Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mark Green Told to Divest PAC Funds in Wisconsin

Republican Wisconsin Gubernatorial candidate Mark Green has been ordered by the Board of Elections to disgorge some serious money, an estimated $480,000, he converted from his federal campaign (he is a member of Congress) to his campaign for governor in January 2005. Green has 10 days to comply with the order.

At issue is an emergency rule the State Elections Board promulgated in January 2005 prohibiting the transfers of money from a federal campaign to a state campaign. The a committee of the state legislature then suspended the rule, introduced legislation that contradicts the rule and then failed to get that legislation passed by the time the legislative term ended in July of this year. The question then becomes what is the effective date of the rule prohibiting the conversion of federal funds to a state campaign.

The State Elections Board said February 2005 is the answer and the result is that only one candidate in Wicsonsin, Mark Green, who is leading in the race, is affected. The Elections Board own attorney, George Dunst argued that such an application is fundamentally unfair, but admitted he lacked any precedent or authority to justify his feeling.

Green's campaign manager, Mark Graul, had this to say about the ruling:
Today's decision is emblematic of the corruption that has invaded state government under Jim Doyle. Under Jim Doyle government decisions are made to benefit his campaign interests - while the taxpayers get the short end of the stick.

Jim Doyle's allies on the State Election Board defied their own attorney's legal advice, state law and basic principles of fairness in their effort to help the struggling campaign of Governor Doyle. The Election's Board action is literally trying to change 25 years of rules two months before Election Day - to affect only Mark Green.
Meanwhile, the ruling appears to fly in the face of previous Board precedent. This from the Wisconsin GOP: In 2002, the State Elections Board unanimously allowed Democrat Tom Barrett to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in PAC money to his state account. The fact that they have singled out Mark Green and not demanded that Tom Barrett return his cash shows how vindictive Doyle's appointees to the Elections Board has become.

Mark Green has followed the letter of the law that has been in place since 1977.

Wisconsin Senator Mike Ellis (R)issued this statement:
"Mark Green did nothing wrong," Ellis said. "He was treated unfairly by a partisan decision in the middle of a partisan election."

"The fact is, Mark Green conducted all his affairs legally according to the relevant laws that were in effect at the time," said Ellis. "The Board’s own legal analysis prepared by its nonpartisan legal counsel says as much. Instead, acting along partisan lines, the Board in effect overruled its own counsel to make this decision."
The decision is likely to be appealed by Green.

This incident clearly illustrates the current trend of using campaign finance complaints and regulatory agencies for offensive purposes. Green's campaign is now tainted with the idea that he somehow violated the law, when in fact he did not. In order to clear the matter up, Green will have to spend time and money on a legal challenge to a ruling that is essentially an ex post facto law that applies only to him.

I am not fully familiar with Wisconsin campaign finance law, but the quick research I have done on the matter points to a very timely reversal for Gov. Jim Doyle. Previous federal candidates had been allowed to convert their funds as Green had done. Nor were the funds Green converted, particularly the PAC funds at issue (which are limited under Wisconsin law), in violation of the law according to Elections Board counsel George Dunst. Dunst, clearly outlines the problem in his brief to the Board:
The legislature, by not acting on the suspended rule, has done both campaigns a disservice. By not repealing the rule, the legislature effectively lent its imprimatur to a rule that says that Congressman Green should not have had the benefit of contributions he could not have taken under Wisconsin law (estimated to be in the $400,000 - $500,000 range), thereby casting an onus on the Congressman’s expenditure of that money; while at the same time, by its inaction, the legislature countenanced the expenditure of that very same money during the period of suspension thereby denying Governor Doyle’s campaign the benefit of the rule that the legislature’s inaction allowed to go into effect.
The fact that the State Board of Elections wished to change the law is, of itself, not a problem, but changing the rules this close to the election, after the money has been spent and the previous law on the books followed, smacks not of good regulation, but of politics.

Given that the ruling occured yesterday, it seems likely that a petition for an injunction will be filed today.

Ann Althouse notes the furious spinning by both camps.
Lots of Links to various statements here.
Press coverage here, here, here, and lots more here.
Teegan Goddard and RedState also weigh in.

Update

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Democrats Racial Problems in Maryland

Redstate has a great assessment of the Maryland Senate race, including the issue of blacks and the Democratic party. Although Ben Cardin (a white candidate) is leading the Democratic primary, which will take place on Sept. 12, and Kweisi Mfume (a black canddiate) is gaining on the heels of some good press and a spoiler by the free spending Josh Rales is not without possibility.

But the real issue for the Democratic primary, with severe fallout consequences for the party either way, comes in the relationship between the party and black voters:
So if Cardin wins, [presumptive GOP nominee, Lt. Gov. Micheal] Steele will emphasize Simmons' endorsement. He will focus on exploiting the fact that Democrats continue to rely on a supermajority of black voters without considering black politicians vying for higher office. Specifically, many in the black community noticed how top Democrats refrained from endorsing Mfume when he was the only candidate in the race. Those same leaders immediately swarmed to Cardin after his declaration. These actions are not without consequence.
The path seems much more clear for Steele no matter who wins the Democratic primary.

But there is one thing missing from the Redstate analysis. Steele is presenting himself as outside the partisan rancor and this is a good place to be in Maryland. Maryland's politics, long dominated by the Democratic party, are on the verge of a shift to the right. Not a big shift mind you, but enough that Steele can capitalize. Add to the fact that Steele has considerable in-roads among the sizeable black middle class in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, he could be sitting on an upset.

SAT Records Biggest Score Dip in 31 Years

The College Board released its report on the new SAT, which reports the biggest score drop in 31 years according to the Washington Post.

Some people will no doubt attribute the score drop to the longer length of the test, as did one student quoted in the Washington Post:
Anita Kinney, a Catholic University freshman who was one of nearly 1.5 million high school seniors who took the new SAT, said it was ridiculous to discount exhaustion. "The test is four hours long. Enough said," she said. "The members of the College Board obviously have not sat down and taken the new SAT."
On the contrary, I am sure the College Board tested the concept and made sure that fatigue would not contribute to a massive decline in scores. After all, there are a number of breaks in the test day. I am not prepared to accept the word of one student, or even a million students, who complain about the length of the exam. The College Board responded to such charges:
Research has shown that fatigue is not a factor. A College Board analysis of the performance of more than 700,000 test-takers on the critical reading and mathematics sections during the spring and fall 2005 SAT administrations showed no difference in student performance. There was no difference in either number of items correct or number of items omitted, between sections that appeared early in the test and sections that appeared later in the test.
That is what real statistics show.

So what caused the drop in scores? The College Board notes:
The most significant factor in the overall decline is mainly attributable to a change in student test-taking patterns, according to the College Board. The most notable change in test-taking behavior involved a decrease in retesting. Typically, students who take the test a second time see a 30-point increase on their combined score. Much of the score difference this year can be attributed to this decline in the number of students retaking the test and gaining the advantage of a score increase.
I tend to think that the new test causes people to either take the old test before implementation or wait a cycle to see what will happen with the test. Thus the decline in the number of test takers is likely to an aberration.

There is some good news:
Students for whom English is a second language increased 5 points in critical reading to 467 and 2 points in mathematics to 523. They scored 469 on the writing section. Although this is 28 points below the mean for all students, it is a smaller gap than these students experienced for critical reading. More ESL students took the SAT this year.

snip

African American and Mexican American critical reading scores, 434 and 454 respectively, improved over last year by one point each. American Indian mathematics scores improved by 1 point to 494 and Mexican American mathematics scores improved over last year by 2 points to 465.
But my concern about reading skills is coming home to roost:
The largest declines in critical reading were seen among White and Other Hispanic students, both down by 5 points to 527 and 458, respectively.

snip

Males experienced a greater score decline than females in critical reading across all ethnic groups. In addition, males outscored females in critical reading in all ethnic groups except for African American in which females scored 7 points higher than males.
While the reading section was altered to include longer passages and more questions related to those passages, I still don't think the change can be fully attributed to changes in format. The College Board no doubt did some significant testing of the new exam to ensure consistency in these areas, so a majority of the decline has to be a loss of skill over time.

I am very troubled by these results and I do hope they are an aberration, but I am not convinced.

Be sure to check out some of the facts at a glance on teh College Board's Website, like this one:
Forty-three percent of 2006 college-bound seniors reported grade averages of A+, A, or A-. Ten years ago, the figure was 36 percent, and in 1987, the first year these data were collected in the same manner, the figure was 27 percent. This year's average grade point average was 3.33, compared with an average GPA of 3.21 in 1996 and 3.07 in 1987.
Hmm--makes you wonder about grade inflation (both by the schools and the students) and the value of a grade point average as a determinant of success on the SAT. If seven percent of students have a better GPA, why are scores going down?

Millionaire's Amendment Ruling

Yesterday, the Federal Election Commission approved anAdvisory Opinion for Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who is seeking permission to treat the personal contributions made by a Republican candidate in the Republican Primary as triggering the Millionaire's Amendment provisions allowing her to raise money under increased limits. Cantwell's Advisory Opinion Request states that she
anticipates that Mr. McGavick will spend a sginificant amount of person funds to fun public communications attacking Senator Cantwell...[and] that Mr. McGavick's expenditures for communications attacking Senator Cantwell will be made prior to the September 19 primary, in an effort to prevent Senator Cantwell from gainin eligibility to the increased contribution limits available under the Millionaire's Amendment.
Cantwell then asks the FEC whether or not McGavick's expenditures from personal funds before the primary attacking Cantwell will qualify him as an opponent and also whether or not McGavick's personal contributions, when and if he transfers them to the general election, would count toward the rules for triggering the Millionaire's Amendment.

The FEC is prepared to say No the first question and yes to the second. The heart of the reasoning for denying Cantwell's ability to raise additonal funds under the Millionaire's Amendment now is that McGavick is not her opponent now, prior to the September 19 primary.
These provisions of the Millionaires' Amendment are triggered by expenditures from person funds made by an "opposing candidate." See 2 U.S.C. 441a(i)(1)(C) and (D); see also 68 Fed. Reg. at 3976. Although the Act does not define the phrase "opposing candidate," Commission regulations define "opposing candidate" separately for primary election cycles and general election cycles, consistent with the Act's application of the Millionaires' Amendment separately to each election cycle. (footnote omitted).
This is of course the proper ruling.

But there is some extreme hypocrisy in this particular case. Cantwell is a freshman Senator facing her first re-election. In order to get elected in 2000 she defeated incumbent Slade Gorton, in which she spent freely of her own money to get elected, all prior to the passage of the Millionaire's Amendment. According to Cantwell's disclosure report at the end of the 2000 Election Cantwell contributed or loaned her campaign over $11 million, $6.525 million in direct contributions and $3.37 million in loans.

Now, Cantwell, who is still quite wealthy personally, is like most candidates, in that she compiled an impressive bank roll during her term in the Senate. According to her most recent campaign finance report, in July of this year, Cantwell had $8.43 million dollars cash on hand available. Her pre-primary report will be due September 7 and I would expect a healthy fundraising report as well. Interestingly, Cantwell has loaned her campaign no money at all in this election, although she has loaned the campaign some $5.4 million.

The fact that Cantwell is seeking to take advantage of the current law is not surprising and that fact that such an approach is hypocritical is also not surprising. Incumbents have a great ability to raise funds while in office, an option not available to most challengers like McGavick. While the hypocrisy is troublesome and irritating, it is not illegal.

I have long thought the Millionaires' Amendment to be largely unconstitutional, since it carries a two real equal protection problem in that canddiates in the same election are treated different for limits purposes. Additionally, the current law treats personal wealth and political wealth (that is the ability to raise large sums of money) differently--all in an attempt to be fair.

But if the foundation of campaign finance regulation is to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, I am not sure how the Millionaires' Amendment makes that happen. If a limit of $2,100 is needed to prevent corruption in regular cases, how do you reconcile the fact that under the Millionaires' Amendment, the limit can increase to $12,600 in some cases, and that is not corrupting?

Brad Smith has similar comments here.

The 82nd Carnival of Education

Lots of post to read and thoughts to be had (as well as a little theater education) at Thespis Journal, this week's host of the Carnival of Education.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Principal Signing Bonuses In Maryland: Incentive without Insurance

Baltimore Mayor and Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Martin O'Malley is proposing to pay signing bonues of $200,000 to get principals for the worst performing schools in Maryland. O'Malley's plan is certainly a bold one, but from the Washington Post story, there is no mention of accountability for the principals nor any other matters that will enable these well paid principals to succeed.

Attracting talented individuals to education has been a problem in the past and keeping them an even greater challenge. But this plan borders on financial and educational insansity without some additional measures. First and foremost the bonus cannot and should not be paid all in advance, but meted out over time as certain performance goals are reached. Those goals should include educational goals, i.e. getting kids an education. Educational goals should include getting teh schools off the needs improvement list, onto and staying on the path of meeting NCLB and other state requirements for learning improvement. Those should be the primary goals.

But there should also be other goals, such as teacher retention, financial improvement, improvements to the physical plant of the school, parental and community involvment schools. In short, if you are going to pay out this kind of money, and I am not saying that it is a bad idea to begin with, you need to have concrete, verifiable and hard goals to reach in all areas that a principal is supposed to do and lead. Othewise it is money down the tubes.

But goals are not the only thing this program will need. Principals hired under this program should demand, and should get, much more control than most principals currently have. But local school boards and teachers unions are unlikely to give up that kind of power. First and foremost, these principals should be fairly autonomous in the key areas of school management, namely the budgetary power and the staffing power.

Principals in these schools, recruited under these terms, would need to be able to spend their budget and contract for services in the manner they see as best, with adequate supervision of course. If a principal could save money on landscaping by contracting with a local business rather than using state services, so be it. The same could go for food and other maintenance services, so that the money saved could be used for more directly educational matters, such as teachers, books, supplies, computers, lab equipment, etc.

Local school administration may be willing to part with budgetary control, so long as there is adequate supervision, but the big ticket control item will be difficult, almost impossible, for O'Malley to obtain--the power of these principals to hire, fire, and incentivize teachers. If these principals are going to be expected to make over a troubled school, they will need to be able to find, hire, retain and pay high quality teachers, with years of experience and proven track records to teach the children. This power would include the ability to pay teachers bonuses, discipline teachers, and if necessary fire ineffective teachers. All of these matters are usually not within the power of a principal in a traditional public school due to union contracts.

Of course, assuming that principals hired under this program seek these features of control, what you will have is something that looks a lot like a charter school, a school in a troubled area, with a great deal of autonomy and accountability. How much you want to bet that it would work? But it probabl won't because few people in policy making circles will conceed the need for these well incentivized and well paid principals to be able to do more.

Teachers unions, traditionally big supporters of Democrats in Maryland, will balk at such control by the principal at the school level. This of course may be why O'Malley has not addressed these issues in his proposal so far. What is also politically interesting is that Baltimore schools, have traditionally been some of the poorest performing schools in Maryland, a fact the GOP Governor Bob Ehrlich will surely point out.

While the incentive of a $200,000 signing bonus for principals to work at the worst schools in Maryland is a bold, even audacious plan, without the insurance of performance goals or the tools for the principals to work with, this plan is simply throwing more money at education with little chance of improvement.

8/31/06 Update: The Quick and the Ed have similar thoughts as I do.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Advice for Evening Division Law Students

Alternatively titled: So You Want to Go to Law School but Don't Want To (or Can't) Give Up Your Day Job.

As the new school year begins and a number of evening division law students begin their academic career, I thought I might offer a few tidbits of advice, having been there, done that, got the T-Shirt and somehow passed the bar without losing my sanity or my wife in the process.

Get a Calendar and Use It. Evening division students generally are working a full-time jobs while going to school. This means that your life for the next four years is going to be one very large exercise in time management, so start managing your time. I used my laptop's Outlook calendar and printed sheets from it for everything, from work appointments, to class times, exam dates, family events, birthdays, etc. I used the task list to track reading assignments, paper deadlines, and all the stuff I had to do at work and at home. On the plus side, this hyper-scheduling has worked well in my professional life now, since leaving law school--although now I have a work issued Treo for the time management.

Study Time--Schedule and Stick To It. The biggest danger in law school for evening division law students is letting their studies overwhelm their work or their work to overwhelm their studies. It is a delicate balance (since you probably need the job) to maintain and will take some trial and error. The other possibility is the feeling that you aren't studying enough and therefore you overdo the studying, staying up later and later to get school work done. The inevitable result is exhaustion, which causes poor performance both at work and at school.

Go To Class!! This seems like a no brainer, but I have seen a lot of evening division students miss a great deal of class because of their work. Talk to your boss, make arrangements to be in class as much as humanly possible. Get a network of classmates who can cover you with notes if need be, and be sure to reciprocate for them. Nothing beats being in class though. Look at it this way, you are dropping thousands of dollars a year to be in class, make sure your money is spent wisely.

Sleep the Same Hours--Everyday. One thing that I found that helped me is that I went to bed and got up at the same time, everyday, even the weekends. I got 6.5 hours of sleep every night, from 11:30pm to 6:00am, which was enough for me (the Navy does a good job of training bodies and minds for less sleep). My body, by the end of the first semester was used to this schedule and it worked well for me. I rarely, if ever, felt tired. That left me with 17.5 hours of waking time to get everything done, including commuting, work and school. If you need more sleep, go to bed earlier or get up later. The temptation to sleep more on the weekends is great, but you can't bank sleep like you bank money, so don't try. While you can operate on less sleep for a short period of time, over the long haul it is bad for you health and bad for your grades.

Do Not Go Anywhere Without a Law Book. You never know when you might get 20 minutes to read. Face it, even day students get behind in their reading, there is simply so much of it to be done. As an evening division student, you will not have as much time, no matter what you do and even 10 minutes of reading can get you enough pages read that it can make a difference.

Special Advice For Students In a Relationship--Especially if You Are Married. Make a time deal. You are not going to have enough time for everything and you will need to schedule time with your significant other/family. The deal between me and my wife was this. Saturday was her day. I could study in the morning before she woke up and in the evening after she went to bed. The time she was awake was her time, she scheduled it and while I had some input, I was forbidden from studying during that day without her permission. This gave us a set time, every week, that we spent together. In hindsight, it probably saved our marriage. Your significant other is as much a participant in this process as you are, and they need to have you around also. You sacrifice a great deal of time and money upon the altar of law school, there is no need to sacrifice your relationship as well.

There is a lot more advice to give and there are a number of places with advice for first year students and even second year students.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Studies, Statistics, Spin and How to Get Around It

Hat Tip: The Carnival of Education

Dr. P has a great post on studies, statistics and spin:
stakeholders will selectively use data that bolsters their theory and suppress other data that doesn’t.
Of course, having spent nearly a decade in politics and public policy, such spin of studies doesn't suprise me at all. But what bothers me, and Dr. P., is that data from public institutions, about public employees, is not made available. This carries profound implications when dealing with teachers, schools and other matters that are public services, paid for with public dollars. As Dr. P. noted in his experience:
One of the repeating themes of my posts is the plea to make as much data public as possible. For example, state boards of education and state colleges and universities have a wealth of data on how prospective teacher candidates perform on their licensure exams. Examination of this data could help explain why some states can set cut-scores 30 points higher (on a 100 point test) than others. But since this data might also be embarrassing as well as revealing, it is not available.

When I was soliciting data from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for my investigations, it was made very clear that I could not have any disaggregated state level data. This restriction was a contractual obligation ETS had with the individual states that contracted for ETS’s services. Otherwise, ETS could hardly have been more gracious or cooperative.
Now, when dealing with state data like this, one can file a Freedom of Information Ac request and supposedly get such data free of personally identifiable information. So Dr. P. and others should be able to get data on the licensing exam scores of teachers on a statewide level, to see the pass rate, average and median scores, and other information they may find relevant. ETS may be contractually forbidden from disclosing the data, but the state is probably bound by law to give it up, if asked. So we as parents and advocates should be asking more frequently, and publishing more frequently, this kind of information.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Reading for Older Kids

Lost in the kerfluffle about standards, curricula, NCLB and proficiency, I wonder if we have lost sight of an important cohort of kids, ones who are more advanced in their educational careers, high school students. What have we taught them about reading? The more you read, the easier it becomes to see how words have an impact and how to make an impact with words. Why is that not a primary theme in education? Merely ensuring our students read at grade level, it not teaching them about reading, about the joys of the written word.

Most of the high school literature texts I have seen are little more than anthologies; excerpts of works that present no context, do little to engage the reader and even less to educate students on how to read various types of texts. Outside of English class students are expected to read various texts, but again, the texts do little to engage the reader since they tend to be a dry recitation of politically correct facts, with little context and not much in the way of narrative style.

We as a nation have spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money learning how to teach reading to youngsters. There have been copious, often contradictory, studies on how best to teach reading, whether, and which parents, read to their children and how it affects their skills later, what youngsters are reading, how they are reading it, and on and on. But I have never seen or heard of any research on how to engage older readers; students who are in high school and college where reading is one of the fundmental methods of transmitting knowledge and yet appears to be a forgotten and assumed skill; a skill that lacks any sort of passion behind, not matter what may motivate that passion.

Over the past week or so, I have been reading a book by Derek Bok called Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More. At the same time, over the weekend I read a Washington Post op-ed by Michael Skube entitled Writing Off Reading and another piece in Washington Monthly by Kevin Carey (of The Quick and the Ed)called "Is Our Students Learning?" All three pieces, at some point, call into question the quality of education at the collegiate level. As Skube wrote in relation to reading skills of his students at Elon College,
We were talking informally in class not long ago, 17 college sophomores and I, and on a whim I asked who some of their favorite writers are. The question hung in uneasy silence. At length, a voice in the rear hesitantly volunteered the name of . . . Dan Brown.

No other names were offered.

The author of "The DaVinci Code" was not just the best writer they could think of; he was the only writer they could think of.

In our better private universities and flagship state schools today, it's hard to find a student who graduated from high school with much lower than a 3.5 GPA, and not uncommon to find students whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher. They somehow got these suspect grades without having read much. Or if they did read, they've given it up. And it shows -- in their writing and even in their conversation.
But later Skube notes that many of the same top flight students who come to the nation's colleges lack the reading and writing skills of high schoolers.
As freshmen start showing up for classes this month, colleges will have a new influx of high school graduates with gilded GPAs, and it won't be long before one professor whispers to another: Did no one teach these kids basic English? The unhappy truth is that many students are hard-pressed to string together coherent sentences, to tell a pronoun from a preposition, even to distinguish between "then" and "than." Yet they got A's.

How does one explain the inability of college students to read or write at even a high school level? One explanation, which owes as much to the culture as to the schools, is that kids don't read for pleasure. And because they don't read, they are less able to navigate the language. If words are the coin of their thought, they're working with little more than pocket change.
So incoming students lack the necessary reading skills when entering college. But the students Skube spoke about were College Sophomores, who had at least one year of college education behind them and presumably a literature class previously or concurrently with Skube's class.

Bok's book takes to task the faculty and administrations of colleges for failing to understand the necessities of a collegiate education, including critical thinking skiils, the ability to write and speech effectively, the design of curricula both in general education and the majors. It might be easy to think Bok has some sort of political agenda, but his book focuses on systemic problems, problems that Skube points out. General education requirements do little to equip students with skills they need for lifetime learning--not just getting their degree. Reading, effectively and with purpose, is a skill that cannot be disregarded--yet we still don't have a clue how to engage those students who presumably know how to read, yet cannot speak with clarity, conviction or even proper grammar.

Finally, Carey points to the reason:
The higher-education sector is ultimately driven by the market. Colleges and universities will strive and compete on whatever terms the market provides. As long as status and success are predicated on building endowments and recruiting more students with high SAT scores, college leaders will continue to focus on fundraising, marketing, and little else. If, on the other hand, success meant teaching students effectively and helping them do well in their lives and careers, universities would change their priorities.
While it is true that collegs have little direct impact on the degree of preparation of their students when they enter college, they do have a direct role in those skills when they leave. If words are the coin of the intellectual realm, we are an impoverished nation indeed if our college students not only lack necessary reading and writing skills, but fail to understand the necessity of reading at all.

Education should not be just about facts, figures, analyses and tests. A truly quality education instills a thirst for knowledge, if not for all forms of knowledge, at least for some forms of knowledge, however specialized they may be. But one cannot escape the need to read and we should be instilling in our young people, of all ages, a love for the written word, a passion for reading--reading whatever, and reading quality works and words.

Brad Smith On Presidential Funding System

Brad Smith takes on the idea that public funding for presidential campaigns has been a good thing. In particular, he notes two rationales that have been posited for its "success:"
First, every major party candidate has taken the money, at least in the general election; and second, challengers have defeated incumbents in 3 of six tries under the system. But the first seems to us not a measure of success at all, any more than we might measure the success of welfare by the number of welfare recipients, rather than any benefits to those recipients or to society, or any more than we would argue that the proliferation of government earmarks must be a good thing, since there are so many of them.

snip

The second argument at least has a ring of merit. Campaign finance laws are often criticized as pro-incumbent (I have made that criticism), so the fact that challengers can beat incumbents under the tax financing system, while not necessarily a plus for the system (though it is a valid criticism if self-dealing campaign finance laws rig the system to make it more difficult for challengers to compete with incumbents, there is nothing inherently beneficial in having challengers beat incumbents), it would on the surface seem to at least refute a major criticism of the system.
Brad remains unconvinced, as do I, for some of the same reasons.

At the Presidential level, it is far more likely for a challenger to defeat and incumbent. First and foremost, as Brad points out, getting the message out is not a problem major party presidential candidates face. Second, whether a challenger wins the presidency or not is far more dependent upon factors other than the ability to raise money or not so campaign finance simply does not play a part.

But a different reason occurs to me, and the reason why public funding for all levels of federal offices is unlikely to work without a constitutional amendment. The Presidency is the only term limited office extant under the Constitution. Thus it is easier for people to imagine a different officeholder as no matter what there will be someone different in the Oval Office within 8 years. Thus I believe is becomes psychologically easier to change horses in mid-stream since everyone knows a change is coming and if accelerating the change makes their lot in life a little better, so be it.

So unless, the Constitution is changed to implement term limits for Representatives and Senators, a public financing scheme is unlikely to work at all.

This is not to say that I think any public financing scheme can work in the long run for federal offices. First and foremost, unless expenses for campaigning can be controlled, which is extraordinarily unlikely to happen since it would necessarily involve price controls, there is no way for the cost of campaigning to be limited to the point where public financing is available to all.

Second, public financing requires a significant bureaucracy to monitor the qualifications for funds, the doling out of money, the use of the money, and any repayment issues if necessary. Such mechanisms require a great deal more oversight of campaign activities than the current law requires, a prospect that may cause some trepidation among members of Congress. An expanded FEC is not high on the priority list of Congress and not likely to pass muster.

Third, and finally, the presidential public financing scheme is hopelessly out of date--a problem of all public financing. Such public programs are all but designed to stagnate and reflect not current trends and issues, but long dead ideals. The current scheme itself was a reaction to Watergate, a past event that, in and of itself, was decidedly illegal. Campaign finance regulations should be time-neutral or at least be less time related than other laws. But campaign finance rules are generally slow to change (look at how long it took to index personal contributions to inflation). The Presidential funding system is long out of date and should not be revived.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Worst Kind of Partisanship--Against Your Own

If you ever wanted more proof that Joe Lieberman is not welcome in the Democratic party, look no farther. Many Democrats, led by Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, Harry Reid, Chuck Shumer and others, have thown Lieberman under the bus.

The more this kind of crap happens, the more I want Lieberman to win and win big. This is the worst kind of partisanship possible, when a man who supports the party, carried the party's banner six years ago, but feels differently about one issue, the his party all but gives him the boot just chafes me.

The "my way or the highway" approach of the new Democratic party is not designed to win elections, it will only bring failure.

There are facts, and there are "facts"

In my fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, we have a saying, "Merely because a practice is prevelant may be the poorest reason for continuing it." When it comes to school reform, Brett is right on target.

Thanks for the reminder Brett.

The Problem of Bush v. Gore

Yesterday Bob Bauer posted a discussion of Bush v. Gore's precedential value in response to this New York Times piece by Adam Cohen, Has Bush v. Gore Become the Case That Must Not Be Named?Both peices are cast in the light of a case now pending for en banc review by the Sixth Circuit, Stewart v. Blackwell. The Stewart case, Bauer, and Cohen are questioning the importance of Bush v. Gore in election administration cases, but the questions extend beyong that narrow scope of election law.

Bauer notes:
Cohen seems right that Bush v. Gore holds unrealized potential; and if in the end, it is the affirmed ground of decision in cases like Stewart, then something will have been made of this potential. BVG will have become a BFD.

snip

it cannot be correct that equal protection applies to recounts and not to the original count. The logic of Bush v. Gore is inescapable: as reasoning about equal protection, applicable to the state’s treatment of voters, it is simply, as Cohen puts it, "right."

In the end, Bush v. Gore is, for all its potential, a burden, sinister in its effects, because the circumstances in which it was decided—and the clumsiness of its craftsmanship—have cast unjustified discredit on its reasoning. But the reasoning stands well on its own. The offspring should not have to pay for the sins of the parent.
I will fuly agree that the equal protection reasoning in the the BvG decision is, by far, the most important section, for precedential value, of the "clumsy" opinion. (While I am on the subject, Bauer seems to chide the Court for the clumsiness of an opinion in a case that ripened, was taken up, briefed, argued, decided and an opinion written in a matter of five weeks--far faster than the normal months-long deliberative process for most decisions of this import. Jeez, Bob--cut the Court a break!). But I digress.

One of the hallmarks of the decision was, as Cohen put it:
The majority opinion announced that the ruling was "limited to the present circumstances" and could not be cited as precedent. But many legal scholars insisted at the time that this assertion was itself dictum — the part of a legal opinion that is nonbinding — and illegitimate, because under the doctrine of stare decisis, courts cannot make rulings whose reasoning applies only to a single case.
I believe that once the Supreme Court puts pen to paper and publishes a decision, at some point people are going to cite it as precedent--it is, in Bauer's words, inescapable. But I believe there is a far better reason for the attempted limitation of the case by the Court--it did not want to overturn nearly four decades of precedent that treated some voters differently than others--at the Court's order.

Cohen writes, regarding the heart of the equal protection reasoning:
The heart of Bush v. Gore's analysis was its holding that the recount was unacceptable because the standards for vote counting varied from county to county. "Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms," the court declared, "the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another." If this equal protection principle is taken seriously, if it was not just a pretext to put a preferred candidate in the White House, it should mean that states cannot provide some voters better voting machines, shorter lines, or more lenient standards for when their provisional ballots get counted — precisely the system that exists across the country right now. (emphsis added)
True, election administration, that is the counting and if necessary, recouting of votes, is the area most directly impacted by Bush v. Gore, but it carries implications for many other voting rights cases.

If, as I agree, the Court's equal protection reasoning in Bush v. Gore is "right," such reasonsing would throw into doubt some 40 years of very important precedent in numerous lines of cases, including cases dealing with majority-minority districts, vote dilution, retrogression, racial gerrymandering and many other types of cases; indeed most of the Voting Rights Act jurisprudence would be turned on its head. I believe the Justices knew, or at least suspected, this would be the case and thus wrote in the limiting language.

In order to understand the need for the limiting language, let us take a look at a simple mathematical truth. The value of X, what ever X is in math, can have only one of three properties:
  1. X can be less than 1 (X<1)
  2. X can equal 1 (X=1)
  3. X can be greater than 1 (X>1)
At no time can X share any two of these properties, let alone share all three. Yet when it comes to voting rights, the Supreme Court has mandated that X, the value of a vote, be all three--at the same time! While the disparity of treatment is not arbitrary, it certainly is disparate.

The Court would have had a mighty struggle to distinguish why disparate treatment in teh counting of votes in Florida is not justified, when the Court itself has has applied disparate standards in other areas of voting rights. Several months ago, I wrote a series of posts relating to vote dilution, retrogression, and majority-minority districts that have some relevance here. These three concepts each has a line or lines of cases decided by the Court struggling to interpret sections of the Voting Rights Act. The one, most important, unifiying conecpt behind these lines of cases is not the Voting Rights Act, but that all three concepts mandate the state treatment of some voters differently from others in direct contravention to the holding in Bush v. Gore. Thus in order for the Court to effectively arrive at a decision in Bush v. Gore, the limitation of the precedential value was absolutely necessary.

With vote dilution and majority-minority districts, the government has taken noble steps to improve the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice by giving more import (a relative value greater than one) to the votes of minorities than of non-minorities. Thus the state, or rather the federal government, has given more value to one group of votes than to another.

The implicit assumption of the protection afforded by vote dilution and majority-minority districts, and a somewhat more explicit stated in retrogression cases, is that without these protections, the value of a minority vote is somehow less than the relative value of one. So in within these three concepts, the courts are saying that, at the very same time, a minority vote is somehow both less than the relative value of one, thus in need of state protection, and greater than the relative value of 1, because minority votes are favored over non-minority votes in certain respects. Adding more confusion, at the same time, the whole point of the reapportionment/redistricting reform (the one person/one vote) cases and the Voting Rights Act is that, by law, each vote counts as one. Such mathematical impossibilities can exist only in law!

The logical fallacy of the voting rights cases carries with it some very real world benefits and costs. One of the costs of the voting right cases is that we end up treating some voters differently than others, whether the cause is noble or not. If nearly 40 years of precedent has been based on this logical and mathematic inconsistency, to have a case decided in less than a week, without full and due consideration, one the same subject matter could jeopardize the entire regime.

But if Bush v. Gore were to become a controlling precedent in election administation, that each vote be counted as one, with no vote getting more or less weight that others, it is not a far stretch to begin to question whether such principles should apply in other senstive areas, such as reapportionment, majority-minotiry districts, vote dilution, and retrogression.

Therein lies the confounding problem, and unlimited potential, of Bush v. Gore. The voting rights jurisprudence cannot at once declare equal protection for the physical enumeration of votes once they are cast and not have full equal protection for those who cast the votes.

Hezbollah Balks At Withdrawal From the South

Color me suprised

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Education Carnivaling

Check out the Carnival of Homeschooling. Always good fun and information to be had.

Shocking News: Teachers Unions Oppose Differential Pay

hat Tip: Edspresso. Massachussets Governor and 2008 Presidential Hopeful Mitt Romney apparently forgot that teachers unions don't like differential pay and will muster their Democratic supporters in the legislature when such a proposal is made. As the Boston Globe reported last week:
DURING A FORUM sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association this week, four candidates for governor offered a chorus of criticism of the Romney administration's education policies. The message resonated with the union members in the crowd. But it hardly gives a full picture of the governor's approach to education reform, and doesn't fully explain why he has met with limited success.
Politically, Republican Governors of Democratic states like Massachussets, Maryland and California have all come learn some object lessons of the political power of the teachers unions. Indeed if any school reform or choice program is to succeed on anything other than a minimal level, much work will have to be done to overcome the obstacles presented by the teachers unions.

The first thing that should be done is to realize and publicize that there is a dramatic difference between a front line teacher and the teachers union on many matters. Using basic wedge politics, leaders like Romney, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich and others can drive home a point with the unions and their rank and file. If unions are there to protect your work conditions and advocate for better pay, when then are they standing in the way of better pay for teachers? The answer is of course, that the unions don't want to have to explain to their members why math and science teachers get more money, or why teachers who work in teh worst schools get paid better. Making such a case is uncomfortable for the unions and that is exactly what school choice and reform advocates need to be saying--loudly.

The second thing that Romney needs to do is call each and every legislator who stands in the way of his proposal to task in a public manner. It is highly unlikely that these men and women are going to support him in his electoral bids in the future, so there is little to lose. Romney and others have the power of the bully pulpit and they need to use it. An informed public is not going to stand for obstructionist legislators when the education of their children is on the line. Romney has a good plan and it should be implemented. those who stand in the way should be called on the public carpet and be made to explain why they oppose the idea.

Governors are elected to get things done by the entire state and when it comes to education, waiting for the politicians to get their head out is a price to high to contemplate.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Power of the Liberal Netroots Properly Defined

Previously, I linked to this post by the Mystery Pollster when I talked about turnout issues. I have also linked to the Instapundit, when he spoke about the netroots as a legitimate new power center in the Democratic party. I would like to revisit both in the context of this little piece of information from MP.

Call me naive, but I always equated political power in two ways, the ability to lead and sway public opinion on matters of public policy and in the raw way of raising money and getting people to the polls. In both respects, I find the liberal netroots lacking. This is not to say they can't improve, but right now, they are not there in the same way as say MoveOn.org or the New Democrats.

In teh case of Ned Lamont, the netroots did what I think they are best at--drawing attention to a candidate, who under most circumstances, would not have garnered a headline in the local newspapers. By bringing publicity to Lamont, the netroots legitimized his campaign and pointed otherwise disenchanted voters to an alternative.

The netroots also did something else they are quite effective in doing. Keeping one issue front and center in their echo chamber and, subsequently, Lamont's campaign and the national press. by continually harping on Lieberman's position on the war in Iraq and the global war on terror, the netroots kept the pressure on Lieberman.

But in the light of my two criteria for political power, influence and ground tactics, I am not convinced of their power. True, the netroots did raise money for Lamont, but Lamont had his own fortune to thank for his television and radio ads. Until the netroots can point me to the ability to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a non-self-funded congressional or senatorial candidate, I will withhold judgement on their power in this regard. True, they raised money for Howard Dean, but a presidential race is an animal of a completely different type.

Turning out the voters is also, to me a significant point of power in a political sense. Within the political world there are four groups that do this better than anyone: the unions, the Christian right, the AARP and the NRA. I am not suggesting that the netroots has to be able to mobilize voters like these well established groups (although that would certainly be impressive), but there needs to be more. Voter turnout in Connecticut was almost twice the normal level, but that can't be attributed to the netroots. If even half of the massive increase in turnout is the result of the netroots, Lamont should have won by a much greater margin than less than four points.

Finally, for me the power of a political group is the ability to sway the middle ground voter, the cohort in any population that remains undecided until near the end. (this is where MP's chart comes into play). A truly politically potent force can move the outcome of an election through message, means, cohesion, and the ability to persuade. The four groups I mentioned above, when properly activated, can sway the outcome of an election and have demonstrably done so.

But the netroots loses gas at the crucial end of an election. If the election were held in June, Lamont would have won in a landslide since most voters who supported Lamont decided to do so in June or early July. But those who supported Lieberman did so in the final three days. Why would this be so? Because the undecided 10 percent in any population, rarely decides on whom to vote for until the last three days. If the netroots were the political powerhouse some claim it to be, then more people in the last three days should have swung to Lamont, but they didn't. A week out from the election, the two men were splitting the undecideds. Lieberman picked up the pace considerably in teh last three days.

One could argue that the netroots had done their job early, swaying voters enough early on that they didn't need a push in the final three days. But that is not the hallmark of a proper political force. One can take nothing for granted in politics, and the netroots needed to shift its focus from publicity to pushing people to the polls. From all the evidence, I don't see how that was done in Connecticut.

The netroots is good a publicity and it is good at keeping their eye on a single issue. But this is not enough to make them a potent political force--at least not in terms of raw political power. Are they on the rise? Absolutely, no doubt about it. Whether that is good or bad for the Democratic party remains to be seen as will their development. But they are not a powerful force, no matter how much crowing the Kos Kids do.

Gender Gap Worries Educators

No, not that gender gap because women are closing the gap with boys in math and sciences. The new gender gap is about reading and writing.

Here is the fourth paragraph of the story in the Hartford Courant:
"It doesn't surprise me," said Andrew DeLucia, a sixth-grade teacher at Doolittle School in Cheshire. "I think girls are much more motivated to write, and there are a lot more topics they're interested in." With boys, he said, "If they're not writing about sports, they lose interest."
Can we be a little more stereotypically sexist in our approach? Maybe a little more? A little later on the story gets a somewhat more helpful in its treatment:
For years, educators worried about an achievement gap for women in science and mathematics, but that gap, at least in some cases, has begun to close. Women are still underrepresented in many engineering and technology fields, for example, but have made gains in areas such as biology and medicine.

On the latest Connecticut Mastery Test, girls matched boys in mathematics, with 58 percent of each group meeting the state goal.

"Boys have problems with reading and writing. Girls have had problems with math and science. We've done something for the girls. We can do the same for boys," said Judith Kleinfeld, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and director of a national consortium known as The Boys Project.

In writing, "Boys of every ethnic and socioeconomic group are falling far behind girls of similar backgrounds," Kleinfeld wrote in a recent paper for the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth.

snip

In addition, Kleinfeld and others say, boys' reading habits are geared more toward non-fiction - subjects such as sports or adventure - while girls often prefer novels and short stories.

"I like mystery books. I read the Nancy Drew series," said 11-year-old Mary Margaret Stoll, who finished fifth grade at Thompson Brook School in Avon this year. She also said she likes books such as "Natalie's Secret," part of a series of books "that has, like, more girls' stuff on the front, and boys don't like to read that."

Many teachers, aware of this, are starting to seek more literature that appeals to boys, said Richard Sterling, executive director of the National Writing Project at the University of California, Berkeley.

"As little as seven or eight years ago in the average elementary school classroom, the majority of reading material was fiction," he said.

Barbara Snyder, a reading teacher at Buttonball Lane School in Glastonbury, said, "One thing that interests boys more than girls is reading informational texts.

"We've addressed that - teaching how to read non-fiction," she said. "Because boys don't want to read books from beginning to end, informational texts are ideal. They can read short sections."
It is true that most reading done by kids in school is in the area of fiction, but, as I have asked before, when did the teaching of reading--a skill, become the teaching of literature--a subject matter? If we know, for example that boys like informational reading, why then are reading classes not doing more of this. Looking back (way, way back) I don't remember having any reading classes that used, as a text, anything that was non-fiction? Looking at modern curricula, I don't see much non-fiction on the reading list, unless it is in the math, science or social science classes.

Girls and boys can benefit from many styles and formats of texts since such reading requires different skills. If it has been known that the geneders respond to different forms of texts for a while (at least we have know since 2000 in Connecticut that a reading/writing gender gap exists), why then have we not addressed the problem? When employer after employer urging education reform so that they can have a quality workforce, and most businesses don't have much use for people adept only at reading literature, it would seem as though a broad range of reading skills is necessary.

So, to our reading curricula, I suggest adding relebant, age appropriate non-fiction material for all schools. I suppose then, such a gender gap will decrease.

Oh, I also suggest that teachers like the one quoted in the article get their head out and stop taking the easy route of stereotypes, we pay teachers to think outside the box--not make the box.



hat Tip: The Instapundit

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mystery Pollster on Connecticut Turnout

The Mystery Pollster has a wonderful post on some important points relating to the Lamont win in Connecticut, particularly relating to turnout which may have some implications for Democrats nationally, as well as the supposed influence of the liberal netroots.

First and foremost, I will admit that Lamont's candidacy got a great boost from the Netroots. I believe, however, that Lamont just happened to be the guy willing to step up and challenge Lieberman and so by being in the right place at the right time helped him. Had it been anyone else in that place at that time, I think they would have gotten the same level of support. In other words, the netroots were not Pro-Lamont--they were anti-Lieberman. As I have said, time and time again, "anti-" campaigns rarely work. Don't believe me, ask John Kerry.

Second, as MP points out, either the polling earlier in the campaign was faulty, those showing Lamont with 10 and 13 point leads in July, only to have the final difference being less than 4 percent. MP then has two questions:
This leaves a few open questions, at least from my perspective:
  • Did Lieberman narrow the gap in the campaign's final ten days, as suggested but not quite confirmed by the last two Quinnipiac polls?
  • Or was Lieberman consistently closer in Lamont's rear view mirror during the final weeks than the public polls made it appear? Did the sampling methodologies and likely voter models of the public polls consistently exaggerate Lamont's during the campaign's final weeks?
MP goes on to answer them in a rather lengthy fashion.

But MP does spend some time on the turnout question, which I always find fascinating.
Charles Franklin has already posted an amazingly thorough (and graphical) turnout analysis of the turnout showing that Lieberman did better in the larger towns and cities, while Lamont did better in less urban areas. He also confirms the so-called "Volvo/donut" turnout pattern suggested yesterday by Hotline On-Call, that turnout was higher in the smaller towns where Lamont had an advantage, lower in the larger towns where Lieberman did better. (Links in original)
This, for me poses and interesting question. What about the less urban areas makes a canddiate like Lamont more appealing? Conversely, why did urban voters support Lieberman more and why, in a primary with a whopping 41% turnout (I know still small, but very big for a primary) did more urban voters not turnout? Ineteresting questions, with some real implications for national Democrats in 2008, but not necessarily this fall since elections are more local. With so many of the Democratic strongholds in urban areas, does the lack of turnout in urban areas affect the the prospects of candidates like Hillary Clinton, those with a certain amount fo appeal in urban areas?

Finally, what is the role of the netroots in all of this? If the netroots is supposedly this new power center in Democratic circles, a proposition I don't agree with, can they positively influence turnout? There is some indication that they can get bodies to the polls, but there are also some indications that their effectiveness is more about getting a candidate some attention and less about influencing decision making as election day approaches. More on that to come.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Karl Rove Behind British Terror Arrest

Mary Katherine Ham points to the latest conspiracy theory: Karl Rove planned the British terrorist arrests so that media attention will be diverted from the Ned Lamont primary victory in Connecticut.
The Republican administration responded to the thwarting of an "imminent" and "massive" terror attack on trans-Atlantic flights with a Code Red security alert because a Democrat incumbent lost in a Connecticut Senate primary.(emphasis in original)
Ham goes on to quote from AmericaBlog.com Does the left see a Rovian bogeyman behind the 24 hour news cycle? I am so sure that Tony Blair, Scotland Yard, MI-5, south Asian intelligence agencies, the CIA and everyone else invovled in breaking the terrorist threat is so concerned about Ned Lamont winning that they broke the story today just to ruin his victory lap. Do they really care about some anti-war rich kid winning that they will do or say anthing to justify breaking up his news cycle? Does the Administration really care so much that they will inconvenience several million air travelers across that nation, of both parties, just to prevent publicity for a Democratic nominee for a Connecticut Senate race?

As Michelle Malkin likes to say, Bush Derangment Syndrome indeed.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lamont Didn't Win, Lieberman Lost

Earlier today, the Instapundit posted this piece noting that he thinks that the Liberal netroots had arrived with Ned Lamont's victory in Connecticut. But I must disagree. Lamont's victory is actually Lieberman's loss--and the two are not the same. Lieberman's loss is a result of his stance on the war on terror, his unwillingness to accept that Connecticut Democrats think differently, and his truly stupid announcement that he would run as an independent if he lost.

While the netroots played a role in the early part of the campaign, I tend to think that most Democratic voters tired of Lieberman's positions on the war and his unwillingness to accept accept that people may have a different outlook. Granted, sometimes being a leader means that you have a different view, but as a leader, you must attempt to persuade others and LEAD them somewhere. Connecticut Democrats did not want to go there and Lieberman, to his credit and dismay, refused to budge on a principle. The war is decidedly unpopular among Democrats, a stance amplified, but not magnified, by the quite vocal netroots. But Connecticut Democrats did not support the war and the netroots did not convince them of it, but rather served as a echo chamber for the idea. So in this regard, the netroots activities did contribute to Lieberman's unpopularity on this issue. Lamont ran a focused campaign on the Iraq war, but a one-dimensional campaign rarely wins a primary, Lamont needed something else.

Lamont got it in the form of a major tactical error. Lieberman's very public notice a coule of weeks ago that he would run as an independent should he lose in the primary gave some fence sitters an excuse to vote against Lieberman. The announcement sounded a lot like a sore loser and a man resigned to his fate.

This was a dumb move!

While Connecticut law allows this and Lieberman is certainly within his rights to take the steps, he should have been far less public about plans to run as an independent. What the plan said was that he, as an elected offcial did not trust the electorate to make a wise decision. This slap in the face probably angered enough voters to vote for Lamont that Lieberman may have lost on this very issue.

My somewhat uneducated guess is that the announcement to run as an independent probably cost him two points, and maybe even the primary itself. The people on the fence about Lieberman now had rason to vote against him. This is very different than a vote for Lamont.

The netroots did raise some money for Lamont, but when you consider that Lamont spent some $3-4 million of his own money on the campaign, the money the netroots brought it amounted to a very small percentage. The netroots did public support Lamont and trounced Lieberman in their coverage, which certainly may have helped opinions nationwide, but I am not sure of the local Democrats. The fact that Lamont only won by four points indicates to me that all the internet publicity for Lamont did not make it down to the voter level in Connecticut, since if you judge by the internet coverage, Lamont should have scored a landslide victory.

The netroots does not have a particularly good record in general elections. Lamont is probably going to win in Connecticut, a solidly Blue state, but with Lieberman in the race, the Democratic vote is likely to be split in the General election.

I think the Lamont win is a combination of factors, with the netroots involved, but not a deciding factor. I still don't see the netroots as a power center, yet. Even assuming they are a power center, I am not sure that it is a good thing for the Democratic party. Moving to the left, which is the place the netroots occupies, is a prescription for disaster rather than victory.

McKinney Out--Again

For those of you who have been watching teh Lamont-Lieberman race with intensity, might want to look south to see the another incumbent bit the dust in a primary run-off yesterday. Cynthia McKinney lost to political novice Hank Johnson, a virtual unknown a few weeks ago in a near landslide. Johnson grabbed nearly 60 percent of the vote in the largely Black district outside of Atlanta.

For those of you keeping score, this is the second time in four years that McKinney has lost in a primary. In 2002, she was ousted in the primary by Denise Majette after McKinney made a series of somewhat anti-Semitic remarks and espoused various conspiracy theories about 9/11. Such comments about the terrorist attacks did not play well in a city where patriotism runs deep and crosees party lines.

Majette gave up the 4th District seat when she made an ill-fated and foolish attempt to run for the U.S. Senate and McKinney won her former Congressional seat. Some will undoubtedly point to her run in with Capitol police, which for a while held the promise of a criminal indictment, as the cause of her defeat. But I believe that the reason McKinney lost is not that she struck a police office, but that her actions since that time, and indeed during most of her tenure, were an embarassment to her constituents.

While Johnson was making the rounds of local TV interviewers,
Rather than addressing her loss late Tuesday night, McKinney responded by heaping more criticism on the White House. Before the tallies were completed, McKinney also complained of voting irregularities, which election officials discounted.
Always fun stuff in Georgia.

Carnival of Education Open

Check out the 79th Edition of the Carnival of Education hosted this week by California Live Wire.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Technology in the Classroom

Michael Lopeze, filling in for the honeymooning Joanne Jacocs, poses this Open Debate, about classroom technology.

Honestly, a debate about whiteboards or Smart Boards does very little for the actual purpose of the schools, educating the kids. One of the commenters noted that
Educational technology is like advanced weaponry. In the right hands, the weapons can be used to conquer the world or deter horrible things. In the wrong hands, the weapons can do a whole lot of damage to a whole lot of people.
The analogy may be a little suspect, but in general it is apt.

Classroom technology may be just another tool for teachers, but unless they are taught first, how to use the technology in the lessons and second, to realize that technology is not a panacea, advanced technology is not going to help.

I work in teh political field, which has also been flooded with all kinds of nifty technology, from advanced mapping databases to automated, customized calling robots. But the most common problem is that the full capabilitys of all this whiz bang technology is rarely used. But it doesn't change anything, politics is, and always will be, about connecting with people and you can't replace that with technology.

Education is the same thing. Technology with all kinds of bells and whistles in classrooms will be like all the political software and tools I have seen, underused. The money could be spent in better ways, I am sure and you can also be sure that there will be haves and have nots, guaranteed to exacerbate an already contentious debate on resources.

Now, if the technology is fully implemented and actually intensifies and expands the learning of students, then I am all for it. But if we are spending money just because it is the latest fad among school constuction experts, I am skeptical to say the least.

Finally, if any piece of technology in a classroom doesn't have more than one use, it probably doesn't need to be there. Just an added thought.

White board versus chalk board? Who gives a damn--just teach my kids something.

More Rules, More Money - New York Times

When a leading Democratic and a leading Republican campaign finance lawyer agree on something, you would think more people would take noice. But then again, maybe not.
Our law practices, which have grown tenfold since 1981, have certainly prospered from the seemingly unappeasable demand for reform. But it cannot be said that others — those active in the political process, or the public at large — have done nearly as well. The law is not only increasingly complex but, in many cases, counterintuitive, requiring ever more nuanced clarifications from regulators.

Some reformers genuinely believe that it is possible to drive money out of politics and still observe the command of the First Amendment. Others see practical advantages. Many politicians favored McCain-Feingold because it prohibited certain advertising that mentioned opponents’ names, or because it authorized them to raise more money if they were challenged by wealthy, free-spending opponents. The bill also attempted to strike at “negative” political speech — known to ordinary Americans by its other name, “criticism”— by requiring candidates to publicly approve their ad content.

Joe vs. Ned--What The New Republic Readers Think

Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of anti-lieberman on a web based question about whether Connecticut Democrats like Joe Lieberman or Ned Lamont.

More specifically, the question was Lieberman vs. Lamont in an admittedly unscientific strawpoll. According to TNR, over 2/3 of the responses were anti-Lieberman vs. pro-Lamont, a telling statistic.
But, hey, let's not forget that this isn't just about Joe. It's also about Ned. Well, sort of. "I have not read one positive comment on Ned Lamont in this forum," complains bnair after 90 posts from fellow TNR readers, "just negative on Lieberman."
Generally, I don't believe that running a "anti" campaign is very productive, from some of the ads, it looks like Lamont is at least paying lip service to other issues. Lamont may win the primary--we will see.

But here is a comment for broaders consumption:
Many think the Democratic Party will suffer as a result of a Lieberman loss. "Lieberman is a national figure and a symbol of sensible Democrat moderation," says Robert Powell. "Lamont is a political and foreign policy nobody whose choice would indicate Democrats have a terminal identity crisis." Some go even further. "I would view his defeat as a defeat of the Democratic party," declares jacksondyer. And dcwood10 goes on a major tear: "Allowing our anger at Bush to cause the entire Democratic Party to be subverted by an intellectually mono-dimensional and ideologically vacuous sect that deserves a home on the fringe in the Green Party can lead only to either harming American interests or helping the GOP."
In general, moderation is a lost position among both parties, neither does a particularly good job embracing the moderate of wing of their party, although it is the moderate wing that wins votes because of the moderation.

Moderates--the cement that held the Congress together--a dying breed.

Liberal "Netroots" Scaremongering

Democratic lawyer and leader Lanny Davis takes a good hard look at the new Left's "netroots" and compares the activities of the netroots left to the sad days of McCarthyism:
My brief and unhappy experience with the hate and vitriol of bloggers on the liberal side of the aisle comes from the last several months I spent campaigning for a longtime friend, Joe Lieberman.

This kind of scary hatred, my dad used to tell me, comes only from the right wing--in his day from people such as the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, with his tirades against "communists and their fellow travelers." The word "McCarthyism" became a red flag for liberals, signifying the far right's fascistic tactics of labeling anyone a "communist" or "socialist" who favored an active federal government to help the middle class and the poor, and to level the playing field.

I came to believe that we liberals couldn't possibly be so intolerant and hateful, because our ideology was famous for ACLU-type commitments to free speech, dissent and, especially, tolerance for those who differed with us. And in recent years--with the deadly combination of sanctimony and vitriol displayed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage--I held on to the view that the left was inherently more tolerant and less hateful than the right.

[snip]

But the issue is not just emotional outbursts by these usually anonymous bloggers. A friend of mine just returned from Connecticut, where he had spoken on several occasions on behalf of Joe Lieberman. He happens to be a liberal antiwar Democrat, just as I am. He is also a lawyer. He told me that within a day of a Lamont event--where he asked the candidate some critical questions--some of his clients were blitzed with emails attacking him and threatening boycotts of their products if they did not drop him as their attorney. He has actually decided not to return to Connecticut for the primary today; he is fearful for his physical safety.(emphasis added)
I don't know if Davis' lawyer friend has any real basis for fearing for his physical safety, I don't know. But as for the threats against his clients--this is simply going too far.

Knowing that during a heated election, both sides may sometimes go to extremes is nothing particularly new. But I think the blogging left has gone too far in this case. The left can say what they want about Lieberman in the context of the election, but to attack a man's livelihood merely because you don't like his politics is childish in the extreme and does little to advance the legitimacy of the netroots left.

The actions of the netroots left takes the politics of personal destruction to an extreme. No longer is vitrol and viciousness confined to the candidates or the opposing party's policies, it is now being leveled as the supporters of a candidate or party. Such attacks will not bring more people into politics but drive more people out as those who take a much more moderate stance in the political realm.

I rarely agree with Mr. Lieberman's politics, but I believe him to be one of the most principled Senators with a solidly progressive nature. But one issue voters don't like his support of the war on terror. Fine, they have the right to express their disapproval at the polls.

Win or lose today, Lieberman will stand tall, like the man he is. He will be gracious in victory and magnanimous in defeat--I doubt we can expect the same from the netroots left.

Hat Tip: The Instapundit

Friday, August 04, 2006

Leadership PAC Non-Loophole

Once again, the Center for Competitive Politics takes on the campaign finance reform organizations, debunking a bill that is not even a bill yet that would repeal the limit that a leadership PAC can give to a political party.

First, I want to say that as a PAC operative and now consultant, I absolutely hate leadership PACs. The term now has no meaning. In the long ago days of eight years ago, most true Congressional leaders, like chairmen of committees, ranking members and the majority and minority leaders had a "leadership PAC" an entity designed to raise money to support candidates of their party. The number of leadership PACs was usually under 50 and PAC operatives knew whose leadership PAC was whose. Today, everyone and their grandmother in Congress has a leadership PAC, including rank and file members, completely eviscerating the very meaning of the term.

Second, as a general rule, I did not like leadership PACs because the PACs I managed had limited resources and I liked to know which candidates were getting the limited dollars we had. Of course, I was regularly out voted by my Board of Directors, but at least I could voice my objections. I still don't like the damn things.

But that is beyond the scope. Brad Smith points to a disconnect between what was said before and what is being said now:
organizations, which have for years ignored evidence that contribution limits harm challengers and reduce competition, ... and which pooh-poohed the plaintiffs' arguments in McConnell v. FEC, challenging the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold law in part on the grounds that it involved much incumbent self-dealing, are suddenly worked up about the effect of these laws on competition. They argue that the provision will, "provid[e] an enormous advantage for congressional incumbents over their challengers.... as a practical matter it is congressional incumbents who will benefit from this massive loophole, and not their challengers. It is congressional incumbents who have leadership PACs... ."


As Bob Bauer pointed out in a related post:
Members set them up for a host of reasons, none of them having to do with expanding funds for their personal reelection efforts. Some wish to advance other political projects, such as campaigns for the Presidency and for leadership positions, by establishing a pool of funds for donation to other candidates. Many also donate to their parties, which are anxious for new sources of funding to replace the soft money prohibited to them in 2002.
Both Bauer and Smith look at the regulatory impact of the rule change and the reform community is worried about potential money laundering, but I want to explore the practical effect.

The two primary purposes behind a leadership PAC is simply to expand the party's reach within the halls of Congress and to extend the sponsoring members' reputation and support for future endeavors, usually by garnering support for future leadership posts. That reach is extended by supporting endangered incumbents, supporting challengers and supporting open seat candidates, the same categories of candidates that a national party committee would support.

On a pratical, decision-making level, leadership PACs currently take a number of cues for the national party committees on where to spend a large chunk of their money. Certainly, the individual members controlling the leadership PAC have an agenda, but when it comes to matters outside that agenda, assuming funds are left over, they will simply follow the advice of the national party committee, who is in a better position to amass information about candidates.

By removing the current limit barrier between a leadership PAC and the national party committees, there will be a transfer of money, but no where near what the reform community fears. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, who has compiled a list of leadership PACs currently operating, there are 244 leadership PACs who have made a contribution in the 2006 election cycle. Here the GOP far outstrips the Democrats in leadership PAC giving. Of the nearly $20 million that has been given out by leadership PACs, fully 75% has been contributed by Republicans and only 25% by Democrats. The average contributions by a Republican leadership PAC is almost $60,000 and the average by Democrats is $20,500, maintaining the almost 3 to 1 advantage of Republicans to Democrats in over all spending. I have no basis for this assumption, but if we assume, for example, that a leadership PAC will contribute half of the money it raises to the national party committees, we are talking about $2.5 million for the Democrats and $7.5 million to the GOP. According to the FEC report by the NRCC for the period of June 2006, the NRCC brought in a total of $9.5 million for the month, $37.8 million of for this year, and a total of $102.8 million in the 2005-2006 election cycle.. During the same period, the DCCC brought in nearly $10.3 million for June, $33.6 million for the year and $76.5 million for the cycle. That is just for the House party committees. In summary, the potential leadership PAC contributions are a drop in the financial bucket for the party committees, helpful, but not a particularly large funding source--again, assuming a 50 percent contribution by the leadership PACs, a generous assumption and thast all the money would go to the House campaign committees, which it would not.

Why a generous assumption? Simply put, the leadership PAC is in part about a cult of personality. The biggest leadership PACs tend to be as much about advancing the personal political goals of the member as they are about advancing the party. Leadership PACs will give money in order to secure leadership posts for the member. You cannot garner future favors and support from others if you give the money to the party for distribution.

Some money from leadership PACs will end up in the coffers of the party committees, make no mistake about it. But as far as a "laundering" operation or even a significant funding source, fuhgedaboudit. There is simply is not that much money flowing through leadership PACs.