change something that is biologically written into someone's brain.

Some individuals think that they, with their extreme religious beliefs, can "turn" homosexuals to a heterosexual status. These people, along with other homophobes in our country, set up counseling groups for homosexuals to try to change them.

Even though these people are stating that they have had success in these groups, it is not true. An "ex-gay" might have simply decided not to act on their feelings. Just because they don't act on it, doesn't mean it's not still there.

Most of today's psychologists view sexual orientation as neither willfully chosen or willfully changed.

Homosexuality is not a choice, and it cannot be changed in any gay or lesbian individual.
I think the article speaks for itself.

Linked at Cao's Blog, Jo's Cafe, Basil's Picnic Lunch, The Political Teen, Stuck on Stupid, OTB Traffic Jam

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

High Court Rules Against Parents in Md. Special Education Case

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Schaffer v. Weast, a case involving the administrative procedures used under challenges to individual education plans under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The holding in the case was that the burden of persuasion in administrative hearings falls on the party seeking relief, whether it be the parents or the school district. The actual law does not mention who the burden should fall on and Justice O'Connor, writing for the Court's Majority, said

We have usually assumed without comment that plaintiffs bear the burden of persuasion regarding the essential aspects of their claims...In numberous other areas, we have presumed or held that the default rule applies...The ordinary default rule, of course, admits of exceptions.

But while the normal default rule does not solve all cases, it certainly solves most of them. Decisions that place the entire burden of persuasion on the opposing party at the outset of a proceeding--as petitioners urge us to do here--are exceedingly rare. Absent some belief that Congress intended otherwise, therefore, we will conclude that the burden of persuasion lies where it usually falls, upon the party seeking relief.

The problem in this case is that the parents, who are not without means, did not like the IEPs developed by the Montgomery County Public Schools. The family had their son in a private school in Rockville, MD, but by the time the boy reached the seventh grade, the private school asked the parents to look elsewhere for the boy's education. After trying the public school system, whose options they did not like, the parents sent their child to a private school in Virginia. Then the parents asked the Montgomery County Schools to cover teh $17,000 a year tuition at the new private school.

Not surprising, Montgomery County fought the decision.

From a legal standpoint this is exactly right decision. When you sue someone, you need to prove that you claim is right, there is no need in cases such as these to make the school prove that their plan is right. The presumption that is created when the burden of proof is on the school district from the start is that the IEP is wrong from the start. Such a presumption would all but force more cases like these to be thrown to the courts. Congress didn't speak about how to handle these cases, so the court just uses the default rule.

But is this a right decision from the educational standpoint? In many respects this is not a good case to make law on. The parents were wealthy (Potomac, MD is one of the wealthiest areas in the state) and could afford to send their kid to a private school. But special education kids raise so many questions of propriety, to what extent the schools must accomodate special needs kids and the cost of such accomodations, which must be born, ulitmately, by the taxpayers. Should their be an automatic presumption that the schools know what they are doing? Since I tend to question government involvement in a number of arenas, I tend to say no as my default position. In this realm, it may be that the parents, and the doctors, know the kid better than the school system.

This knowledge may be acknowledged by the involvement of hte parents in the development of a IEP, but that leaves the question, how much involvement do parents have in the formation of an IEP? I would suspect that the schools are more likely to impose, with few options, a plan comprising a menu of options rather than a truly tailored plan to fit the invdivdual child. Uniquely individual plans are expensive, even when aggregating some common expenses.

It may be that the Schaffers in this case were as unhappy with the process of the IEP developement for their son as they were with the end result. If that is the case, then perhaps this case will cause school systems and parents to begin to come together in a much more collaborative fashion.

The Washington Post has this story from yesterday and this story from today.

Dean Disavows Racial Slurs, Stops Short of Apology

The Washington Times is reporting that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has issued a written statement disavowing racial slurs used against Maryland Republican Michael Steele.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean -- who previously ducked questions about the propriety of racial attacks on Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele -- yesterday disavowed such campaign tactics.

"I oppose any effort to make an issue of a candidate's ethnicity in a political campaign, including in the Maryland Senate race," Mr. Dean said.

He issued the written statement after Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane prodded him to apologize for remarks he made Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

A couple of things here. First, a "leader" like Dean should not have to be "prodded" into an apology on anything. If you do something wrong, be a man and say so. To be fair, this is a problem across the political spectrum and not isolated just to Democrats. Second, I hate written statements. If it is important (and this is because racial attacks, no matter who is doing the attacking is wrong on every level), it should be done with a verbal statement to the press. Issuing a written statement, to me, is akin to ghost writing a memoir, it may be done all the time, but it is not personal.

But wait, Dean disavowed the statements, but there is still no apology--from anyone!!!

Mr. [John] Kane [Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party] yesterday said Mr. Dean's statement was "wholly incorrect" and demanded an apology. He called the remark "a pathetic attempt to excuse the racist comments and treatment leveled against Steele."

A day after the program, Mr. Dean responded by issuing the written statement, but declined to apologize.

Why not apologize? Again, this ia a coward's way of saying, "well it was wrong and they shouldn't have done it, but...."

But Dean couldn't just leave it there. He had to take the opportunity to bash Republicans:

His written statement also accused Republican officials of disenfranchising black voters.

"I also call on Chairman Mehlman to join me in condemning Republican secretaries of state who continue to make it harder for African-Americans around the country to exercise their right to vote," Mr. Dean said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said Mr. Dean was still dodging the issues.

"Whether it is answering a question about what his party stands for ... or whether it is repudiating racist attacks against Michael Steele, it seems Chairman Dean is incapable of speaking to the issue," he said.

See, Howard Dean is not really sorry for this episode. He may publicly disavow the remarks, but he has not issued any apology to Steele or any rebukes to the insufferable racists who issued the slurs. Instead of apologizing, Dean has to try to score political points. Mr. Diaz is right, this written statement is not truly a disavowal.

I don't expect an apology of any sort to come from a Democrat, because many of them may not feel as though what has happened is wrong. In an unrelated post, LaShawn Barber pointed out about racial distinctions:

Most "mainstream" blacks don’t see anything wrong with skin color distinctions in public ... long as blacks are the ones receiving the benefits of discrimination. It’s called human nature. Back in the day when government skin color distinctions harmed blacks, they called it what it was: repugnant.(emphasis in original)

Therefore it is OK for a black Democrat to call a black Republican a traitor to his race and other racial slurs, but the reverse is not true--because that would be racist.

Talk about your double standards.

By the way, the Dean written statement, no where to be found on the DNC website. Also, no other major media outlets are running the Dean disavowal. Hmm!

Linked to Jo's Cafe, The Political Teen, Don Surber, Basil's Picnic Lunch, OTB Traffic Jam

Monday, November 14, 2005

Endorsement: Steele for Senate

When I started this blog, I intended this space to be a place to put my mental deterius, a place where I could spout off about items of interest. Over time, I figured I would start to see if people would read and comment about what I wrote. It has been fun.

However, as I have progressed in my thinking about politics, I am not just interested in the issues and debates about policy--although that is quite fun. I also believe that politics should not just be a spectator sport.

It is easy for bloggers to sit on the sidelines and carp about this policy or that, about the Administration or about Congress. It is easy to sit and comment about the brilliance or stupidity of political campaigns or candidates. In fact I have done so on a few occaisions in this blog. But of all the blogs I have read (and the blogroll to the left is just a small sample), no one seems to want to put their money, or rather their blog, where their mouth is. I want to be a little different now.

Those few of you who have read my blog regularly of late have noticed the articles I have posted about Michael Steele and the racists remarks he has suffered at the hands of black Democrats. I admire Lt. Gov. Steele, both in terms of his personal story and his politics. His courage to stand on his own politically, making his politics separate from his race and dependent on personal responsibility appeals to me.

Michael Steele believes in making a difference on a personal level, believing that ones personal actions determines one's course in life. Micahale Steele believes in a strong education, small business and personal freedom. We don't see eye to eye on some issues and that is what makes for good politics, the willingness to talk about issues and find common ground and solutions.

I know that we are some 10 months from the Maryland Primary and almost a year from the general election. I don't care, I believe in early support and strong support.

I believe Michael Steele will be a great Senator for the state of Maryland. For the readers who live in Maryland, I urge you to vote for Michael Steele, in the Maryland primary on September 12 and in the General Election on November 7, 2006.

For those of you outside of Maryland, please consider even a small donation to his campaign. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in the state, but Steele and Gov. Bob Ehrlich will appears on teh ballot together next year. They have done a fantastic job for the state, erasing a massive budget deficit and providing great leadership against a Democratic legislature. Despite the overwhelming odds against them, Ehrlich and Steele won election in 2002 and they can win again.

Vote for Michael Steele for U.S. Senate.

Federal Case Could Affect Future Campaigns

A few weeks ago, I reported on the indictment of Tom Noe of Ohio for criminal violations of campaign finance laws. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported on the potential impact of this case on future campaigns.

One impact may be

More rules and regulations may be needed to protect politicians who can't keep tabs on their massive armies of solicitors, said Dan Hoffheimer, a Democratic National Committee member who served as a lawyer for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign in Ohio.

"Campaigns need to continue to take a more active role in supervising the activities of their people in the field, but the problem is, how do we create a clear set of written rules for doing that?" Hoffheimer said.

The FEC is currently considering new rules for the definition of agent that may help. But in the end, it ins probably going to fall to the campaings to keep a tighter rein on their fundraisers. They should, they are in the best position to police their fundraisers.

Too often, in many cases, the fundraisers like Tom Noe have no training on any aspect of the campaign finance law, i.e. what they can and cannot do when raising money for federal candidates. Campaigns need to make sure their agents both understand and follow the law.

U.N. Internet Regulation?

There is some growing opinion on the convening of a U.N. conference in Tunisia these week dealing with the possible U.N. Regulation of the internet.

This is a dnagerous developement. It is bad enough that Congress is asking the FEC to regulate political speech by bloggers in the United States. We certainly don't need the U.N., that bastion of effectiveness, having anything to do with internet regulations.

The Democracy Project writes:

Yesterday’s London Times quotes me, with respect to the effort to place control of the Internet under U.N. control:

"This issue, this outrageous putsch attempt, deserves an uproar heard around the world on the internet," wrote blogger Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project. He criticized the EU for its ties to "such stalwarts of smothering internet freedom as China, Cuba, Iran."

The London Times also quotes two leftist bloggers, one calling this "the US conservative spin machine turning this into a battle between the democracy-loving US Government protecting the internet from censorship from the dictators and thugs who run the UN," and another, the leading leftist blogger Markos Moulitas of Daily Kos, saying, the U.S." "international belligerence" undermines the world’s faith that the U.S. should regulate a "global medium." The U.S., unmentioned, has not regulated, but invested in and maintained a completely open forum, anathema to tyrants and those who travel alongside.

The internet is the one place where people who value freedom of thought and expression can go with impunity, particularly if they are not fortunately enough to live in a place that protects such speech. Placing it under U.N. control is just plain dangerous.

From the Cato Institute:

Nevertheless the "U.N. for the Internet" crowd say they want to "resolve" who should have authority over Internet traffic and domain-name management; how to close the global "digital divide"; and how to "harness the potential of information" for the world's impoverished. Also on the table: how much protection free speech and expression should receive online.

Non-regulation is best, according to Cato, which follows its libertariant bent, but since that is not likely to happen,
the second-best solution is that the legal standards governing Web content should be those of the "country of origin." Ideally, governments should assert authority only over citizens physically within its geographic borders. This would protect sovereignty and the principle of "consent of the governed" online. It would also give companies and consumers a "release valve" or escape mechanism to avoid jurisdictions that stifle online commerce or expression.

Cato closes with:
The Internet helps overcome artificial restrictions on trade and communications formerly imposed by oppressive or meddlesome governments. Allowing these governments to reassert control through a U.N. backdoor would be a disaster.

Truer words never spoken.

Still No Democratic Apology to Steele, Dean Declines

Hat Tip: The Political Teen for the video.

Over the weekend, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman issued a challenge to DNC Chairman Howard Dean to sit at the same "Meet the Press" segment, a challenge Dean refused--despite the overwhelming precedent to do so. (Go to the end of the story to see how often RNC and DNC leaders have appeared together.

At the same time, Mehlman asked Dean to denounce the racist remarks issued by black Maryland legislators and apologize to Republican Senate frontrunner Michael Steele. Dean replied:

Mr. Dean declined to address the statements against Mr. Steele, but said, "I didn't hear Ken condemning the chairman of the Maryland party when he called me an anti-Semite."

Mr. Dean, whose wife is Jewish, did joust with the head of the New York Republican party, but a LexisNexis search does not show that John M. Kane, Maryland's Republican Party leader, was involved.

So Howard Dean apparently can't get his states straight either.

So let's see the scoreboard on the racist remarks:
Denouncments: 3, by all black Maryland Democrats, U.S. Reps. Albert Wynn and Elijah Cummings and fellow Senate Canddiate Kweisi Mfume
Apologies: 0, none, nada, zip from any level of government.

The longer this issue goes on, the worse Democrats look. Right now it looks like Blacks are afraid of Steele and apologizing to him would make them look weak. What it really does at this point is extend the story. If Democrats had denounced the remarks and apologized within days of the remarks being made, this story would be over, now it has extended to two weeks and until I see an apology in teh press, I will continue to present the story.

No Blame for the Designers

Today's Washington Post offers a diatribe against the recess appointment of FEC Commissioners. At least the Washington Post editors are consistent in their opposition to the use of the recess appointment process to fill any vacancy, but that is about all that can be said in defense of this screed.

The Bush administration, though, is said to be weighing a spate of recess appointments to the Federal Election Commission, where the terms of four of six commissioners have expired.

This would be a gross misuse of the recess appointment power, and if the reports that he's planning it are correct, President Bush ought to think again. The vacancies at the FEC -- one commissioner has left; three others continue to serve while they await successors -- aren't the product of congressional inaction. In fact, there haven't been any nominations for the Senate to act on. Rather, the recess appointments would let a bipartisan cabal evade examination of, and a vote on, nominees who will control the commission's direction.

Anytime you are appointing a majority of any body, whether it is the FEC, the FCC or the local animal control board, those nominees are going to influence the direction of the body--that is just simple mathematics. But I digress

The FEC is an agency designed for failure and accomplished at that mission. Its commissioners are evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and they have more often acted in the interest of the politicians who appointed them than the election law they are supposed to enforce.

Somehow the design failures of the FEC are blamed on the individual commissioners. If an agency is "designed for failure" why are we not blaming the desingers. If a toll bridge was designed to fail, do we blame the toll takers? No, we blame the desingers. In the case of hte FEC, the designer is Congress themselves, but they are all too often absolved from blame. If Congress truly wanted to pass a measure to reform the FEC, they could have done so with BCRA--but didn't--and still have the power to make the change. Will they? No, because it does not serve their self-interest to have a regulatory agency, that will police the political activities of Congress and congressional candidates, with too much power. Something the Post seems to have missed.

Not that I am campaigning for the job, nor likely to be apppointed, but I would love the opportunity for the Senate to question me. My first response to any question about lack of enforcement would be to point out that the Senate was complicit in the design failure and blaming the Commissioners and Commission staff for their weakness is misleading at best and hypocritical at worst.

Were I in the Presiden't shoes, I would recess appoint all four members and in doing so, issue a challenge to Congress. If you don't like it, tough, write a better law and I will appoint different commissioners.

Allison Hayward comments here and Bob Bauer here.

Also linked at: Jo's Cafe, the Political Teen, OTB Traffic Jam

Academic Freedom at Naval Academy

The Balitmore Sun recently reported on tension between civilian professors and Naval Academy leadership.

In the ivory towers of academia, free thought is a virtue and authority exists to be questioned.

But at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, authority is to be revered and obeyed. For the 221 uniformed members of the teaching faculty, that's not a problem. They readily salute their commanders and heed orders.

For the 313 civilian professors, who teach everything from English literature to electrical engineering and often come from a culture that favors the free exchange of views, it can be a source of tension.

The tension comes from a series of stinging rebukes of Academy policies and the institution itself from a number of it civilian professors.

Based solely on the matter presented in the Sun, it seems as though there is enough blame to share.

Early this year, for example, he [tenured Egnlish Professor Bruce Fleming] published an essay in a Navy trade magazine criticizing the school's admissions process. Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt, the academy's superintendent, issued him a private rebuke.

And last month, Fleming was not permitted to sign copies of his latest book - which contains essays that question the academy's affirmative action policies - at the campus bookstore, a practice regularly allowed for other faculty.

Looking at this, Fleming needs to be reminded that the Academy does not handle admissions like most colleges. Save for a few exceptions, like being the child of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, most students attend the Naval Academy, indeed West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy as well, through Congressional appointment. (here is a sample explanation of the academy appointment process) Each member of Congress and Senator gets a certain number of appointments to each academy (I think the number is five, but I am not sure). Thus, the admissions process involves people and institutions other than the Naval Academy. This admissions policy is the result of politics and tradition.

All military officers receive a commission from the United States Congress to serve as officers in the military--indeed as officers of the United States. For decades, most military officers came from the Academies, occaisionally supplemented by the ROTCs at various colleges and universities. The purpose behind congressional appointement to the academies is a result a desire to have officers appointed who were deemed worthy by those granting the commission, i.e. Congress.

Fleming should know this. But putting that aside, the Academy made a stupid mistake for issuing a rebuke, even a private rebuke to a professor. If anything, such a move all but guarantees a controversy. Whereas, if the Academy had simply issued a counterargument to Fleming's essay, it may have sparked a real debate about admissions, which admittedly are often skewed, both racially and politically.

Abortion to Hijack Alito Nomination

Given the recent media spate regarding a job application from then job-seeking lawyer and now Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito regarding his personal political belief that abortion is not guaranteed by the Constition, the media field day is underway. The result will be that an issue that is largely settled as a matter of law and not subject to a great deal of change in public opinion is going to, once again, hijack the nomination proceedings of a potential justice.

First, on a strict reading of the Constitution, Alito is right. There is no right to abortion, explicit or implicit, in the Constitution. In fact, the right to privacy, which is often cited as the basis for abortion rights, does not exist explicitly in the Constitution, although a strong case can be made for the inference.

Second, this is a job application, where one often puffs and spins one's credentials to get a job. We have all done it at one time or another in our careers, is Samuel Alito somehow not permitted?

But once again, abortion is going to take center stage in a nomination battle when the issue of abortion, at least as it is currently defined by Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Right to Life Committees, is irrelevant.

As I have argued before, the issue is not abortion, but rather how abortion may be used in the future. Aside from the most conservative right advocates, most people will be willing to accept abortion for cases of rape or incest. Others may draw the permissive line at abortion to protect the physical health of the mother.

Extremist abortion supporters often demand abortion on demand in any case, but even most "right to choose" advocates balk at completely unrestricted abortion. So what should be the issue, at least when it comes to abortion?

Should we, as a society, permit abortion for sex selection? Is aborting a fetus who MAY have developmental disabilities permissible? Assuming scientists find a gene that causes homosexuality, can or should we abort that child? What if the child has a genetic test for a disposition toward cancer or other debilitating diseases, is abortion permissible in those cases?

The issue is not abortion itself, but all of these sides to the issue. Do I think Alito disapproves of abortion on a personal level? Probably. Do I think he is going to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? I don't know, but I doubt it since such a move carries a number of unintended consequences with it. But how does Alito's views on abortion handle all of these side issues.

As the Cato Institute writes, the key issue for the Court isn't abortion, but a whole host of other issues. Cato urges the Senate to look at property rights and federalism. I think the Senate needs to focus on civil rights and liberties in times of national crisis.

But sadly, the media doesn't care as much about those issues because they are complicated and involve matters that tend not to create such bright lines of division like abortion, even though the many issues of abortion are so complex it makes federalism issues look downright third grade.