Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Motivated parents

In an article about the KIPP schools in Washington,DC brought this quote.
Looking at four KIPP schools, Columbia University Teachers College researchers Richard Rothstein and Rebecca Jacobsen concluded that students starting the program in fifth grade had more motivated parents and better test scores than their community averages. KIPP officials said their data showed no significant difference in academic skills between their entering students and other nearby children.
I find comments like this one troubling on many levels as it shows a basic misunderstanding of the movement behind charter schools and school choice in general.

To me it seems blatantly obvious that the parents of students at KIPP schools and other charters across the country are more movtivated. If they weren't motivated, their kids would still be in crappy schools!!!

The grassroots push for school choice, whether it be in the form of vouchers, charters, homeschooling or any other model, is that parents are MOTIVATED to find a better educational alternative. But the current crop of educrats don't want motivated or even engaged parents (despite the overwhelming evidence that parental involvement means better educated kids). Having such parents runs counter to the nanny-state approach favored by the educracy. Parents who spend hours waiting in line to sign their kids up for the mere chance to attend a charter school like KIPP schools, often on multiple occaisions are clearly motivated.

Let us assume further that Rothstein and Jacobsen are right, that KIPP students have better test scores than their peers. I would ascribe this "advantage" to the motivated parents, many of whom urge their kids to do better, but those kids, due to a poor quality school are limited by the quality of the neighborhood school.

As more and more parents become disillusioned with the public school systems, particularly in poor urban areas, the more you will see "motivation" to make a change. On its death bed is the era of passive submission to school system's authority as to what is best for kids. The modern generation of parents, with their vastly superior consumer skills, are used to getting response and will continue to do so. In my posts a few weeks ago related to the variable value of teachers and teacher merit pay ideas, I almost always get the same kind of response--that parents don't know how to evaluate schools in the same way they evaluate other consumer products or services. It seems to me that the parents who spend time and effort, often using vacation days or unpaid leave from work, to enroll their kids in charter school have made a consumer driven decision making process to find an alternative for their kids.

We, as a society, have within our power as voters and consumers, the ability to make changes. We can force politicians, both locally and nationally, to pursue alternatives. We can force the teachers unions to bow to our needs as parents and we can make schools accountable, really accountable, for the services they provide. We do it every day in every other realm of economic activity. Just because we don't have a Ph.D in education does not make us unqualified to pass judgment of the educational achievement of our schools.

Ohio sheriff bills U.S. government for jailed illegals

Ever wondered how much we as a country spends on housing illegal immigrants who are in the justice system? Well, I can't give you a nationwide number, but the Butler County (Ohio) Sheriff, Richard K. Jones has told the federal government how much it is costing his county, more than $125,000 in three months. This story comes from the Washington Times.
An Ohio sheriff has billed the Department of Homeland Security $125,000 for the cost of jailing illegal aliens arrested on criminal charges in his county, saying he's angry that the federal government has failed in its responsibility to keep them out of the United States.

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones yesterday said that although the government may not be legally obligated to pay the three bills he has sent since November, he intends to send similar ones every month until the federal government gains control of the border.

He said 900 foreign-born inmates have been booked into the crowded Butler County jail in the past year.

"Why should Butler County taxpayers have to pay for jail costs associated with people we don't believe should ever have been in this country, let alone this state or county, to begin with?" Sheriff Jones said. "They are in my jail because they have committed crimes here.

"It's time the federal government should at least pay for the criminals they let stay here," he said. "If they don't want to pay for them, then they can deport them."
Here, here. Of course, there is the run-around from the feds:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency "repeatedly reached out to the Butler County Sheriff's Department" and, on multiple occasions, offered ICE enforcement resources to the sheriff in addressing the illegal alien population in Butler County.

"As part of these efforts, ICE agents have interviewed the foreign nationals in the sheriff's custody awaiting trial on state or local charges," he said. "ICE has placed immigration detainers on all of the individuals who are illegal aliens subject to removal from the country."

On completion of their criminal proceedings, Mr. Boyd said, ICE expects the aliens to be turned over to the agency for removal.
My question is simple, why are we waiting for their criminal proceedings to end? The cost of prosecuting illegal immigrants should also be billed to DHS. If the people charged are here illegally, they should be deported as soon as the deportation proceedings can be completed. There is no need to prosecute them under our laws, they are not here legally. Why are we giving them rights they have to right to expect? The idea seems stupid on its face.

As Sheriff Jones noted:
"This is not rocket science," he said. "I intend to continue to bring this problem to the attention of anyone who will listen. There is little else I can do unless and until the system is changed."


He said, "While I love President Bush, I give him an F-minus in immigration," noting the administration has not done enough to control the U.S. borders.

"If I accomplish anything, I hope I get more people talking about the problem," he said. "I just hope our elected officials start listening."
Thank you Sheriff Jones!!

KIPP Schools In DC face hurdles

Despite a long track record of success nationally, and impressive results locally, KIPP schools in Washington, DC are still struggling with the DC education bureaucracy. Last year, the Ed Wonks discussed the schools' efforts to find classroom space, this year, they are facing hurdles that would expand their offerings, to include elementary schools and high schools.
It is a crucial moment for one of the most closely watched educational models, the Knowledge Is Power Program, a way of teaching fifth- through eighth-graders that has produced some of the best math and reading scores in low-income neighborhoods across the country. Despite its impressive record, administrators and policymakers are responding slowly to KIPP's desire for more space and support.
That education bureaucracies are opposed to charter schools is not particularly news. But when results such as those in the KIPP schools lead a school administration to drag it's feet in allowing a successful program to expand smacks of incompetence.

Blog Interview: The Ed Wonks

In keeiping with my blogger New Year's Resolutions, This is the fourth installment of my "weekly" series of blog reviews/interviews. Previous interviews are linked to the left.

This week, the purveyors of the ultra-fine, always-readable, and darn-near-mandatory weekly post, The Carnival of Education, have kindly submitted to be this week's victim, er, volunteer for the blog review/interview. If you could care less about my opinion, scroll down to the interview.

But if you want a one-stop shop for education related links, check out the Ed Wonks. Even if the writing the Wonks generate was not worth the electrons is it printed on (and believe it is), the blog roll itself is fantastic. But the content you find on the Wonks page is a veritable roundtable of ideas. On a given week, and I chose last week, you can find posts relating to other ed blogs, class size, racism and the achievement gap, school sports, even rights of students and on and on.

While the Wonks often include a lot of links to other stories, it is the commentary that makes the site fun. Whether the commentary is substantive reflections on the value (or lack thereof) of topic discussed in the story, or a quick, pithy little statement dripping with sarcasm or disbelief, you can't go wrong and often get a little chuckle.

The entries that I like most often take the form of a questioning of the mental health/capacity of the school district smart enough to employ the Wonks, but surely rueing the day they did so. Take a post from today:
Some computer-generated reports needed in order to give grades for all first period classes were only distributed to teachers Monday morning.

So why on earth did our school's office mandate that grades for some 900 students must be turned in Monday afternoon, just 30 minutes after the students went home?

Where's the logic in that? Where's the rhyme or reason?

I can remember when teachers here in our part of California's "Imperial" Valley used to be considered as "professionals" and had about a week to generate their grades rather than one weekend.
In fact, many of the Ed Wonks screeds against California's "Imperial Valley" ask the very question, what happened to treating teachers like professionals.

Since I have cut this post a little short, I will, in the interests of your time, move right to the interview.

In 25 words or less, what is your blog about?
The Education Wonks is all about the Free Exchange of Thoughts and Ideas, especially those that pertain to the education of our young people.
What prompted you to begin blogging?
As is the case with many practicing classroom teachers, I rarely have the opportunity to participate in frank and candid discussions about issues pertaining to public education policy, reform, and various aspects of The Teaching Life. The Education Wonks is our "Window to the Outside World."
Is there a particular posting you have made in the past three months of which you are particularly proud? If so, please provide a link.
It has been said that, "Pride goeth before the fall." Having said that, I do like this post: The NEA: Where's The Democracy And Accountability?
Congratulations on the approaching one year anniversary of the Carnival of Education. What prompted you to begin the Carnival? Did you think it would be as successful as it has become? In year two, what would you like to do differently, if anything? (I know, that is three questions in one, but they are all related—see?)
As a method of encouraging the Free Exchange of Thoughts and Ideas, we began the Carnival because we sought to bring as many different educational viewpoints and voices together in one easy-to-access post. Credit for the success of The Carnival Of Education does not, however, belong to us; it’s the contributors and readers who continue to make the Carnival effort both worthwhile and rewarding.
You have posted a few items recently called Censorchimps, which I have always found amusing and alarming. In your opinion, how do or should schools justify the teaching of civil liberties with the mixed message of censoring certain, otherwise, protected speech just because schools can?
Certainly schools should encourage students to express their political viewpoints. But this must be done in such a context as to not cause disruption of the educational process or learning environment. That’s why we strongly support the right of students to freely distribute their own newspapers, petition school administration for redress of their concerns, and peacefully gather before and/or after the school day for the purpose of rallying community support.

But we are not supportive of those students who choose to disrupt the educational day with such maneuvers as walking out of class.

In short, no student has the right to deny any other student their right to receive instruction in a safe and orderly school environment each and every school day.
As a teacher, with a teen-wonk in residence, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing parents and students in the coming decade? How would you suggest we as a nation address these problems.
The WifeWonk and I feel that the most daunting challenge facing busy parents today is finding more time to spend with their children. With more Americans working longer hours to make ends meet, time is at more of a premium than ever before. In all too many cases, parents don’t spend as much time with their kids as their kids would like to spend with them.

As most educators will tell you, children who have caring and involved parents are more likely to avoid many of the problems and pitfalls of a society that often communicates (though a variety of media) very mixed messages to kids regarding parents, education, sex, and the traditional American work ethic.
You have been posting for a roughly a year and a half. Realizing that change is generally slow, what you do think has been the biggest positive change in education policy/edusphere and the biggest negative change?
The biggest positive change has been in the number and variety of voices that are out there in the EduSphere. It seems as though I’m learning of new and interesting sites every day. The discussion and debate in the EduSphere continues to rapidly increase in both quantity and quality.

The chief area of concern that I have regarding the EduSphere is that I can sense some polarization among those who write education-related sites. In the future, it’s conceivable that the EduSphere could come to resemble the larger blogosphere in that personal attacks upon writers by other bloggers and commenters could become all too commonplace.
Pie in the sky times. You are named to be the secretary of education of your state, California, by the governator, and a carte blanche to do what you want, what would be your first three priorities as Secretary of Education.
1. California has an extremely bloated, redundant, and ineffective educracy with many well-paid administrators doing little more than marking-time, planning the next remodel of their office space, attending conferences all over the country, and hiring additional staff in order to justify their own jobs.

The amount of badly-needed funds being wasted by these parasites educrats is simply staggering. Little of what goes on in these educracies has little positive effect in the public school classroom.

As many classroom teaching positions have been “downsized” in districts around the state, more than a few state, county, and local EduCrats need to be downsized as well.

Let’s spend the money in the classroom, not in the administrative suites.

2. Classroom teachers who choose to work in tough inner-city schools (and other hard-to-staff campuses) should be given a financial incentive to do so. This could take many forms such as bonuses or tax-credits.

3. There is an urgent need for a statewide competency examination for school administrators. None exists at the moment. All too many times administrative jobs are given-out by well-entrenched district superintendents like so much Halloween candy. A standardized criterion-referenced test would at least give some objective benchmark for the ranking of administrative job applicants. The areas measured could include, but not be limited to: (in no particular order)

a. Teaching methods and strategies.
b. Child psychology
c. Personnel policies and procedures
d. Finance
e. Compliance with state and federal mandates
f. Data analysis
g. Fundamentals of leadership and group dynamics
With the caveat that as the editor of my own blog and I choose the interviewees, is there a blog that you like which you would like to see interviewed in this space? Please provide a link to the blog and an email if you know one (email addresses are not published unless the address is already on the blog page)

Jenny D
My Thanks to the Wonks. Get over and check it out, if you have even the vaguest interest in educational policy and practice--get them on your blogroll!!!

Ed Note: Pursuant to a policy on the blog interviews, all comments and responses by the interviewee are posted verbatim. The only editing that is done is to make the links appear and to verify that the links are still active.

Meehan to GOP: Hands off my bill

Yet another example of Congressional Democrats not playing well with others.

Meehan to GOP: Hands off my bill

Friday, January 27, 2006

7 myths about the Challenger shuttle disaster - Space News - MSNBC.com

On this, the 20th Anniversary of the Challenger accident, former NASA mission control operator and NBC News analyst James Oberg attempt to lay to rest 7 myths about the Challenger shuttle disaster.

I remember the day of the tragic event. I was in high school history class, Mrs. Osborne's class (a true southern belle if there ever was one). The guy with the reputation of being the class clown came in to class announcing that the Challenger has exploded. Since it was Billy Heuther, our response was typical, "Yeah, sure Billy. That is not even funny." It took an actual announcement from the principal for us to believe the truth of the matter.

The national reaction was expected, a sense of loss, particularly since teacher Christa McAuliffe was one of the astronauts lost in the tragedy. Yet at the same time, I remember thinking, "I hope this doesn't end our exploration of space."

Was the death of the astronauts tragic? Yes. But there is also hope. We as a people and as a race are not very good at sitting still. Space exploration provides a wonderful mechanism for fueling the human spirit. Look at what we accomlished in teh 60's with the challenge to land on the moon. We must honor the past and the loss of the Challenger crew, but we cannot doubt the our committment.

By the way, a little known story, or at least one that seems lost, is that French musician Jean-Michel Jarre had arranged with Astronaut Ron McNair to record a saxophone track on the Challenger mission to be included in Jarre's 1986 CD, Rendez-vous. The track, now know as Last Rendez-vous (Ron's Piece) was recorded by another artist, but had the mission proceeded as planned, McNair's track would have been the first recorded music for sale, recorded in space.

Last Rendez-vous is haunting piece. I will try to spend some time looking for a recording of it on-line.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chicagoans flock to Wal-Mart jobs

Talk about tough competition.

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting on the opening of a new Wal-Mart store in Southside Chicago:
24,500 Chicagoans applied for 325 jobs at a Wal-Mart opening Friday in south suburban Evergreen Park, one block outside the city limits.


"In our typical hiring process, you're pretty successful if you have 3,000 applicants," he said. "They were really crowing about 11,000 in Oakland, Calif., last year. So to get 25,000-plus applications and counting, I think is astonishing."


The 141,000-square-foot store has 36 departments, a "tire and lube express," vision center, Subway restaurant, pharmacy, garden center and drugstore. It will sell some groceries but no fresh produce or meats and no liquor. It is expected to generate $1 million in sales and property tax in the first year -- a windfall in a village that collects about $3 million a year in sales taxes, said Evergreen Park Mayor James J. Sexton. Evergreen Plaza, with 100 stores, generates about $2 million.
Often it is so hard to measure the impact of a single store on an area, but the Sun-Times, if their figures are accurate, give us a good snapshot.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what is about. If Wal-Mart is such a crummy place to work why are there 75 people applying for every single job at the store!! Explain that to me. The fact is, Wal-Mart creates jobs, jobs that people want. This one store will employ 325 people. The downstream economic impact will probably employ a few hundred more people. In all, in addition to the Wal-Mart employees, it is possible that the store will help create at least 325 more jobs.

By the way, when you have 24,500 people competing for 325 jobs, that means only you get an acceptance rate of a little over 1.3%. Want to do some comparison: According to this story, Wal-Mart, by itself, will generate 25% of Evergreen Parks sales tax revenue--by itself!!! That is as much as 50 stores in Evergreen Plaza put together. That, ladies and gentlemen of the Wal-Mart hating press, is called economic growth. Imagine what the town can do with that kind of influx. Are you worried that these Wal-Mart workers will need some state aid for health care? Looks like the store can pay its share and more.

Finally, in the "you snooze, you lose Category,"
"I always tell people I'm not for Wal-Mart, but I am for that project coming into the city and to my ward. We can't beat them," said Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st). "The same things they talk about Wal-Mart doing to Small Town U.S.A when they build on the outskirts of town is the same thing they have done to the City of Chicago without fanfare. Nobody distinguishes that if I cross Western Avenue at 95th Street, I am no longer in Chicago. For all practical purposes, Wal-Mart is in the city of Chicago without us receiving any benefit. You're going to see the parking lot filled with cars with Chicago city stickers."

Eighteen months ago, Brookins negotiated with Wal-Mart for a store at 83rd and Stewart, former site of the Ryerson steel plant. His plan fell apart when other South Side aldermen failed to support his request for a zoning change. The week before, aldermen gave the go-ahead for a Wal-Mart in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. The vote came after a contentious 2-1/2-hour debate.
When even an anti-Wal-Mart politician laments the loss of tax revenue, Wal-Mart must be doing something right.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

College Student Literacy

Via Breitbart

According to a story by the AP, college students lack basic skills to do common everyday functions.
More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

"It is kind of disturbing that a lot of folks are graduating with a degree and they're not going to be able to do those things," said Stephane Baldi, the study's director at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research organization.
In giving her own opinion on the matter, Ms. Cornelius makes this comment:
My students and I talk about real-life applications of what we are studying all the time. When we had a lesson on credit and debt, they were spellbound. These kids need practical knowledge.
However, the comment that really got my attention was this:
I just sat through a staff development presentation which talked about teaching the kids through their interests. I agree with the general idea, although the day that I play the Black-Eyed Peas in class will be a very cold day in Jamaica. (I don't want to know about anyone's "humps." In fact, I would be so appreciative if you would keep those things covered at all times, before you put someone's eye out.) Anyway, my idea of "teaching thorugh their interests" is "teaching them stuff that they don't know by starting with stuff they do know." (Note my complete lack of educrat-ese doublespeak. It's not because I can't; it's because I don't wanna.) I can talk all day long with kids about Death Cab for Cutie or Keane or coldplay or Audioslave or System of a Down, or even Wilson Pickett (rest in peace) or Jimi Hendrix or the Go-Go's or Bob Marley or the Clash.

But I shouldn't. Not if I want to call myself a teacher.

Too much classroom time is spent on tripe like this-- fun tripe, but tripe nonetheless. Real education is uncomfortable, since it requires one to stretch one's boundaries and be willing to attempt to grasp the unknown. It is difficult. But the difference is, I believe the difficulty makes it valuable. Here's another secret: no one can give a student an education. Education is what YOU, the student, make of the opportunities presented to you.
I can't agree more--well except maybe the Black-Eyed Peas comment--Fergie is smokin!! (although I have to admit, I am not sure of the educational value of my opinion)

Anyway, in defense of everyone out there who cannot compare credit card offers, the comments section in Ms. Cornelius post talks about the inability to discriminate between credit card offers.

Reid Apologizes for News Release on GOP


Reid Apologizes for News Release on GOP

Posting late--forgot what I was going to say about the matter

Middle America: Washington Scandal--Ho-Hum

Much has been made of the Abramoff scandal, at least in Washington. What is interesting though, is that for the most part, America, outside the beltway, just sees the matter as business as usual.

In this post, from the Mystery Pollster (be sure to check out his site) is a post explaining what I mean.

Be sure to check out the slide in the middle of the post talking about how people view Congress using various terms.

Lost in Translation

Today's Washington Post contains a wonderful, and thought provoking story about translators for public schools. While I agreee that sometimes schools need good translators to speak to the parents of children for whom English is a second language, this particular paragraph made me think:
Translation is a notoriously difficult task, but in the world of education, which often employs a language all its own, the job can be even more daunting. After all, in education, parents aren't just parents, they're "stakeholders." A test isn't a test -- it's an "outcome-based assessment."


To help non-English-speaking parents understand the nuances of the U.S. school system, it's not enough to be fluent in English and say, Farsi. Translators must also understand the meaning of terms and acronyms that some educators have difficulty explaining in English.

Suarez-Orozco said that although the English "paradigm" can be translated into Spanish as paradigma , it's not commonly used. And, he said, when it comes to a word such as "benchmark" there really is no Spanish equivalent.
I understand the need for translators to work with local school systems. However, why do we have to worry about translating educationese.

As a lawyer, one of the most common arguments I hear from non-lawyers is that lawyers always speak in "legalese." I will admit, we often do, as many legal concepts common to lawyers are referred to by various terms of art. However, a good lawyer should always--always--be able to discuss legal terms of art with non-lawyers in a way that is understandable to the client in particular and the general public if necessary.

One of the hallmarks of a profession that considers itself on a higher plane than the rest of the world is the formation of a distinct lexicon of words and phrases that may, or may not, mean something specific to the practitioners of that profession. On this score, I have no problems, economy of language allows professionals to speak to each other in a short-hand. But when your primary constituency are not members of your profession, the profesion has a duty to explain these concepts in plain English.

Thus, if the words are in plain English, a translator should have no problems making the transition from plain English to a different language. You may lose some of the context in the shift between languages, but the words can be explained. Every langauge I know of has a word for "test" or "program" or "parents." You don't need fancy terms when speaking to parents, doing so just appears condescending, making hte parents feel stupid and inadequate and thus less likely to question the "professional judgement" of the educator.

Terrapins Lose McCray for Rest of Season

Being a big Terps fan, this is a little heartbreaking as a sports fan. But as a peson who belives in personal responsibility and the need for an education, this does make me a little proud of my alma mater.

Chris McCray is a good basketball player and has made significant contributions to the Terps basketball team. But if you are going to be a student/athlete, you can't forget the student part.

McCray's mother has been trying to make the case for her son--but she is not the best advocate since there is a little self-interest involved.
Regarding one course this fall, Shirleeta McCray said her son told her that he e-mailed his assignments to the instructor, who did not accept assignments that were e-mailed in. A source with firsthand knowledge of the situation, however, said class attendance was an issue for the senior.
As a former teaching assistant at U-Md, I can say that professors have a great deal of discretion about the form and format in which they will expect assignments to be handed in. Just because one professor allows email submissions doesn't mean others are required to do so.

Several co-workers made the comment that the basketball team and the athletic department should never have let McCray get into the situation he is in, an argument made by his mother as well.
Team sources first indicated there was an issue with McCray's academics nearly a month ago, but Shirleeta McCray said she first learned of the problem last Wednesday, when a Maryland assistant coach called her. She said she was "frustrated" with Maryland because "I could have gone up there three weeks ago when you found out and got this straight."

An athletic department source, however, said she was aware before last week.


"They make sure he goes to practice; they should have made sure his grades and things were straight for him to be eligible," she [McCray's Mother] said. "I'm not only going to fault Chris; I'm going to fault everyone up there. I knew when [former assistant] Dave Dickerson was there, if anything like this would have happened, they would have called me and let me know."
But I don't buy that argument in the least. We are not talking about some freshman straight from high school who needs a little guidance and direction, but a 22 year old senior who has been in college for at least four and probably five years. He is an adult and if he does not fulfill his academic requirements the punishment is, and should be, dismissal from the team.

For far too long, athletic programs have offered their student athletes every break possible, even to the point of improper intervention on some occaisions. Could the basketball program intervened to help McCray? Sure, but they should not do so. Should McCray's mother been on his case to keep up his academics--absolutely. Did she? Well that is the question, but as I said, McCray is a grown up and sometimes the harshest penalties teach the most valuable lessons.

What is disappointing to me is that his teammates now must suffer the consequences of his stupidity. Will Maryland make the NCAA tournament--they still have a shot, a good performance in the ACC tournament will certainly guarantee them a spot. But hopefully McCray's situation will remind them that playing ball for a college on a scholarship is a privilege that comes with some responsibilities. Just because you can dribble with both hands, shoot 35% from the three point line or score touchdowns with ease does not excuse your responsibilities to remain academically eligible.

D.C. Bid to Start Fall Term Aug. 14 Sparks a Backlash

Not a bad idea, but of course, everyone is complaining that starting school early will interfere with vacation and camp plans.

I don't buy it though. Take your vacation earlier and when I was a kid, camps ended in the middle of August anyway. The complaints are a bunch of tripe. The fact that schools traditionally start around labor day is a holdover from a largely agrarian society--which has never existed in DC at all.

D.C. Bid to Start Fall Term Aug. 14 Sparks a Backlash

Campaign Finance Law May Have A Loophole

No, No, NO, NO!!!!

Yesteray, the Supreme Court issued a short, unsigned, unamimous decision vacating a lower court ruling in the Wisconcin Right to Life case. In essence, the Court said that the McConnell decision did not preclude "as applied" challenges to the use of issue advertising that may look like electioneering communications.

But here is the Washington Post, once again, referring to the decision as creating a loophole. Since when did political speech become a loophole?

All this Supreme Court ruling did was kick the case back to the three judge district court and tell them to rule on whether the advertisment, which dealt with asking people in Wisconsin to contact Senators Kohl and Feingold and tell them not to filibuster judicial nominations, was a legitimate issue ad or an electioneering communication. The problem was that at the time of the ad, less than 60 days remained until the general election, in which Senator Feingold was a candidate.

Without a doubt, the courts are going to be asked to rule on these questions a lot and the case will return to the Supreme Court sometime soon.

But I have HAD it with the media calling political speech a loophole--after all, the thing that lets the media talk incessantly about candidates and campaigns is a "loophole."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Interesting, but Unconstitutional Campaign Finance Proposal

Democratic operatives James Carville and Paul Begala have come up with a campaign finance reform proposal that seems a little familiar, called "Not One Dime" In their words, the plan:
We propose fundamentally and radically reforming the way that campaigns are financed. Our proposal combines the fondest dream of liberal reformers—public financing of campaigns—with the fondest dream of conservative and libertarian reformers—no restrictions at all on donations from American citizens. The goal is to put a little distance between power and money.

Here is what I would consider the radical idea:
And when it is campaign time, incumbents would be under a complete ban on raising money. You read that right. No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period.

Challengers, on the other hand, would be allowed to raise money in any amount from any individual American citizen or political action committee. No limits, just as the free-market conservatives have always wanted. But here is the catch: Within 24 hours of receiving a contribution, the challenger would have to report it electronically to the Federal Election Commission, which would post it for the public to see. That way, if you want to accept a million dollars from, say, Paris Hilton, go for it. But be prepared for voters and reporters to ask what you promised her in exchange.

The day after you disclose Paris's million bucks, the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent's campaign account with a comparable sum—say 80 percent of the contribution to the challenger to take into account the cost of all the canap├ęs and Chardonnay the challenger had to buy to raise his funds as well as the incumbent's advantage. So if Paris gave the challenger a mill, the Treasury would wire $800,000 to the incumbent. It couldn't be much simpler. You might even call it the flat tax of campaign laws.

The penalties for violation would be swift. If an incumbent accepts so much as a postage stamp, he loses his seat. If a challenger doesn't report contributions, he loses his shot. If you cheat, you are out on your ass.
So let's break down the problems.

First and foremost, good luck getting this past Congress. The current incumbent has much to gain from teh current system and my copy of the Constitution does not contain a provision for a nationwide voter referendum or initiative process. This is not to say that Congress, properly motivated, could not pass this bill, but the voters are going to have to be on their case with this action.

Second, we have some real constitutional issues here, such as equal protection. Under this scenario, the challenger and the incumbent are working with separate rules and that generally gives way to real legal problems. But assuming you can leap the equal protection hurdle, other, bigger obstacles are in the way. IN pareticular, this passage is appealing: "The penalties for violation would be swift. If an incumbent accepts so much as a postage stamp, he loses his seat. If a challenger doesn't report contributions, he loses his shot."

Like I said, it is very appealing in its simplicity and does appeal to the fair play side of us all. The problem--competely and utterly unconstitutional. There are mechanisms for removing incumbents from office and if violating this law comes with the punishment of expulsion from Congress--so be it. But, challengers are a different story altogether. While the campaign reporting is done on the federal level, the actual election occurs on teh state level, with state rules regarding who and who is not a candidate, Congress doesn't get to make that determination, only states.

While we are on the subject, these violation carry significant penalties handed down by government action. Thus the violators are to be accorded due process rights, meaning a hearing. Are we going to suspend activity on the floor of the House and Senate any time a complaint about violating this law occurs? Congress would never get anything done!! Are we going to force the states and candidates to undergo hearings each time they fail to report activity? On a good day, the FEC may take 1-2 months to review campaign finance filings. How will they know when a challenger has violated the law? By the time the FEC analysts get around to reviewing donation information, the election may have come and gone. Don't believe, look up some of the press releases and closed enforcment cases on the FEC website--it sometimes takes years to evaluate and enforce the law.

Carville and Begala present an interesting idea, but this idea is so fraught with legal problems as to be practically unworkable from the start. As a starting point, fine, but the idea these gentlemen propose will be eviscertated before even getting to House or Senate floor for a vote.

Time to head back to the drawing board.

Google Refuses Fed Demand for Search Information

Good for them!!

Google Refuses Demand for Search Information

The searches and information requests like these are simply fishing expeditions by the Feds. While the Federal Government has a duty to prevent child pornography, they need to have something a little more than a suspicion to ask for such data, even if it obstensibly seeks to avoid private information.

Blog Review: Diane Wier on Education

In keeiping with my blogger New Year's Resolutions, This is the third installment of my "weekly" series of blog reviews/interviews.

The Edusphere is repleat with all kinds of viewpoints, from parents and students to teachers, administrators, superintendants and even people like me with a big mouth and fast fingers for typing my tripe. But in all the hubbub, I have not found many blogs by the elected members of the education community, the school boards--except for Diane Weir. Diane Weir on Education is a blog by a member of the Westford (MA) School Committee and is a wonderful place for some insights into what goes on at the school board level of policy-making. (If any one knows of other School Board Member Blogs, I would love to know--leave a note in the comments.)

With topics ranging from local to national issues, Diane does a great job of bringing the larger national issues home and taking the local issues national as examples of what is happening in our schools. A former teacher, Diane now works in the technology field and has been a member of the School Board since May 3, 2005. Diane presented some practical thoughts about school issues during the campaign, particularly in this post on school budgeting.

I decided to interview Diane because hers is the first blog I have encountered that discusses education from the school board perspective. In addition, she regularly posts her voting record, as well as information about what happened during the Board's public deliberations. The only piece of criticism I would make about Diane's site is that she has an opportunity, not seized often enough, to inform her constituents and the large public, about the political, economic and other restraints a school board operates under. While we think of the school board as a maker of policy, often times they are relegated to only small matters because they are pre-empted by state and, increasingly, federal law. This ties their hands a great deal, putting the school board in the unenviable position of being the person at the bottom of the hill as the policy boulder rolls down from on high. And, to mix metaphors, puts the school board in the line of fire for every disgruntled parent, teacher or administrator, whether the greivance is due to the school board's actions or not.

This does not mean that I am asking Diane to make excuses for her, and her colleagues' actions (not that I have any reason to believe they would), but if more people understood how educational policy is made, we as consumers of education would understand who to take our complaints to.

So go check out Diane's site, it is informative and provides a very different perspective. On to the interview.

1. In 25 words or less, what is your blog about?
My blog covers issues in public education at the local, state and national levels.
2. What prompted you to begin blogging?
While running for School Committee, I started blogging as a way to introduce myself to voters.
3. Is there a particular posting you have made in the past three months of which you are particularly proud? If so, please provide a link.
This year we voted on a new teacher contract. I found that it was difficult for someone to understand my position to someone if they weren't familiar with the salary structure. So, I wrote a two-part series on the teacher contract.The first part described “steps and ladders” which is the salary structure most commonly used throughout the country. In the second part I gave my reasons for voting against ratification.
4. (here is what has become the requisite three part question)You use your blog as a means of communication about your school board activities. Do find that constituents read the blog? Is it a valuable means of keeping your constituents updated on your and the school board’s activities? Do you publicize the blog to your constituents?
Constituents not only read the blog, they make comments and suggest topics! That’s where I see the real value. It encourages participation and responsiveness. How great is that?

I don’t put too much effort in publicizing the blog. I’ve added the URL to my electronic signature which I use in email and when posting on a local online forum. I printed up business cards, but I can’t say that I’ve passed many out. In a small town, word of mouth is sufficient publicity. For now, my focus is on getting content up on the website and answering comments from readers.
5. As a former teacher and now a school board member, do you find your previous experience as a teacher helps or hinders or has no effect on your performance as a board member?
It certainly influences the decisions I make and the expectations I have. I left ed school an idealist, and I left teaching a pragmatist. As a board member, I try to strike a balance so that we can set lofty goals and actually reach them.
6. What are the three biggest challenges facing your school district and would you say it would be fair to extrapolate those issues to the state and even the nation?
The most immediate challenge is ensuring that our schools are safe. This year three teachers have either resigned or been dismissed. Two of them are facing criminal charges. Background checks should be handled at the state level as part of the certification process. It should be much more difficult to remain certified once you've resigned or been fired for disciplinary reasons.

We're also looking at the annual budget challenges. It's an odd dance of requesting more than you can reasonably expect to receive and then publicly lamenting the resulting cuts. I'm not a fan of this approach because it emphasizes political posturing and undervalues the management aspects of local governance.

Lastly, as a district whose students typically perform very well on state tests, the challenge for us is moving beyond this minimum level of proficiency. How do we define and measure excellence? If we don't take it upon ourselves to make these decisions, the state and federal government will do it for us.
7. Having experience education now from three at least three different angles, that is as a student, a teacher and now as a policymaker (I don’t know if you have children and if you do, as a parent), what advice would you give to all the parents/teachers/students out there about dealing with the educational system when they experience frustration?
I get asked this a lot. I ought to write a blog entry about it because there are a basic series of steps one should follow. Start by finding out what policies exists for raising complaints. There should be a well-defined process and "chain of command" to follow. Remember that part of finding a solution requires some degree of flexibility on your part. Be open to trying out suggestions from school staff.

If problems persist, be prepared to bring your concerns to the next level. Be specific in what action or response you're looking for and agree on a time line. Keep a written record of your meetings with staff. Remain persistent, congenial and focused on the solution as you bring your complaints up to the next level.

Should it get to the point where you need to go to the school board, find out if there are other parents/teachers/students who share your concern and work together. As school boards don't typically get involved in the day to day operations, find any policies that are applicable to your issue. At the very least, the board should either direct the superintendent to take specification or publically state that they will not address the issue.

If you're not satisfied with your board's response, consider running for a seat!
8. You post your voting record online (which I think is great). As a believer in choice, I noted that you were the lone dissent on a school choice vote, where the board decided against participating in the school choice program for FY06. I was hoping you can share some information about the School Choice program that was considered, its features and why you think it was defeated in the vote.
Thank you. You've reminded me that I've got to update my voting record page!

The School Choice law in Massachusetts is weak, outdated, and has been allowed to quietly fade away. Basically, each district has the option of opening up a designated number of slots at a particular grade each year. For example, you could open 10 slots in grades 9-12 and 8 slots in grade 4. Or, a district can decide not to participate in the choice program. This decision is made annually.

Students are accepted on a lottery basis. Once a student is accepted through the choice program, they must be allowed finish their entire K-12 schooling in the district, regardless of whether the district continues to participate in the choice program. Each receiving district is paid 75% of their normal per pupil expenditures, up to $5,000.

Some of the arguments made against participating in the School Choice program were that we don't have enough room in the schools, that the students who come in have had serious discipline problems, and that the district loses money because it costs more than $5,000 to educate a student. Even if these claims are true, shouldn't we, as one of the best districts in the state, be able to handle these challenges? If not, then we have no business lamenting the fact that urban districts get more funding.
9. With the caveat that as the editor of my own blog and I choose the interviewees, is there a blog that you like which you would like to see interviewed in this space? Please provide a link to the blog and an email if you know one (email addresses are not published unless the address is already on the blog page).
I'd like to recommend Kitchen Table Math. Theirs is a blog with a mission: Our goals in starting this collaborative weblog are, in order of importance: to have fun, to share ways of teaching kids math, and to support people who want to help kids learn math. A great reference for anyone frustrated with fuzzy math!

Advantage: GOP in Maryland

Hmm!!! According to recent campaign finace reports, MD Governor Bob Ehrlich is outraising his opponents.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reported raising $10.8 million to date for his reelection bid, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's campaign said he has taken in $1.27 million for the U.S. Senate race, and the state Republican Party account showed a sizable financial edge over the Democrats.


Ehrlich's total exceeds the amount he raised during his entire 2002 campaign and that raised by both of his Democratic opponents combined. But a closer look at the filings shows the governor and his nearest Democratic rival on roughly the same fundraising pace over the past year. During that period, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley took in $4.3 million and Ehrlich raised about $4.9 million, according to aides.

Over the past three years, O'Malley has raised about $7 million, but some of that went toward his mayoral reelection campaign in 2004. At this time last year, the mayor had about $1 million in the bank, while Ehrlich had banked about $4.5 million. Ehrlich's other Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, had about $1.5 million.


In the race for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Republicans say they believe Steele is their first highly competitive Senate candidate in more than 20 years. Still, Steele trails Democratic Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who said he has raised $2.8 million and will have $2.1 million on hand when federal filings are due at the end of this month. Former Democratic congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume has said he expects to show about $400,000 in that report.

While both Ehrlich and Steele may not, in the end raise as much money as their opponent, they have one major advantage-they are unopposed in the primary. The Maryland Primary takes place on September 12, two months before the general election. The primary, particularly for the Governorship, is likely to be brutal and expensive. Both GOP candidates can cruise into the general election season with their warchests largely intact, while the Democratic nominees will have to replenish theirs. With more money for advertaising and the critcally vital get-out-the-vote effort, the GOP candidates will have an advantage.

The Frustrating Lack of Facts on Lobbying Bills

This is the kinds of articles by the press that just drive me nuts. What is more infruriating is that Jeffrey Birnbaum has covered Washington and the lobbying world for a long time (he has even written several books on the subject), he knows how the system works. By calling the campaign finance activity a "loophole" he characterizes the lobbying reform bills being bandied about as deeply flawed.
Lawmakers are about to bombard the American public with proposals that would crack down on lobbyists. Several prominent plans, including one outlined yesterday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would specifically ban meals and privately paid travel for lawmakers.

Or would they?

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

"That's a big hole if they don't address campaign finance," said Joel Jankowsky, the lobbying chief of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the capital's largest lobbying outfits.

The plans offered by Republican leaders yesterday would change two of the three areas of law or regulation that govern lobbyists' behavior: the congressional rules that limit gifts to lawmakers and the laws that dictate the amount of disclosure that lobbyists must give the public.

A third major area -- campaign finance laws -- would go untouched, an omission that amounts to a gaping loophole in efforts to distance lobbyists from the people they are paid to influence.
Okay, it is about to get a little technical here.

Birnbaum is suggesting that lawmakers will have lavish dinners with lobbyists and then get a campaign check. That is not going to happen. Right now, the most efficient way for lawmakers to raise funds for re-election is to hold fundraising events, dinners, receptions and the like. A dinner or lunch with a single lobbyist is not going to raise the cash--nor do lawmakers have the time, stomachs or constitutions for such a fundraising operation, other wise every lawmaker will look like Jabba the Hut after all those meals.

So that leaves fundraising events. These events are paid in two ways--first, by the lawmaker's campaign or by the PAC/Lobbyist hosting the event. If the lawmaker pays the freight, then she may spend as much as she would like--because those expenses, even though they have no limit, are fully reportable to the FEC.

The second option is for the PAC/lobbyist to host the event. Let us say, a PAC is the host. By law they can only contribute $5,000 per election to a candidate. The PAC could give a check for $5,000 or a combination of goods/services and cash, totaling $5,000. Thus if the PAC holds the event and picks up the tab, and the tab cannot exceed $5,000 without violating the law. If the PAC pays travel and other expenses for the lawmaker to attend the fundraising event, that is an in-kind contribution, also limited to $5,000 per election. All of these contributions, since they exceed the $200 minimum are reportable both by the PAC and by the candidate--that is teh current law.

If a lobbyist himself pays the freight, he is limited to $2,100 per election. If you have a bunch of people over for a swanky dinner, you have to watch the cost.

For those with a little more knowledge of campaign finance law may point to independent expenditures as the method to avoid PAC and individual limits. True a PAC or an individual may spend as much as they would like on an independent expenditure, but by definition, if the candidate is at the event (why else have the event), they will know about it and independent expenditures don't apply.

Now the real problem with campaign finance and lobbying is the fundraising done by lobbyists for candidates. This is what Jack Abramoff has done, hosted events or encourages his clients to give to campaigns. This, in and of itself, is not illegal--ever heard of the Bush Pioneers or Rangers? Could some additional disclosure work in this area? I doubt it. One think to keep in mind is that, while Lobbyists may help raise funds, many of her clients may already be disposed to giving to that law maker. How does one prove that the lobbyist is solely, or even partially, responsible for a contribution from PAC A to candidate B. Good luck trying to prove that causal connection.

Part of the problem with lobbying reform and campaign finance is that the two work so closely together that it is nearly impossible to classify an activity as falling into one or the other. Does lobbying occur at fundraisers--you bet!! That activity is not covered under the lobbying laws. But a simple change in the lobbying rules could reverse that.

So Birnbaum's insinuations lack merit--and he knows it! There are no loopholes here, campaign finance activity is subject to stricter reporting rules than lobbying. Could each set of rules be altered to cover fundraising activity by lobbyists, sure, and that could happen through the legislative process, but to insinuate that current reform efforts have such a large loophole is disingenuous at best and downright false at worse.

Friday, January 20, 2006

DeLay PAC Ripples

And so it continues, everyone is looking for a boogie man under the campaign finance bed. Here is a shocker, Americans for a Republican Majority gave money to a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Alabama.

What appears to be shocking to the press, is that ARMPAC followed the law. Afterall, if you are suspected of breaking one law, you cannot be expected to follow all teh laws--right?

Votelaw: Alabama: DeLay's PAC gave $11,000 to Gov. Riley campaign

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Skepticseye.com by Allison Hayward � Review of the Wisconsin Oral Argument

For those interested in a play by play of the Wisconsin Right to Life case arguments, could go a bunch of places, but if you want to smile with your drowsiness, go visit The Skeptic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Political Teen � Nagin Explains Chocolate Comment (VIDEO)

Willy Wonka's Successor, Mayor Ray Nagin, explains how to make chocolate. Video link at the Political Teen.

so what is the Milk? No other than your tax money.

Will somebody please get this guy out of office before "God gets mad." The damage being created by this guy's stupidity makes Hurricane Katrina's damage look like a small spring shower.


Check out the Carnival of Education over at the Ed Wonks.

For a three week old carnival, the Carnival of Homeschooling is getting a lot of submissions. If you have ever thought about homeschooling, this carnival is a regular must-see.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Campaign Finance Law Guide: More Soft Money Hard Law (Bob Bauer)

Bob Bauer reports on his thoughts regarding the Wisconsin Right to Life Supreme Court arguments today.

What Should Ed Schools Teach?

Kim over at No. 2 Pencil reports on the George Will trouncing of Ed schools. Other bloggers, including myself, have also discussed Will's article.

The comments at these posts have led me to pose this question:

What should Ed schools be teaching to its students, both graduate and undergrad?

I would think that schools should be teaching skills to teach various subjects, from math to reading to science to history, etc. Each subject area requires different skills to impart knowledge and engage students. I think class about evaluating students, i.e. test design, could be helpful. Perhaps classes on educational psychology.

As an attorney by training, I can say that I have no concrete understanding of what should be taught. But given that many people read this blog and the Carnival of Education, I thought I might ask.

Please post your thoughts in the comments.

A Constituency for Public Schools

A great deal of my education reading this week has been influenced by one question: Have public schools lost track of their primary constituency? Everything sort of came together this week to focus on this one basic, yet fundamentally important question.

It all started with a new book for my Sunday reading (because of the Bar Exam studying--I only get Sunday to read non-law stuff outside of work), Joe Williams' Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education. Although I have not gotten all the way through even the first three chapters, Williams is putting the current education debate as a tension between the employment of adults in the system versus the education of kids in the system. Given the title, you can see where Williams comes down.

Then there has been the post and debate in the comments over at Jenny D's. Finally, one of my new favority education blogs, The DeHavilland Blog, asked the question: Is there a public for public schools?

The Debate at Jenny D's is particularly noteworthy since she asks the question:
[W]hy do we, as a nation of citizens, cough up tax dollars to educate all children? What's the point of doing this? Why not just leave it up to each family to educate its children?
And even more pointedly, in the comments, Jenny asks:
What interest does the State have in educating children? Why would the state pay for this? What does the State want students to get from school, and want it enough to pay for it?


what if the state's interests in educating children differ from an individual's interests? What if the state has different goals and objectives than an individual parent? Who should pay then?
These are not easy questions.

But, DeHaviland blog points out:
This trend snowballed of course, and Mathews describes today’s environment as one where the public pays lip service to its commitment to schools, when in reality they feel disengaged and unwelcome, and would prefer not to have their children subjected to a system they feel is not only unresponsive but manifestly unsafe and ineffective. He sees education today as driven by battles between special interests groups, and the lack of interest and involvement by communities means that any top-down reforms enacted by these warring factions will not succeed.

He doesn’t see any of this as malicious: nobody is out to destroy our kids. In fact, all parties are trying to do what they believe is right for education. But in the end, it's clear that the community has been effectively shut out of education, except for specific opportunities dictated by the schools (primarily when funds and manpower are needed – certainly not in areas with substantive input), and when you deprive someone of input, they don't feel any connection or obligation to resulting output.(Emphasis Added)
In short, any real changes in the manner in which we educate our children probably are not going to come from pundits, experts or even educators. The real changes are going to come from parents and voters--from the very people who are constiuents of public schools.

In many ways, I believe we are on the brink of a seismic shift in the manner in which we educate our children. It has become abundantly clear that a one-size fits all model, with monopolistic control of both the labor and delivery of education, fails a significant portion of our children. This is not to say that all schools are bad, merely that systemically, the people with the most to gain or lose in the system are going to start to take it back.

When even in suburban neighborhoods, where schools supposed do right by our children, parents are seeking more and more alternatives. When charter schools and voucher programs are launched, the demand for seats far outstrips the supply of classroom seats. The growth of homeschooling indicates a growing frustration of many at the inability of schools to address the needs of students and parents. All of these discordant strings of dissension and tension begin to move together, echoing the same themes--it is a voice that cannot be denied.

In short, there is a "silent" constituency that is growing a little more vocal. In 10-15 years, the shouts will be loud and woe unto the elected leaders who do not listen. For too long the public school constituents have been silent or silenced--but not for much longer.

Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Suicide Law

Interesting!!!Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Suicide Law

I didn't follow this case too closely, but it seems to me that the federal government overstepped its bounds trying to use a drug law to regulate medicine--a field of practice usually regualted on the state level. It will be interesting to see on what basis the justices ruled.

Action at the Court

Today's the day the Wisconsin Right to Life case will be heard in oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

Here is some press coverage:

Christian Science Monitor

Monday, January 16, 2006

Abortion Settled Law, Not Settled Politics

On the heels of the Alito hearings, I have read several posts, like this one from The Lonely Centrist arguing that abortion law is not settled law.

Centerman writes:
But my question is this: Does anyone seriously think that Roe v. Wade is "settled law?" Is there a major constitutional question which is more unsettled? I mean, the whole reason this is such an issue is because the law is so unsettled, isn't it? The Democrats, for example, have tried to question Alito about some 20 year old comments in which he expressed some skepticism about the Court's one person/one vote cases (see my earlier post on that subject). But those get no traction. Why? Because that is settled law.
However, I would argue that abortion law is relatively settled, it is abortion politics that is far from settled.

Let us take a look at the development of abortion law. The last major abortion case was the Stenberg case out of Nebraska, which (and I am working from memory) dealt with the outlawing of certain types of abortion, procedures, including partial birth abortion. This case, and others between the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey dealt with largely minor issues, such as whether a certain state action was a burden on women seeking abortions or procedural issues. But at no time was there ever really a question about whether abortion would be declared unconstitutional or whether Roe would be completely overturned. Planned Parenthood v. Casey was the last case to even have that as a question and it was a tangential at best.

No, abortion law is pretty settled and right now, I know of no case that is going to threaten the current state of the law in any meaningful way. Centerman argues that because abortion as an issues is so divisive, that it must not be settled law.

Yet abortion politics continues to be at the forefront of many people's minds and it really dominates judicial matters. But here is the funny part, the politics of abortion is one of the few issues where everyone treats it like it is the most important issue in the world, but it largely doesn't matter.

If one were to look at the statistics of abortion since 1975, you would find that the number of abortions performed each year fluctuates with the number of women of child bearing age. Thus, when there are more women of child-bearing age, there are more abortions and the converse is true as well. Why then the all the rhetoric about abortion--because it is an easy issue to be emotional on and one that few people are actually consistent about in the application of their stance with other issues involving human life, like the death penalty, genetic research, other reproductive rights, etc.

Centerman, whom I respect a great deal, has made a common mistake when dealing with big issues, forgetting to separate the politics from the law. He so rarely makes such mistakes, that it is easy to forgive.

Lamenting the Dreamer

My latest column is up over at Watchblog. Go check it out here.

Lagging Freshmen Reassigned Before Test

I am not sure what to make of this action. On the one hand, it seems like a good idea to help struggling students get one more chance.

On the other hand, it sends a signal to me that PG County is more interested in coddling kids rather than letting them face possible failure at a time when it can be corrected.

Lagging Freshmen Reassigned Before Test

McCain: CFR Blowhard

In today's Washington Times, comes a stoty about John McCain's never-ending windmill tilting against the FEC.
The Arizona Republican and co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform legislation said the commission is rewriting the law through its decision-making process.

"The Federal Election Commission, which is corrupt, will not enforce existing law, much less rein in ... this excess," Mr. McCain said.

First of all, why do we need the "which is corrupt" aside. There is no indication that the Commission is corrupt, no indication that they are not doing the job they were selected to do, and no indication that they are rewriting the law.

On numerous occaisions, I have pointed out that the FEC is saddled with a poorly written law that impacts directly the political speech of Americans, not an easy area to regulate.

Then there is this little spin:
"They continue to try to carve out loopholes in [the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act], known to many as McCain-Feingold. Thirteen of the 15 regulations they issued to implement the McCain-Feingold law were thrown out by the courts because they were in direct contravention to it. The 527s are illegal under the '74 law," Mr. McCain said.
Well, actually no, the court did not throw out all the regulations because they contravened BCRA, some were thrown out because the FEC failed to justify its action properly under the Administrative Procedures Act. But that is a mere technicality.

The 1974 law (an earlier version of the FECA that was largely in place until the passage of BCRA) did not ban 527s at all. In fact, the 1974 doesn't mention 527s since, I believe, that section of the IRS code didn't exist (I have to look that up).

Finally, McCain can't help but take another swipe at lobbyists:
Mr. McCain said that lobbying reform measures are under way in both chambers, but that they will not curb the favoritism that lawmakers write into spending bills, a practice called "earmarking" that is used to acquire pork projects for a lawmaker's district or state.

"All the lobbying reform in the world will not do the job until you stop the earmarking. [It's] the reason why we have 34,000 lobbyists, the reason why we have now 15,000 earmarks. In 1994, there were 4,000 earmarks," Mr. McCain said.

"How did Duke Cunningham, with a relationship with one lobbyist, get tens of millions of dollars into an appropriations bill?" Mr. McCain said, referring to the California Republican who resigned after admitting that he took bribes from defense contractors.

"The system is broken. It must be fixed. And the American people deserve better than what we're having now. So you can do all the lobbying reform you want. And I'm happy to be involved in it. I'm overjoyed to be involved in it. But until we fix this earmark system, then you're going to have people who feel, correctly, the only way they can get their project done is to go to a lobbyist who has influence," Mr. McCain said.

Senator McCain and his colleagues have within their power, the ability to end earmarks--the lobbyists are just exploiting a tool the lawmakers use themselves and continue to use.

McCain is right on that score, that lobbying reform is not going to fix a system that still relies on earmarking to let lawmakers trumpet their work to constituents by bringing home the pork.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ban Artificial Insemination for Gay Couples

At least that is what Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) would like to see happen if his new bill becomes law. Marshall's bill, HB 187 would prohibit lesbian couples form using artificial insemination to conceive a child and would prohibit gay men from contracting with an unmarried surrogate mother to have a child.

Marshall, while apparently a bigot, is not an idiot. Marshall knows that banning patients from getting the procedure would likely result in an almost automatic reversal of the law as unconsitutional, he has decided to attack the issue from a regulatory side. Marshall's bill would prohibit doctors from peforming the procedure. The bill reads:
No individual licensed by a health regulatory board shall assist with or perform any intervening medical technology, whether in vivo or in vitro, for or on an unmarried woman that completely or partially replaces sexual intercourse as the means of conception, including, but not limited to, artifical insemination by donor, cryopreservation of gametes and embryos, invitro fertilization, embryo transfer, gamete intrafallopian tube transfer, and low tubal ovum transfer.(emphasis added).

Since the legislature can regulate the practice of medicine, Marshall thinks this regulatory type approach may have a better chance than an outright ban by certain people seeking the procedure, since such a law would certainly be banned almost from the get-go as unconsitutional. Now of course, single women can't have in vitro, the only way they could have kids under Marshall's bill is by normal sexual intercourse.

Right now I can envision three challenges to this law.

First, in vitro clinics may be able to make a case for the interference with their business. True, the state can regulate medical practices, but this rule may ask the clinics to violate the privacy of their clients. The clinics will now have to ask for a marriage license before giving treatment.

Second, single women who chose to have children without be married are now being denied their procreative rights--a fundamental right under our constitution. If a woman wants to concieve a child by artificial insemination, she is being denied equal protection.

Third, gay rights groups are going to challenge this bill as a direct violation of their equal protection. In general, gay and lesbian couples don't have the same marrigae rights as straight couples or even straight single people, but I would be willing to wager that the courts are not going to deny them procreative rights. Although the procreative rights agnle, at least to my knowledge, has not been tested and would make a great legal challenge.

Yet the absurdity does not end. I have to admit, initially I figured it was one of hundreds of dumb bills introduced in legislative sessions every year and I was prepared to dismiss this bill. But when Marshall makes that arguement, I just about ran off the road in surprise. According to WMAL 630 AM monring news on Thursday, by introducing the bill, Marshall argued that men who act as sperm donors were--Get this


If I were a sperm donor, I would be deeply offended. Of course, sperm donors cannot sue Marshall for defamation since Marshall only expressed an opinion, as asinine as it may be, it is only an opinion.

Here's to hoping this bigoted bill dies in Committee.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Abramoff Activity

Right Side Redux has posted a compilation of contributions interests linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff to congressional candidates and campaign committees since 1996, and the list is quite extensive.

However, there are a couple of caveats that need to be addressed about this list. First, the source, The Center for Responsive Politics, is a campaign finance reform group headed by Lawrence Noble. CRP has a vested interest in both campaign finance reform and lobbying reform.

Second, the list is not just Abramoff and his clients, but also those of his former partner, Michael Scanlon, so the list is a bit more expansive than just Abramoff and his clients. The list also includes contributions from SunCruz Casinos, a Florida based company whose business dealings with Jack Abramoff resulted in a guilty plea of Adam Kidan on charges of conspiracy and fraud. Thus there is a bit of spin on the material.

Third and finally, all of this activity is completely legal. In no case has Abramoff, Scanlon or Kidan broken campaign finance laws. Did they break other laws, apparently, since few innocent people actually plead guilty. But not a single one of these aggregate contributions to candidates or committees exceeded campaign finance limits.

Before people take off on Abramoff for breaking all kinds of laws, lets be clear about which laws he has violated. Abramoff has broken laws to be sure. But not these.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Steele leading in poll

A recent Rasmussen Poll shows the the GOP is taking hold in Maryland. According to the poll release by Rasmussen:
The Senate race got interesting as soon as Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes announced his retirement last March. It soon seemed Democrats had the edge. By July, Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin led Lt. Governor Michael Steele by five points in our poll. Steele, however, was seven points ahead of former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

By November, Steele was neck-and-neck with Mfume, but Cardin had widened his lead over Steele to 49% to 41%. Yet since that time, the number of voters with an unfavorable opinion of Steele has fallen from 33% to 25% and the Republican candidate has pulled ahead of both Democrats. He now leads Cardin 45% to 40% and Mfume 45% to 38%.

Steele surge may be a combination of a number of factors, including voter fatigue with the Democrats. In a state that is dominated by Democrats, moderates and Independents are expressing a frustration level with Democrats that is undeniable. Failures in the General Assembly, failures in the major jurisdictions, i.e. the People's Republic of Montgomery County, Balitmore and Prince George's County, and failures to address the real needs of voters state-wide have led people in search of alternatives.

Michael Steele has, on his website, focused on five main issues: education, economy, health care, public safety, and protecting the environment. All of these are issues of concern to Marylanders and all issues where the Ehrlich/Steele Administration have done well.

What is interesting is that Steele is eating in to traditional Democratic bases. From Rasmussen:
Steele has increased his support among black voters in a square-off with Mfume. While the latter still wins most of the African-American vote, Steele's share has jumped from 17% in November to 31%.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of all voters now view Mfume favorably, a five-point decline.

It is unusual for a Republican to be so competitive in such a solidly "Blue" state such as Maryland. Election 2004 confirmed that geography rules in contests for the U.S. Senate.

Some good news for Democrats, the election is still 10 months away. The bad news, the primary is September 12 and will likely be quite bruising for Ben Cardin, Kweisi Mfume and the six or seven other candidates. Steele is unopposed and will be able to coast into the General Election season with a full campaign war-chest and the momentum to make a win possible.

Maryland Goes Anti-Business

The Maryland legislature yesterday voted to override Governor Bob Ehrlich's veto of the so-called Wal-Mart bill. The law essentially mandates that all private employers with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland dedicate at least 8% of their payroll to health care benefits or make a contribution to the state's Medicaid coffers.

WARNING: The spin on the new law causes extreme dizziness and nausea.

The politics behind the bill, while interesting is nothing particularly new. The Democratic majority in the legislature felt that it was criminal that a popular employer was not paying more of their employees health care costs. Thus, the bill was created and to everyone's knowledge, Wal-Mart is the only company that qualifies. The bill is written in a general way, so that any company with more than 10,000 employees would fall under the bill, the common knowledge is that the threshold was picked to get Wal-Mart and no other companies.

From an on-line chat hosted by WashingtonPost.com:
It has been said that one reason why Gov. Ehrlich vetoed the bill is because that although the employee highmark stands at 10,000, eventually it would be lowered (not neccesarily down to 10) in the future to affect more employers and people. In other words, the 10,000 highmark today may turn into 5,000 in the future. Any truth to this?

John Wagner: Opponents of the bill argued that there could be a "slippery slope" like that you describe. Supporters say that is not their immediate aim, though there has been a bill considered -- but not passed -- in recent years that would apply to employers of any size. It would mandate a lower threshold of health spending, however.

and thus, the slide begins.

But here is the key facts. Wal-Mart claims to employ about 17,000 people in Maryland. Given the number of stores that are in this state, this seems about right. Assume for a moment that 1/3 of those employees, some 5500 people or so people are part-time high school or college-age kids, most of whom are still on their parents insurance. That leaves us with 11,500 people who are working adults. Lets further assume that about 2600 of those people, about 1/4 are uninsured or underinsured and would be subject to getting more healthcare paid by Wal-Mart.

According to published reports in the Washington Post, there are some 786,000 or so uninsured people in Maryland. Thus this bill will bring insurance to a whopping .3% of uninsured Marylanders, less than one percent!!

Even the normally liberal Washington Post editorialized on the bill:
But since when do states have the right to penalize firms simply because they are big and successful? The Maryland bill is a legislative mugging masquerading as an act of benevolent social engineering.

If the purpose of the act is to provide health care, perhaps the General Assembly could start with steps to control the skyrocketing health care costs. Health care spending experiences double digit increases every year and insurance premiums have to keep up. Wal-Mart, like any company, and probably more so given its business model, seeks to keep such costs down. How does it do that, by finding cheaper plans--which is often easier since they employ so many people. Wal-Mart may also limit the availability of health care to employees company wide.

So who is going to lose out under this regime? Wal-Mart may lay off people, but that is unlikely. Wal-Mart was considering a distribution center is Somerset County (on the Eastern Shore, one of hte poorest counties in Maryland). Now the company may move it across the border to more business friendly Delaware--cost to Maryland, at least 800-1000 jobs, probably more with the additional need for services, support and other economic improvements in a county that needs it.

No the big losers are going to be two groups. First, the lower classes in Maryland. Like it or not, the Wal-Mart business model is built upon providing consumer goods at a very low price, as low as Wal-Mart can make them and still turn a profit. In fact, in terms of the price breaks, goods and services it provides, Wal-Mart is a better welfare agency than the state government.

Second, the legislature is going to lose out. The Maryland General Assembly acted as if it new better than everyone else in this matter. They assume, wrongly, that people will not understand where Wal-Mart is going to make up the difference between its current health care costs and its 8% rule--on the backs of Maryland consumers. Are the price increases going to be big--no, but they will happen.

Coming in an election year in Maryland, the General Assembly is staking its reputation on a move that will haunt them at the polls. Low income people, middle-class Maryland may very well punish the General Assembly for creating an atmosphere in the state that says to businesses--don't come here.

Photo a Day: January 13, 2005

Daughter #2

Photo Credit: Daughter #1

Photo A Day: January 12, 2006

Just relaxing at home.

Photo Credit: Daughter #1

Thursday, January 12, 2006

BCRA Botch Job

Hat tip: Prof. Hasen

I have long advocated, in this space, that the Congress has the duty to be explicit in its desires when legislating. If they are not specific, they cannot gripe about Agencies interpreting the law in a different fashion or about the unintended consequences. This piece by Professor Michael Munger points out what happens when Congress tries to regulate speech and fails to be specific enough in its desires.
BCRA has been a failure even for supporters of spending restrictions, like Rep. Meeks and dozens of other members of Congress. BCRA has achieved three things, all bad:
  1. It actually enhances the power of narrowly focused, highly organized and well-funded special interests.
  2. It reduces the accountability of those interests by encouraging those groups to disguise their identities.
  3. It raises a nearly impenetrable financial force field of protection around incumbents.

It is the last of these that I have spoken about before and suggested some fixes for the problem. But I would like to talk about a different aspect, one with relevance today, considering the efforts to regulate lobbying a little more. As Munger writes:
But BCRA makes it even harder for challengers to make headway against incumbents. Rather than merely regulating the source of contributions, BCRA goes much further, asserting in effect that there is too much unregulated speech. According to the BCRA, the most important time for speech to be regulated, and incredibly even outlawed entirely, is in the period 60 days before an election. Columnist George Will ("Litigating Freedom of Speech," Dec. 2, 2002, Washington Post) quotes a number of politicians who found the heat of a competitive campaign unpleasant. But rather than fight (or get out of the kitchen), incumbents preferred the BCRA solution of simply getting rid of annoying negative ads financed by soft money:
  • Sen. Wellstone, D-Minn.: "These issue advocacy ads are a nightmare."'
  • Sen. Cantwell, D-Wash.: BCRA "is about slowing political advertising and making sure the flow of negative ads by outside interest groups does not continue to permeate the airwaves."
  • Sen. Jeffords, I-Vt.: Issue ads "are obviously pointed at positions that are taken by you saying how horrible they are."
  • Sen. Daschle, D-S.D.: "Negative advertising is the crack cocaine of politics."
  • Sen. McCain, R-Ariz.: Negative ads "do little to further beneficial debate and a healthy political dialogue" and BCRA will "raise the tenor" of elections.
Will points out that "BCRA is government's—the political class'—assertion of a right to fine tune the 'tenor' of political speech, to make it 'healthy' and 'beneficial' by suppressing speech by 'outside interest groups.' "

What exactly is a "beneficial" debate? Any incumbent can give a simple answer: one the incumbent can win, or at least can dominate with superior spending power. Consider Ford, or IBM, or U.S. Steel. They would all love to have government make it harder for competitors to enter markets and challenge them to raise the quality of their products. In fact, firms make these kinds of requests all the time. Why should we be surprised that political incumbents have the same desires to be sheltered from competition?

I had not been able to formulate my argument as cleanly before. But the efforts of McCain and Company, are clearly focused on the power to stay in office by limiting speech. Campaign finance laws overwhelmingly favor incuments. Now lobbying laws will overwhelmingly favor those already in power--to do as they like with little fear of outside interference or questioning.

Is this mind control--no? Is it thought control--probably, since we cannot speak our minds as efficiently as we once did. Is it power control--absolutely, and that is the first step to the other two.

Opinion - Editorial: Bush unrestrained - sacbee.com

This Sacremento Bee Editorial highlights the worries that many people have about the conduct of the Bush Administration of late, particularly in regards to the apparently expanded presidential powers.
President Bush has three years left in the White House. That's troubling to many Americans, whose concerns have grown as Bush pursues his antiterror campaign with fervor. What's troubling is not his determination but his habit of virtually ignoring Congress and of bypassing the courts when it suits his purpose. Most disturbing is Bush's willingness to ignore the law, even ones he has signed.

But in today's climate - especially in the wake of revelations about the abuse of prisoners and warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency on communications between this country and abroad, not to mention Bush's demagoguery against criticism of his Iraq policy - charity and trust are in short supply. Critics see Bush's words as a signal that he is prepared to ignore the anti-torture law.

If the President has overreached his authority, a point in obvious dispute, then the other two branches of government have, within their power, the ability to reign him in.

The President is naturally going to interpret laws to give him the broadest mandate possible, thus he has said that the post-9/11 resolution gives him the power to conduct some domestic surveillance. If Congress doesn't intend the President to conduct such actions, they can pass a law restricting such activity. If an American is harmed by the activity, they can sue to have the government's action limited.

The fact that Congress fails to exercise its checks and balances against the President is neither the fault nor the duty of the President.

Just a little civics lesson for the Bee.


Education Carnivals are up:

Visit Jenny D as she hosts the Carnival of Education this week.

Also, a new favorite carnival, although I have not yet posted on it, is the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Go visit, good times and reading guaranteed.