Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Forgotten Supreme Court Deicsion

In all the hubbub surrounding the 10 Commandments cases, Kelo, and Grokster cases everyone seems to have forgetten another case handed down on Monday--National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services that will have a more direct impact on our day to day lives than any other.

The issue in Brand X stems from a decision by the Federal Communications Commission to exempt from regulation broadband internet services provided by cable companies. Actually, that is not toally accurate, as Justice Thomas writes in the majority opinion:

In the order under review, the Federal Communications Commission concluded that cable companies that sell broadband Internet service do not provide "telecommunications servic[e]" as the Communications Act defines that term, and hence are exempt from mandatory common-carrier regulation under Title II. We must decide whether that conclusion is a lawful construction of the Communications Act (Brand X, 545 U.S. ___, *1).

The real subject of the case is the Communications Act of 1996 which set up a regulatory structure that no longer applies in 2005. In the 1996 Act, telecommunications were separated into two categories--telecommunication service and information services. Telecommunications service is the "offering of telecommunciations for a fee directly to the public regardless of the facilities used." An information service, on the other hand, is "the offering of a capabilityfor generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications." Brand X, at *5.

Of course those crystalline definitions provide no real guidance as to how cable internet is to be regulated at all--hence the controversy. Internet service provided by dial-up or DSL is regulated as a common carrier, meaning the the phone company who owns the lines going into your house (and they do), must permit other companies to use those lines for a reasonable and non-discriminatory fee. That means if your phone lines in your house were laid by Verizon, you have the option as a consumer to use MCI or SBC or any other telephone company for your phone and/or DSL connection and Verizon must honor that choice and allow that company access to the lines Verizon owns going into your house. Again, this is all because dia-up and DSL use phone lines, which are regulated as a telecommunications service.

The FCC makes a disticntion between DSL and internet cable based on a rather silly notion that consumers have no choice in. When a customer uses DSL, they must also choose an ISP (even though the DSL company is an ISP also--in most cases.). With a cable modem, there is no need to choose an ISP because the cable company serves as your ISP, even though you would be free to use another ISP as well. If you look carefully, you can see a chicken-and-egg argument. The cable company acts as your ISP because they can and the FCC doesn't require them to provide an option for a different DSL because they are a cable provider. Fun Huh?

Cable internet connections are labled as an information service--although they are in essence the same thing. This difference in definition seems to hold little relevance for the consumer, but it can make a big difference in your pocketbook, because under the FCC decision, affirmed by the Supreme Court on Monday in Brand X. The cable company, as an information service is not regulated as a common carrier. This means that competing companies offering internet connections via cable modems CANNOT force your cable company to provide access to the lines into your house.

So, if you live in my area, Adelphia provides your cable TV service (already a de facto monopoly) and they own the cable lines leading to your house. Since they own the "last mile" of cable, they own the pipeline into your house for cable internet service. Thus if you like the reliability of a cable internet, you have no choice but to go with Adelphia. Of course, as a monopoly they can charge you what they want. There is no competing service nor do they have to allow a competing service.

To be fair to the Supreme Court they are completly hamstrung by a poorly written law in desparate need of rewriting. In fact, many communications services, including cellular telephony, internet telephony and other new services available overseas, cannot move beyond their infancy here because of this law. As more decisions like Brand X and FCC rulings become commonplace and consumers get frustrated, there will be pressure on Congress to change the law. We need to get the 1996 Communications Act repealed and replaced with a law that does not distinguish between methods of delivery the information we receive.

Contact your Congressman and Senators and tell them to get busy so that rediculous decisions like Brand X are not forced on us.

NY Times: Tenuous Connections

I have had with editorial writers who use some heart string ploy when making their point, exploiting the death of a fallen soldier (without the families permission I am sure) to make a political critique. The latest is NY Times' Bob Herbert, who in today's Op-Ed, writes:

More than 1,730 American troops have already died in Iraq. Some were little more than children when they signed up for the armed forces, like Ramona Valdez, who grew up in the Bronx and was just 17 when she joined the Marines. She was one of six service members, including four women, who were killed when a suicide bomber struck their convoy in Falluja last week.

First, every casualty is a tragedy for someone--including the President. But it is easy for a writer to criticize, he doesn't have to make the agonizing decision to send troops into harms way.

But this particular exploitation galls me. In one paragraph Herbert seems to insinuate that President Bush has personally killed or sent to their death young people and women in greater numbers than any President. Such an argument is wrong on many levels.

First, most combat troops are young. Combat is a young person's profession due to the physical demands. While lives are cut short in combat on a regular basis, the fact that young people die in combat is not unique to the war in Iraq. In World War II, although I have no hard data, I would guess that the average age of a combat casualty was probably younger than Corporal Valdez. I would also wager that if one were to average the age of those who have died in Iraq, you would get an age closer to 20 or 21 or even higher than the 19 or so that was probably common in World War II.

Second, I will grant that more women may have died in "combat" operations in Iraq than in previous wars. But keep in mind, this war is one of the first to have such casualties as a significant . This is a function of two things--the opening of more jobs in teh army to women. 9Which I am sure that Mr. Herbert supported with full volume) Second, more and more "combat" is occuring away from the major combat areas--the convoys and logistical support efforts than had been the case in the past. As a result these logistics units are taking more casualties, and more female casualties, than in the past.

Noting that two years ago, President Bush did not have an "exit" strategy or a plan for defeating the blossoming insurgency, Herbert writes:

Mr. Bush had no coherent strategy for defeating the insurgency then, and now - more than 1,500 additional deaths later - he still doesn't.

The incompetence at the highest levels of government in Washington has undermined the U.S. troops who have fought honorably and bravely in Iraq, which is why the troops are now stuck in a murderous quagmire. If a Democratic administration had conducted a war this incompetently, the Republicans in Congress would be dusting off their impeachment manuals.

First, I don't know if the President has a plan for winning in Iraq--and I am pretty certain that Mr. Herbert doesn't know either. Just because we haven't been told doesn't mean there isn't a strategy. Assuming there is (and I believe there is), I, and I am absolutely certain, Mr. Herbert would not be on the plan's distribution list.

Next, the Republicans running Congress in 1994-1995 didn't impeach President Clinton when we got entangled in Kosovo and Bosnia. They respected the fact that the President had more information than they did about the situation. Now, Mr. Herbert would probably respond--"we were involved in a United Nations mission there." So, American troops died there. Albeit not in numbers like in Iraq, but nonetheless people died--young people.

Herbert closes with this little dig:

Whether one agreed with the launch of this war or not - and I did not - the troops doing the fighting deserve to be guided by leaders in Washington who are at least minimally competent at waging war. That has not been the case, which is why we can expect to remain stuck in this tragic quagmire for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Herbert fails to distinguish between minimal military competence and political competence. Here is how it works in the real military world. The civilian leadership determines the political goals of a war. Then the military takes over and carries out the missions. The troops on the ground understand their role in the world, more so than any other army in history. They rely on their training and their leaders to protect them. This war has been admirably led. There is a political goal, a free and secure Iraq. The mission is being accomplished and if the NY Times would get its head out of the liberal sand and take a look around in Iraq--they would see it.

Finally, the next time Mr. Herbert feels he needs to make a political poing by using a fallen soldier or Marine, I would like to see a disclaimer--"I have used a dead soldier's name without the permission of their family in order to score my rhetorical points." At least then his readers would know where he is coming from.

Sitting in the Beltway Traffic Jam

Dangerous Incompetence - New York Times

The Silence at Ft. Bragg--Just a Disciplined Army

It seems strange to me that this is even an issue. The military, in particular, the elite troops of the special forces and the airborne units stationed at Bragg, is a highly disciplined organization. Assuming the Times got these facts right:

"The guy from White House advance, during the initial meetings, said, 'Be careful not to let this become a pep rally,' " Captain Earnhardt recalled in a telephone interview. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, confirmed that account.

As the message drifted down to commanders, it appears that it may have gained an interpretation beyond what the administration's image-makers had in mind. "This is a very disciplined environment," said Captain Earnhardt, "and some guys may have taken it a bit far," leaving the troops hesitant to applaud.

it would seem to me that the mission was accomplished. If an order was handed down to keep the raucous tone down, it is not unreasonable for military commanders to interpret those orders pretty strictly--meaning, keep the applause to a minimum and be respectful.

Of course, had teh troops been their usual rowdy self in the presence of their Commander in Chief, the White House and the Army would have been blasted by the NY Times for making a policy speech too political. (of course, the Times would also not be able to see the irony in making a "policy" speech political--after all policy is political.).

For similar thoughts see, The Captain's Quarters and Outside the Beltway.

Troops' Silence at Fort Bragg Starts a Debate

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hate the Media, but Love MY Media

Hat Tip to Balkinization

The Pew Research Center has issued a new study that says the more poeple believe the media to be less credible, yet at the same time still like their media sources. Daniel Solove has a good post over at Balkinization about the study, noting

What conclusions can be drawn from these trends? One conclusion is an ominous one -- that the public doesn't use credibility as a major factor in analyzing media performance. After all, if the media still receives high favorability ratings in spite of declining credibility, then this shows that credibility is not tied much to favorability. Shouldn't there be a better connection? It would seem to me that credibility is a critical component of what the media should be all about. People should expect credibility, and if they're not getting it, they should not still be liking the media.

Another conclusion is an optimistic one. Perhaps this means that the public is watching the news with a healthier skepticism; people are less willing to take whatever is reported in the news as the truth. And a healthy skepticism is a good thing, right? To some extent, yes, but what if this skepticism increasingly means that people are just dismissing facts that run against their ideologies and partisan interests?

Actually, while Solove may be right, the results could be reflective of a more basic phenomenon. Similar to the way most people don't like Congress, but love their Representative, I think people dislike the media as an entity, but love their personal media outlets. People like the hometown newspaper or their hometown newscast, but distrust national outlets.

Part of this may be reflective of the more homogeneous nature of hometown news outlets. In smaller towns and cities, more of a connection exists between the reporters and their subjects than exists in large national media outlets. I think Solove is in that more people have a health skepticism about media representations, but the notion "that people are just dismissing facts that run against their ideologies and partisan interests" may be overstating the case. There has always been a dismissal of ideas and interpretations that run counter to one's ideology, but rarely do people dismiss facts out of hand because they don't like them--so long as they are facts.

Open CRS Network - CRS Reports for the People

Open CRS Network - CRS Reports for the People is a relatively new website that has links to all of the publicly available reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service. The CRS is the non-partisan research arm of Congress. In essence any member of Congress may ask the specialists at CRS to conduct research into any topic. Normally these reports are private (depsite being paid for by public funds) and are released to the public by the Member of Congress who requested the report.

I for one believe this to be a fine idea, from a taxpayer standpoint and from a public information standpoint. However, Amanda Butler (hat tip to Outside the Beltway) at Crescat Sententia is on the fence:

I'm inclined not to believe that making CRS reports generally available to the public would not cause a burden upon the CRS itself: as it stands, these are internal memos designed to be frank and honest and nonpartisan. They are not intended to be used as ammunition. They are not peer-reviewed. They are simply designed to be useful to members of Congress. If they must also be safe for public consumption, will they be able to fill that role?

Again, I'm on the fence: I've found the CRS reports I've used before to be helpful, and I'd be interested in reading more of them. But I'm also not sure yet if the proposal's prudent.

I disagree. Leaving aside the taxpayer funded matter, I think that these reports are probably the BEST source of information about Congressional questions. Too often information released by members of Congress and lobbying operations is so full of spin and contradictions that it is impossible to tell what the truth is about a subject. With a non-partisan, non-agenda setting report written by academics who have no stake in the fight other than providing Congress with solid facts, I think the CRS reports represents the best opportunity to have solid information about what Congress is looking at.

Members of Congress use these reports as the foundation for policy decisions or non-decisions. Why should the public not have access to these reports on subjects safe for public consumption (read: not related to national security issues).

My only critique of the site is its poor search capabilities. For example, I threw in a search for charter schools and got back a report on NASA appropriations. But as a start-up site, this source has a great deal of potential.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

If this Is True--How Appropriate!!

This from the Volokh Conspiracy--apparently there is a move afoot to eminent domain land owned by Justice David Souter to build a hotel under the law Souter just supported.

Oh, the irony!!!

The Quitters Caucus

Recently, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced H. Con. Res. 35, a call for bringing the troops home from Iraq. The legislation, which even if passed by Congress, would be non-binding on the President, says that President Bush should:

(1) develop and implement a plan to begin the immediate withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;
(2) develop and implement a plan for reconstructing Iraq's civil and economic infrastructure;
(3) convene an emergency meeting of Iraq's leadership, Iraq's neighbors, the United Nations, and the Arab League to create an international peacekeeping force in Iraq and to replace United States Armed Forces in Iraq with Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard forces to ensure Iraq's security; and
(4) take all steps necessary to provide the Iraqi people with the opportunity to completely control their internal affairs.

I love this resolution because it just shows how simple-minded Woolsey and her compatriots in the Quitters Caucus are.

First, immediate withdrawal is impossible becasue in order to effectuate requirements 2 and 4, you need to have the troops there. Rep. Woolsey can't have her cake and eat it too. Second, immediate withdrawal is logistically impossible. How does she propose we move tens of thousands of troops and their equipment in a orderly fashion? Teleportation?

Next, how do you think that average trooper in Iraq feels when the Quitters Caucus says they should come home with a mission not completed. These are professional soldiers and as a group they don't like to leave a job undone. Why then force them to quit. It makes America look like we can't handle the tough job over the long haul--exactly what the terrorists want to prove.

A UN peacekeeping mission? Oh, those have been so successful in the past. Evidence--look at Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Do you really expect a peacekeeping force to come from Iraqi neighbors. Half those neighbors want to conquer Iraq for themselves.

Here is the Quitters Caucus. If one of them happens to be your Representative, you should let them know how you feel about their membership in the Quitters Caucus.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin [WI-2]
Rep. Xavier Becerra [CA-31]
Rep. Lacy Clay [MO-1]
Rep. Johon Conyers [MI-14]
Rep. Danny Davis [IL-7]
Rep. William Delahunt [MA-10]
Rep. Lane Evans [IL-17]
Rep. Sam Farr [CA-17]
Rep. Barney Frank [MA-4]
Rep. Raul Grijalva [AZ-7]
Rep. Maurice Hinchey [NY-22]
Rep. Mike Honda [CA-15]
Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee [TX-18]
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones [OH-11]
Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick [MI-13]
Rep. Dennis Kucinich [OH-10]
Rep. Barbara Lee [CA-9]
Rep. John Lewis [GA-5]
Rep. Jim McDermott [WA-7]
Rep. James McGovern [MA-3]
Rep. Cynthia McKinney [GA-4]
Rep. Michael Michaud [ME-2]
Rep. Gwen Moore [WI-4]
Rep. Grace Napolitano [CA-38]
Rep. John Olver [MA-1]
Rep. Major Owens [NY-11]
Rep. Ed Pastor [AZ-4]
Rep, Donald Payne [NJ-10]
Rep. Charles Rangel [NY-15]
Rep. Janice Schakowsky [IL-9]
Rep. Jose Serrano [NY-16]
Rep. Pete Stark [CA-13]
Rep. Maxine Waters [CA-35]
Rep. Diane Watson [CA-33]

This Post can be found in the Beltway Traffic Jam

Pelosi with Blinders On

In a recenct interview, Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, said that she would stake her repuation on picking up seats in the 2006 elections.

Six months into her second term as the top House Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) laid out her strategy for victory in 2006 and staked her reputation on the party picking up seats in the next election.

Pelosi, in a wide-ranging interview on politics and policy, made no firm promise that her party would regain control of the House, but said if the “election were held today,” Democrats would prevail. She said Democrats are on strong footing on the major issues of the day — Social Security, the ethics of the GOP majority and the war in Iraq — and have the political machine in place to win seats.

First of all, if any partisan leader looks at polls for an election that will not happen for 15 months and think they are a lock for anything, they are smoking crack. Right now most people are asked teh question, "If the election were held today, would you vote for a Democratic or a Republican candidate?" Or something to that effect. With many people in a funk (created in part by negative reporting by the MSM), they are likely to say they would vote against the party in power--which in this case means the Democrats get some support. The problem with this line of thought is that when push comes to shove, voters hate Congress but love their Congressman, thus the high re-election rate.

As to issues, the GOP has won half the battle on Social Security--until this year, the Democrats insisted there was nothing wrong with the system, but now they admit there is a looming problem. Of course the only plans offered to date to fix the Social Security system have come from Republicans--but as I have said, the Democrats suffer from a lack of a message or ideas.

When asked whether she would at least bank her credibility on House Democratic pickups, Pelosi said: “Yes. I think we will make gains, it’s just a question of how many.”

Of course, Democrats said the same thing in 2002 and the GOP still picked up seats. This administration and the GOP has shown its ability to buck history with every election--why then should 2006 be any different?

The former Minority Whip said Democrats have enjoyed solid recruiting so far this cycle by already locking in 19 candidates in open and GOP held seats, showing record fundraising and putting together a massive rapid response effort to combat Republican proposals and attacks.

Responding to proposals and attacks, but not with anything of substance.

Pelosi said Democrats are targeting as many as 50 districts for pickups this cycle, and if they can win a third of those, they have a good shot.

Targeting 50 races at this stage is going to be a waste of money. With the need to pick up 15 seats and hold their current seats, the Democrats face a tough battle. If I were plotting strategy, I would be looking at no more than 30 races and probably 25 where efforts could be conentrated. But then again, Democrats always hold idealistic ideas instead of looking at the real situation. Of the 15 most vulnerable Republican seats, they Democrats have a realistic shot at only about 5-7. Statistically though, 13 or 14 of those vulnerable Republicans will still get re-elected.

The California Democrat said the political environment is far better for House Democrats this cycle given it is a mid-term election and history is on the minority party’s side, they no longer have the impossible hurdle of overcoming Texas redistricting and do not have to reckon with the Bush 11th hour get-out-the-vote operation.

This is what I call the ostritch strategy. As noted above, this Republican party has demolished the conventional wisdom in three straight elections, on what basis do the Democrats think conventional wisdom will serve them here? The law of averages? True, the Texas redistricting is not in play this year, but what makes the Democrats think the Bush GOTV operation is not really a GOP operation that can translate to record votes in the 2006 elections? The answer is wishful thinking.

There are no indications that the Democrats are in a good place politically. First, their primary ground operatives, the unions, are fighting amongst themselves. Union membership is down some 30 percent over the past 50 years, to just over 12% of U.S. households. Of that 12%, 3 or 4 percent vote Republican--just a statistical fact when you consider that skilled union members often make six figures with overtime--at that level they start voting economic issues-- in line with the GOP.

The so-called advantage of the Democratic 527 organizations did not come through in 2004 and now that the Republicans are fielding their own 527's that "advantage" is likely to be blunted. Finally, depsite record Democratic fundraising, the GOP is still raising more hard money than the Democrats.

So long as the GOP remains the party of ideas and the party of action, not dreams, they will continue to win in Congress.

This Post in a Beltway Traffic Jam

Pelosi Sees '06 House Gains

Charles Krauthammer: A Party Without Ideas

Or without a message. This editorial appeared in last week's Washington Post, and while it deals primarily with CAFTA, the first several paragraphs pinpoint the Democratic problem.

What has happened to the Democrats over the past few decades is best captured by the phrase (coined by Kevin Phillips) "reactionary liberalism." Spent of new ideas, their only remaining idea is to hang on to the status quo at all costs.

This is true across the board. On Social Security, which is facing an impending demographic and fiscal crisis, they have put absolutely nothing on the table. On presidential appointments -- first, judges; and now ambassador to the United Nations -- they resort to the classic weapon of Southern obstructionism: the filibuster. And on foreign policy, they have nothing to say on the war on terror, the war in Iraq or the burgeoning Arab Spring (except the refrain: ``Guantanamo'').

A quarter-century ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted how it was the Republicans who had become a party of ideas, while the Democrats' philosophical foundation was ``deeply eroded.'' But even Moynihan would be surprised by the bankruptcy in the Democrats' current intellectual account.

In short, as I have argued before, the Democrats are the "anti" party. They oppose anything supported by the Bush Administration in a completely knee-jerk reaction--even if it runs counter to their own expressed principles.

I think Moynihan is rolling over in his grave. Of course, this makes winning for Republican easier since they run on ideas and Democrats run on anti-ideas--a losing proposition.
Charles Krauthammer: A Party Without Ideas

Monday, June 27, 2005

College Core Courses

The link below is to one of Jay Mathews' columns from the Washington Post talking about a required course at tiny Ursinus College. In an attempt to get students involved and impart a little broad based knowledge, the college has a one year course required of all first year students. The class involves works of history, art, politics, science and social theory that provides a springboard for thought and discourse.

I have to admit I like the concept but wonder, yet again, why such innovation and programs occur only at small colleges. One quick result might be the Political Correctness police at larger schools. The faculty board who would have to put together a course such as the one at Ursinus would quickly devolve into squabbling about which works should be included.

But the fundamental question survives--should colleges and universities be training grounds for workers or should they be fonts of thinkers; people who have the skills to quantitatively and qualitatively analyze any scenario and speak coherently on a subject. For me, I believe a university education should provide a basic to intermediate understanding of a broad range of topics. Thus allowing a choice of core courses enables students to amass the necessary thinking skills in topics of interest to them.

However, I do believe that colleges should require 9 courses, the same courses, for all students. Furthermore, these courses should not be "waivable" by taking AP or IB classes. These courses should be taken in the first or second year of college. Some of these are commonly taught in core courses, but the goal here is to make the course use a common curricula to get all students on the same page analytically. So here are the subjects along with a justification for my choice. They are presented in alphabetical order.

American Government. You live in America, whether you are a citizen or not, and far too many people don't understand the system of government that runs their life. This course should included a detailed study of the Constitution and Amendments, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence as well as the interaction between and among the federal and state and local governments.

Economics. This course should focus on macro issues, including various economic systems, the manner in which markets work and the application of economic principles to various problems in society. The course should also look at the interaction of various industries and how non-economic institutions, i.e. the government, the media and other groups influence economic behavior.

History of Science. This class should focus on the development of human understanding of the world around ourselves. This class, a survey course, would look at the major developments in the physical, biological and social sciences. The impact of scientific discoveries on society should also be explored in order to understand the role of science in society.

Human Anatomy. Far too many people do not understand how their own body works. By including in the course, topics such as health and nutrition, this course can provide all students with an understanding of human biology, how to care for the body, and the consequences of negative behavior. Maybe this could the the antidote to the Freshman Fifteen.

Literature. This is a tricky topic since any literature class that includes some works will, by necessity, leave others out which is going to irk some people. But the goal of this course is to provide a fundamental understanding of the role of literature in our history and society. At the same time, the course should provide a skill set for people to be able to read anything critically and analyze the writing for a purpose.

Mathematics/Statistics. The basic understanding of mathematical principles and the use of statistics happens every day. We hear about studies and polls that use statistics and sampling techniques. We use math in real world situations all the time, this course should reflect those ideas. I am not talking about advanced calculus or differential equations, but common, everyday uses of math and statistics.

U.S. History--like American government, you live in America and should be familiar with the development of our nation. This course should be taken concurrently with American Government in order to understand the relationship between the political history and the social history of the United States.

World History. By its very nature, this would have to be a year long course, short on details. However, the course should cover, major time-oriented developments, including large scale conflicts; religious history, (i.e. the development of the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformation, the rise of Islam, Asian religious); social developments; developments in government and nation states. The primary focus of this course is to give students an understand of the passage of events and the ability to analyze why such events happened, even if they don't fully explore or develop each segment.

Writing. To be honest, there needs to be much more focus on writing at the collegiate level. Too many students never write a significant paper beyond their early classes. I would like to see writing graded each year. This is the outlier to my suggestion. Each year in school, a student will be required to submit a thesis--a paper of substantial length (say 20 pages in the first year up to 60 or 70 in the final year of college) which is graded. The purpose of this is to get the student used to researching and writing for substance and thought.

There you go, the nine classes that I think should be the core course of any collegiate education. I realize that I leave many questions to be decided, such as who gets to determine which concepts are "major" or "important." But this idea is not fully developed and I seek input from others. Ideally, I would like to see these course taught at high schools, but that is a crusade for another time.

A Mix of Core Courses

School Choice--Wreaking Havoc, Illiteracy and Stupidity

Not really, but that is what oppoents of school choice would have you believe. Hat Tip to Coyote Blog for the subject of this rant.

Many times, I think, in this blog, I have advocated for a complete choice in education for parents and kids. The basis of my belief is that only through pure competition for education dollars will schools responde to the needs of their students. I have long illustrated my tendency by looking at the university system in the United States as proof that parents and children can find the school they want and serves their needs and wants. (and unfortuneatly that decision is often undermined by what they can afford).

I believe, and I think most people will agree, that the American university marketplace is the most effective educational system in the world. Between public and private, large and small, niche and generalists, east vs. west, north vs. south, specialities and excellences on every campus, we as a nation can find a higher edcuation institution to fit our needs. Schools compete for the tuition dollars of each student, rewarded when they woo students successfully and in doing so make every institution a little better.

Every year, parents and prospective students look at their educational wants and desires, the economics of their situation and other factors and determine, for themselves, what is the best college for them. If the model works for higher education, why can't that same system of choice work for elementary and secondary education?

The most common response and one found in the comments to the Coyote Blog post is

"some day we are going to have to get along and see ourselves are participating in the society. Walling ourselves off into camps where everyone can agree with each other does nothing to further dialog. "

This is the concept of a shared educational experience, that if all kids are in the same classroom, they will have a shared understanding and thus build a better society. But this is a fallacy because the shared educational experiecne is neither shared nor educational. Modern public schools are failing for the very reason that they are no longer providing an education. They fail because we as a society have no means of enforcing accountibility. If you want an example, look at how hard it is to fire a teacher for incompetence. You can barely get a teacher fired for child molestation let along for being a poor teacher.

But when the education money follows the student, from school to school, you get some accountibility. However, for that system to work, you have to give parents the absolute right to choose the school setting for their kids. Of course, educrats and the labor unions would fight such a right tooth and nail. But here is an example of what can happen with market accountibility:

New Zealand had an education system that was failing as well. It was failing about 30 percent of its children – especially those in lower socio-economic areas. We had put more and more money into education for 20 years, and achieved worse and worse results.

It cost us twice as much to get a poorer result than we did 20 years previously with much less money. So we decided to rethink what we were doing here as well. The first thing we did was to identify where the dollars were going that we were pouring into education. We hired international consultants (because we didn’t trust our own departments to do it), and they reported that for every dollar we were spending on education, 70 cents was being swallowed up by administration. Once we heard this, we immediately eliminated all of the Boards of Education in the country. Every single school came under the control of a board of trustees elected by the parents of the children at that school, and by nobody else. We gave schools a block of money based on the number of students that went to them, with no strings attached. At the same time, we told the parents that they had an absolute right to choose where their children would go to school. It is absolutely obnoxious to me that anybody would tell parents that they must send their children to a bad school. We converted 4,500 schools to this new system all on the same day.

But we went even further: We made it possible for privately owned schools to be funded in exactly the same way as publicly owned schools, giving parents the ability to spend their education dollars wherever they chose. Again, everybody predicted that there would be a major exodus of students from the public to the private schools, because the private schools showed an academic advantage of 14 to 15 percent. It didn’t happen, however, because the differential between schools disappeared in about 18-24 months. Why? Because all of a sudden teachers realized that if they lost their students, they would lose their funding; and if they lost their funding, they would lose their jobs. Eighty-five percent of our students went to public schools at the beginning of this process. That fell to only about 84 percent over the first year or so of our reforms. But three years later, 87 percent of the students were going to public schools. More importantly, we moved from being about 14 or 15 percent below our international peers to being about 14 or 15 percent above our international peers in terms of educational attainment. (Emphasis added).

See this link for the whole speech dealing with massive government reform in New Zealand.

Of course, in this country we have problems with federalism, namely Congress can't just outlaw school boards, but a state can. A state with a goverment with enough backbone can undertake exactly what happened in New Zealand. But the facts remain true in New Zealand as they would here, consumer choice and accountibility to the consumer produce results--period. If the product is bad, the product goes away.

This post stuck in a Beltway BackUp.

Statistics for Dummies

If you are looking for more confirmation that the people running the education system are generally in need of some additional basic education, here it is.

From the Washington Post, it appears as though many states are padding their numbers in the graduation rate category to comply with NCLB. North Carolina reported that 97% of its students graduated. But independent studies show that less than 2/3's of students actually get a diploma. How does the state explain the vast discrepancy? With this little gem:

"We know there's a problem of apples and oranges," said Janice Davis, North Carolina's acting superintendent of education. She said the state was changing its reporting system to try to get more meaningful data.

First, North Carolina needs to get a permanent superintendant of public education--not an acting one.

Second, you don't have a comparison problem, you have a crappy data problem. Fruit metaphors aside, here is how I, an average taxpayer, would calculate a graduation rate. You take the number of kids enrolling in the first year of high school, whether that is 9th or 10th grade (N). You do this statewide. You subtract out students who transfer out of state (TO). Add in those who transfer into the state (TI) and those who get held back for academic reasons (HB). Then count the number who actually graduated (G). Divide the second number by the first number to get your graduation rate. Thus the equation

G/(N+TI+HB-TO)=graduation rate. There is your meaningful data!! If you don't have this data you need to figure out a way to get the data--simple as that.

This is not hard math. But then again, I am just a taxpayer--with a J.D. I am clearly not educated enough to understand the fuzzy math of education departments claiming such ridiculous educational "victories."

But as one expert noted:

"As a nation, we spend 40 times as much money checking data on test scores as we do on whether students complete school," said Gary Oldfield, a Harvard University professor who recently completed a study of graduation rates in southern states. "Some of the data doesn't even pass the laugh test."

If true, a shocking statistic. But not all that surprising since I have noticed that schools spend a lot of money on unnecessary pursuits while ignoring important ones, like how many people actually get a diploma or teaching.

States' Graduation Data Criticized

New York Daily News - City News - UFT-run school rings bell for 150 lucky kids

From the New York Daily News--a little contradiction in terms. It appears as though a teacher's union will be running a charter school in New York City. You read that right a TEACHER'S UNION will be running a charter school.

I wonder what will happen to the stance of teacher's unions if this particular charter school succeeds. One of my guesses will be, "see charter schools only work if they are run by a teacher's union. All other charter schools are worthless."

Interesting questions.

UFT-run school rings bell for 150 lucky kids

College Graduation Rates Among Athletes--a Proposal to Fix the Problem

For those who follow sports, you may have heard about the new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players' union. One feature of the new CBA is that players have to be 19 to be eligible for the draft. The hope of course is that by raising the age of draft eligibility, there will be less recruitment of high school players. Whether that happens is an open question, but there are other issues involved.

On theory resulting from the NBA change is the the question of whether athletes will go to college for one year and then leave for the pros. In this regard, the NCAA has a vested interest in discouraging such behavior. One way they could discourage such activity, in all sports, is to change the way in which scholarships are handled. Admittedly, this idea is originally my father's but I have tried to develop on the idea.

The NCAA provides data on graduation statistics of student athletes compared to the student population as a whole. At first glance, just on general numbers it looks like students-athletes do better at graduating within SIX years. But if you review the data a little more, you see some disturbing numbers as well as some surprising numbers.

First, I just want to say that only 3 in 5 students as a whole graduate college within six years of first time enrollement. This bothers me for a number of reasons that are beyond this little article.

Next, fully 7 in 10 of female students athletes graduate--a full 10 percent higher than the average of the student body in general. This supports the general theory that more women are getting degrees than men even though there are fewer female student athletes in Division I colleges. Among female student athletes, the graduation rates for athletes is higher, in all sports in all categories than for the female student population as a whole. So at the very least, if you are a female athlete on an athletic scholarship, you are much more likely to use the scholarship for its intended purpose--getting an education.

Looking at some numbers for men though reveal the opposite story. More male students athletes fail to complete college in six years than the male population as a whole. The NCAA compiles statistics for male athletes in five catgories, baseball, basketball, cross-country/Track, football and everyone else. Only in other sports (61%) and track (60%) do the male athletes do better than the general population (57%). In football, the numbers a little worse, 55% graduate in six years compared to the general population of 57%. This may be the result of the physical demands of football and the NFL rule that a player must be a junior in college or at least three years out of high school to be eligible to play in the NFL rahter than any effort by the NCAA.

In baseball and basketball, the gradation rates are abyssmal. In baseball, only 46% of freshmen graduate. In basket ball only 44% of student athletes graduate in six years. Why? Well one reason, I believe is that there is no incentive for student athletes to remain in college when there are so many incentives to leave, i.e. lucrative contracts, endorsement deals, etc.

This trend, along with the trend of recruiting younger and younger players to play in the professional leauges--not developmental leagues, but full-fledged pro leagues, led to this idea. Make a college athletic scholarship a contract--a real enforceable contract--between the school and the athlete, complete with penalties for the breach of that contract.

Here's how the contract would work. The school agrees to provide an education to an athlete, complete with all the support for getting that education available to non-student athletes, including tutoring. The school agrees to waive tuition and board fees, essentially providing the education for free. The student agrees to compete for the glory of the school AND remain at the school for five years (four years of eligibility plus one year of red shirt status). As a student, the athlete must maintain what ever levels of academic achievement the school sets for the student body in general. Thus the school gets legal benefit and the student gets legal benefit and each gives something up.

The consequences of breach are this. For the school who fails to provide adeuqate resources for the athlete to complete his/her education, the school must continue to provide those services at no cost to the student, until the athlete has had a reasonable opportunity to complete the work for a degree. This is not a big deal, since for the most part schools are in the business of providing an education. Additionally, the chances of school's breach in this contract are very small and I can only forsee the cancellation of a sport or a recruiting violation causing suspension of a sport as the only grounds for breach.

For the athlete, the consequences are much more severe. If they leave the school, without graduating, to take a contract as a professional athlete within five years of leaving the school, they must repay the school all of the funds the school lost in supporting their education, namely all the tuition, room, board, fees that the school waived and any allowance given to the student for incidentals. This penalty would not apply to transfer students.

Big deal you say, the new student athlete can afford it out of any signing bonus. But it gets worse. The new professional athlete would forfeit 10 percent (pre-tax) of any signing bonus they receive plus 25 percent of all salary and bonuses they receive for each of the years in which they would have been in college. Thus if a player leaves after two years of college, they would forfeit 25 percent of their pay and bonuses (again, pre-tax) for three years.

Again, given that athletes may have a decade or more of a professional career, this doesn't seem too bad. But I want to make sure the league and, more importantly, the agents, get penalized as well. Thus the league and the player's agent would have to match--dollar for dollar--what the athlete gives up. All of the forfeited funds would go to the general scholarship fund for the school.

What, you may ask, motivates me to make such an unfair imposition on the student athlete. Here it is. By taking a scholarship--that student-athlete did not have to compete against the general student population for a space in the freshman class. Student athletes routinely are admitted into schools who, without the athletic ability of the athlete, would never have admitted them in the first place. SAT scores and GPAs in high school are routinely ignored for athletes--a troubling issue in itself.

As we all know, there are a finite number of spaces in a freshman class-some bigger than others. Thus if a student athlete is given a space, that means another deserving student, perhaps one who could have used the full scholarship given to most athletes, didn't get a spot and the penalties for leaving school early provide a means for the school to make good to those students denied admission or some others like them. The forfeiture of money makes the decision to leave school painful enough to re-think it. Because the penalty for not completing a scholarship contract does not accrue to the school, but it falls on the students denied admission.

For an athlete that leaves school early, the school gets that scholarship space back. But the student who didn't get admitted to allow an athlete to get in means doesn't get the benefit of the education the athlete squanders.

The NCAA owes a duty not only to the student athletes, but to students in general to make sure that althetes are really student-athletes, which in at least in some sports, is a complete misnomer.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Kelo--Should Takings Cases rise beyond mere Rational Purpose

The Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London handed down yesterday has been widely criticized in the blogsphere. See here for blog links and here for some media links.

The decision has some interesting characteristics and possible politics behind it. See The Volokh Conspiracy for some interesting takes on the possibility that the more conservative side, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas may have started in the majority but with Kennedy moving to the Stevens opinion, making it the majority. Interesting, but beyond my point.

On reading the majority opinion by Justice Stevens, I am struck by the jump to the conclusion that the actions alleged by Mrs. Kelo and the petitioner are a public purpose. After describing the history of the use of the term public purpose as a substitute for public use (at least this definition did not arise in this case, which would have made the decision all the more outrageous), Justice Stevens says that the PROCESS by which the taking was promulgated rather than the content of the taking, made made New London's action a public use. (Note: The page numbers referred to here come from a print out from this link courtesy of

As Justice Stevens noted, "The Takings before us, however, would be executed pursuant to a carefully considered redevelopment plan." 04-108, 5. Later in the opinion, Justice Stevens writes:

It is further argued that without a bright-line rule nothing would stop a city from transferring citizen A's property to Citizen B for the sole reason that citizen B will put the property to a more productive use and thus pay more taxes. Such a one-to-one transfer of property, executed outside the confines of an integrated development plan, is not presented in this case. While such an unusual exercise of government power would certainly raise a suspicion that a private purpose was afoot, the hypothetical cases posited by the petitioner can be confronted if and when they arise. Id., 7-8 (citations omitted). (Emphasis added.)

Admittedly, a direct one-to-one transfer outside of a redevelopment plan is not present in the case, but why does the mere fact that a lengthy planning a review process suddenly justify a taking? Taken to the next step, under what criteria would a taking be unjustified, if the plan was not carefully considered enough? How much is enough consideration? One year? Six months? This is a question left open by Justice Stevens reliance on the fact that the redevelopment plan was carefully considered and integrated.

But the facts of the case also undercut Justice Stevens contentions. The facts of the matter clearly indicate that the property is being taken for a one-to-one transfer. In the facts of the case, Justice Stevens noted that Parcel 3 of the New London plan would "contain at least 90,000 square feer of research and development office space" and that the parcel is located "immediately north of the Pfizer facility" nearby. A logical inference of the reference to Pfizer and the location of the parcel of land would indicate that pfizer would be using the space. Thus a one-to-one transfer, from petitioner to Pfizer. Even if Pfizer is not involved in the deal, some other private entity or entities would be, again a one-to-one transfer. But because the taking occurs within "an integrated development plan," this transfer it deemed acceptable by the court.

Approximately 1/3 of the land taken by New London under eminent domain was located in this land that would be used for the R&D facility. For this reason, the trial court refused to permit the taking. Further, "there is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition; rather, they were condemned only because they happened to be located in the development area." In other words, the property was taken because the development was more valuable to the city and state as office space than someone's home.

Admittedly the Supreme Court must use the factual findings by the lower courts in formulating its opinion, but the conclusion that this activity by New London is a taking simply arrives without any factual justification. In addition to protection afforded to New London and others that so long as the taking is part of a considered and integrated development plan, the state or locality can just take land, Justice Stevens ignores the plain facts of this taking.

Despite the well considered plan, this taking is of the very kind that Justice Stevens say would raise a suspicion. The properties of Ms. Kelo and the petitioner was being taken because the city, in its considered wisdom, decided that the development plan would produce more tax revenue and thus benefit the city. I would argue that such a tax benefit is beyond what should be considered a valid public use--it is simply too remote a benefit.

Much of the development discussed in the city's plan would transfer land from the petitioner to other citizens (which included corporations and developers) for the very reason that the city has determined that Citizen B can do a better job using (read pay us more taxes) than citizen A. This is the very fact pattern that Justice Stevens noted would be suspicious and dismissed a hypothetical.

From the majority opinion, it appears as though the only protection a property owner would have would be the procedures undertaken by the taking authority. Thus a taking is valid if it is:

1. Rationally related to some governmental need,
2. Part of a integrated development plan, and
3. Subject to careful consideration by the government.

Rational Basis is Not Good Enough
Under the takings clause jurisprudence, the Court has proceeded from the review standard afforded to most economic legislation. The purpose of the state must be rationally related to the actions it took. The court is usually free to find a purpose, even absent a legislative declared one. But I would argue that a taking should be subject to a higher level of review. As pointed out by the Connecticut Supreme Court dissent, they believed that "the plan was intended to serve a valid public use, they would have found all the takings unconstitutional because the City had failed to adduce "clear and convincing evidence" that the economic benefits of the play would in fact come to pass." Kelo, at 4.

Like Justice Stevens, I don't the the reasoning of the Connecticut court is sound. Economic benefit to the City should not be a criterion for a valid taking. But I do believe a heightened standard of review is necessary. Individual property rights are being abridged here, rights that our Founders held dear (otherwise it would not have been in the Fifth Amendment). Yet, to abridge a fundamental right in this case, all the state has to do is show some rational relationship between the means and ends. This seems too low a standard and almost a rubber stamp of a taking by the courts, under just about any circumstance that would fit the test above.

Under a heightened level of review, a state or locality would have to show some IMPORTANT governmental need than cannot be attained WITHOUT the taking. The burden would be upon the government to prove that the purpose is important and cannot be accomplished without the taking of someone's property.

In other fundamental rights cases, the burden has been placed on the government to prove that a law accomplishes some important need. Free press, free speech, unreasonable searches and seizures, and other vital rights are protected by the Court from being abridged absent some important or compelling governmental need in most cases. But when it comes to takings under eminent domain, all that is needed is rational relationship.

It seems as though the Court has dropped the ball on what is important and what was enshrined as protected interests in the Bill of Rights. Taking a person's home merely because someone else can pay more taxes on that property than you is a violation of a most fundamental right, the right to be secure in one's own home.

Linked to Outside the Beltway

Tocqueville on Blogging Freedom

Here is a post by Allison Hayward, from the Skeptics Eye, neatly putting bloggers into a context understood by Alexis De Tocqueville, witing in Democracy in America, from 180 years ago. Mindblowing how history repeats itslef, even when dealing with modern technology. Hopefully someone will bring this to the attention of the FEC next week.

Hard to believe a dead French guy could shed light on blogging and politics. (One of his points also seems to explain our nation's pathological love of celebrity watching.)

Tocqueville on Blogging Freedom

5 Teachers Get Free Rent At Troubled Md. Complex

Here is a interesting follow up to a previous post earlier this week about teachers not being able to afford housing.

The County Executive for Prince George's County Maryland, in an effort to clean up some dilapidated apartment complexes in the county, struck a deal with a developer to provide five apartments to teachers rent free. You heard me, rent free!!! There are of course, strings attached to the teachers living rent free, namely they have to staff a tutoring and help center at the complex and the rent free conditions lasts only as long as they remain teachers and the current developer owns the complex.

This is an interesting development both in terms of helping teachers find homes near the schools in which they teach, but also in the effort to build a better community (which was, in part, the point of my previous post). I know that in the past, police officers were often given significantly reduced or free rent to live in troubled apartment complexes, but this is the first time I have heard of the benefit being offered to teachers. Apparently I am not the only one, and there is some criticism:

"Some call the deal unheard of. With annual salaries just over $40,000, the five teachers essentially are receiving an after-tax housing bonus of more than $12,000 a year. Indefinitely."

Now to debunk the bonus part. These teachers must "tutor neighborhood children." Surely the benefits of the teachers tutoring neighborhood children is a valuable exchange for the $12,000 a year subsidy. Currently, several teachers don't even live in the state!! The teacher profiled for the article lived across the river in Virginia in a studio apartment for herself, her husband and her daughter. I think that the county is getting a deal on this.

In reference to my post earlier this week about building a community, these teachers will be living about a half mile from their school, in the same neighborhood and apartment complex as most of their students!! Talk about a community!

"The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has helped nearly 1,000 educators buy government-owned homes at half-price in Maryland, Virginia and the District through "Teacher Next Door."

But housing prices being what they are, it seems that most teachers (and there are certainly more than 1,000in the area) certainly could use some help. While I am generally not a big fan of Prince George's County government, this bold step is a positive one. I don't think it is a silver bullet, but getting teachers into the community they serve will only help the community and the education of the kids. In a county which consistently ranks near the bottom of state achievement scores, any step forward is a good one.

I don't think that rent-free is going to work for a lot of school districts, but certainly reduced rent or reduced home prices can help bring qualified teachers into a blighted neighborhood and turn it around.

By the way, the deal between the county and the complex owner provided for 10 rent free apartments in teh 930-unit complex originally for the police. The county asked that five of the ten be given to teachers at the local elementary school and the other five still go to cops. It looks like everyone could win in the crime ridden neighborhood.

5 Teachers Get Free Rent At Troubled Md. Complex

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Technology and Political Operations

Quick disclaimer: I am employed as a PAC consultant at Vocus, a company mentioned in this article.

The article linked below from Personal Democracy Forum does talk about the use of software to manage political action committees. A helpful tool to be sure, but as one person in the article commented, there are tools for different functions. Companies should take care that they are using technology for the right reason, not merely because they think they should.

To be honest, in nearly 10 years of political activity, I have noticed that government relations and lobbying fall into one of two traps. First trap, people believe that a technologies tool, like Vocus GR5 or other tools will suddenly help them do their job better. Second trap, fearing technology, some groups shun it, using technology only when forced to by regulatory needs. Both traps are dangerous but surprisingly lead to the same end, a government relations program that is too expensive and not effective.

technology is a wonderful tool in the political realm. It can and does speed communications, it can manage vast sums of data and can make analysis of that data more effective and easily understood. Technology acts as a force multiplier, it is not a substitute for force. Failing to understand what technology can do for a government relations effort is the first trap. Many organizations believe and think, "Wow, we just spent $30,000 on a new software packages--we should be rocking now!" The problem is they don't.

As I said, technology is a force multiplier, a good software tool or a fabulous website do nothing for your organization if you fail to first develop a solid plan and program. The most successful government relations operations have a solid grassroots, PAC and lobbying organization in place. They have developed a strategy for going forward, a strategy that will, if successful achieve their legislative and lobbying goals. They have a clear message, they have clear targets and a clear understanding of the resources, both financial and human, available to them. Once a plan is developed, they look at the technology tools available to them and integrate the technology into their plan--they don't substitute technology for a plan.

A great deal of skull sweat needs to be expended to have a solid programs underlying your technological efforts. A fantastic grassroots software (like the aforementioned Vocus GR5 or DDC product) is a $30,000 investment wasted if there is no grassroots program in place or even in development. In short this trap fails to grasp that government relations is a business about people and relationships. Technology does not replace the human element.

The second trap is what happens when some government relations experts either instinctively understand they need good programs and thus don't buy a software thinking it just a gimmick or they fear the technology.

This second trap illustrates the classic misunderstanding that technology is a hindrance in human relationships. Failing to understand how technology can be a force multiplier means that this second victim spends far too much time in efforts that are not productive. They lobby where they don't need to, they try to activate a grassroots network hopelessly out of touch. They lack the data to analyze and thus expend effort trying to collect institutional and personal knowledge in an endless series of meetings. Those who are unwilling to accept technology as an aid, spend more money and effort tilting at windmills.

The first trap expends money foolishly on technology in the hope that the technology will magically enable their programs. The second trap spends money spinning their wheels in a endless loop of ignorance.

Technology supports proper government relations efforts without having to re-invent the wheel. Some business processes are affected, but the cumulative effect of those changes is small when compared the impact those changes make. For example, if your government relations software enables you to track lobbying meetings, phone calls and emails with legislators and staffers, you can compile that information on a weekly or daily basis for disseminating. Plus you can revisit the data later, analyze, see what works and what does not. But in order for that software to work, you have to get people using it. In short, you have to train people.

Imagine this scenario. You are a lobbyist for a large corporation. Before your daily round of meetings on the Hill, you collect a profile of each office you are visiting. You can find out how many contacts you have made to that office on your issues, including which staffer was contacted, what white papers and talking points you have given to the office, along with the number of employees in that district, the names of key employees in that district, how much your PAC has given in the past three elections, and the number of times constituents have contacted that office. All of this on one or two pages for each office. That is the power of data.

While you can have all the data in the world at your fingertips, you can't succeed without a good message and a good message is the one thing a good software program can't provide. Technology is a tool, a force multiplier, but it is no substitute for good skull sweat. Technology just allows the skull sweat to be expended on matters of greater import.

Software Helps PACs Track Never-Ending Cash Flow Personal Democracy Forum

Senate Panel: Former Lobbyist, Partner Pocketed $6.5M From Tribe

From the Washington Post--it just get uglier and uglier surrounding Jack Abramoff. But the blame may be on Congress. You see Congress writes the laws surrounding the regulation of lobbying Congress. Tougher lobbying laws would be a good idea--perhpas even the instituing of a code of ethics, similar to the Professional Responsiblity rules of the legal profession, of which neither Abramoff or Scanlon were members of, despite working for a law firm.

Senate Panel: Former Lobbyist, Partner Pocketed $6.5M From Tribe

Drafting the Poor--Not really!!

An article in the Chicago Tribune takes a typical leftist viewpoint of military recruiting. To set the stage, the Trib go one part of it right, even if they put the blame in the wrong place.

"President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide military recruiters with student phone numbers and addresses or risk losing millions in federal funds. Parents or students 18 and over can "opt out" by submitting a written request to keep the information private."

First, NCLB was passed with massive support from both sides of the aisle. To call it President Bush's law is wrong. Did he propose it, yes, but Congress still has to pass it. Once again the liberal MSM can't seem to get basic civics right. However, they are right, as a condition of receiving federal funds, high schools have to make available addresses and contact information on high school seniors. Of course this has been standard practice for a while--it is just now made explicit in the law.

Now to the merits of the article. The fact that the military is using every means possible to recruit people should not be all that surprising, given that the military is falling short of its recrtuiting goals on a consistent basis. The accusation that more minorities may be signing up for the military as a part of the recruitment effort is more a consequence of result that total design. There has been a long history of those who are poor or of lower socio-economic status joining the military. The military, depsite its rigors, is one of the few organizations closest to a merticracy than any other I know of. The military rewards competence and hard work. Many enlisted servicemen and women obtain bachelor's degrees (paid for in large part by the military) while serving on active duty. That degree may have been otherwise unavailalbe to the poor.

Why would the poor take this route, because their families and their communties failed to provide them a proper education. But that is another rant.

Invoking class warfare language, Democrats are getting upset:

"They're not going to all the schools. They're going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less chance to go to college," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). "It's an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly."

The United States military has not had a draft in roughly 30 years. Even today, the military is an all volunteer force. No one forces these kids to enlist. The fact that they do is their choice. But once again, how would the Democrats feel with a draft. I personally don't think it is a bad idea, but it would never be supported in the modern political circles. All of the country, 18 year olds make all kinds of "adult decisions" including the decision to engage in unprotected sex and become pregnant, why can't they make this decision to serve their country. The Answer, Democrats know better than you and thus only we can make the decision for you. Hogwash.

To be sure, there is a problem with the racial profile of the modern military. There are more blacks and hispanics in the military, particularly in combat arms, than the general popultation. This does lead to reasonable concerns about who shoulders the burden for protecting the nation. But in the end, we still have a volunteer military and some people will volunteer and others won't--that is just the facts.

Finally, I love this other little dig at the military--completely off point of the article.

In the urban blight of North Philadelphia, Joshua Gordy said the lure of college money led him to join the Army Reserve at age 17. He said recruiters at his high school told him he could earn $35,000 for college.That hasn't happened. Gordy, a 20-year-old reservist, said he apparently failed to send in the right paperwork in time. He hopes to enroll in community college this fall.

The implcation with this segment is that the military cheated him out of his college money. The fact is that this kid didn't fill out his paperwork properly. The military is big on taking responsibility for your actions. If Gordy failed to fill out his paperwork in a timely fashion, that fault does not belong to the military, but to the soldier. To qualify for many benefits, including college funds, the soldier has to take an affirmative step to do so. To be sure, I know the Army gave this kid the money ( I got the forms when I was in--as did my brother), but the Army doesn't make you fill them out on time--that is a personal choice.

But the Trib couldn't help but take another cheap shot at the military.

An Insidious Form of Draft

Linked to Outside the Beltway.

A New Supreme and Election Law Possiblities

Prof. Hasen has an admittedly parochial viewpoint on the the potential for a Supreme Court appointment, looking at one of the much discussed favorites and how it would impact the discrete area of election law decision from the Supreme Court. As Prof. Hasen notes, "This little parochial exercise in my area of the law is meant to prove a simple point: Whoever comes next on the Supreme Court will have a great deal of power, with a chance to change and influence the law in many areas that most Americans don’t even think about. That’s true even if a non-controversial candidate of the same political orientation is confirmed to replace a retiring Justice."

Of course, the Bush Adminstration wants to nominate someone who is reliably conservative on big ticket, high-profile moral issues, but do they really care about how such a nominee would rule on issues related to say ERISA or HIPAA. I don't really think so. It is difficult to find anyone, other than a syncophant, to agree with every policy position of the White House. In addition, the courts often have to deal with some pretty cutting edge issues, issues that go beyond what an Administration may be screening for. For example, I don't think the Eisenhower Administration screened Earl Warren for issues related to political gerrymandering (Baker v. Carr)--a case that arguably shifted the political dynamics in this country, or other cases of the civil rights era that fundamentally shifted the way we as Americans view the Bill of Rights. While Eisenhower may have been disappointed in Warren's performance, there is simply no way to screen for such matters.

I suppose my point is similar to that of Prof. Hasen. You cannot screen for positions on many issues. You have to pick and choose what is important to you. The Court will hear new issues all the time and you just have to live with the possiblity of a little uncertainty. So too will the Senate and the American people--it is the nature of an independent judiciary.

Carnival of Education Is Up

Check it out, guest hosted by JennyD.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Power of Empowerment In Politics

The link below, (hat tip to the Carnival of the Capitalists) speaks about the marketing power of empowered employees. As a political operative, I have found that many of the principles of marketing apply equally well when dealing with politics. In particular, I have found that empowered employees also makes for a powerful political force when a company is looking to make some sort of impact in the political arena as well as the business arena.

Allow me to set the stage. Frequently, when dealing with the government relations executives of a large corporation, I will ask if they have any grassroots political programs in place. Probably 80 percent of the time the answer is "no" or "not really" (which is the functional equivalent of no.) Other times, I will hear a description of a program that is so centrally controlled by the government relations staff that their program is nothing more than a series of relucatant employees mouthing the same words with no conviction. The resulting "program" is as ineffective as having no program.

One of the premier business political organizations, the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) has long espoused the power of employee's being educated about political issues. "Polls show that the more employees hear from their companies about political subjects, the more they approve of and want the information – and the more inclined they are to participate in the election process." This is because companies have a ready made supply of political activists, "a group of people with a shared, personal stake in the candidates and policies that impact your jobs and industry." BIPAC's Prosperity Project aims to help business, of all sizes, get involved in politics and get their employees involved in politics.

But here is the problem that most businesses face--fear. Businesses, including my clients, fear losing control of their people and the message. They fear someone "going off the reservation" and saying something not approved of by the company. Meaning, they don't want to empower their employees to speak to and about the issues affecting the company and that person's own job. So the people who have the most to gain from helping the company--the employees--have the least power to effect a change in governmental policy or politics. But it is employees, people on the ground with a direct stake in the outcome of a policymaking effort who are a company's most important weapon in the political and business arena.

In recent years, politics has been dominated by what I call the "air war," the preparation and dissemination of broadcast messages, commercials and other similar methodologies. But even now, not enough political operatives have grasped the lesson inherent in successful armies. You simply don't win a war in the air. You have to have people on the ground, voters, who go in and seize control of issues on a personal level. Thus, a company can spend millions of dollars on television ads, but an underfunded non-profit can succeed by mobilizing people through email campaigns that cost next to nothing. If you are a company and you follow only an "air war" strategy, you may win on some issues occaisionally, but over time, your performance will be sub-par--you will lose more times than you win.

Like empowering your employees to promote your brand, companies should empower their employees to promote your company to lawmakers. By educating your employees about political issues that effect your company (and their livelihood) you create a powerful army to carry your message. That army can take on any issue of importance to your company and carry the fight to the very people who can make a difference--lawmakers. A lawmaker can ignore a TV ad, but it is hard to ignore hundreds or thousands of letters from constituents.

So the challenge for business, of all sizes, is to not only empower your employees to promote your company to customers in a business sense, but also empower your employees to promote your company to policy makers. In the end you create a regulatory and legal environment more friendly to your business and businesses in general.

Joseph's Marketing Blog: The Power of Empowerment

FEC Could Face Massive Turnover at the Top

With FEC Commissioner Brad Smith announcing his resignation from the FEC, we could see some action on the campaign finance front soon. Smith, a Republican, had been a professor of law and wanted to return to teaching.

But that leaves some interesting issues facing the President and the Senate. Traditionally, commissioners have been replaced in pairs, i.e. one Democrat and one Republican at a time. Two commissioners have been serving in since their terms expired two years ago.

The problem with Smith leaving and the expired terms (still being filled by the previous appointees under the law permitting them to remain in place until a successor is appointed), is that the FEC could see as many a four new appointees this summer. This assumes of course that Democrats and Republicans could come up with a pair of nominees each. With four new Commissioners, it is possible that the Commission could go a whole new way in its regulatory effort. We could be looking at a Commission that tries to take more of a hands off approach to one dedicated to reform--what ever defintion to place on that term. But the idea of 2/3 of the commission being new presents an interesting scenario for the reform community and those who oppose "reform."

The question is whether the appointment of new commissioners will bring about a public assessment by the Senate and Congress in general about the propriety and policy behind the relation of campaign finance. It could be an interesting series of hearings to say the least.

FEC Could Face Massive Turnover at the Top

Conservative groups to spend over $20M on Supreme Court

Here is an older article on the impending battle between interest groups on the potential Supreme Court vacancies. With the Supreme Court set to end its business calendar for hte year soon, it could be a long, hot, ugly summer in the Senate and on the airwaves.

Conservative groups to spend over $20M on Supreme Court

Trusting the Legislatures More and the Culture of Rights

While the headline makes it seem different, the link below to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that more and more Americans are wanting the legislatures to start making more policy, particularly on so-called "moral issues" than the courts. This may seem surprising, particularly to Democrats who have long looked to the courts as a way to guarantee rights. It now appears that the strategy is back firing.

While Evangelical Republicans probably do look at "activist judges" as the downfall of American morality, the problems extends much further back. Starting in the 1950's in particular, people, led principally by Democrats, began turning to the Court to vindicate certain rights. Now some of the rights guaranteed by decisions of the Supreme Court are just, such as equal education, one-peron-one-vote, etc. But other decisions have led to a great deal of polarization like Roe v. Wade. But the nationalization of American politics, in part throught a more active Congress and in part through the use of the courts to bring about social change, means that most Americans came to believe that we have all sorts of "rights" such as the "right" to an abortion or the "right" to privacy.

What most people describe as "rights" are actually liberties. Rights are the subject of government guarantees. For example, people have the right to not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, meaning the government has an affirmative duty to prevent such incidents. However, other matters, such as abortion, is a liberty. Liberties are freedoms we enjoy that are generally, but not required to be, free from government interference. Moreover, many liberties that we enjoy are actually privileges granted by the government.

The survey reported on below discusses three issues dealing with morality or having moral overtones, the death penalty, gay marriage, and abortion. I want to leave the issue of the death penalty off the table for this discussion because there appears to be an fairly clear majority of Americans (57%) who want the courts to be heavily involved in that issue and because it is not really an issue related to rights, as they are perceived by most Americans. Yet the issues of abortion and gay marriage are those that people, one one side or another refer to as a "right" and all of them do so incorrectly.

Those supporting the concept of gay marriage may have a valid equal protection of the laws argument, but there is no actual right to marriage, contrary to what many people believe. Marriage is a privilege, regulated in part by the state. There is a reason why you have to, generally, obtain a license to get married. By getting married certain legal consequences flow from the legal act of marriage, consequences largely related to property and personal interests. Many of those interests can be guaranteed by other legal mechanisms like wills, powers of attorney and other such instruments, but the marriage license and the marriage certificate are a short cut, done for administrative convenience.

The so-called "right to marriage" is actually a guarantee by the courts that the state shall not imperissible burden the liberty of someone to marry. That does not mean the state cannot erect certain barriers to obtaining a license, including, if the state legislature so chooses, a requirement that marriage between a man and a woman. Now, before you blast me for being hypocritical, the state legislature is one of the arbiters of the health, welfare and morals of their population. Thus if the state legislature, in their collective wisdom, responding to the will of their constituents believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, that is the nature of the political process. If you do not like the policy enacted by the legislature, the proper forum for having your greivance redressed is the legislature, not the courts. When gay activists turned to the Massachussets Supreme Court for a right to marry, many other states responded by enacting either statutes or state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

The Washington Post poll finds that most Americans think the legislature or direct democracy are the proper fora for undertaking such policy making regarding marriage. And they are right. Regardless of your historical or moral view of the history of marriage or your religious beliefs regarding marriage, the institution of marriage is fundamentally a liberty afforded to individuals--not a right to be guaranteed by the state. The state may prohibit marriage by minors, or between family members too closely related, etc. However, those minors and too closely related family members have a justifiable claim for other true rights.

Likewise, the "right" to an abortion is actually more a liberty, subject to the interests of the state. As currently formulated, abortion is, more or less, available in the first trimester. Thus a woman is a liberty to terminate her pregnancy should she choose to do so. However, her liberty becomes subject to state interest as her pregnancy matures. The state is not violating her "rights" when it says that a woman cannot get an abortion past a certain, somewhat arbitrary point in time. Rather the state is asserting its interests over those of the woman.

Of course the state may impose its interests above the actual rights of others, but the legal barrier to doing so is quite high. Whereas, when it comes to liberties, the barrier is not necessarily as high.

When looked at through the lens of rights vs. liberties, many Americans believe that the state legislatures should be setting policy on a number of fundamental liberties (and privileges) we enjoy. The legislature remains the proper legal and political forum for the definition of many of the liberties we enjoy. As social norms evolve, the liberties we enjoy evolve as well. I have no doubt that as we as a nation evolve, society's attitude toward gay marriage will also change.

However, in the meantime, as the poll suggests, we need to look more to our legislatures for policy making, rather than asking the courts to do so. Of course, the legislatures need to step up and make policy and stop punting to the courts, but that is the subject of another rant.

Evangelical Republicans Trust States on Social Issues

Teachers, Housing and the Impact on Community

It seems that, at least in the DC area, teachers can't afford homes. If one subscribes to the Hillary Clinton theory, that it takes a village to raise and educate a child, what is the impact when one of the key actor's in a child's education doesn't live in the village? What if the person, in this case a teacher, can't live in the village because they can't afford a house in the village? Is the education of the child compromised? I believe the answer is yes because there is not enough of a community connection between parents, students and teachers.

By homes, I mean either a townhouse or an actual single-family home. Sociologists will tell you that in order for a person to feel as though they belong to a community there must be some sense of roots, or connection within the community. One of the primary methods by which people put down roots or build connections with a community is by owning a home.

Teachers play a significant role in our community, but when the teachers of our children are not accessible outside of the school, it presents difficulties, both for the families and the teachers, to develop a relationship outside of school. If you are wondering what I mean, take an example from my own childhood. As a kid, my teachers lived in the same middle-class neighborhood as I did. I played soccer with their kids, we saw some of them at church and my parents knew my teachers socially outside of school. What all this meant is that teachers were a physical part of the community where I went to school. The connections outside of the school meant that teachers, students and the parents had a basis from which to communicate that was not predicated on the parent-teacher-student relationship. In short, although not necessarily friends, at least there was a common understanding between my parents and my teachers. Even though my parents may have been too busy for regular parent-teacher conferences in a formal setting, informal conferences sprung up at church, at the soccer fields, and other community events.

However, in far too many cities across the country, where the connection between teacher and families is already too tenuous, the relationship is becoming more so--all because teachers cannot afford to live in the places where they teach. Particularly in larger cities and suburban areas, teachers are forced by poor salaries to live in areas far from their schools, meaning a punishing commute both ways. Since teachers are not seen outside of the school setting, there is no common understanding or common viewpoint between parents and teachers. Parents don't respect the teacher because they feel the teacher doesn't understand their kids or their situation. Teachers can't understand their students because they live so far away, outside of the teacher's living environment, and away from interactions withing the community. So the only time parents and teachers see each other is in the framework of the school. Such an arrangement does not make either the parents or hte teachers feel as though they are part of a community with a role in the education or rearing of kids. They feel more like merchants or service providers, operating at arm's length, with a tenously connected goal.

As housing prices increase, teacher's (and many others) cannot afford homes in the communities they serve. While I can offer no solution for the problem of increased housing prices, and it is unlikely that communities can easily force teachers to live where they teach (at least not without substantial differences in pay among teachers in a state), the problem does present a tough scenario.

Housing Costs Pushing Teachers Far From School

Thursday, June 16, 2005

This Week's Listen: Return 2 Zero

For the most part, over the past couple of weeks, I have been listening to bar review lectures on CD in my car, in my office, in my house, yadda, yadda, yadda. But on vacation last week, in Disney I heard this band for the second time. Return 2 Zero opens the Beauty and the Beast Show at Disney/MGM Studios. With a young daughter, the show was a must. Performing as "Four for a Dollar" this a capella group provides about 15 mintues of entertainment before the show and they do a great job. This year, I decided to buy their CD--at Disney prices--Wow!!

Now a capella singing may take a little getting used to, after all, the only music is provided by the singing of the band. But if done well, and these guys do it well, the music is terrific and surprisingly quite easy to listen to. If you need an introduction to a capella, this is a good disk to get.

This disk is great!! Most of the songs are covers of easy listening standards, like "How Sweet It Is" and "Happy Together" but what makes these covers so great is the complex arrangments of the singers. In addition to the standard finger-snapping for rhythm you get in most a capella groups, Return 2 Zero also utilizes vocal beat box rhytms interspersed with backing vocals to create some fantastic harmonies and counterpoints that I think a lot of a capella groups fail to use.

So here are the favorites:

"Fly Like an Eagle." I have always loved this Steve Miller Band classic and R2Z does a great job with this cover. As an added bonus, with a capella, I finally learned some of the lyrics I always got wrong in the SMB version.

"December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" Taking a classic dance tune, recording it a capella and still making it danceable is, in my mind a tremendous feat. R2Z does a fantastic job with the arrangement, making this my favorite track on the disk.

"Moondance"--Return 2 Zero's take on this Van Morrison classic is itself a classic of harmonies and melodies.

"I'm Alright" I can never hear this Kenny Loggins classic without seeing the "Caddyshack" gopher dancing in my head. I still get the gopher in my head, but he dances a slightly different jig now.