Friday, June 30, 2006

Randy Barnett on Hamdan and Its Impact

Randy Barnett, blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy has this to say about the fallout of Bush policies regarding the war on terror:
It has long seemed clear to me and many others who are otherwise sympathetic to its policies that the Bush administration made two colossal errors in prosecuting the general war on terror.

First: Not seeking quick explicit congressional authorization for such policies as incarceration, military tribunals, etc. The Hamdan case was just one result of this failure. Now, such involvement is much more difficult to accomplish; then it would have been relatively easy. Just not as easy as going it alone, which has proved to be the harder course in the long run.

Second: Not involving the American public directly in supporting the war. Tax increases or a military draft were not needed for this. But bond drives, resource collection, and other assistance-to-the-military programs — even better, some form of volunteer genuine militia service — in the wake of 9/11 would have given the public some ownership of the resulting policies. Many called for these sorts of initiatives at the time. They were waiting to be asked to pitch in and help. Instead the administration adopted a Vietnam-type strategy of "We'll handle things; you all go about your business." Which leads to bad reactions when "things" do not go as smoothly as expected.

The administration essentially opted for a one-branch war, and the country is now paying the price for that decision. While the failure to involve Congress is merely hard to rectify at this point, the failure adequately to involve the public may now be impossible to remedy.

Neither of these observations is original to me. Both points were made by others when the GWOT began, which is why it is not hindsight to point them out on a day that a very large chicken has come home to roost.
I have been a big supporter of the President in the war on terror. I have been forgiving of some of the rather dumb things that have happened in the prosecution of the war. To say that I am no fan of the Hamdan decision is a minor understatement. Yet at the same time, I wholeheartedly agree with Barnett, particularly on point two.

A number of commentators have tried to resurrect the nostalgia of World War II and attempt to draw some parallels to that war. One thing about WWII is that it was the last truly total war in our history. Everyone in the nation was involved, women, children, the elderly, immigrants (legal and otherwise), everyone worked to support the war effort.

Today, unless you know someone in the military, it is highly unlikely that your life is even marginally touched by the events in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else where the war is being fought. Not that such a mindset is unnatural, because the war is being fought somewhere else, not here on our shores. But the lack of commitment and involvement by the general public in the war on terror makes it someone else's problem for most people, a mindset that makes total victory difficult to achieve.

Bumper stickers that say "Support the Troops" is a perfect example of the way in which this war is viewed. I find the manner in which the dichotomy between supporting the war and supporting the troops is justified just short of hypocritical. While I find actions and activity that disparages the common soldier ranking somewhere beneath contempt, I still don't understand how someone can claim to oppose a war but support the troops in that war. The troops, as tools of foriegn policy (which every Army is, regardless of whose Army it is) and supporting them is supporting their mission assigned to carry out a foriegn policy goal.

But getting people to recognize the silliness of their position is just as impossible as getting more Americans on board supporting the war effort. So many people have become comfortable with the justification of supporting the troops, thinking that is enough, when it is not even close to what is necessary. I know that the troops appreciate the cards, letters, and goody boxes that are sent, but what I think what they really want is a committment, from everyone back home, to accept, support and embrace as necessity the mission of ending terrorism and Islamofascism. A total national effort is needed, just like was provided in World War II. World War II had its political dissenters (not many admittedly, but some) and this war can to, but it doesn't mean we should not be committed to the effort.

Barnett is right, it is probably impossible, absent another 9/11, for the Bush Administration to win over the support of many, perhaps even a majority of, Americans. Such a failure may be the biggest mistake of the Bush Presidency.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hamdan Decision May Actually Help GOP in November

hat Tip: Michelle Malkin

Andrew Cochran at the Counterterrorism Blog suggests that the Hamdan decision will be overriden by the Congress with a bill to hold the terrorists in Gitmo.
The news networks are proclaiming that the Supreme Court handed the President a "strong rebuke" in the Hamdan case by declaring the proposed Gitmo trials are illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.

Oh, really?

The decision is actually a huge political gift to President Bush, and the detainees will not be released that easily. The President and GOP leaders will propose a bill to override the decision and keep the terrorists in jail until they are securely transferred to host countries for permanent punishment. The Administration and its allies will release plenty of information on the terrorist acts committed by the detainees for which they were detained (see this great ABC News interview with the Gitmo warden). They will also release information about those terrorist acts committed by Gitmo prisoners after they were released. They will challenge the "judicial interference with national security" and challenge dissenting Congressmen and civil libertarians to either stand with the terrorists or the American people. (links in original)
Upon reflection, I tend to agree.

The Court's decision has given the GOP the ultimate security issue for November. With Democrats constantly pushing the issue of withdrawing from Iraq and treating these prisoners like regular criminals, Cochran is correct, we will be fed with a steady stream of what these men have done, to Americans, to their own countrymen, to innocents. The GOP doesn't have to run against Democrats, they have to run against the Court and really, the Democrats can't win here.

To disavow teh Court's ruling means they have to abandon their mantra that the President has accumulated too much power. But when America reacts to this opinion, the Democrats probably won't have anywhere to run. The GOP must run with this like mad.

Thoughts on the Texas Redistricting Case Opinion

Clearly, in the Court's opinion, Justice Kennedy continues his quest to find a manageable standard for adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims. While the Court ruled that there is no constitutional bar to re-drawing the district lines each and everytime there is a power shift in the state legislature, the real issue is that the quest to find a judicial standard for deciding these case will continue so long as the court looks at these kinds of cases through the lens of electoral or representational rights. A breakthrough in deciding these cases may come when the courts start looking at them as a procedural matter, rather than a substantive matter.

It is a simple matter of political power that redistricting, if done through a partisan legislative process, will always yeild a map that favors one party or the other, or results in a sweetheart deal where all incumbents are protected, to the detriment of competitive elections in most cases. When the make up of a state legislature changes hands, under this opinion, you can be sure that the new legislature will revisit district lines and seek to extend its power. But what if the procedure that is used to draw the lines is made more public, much more understandable and less prone to changes when the control of the legislature changes hands?

I once believed that independent redistricting commissions, like the one found in Arizona would be the ideal solution, and it still may. But if the state is determined to have the legislature do the job, let us make sure that the job is done well, according to an accepted procedure, and in public. Because of hte constitutional requirement of equipopulation as near as practicable, lines will have to be drawn, but they can be drawn in a manner that disregards political data in favor of data that is strictly based on the number of people and where they live.

The procedure would have to be based, initially, on currently avaialable geo-political boundaries, county lines, city lines, roads, rivers and the like. The process would then follow these steps.
  1. Using a straight state map, the legislature would start by grouping counties together to achieve a district of nearly appropriate size. Counties with larger populations would be bisected in a manner that would yeild approximately equal size.
  2. Once the counties are divided, movement of lines will have to occur in order to get the districts closer to size. The next step would be to move towns and immediately surrounding areas as necessary to move closer to the proper population.
  3. If towns are not available to move, use natural geographical features, such as a stream or a lake. Thus everyone on the east side of Jones Creek will be in district 1, everyone to the west in district 2.
  4. Once the geographical features are exhausted, the next step would be to look at man-made dividers, such as roads. For example, everyone north of Route 70 will be in district 3, those on the south in district 4.
  5. Finally, if none of those work, neighborhoods and precincts should be moved as necessary.
One of the protections available in this method is that, while everyone in the legislature knows which counties, cities and even neighborhoods vote which way, the process is much more transparent and only when you get to the last step would things like partisanship carry more impact.

Do legislatures work in this manner? Most probably do and I do believe that most legislators seeks to do right by the state with the effort. But there is always that nagging doubt in the minds of most voters today about the potential for letting the desire for power influence the way lines are drawn. Having a clearly defined process can help alleviate the doubt--not eliminate entirely, but alleviate it.

So what is to stop this plan from being adopted--legislative self-interest for one. Two, the difficulty would be not only getting the legislature to pass such a process in the first place, but adhere to it. To achieve, this, I would like to see a provision that would require a super-majority to change the process. By super-majority, I am talking 75% of the legislature voting to amend the process. Thus, there would need to be a very broad consensus to change the procedure.

The impact on the courts would be to simply detemrine if the procedure was properly followed. Any state voter could bring a claim that says the process wasn't followed properly. If the state properly documented its efforts and decisions, the Court should face little difficulty in determining if a violation occured. Thus it is the process, not the outcome, that determines the validity of a redistrcting plan.

There is one really big obstacle in the way--the Voting Rights Act. For decades now, we have dealt with claims under the VRA that deal with indiviudal and group rights for representation. this geographic centered plan would jeopardize that line of precedent. But I do not fear such an issue. As I have described before, the VRA line of cases dealing with vote dilution, majority-minority districts and the impact on candidates selected in those disticts actually does more to harm democracy than it does to help it. For a plan based almost exclusively on geography, the VRA and the courts would have to abandon vote dilution and other VRA claims since they would damage the effort. A vain hope perhaps, but probably a necessity nonetheless.

Do I think that may plan is simplistic? Absolutely, and done so on purpose. Americans like fairness and fair play. Americans want things done in the open. But most of all, Americans want to abandon all the partisan fury in this area. A plan such as the one I outlined above produces a great deal of stability in districting plans. Even with partisan change in the legislature, a public plan based on geography rather than on voting behavior, while susceptible to some changes on the fringes is not likely to drastically alter the representation of most individuals until the next reapportionment.

Corrupt Campaign 'Reform'

Yeah, what he said.

George Will: Corrupt Campaign 'Reform'

Political Blogging Fix

Looking for a place with lots of blog links to political matters, check out the Campaigns and Elections magazine blog list.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Volokh on the Stevens Dissent

Eugene Volokh dismantles Justice Stevens comment in his dissent in the Vermont campaign finance case "it is quite wrong to equate money and speech" by analogy to abortion, education, lawyering, air travel, and computer power.

Hat Tip: The Instapundit
"Would the Supreme Court uphold a 'spending limit' for abortion?"

Of course not. That's an important right, not something trivial like political speech.

Reactions to Texas Redistricting Case

Professor Rick Hasen has a good round up of reactions to the Texas Redistricting Case.

Prof. Hasen as posted the opinion here.

Texas Redistricting Case Reaction.

it has been a busy week for us political law geeks. First the Vermont case and now the Texas redistricting case. Bob Bauer has a good, quick analysis that I like.
So there is Justice Kennedy, for all that: unmoved by the facts of the case and still groping for a standard.
Oh there is much more to the opinion (a lot more), but from the very fast read I have given it, this is the best summary.

For those who don't know or don't remember, Justice Kennedy was the fence sitter in the Vieth v. Jubelirer which also dealt with a partisan redistricting.

With Kennedy looking hard for a standard, this is going to be a very fluid area of the law. Look for the next case dealing with partisan redistricting to arrive at the court based on a circuit court split. The Court is going to want some better facts to deal with, and I tend to agree.

I however, do believe a standard can be found. I think most people are looking for a voting rights or a representational rights standard that will look at the voters as individuals. I think a better standard might be to look at process. Namely, the voters may have a better chance of winning if we are looking for a standard based on a due process or procedure right, rather than a voting right. Thus, if the state were to establish a written procedure, whether followed by the state legislature or by an independent redistricitng commission, then a manageable standard might exist. That standard would be whether or not the procedure was followed.

I need to think about this a little more and perhaps get some feed back ideas from others with much more experience than I. But there is the nutshell of my idea.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More Reaction to Vermont Case

This from Bob Bauer:
Breyer concludes that while the Court should not attempt to wield its "scalpel" too incisively, making judgments that the legislature did not, he does precisely that. First, he concludes that the Vermont contribution limits are so low, when compared to the schemes in place in most states, that they present the "danger signs" that they would impede the fundraising required for constitutionally protected speech and association. What follows then is Breyer's identification of specific factors bearing on the question of whether the contribution limits adopted by Vermont are "closely tailored." Breyer stresses that these factors must be considered in the aggregate--"taken together," and he finds that when considered in this way, they show that the limits fail to satisfy the constitutional test.

These are the factors:

(1) The effect on the ability of challengers to compete

(2) The imposition on political parties of the same low limits established for candidates

(3) The treatment of volunteer services, especially the allocation of expenses incurred by volunteers to the contribution limits

(4) The absence of an adjustment for inflation

(5) The absence of "any special justification that might warrant a contribution limit so low or so restrictive as to bring about the serious associational and expressive problems..." found by the plurality.

This last stress on the associational significance of the limits, when set this low, will be welcomed by parties. As noted here on several occasions, associational analysis has fallen on hard times. Better times may lie ahead.
I don't have Bob's experience with rights of association analysis, but here is a simple requet of the Court:

When you are laying out a two prong test, make sure one of your prongs does not include multiple parts--it just annoys us practitioners.

One of the things that I found interesting about the Vermont Act 64 is its treatment of volunteer services and activities. Given the disparate treatment of volunteer work and volunteer expenses (like driving to and from events), I wonder if this is a place where future regulation may occur.

Randall v. Sorrell--Finally

The Vermont Campaign finace case finally has a decision--well sort of. Allison Hayward, in her typically succinct manner, has summarized the opinions, all six of them. So far her summary is the best I have seen.

Reading through the opinion, I am not struck by anything particularly earth shattering. The court stuck with the Buckley precedent and rejected every effort to distinguish. I need to read through the opinion on contribution limits a little more carefully, but at first run through I don't see anything particuarly fruitful in terms of new law.

One thing for sure, not a good day in the reform community.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Perpetuating the Pre-School Myth

Roll Call (subscription required) is carrying an op-ed by Morton Kondrake in which he argues that to close the opportunity pap, U.S. kids need quality preschool. Fine, so far as it goes. But Krondake writes:
Political Washington, D.C., was understandably fixated on the outcome of the June 6 Congressional race in San Diego as a harbinger for November’s elections. But the defeat of California’s Proposition 82 could end up being more important for the country’s future.

Proposition 82 would have committed America’s largest state to provide preschool education for all its 4-year-olds. It was rejected by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.

That’s important because a mounting body of academic evidence shows that investment in quality early childhood education would be America’s surest way of closing a growing opportunity gap between its social classes — a gap likely to grow wider as the globalized economy places ever-greater emphasis on high skills.


U.S. community colleges create opportunities, but Sawhill said the research shows that quality early childhood education — better than what’s now available in the federal Head Start program — would pay the biggest dividends.

Which is why the failure of Proposition 82 is so dispiriting. Granted, it probably was overambitious, providing universal preschool rather than being targeted to the poor. And it was complicated by allegations of misuse of public funds by its chief promoter, movie director Rob Reiner.

Nationally, 65 percent of parents with college degrees enroll their children in preschool, compared with 34 percent for those who didn’t graduate from high school and 50 percent who did.

To make America really a land of opportunity, both parties should put it on their agenda to start educating kids at age three (empahsis added).
I almost don't know where to begin.

First, Proposition 82 was a poorly written, poorly conceieved and built upon a Robin Hood-esque funding mechanism that serves as a disincentive to bettering oneself financially. Its failures should be attributed to execution and marketing, as well as the simply bad idea. The fact that such a social program failed in one of the most liberal states should be an indicator that America simply is not going to embrace even more governmental intrustion into education of very young children.

From a purely libertarian standpoint, I have enough problems with all-day kindergarten being required as it is, but to have at least two and possibly three years of required pre-school is simply over the top. Add to that the rediculous cost of such a program and you can definitely count me out. If I want to put my kids in pre-school, that is my choice on my dime, not the government's utilizing my tax dollars for something I find totally irrelevant. I am not sure that three year-olds are ready for long days of pre-school, my daughter at age three did not have much of an attention span unless she was controlling what was going on.

But I also want to dispute where this so-called opportunity gap begins. I have no doubt that kids from poorer neighborhoods are less prepared when they begin school than kids of rich and educated parents. But, when students up to around the third or fourth do as well on international tests as their counterparts in other nations, I am not sure that we have that big of a problem. I believe that elementary school does a fairly good job with students of all backgrounds, accounting for natural disparaties between kids. When students get older, that is where the divergence begins, in the late elementary and early middle school years, a time when different social pressures begin to assert themselves.

Even accepting, arguendo, that early childhood education would be a boon to closing the opportunity gap, would not an increased focus on kindergarten and first grade reading, writing and math skills be a better use of tax dollars. I could even see smaller class sizes (a big concession for me given that I am not completely enamoured of the idea on a grand scale), or more teacher aides to help as a boost to getting younger kids the necessary skills. Spending money on hiring a huge number of new teachers (which the unions will love) and then finding more school space to teach these children seems to be an awful waste of resources.

Rather, I believe, more focus should be paid to the middle years, the grades between fourth and ninth, when the achievement gap begins to widen dramatically in international testing. This is likely to be our best "bang for the buck" in closing an achievement gap.

I have no doubt that an opportunity gap exists. Some of it is simply the nature of our social system. There is a spread of resources and some people are on the short end of the stick. They do not need to remain there, and personal drive, dedication and a real education closes achievement and opportunity gaps. Government spends almost $600 billion every year on education and they have not closed teh opportunity gap, why then should we throw even more money at a problem government has not been able to fix thus far.

More Porn, Less Rape?

Although I never subscribed to the theory that porn causes rape, there does seem to be an interesting correlation between the massive increase and availability of porn and the dramatic decrease in rape. Glenn Reyonolds comments
So while I won't go so far as to argue that porn actually prevents rape, it seems clear that the claims of some people — including a commission headed by former Attorney General Ed Meese back in the 1980s — that pornography promotes rape are, at best, overstated. I suspect, though, that anti-pornography crusaders are unlikely to heed this lesson.
Of course Feminists will decry that porn is rape, and that once again, women are too cowed by the experience to report it. While I am sure some rapes go unreported for a variety of reasons, I don't think that such unreported cases account for an 86% drop.

I tend to think the decrease is related more to the fact that women are stronger, better able to protect themselves and that prosecutors are rightfully getting tougher on the crime.

But then that is logical. But I like the theory that more porn equals less rape.

No where did I put that list of links to porn websites?

Sneak Preview: The Court Rules in Randall v. Sorrell

We the geeks in the campaign finance community, have been breathlessly awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling in the Vermont Campaign finance case. We wait anxiously on Mondays and Thursday's for the robed wisdom to be pronounced from on high from First Street, all to have our hopes dashed every four days.

But in a brilliant and exclusive look at what is coming, the Lonley Centrist has a Sneak Preview: The Court Rules in Randall v. Sorrell.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Debate About Withdrawing the Troops

Like many news oulets, the Washington Post offers this story about the Seante Debate on Iraq that is failing miserably for the Democrats. Most stories in both the MSM and online are dealing with the political aspect of the debate. The WaPo is talking about how it characterizes the 2008 presidential race, still others are talking about the impact for the Congressional elections this year. But today's Post story does raise one iteresting point that I believe is not be dicsussed enough, the Constitutional implications of the efforts.
The Kerry-Feingold plan would order President Bush to withdraw nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq by July 31, 2007. The alternative, sponsored by two Democrats not weighing White House bids -- Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) -- is a nonbinding resolution urging Bush to begin a troop "redeployment" by the end of this year. It does not specify a pace or a completion date.
As of this writing, both measures have failed on mostly party-line votes, with Senators Lieberman (D-CT) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) voting with Republicans.

But the key language in the Kerry-Feingold plan is that the legislation would "order President Bush to withdraw." This legislation would have the same legal effect as a non-binding resolution, i.e. NONE. The Kerry-Feingold plan is unconstitional on its face.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constituion names the President "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." Congress's war power is limited to declarations of war and financially providing for an Army and Navy, as written in Article I, Section 8.

In short,the Congress has no authority to order a troop withdrawal, and no right to tell the President how he shall conduct the war in Iraq or indeed any war. Make no doubt about it, we are in a war against terrorism and Islamofacism. Whether you support the idea of the war, or the President's prosecution of the war, Congress authorized the President to conduct these operations (remember, John Kerry voted for it before he voted against it). Once that is done, the conduct and course of the war are matters for the Commander in Chief to decide. If anyone doesn't like it, the next election for the President is in two years and change, you will get a new President then.

The Framers, in their genius, understood something that Sens. Kerry, Feingold and many others fail to grasp; you cannot run a war by committee. There must be one commander; one "decider" if you will. Congress could, of course, pass legislation forbidding the spending of any money for operations in Iraq, but that would be political suicide, since everyone in the country seems to "Support the Troops."

So the sponsors of the Kerry-Feingold plan, two U.S. Senators who want to be President, jockeying for position among the liberal elite, need to take a refresher course in the Constitution and its structure.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Carnival of Education No. 72

Check out the Alphabet version of the Carnival of Education, Week 72 over atWhy Homeschool

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

See, Even the Wall Street Journal Agrees with Me

In an op-ed that sounds much like my arguements regarding the Voting Rights act, the Wall Street Journal takes on the Voting Right Act reauthorization and illustrates its point with a real life scenario--New York's 11th Congressional district. A few months ago, I argued that the Voting Rights Act will negatively impact any efforts at redistricting reform, because of the existence of retrogression and vote dilution. I also wrote a post in which I argued that "majority-minority" districts are nothing more than affirmative action for elections and limit the ability of minority candidate to translate their success in such districts into higher office. Back in March I wrote:
As a result of these legal interpretations, a number of majority-minority districts created in the 1980's and 1990's yielded a large influx of minority Representatives in those decades, generally to a positive impact on national politics. But the problem is that these Representatives, despite their years of experience have not been able to make the leap to the next level of governmental power, whether that be moving from the state legislature to the U.S. Congress, or the U.S. Senate or a governor's chair, or even the Presidency/Vice Presidency. Some will blame racism, but I don't buy such charges as the foundation of why otherwise talented people cannot make the leap. Rather, the reason can be blamed on the very VRA by-product which provided them with the opportunity to be a Representative, majority minority districts, has denied them the skill and experience necessary to build a winning coalition at the next level.
Today the WSJ wrote:
Ironically, such rhetoric is one reason so few minorities are able to seek and win higher office. Once you're appealing to people on completely racial grounds in order to win a House seat, you have a hard time making the broader appeals necessary to win statewide.
The big issue I have with regard to the Voting Rights Act renewal is that lawmakers seem oblivious to the impacts the act is having on our elections. Admittedly,there was a time for the Voting Rights Act, but in its current form, that time has passed. While the actual language of the law is pretty good, I am not particularly a big fan of the interpretations that have come about and I hate the way in which states with a bad history are practically enslaved by that history. Part of the lawhave become obsolete and stand in the way of real electoral competition.

But more than that, the Voting Rights Act has become a mechanism of separation and polarization all in the name of something good. The Congress who wrote the Act probably would be shocked at how it has become used, both as a racial and electoral weapon. The current version of the VRA needs revamping, but the bills before the House and Senate now are not worthy of the original Voting Rights Act name.

Hat Tip: Professor Hasen

ABA Accredition of Law Schools To Be Dependent on Racial Preferences?

A report over at the Volokh Conspiracy by David Bernstein points to some questions by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission about a proposed amendment by the American Bar Association dealing with minorities at elite law schools.
Civil Rights Commission Hearing on ABA "Diversity" Policy: Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only) are carrying stories about Friday's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Hearing on proposed ABA Standard 211, which would in effect require law schools to use racial preferences in admission or risk their accreditation. Unfortunately, neither article is very good, and neither captures the essence of what was said,...
According to Bernstein:
(3) Officially, the ABA maintains that not only will the new Standard not require law schools to engage in racial preferences, but that the ABA has never tried to pressure or force law schools to use such preferences in the past. The latter claim, as is well-known in the legal academy, is simply false. This may be the result of accreditation committee members going beyond the letter or even spirit of the law, but no one wants to butt heads with officials who hold an institution's accreditation in their hands.

(4) Various commissioners focused on the fact that the proposed standard's official "interpretations" requires the ABA to consider not just law school diversity recruiting efforts, but also results. The ABA representative (Dean Steven Smith) had no good answer when asked how--given the unfortunately small pool of "qualified" African American applicants available to elite schools--a results-based standard could be met without resort to preferences.
Having lived through a massive diveristy effort at the University of Maryland, College Park as an undergrad, I can tell you that diversity efforts do not produce anything more than a diverse entering class. There is not guarantee that diversity efforts, whether voluntary or not, produce a more diverse graduating class. This holds true, or perhaps even more true, in law school as well. Law school requires a certain attitude and preparation that frankly is not found in everyone, regardless of race. Those attending law school are a self-selected group to begin with and if the group that seeks to attend law school is devoid of minority representation, how then should schools proceed?

Let us assume that a state law school is coming up for accredidation review, let us say, the Vermont Law School. Assuming that most state law schools garner their entering class from in-state students (most but not all), and Vermont is not known for a racially diverse population, how then is Vermont Law School supposed to behave under these guidelines? Should they import students? A good idea, but what if the already self-selected pool of applicants decide they don't like cold weather and snow for most of the school year? Where does that leave the school if its application pool is bereft of minority applicants through a conspiracy of geography, local population and other factors beyond the control of the school? Should the ABA punish the school?

Admittedly, Vermont Law School is not likely to be listed in the top ten law schools anytime soon, but the problem with an initiative like that proposed by the ABA is that it places what a student is above who a student is and whether that student is prepared to enter law school.

I attended Catholic University Columbus School of Law. I think my class was pretty diverse, in terms of age, experience, ethnicity and the like. I think the school did a good job of selecting people for admission who were prepared for the rigors of law school, particularly evening division law school. I would like to think that those who were admitted were admitted for their talents and preparation, not for the color of their skin. However, I also know that I have my doubts about it. If this ABA rule were to become the norm, I would know that some people were admitted not because the school thought them adequate candidates, but that the school needed to fulfill some arbitrary rule imposed by the ABA to keep its accredidation. There is a vast difference between a suspicion that could be false or disproved and one that is guaranteed to be true.

D.C. Charter School Applications Halted

The matter is not nearly as drastic as the headline would indicate. Charter school applications may stil go forward under the auspices of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, but just not the D.C. Board of Education.

But the story does raise one particularly salient issue. Who should be in charge of overseeing public charter schools. The D.C. Board of Education has a point at least as far as the charter schools are concerned, in a system as troubled as the D.C. school system, should the Board of Education be responsible for overseeing charter schools?

There are two reasons why I say no. First, the current Board of Education, indeed most Boards of Education, are generally ill-equipped and staffed to properly oversee traditional public schools and overseeing charter schools, with widely disparate goals and operating procedures, complicates matters for the school board. Second, there is an inherent conflict of interest in having the supervisory body of traditional public schools overseeing alternative schools. The power of the School Board is proportional to the number of students enrolled in those schools. With charters competing for and taking market share from traditional schools, the School Board may not be in a position to impartially oversee charters.

Obviously, there needs to be some oversight of charter schools, after all, charter schools are funded with taxpayer money and the taxpayers have a right to know how that money is being spent.

Although I generally abhor more government in favor of less government, I do believe that there will come a time when there are two bureaucracies responsible for school management. One will oversee traditional public schools and another will oversee alternative schools, charters, private school taking vouchers and the like. Both agencies would report to a body that is responsible for more higher level policy making, a "super school board" that meets a little less frequently and has much less day to day impact on the operation of schools. By the way, the agencies with supervisory authority would actually be much smaller in my hypothetical model. The agencies would be staffed with lots of auditors to oversee spending by principals, but not many other people. I could see a few cirriculum experts, a small legal staff, and HR staff and not much else. The idea is smaller, more efficient supervision, not micromanagement.

At any rate, the traditional school board is really not in a position to effectively manage charter schools, charters simply exist outside of the traditiona bureaucracy for a reason and forcing them into a management structure alien to their very purpose defeats the concept of a charter school being public, but outside the traditional management structure.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Jefferson, House Find Raid Case a Hard Sell

Today, Roll Call had a report on the effort of Rep. William Jefferson and House leaders of both parties attempting to make a case for protection of documents seized by the FBI in a search of the Congressman's hill office.
A federal judge on Friday signaled that he was inclined to rule against Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and a bipartisan group of House leaders as they challenged the constitutionality of an FBI raid on the Louisiana Democrat’s office last month.

Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who approved the search warrant for the FBI raid, said he would file an opinion in the case soon. Several lawyers close to the matter predicted Hogan’s decision could come as early as this week.
One of the more interesting arguments posited by Robert Trout, attorney for Rep. Jefferson is that
the constitutional privilege afforded lawmakers by [the Speech and Debate] clause is inviolate, and that any search of a Congressional office would be unconstitutional in that it would allow executive branch officials access to legislative materials, even if those materials ultimately were never used in a criminal prosecution.

“Viewing [the documents] alone is a violation of the Constitution?” Hogan asked Trout.

“Yes ... that is unconstitutional,” Trout responded.

Trout added that it was up to any individual lawmaker, not the executive or judicial branches, to invoke the privilege afforded them under Speech or Debate.

“The Congressman has to be the one ... who makes the decision to invoke privilege,” Trout said. The Justice Department has proposed that it will review all materials seized from Jefferson’s office to determine if they are privileged, with a judge making the final decision on any document in question.
So let me see if I have this straight. Despite the fact that the Speech and Debate clause does not exempt lawmakers from searches and seizures in cases of treason, felony or breach of the peace, Trout is arguing that the clause allows the Congressman, and only the Congressman, to determine whether material is privileged or not.

Not to be too blunt, but hogwash. The Speech and Debate clause does not exempt a lawmaker from searches for material involved in a felony investigation. The clause protects documents, notes and memoranda dealing with legislative matters, not felonious matters.

There seems to me to be a logical out in this matter for Judge Hogan. First, rule the search constitutional as it was done with a properly executed and supported search warrant. Second, rule that the House Counsel's office and Trout may make a privilege log, similar to those used in every case in America, and note those documents that are privileged under the Speech and Debate Clause. Any document that is questionable is presented to the Court, just like any other case.

Judge Hogan reportedly questioned Trout in a number of ways about where the line of privilege should be drawn.
At one point, Hogan asked Trout whether a search of a lawmaker’s office would be unconstitutional if law enforcement officers thought he or she was hiding five kilos of cocaine in a drawer with privileged materials in it. Trout responded that “You don’t have to look at a document or any document to figure out if it’s cocaine.”

Hogan then asked about “ledgers showing evidence of drug trafficking.” Trout suggested those documents would be privileged, and thus a lawmaker could not be compelled to turn them over.
That seems to be a rather tenuous line at best. Records detailing criminal activity are not privileged merely because they are written down in a Congressman's office. A crime is a crime.

It is true that Congressmen have extra rights afforded to them that are not available to the average citizen. Fine, but rights are not a one-sided coin. The reverse is more responsibilities that come with those rights. One of those responsibilities is to not violate the law, and a lawmaker should be held to a much higher standard than the average citizen. As the saying goes, "Ceasar's wife must be beyond reproach."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

And This Is What I Hate About the World Cup

Although the united States was able to garner a 1-1 tie out of their match with Italy and stave off possible elimination, the fact that three players, two Americans and one Italian, were sent off by red cards just makes me wonder what the heck is going on with the officiating. In a tournament where yellow cards are flying as much as national flags,
Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda began flashing red cards at a pace seldom seen in World Cup play.

First it was Italy's Daniele De Rossi, just a minute after the Americans tied it. After the game he apologized for an elbow that split McBride's left cheek. But after playing with a man advantage for 17 minutes, it was the Americans who were seeing red.

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was sent to the locker room in the 45th minute for a cleats-up tackle on Pirlo.

"I think that foul anywhere in the world is a yellow card," Mastroeni said.

Coming out of the locker room 10 against 10, it took just two minutes of the second half for defender Eddie Pope to get his second yellow card of the game for a tackle in which he got the ball first, then took down Gilardino.

"I thought it definitely was a harsh yellow," Pope said. "I thought the first yellow was harsh, as well. He was holding me the whole time."
After the game concluded, ABC color commentator Eric Wynalda, himself a former U.S. National Team Player who got a red card in the World Cup, made this comment, "Players win the game, coaches lose the game and referees ruin the game." To be sure, the players put themselves in the position. Of all the cards shown in this game, only the red given out after the elbow to McBride was deserving of a card. The other fouls, while they should have been called, certainly did not warrant a card, particularly Pope's transgressions.

Although no team with nine players on the field ever scored a goal, it looked as though the U.S. almost made history,
[f]or a few brief seconds, it even appeared the United States had gone ahead in the 66th minute, when second-half sub DaMarcus Beasley slotted the ball in off goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. But with Arena pumping an arm on the sideline, the whistle blew for an offside call on McBride, who had screened Buffon.
It is my hope that FIFA will take a good hard look at the officiating in this tournament, and look for referees with better skill at maintain control of the game without having to resort to the card. The kind of quick draw on teh cards that we have seen in this tournament does more to damage the game than the fouls they are designed to punish.

This is What I Love About the World Cup

Earlier today, the youngest team in the World Cup, Ghana (who coincidentally is making their World Cup debut) pulled off the biggest upset of the week old tournament, stunning the second ranked team in the world, the Czech Republic. Ghana, ranked number 47 in the world scored an early goal, held on and then scored an insurance goals with just a few minutes left.

The World Cup doesn't draw as many fans in the U.S. as it does world wide, but this is the kind of drama you can't write and can only relish in.

High Schools Make Room at Top for Grads

The story from the Washington Post dealing with multiple valedictorians is justanother example of how far we have gone to coddle our most intelligent children, protecting them from the rigors of comeptition because we don't want to damage their self-esteem. But there are other reasons as well, everything from gaming the system to fear of lawsuits.
A growing number of schools, such as Robinson, bestow the title on every graduate who earns a grade-point average of 4.0 or higher. Montgomery and Howard county schools have done away with the distinction to ease competition in a system that was producing increasingly more 4.0 students. Other districts -- Prince George's and Loudoun counties, Alexandria and the District included -- have stuck with the traditional route: Pick one valedictorian and a salutatorian. (Unless a tie forces a few students to share the glory.)

The push for multiple valedictorians began years ago, prompted by concerns that high school had become too competitive -- so competitive that a few students seeking the title filed lawsuits. As more students enrolled in weighted advanced classes and earned grade-point averages far above 4.0, educators wondered whether it was fair to single out one teenager. There was concern a student would take a less challenging class to guarantee an A or take on an unreasonable workload of weighted classes to boost a GPA.
As far as students gaming the system, this is not surprising. My wife's cousin scored a better GPA in high school than my wife, by taking less challenging courses. Thus she scored better on tests, got better grades, accumulated a better GPA than my wife, and graduated higher in their class. So gaming the system is an ageold problem.

However, lawsuits over valedictorian rules are certainly a more recent development. No doubt the reason for the lawsuits is the change in the rules in mid-stream.

If the reason for having multiple is because of the competition such an award engenders, this may be the dumbest reason of all.
Meier said that in a school as big as Robinson Secondary, which had 687 graduates this year, it would be a shame to single out only one high-achieving student.

"The competition is very, very steep to be shortstop or to be the lead in the class play," Meier said. "But when you have 30 or 40 people who have a GPA over 4.0, this is a way to recognize all of them."
Competition is apparently okay in sports, or drama. But it is not okay in academic pursuits?

When these students at the top of the high school class move on to college and beyond, there will be instense competition in those places. Without experiencing failure or losing a coveted award, these students are sure to break down, and at what cost then?

The whole world is competitive, learning that early on will only help children.
Burgess, who is headed to Columbia University in the fall, remembers sitting down with a friend in ninth grade and telling him that she intended to become valedictorian. From that day on, she worked toward that goal.

For instance, there was the time Burgess needed a 95 percent or better on a world history paper to get an A in the class. She wanted that A. So she hunkered down and turned in a 26-page paper instead of the required 12-page paper and "made sure the content was immaculate."

During her graduation speech, Burgess told her classmates that they should be focused, too. "I talked about how you have to really know what you want and set your goals," she said. "The theme was nothing happens until you decide."
As you can tell, if the student is driven enough, they will set the necessary goals and do what is necessary to achieve those goals. There is no reason why the top student shouldn't be as honored as the star basketball player, the quarterback of the football team or the prom king and queen.

Competition is healthy, and while there may be multiple winners in some competitions, this is one competition where having multiple winners makes the win meaningless.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bill Gates, King of Philianthropy?

With the announcement that Bill Gates is stepping down from his day to day role at Microsoft, Gates could quickly become the king of philanthropy on a scale never seen before.

What will make Gates different from other philanthropists, perhaps this will tell you:
"This is good news for the world's poor," said Anne Lynam Goddard, chief of staff of CARE, an Atlanta-based nonprofit group focusing on ending global poverty and social injustice that received $10 million from the Gates foundation this year for health initiatives. "The Gates foundation has been a trendsetter. They've raised the bar in public health and reinvigorated interest in it."

Goddard and other public health experts said it is not just the sheer amount of money Gates brings to the table but also the businesslike focus on results and effectiveness that has made an impact. It's the "entrepreneurial, results-focused culture [that] has been a great thing for global health," said Orin Levine, executive director of a Johns Hopkins University program to spread access to pneumococcal vaccines, which received funding from the foundation.
In my experience, the non-profits that do best are those that bring a business-like attitude to the table. One can spend enormous sums of money on any project, but if the results are there, the money is simply wasted.

The hyper-competitive Gates will more than likely change the face of philanthropy, making it much more results oriented. Results that matter will take center stage in Gates life, and that is a good thing.

Best Photo In a Long Time.

Love, Devotion, Honor and Pride on display over at Michelle Malkin.

Pass this photo around.

A Double Standard for Jefferson

Like many news outlets today, the Washington Post is reporting on the Democratic Caucus vote to remove Rep. William Jefferson from the house Ways & Means Committee, one of the top three most powerful committees in Congress. Almost immediately after the vote, Jefferson questioned whether the vote was racially motivated.

Of course, we have always heard the race card being played when charges are leveled against black Members of Congress. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) alledged that her treatment by Capitol Police after assaulting a Capitol police officer was racially motivated. Generally, I despise the use of race as some sort of shield or charge when something negative happens.

But in this case, I think there is a double standard and I wonder how much of it is race based or how much is reflective of the general differences in the case. I, of course, expected the Democrats to react differently when dealing with the ethical issues of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) due to partisan politics. But the disparate treatment accorded to Jefferson and House Appropriations Committee member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) does raise some questions.

According to the Post:
[Jefferson] noted that he has not been charged with a crime, and that "historically, even when a member of Congress has been so charged, he or she steps aside from a committee or subcommittee chairmanship, but not from the committee itself."

Pelosi denied that she is being unfairly harsh. "I told all my colleagues, anybody with $90,000 in their freezer, you have a problem at that point."

Jefferson and some of his Black Caucus allies have noted Pelosi's relative silence on the legal troubles facing Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), whose commercial investments are being scrutinized by federal investigators for potential connections to his duties as a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Jefferson has said that his treatment has been pursued by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) because of the Democratic strategy to use a "culture of corruption" campaign to win control of the House and Jefferson's situation puts a dent in that plan.

Mollohan is being investigated for possible connections between his business dealings and his official role as a Member of the Appropriations Committee. Not to dismiss Jefferson's actions, but it seems that when it comes to corruption, I am not so sure that Jefferson's alleged crime is any worse than Mollohan's, aside from the $90,000 in a freezer.

To be sure, both parties have more than shown they lack some ethical standards. But I can't help but wonder why Jefferson was asked to relinguish his committee post and Mollohan was not. While I generally don't think it was racially motivated (I have a hard time leaping to that conclusion in any case), Jefferson is right--it does raise some questions.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Another Maryland Legislative Stupidity

Early yesterday morning, the Maryland legislature approved a plan that would delay a proposed electricity rate hike, a 72 percent hike, for 11 months. The plan has not met with approval from Governor Bob Ehrlich (R-MD), who is not considering his options. Complicating matters for Ehrlich are two things. First, the bill was passed with a veto proof majority. Second, Ehrlich and the entire legislature are up for re-election in November.

Earlier this year, Baltimore Gas and Electic announced after the previous limits on rate hikes had expired, that their customers were going to face electricity rate increases of up to 72 percent. Of course, it is easy to assume that it is merely the greedy public utilities looking to make more moeny--which is exactly what Democratic legislative leaders and the Governor said. But that is not what is really happening. For years, the electric utilities in Maryland, and in most states, have been limited by regulation on how much they can increase rates, despite the massive increase in power consumption across the country. While the power companies must provide more and more power, their costs going up while they do so, they are not making enough money to cover those costs. This is rather simple economics. By increasing the rates they charge customers, BGE was hoping to cover their costs. I do not blame them for this, despite the fact that I was not happy about the increase. My response would have been to drastically cut my energy consumption, (which I could have done).

But the Democratically controlled legislature, sensing an opportunity to score political points with their constituents jumped into the fray. Governor Ehrlich is also looking for a political score, and called the legislature into session to address the problem. The result is a bill so crassly political in nature that Governor Ehrlich should veto it to make a point. The bill would limit the immediate increase to 15 percent but would allow, in 11 months, the full increase to take effect. So, by delaying for about one year, the Legislature can be heroes in this election, but the memory of their action will, hopefully, be a distant memory when teh 2010 election rolls around. Adding to that, the May 2007 sunset will push the rate hike until after the legislative session has closed next year.

Lost in the shuffle of the political posturing is the fact that the 11 month delay may actually result in a higher rate increase next year. BGE, and indeed utilities, routine lose money because of limits on what they can charge. The result is that most Americans have no idea the true cost of the energy they consume. Is a 72 percent rate hike huge? Yes, but so was the 70% property tax increases many people in Maryland experienced last year, but you don't see the legislature limiting those tax increases. This bill does not help the average consumer. It does not lower energy costs, it does not encourage energy conservation, it does not help the businesses who provide energy to Marylanders. All this bill does is help get a pathetic legislature re-elected--they hope.

The crassness of this ploy should not go unnoticed and the Governor should call the legislature on their "plan." The Governor should veto the bill, make a strong statement that this is not what he wanted for Marylanders and make the Legislature vote again on such a blatant political move. Then come September (the Maryland Primary) and November, voters should kick this legislature to the curb.

Endorsement by School Newspaper Is Questioned

Here is what I think to be an interesting story at the intersection of high school newspapers and politics. It seems that the editorial board of Montgomery (MD) Blair High School has irritated a long-time state Senator by endorsing an opponent.
But an editorial endorsing Jamin Raskin, an American University law professor running for the Democratic nomination for state Senate in District 20, has rankled the district's longtime incumbent, Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery).

Ruben said the paper's staff members failed to give her an opportunity to talk to them. Students at Silver Chips say the state senator did not respond to their requests for an interview. Now some are questioning whether high school newspapers should even be in the business of endorsing political candidates.

The disputed endorsement, written by the paper's six-person editorial board, says Raskin's "steadfast dedication to protecting the voice of students, especially our own Blazers, makes him the ideal choice for students in the State Senate race." In 1997, Raskin defended Blair students fighting to air a documentary featuring a debate on same-sex marriage.

After Ruben's staff spotted the endorsement on the Internet and told the senator, she contacted Blair Principal Phillip Gainous and complained that she had not been allowed to participate.
The story goes on to detail the efforts by the student journalists to contact Ruben for an interview, but that efforts proved fruitless. So the students did what every other newspaper would do, they ran with their story. Now the incumbent is irritated and now looking like a whiny child who didn't get their way.
Ruben said she does not recall a conversation about the editorial and did not receive any follow-up messages. She believes that the editorial, with the headline "The Right Choice for District 20," distorts many of her positions.

But Silver Chips staffers said the endorsement was based on extensive research.

"We stand by our story, and we hope it speaks for itself," [incoming editor Isaac] Arnsdorf said.

Ruben has asked the paper's adviser, Maureen Freeman, for a follow-up interview.
So Ruben, mad that she didn't follow up with an award winning student newspaper wants a chance to get her say.
"I should be able to have an interview with the young man and have a column written, which would give me equal time in the newspaper, which I believe is appropriate," Ruben said. "I did make one request -- that when I'm interviewed by this young man, that someone be in this room with me. I don't want people to say I intimidated the young man."

But, Ruben acknowledged, it is unlikely a follow-up interview will happen; students are on summer vacation.
The above paragraphs are the crux of the matter. Ruben is demanding equal time in a newspaper. She is no more entitled to equal time on a editorial in a student newspaper than in a commercial newspaper like the Post or USA Today. We have, as a nation, accepted that student newspapers don't have the same content control rights as newspapers run by adults, but are we now going to insist on equal time in student editorials? What kind of lesson about the Freedom of the Press does that signal? The article in the Post seems to highlight only one adult in the whole affair--Isaac Arnsdorf-- and he is 16 years old. The school's principal, Philip Gainous, after receiving a call from an upset Ruben, said:
"I support the newspaper as a whole," Gainous said. "I don't have a problem with the students, but this is something the paper need not have done."

He added, "For the newspaper -- the school newspaper -- to endorse a candidate, that's not appropriate."
Why is it not appropriate? Some of the students at Montgomery Blair will surely be old enough to vote in the upcoming election. To be certain, every student at the school will be affected by the selection of the candidates in November, even if they can't vote.

I believe that student newspapers have suffered enough censorship and limitations. They often cannot discuss controversial topics, such as abortion or sexual orientation. Their words and advertsising are limited if the school has a legitimate educational quibble with the subject matter of the newspaper. But politics is a valid subject for the newspaper, indeed for any newspaper, and not just school politics. The decisions that Ruben or Raskin will make in Annapolis will affect their lives of these students and their families, is their opinion not worthy because they are under 18? The student newspaper is not the only forum avaialable to these students since they lack the right to vote, but it apparently is one of the most effective.

The fundamental precept behind freedom of speech and freedom of the press is that the speech that needs the most protection is the controversial speech. The fact that high school newspapers don't reguarly endorse candidates for elective office should not be the bar to doing so. This is speech that should not only be protected but encourages. The editors of Montgomery Blair should be applauded for the civic-mindedness and for remembering their friends.

With so many young people disengaged from the political process, it is refreshing and even inspiring to see some students take not only an interest but an active role in the political arena. As for State Senator Ruben, perhaps she needs to revisit the Constitution and the law regarding newspapers. She not entitled to equal time. She was afforded, apparently, opportunities to be interviewed and declined, probably because she figured it was a student newspaper and not worth her time and effort.

For the students of Montgomery Blair, I stand in applause. Don't let the adults in the system deter you from your rights as journalists. Draw the line here and say, "no farther." The restrictions on student press are so many that this is where the line should be drawn. And, if you get sued, give me a call, I would love to work on this case.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006


ARGH!!!!!! No, No, No, NO. I am like Allison on this one, in that I am exhausted with explaining what is going on. But in Yet another screed against 527 Organizations, the Washington Post Editorial Board is calling the FEC a bunch of reluctant regulators, because they don't regulate 527 orgnaizations the way the Post and reform groups want.
THE INDEPENDENT political groups known as 527s are a new force in American politics. Deeming themselves unfettered by the contribution limits that prevent regular political committees from taking six- and seven-figure donations, such groups spent $400 million during the 2004 campaign. In the face of this political spending spree, the Federal Election Commission washed its hands of any attempt to write rules governing their behavior.
Let us dispense with some misconceptions.

First, the 527 groups did not "deem" themselves anything. Congress wrote the law that placed them in a different regulatory framework than normal political committees. 527s are simply following the law as written. If the law is faulty, fine, Congress can fix it. It is not the FEC's duty to correct Congressional mistakes--they are regulators not legislators.

Second, the 527 roups are not unregulated or unaccountable. Each 527 organization must file reports with the IRS. Just go look up all the reports called Form 8872 on the IRS website. So, there is at least some public accountability on these committees. There are rules on their operation and it is up to the IRS not the FEC to enforce those rules.

Third, the FEC is not "reluctant" on this score. The law that set up 527 organziations, incidentally, written by Congress, did not put the regulatory oversight onto the FEC, but the IRS. Congress could have easily said, "The FEC will regulate these entities" and the FEC would have been duty bound to regulate the entities. The Post and the Reform Community need to look a little more carefully at the law.

Bob Bauer is right,
It is the wrong kind of speech—unhealthy not because any threat of bribery or its approximation, but because our political choices should not be made by this kind of speech. The Post, in short—like other critics of 527s in the press—prefers a speech more balanced, more objective, more responsible.
This may be a bit of a misstatement by Bauer. The Reform Community doesn't want a more objective or responsible or balances speech, they want political speech to be done within a certain sphere and nowhere else. Thus, if the speech is not done by the political parties or by candidates (subject to strict monetary limits or by public financing) then the speech is out of bounds.

While the FEC does have a lengthy enforcment docket, that could be resolved by Congress by giving the FEC a budget worthy of its mission. Something that the reform community could lobby for, but won't. It is far easier to bash the FEC for inefficiency rather actually helping make them more efficient.

Gangs In Control of Bucks County, PA Graduation

In a story out of Bucks County Pennsylvania, Harry S Truman Senior Class President will not be able to deliver his speech because of threats made by gang members.
The senior class president barred from his high school graduation because of reported death threats said yesterday that he would go along with a plan to deliver his commencement speech by video feed tonight because he doesn't want to spoil the ceremony by attending.

"I understand that some kids would take themselves out" of the event at the Truman High School stadium if he came, as he would still like to, Tyrone Lewis said.

"For me to show up and then lose 20 people - I couldn't do that," he said in an interview at his Bristol Township home. "I just took myself out. I'm just one person; I did it for my classmates. That's the right thing to do. I didn't want to spoil anyone's moment."

Still, Tyrone and his mother said that they wanted it clearly understood: They don't believe the rumors being cited by police and complain that the authorities have not answered their request for specifics.

"I still believe it's all been a big lie against my son," said Marlene Lewis, Tyrone's mother. "I've never felt it was true." She declined to speculate on why the authorities are taking the reports so seriously.

Bristol Township Police Chief James McAndrew continues to maintain that there is a real possibility of retaliation against the Lewis family at the graduation either by members of a Trenton gang that Tyrone Lewis' sister Rachael was involved with or by friends of Bristol resident Anton Cofield, who was allegedly killed by one of the gang leaders.
Based on this story, there is only one person acting like an adult here, and that is Tyrone Lewis.

But Mr. Lewis shouldn't have to act like this, to decline not to appear at his own graduation. The school, the local police and if necessary the Pennsylvania State Police or National Guard should be present to protect this young man and his classmates on a day they have every reason to celebrate.

What this story is saying is that gangs run the Bucks County School system, not adults. Assuming the threat is credible (and I have no reason not believe it to be credible), why haven't the police done anyting to prevent any potential attack? Why not provide tighter security at the graduation event? Here is what security is being provided:
"We have to act like whoever is saying that mean what they say," he said. The "extraordinary measures" police are taking - including barring Lewis, using metal detectors at the graduation, and planting plainclothes officers in the crowd - are "to make everybody safe," [Bristol Township Police Chief James McAndrew] said. (emphasis added)
At a time when thousands of schools required their students to walk through metal detectors to go to school, how is using detectors at a graduation extraordinary.

One argument about not cowing to terrorists (and that is what gangs are, domestice terror groups) is that to do so gives them a win. The best thing that could happen here is that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and other elected officials tell the local and state police to buck up, arm up and get the protection this kid deserves so that he, the class president, can deliver a speech at his own graduation.

To Tyrone Lewis, well done sir. Your sacrifice is commendable, but unnecessary. Congratulations on your success, past and future, and I hope that you can deliver your speech in person.

To the Bucks County Schools, Police and elected officials. You rampant bunch of cowards deserve to be removed from office for letting a bunch of punks, thugs and terrorists to determine policy. You have all, each and every one of you failed to lead effectively and to teach right from wrong. To the police especially, your job is to protect and serve. To Protect, means to protect everyone, including Tyrone Lewis, to allow everyone to go about their lives in peace and security and if you think the threat is real, then by God, you need to do something about the threat, not about Tyrone Lewis. Do you job, or Bucks County needs to find someone who can.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup Opens Tomorrow!!!

The greatest soccer tournament in the World is set to open tomoorow. I look forward to this event every four years. The world's most popular sport has taken root as a national interest on a reuglar basis. But a good showing again by the Americans (the number five ranked team in the world) stand a good chance in the tournament. But their round robin group is considered by many to be the mythical "Group of Death" containing teams from The Czech Republica (World #2), Ghana (World #48) and Italy (World #13). let the fun begin !!!!

In Soccer, an American Evolution

Insurgent Leader Al-Zarqawi Killed in Iraq

Good News. But we should be careful not to get ahead of ourselves. Granted a significant leader is dead, but the terrorists have shown that they are not stupid. Zealots, suicidal, but not stupid. Expect some significant attack efforts in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Moral Foundation of School Choice: Education as a Secular Devotion

When observers, critics, and proponents discuss and debate the subject of school choice, such discourse typically centers on one of three areas. The focus may be on the political, that is the policy, legislative, regulatory and/or mechanics of the various school choice models. Occaisionally, we will speak in economic terms, i.e. concpets of market forces, monopolies, incentives, and social and financial costs. In very rare instances, we may speak of school choice in terms of rights, nominally constitutional rights usually as defined and interpreted by Supreme Court decisions and opinions.

Admittedly, I have usually spoken about school choice in such terms as well, usually in the first two above mentioned categories and occaisionally in the third. But in all areas, we fail to understand and discuss the moral foundation underlying the school choice movement. Critics may quickly dismiss policy proposals and the economics of school choice. Dismissing the constitutional arguments may take more enhanced lingual gynmastics. However, despite our head in the sand approach to the morality of school choice, there are solidly American moral underpinnings to school choice even if we don't easily or readily acknowledge their existence. Moreover, the moral foundation of school choice cannot be easily countered by those who oppose school choice models, because they are so fundamentally American.

Over the next several days, I will explore some of the moral and philosophical foundations of school choice. School choice is not a panacea to all that ails our education system, but it does provide a more comfortable place for Americans to be when it comes to the place education occupies in our nation's psyche.

The Religious Nature of America

The United States is a very religious country. Most American profess to be religious and attend church, if not weekly, at least regularly. Even those who do not attend church admit to a belief in a higher power. Such spiritual devotion has, of course, a long history in America, being a nation settled by religious dissenters seeking a place to peaceably worship. Indeed, one of the major arguments against the ratification of the Constitution posited by the Anti-Federalists was a lack of a Bill of Rights that protected, among other things, the right to worship free of government interference.

The religious devotion of our founders has a role also in education. The largely Protestant demoniminations that settled America in the 17th and 18th Century found their moral compass not in a class of clergy, but in the Bible. Key to their religious beliefs was access to and the ability to read the Bible. Unlike Catholicism of the middle ages, where a priesthood was available to preach the contents of the Bible, Protestant sects used the Bible, read by individuals, to provide a foundation for their faith. Thus being able to read the Bible was a cornerstone of their faith.

In the 18th and early 19th Century, long before a public school system evolved in this country, most Americans, because of their faith, were functionally literate. The great chronicler of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that everywhere he went, in every home he visited, even the roughest cabins in the frontier of Wisconsin, he would inevitably find a Bible and newspapers. Reading was necessary, not only for democractic institutions, but also for spriitual ones.

The fact that most Americans could read and had some modicum of education, whether it be some form of homeschooling or provided by the church through Sunday School, proved to be important in the development of our nation. The religious equality found in most Protestant demoninations, in that each person was able to read the main religious text, took root in America as political equality and educational equality as well. Of course, there were some people on the upper ends of the socio-economic scale that were able to afford more schooling, but at the base level, everyone had the same basic level of education.

Education As Secular Devotion

While all Americans do not profess the same religious faith, we all carry with us a secular devotion to the education of our children. It may indeed be the one truly universal American devotion. Education is both socially and civically paramount to the American psyche, central to American life, prosperity, and our prominence in the world. While education carries certain civic virtues, education contains a deeply personal aspect, one which rivals the personal faith. Yet, despite its importance to the American way of life, when it comes to education, America has abandoned its founding principles.

The current formulation of the American public education system runs directly counter the the fundamental founding principles of our nation, that of personal freedom, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When it comes to religion, Americans would no more tolerate the government telling them where and how to worship, if at all, as they would the government telling them what to name their children or which grocery story they should patronize. The importance of religious liberty occupies such a sacred place in our hearts that we have enshrined such a protection or liberty in our most basic law, the Constitution.

Yet when it comes to education, we have somehow accepted the fact that government shall tell us how to educate our children, when and where that education will take place and who will conduct that education. If Americans would not accept such dictates in our religious devotions, or lack thereof, why then have we accepted such dictates in our most important secular devotion?

In short, we have abdicated one of our most precious secular liberties, that of the choice in the manner in which our children will be educated.

We allow for the personal choice of a religious compass, but we, as a nation, have long considered a public school system, without option for the vast majority of Americans, to be dictated to us. Personal choice, personal responsibility and personal sacrifice were the hallmarks of our nation's founding. So when it comes to religious education, we have complete freedom, but when it comes to secular education, we have, essentially none.

The Religious and Secular Educations

Religion and schools cross often, and not necessarily in the realm of parochial schools or vouchers. In the Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Amish in Wisconsin sued the state, arguing that the law requiring universal, compulsory education until the age of 16 violated their freedom of religion. The Court held that the state's interest in universal education must be balanced against the interests and fundamental rights of individuals. In the Yoder case, the Amish believed that compulsory education beyond the eighth grade exposed their children to worldly influences they disagreed with and sought to protect their children against.

The Amish all over the United States have a distinct, but hardly unique, religious fervor. They take seriously both the religious and the secular education of their children. It is merely that the Amish put a higher premium on the religious education of their children than on the secular.

Most Americans, whether they admit to it or not, seek to raise their children within certain moral guidelines. Even if those guidelines are not overtly religious, the morality we seek to impart upon our children carries a special place in the development of young minds. That moral upbringing may be similar to many others, but the method of moral instruction, its nature, and its content are all under the sole decision-making authority of the parents.

But moral teaching is, obviously, not the only type of education necessary for a child. Secular education, the three R's, carries as much weight. But beyond the basics of content come certain distinctive differences in education. Some children may show a talent or interest in sciences, others in the arts, still others in the trades. Yet for most parents, the ability to choose an educational path to match their child's interests is severly circumscribed by law, by geography, and, unfortunately, by now-ingrained tradition of deference to the state.

Of course, one can simply argue, that a parent has the faculty to impart a moral education on their children but not a secular education. To which the response is hogwash. Some parents choose to have their children's religious and moral education provided through mechanisms such as Sunday school or regular church attendance. Others may choose to provide such instruction personally. There is a choice both in the nature and delivery of religious or moral education.

Most parents will prefer to have someone else provide the secular instruction as well. Some have the desire and ability to conduct such education themselves, but for most it will be delegated to others. School choice allows for that delegation but such delegation is not limited by the choices approved or provided by the state. Of course some choice is provided now, but in reality, those options are for those who can afford to send children to different schools or those willing to take on the duty themselves. The same options for both delivery and content of secular education is not present on the anywhere near the same scale as religious education.

School choice allows for the greatest freedom to pursue our secular devotion of education with teh same fervor that we apply to our religious life. We protect, and fight for, our right to worship as we choose. We possess the same absolute freedom to provide religious or moral instruction in any manner we choose. Is not the right to secularly educate as we choose just as important?