Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Vermont Case Reporting

My Heroine Allison Hayward has a report on the Vermont campaign finance case here. My thoughts on the case to come later.

Apparently, Allison is taken by Anna Nicole Smith, who sat in on her case, which Allison talks about here.

Some truly wonderful or wonderous scheduling at the Court.

Update: Ed Foley has a report here.

Dems stumble in Ohio

If you want to win an election, particularly a Congressional election or bigger, the first and most important thing to do is make sure you are on the ballot. Well, an Ohio Democratic candidate made the mistake of not getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. According to The Hill News
Top Democrats are furious with state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio), who failed last week to get 50 valid signatures to qualify for a ballot spot in a Democratic congressional primary.

"Rahm is pissed off, as well as he should be," a top Democratic official said, referring to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

"If you can’t do petitions, how can you do anything?" the official added. "It was totally misplayed. Charlie appears to be in over his head, and [Democrats are] pushing him to get professional help" from strategists in Washington who can raise money nationwide.

Another Democratic aide added, "Prior to having this problem, he was too confident. Now he has a healthier attitude about the race. He should be scared. He did not get on the ballot."

Roll Call (subscription req.) reports:
An embarrassing last-minute filing snafu in a must-win Ohio open-seat House race has led to a round of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing in Democratic circles, as party leaders sought to assess blame for state Sen. Charlie Wilson’s (D) failure to qualify for the primary ballot in the 6th district.

As Wilson announced Friday that he will pursue a write-in campaign to win the Democratic nomination, it was clear that some in the party were looking to Bob Doyle, Wilson’s fundraising consultant who was believed to hold great sway over the campaign, to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the major setback.

"I think in any screw-up like this one, you first look to the campaign manager and then you look to the consultant," said one Democratic operative.
If the problem were simply with one candidate, one could dismiss the problem, but apparently Democrats in the key battleground of Ohio are reeling from mismanagement and in-fighting. Paul Hackett, an Iraqi war veteran who was the darling of the Democratic establishment in a 2005 Special election, won by Republican Jean Schmidt, dropped out of the Senate Primary and spent several days in various appearances railing against national Democratic leaders and strategists:
Emanuel made several last-ditch attempts to help Hackett gracefully bow out of his race for the Senate and run for the House. But after several phone conversations, Hackett stopped returning calls from Democratic strategists, Democratic sources said.

Hackett then leaked his exit to The New York Times to embarrass Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Hackett spent the next 48 hours on television cable TV and radio railing against congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Emanuel, Brown and Schumer.

Hackett alleged on MSNBC’s "Hardball" that Brown spread rumors that, as a Marine Corps officer in Iraq, Hackett had committed war crimes.

Speaking to local Democrats last week in Ohio, Hackett took a dig at Emanuel. "We want to keep all his minions in Washington, D.C. We want his money. We don’t want his help," Hackett said.
Source: The Hill News
Organization is what wins campaigns and apparently the Democrats don't have much of one on the ground in Ohio.

What is troubling is the complete ineptitude of state and national democrats in dealing with the Brown/Hackett race. In an effort to clear the field, the Democrats choose Sherrod Brown, an able enough guy, but an establishment candidate over a person the party so enthusiastically supported before. Such treatment surely has Hackett irritated and rightfully so.

In short the desire to win at all costs has probably cost Democrats candidates across the country as they try to avoid primaries. Thus, the whole concept of democracy and election by the people is truncated. We as voters no longer have a choice, but are presented choices by the party, who is more interested in winning than fielding good candidates, tested in political battles, and presenting more moderate voices.

Star on the rise

Dancing with the Stars' leggy blonde, Stacy Keibler will be a star in mainstream entertainment soon. Aside from her killer body, mile-long legs, and girl next door looks, she is well-spoken, engagingly sweet (at least on TV) and certainly driven enough to make it. Keibler, a native of the Baltimore area, is featured in brief bio in the Baltimore Sun.

Daughter #1 loved the show, although she missed half of it because of bedtime. Even my wife thought Keible was a lock to win. Ah well..

Vermont Campaign Finance Case

Bob Bauer has a summary of the arguments before the Supreme Court on the Vermont Campaign finance case. In short, things are not looking good for Vermont.

SCOTUS blog also has a brief update.

School Embezzlement in Chicago

A former school accountant in Chicago has been arrested on charges that she embezzled over $450,000 in school funds.
From December 1999 through September 2005, Jenkins-Evans allegedly wrote herself 319 checks totaling more than $456,000 from a Simeon account that funds student activities at the South Side school, including academic and extracurricular activities, district officials said.


The checks were discovered in October 2005 during an audit routinely conducted after a new principal is assigned to a school, Sullivan said. After finding several checks written out to Jenkins-Evans, auditors referred the case to the inspector general for further investigation.

At the time, investigators thought they were dealing with about $20,000 in missing funds, the typical amount in such cases, [Inspector General James] Sullivan said. Yet the investigation of bank records from the school and Jenkins-Evans' personal accounts, dating to 1999, pointed to a scheme that lasted far longer and involved greater sums, Sullivan said.

"This is an extraordinary amount of money," Sullivan said. Sullivan alleged that Jenkins-Evans falsified some receipts and erased her name on some of the checks after they were returned from the bank, but in many cases documentation disappeared from the school.

"In this case, she was allowed to do things on her own with no follow-up and no oversights. We've interviewed everybody, and we have no reason to believe anyone else is involved," Sullivan said.
I have been involved in the investigation into a couple of embezzlement schemes and read about dozens of others. All of those cases and this one have the same thing in common--one person with too much responsibility.

As this investigation becomes public we will learn the following things:

First, Jenkins-Evans was responsbible for cutting all the checks on the account.
Second, Jenkins-Evans was responsible for reconciling the same bank accounts and keeping records.
Third, there was no need for more than one signature on the checks (this may or may not be the case, but I bet it is).
Fourth, obviously no regulary annual and bi-annual audits were done as indicated by the fact that an audit is done only when a new principal takes office. This is very bad accounting practice.

In all embezzlement cases I have studied, the common factors are that the person who writes the checks is the person who can sign the checks and is the person who reconciles the bank account (balances the checkbook). To prevent embezzlement, one need only ensure that someone else does one of the above three things and the institution should have a regular, meaning no less frequently than every other year, audit of the books by an outside entity.

Yes, Jenkins-Evans is probably a criminal and should be punished, but so should her supervisors, who gave her the opportunity to commit the embezzlement. In many ways, their behavior is a bigger crime.

To the Big House for Mother of Truants

The People's Republic of Montgomery County Maryland has take an unusual step in one fight against truancy. The mother of two middle school boys will spend a couple of nights in jail.
Shirley Heath Lumbao, 44, whose 13- and 15-year-old sons each missed more than 50 days of class during the 2004-05 school year, could face additional jail time if her sons' attendance doesn't improve.

"I took no pleasure in asking the judge to sentence this woman to jail," Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey Wennar said. "But I thought the message had to be sent to her and to her kids who were in the courtroom [during school hours] and the community that truancy will not be tolerated in Montgomery County."
I must admit to mixed feelings about this case. To be certain, the parents have a responsibility to ensure their children are attending school or getting some sort of schooling. But I am not sure of the efficacy of sending the mother to jail but not punishing the kids in this case.

If these children were younger, say in elementary school, the parents bear a little more responsibility. But these two boys are in middle school and need to be taught a lesson as well. Perhaps a couple of nights in jail for them will awaken them to the realities of their failures.

My favorite drive time radio show, the Grandy and Andy morning show on 630 WMAL took on this story as a topic this morning, with mixed reactions all around. I suppose I fall into that category as well.
Wennar said officials at Julius West Middle School bought the teenagers alarm clocks and offered them incentives, such as movie tickets, to improve their attendance.

He said Lumbao has two jobs and has said that she was unable to get the boys to go to school. Maryland, unlike other states, prosecutes parents, not children, for truancy.
I do think that a few more prosecutions like this one may spur a little more involvement by parents in the schooling of their kids. Fear of jail (and a conviction on your record) is often a great motivator.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bush Security Policies Not Playing Well Among Govs

AP Via Breitbart

Republican governors, meeting in Washington DC, are worried that the Bush signature issue, security and safety, is failing them as the missteps continue to pile up.
Republican governors are openly worrying that the Bush administration's latest stumbles _ from the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina to those of its own making on prescription drugs and ports security _ are taking an election-year toll on the party back home.

The GOP governors reluctantly acknowledge that the series of gaffes threatens to undermine public confidence in President Bush's ability to provide security, which has long been his greatest strength among voters.

'Da Vinci Code' Lawsuit Begins

According to the Washington Post. The dispute is between the authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," a 1982 book presented as historical non-fiction, which describes the theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, wed, had a child and the bloodline survived. These are central themes in the Da Vinci Code.
Lawyers who specialize in intellectual property law here said the case could clarify aspects of British copyright law. While it is clearly illegal to plagiarize from copyrighted material, it is less clear how much an author can use research and ideas presented in others' work, they said.

Brown has publicly acknowledged using "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" as part of his research in writing his book, but he has described it as a minor resource. John Baldwin, the attorney for Random House, argued in court that the book "did not have anything like the importance to Mr. Brown" asserted by authors Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent. The third author of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," Henry Lincoln, is not a party to the lawsuit.
. A fasciating case to be sure, I wonder what legal twists and turns will accompany this suit, surely not nearly as entertaining to the average person, but intellectual property lawyers are sure to have a field day.

Red Cross Money Management

Or rather, the lack thereof. After reading this story from the Washington Post, the Red Cross has received the last charitable contribution from me.

I understand the need for advertising, but $500,000 spent on wooing Hollywood celebrities? The money would have been more wisely spent on decent accountants.

The fascists of free speech - Los Angeles Times

Hat Tip: Darren at Right on the Left Coast

This Los Angeles Times op-ed says a lot about the state of liberalism in San Francisco, a beautiful city my wife and daughters just visited (I was at home taking the bar exam). Apparently, censorship is alive and well, even at City Lights bookstore.
However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

Now let's just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading "banned books."

Yet his store won't carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It's particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.
I have long been the first to stand up and defend the right of someone to say something obnoxious, even downright offensive to the views I hold, but the concept of freedom of speech is becoming perverted across the world.
For instance: "Freedom of speech is not absolute. It has to be in the service of something, like peace or social justice," a young British Muslim woman named Fareena Alam wrote in Britain's the Observer a couple of weeks ago. Although it's true that freedom of speech is not absolute — laws against libel and making violent threats are stronger in Britain than here — Alam has it exactly wrong. Free speech doesn't have to be in the service of anything but its own point of view. If it did, it wouldn't be free speech.


Back to City Lights, which indeed has no plans to sell any books by the "fascist" free-speech defender Fallaci. The store's website proudly declares that the place is "known for our commitment to freedom of expression," in which case you might assume such commitment includes supporting those whose free expression puts them in real danger.

But, although "The Force of Reason" is expected to reach the U.S. this spring, a City Lights clerk said when I called that the store has no plans to carry anything by Fallaci.

"You're welcome to buy her book elsewhere, though," my friend was told helpfully when he visited. "Let's just say we don't have room for her here."

OK, let's just say that. But let's also say that one of the great paradoxes of our time is that two groups most endangered by political Islam, gays and women, somehow still find ways to defend it.

Sen. George Allen--2008 GOP Hopeful

The more I read about Virginia Sen. George Allen, the more I think he may have a good shot at the Republican nomination in 2008. Washingtonpost.com has an interview worth reading.

Major Bank Won't Underwrite Eminent Domain Abuse

Hat Tip: Captain Ed

FOXNews.com is reporting that North Carolina based bank BB&T will begin denying loans to businesses benefiting from eminent domain.
In a Jan. 25 release, BB&T executives stated their disapproval of the court's ruling.

"One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own," said BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison, a noted libertarian. "As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won't help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership."
This is a brilliant move that will likely not affect the bank's business too much but will influence governmental decisions. While governments spend a lot of money on building projects, they do not underwrite the private development (or even the public development) with tax funds. The reliance on funds provided by banks will now begin influencing the way government does business--an important development.

has shaped the company's philosophy to reflect core values of ethics, justice, honesty and free enterprise, said [BB&T spokesman John] Dedham. The BB&T Charitable Foundation contributes money to business schools at colleges and universities across the country, hoping to instill the idea that ethical and moral decision-making are inseparable from capitalist endeavors.
I wonder how many other banks will follow suit. Probably few, but if big banks like Bank of America, Citicorp and others follow suit, you will probably see an end to private development on land seized by eminent domain because developers won't be able to underwrite their projects.

Good for BB&T!!

Charitable Spendthrifts?

According to the Washington Post, two-thirds of Katrina donations have been exhausted, begging the question, what happened with all that money?

According to the story:
Two-thirds of the $3.27 billion raised by private nonprofit organizations and tracked by The Post went to help evacuees and other Katrina victims with immediate needs -- cash, food and temporary shelter, medical care, tarps for damaged homes and school supplies for displaced children. Fine, but the other factiods make me question the efficacy of groups like the Red Cross:
The American Red Cross, which was criticized for slow distribution of donations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has given out 84 percent of its Katrina and Rita donations.

50 cents of each donated dollar went out in cash to victims.


56 percent of remaining donations are controlled by faith-based organizations. They include such well-known institutions as Catholic Charities USA and the Salvation Army but also such lower-profile groups as the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Jewish Communities.
While charities have done fabulous work helping storm ravaged communities I question the effectiveness of cash donations. At the same time, I question the manner in which charities manage their contributed funds.

The story is quite long and very informative.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Parties on Opposite Sides Campaign Spending Limits Case

Here is the DNC's Amicus Brief--taking the position that the Vermont campaign finance spending limits are valid and should be upheld to address the "culture of corruption" according to DNC Chairman Howard Dean (who by the way, as Vermont's Governor signed the bill into law.)

Taking the view that the law violates a number of speech restrictions and is the least effective means to preventing candidates from spending too much time raising money (the legislatively stated reason for the law) is the RNC Amicus Brief.

In the end, I think the position espoused by the RNC will carry the day.

Evidence that Abortion is Settled Law

Last month, I made an argument that abortion was settled law, but not settled politics. As evidence of my position, the Multistate bar examination given on Wednesday nation wide contained a question about the law of abortion. Questions testing unsettled law don't make it to the test because unsettled law is too difficult to test. Thus at least the National Conference of Bar Examiners thinks abortion law is settled--at least for now.

A Good Argument Against Campaign Spending Limits

Professor Dan Lowenstein, writing over at Election Law @ Moritz makes a particularly good point about campaign spending limits. As the Tuesday arguemts in Randall v. Sorrell approach at the Supreme Court, here is an argument the court should heed:
Although I believe the Court underestimated the usefulness of spending limits as an anti-conflict of interest device, I still believe spending limits are very bad policy. One argument commonly given against spending limits is that they are anticompetitive and, in particular, that they favor incumbents. There is some merit in that argument, but I do not place as much weight on it as some do. For one thing, the empirical evidence that spending limits benefit incumbents exists but it is not as unequivocal as it once seemed to be. For another, there is a tendency to make a fetish out of competitive elections and the defeat of incumbents. Competitiveness in the electoral system is a value, but it has its limits and at best it is only one of many means toward a well-functioning democratic system.

If that argument against spending limits tends to be overblown, another argument does not receive nearly enough attention. A regime of effective spending limits makes bureaucratic and judicial decisions much too important in election campaigns. The world in which campaigns operate is complicated, diverse, and ever-changing. It therefore is inevitable that difficult questions will continually arise over what counts as an expenditure for purposes of limits. In the worst case, these decisions will be made by commissioners or judges who are less than impartial in the heat of a campaign. But the best case, in which the decision-makers make good faith judgments, is still a bad case. Campaigns and elections should be decided politically, not by arcane legal arguments. (emphasis added)
Read the whole thing.

Hat Tip: Professor Hasen
My latest article can now be seen over at Watchblog.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Democratic Meltdown

At a time when a recent poll by John Zogby has found that
Democrats, after 11 years as the minority party in Congress, still can't get it right with their own voters...
we are seeing more and more signs that despite dumb mistakes by the GOP, there is still little hope that the Democrats will take control of either chamber of Congress in November or the White House in 2008.

Dick Morris, who is nearly always right on with his prognostications, said in a Hill News op-ed today, that the one man who could surpass Hilary Clinton as the front-runner in the Democratic primary is (drumroll please): None other than Al Gore! Al Gore!! AL GORE!!!
And Gore may be a man whose time has come in his party.


The Democratic base’s anger at Gore’s defeat in 2000 was assuaged by the worse Kerry defeat of 2004. The idea that he was an incompetent candidate has been replaced in Democratic iconography by the idea that he was cheated out of the presidency. The hiatus has healed his reputation with the base in much the same way that the negative rap on Nixon for losing in 1960 was ameliorated by the Goldwater wipeout of 1964.
Is this the best that that the Democrats can do? A choice between Hilary Clinton and Al Gore? Republican strategists must be dancing in the streets over at First Street, SE in Washington DC.

Next, looking at the House of Representatives this year, there is not a lot of faith among the American people that either party knows what it is doing when it comes to running that chamber. The GOP is in the middle of the Abramoff/Delay/Cunningham ethics crises. The party is suffering from a rift between budget hawks and those who want to support the President. And the GOP faithful doubt their own party's ability to deal with big ticket issues like illegal immigration and cutting back on federal spending.

So what are the House Democrats doing? Launching a new website attacking Richard Pombo. Many of you outside of California may not know who Richard Pombo is, but he is the Chair of the House Resources Committee. The Democrats are attacking the chairman of a second tier committee for (another drumroll please) supporting drilling in ANWR!! Oh boy, how exciting!!!

There is not a single current issue on the DCCC website. The DNC, on the other hand looks like they have an issue platform under the agenda section. But if this is what they hope to sell as the Democratic alternative to the Contract with America, they need a lot of work.

Leadership takes a vision and that vision entails having something the Democrats don't have right now, a set of alternatives. The Zogby poll tells Democrats that they need to get some alternatives going and right quick or their position in the minority will be cemeted for a few more years. the Instapundit had a brilliant idea, Democrats need to look long and hard for someone who is not part of the DC establishment (like Hillary Clinton or Al Gore). He suggested Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and based on what I have seen of Gov. Bredesen, he could give the GOP fits in 2008. But to give Bredesen fits, the GOP should consider my favorite Governor Bob Ehrlich of MD.

Democrats need to do what the GOP did following the Barry Goldwater GOP meltdown. Step back, reassess and build a party again. That may mean ditching groups that keep forcing the party to the left, when the electorate is clearly not ready to go that far left. The Democratic party lacks a unifying set of principles. The GOP used to have some but seem to have abandoned them. Thus the race will go to the party who can get to some core principles and act on them.

John Stossel on Teacher's Unions

Check out his latest on what he considers Education's worst nightmare--teacher's unions. A fair use excerpt:
Some teachers care about the students, so they want to do more than the contract requires. But astoundingly, some of them told me they are actually afraid to stay at school when the union says it's time to go home. They worry they'll "get in trouble with the union." It's as if the teachers, united, never to be defeated, made a decision: Instead of letting the administrators crack down on bad teachers, the union will protect the bad teachers by cracking down on the good ones.

Maybe that's what Weingarten calls policing their own profession.

I confronted Weingarten. "Unionized monopolies like yours fail. In this case, it is the children who -- who you are failing."

"We are not a unionized monopoly," she retorted. "And ultimately those folks who want to say this all the time, they don't really care about kids."

Really, Ms. Weingarten? You fight to protect a system that rewards mediocrity, and then you claim your critics don't care about kids?
I have argued that a hallmark of a recognized profession is a measure of self-policing and self-regulation--this is not what I meant.

Understanding Campaign Finance

I have had it with commentators across the spectrum failing to understand the nature of campaign finance and how PAC contributions in particular actually work. Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh has a bit in his first hour talking about how Democrats are getting on board the issue of the port control sale to a Dubai based company. Limbaugh said that the International Longshoreman's Association PAC had given significant sums of money to various leading Democrats. In turn those Democrats are now blasting the port deal.

Limbaugh actually said to follow the money, hinting that the only reason leading Democrats were acting as they were was because of the money being given to the Dems from the labor union. THIS IS WRONG, and Limbaugh should know better.

Is there a causal connection between PAC money and politician positions? Yes, but not in the way Limbaugh and other commentators hint at or explicitly say.

Most people are under the belief that PAC money buys votes and action by politicians. But it does not worth that way in the least. Politicians have definite opinions of their own, positions they have arrived at based on their world view, upbringing and professional experience. Some positions on issues are shaped by their party because they have no particular inclination on those issues. That is fine. But the fact that a politician takes a position merely because a PAC gives them a $5,000 contribution is absolutely ludicrous.

The causal connection runs the other way. Interest groups have a vested interest in electing people who support their interests. Thus, when a politician comes on the scene, PACs don't start giving money right away, they wait. The PACs wait to find out where that politician stands. Thus when the politician takes a position on an issue, then and only then do PACs start giving money. So the causal connection is positions buy PAC money.

Get it right. If you don't know, spend a little time finding out.

CNN Airing Bit on Port Deal

Funny thing about the port deal, the only people that CNN is interviewing is the longshoreman who work at the Newark port. Funny, I would think that part of the longeshoreman's issue is that the Dubai company is problably not nearly as friendly as the British company who previously ran the port, a company with a long history of dealing with unions.

But that is just my take.

Hilary Clinton On Vouchers

Michelle Malkin has video on statements made by Hilary Clinton regarding vouchers and school choice. Included on Malkin's website is this transcript:
CLINTON: Suppose that you were meeting today to decide who got the vouchers. First parent comes and says 'I want to send my daughter to St. Peter's Roman Catholic School' and you say 'Great, wonderful school, here's your voucher. Next parent who comes says, 'I want to send, you know, my child to the Jewish Day School. Great here's your voucher! Next parent who comes says, "I want to send my child to the private school that I've already dreamed of sending my child to.' Fine. Here's your voucher.
Next parent who comes says, 'I want to send my child to the school of the Church of the White Supremacist.' You say, 'Wait a minute. You can't send...we're not giving a voucher for that.' And the parent says, 'Well, the way that I read Genesis, Cain was marked, therefore I believe in white supremacy. And therefore, you gave it to a Catholic parent, you gave it to a Jewish parent, gave it to a secular private parent. Under the Constitution, you can't discriminate against me.'

Suppose the next parent comes and says 'I want to send my child to the School of...the Jihad.' Wait a minute! We're not going to send a child with taxpayers dollars to the School of Jihad. 'Well, you gave it to the Catholics, gave it to the Jews, gave it to the private secular people. You're gonna tell me I can't? I'm a taxpayer. Under the Constitution.'

Now, tell me how we're going to make those choices.
Clinton, like many Democrats beholden to the NEA and, don't want parents to have the same choice she did. Her daughter, Chelsea, did not attend the DC Public schools when the Clinton's occupied the White House. No, she attended the Sidwell Friends Schools in Northwest DC, arguably one of the top two or three private schools in the District.

So it is only the rich Democrats who get to have choice, poor black families in DC and other urban areas must attend failing schools.

The funny thing about Clinton's argument is that she pulls out the fear card. A school of white supremacy and a school of jihad indeed. These kinds of schools still have to be approved to be a school to receive vouchers. Once again, the politicians are speaking without the facts.

Edu Carnivaling

Check out the Carnival of Homeschooling and the Carnival of Education. Always good reading!!

Riding the Slippery Slope

Previously, I and many, many others, including the Washington Post, lambasted the Maryland General Assembly for the passage of the Wal-Mart bill, the law that requires employers with more than 10,000 employees in the state to pay at least 8% of their payroll toward health care or pay the difference into the State's Medicaid fund. Well, some jackass lawmaker has decided to punish all small businesses with a similar provision:
A Democratic lawmaker is aiming to force Maryland's small businesses to pay a minimum level of employee health benefits, expanding the so-called "Wal-Mart tax" to nearly every business in the state.

The bill by Delegate James W. Hubbard, Prince George's Democrat, would require businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees to spend 4.5 percent of payroll on employee health care or pay an equivalent amount to the state's Medicaid program. Nonprofit businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees would have to spend 3 percent or give the money to Medicaid.

The proposal closely resembles the bill Democrats passed this year over the veto of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. It requires businesses with more than 10,000 employees to pay 8 percent of payroll on employee health benefits or pay it to Medicaid. Wal-Mart is the only business in the state that doesn't comply. (emphasis added)
It is one thing (not a good thing, but one thing) to force large businesses to pay a floor on health care. It is a vastly different one to force small businesses to do the same thing. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce, made this comment:
Last session, the Chamber repeatedly warned that the “Wal-Mart Bill” sets a dangerous precedent, and that the bill serves as the framework for the certain expansion of this health care mandate and payroll tax to all employers in future years – the camel’s nose under the tent.

Well, on Wednesday that camel started stinking up the tent, as Delegate James W. Hubbard (District 23A) introduced legislation (HB 1510) that would extend the payroll tax to all employers.
Small businesses are truly the engine that drives the American economy, see fact on small businesses at the National Federation of Independent Business Some how the Maryland General Assembly has not gotten the message that if you put too many regulations on small business, they are not very likely to start a business in Maryland, why would they? I recommend that the General Assembly look at this information, compiled by the Small Business Administration.

It seems that bills like this seem to almost beg for a wholesale tossing out of the General Assembly in this election year. This is not only bad policy, it is really bad politics. This is just plain stupid. Most businesses in Maryland are small businesses and making this kind of mandate law will more than likely force them out of business. Dumb, just plain dumb.

The law of Education

As a soon-to-be lawyer, I know that very little of what happens in life is not governed by some law. This post by Coach Brown about special education law made me start to wonder--how much instruction in education schools is dedicated to the law of education?

Coach Brown discussed Individual Education Plans, but that pertains to special education. Not that special education doesn't have its own set of laws, but what about the general education law?

I have looked up the curriculum at the University of Maryland School of Education, and found that a couple of graduate level courses deal with law, specificially the law of higher education and a Course called Education Law and Policy. But right now, at the school that produces a larger percentage of Maryland's new teachers, the undergraduate courses in education do not contain a required course in the law of education.

When looking at the preparation of teachers and the frequent postings I have made about the professionalization of teaching, this would seem to be one of the requirements that should be mandated. The manner in which schools are governed would dictate the manner in which schools and classrooms are operated. Wouldn't having knowledge of and an understanding of educational law seem appropriate?

Just a thought.

What Should Education Do?

From this week's Carnival of Education, comes this post by the Ed Wahoo, in which he asks that we take a look at the big picture of education:
There's an article in Saturday's New York Times about Harvard's president. The Washington Post is reporting on a Virginia county's efforts to raise SAT scores. Across the vast array of education blogs, you currently find posts on charter schools; appropriate school attire; different styles of high schools; the lawfulness of No Child Left Behind; the National Education Association's affiliations; teacher burnout; accountability; testing; and every other topic under the sun.

The discourse is vibrant and rich, and people bring unceasingly impressive passion and ideas to the table. Yet I am often left wondering: Where is the discussion of the bigger picture?

Talking about the nuts and bolts -- and some of the aforementioned issues are large nuts and thick bolts -- has its place, and it's rewarding in its own right. But to rehash a favorite analogy of mine, at some point, we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Here are the questions I want to see engaged: What is the ultimate goal of education, and what is the ultimate goal of our education system? What is the bare minimum we want all of our students to be able to do when they exit the system?
So to take up Ed Wahoo's Challenge, here is what I want the education system to do at a bare minimum:
  • I want to see every kid who graduates able to read at a 12th grade level, be able to comprehend and analyze what they read.
  • I want every kid to be able to write a "five paragraph" essay, even if that essay is supposed to be ten pages long.
  • I want every kid to understand the government that regulates their lives, how elections work, and the importance of their role in that government.
  • I want every kid to be able to solve binomial functions. Not for the ability to do so, but for the understanding of the logical process it instills.
  • I want every kid to understand ecnomonics, credit cards, how to manage their money and balance their checkbook, how taxes work and why they are present.
  • I want every kid to understand the biology of their own bodies and that of the opposite gender, how to take care of those bodies, and how their bodies interact with the rest of the world.
  • I want every kid to know that failure is a part of life and after high school, there are not going to be a lot of people outside of your family who will care if you fail or succeed. But if you fail, you will not have an out.
I guess I don't want a lot, just people who are ready to move into the adult world.

The question of what our education system should be is rarely discussed, and I hope that we can discuss it more. There are times, honestly, when I wonder if the public education system that has evolved in America suits our needs. Clearly, the system does not suit the needs of many of today's students, but is that a failing of the system as designed or a failure to update the design.

Looking at my list of desires for a public education system, I see that, aside from a few modern issues, like credit cards, much of the subject matter I hope to see taught is not all that different, except in degree, from what was taught to earlier generations. Which leads to me to believe, that the way in which our world works has overtaken the system, rather than the system failing in a wholesale manner.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Go Check This Out

While channel surfing in search of something decent to watch, I went through the PBS station and saw one of the coolest musical things I think I have seen in a long time. Go check out www.animusic.com right now.

At first I thought I was seeing some sort of mechanical device, but it turns out what I was seening was highly realistic CGI playing very good music. PBS was showing this piece called Acoustic Curves (you have to scroll down to get to the piece).

I was truly impressed and have ordered both DVD's and the CD of the first DVD. I can't wait for my order.

More soon.

Diversity at the Winter Olympics

HBO Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel had this to say in an episode on Feb. 7:
Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t care about them and won’t watch them... Try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the winter games look like a GOP convention.
Much has been made of this quote (see here some good links) and I for one was not particularly offended by this quote. As I have said here, the fact that the Winter Olympics is little more than a series of sports for the Northern Hemisphere does not bother me one bit. These are wonderful athletes competing at the highest levels of their sport and their efforts should be applauded and if you are into those sports, admired.

In the wake of Shani Davis winning the Gold Medal in the 1000m Men's speedskating, much more has been made of these comments. I do think that Bryant Gumbel obviously has not one iota of knowledge of the modern GOP, I do think that Bryant Gumbel would barely know the difference between short track speed skating and snowboarding, and I do think that Gumbel has a right to his opinion and he has a forum for expressing it. The move to have Gumbel removed from an otherwise brilliant show is simply wrong.

I will admit, listening to the Chris Plante show on 630 WMAL this afternoon, I did question whether or not a white commentator would have been able to say something different comparing say the Summer Games to the Democratic convention and retain his job--unlikely--but I don't know.

The fact is that despite our ability to see beyond race and color simply goes to show that we as a nation are not nearly as egalitarian as we think. We proclaim our adherence to merit, but we don't really believe that. Even today, we still think of matters in racial terms. For Gumbel, the Winter Olympics are about rich white nations competing in games that most blacks do not participate in (when I have gone skiing, I did not see a lot of blacks on the slopes). For others the concept of a mertiocracy has gone the way of the dodo bird because we have so many programs to give minorities a break or a leg up.

Shani Davis's win gives a lie to Gumbel's words, not that the Winter Olympics is dominated by whites--it is and there is no arguing with the fact. Rather, Davis's win gives lie to the implicit assumption in Gumbel's argument, that the Winter Olympics is about keeping black athletes, and therefore the world's greatest athletes, out of a certain segment of sport. I simply don't buy that. When Gumbel said that the Winter Games does not include the world's greatest athletes, I wonder how Shani Davis, Chad Hendrick or any of the other medal winners in all the sports so far would react? Is not Shani Davis the world's greatest 1000m speedskater at this moment? Is not any athlete who wins at the Winter Games, the greatest athlete in that sport on that day? That is probably the only offense I take from Gumbel's comments.

Sport is about athletic excellence. Far too often we try to politicize it too much, and Gumbel is certainly guilty of that. We look to read too much into a victory like Davis' or the bobsled gold won by Vonetta Flowers in 2002. Why cannot we simply stand up and cheer Davis' or Flowers' effort as a worthy athletic accomplishments in their own right and leave it at that?

Will Davis' victory inspire other black kids to get involved in winter sports. Perhaps, only time will tell. Until then, the Winter Olympics will remain largely white, largely European games. And I am okay with that.

Instapundit: Quoting Fleischer on Cheney Shooting

From Prof. Reynolds
On how the White House press corps were both right and "bonkers"

FLEISCHER: I think the White House correspondents were right on this one. They did have a legitimate beef. They should have been told about it. But I think you can be right and still go bonkers, and I think that's what happened here...I do think there is an element here of the press going bonkers because they didn't get the story. Somebody else did, and they wished it had been them. It should have been them, but that does feed into their anger.
Um...No they didn't have a legitimate beef.

The White House press corps has gotten into the habit of being fed the news. God forbid they actually earn their keep as reporters. The story got covered, the White House press corps is just pissed off that they didn't get to cover the story. That is not the White House's problem, nor Vice President Cheney's or anyone else's for that matter. If you don't like the stories you are being fed, then for Pete's sake go out there and get your own story.

My journalist wife thinks the DC media people are acting like our four year old daughter when she doesn't get her way--they are pitching a temper tantrum. Get over it.

Millenial Kids at Work

Hat Tip: Joanne Jacobs

When do you know that a point has been reached in work that completely changes the way you think about your work? When you need a therapist because your youngest workers are dominating your daily work. Take this story:
Beverly Hills psychiatrist's office is an unlikely triage center for the mash-up of generations in the workforce. But Dr. Charles Sophy is seeing the casualties firsthand. Last year, when a 24-year-old salesman at a car dealership didn't get his yearly bonus because of poor performance, both of his parents showed up at the company's regional headquarters and sat outside the CEO's office, refusing to leave until they got a meeting. "Security had to come and escort them out," Sophy says.

A 22-year-old pharmaceutical employee learned that he was not getting the promotion he had been eyeing. His boss told him he needed to work on his weaknesses first. The Harvard grad had excelled at everything he had ever done, so he was crushed by the news. He told his parents about the performance review, and they were convinced there was some misunderstanding, some way they could fix it, as they'd been able to fix everything before. His mother called the human-resources department the next day. Seventeen times. She left increasingly frustrated messages: "You're purposely ignoring us"; "you fudged the evaluation"; "you have it in for my son." She demanded a mediation session with her, her son, his boss, and HR--and got it. At one point, the 22-year-old reprimanded the HR rep for being "rude to my mom."

The patients on Sophy's couch aren't the twentysomethings dealing with their first taste of failure. Nor are they the "helicopter parents." They're the traumatized bosses, as well as the 47-year-old woman from HR who has been hassled time and again by her youngest workers and their parents. Now the pharmaceutical company that employs her has her in therapy, and she's on six-month stress leave.
I guess I first started seeing things like this about two years ago. At that time, a woman was temping for my company (temping mind you) and I had given her a data entry assignment and a second assignment to verify information. I explained the purpose behind the work, its importance to the company, etc. The work was mind-numbingly boring, but in a small company it was cheaper to hire a temp that have a full-time staff member doing the work. This young lady didn't even come back from lunch. Upon talking to the temp agency, I learned that this child (and yes, I mean child) felt the work was beneath her talent and education!! My response to the temp agency was that I could now see why she was temping rather than working full-time.

The linked story and my episode reflect what I see is going to be a problem in the coming decades. Younger workers coming into the workforce want to make an impact, an immediate impact and they feel they have the smarts and the know-how to make changes. Younger, millenial kids, workers want to take charge and they may be used to that power.
Millennials aren't interested in the financial success that drove the boomers or the independence that has marked the gen-Xers, but in careers that are personalized. They want educational opportunities in China and a chance to work in their companies' R&D departments for six months. "They have no expectation that the first place they work will at all be related to their career, so they're willing to move around until they find a place that suits them," says Dan Rasmus, who runs a workplace think tank for Microsoft. Thanks to their overinvolved boomer parents, this cohort has been coddled and pumped up to believe they can achieve anything. Immersion in PCs, video games, email, the Internet, and cell phones for most of their lives has changed their thought patterns and may also have actually changed how their brains developed physiologically. These folks want feedback daily, not annually. And in case it's not obvious, millennials are fearless and blunt. If they think they know a better way, they'll tell you, regardless of your title.
The problem with this mindset is that millenials lack any sort of institutional knowledge. Perhaps their solution has been tried and it failed. Perhaps their idea runs counter to the carefully cultivated culture that has grown up in a company.

Why millenials may have the belief that they can accomplish anything, they lack the skills necessary to understand that for every success usually comes a number of failures and that failure is a part of life.
Cindy Pruitt, a professional development and recruiting manager with the national law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, shares with disbelief a recent incident in which one of the firm's summer associates broke down in her office after being told his structure on a recent memo was "a little too loose." "They're simply stunned when they get any kind of negative feedback," Pruitt says. "I practically had to walk him off the ledge."
That right there is the danger we face as we move forward in society. The millenial kids are used to an uninterrupted string of successes, sometimes bought through the influence of their over-involved parents, that will create a different set of incentives for the workplace. Failure was not a commonplace event in their lives and they can see no need to dwell on the skills associated with analyzing failures and learning lessons. But corporate America while certainly successful, has had far more failures that successes and it is only by learning from our failures that we can achieve greater success.

The story from FastCompany concludes with this story.
Although companywide initiatives are encouraging, it's the grassroots practices that reveal how individual leaders can truly energize their youngest employees. Sheila Gallagher, director of the restaurant segment of General Mills' bakeries and food-service division, knew last summer that she'd soon be hiring a batch of fresh college grads. So the 18-year veteran of the company rethought her management style. To address their desire for a lot of feedback, she decided she'd connect them with senior staff, including herself. When she hired Frank Brodie, 22, as a marketing associate, Gallagher made sure to devote time to building a relationship with him, and paired him with a sales manager to act as a mentor. Brodie also joined the company's "newcomers club," where General Mills' youngest employees can socialize with its oldest.

Her team was also prepared last September when Brodie, then a grizzled veteran of four weeks, sprang a surprise.

He'd had an idea to sell Totino's Pizza Rolls (a late-night snack he and his college buddies knew well) to restaurants that were trying to reach folks just like him. Huge opportunity, Brodie figured, and he'd backed it up by researching market data, prices, and emerging restaurant trends on his own time. While sitting in the audience at a four-day marketing and sales meeting, Brodie decided there was no better time to pitch his plan. Between sessions, he took the idea to Gallagher. "Our first reaction was, 'We've tried it before,'" she says.

But because Brodie had facts behind him and a new spin on an old idea, Gallagher opted to bend the rules and let him present the idea to the sales team so they could decide. The following morning, Brodie ran out to the supermarket, whipped up 200 pizza rolls, and made his pitch between tightly scheduled sessions. "General Mills is a fairly hierarchical organization," Gallagher admits. "But being flexible is really key. It ended up inspiring a lot of enthusiasm on the team." The sales managers are now actively pitching pizza rolls to fast-food chains and sub shops, and Brodie, still glowing from his triumph, has learned that when he does his homework, his ideas are respected regardless of his title. "That's what we want from employers," says Brodie. "A chance to learn, to be challenged, to be taken seriously."
But reading this vignette, one may think that Brodie came to success by chance, by just being a brash newcomer. But read carefully, Brodie, while he had a good idea, did his homework, he had facts and figures to back up his point, not simply an idea. My guess is that he succeeded in his opportunity because he did his homework, something the sales team could see. He was not just some brash kid with all idea and no substance. He had demonstrated that he did his homework.

Those are the millenial kids that will be listened to.

Book Report: Cheating Our Kids by Joe Williams

"We're never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy."
Seal, "Crazy"

If you are a parent with a child in the public education system, RUN, do not walk, to the bookstore or log on to Amazon.com right NOW and order Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education. To paraphrase Seal, our education system is never going to survive if parents don’t get a little crazy.

It is not often that you will find many education beat writers working today who will call a spade a spade. Joe Williams, a former education beat writer in Milwaukee and New York City, takes a premise, that the current public education system is more interested in the employment of adults and crafts a type of "how-to" guide for parents and in doing so calls a lot of spades, spades. Cheating Our Kids is a revealing look at all the interest groups in the education system and how their interests, which Williams admits are valid interests, are placed before the interests of the children in the system. Unless parents get, as Williams put it, crazy, the education system run by adults will continue to server adults first and kids last.

Every group you can imagine, from vendors such as textbook companies, philanthropic organizations, school management, politicians, and yes, the teachers unions is called forth and their motives examined. Williams dissects the cozy relationship between school management and textbook and educational software vendors, drawing a picture where the wining and dining of school officials often leads to the purchase of materials that will not help students learn. However, Williams does something a little refreshing—he doesn’t just blame the vendors. Afterall, according to Williams, "Vendors have a responsibility to their investors to sell as many products as possible. Period. The education of students is not a vendor's responsibility, and when administrators and elected officials make decisions about doing business with vendors for anything other than improving educational opportunities for children, public education fails kids once again."

Teachers unions and the Democratic Party get singled out for their all too close relationship. Williams admits that unions have a role in protecting the workplace rights of teacher and other school workers. However, Williams warns us that when push comes to shove, all the altruistic rhetoric from the unions about helping kids will get second, third or even lower priority for unions. Williams does not fault the unions for this mindset, after all, unions have their dues paying constituents, but we should not be deluded into thinking that just because unions say they are helping kids, doesn’t mean they are. Again, Williams faults school management for the failure to keep the educational needs of the kids in the front of their minds.

The Democratic Party scores very low in Williams’ book. Noting that the unions are massive voter turnout machines, and the Democrats need both the political foot soldiers and the money the unions are willing to spend on elections, the Democratic party will do or say nothing that will endanger that relationship, even if it means something better for kids. Williams spends several pages talking about the John Kerry campaign in 2004. Early in his bid, Kerry talked openly about teacher accountability and saying that you have to tie pay raises to increased accountability. The result of this statement, Kerry did not make the requisite stop at the NEA convention, a political right of passage for Democratic nominees. As a result, Kerry spent a great deal of time trying to placate the unions for his (for the unions) unpopular stance.

Williams doesn’t spare the rod for anyone. The Republican Party is praised for the No Child Left Behind Act and then chastised for very poor implementation and failure to take advantage of opportunities to enforce change. School management, even when done with the benevolent intentions, gets the short shrift often from Williams. Essentially, if you are an adult in the education system, Williams has called you out and laid a great deal of blame, in varying amounts, at your feet.

Cheating Our Kids is a fantastic guide for parents for dealing with the education establishment, but Williams fails to be more explicit about the helpfulness of the book in the parental crusade to take back their schools. The later chapters of the book describe in wonderful detail the effect of a group of committed people to effect a change in their local schools. But what is missing is the set-up early in the book that such a plan is coming. After having read the book, that little piece of information at the start of the book would have had me thinking along different lines while reading the meat of the piece.

Williams does do a great job with two case studies, one in the Milwaukee School Choice program victories and the second with the MOMs effort in the South Bronx. While these are fabulous case studies, a few more conclusions about why they were successful would have been helpful. Williams includes "12 Rules to Help Parents Take Back Their Schools" (republished below), which is supremely helpful and should be posted on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, the desk and the computer of each and every parent worried about the quality of their kids' education and the incompetence of the adults in the system.

Despite these few shortcomings, Williams' effort is a marvelous instruction manual for taking control of the public education system. Whether you support more school choice, as I do, or whether you just want to see a system improved overall, Williams points out the interests of the interest groups and with the knowledge of their biases, we as parents can view each word these groups say with a clearer understanding of their motivations. Parents, after all, are the ultimate consumers of education, as taxpayers and as surrogates for our kids. The power to effect change belongs not to the school administration, not the unions and certainly not to the politicians. It is ours and for far too long we have been kept in the dark by a system more intent of ensuring its own survival and not the education of our children. We must utilize the power we have, and with Williams’ help, get a little "crazy" and get the face of our school system.

12 Rules to Help Parents Take Back Their Public Schools

  1. Never, ever be ashamed of the fact that you want a good education for your child.
  2. If you don't blow the whistle on school problems, no one will.
  3. If parents want to be treated like customers, they must start acting like customers.
  4. Do your homework.
  5. Don't trust PTAs to do anything other than raising cold, hard cash.
  6. There's strength in numbers.
  7. If the facts are on your side, share them with the world.
  8. Fight for transparency throughout the system.
  9. If an administrator tells you something can't be done, assume they are wrong and plow forward.
  10. Remember that school politics revolves around money.
  11. If you've tried steps 1 through 10, and you kids aren't a priority, it's time you demand your tax money back.
  12. Be a part of the political process.
Source: Cheating Our Kids, pg. 217.

Missing in Action

Sorry for the long delay in getting posting done. I have the bar exam this week and I have been studying. To prevent myself from spending too much time online blogging instead of studying, I decided not to log on for most of the past week. Today is a light day studying so, I will look like I am quite prolific today. But I just have a lot of mental stuff to clear out of my head.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Chertoff defends DHS's dual role

Ah!! the problmes of modern governing. You can't satisfy anyone. If DHS spends effort on improving FEMA for natural disasters, the next time a terrorist attacks the U.S. critics will say they didn't spend enough time trying to prevent that attacks.

Tip to all critics--government is about choosing. Choosing priorities is the most difficult task, afterall, the government does not have unlimited funds, despite its actions which would belie that statement.

Chertoff defends DHS's dual role

Cuts send ed-tech programs reeling

eSchool News online reports that the Bush Administration's budget proposal cuts a big chunk of change from technology programs for schools.

While I have not studied the Bush budget to any real degree, it strikes me as funny that groups that argue that the federal government is getting too involved in education, now complain when the Federal government cuts the purse strings. It is only through the spending power of Congress that the federal government has any way of enforcing educaiton policy on the states.

Pick a side and stick with. Either you want the federal money, in which case you must play by Congress's political rules, or your don't want the money. But you can't complain when the government cuts funding if you want the money with no strings attached.

Largess Preceded Md. Vote on Wal-Mart

Once again, the Washington Post demonstrates an degree of incredulity about how lobbying on high profile issues work. At least the Post was on the proper side of this issue, calling the Wal-Mart vote a "legislative mugging" in an editorial.

Largess Preceded Md. Vote on Wal-Mart

Felon Voting Rights in Maryland

Here is an issue upon which I am torn, unlike many of my colleagues on the right. When, if ever, should a convicted felon have his voting rights restored? The Washington Times opines on an on-going effort related to voting rights in Maryland.
Under current Maryland law, nonviolent first-time felons can vote after a three-year waiting period, among other restrictions. But state law prohibits felons twice convicted of violent crimes, such as rape and murder, from voting. [Delegate Salima Siler] Marriott's bill -- House Bill 603, which has 37 cosponsors, all Democrats -- would end these restrictions. (It needs 71 votes to pass the House.) Doing so is worthwhile because it would "restore some amount of dignity" to the newly freed felons, state Democratic Party Executive Director Derek Walker explained to S.A. Miller of The Washington Times.
Generally, if a person has served their time, in my book they have paid their debt and should be restored to full citizenship (which is why one part of me has a problem with sex offender registration--the other part of me is a father and therefore not rational by definition on this matter). But I can see exceptions for repeat, violent offenders, even repeat non-violent offenders since they have demonstrated throught their actions a disdain for society and therefore should not be accorded society's rights and privileges.

This is a tough question. Of course, the blatantly partisan purposes behind this bill also just gall me as well. Now, I don't know if giving felons the right to vote immediately after release is going to increase the turnout among a class of individuals who are probably not inclined to vote anyway, but it will among the so-called "rights" groups.

On a slightly different note, it appears as thought the Democrats in MD are imploding on a grand scale. They have demonstrated an ability to irritate a large segment of the population by not allowing a referendum on a gay marriage ban amendment. Now they are taking a somewhat controversial public stand on an issue that most people simply don't care about. At this point, they seem intent to hand the election to the GOP. As the Times editors note:
Maryland Democrats these days have a serious political problem called political competition. Four years ago, voters elected a Republican governor for the first time since 1966, and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele this year has a fighting chance to win the seat held for three decades by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes. So the Democrats, led by Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, chairman of Baltimore's delegation, and Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman have apparently decided that in order to recapture the governorship and remain the dominant party in Maryland, they may need the votes of murderers, robbers and rapists.

Makes you wonder.

BREITBART.COM - Audits Show Millions in Katrina Aid Wasted

Via Breitbart
Given the incompetence demonstrated by FEMA and DHS during the Katrina landfall and aftermath, this simple seems like a non-starter as far as news. However, all taxpayers should be interested in the Audits.

At a time when governments spend money like it doesn't exist, it seems to me that more audits need to be done and better accounting rules put in place, not unlike those for corporations.

BREITBART.COM - Audits Show Millions in Katrina Aid Wasted

Lawsuit filed to block DC Charter School

I wonder who is funding this lawsuit in Washington DC?

If I were a betting man, or rather if this were the subject of a reliable, bet, I would put my money on either the teacher's union or the school board itself, neither entity has been particularly supportive of charter schools, despite their popularity among the citizenry.

The Washington Times Editorial Board writes:
The fact of the matter is that the lawsuit filed by these Capitol Hill residents poses a potential threat to charter schools throughout the country. And what the residents are asking of Apple Tree outside of the lawsuit -- to seek an exemption from the zoning board -- would set a bad precedent.

In the District as elsewhere, parents and other advocates of school choice fought the long good fight to establish public charter schools as academic alternatives to large, violent and underachieving urban schools. In some states, parents are still battling the status quo. All Apple Tree wants to do is open a preschool for 50 or so children. The notion that doing that in a residential neighborhood would cause "irreparable" harm simply does not have sturdy legal legs. Neighborhoods and schools -- especially schools for preschoolers and grade schoolers -- have always been perfect partners. That's precisely why they are called neighborhood schools.
Here's what is a little funny about this suit. If the DC School Board had declined to build a public school in the neighborhood, you can bet they would have been sued for not building neighborhood school.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Wear your Lifevest, Says MD Legislature, or You'll Be Sorry

Here is something that kind of makes me ashamed to be a Marylander.

The Nanny State Comes to the Chesapeake by Trevor Bothwell

I am a good swimmer, and despite the fact that I don't own a boat, regularly boat or have any plans to boat in the near future, this just strikes me as plain dumb. Given all the other stuff going on, why can the Maryland legislature work on real matters--like education or making the state a little more business friendly? The problem is, that this bill has a good chance of passing.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Democrats Dropping PAC Head

From Roll Call ($ required): Democrats Dropping PAC Head

Here is an excerpt:
As they continue to push ethics reform as a centerpiece of their 2006 agenda, three top Senate Democrats are moving to clean up their own houses by cutting ties to a lobbyist serving as treasurer of their leadership political action committees.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) are cutting ties to longtime appropriations lobbyist William Oldaker, who has served as treasurer for their leadership PACs.
Fine, if that is what they want to do and no doubt Oldaker understands and I would be that he is not hurting for business. But in light of my recent post and comments by The Skeptic, perhaps firing an expert who manages your PACs may not be the wisest idea.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, according to the report, are making the move to remove lobbyists from the management of their PAC. What is interesting is that the activity is in no way illegal.

In the modern climate we have moved sharply away from actual impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety to people make an effort to avoid the potential appearance of a potential impropriety, something like three or four steps from actual illegal activity. I can understand the motive, but lawmakers and lobbyists are now living in fear of gotcha journalists finding out that that people who perform services for them are lobbyists. What's next?

Will Senators and Congressmen start pulling their kids and grandkids off of soccer and baseball teams because their kids played in some tournament against the best friend of a kid of a lobbyist? That is what we are talking about here, four or five steps away from something illegal.

Will we next expect our lawmakers to be automatons, living in a world of isolation from any information or contact beyond each other (not a wise move) or their families(sucks for the families already suffering from separation from their loved one). I am sure this climate too shall pass, probably with some really stupid legislation sure to draw a constitutional challenge but yeilding no real change for the better.

Boehner Rents Apartment Owned by Lobbyist in D.C.

Man, is the press going after Boehner or what. While this arrangement does look good, my guess is that everything is on the up and up.

How many other lawmakers have similar rent arrangements with lobbyists who own houses or apartments? My guess, it is more than just Boehner.

Has it really come to the point where we feel the need to look at absolutely everything about a lawmaker's life. This is simply going too far over the line by the Post.

Boehner Rents Apartment Owned by Lobbyist in D.C.

Watch Your Treasurers!

Or so says The Skeptic. I tend to agree as well.

Allison points to a story about how political committees, particularly candidate committees, are subject to embezzlement. The story from the Austin American Statesman points out that newly elected House Majority Leader John Boehner has over $600,000 stolen by an entrusted employee from his political committee over the course of 10 years.

Stories like these are not uncommon. Boehner's was the biggest that I have pesonally read about, but there are others as noted by the story. What I always find interesting when I see cases like this is how easy it is to prevent. It is quite simple, the person who is cutting the checks should NOT be the person who is reconciling the bank account (balancing the check book--assuming of course that happens) and preparing the FEC reports. To be really careful also doesn't take much, make sure the person who is preparing the chekcs can't sign the checks!!

I know that campaigns are staffed largely with volunteers, but when it comes to money management, you can't use a volunteer and you must regularly conduct audits of your books. I personally, in my work, conducted about two dozen audits. Generally, these audits are pretty clean, just a little bit of money missing if at all, and usually the result of obvious clerical errors or typos. But I have been involved in investigating several cases of embezzlement, some of which were quite significant.

Allison also points out that the foldks at RAD (that's Reports Analysis Division for the FEC un-initiated) are pretty good at seeing errors and they are. But in the biggest case of embezzlement I personally worked on, involving a little over $180,000 in two years, the FEC reports were perfect. There was no way to discover the fraud from the FEC reports. In fact without the bank records, there was no way to tell from the PAC records and database that something was amiss. (It turns out the thief, who had a solid knowledge of the workings of the database, was falsifying the database records.) Thus the very capable RAD Analysts would have had no way of knowing what the problem was. (Want to know how the thief was caught? He forgot to respond to RAD inquiries for additional information on unrelated matters--that tends to tick the FEC off quite a bit).

FEC audits themselves rarely find serious financial problems. Usually it is recordkeeping that gets committees in trouble. Unions in particular are very bad about keeping records of payroll deduction authorization forms. But if you read through the audit reports available on the FEC website (see the Press Release section--it is easier to navigate) you will almost always see some sort of record-keeping problem or failure to account for debts and loans properly.

Allison is right about the fact that it would be far better to contact someone who has actually prepared and/or counsels clients about the preparation of FEC reports. They could call me, I have prepared somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 FEC reports in my career and probably another 1000 state campaign finance reports. Having done all this work, I can tell you this:

It is easy to make a mistake on a FEC report, it is easy to overlook a mistake and it is surprisingly easy to correct it. But except for a few people outside of RAD at the FEC, I would wager that many people at the FEC, including the folks in the General Counsel's Office (of which Lawrence Noble was once the head), have never seen an FEC report let alone now how to complete one. Preparing an FEC report usually means managing a database of some sort and that in and of itself takes skill.

Finally, I would like to defend the treasurers out there. Usually the treasurer of a campaign is a friend or the accountant of the candidate and is often unprepared for the work. Much of the day to day work is done by someone else, usually unsupervised. This does not absolve the Treasurer of her responsibility since she is legally responsible, but it is understandable. It is situations like these that make me wonder why candidates, particularly on the level of Boehner, don't hire experts to handle their books. I and my company are available (shamelss plug) for reasonable fees and I can fill out a report and make damn sure that money going in and out is properly accounted for.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Teacher Training in NYC

From Jenny D. comes this story about a New York City plan to train teachers.

From the description and Jenny's comments, it would appear as though this program is in line with what I have been advocating in relation to the education of future teachers, a stringent course of study about teaching.

Civil Rights Standard Bearer

With the passing of Coretta Scott King, comes a question posed by the morning crew at 630 WMAL in Washington, DC. Who will be the next leader of the civil rights movement?

This of course assumes that Coretta Scott King was the last leader, a fact I don't dispute, but I wonder if she would have considered herself in that role.

No matter, the question is real. One leg of the discussion presented by one of the hosts is that there is no longer a civil rights movement of the kind we have come to identify with the middle part of the 20th Century. This interesting hypothesis is supported by some evidence, particuarly that blacks have become a bit more politically diverse, at least there is trend in that direction.

So the question becomes, will anyone be able to claim the mantle of civil right leaders? Could it be Harld Ford Jr., Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, Jr., or some one else given that these three men are elected officials? Can a broad population like African Americans be lead by a single leader?

OpinionJournal - Extra

If the Instapundit likes this guy, perhaps the Dems should consider him as a candidate, along with former Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

Carnival of Education: Week 53 Now Open

Go Check out the Carnival of Education hosted by The Education Wonks.

Be sure to read the posts by Henry Cate about reading, Mr. Lawrence about civilzed behavior, and Kimberly at No. 2 Pencil for a quick laugh.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete

Over the weekend, in the Washington Post Outlook (Op-Ed) section, came this indictment of the Winter Olympics: Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete.

While it is easy to say this, but the Winter Olympics, unlike many competitions in the Summer Games is a sport classification needing--cold weather, snow and ice. The last time I checked, there is not a lot of that in most countries in the world, so naturally those countries with a long history of winter sports will dominate the Winter Olympics. That is no reason to denigrate the games.

Additionally, the Winter games is much more equipment dependent than the summer games. Bobsleds, skis, snowboards, ice skates, all cost money, sometimes significant sums of money. That is not to say that other countries can't afford those costs, but rather are young athletes from warm climates willing to move away from home (at considerable expense) and train for years on their own dime to develope expertise in winters sports. If so, you have the makings of a winter athlete.

The Carnival of Homeschooling: Week 6

Check out the Carnival of Homeschooling.

For a young carnival, the initiators Henry and Janine Cate have done a fabulous job publicizing it and populating it with wonderful posts. On the plus side, they are fabulously creative in their compilation themes. I love the sign posts this week.

Specter Blasts Comment by Reid

Will everything be tied to how much lobbying money was spent? Apparently, Democrats can't resist tieing any bill to the lobbying money spent, but this is a tactic sure to backfire. Lobbyists and lobbying organziations spend a lot of time lobbying Democrats too. This recent effort by Democrats to tie everything to the Abramoff scandal and the lobbying reform movement is just bad politics and really bad leadership because no member of Congress is immune from lobbying, nor should they be.

From the Roll Call story:
During a floor speech Monday afternoon, Reid vowed to defeat the asbestos legislation and, in an effort to tie it to the current lobbying and ethics scandals, argued that the Senate was considering the bill only because 13 "companies spent $144.5 million in two years lobbying to get it here."
Specter was right to blast Reid for this statement.

Jindal Aims to Make Blanco Another Katrina Casualty

Jindal Aims to Make Blanco Another Katrina Casualty

Health Savings Accounts--Doomed to failure?

President Bush prominently mentioned Health Savings accounts in his State of the Union and the Washington Post reports on additional adminstration efforts.

Of late, I have spoken a couple of times on health insurance, or rather the lack thereof, among a very significant portion of our population. I always favor market driven approaches to solving problems rather governmental regulation. Having said that while HSA are a good option to have on the table, they will not provide much alternative for most people.

While 45 million Americans without health insurance is a real problem, the biggest problem in health care is cost--plain and simple. Cost, as any student of basic economics will tell you, is a function of supply and demand. While America is blessed with more doctors per person than any other nation, we also use health care at an unbelievable rate. It is the utilization of health care services that drives up cost, because we demand more health care and thus health care providers charge us more because they can and we continue to pay.

The second part is the hidden cost of health care. Ask the average American how much it costs to go to the doctor. You will almost certainly get an answer in the $5 to $20 dollar range. In fact, that is only the co-pay. The average doctor visit, for 6-10 minutes with the actual doctor, hovers around $75, which means that between $55 and $70 is picked up by the insurance company, but most people never see that--only their co-pay.

Insurance is simply the process of spreading the risk of cost around to a large group of people. Health insurance use the risk spreading function to dilute the impact of large health care costs to a large number of enrollees, with those who are health subsidizing the care of those who are not. In the past, the model worked well because people usually went to the doctor once or twice a year for a check-up and then anytime they were sick.

Today, we as a nation go to the doctor far more often. Even those people who are generally healthy visit the doctor much more frequently. This demand for services means that insurance companies have to pay more $55-$70 checks and larger fees for prescriptions than had been the case 30 years ago. The healthy are no longer subsidizing the care for the sick, but are utilizing more of the money they pay into the insurance pool than ever before. Thus the funding needed by an insurance company increases since they must have a statutorily defined pool of money from which to pay claims. The more people drawing from that pool of funds, the more they have to charge people to keep the fund replenished. Thus you have a never ending spiral upward.

Controlling costs means that we must control the demand. Controlling supply has not helped since we graduate more and more doctors each year. But controlling demand seems unlikely, because we as Americans have become accustomed to getting our health care for practically no out of pocket costs.

Here is my solution and it is very simple--stop the practice of insurance companies paying doctors directly.

Everytime you go to a doctor under my plan, you pay the full price of the visit and then get re-imbursement from the insurance company. This process does a couple of things. First, the individual consumer sees, real time and in real terms, the cost of each doctor's visit. Second, there are transactional costs involved with getting re-imbursement from the insurance companies, like filling out forms and submitting receipts. While insurance companies cannot build walls to prevent claims, the fact that the consumer must deal with the insurance company makes it apparent the effort that goes into each and every visit to the doctor.

I am not suggesting that all medical bills be paid this way. Hospital stays, for example, could still be paid directly. My hypothesis under this plan would be a quick drop in the number of doctor's visits, thus significantly lowering the cost of health care, without any other significant changes to the delivery of health care services.

Advanced Math in Demand

Yesterday's Washington Post has an article on the expanding demand for higher level mathematics courses in high school.
Students are pushing the boundaries of math in high school because of a corresponding surge in high school-level math in middle schools. Driving the trend is a conviction that algebra, long the exclusive province of high schools and colleges, is a fundamental pre-collegiate skill that should be taught as soon as students are ready to learn it. Students with a flicker of math talent are taking the high school Algebra I course in eighth grade, if not before. Starting with the Class of 2009, Marylanders must pass an algebra test to exit high school. Virginia requires algebra to graduate; the District does not.

I took Algebra in the 8th grade, more than 20 years ago (man do I feel old writing that). In many respects I think I was ready for Algebra earlier. However, I took no math beyond calculus in high school because nothing else was offered. It is good to see more demand. However, I have to dispute the whole headline. Just because students are taking higher level mathematics doesn't mean they are calculating beyond their years, but simply demanding something that challenges them. (looks good on the old college application too!!)

On a slightly different matter, the photo accompanying this article prominently shows two young women, a great visual to remind us that women can handle higher order math. With other role models like Danica McKellar(you know, Winnie from the Wonder Years) who is not only an actress but a mathematician (majored in the subject at UCLA), it would be good to see more women in math and engineering majors. Her website includes a link for mathematics and it not just about her acting career.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Invasion of Denmark, Norway--What response?

Hat Tip to Captain Ed.

There have been a number of stories today about the surprisingly well organized "spontaneous" demonstration against the Danes and their Mohommned Mocking Cartoons. Ed Morrisey notes, regarding the "Demostration" in Lebanon yesterday:
This demonstration and the arson at the Danish embassy was nothing more than tourist-style outrage on behalf of radical Islamists. They have no real street following; instead, they have to bus their people into the area in order to get any attendace whatsoever, and their swath of destruction got as much planning as a three-star tour of the Holy Land. The only aspect missing was the color brochures and the timetables.
This is the third burning of a Scandanavian embassy, including two Danish and one Norwegian embassy.

What I am wondering is, why are not these acitons being viewed as actual acts of war? An embassy is the sovereign soil of the nation and any incursion should be treated in the same manner as if an army stormed Copenhagen or Oslo. Where is the outrage on that. Granted, the Danes and Norwegians are not exactly military powerhouses, but please.

The world needs to wake up on this score. The war on terrorism knows no boundaries, understands no limitations and does not absolve any country from being a target. When these animals storm an embassy, in an apparently pre-meditated manner, we cannot look at this as a Dane-terrorist problem, but a problem for all peace-loving nations. Respect for soverignty of nations does not go one-way. Terrorists cannot claim a mantle of saying we, the west, are interlopers in their world and should leave when at the same time the invade other nations.

Teacher's Unions

My last post regarding the professionalization of teachers has been pointed out to me, by my wife, as a broad over-generlization because I don't like teachers unions. My wife is trained as a journalist and thus tends to try to look at both sides of an issues. I am not a journalist and I have an agenda, one which I think anyone who has ever read this blog knows. To be honest, I am not a big fan of the unions, not because I don't think they are bad as a whole, but because the teachers unions get involved in matters beyond advocating for teachers.

If you want a good idea why, please go visit the Educaiton Intelligence Agency where Mike Antonucci has great coverage of union activity, including summaries of the NEA convention, where a lot of politics is discussed, but usually not in light of the duty of the teachers unions--that of advocating for workplace protections for teachers.

The unions play hard ball when it comes to politics and that is fine, I am a big boy and believe that politics is a hard ball game. However, I am willing to play hard ball as well. I think one of the biggest hurdles to treating teachers like professionals is the union itself. Despite its pledges and publicly stated desire to have teachers paid according to the role and status they hold in our society, the union is amazingly change adverse. The union leadership wants to be a player in local and national politics, thus it is far easier to pay lip service to actual professionalization rather than taking steps to demonstrate a desire for professionalism among its members.

For years, the union has been talking a big game about professionalism. If you want to be treated as a professional organization, act as a professional organization.

Shocking News: Boehner Contributed Money to Republican Candidates!!!!

This story from the Columbus Dispatch makes it seem like new Republican Majority Leader John Boehner somehow "bought his election." The fact that Boehner raises and distributes funds to House members and Republican challengers is nothing new and perfectly legal.

In fact, Boehner's resurgence to power rests largely on his willingness to help members and challengers raise funds for their own re-election. Boehner has been patient in building a support based among the GOP Conference. The pay-off is his election.

Intersting, the story quotes "analysts":
While Boehner gave away campaign cash as part of an effort to curry internal House GOP favor, he wasn’t doing anything different than other Republicans and Democrats seeking party leadership posts, analysts say.
The report notes that Boehner gave out $181,000 in campaign contributions in December. Fine, but Blunt gave out $106,000.
Boehner long has been a prolific contributor to fellow Republicans: from his mid-1990s stint as House Republican Conference chair to his recent chairmanship of the House Education Committee, during which he hoped to return to a top GOP post.

Boehner has contributed $3.27 million to fellow Republicans and their causes since 1996 from his leadership political-action committee, according to figures compiled for The Dispatch by Dwight L. Morris and Associates, a campaign-finance tracking company. In the 2004 election cycle alone, Boehner gave away more than $768,000.

Meanwhile, the top House Democrat, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, gave away tons of campaign cash before she was elected to her post in November 2002. During the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, her leadership committee handed out more than $2 million, according to Morris and Associates figures.

That’s why lawmakers set up leadership political-action committees, Dwight Morris said. "They are power-building mechanisms within the institution."
Finally, on a completely unrelated note, the story notes: Boehner
will make $180,000 a year in the new post, about $18,000 more than the base congressional salary.
Congressional leaders have always made more than base salary, in part because of their additional leadership duties. Why was this inserted into the story? What point does it make?