Monday, April 30, 2007

"Student-Centered" Mumbo-Jumbo

Right Wing Prof has a take down of the education buzzword, "student-centered learning." He also makes you understand the difference between jargon and buzzwords. Go read it.

Karate Kid Wisdom

In the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi says to Daniel-san, "no karate guess so. Walk right side of street--OK. Walk left side of street--OK. Walk in middle of street, sooner or later, get squished, just like grape."

Maybe Harry Reid needs to watch Karate Kid again.
Harry Reid says the war is lost; he does not stand alone with such sentiments.

Yet if this is the truth of the matter -- if in fact Iraq is a hopeless case that cannot be salvaged -- then every drop of American blood spilled henceforth is in vain. And a futile war is an unethical war. So, by his own estimation, Mr. Reid and his cronies are increasingly damned with each passing day, for they are just as culpable for continued occupation as is the White House.


Just as Democrats voted for the war out of fear of electoral reprisal, so they are now constrained to petty half-measures by the fear of losing recent gains. To most of them, Iraq isn't some great evil, but rather a chance to win or lose a handful of votes. And they'll make sure not to lose any by staying on the fence for as long as possible. Moral imperatives require taking risks -- but there's no urgency among mainstream Dems because there is no genuine moral imperative.

But when you walk down the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides. Democratic pandering and politicking will fail to pay off come '08.
Harry Reid and Democrats need to pick a path, right side or left side, because sooner or later, they will get the squish, just like a grape. Hopefully they won't take the rest of the country with them.

Hat Tip: GOP Blue at GOP Progress.

The Sun is Causing Global Warming

Well, I don't know that for sure, but it does seem odd that climatologists are not accounting for the very high solar activity in their global warming models. Coyote Blog asks the question too. Mars is warming up too, must be all that flying around of Al Gore in private planes.

Truancy--An Old Problem and a New Solution?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is poised to sign a bill that would make it possible to deny teenagers a driver's license if they have too many unexcused absences from school.
During the same session, some lawmakers in Prince George's proposed strapping ankle bracelets on students to electronically monitor the whereabouts of those who constantly skip school. That bill did not advance. But the county's police announced April 11 that they had caught 425 truants in a crackdown that began in February.

At Rockville High School, officials led a crackdown of their own when they suspended 26 students after they were caught skipping class to attend a party at the house of two students whose parents were not home.
Leaving aside the stupidity of suspending students who don't want to be in school in the first, place, there is a larger problem with the truancy issue.

First, the punishment of putting kids back in the classroom does far more than punish the wayward student. The "solution" also punishes the students who want to be in class and the teacher. The truant will, eventually, take some opportunity to disrupt the class and most teachers lack teh authority to really impose discipline in their class, so they send the kid to the principals office, effectively forcing the kid out the class--which is where he wants to be in the first place.

Second, while I certainly applaud the idea of withholding drivers' licenses from truants, beyond that I am not sure that the state is punishing the right people. The proper people to punish are not the students, at least not totally, but the parents as well. I am not suggesting jail time, but I think a little financial penality would go a long way. The theory is that the parents are delinquent in their duty and why should they get off without consequence.

The ankle leash might be a little much though.

Edline--Success or Scourge?

Of course, the answer to that question will depend almost entirely upon who you ask. Here is a the lead from a story in the Washington Post about the 24/7 access to school records of their children that Edline affords parents:
At the beginning of this semester, Laura Iriarte Miguel switched anatomy classes.

No big deal. Students at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg can shift courses around at the start of each term. But when Iriarte Miguel remained on the roll in the wrong class for several days, her parents began receiving notices from Edline -- an online, up-to-the-sec grade-tracking program used in Montgomery County middle and high schools -- about her unexcused absences and zeros on quizzes.

Finally, one night at dinner, in between bites of spaghetti, her parents grilled her about her truancy and her rotten anatomy grades. She hadn't told them she had opted into another class.

"They wanted to know why-why-why-why," Iriarte Miguel says. She set them straight, but the air was still poisoned. The suspicion, she says, "accumulated in the back of their minds during the whole day."

This could be a simple story of parental expectations and teenage lackadaisicalness. But it's also a tale of an innovation at the nexus of a morphing world -- symbolic of the changing nature of childhood, America's abiding faith in education and the unforgiving quality of technology.


The result is double-edged: Edline -- and other programs like it, such as SchoolFusion and School Center -- provide students, teachers and parents with an online meeting place to discuss day-to-day assignments, tests and grades. But it also enables parents to keep track of a kid's academic progress -- or lack of progress -- in a heretofore unthinkably micromanagerial way. Parents can know everything; children have no wiggle room. Gone is the fudge factor, the white lie. A student makes a D on a quiz, a D shows up on Edline. No matter that a student leads a discussion in class or puts forth a cogent point. Or has the possibility to retake the quiz, make up the poor grade or do extra credit work over the weekend.

This swift knowledge of success or failure can drive a wedge into families.
I had noted Edline in a previous post about helicopter parents. Last month, I noted:
What strikes me as odd is that the reliance on technology has replaced a basic parenting skill, that of being personally involved in your child's lives. Programs like Edline display a couple of troubling traits. First... Edline is like spying and displays a lack of trust in your child.


Edline says to kids, it doesn't matter what you say, we are going to check now, rather than hold you accountable later. Proponents may claim real time corrections are possible with the technology, but real time corrections don't serve the child well because the correction doesn't carry enough consequences to be real.


Second, Edline and other technology tools give the adults in a child's life the veneer of being involved, without actually getting their hands dirty. In a age when teachers and other education officials are begging parents to be invovled, providing a tool like Edline will not help. On the face of it, the tool seems a little hypocritical. Edline says to parents, here is a way for you to be "involved" in your kids' education without acutally bothering the teachers. The technology also gives the teacher an out, permitting them to post the hard numbers on a childs' education performance without posting anything qualitative about that child. Since most parents whose kids are going well are unlikely to question the teacher, the teacher also gets a pass from being involved in that child's life and for those students stuggling academically, it is a statistically good bet that the parents may not care enought to pester the teacher. Everyone but the child gets a free pass.

Third, and finally, technology is a tool, it should not be a substitute. I have often argued that people often look at technology as an end rather than a means to an end. Edline and these other techno-parenting tools prove my point. They are the bells and whistles to parenting, not a substitute for solid, personal parenting. Furthermore, it turns parenting into data analysis. What are my kids trends in math, in science, in English? How are they doing with test taking skills? While these seem like important questions, and they are, they tend to supplant actually quizzing your children about their education by providing cold numbers.
I still hold these views. Returning to the lead story in the Post article, I am struck by these words:
her parents began receiving notices from Edline -- an online, up-to-the-sec grade-tracking program used in Montgomery County middle and high schools -- about her unexcused absences and zeros on quizzes.
When this girl's parents recieved notices (plural) they began to get suspicious? While this may be shoddy writing, I still have to believe that my parents at least would have aksed why I got a zero on a quiz or an unexcused absence after the FIRST notice. The fact that several notices were needed for these particular parents to question underscores my concern that this technology does not help the student at all and certainly does nothing for the relationship between parents and teachers.

Here is another snippet of the story:
Chris Barclay is a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education whose daughter goes to Einstein High School in Kensington. Although the students at Einstein call it "Dreadline," he says that the grade-tracking service "helps hold your child and your child's teacher accountable." The software allows working parents to stay connected.


Carol Blum, Montgomery's director of high school instruction and achievement, says that Edline has helped to cut down on the number of e-mails and phone calls that parents make to teachers.

In the past, she says, "it wasn't as easy to be in touch with parents." A teacher would send out an interim report if the student was in danger of failing and by the time the parent received it, "it was almost too late," she says. "This way if a student is in trouble in a course, a parent can see it in a timely manner."
Parents think they are being "involved" in their kids' lives, but in fact they are not. The technology is a substitute for real communication between parents, students and teachers, it is not actual communication. Edline makes communication "simple" without really providing any context. Does it cut down on phone calls and emails, I am sure it does, but that doesn't mean it is better. as a service provided, I have to keep my clients informed and I expect teachers to do the same. But with this tool, the teachers and parents look like they are communicating when they really aren't. Edline provides the data about a childs' education, but does it really provide "information?" My answer is no, it does not.

Information is data that has a use, a purpose. The fact that a student got X grade on a test or Y grade on a quiz says nothing. It is a number, a bit of data. While a whole series of numbers can give a trend ("data analysis" parenting) it still says nothing useful. Only when the paretns begin to dig a little deeper do they understand what the numbers represent and learn information. Perhaps Johnny's math grade is suffering because he misunderstood a key concept and has been applying it worng? Maybe Jenny's Social Studies grade is slipping because she isn't doing the necessary reading or is more than a little distracted by the hot guy sitting next to her. Who knows, but until parents dig a little deeper, all Edline gives is data.

"Involved" parents talk to teachers, on the phone at least and in person if possible. Involved parents have regulary communication, not just data posts, about their child's education.

Hillary Rodham Clinton for Senate/ Hillary Clinton for President

Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for and won two Senate races in New York, I will give her credit for that effort-slight though it may be. However, Hillary Rodham Clinton is not running for President, Hillary Clinton is. News reports are now noting that the Democratic front-runner has dropped her maiden name in her bid for the White House.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has dropped the use of her maiden name "Rodham" in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton identifies herself as "Hillary Clinton" in her campaign press releases and on her campaign website. The lone mention of her maiden name is in a campaign biography that says "Hillary's father, Hugh Rodham, was the son of a factory worker from Scranton."

She continues to use "Hillary Rodham Clinton" in her New York-focused press releases and in the Senate.

Clinton appeared surprised last week when asked why her presidential campaign had dropped her maiden name. Clinton laughed, shook her head and replied: "I haven't, I haven't," before dashing off.

Howard Wolfson, a top communications adviser to Clinton, downplayed any significance to the change. Asked if it was a strategic decision to drop "Rodham," Wolfson replied: "That's a fair question, but there's no plan behind it."

The second-term senator and former first lady has emphasised various names in Arkansas and Washington, DC, over the past 25 years.

Laurie Scheuble, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the choice of last names by married women, says Clinton's decision to drop her maiden name puts her in sync with the vast majority of married women in America.

"To most people, family means everyone having the same last name," says Scheuble, author of "Trends in Women's Marital Name Choice: 1966-1996" and "Attitudes Toward Nontraditional Marital Name Choices." "She's doing the right thing politically to appeal to the most voters. She's conforming to the social norm."

Married working women often face a dilemma over whether to retain their maiden name alone, use both their maiden name and their husband's last name or use their husband's last name alone.
While I appreciate the need for professional reasons, when Hillary Clinton was Mrs. Clinton, the wife of Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, I heard nary a mention of her maiden name. While First Lady, it seemed to appear and then her maiden name was prominent in her bid for the Senate, now Rodham seems to be disappearing.

With all the name changes, it seems to me that there is more of a political motive than a desire to be concise or frugal with print.

Mission Orders: Deployed Until Mission Is Complete

I am generally not one to post a great deal of personal information on my blog. Generally that is because my life is rather normal and usually pretty mundane. But yesterday I had a conversation with my mother, obstensibly about how my father's luekemia treatment will progress (he is not in any particular danger right now--although he is worried that he will lose his beard in the chemotherapy treatment--he is unusually proud of his beard--but that is a different story). Toward the end of the conversation, I asked about my brother, a sergeant in the Army getting ready to deploy for his third tour in Iraq. Since my brother has been somewhat bad about returning my phone calls (for other reasons), I was hoping my mother had some news.

My brother should be deploying sometime in the next 2-4 weeks, and while he should be safe since he is a helicopter mechanic and not, as he called it, a "door-kicker," as regular Army his deployment will be at least 15 months, possibly 18 months and his orders actually read "until mission is complete." My mother made the comment that his mission will likely be deemed over around January of 2009.

She maybe right, but I noted that probably somehwere around 2011, if my brother is still in teh Army, he might be headed back to the middle east.

But aside from my snide remarks about the prospects of having to return to Iraq, my brother's deployment left me with a thought, that there is a dichotomy between how we as a nation fought wars in our past and how we fight them now.

I pride myself on being a student of World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. For years now, the Right has tried to insist that the war on terror is akin to World War II, a battle for the survival of of the American way of life and the liberal democracy. While I believe that proposition to be largely true, there are a few significant differences between the moral imperatives of the war on terror and WWII. But what is more important on a practical level is the manner in which we are fighting this war in Iraq. The manner in which we are handling our material and manpower has more in common with Vietnam than with WWII, not a particularly flattering comparison.

The Vietnam war was different from the outset, of course, both in terms of how it started and how the U.S. got involved. But the military differences between Vietnam and World War II and Korea are striking. First, in Vietnam, soldiers were posted in country for one year and then rotated back home. In World War II, you were sent to war and stayed there until either the mission was complete or the soldiers were wounded beyond service. Sure, units "rotated off the line" but they generally did not come home.

For the past five years, the War in Iraq and in Afghanistan has been fought on the one year rotation. In an effort to please certain segments of our society, in part because the large reliance on reserve and National Guard units, soldiers are deployed for a year and then come home. The problem with such a concept is two fold. First, soldiers become pre-occupied with their time. This is not to say that the soldiers have lost focus on their mission, for I don't think that the case, but rather they naturally and without blame look at the calendar all the time.

Second, when you are looking to pacify a region and get the locals to help you, having new faces and new liasions every year leads to mistrust and that leads to more danger for our troops. In an insurgent environment, the United States needs to get the Iraqi population to not only appreciate us, but to trust us, to be consistent in our appearance, in our mission and in our posture toward the civilian population. In this way, we gain their trust and we break down the connection between the civilian population and the insurgents. The civilians are willing to point us in the direction of insurgents because they have come to trust the U.S. military in the presence. Having new faces arrive every year or so does not engender the same kind of trust.

This is not to say that I want my brother to be deployed in Iraq for 18 months or two years. I would much rather have him home taking care of his kids. But at the same time, he and I are both aware of the need to take care of business in Iraq and that means completing our mission. And completing the mission in Iraq is very similar to the mission in World War II, that is ending the threat to Iraq's fledgling Democracy and the threat to America. That may take two years or more and the United States has to be prepared for the longer struggle and not imposing artificial deadlines on withdrawal or artificial deadlines on service time.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Disarm America

Of course in the aftermath of Viriginia Tech there are predictable calls for gun control. While most of the proposals are objectionalbe simply on policy grounds, i.e. I don't agree with the policy of gun control at its core, at least the proposals generally don't involve gestappo-like tactics to enforce, like this one:
Now, how would one disarm the American population? First of all, federal or state laws would need to make it a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and one year in prison per weapon to possess a firearm. The population would then be given three months to turn in their guns, without penalty.


The disarmament process would begin after the initial three-month amnesty. Special squads of police would be formed and trained to carry out the work. Then, on a random basis to permit no advance warning, city blocks and stretches of suburban and rural areas would be cordoned off and searches carried out in every business, dwelling, and empty building. All firearms would be seized. The owners of weapons found in the searches would be prosecuted: $1,000 and one year in prison for each firearm.

Clearly, since such sweeps could not take place all across the country at the same time. But fairly quickly there would begin to be gun-swept, gun-free areas where there should be no firearms. If there were, those carrying them would be subject to quick confiscation and prosecution. On the streets it would be a question of stop-and-search of anyone, even grandma with her walker, with the same penalties for "carrying."
Of course, as Captain Ed pointed out, there is that pesky 2nd Amendment, but Eugene Volokh proposes substituting drugs for guns and see if you come up with another 4th Amendment violation. Here is another substitution for you, obscene material in your own home or "subversive literatute." Sound a little Orwellian to you?

By the way, the author of the dismarmament plan notes in his defense:
And before anyone starts to hyperventilate and think I'm a crazed liberal zealot wanting to take his gun from his cold, dead hands, let me share my experience of guns.

As a child I played cowboys and Indians with cap guns. I had a Daisy Red Ryder B-B gun. My father had in his bedside table drawer an old pistol which I examined surreptitiously from time to time. When assigned to the American embassy in Beirut during the war in Lebanon, I sometimes carried a .357 Magnum, which I could fire accurately. I also learned to handle and fire a variety of weapons while I was there, including Uzis and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Not that this pre-disposition makes up for the unconstitutional plan.

Towson University to Run Schools in Baltimore--Are They Ready

As part of a city restructuting of schools in the flailing Baltimore School System, Towson University, a public university Northwest of the City, has been granted tentative approval to run five schools in Baltimore.
Under the plan, which is scheduled to come before the board for a final vote next month, Towson would run Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Arundel and Cherry Hill elementary/middle schools. State school board approval was necessary to allow Towson to manage the schools because all three are required to restructure after failing to meet standards on state tests for years. Towson now manages Morrell Park Elementary/Middle and is slated to manage another Cherry Hill school, Patapsco Elementary/Middle.

Sparked by the state school board's action, union officials called for a meeting with city schools administrators to protest the transfer of 49 teachers from those schools as part of the restructuring plan, including 11 from Morrell Park.
Because of the Maryland law governing charter schools, these schools that will be operated by Towson are not charter schools but rather the schools will be run with significantly more oversight than a normal charter school. So the union may have a real greivance about the transfers, but it seems to be a bit of tempest in a teapot.
Towson officials said a leadership team made up of principals and other administrators decided which teachers would be kept at Morrell Park. Principals made the decisions at the other schools, said Jeffrey N. Grotsky, a senior researcher at Towson's College of Education.

Grotsky said the schools will find new teachers, in part, through two job fairs.

"It wasn't an evaluation on their ability to teach," Grotsky said. "It was a determination as to whether or not folks really bought into the approach we're going to use. As we build this culture of 'Failure is no option for kids,' it was whether or not we felt people were willing to make that commitment. It wasn't that they were unsatisfactory or poor teachers. And no one has lost their job."
Transfers happen all the time and the needs of Towson are perhaps a little different. Because of the supposed different approach, Towson needs to make sure it has buy-in from the staff in order to make the strides Towson is being expected to make.

Corporate Political Giving--Why Not?

At several points in the discussion between the Justices and advocates in the Wisoncsin Right to Life case, a concern about corproate political activity was either explicitly or implicitly mentioned. The general thought, even among campaign finance thinkers, is that corporate and union political activity should not be funded out of the entities general treasury. The justification that is given for such a prohibition is that the unique characterisitics of a corporation, that of state conferred existence, perpetual life (or nearly perpetual) and the corporations ability to amass capital and money means that corporations would have a funding advantage not available to individuals.

Having said that, in most other areas of the law, corporations are generally treated like "persons," meaning they can sue or be sued, be held liable for criminal conduct and other such things. Even in teh worl of campaign finance, corporation are permitted under the Belotti case to make contributions to ballot question campaigns, but not to campaigns for candidates or political parties. Of course, the rules in the states vary widely since some states allow corporate activity, often subject to the same limits as individuals.

What is the functional difference between Bill Gates spending $50 million of his own money on an independent expenditure and Microsoft doing it?

This is not to say that those opposing corporate contributions may not have a good case for the prohibition, but the standard justification is simply not accurate nor sufficient. Corporate entities (including unions) should be treated just like individuals in the federal campaign finance system.

If a corporation is treated in much the same way as an individual in most legal proceedings, why not treat corporations the same as individuals in campaign finance limits. That is treat a corporation as a person, subject to the biennial limits and individual limits. Under the FEC rules, there is a ceiling on the amount a person may contribute in any two year period, currently $108,200, of which no more than $42,700 may be given to candidates and $65,500 to other committees, of which no more than $42,700 may be given to PACs other than party committees. Furthermore, individuals cannot give more than $2,300 per election to canddiates, $28,500 per year to party committees, $10,000 total limit to state and local party committees and $5,000 to a PAC.

Based on thes limits, deemed appropriate so that no one individual may have too much of a "corrupting" influence on a canddaite, why then is a corporation, subject to the same limits, going to be more corrupting than an individual? If subject to the same financial limits, a corporation can have no more influence than any other wealthy individual. I fail to see the corrupting influence.

For those steeped in corporate activity, the quick answewr would be, corporations can spin off other corporations and multiply their money that way. True, but the FEC has rules in place to account for this kind of activity, the Affiliation rules. Under the affiliation rules, if two or more PACs share the same parent company that controls their goverance, those PACs share the limits. So let us say that Corporation A has a PAC and that Corporation A has a controlling interest in Corporation B, which also has a PAC. Under FEC rules, PAC A and PAC B share the same limits to candidates and parties. Thus PAC A and PAC B cannot both give $5,000 to say, Congressman Rangel for his Primary election. They would share one $5,000 limit, split any way.

Corporations with multiple entities can be subject to the same rules of affiliation. Under SEC rules, I am pretty certain, publicly traded corporations have to disclose subsidiary corporations (if not, that is a pretty easy regulatory change to make). While it is true that most corporations are not publicly traded, every state in the union has an online database of corproate registrations and it does not take a great deal of effort to find out ownership issues. Add to the fact that these smaller, privately held corporations generally are not spending large sums of money on political activity. So if subsidiary and partner corporatiosn, in this case, are treated like affiliated PACs, we can avoid the giving through multiple entities problem that worries some people.

Then there is the issue of corporate partnerships common in some industries. For example, if Corporation X and Corporation Y form a limited partnership for some purpose. The FEC has rules regarding partnerships as well. If a partnership, say a partnership between three doctors, makes a contribution to a canddite, unless otherwise specicified, that contribution is allocated amoung the three doctors in equal shares. That allocation would count against each doctor's limit to that candidate. Thus if Doctor M had made a $1,000 contributtion to Candidate Smith and then the parnership makes a $2,000 contribution to candidate Smith, Doctor M is treated by the law as having made $2,666 in contributions to Smith. (his original $1,000 plus his 1/3 share of the partnership contribution, assuming all partners have an equal share in teh parnership.)

So if a corporate limited partnership were to contribute to a canddiates, that contribution would also count against its biennial limit.

For the most part, the FEC has rules in place for the handling of contribution limits for the manner in which most corporations could act, either limiting the individual contributions by a corporation through the individual limits, using affiliation rules to prevent evasion of limits or through partnership rules to prevent excess contributions.

Which leaves us with only independent expenditures,a nd I return to my original question, what is the functional difference between Bill Gates spending $60 million and Mircosoft doing it? The functional difference is that there is no outside check on Bill Gates spending his money, but there is a real check on Microsoft doing so--Microsoft's shareholders.

Let us assume that Microsoft felt it necessary to spend $60 million on an independent expenditure. Of course it could do so, but it would have to justify its actions to the shareholders, many of whom may vociferously object. True, Microsoft may have legitimate political goals in mind when making the expenditure, but if the justification does not satisfy the stockholders, it may be the last time Microsoft or Wal-Mart or any other entity makes such a decision. Of course to some major corproations, $60 million is peanuts, but still, the stockholders may have invested for reasons other than political and may feel that such political expenditures does not actually improve its business and therefore is unnecessary.

Furthermore, as a practical matter, traditional corporations, teh boogey men of the reform community, are unlikely to get involved in indedpendent expenditures. Even the largest corporation PACs in America rarely make independent expenditures. For example, one of the largest corporate PACs in America is Federal Express PAC. Fed Ex raised $2.1 million in 2006 alone yet spent none on independent expenditures. Independent expenditures requires a great deal of work and the cost benefit analysis is not in the favor of the contributor, so why would a corporation do such a thing on a regular basis or on a large scale.

In summary, if the law treats corporations like individuals in other areas of the law, treating them as individuals in campaign finance is no different. If the purpose of the campaign finance law is to limit the corrupting influence of money in politics, treating corporations like individuals, using currently existing rules would allow corporations to make contributions without experiencing any more danger of a corrupting influence than anyother weathly donor.

Campaign Sex or "Locationships"

I didn't experience this as a campaign staffer, but then again I was engaged when I worked on campaigns. I know it happened though since some people were not as discrete as perhaps they should have been.

The Beginning of the End of Affirmative Action

Linda Chavez writes:
This week marks the beginning of the end of the racial spoils system that has come to symbolize affirmative action in higher education, as well as state contracting and employment. Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and the father of the California Civil Rights Initiative, which abolished state-sponsored racial preferences in California more than a decade ago, has launched a new effort to place similar initiatives on the ballot in 2008 in several states, including Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona.


In the 40 years that affirmative action programs have operated, millions of deserving white and Asian students have been passed over at competitive schools across the country in order to admit black and Hispanic students with significantly lower standardized admission test scores (usually 200-350 points lower on a 1600-point scale) and lower high school grades (typically a half point lower on a 4-point scale). These affirmative action students often struggle to compete in the classroom, and huge numbers of them simply drop out. Instead of helping black and Hispanic students succeed, affirmative action programs mismatch students and institutions.

But an end to racial preferences won't mean a return to the days when blacks and Hispanics were simply missing from college classrooms, as in my youth. In California, which outlawed preferences in 1996, more black and Hispanic students are enrolled in college today than ever before -- and more importantly, a higher percentage of them are graduating. In 1995, only 26 percent of black and Hispanic students actually graduated from the UC system; now 51 percent graduate, roughly equal to the white and Asian rate.

Affirmative action programs were never meant to be permanent, something former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reiterated in her majority opinion in the Supreme Court's 2003 University of Michigan law school case. Yet these programs are still available to the children -- and even grandchildren -- of the students I taught 40 years ago.

It's about time we ended racial double standards once and for all. In doing so, we will actually improve the chances that more black and Hispanic students will earn college degrees.
Of course, we need a K-12 education system that works as well, but affirmative action as it now stands, needs to be desroyed. Read the whole thing.

Disconnect Between Virginia Tech and Islamists

Wayne Simmons has the tally and the effects:
The tragedy that occurred on April 16, on the campus of Virginia Tech has highlighted the ways in which our nation pulls together and responds with compassion to those around us who are hurt and need our help. The outpouring of love and affection for those who were slaughtered is characteristic of America.

Yet this tragedy also highlights the disconnect between our public debate and the existential wars we are in.

The very same Americans expressing outrage against mass murderer Cho Seung-hui, do not express the same rage and anger against the Islamic terrorist’s who have already killed thousands of Americans and continue to slaughter Americans and other citizens of the world on a daily basis.


Just week the Associated Press wrote a story about a rare opinion article” written by Sgt. Jim Wilt. Wilt pointed out that at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan the US flag flew at half-staff last week to honor the lost lives at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to our own troops. "I think it is sad that we do not raise the bases' flag to half-staff when a member of our own task force dies," Wilt said.

Why do we express outrage and lower flags over the preventable massacre of our beautiful children at Virginia Tech and not even honor our own soldiers or support the War on Terror?
A disconnect indeed.

I Was Wrong on Immigration

I thought Bush's policies were not particularly bright on teh issue, but some guy in Utah has the real culprit: Satan.
The devil, Lucifer… whatever you want to call it, one Utah Republican says it is he who is trying to bring the USA down.

And Satan’s apparent weapon of choice: Allowing illegal immigrants to cross the border.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah County District 65 Chairman Don Larsen has submitted a formal resolution to oppose the devil’s plan to destroy the country -- to be discussed this weekend at the Utah County Republican Convention.

“In order for Satan to establish his ‘New World Order’ and destroy the freedom of all people as predicted in the scriptures, he must first destroy the U.S.,” Larsen’s resolution states. “[It is] insidious for its stealth and innocuousness.”

Larsen’s proposal to defeat Satan? Close the borders to illegal immigrants to “prevent the destruction of the U.S. by stealth invasion.”
OOOOO-kay. Mr. Larsen--not helping.

Youth Fear Family Breakdown and Being Alone

This is an interesting report:
Family breakdown tops the list of concerns for young people when discussing their futures, while getting married and having children are overwhelmingly popular life goals, according to a survey.
The findings were released this week by New America Media, in cooperation with the University of California Office of the President and Bendixen & Associates research company.

Young people have a "fear of winding up alone," said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, an association for 700 ethnic news organizations that was founded in 1996 by the Pacific News Service.

Members of the new generation, who spend much of their time on cell phones and text messaging, and "who we think of really as the connected generation is, in a way, most afraid of winding up without intimate connections," she said. There is a "deep yearning for traditional structures and values."

Another hallmark of this generation is its embrace of a cross-cultural "global society," said Ms. Close. Fifty-three percent of white youths and Asian youths say most of their friends are of a different race/ethnicity, while a smaller 41 percent of blacks and Hispanics say the same.

Sixty-five percent of those ages 16 to 22 said they had dated someone of a different race, and 87 percent said they would be willing to marry someone of a different race. "So this is a generation that has worked through, in their own experience, problems their parents are still wrestling with," Ms. Close said.

The survey asked the 601 youths, 80 percent of whom were born in California, 7 percent elsewhere in the United States and 12 percent outside the United States, to identify "the most pressing issue facing your generation in the world today."

Twenty-four percent chose "family breakdown" as their biggest concern, followed by violence in local communities (22 percent), poverty (17 percent) and global warming (14 percent).

War and government issues ranked low on the list; drugs, "environmental issues in general," "economic issues" and "racism/discrimination" barely registered.
I think I have a few problems with the methodology and sample, but the results are none the less interesting. If this survey is in any way indicative of how younger people think, most political leaders are making the wrong appeal to them.

A Politician Kept a Secret? Riiiggghhttt!

Senator Dick Durbin said that he knew the American public was being mislead about the war, but because of a secrecy vow as a Member of the Sentate Intelligence Committee, he kept it a secret.
The Senate's No. 2 Democrat says he knew that the American public was being misled into the Iraq war but remained silent because he was sworn to secrecy as a member of the intelligence committee.

"The information we had in the intelligence committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it," Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Wednesday when talking on the Senate floor about the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002.

"I was angry about it. [But] frankly, I couldn't do much about it because, in the intelligence committee, we are sworn to secrecy. We can't walk outside the door and say the statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that is being given to this Congress."
This does not seem particularly right with me, and with many others.

Politically, this is a really dumb move by Durbin. By saying he knew the intelligence was different and not acting on it, he puts himself in the position of being an enabler of the Bush Administration. That is not a pretty picture. By admitting he kept the secret, he looks incompetent since every Senator on the Hill knows how to "leak" information, but Durbin can't when it would clearly benefit him and his party.

Finally, in making these statements he is calling his fellow Senate Intelligence Committee colleagues either stupid or complicit in a scheme to delude the American people. The problem is that the five Democrats who voted for the war in 2002 saw the same intelligence and yet voted for military action. Things just are not jibing here.

The White House said there were intelligence errors, but everyone saw the same intelligence.

I am still trying to figure out how Durbin and the Democrats benefit from this disclosure.

Newark's Mayor Cory Booker

City Journal has the story of Newark's Mayor Cory Booker and the daunting task he faces. From crime and corruption to poverty and poor education, Booker has probably the toughest job of any mayor in America. Oh to have such a challenge though. If he succeeds even a little, it will be a major triumph.

On schools, in particular:
What may be Booker’s greatest challenge is waiting in the wings: reviving Newark’s atrocious school system. Right now, Booker doesn’t have control of the schools; the state took over the Newark system after a damning 1994 investigation found widespread mismanagement and corruption in the elected board of education. Since then, the state, under a court order, has poured billions of dollars into the city’s schools, so that Newark now spends nearly $17,000 per pupil a year—about 75 percent more than the national average.

Yet the money has done little good, since the state has pursued few educational innovations and hasn’t taken on entrenched educational interests (above all, the teachers’ union), which still control much of the system. Student performance has continued to plummet. “High school achievement rates have virtually flipped, from almost 70 percent of graduating Newark kids passing the state’s high school proficiency exam when the state took over, to only about 30 percent passing it now,” says Richard Cammarieri, a member of the Newark schools advisory board. E3 executive director Dan Gaby bluntly describes the system as “in crisis,” estimating that it spends an astonishing $1.3 million for every qualified student it manages to graduate from high school.

Booker’s first order of business if he gets control of the system, which remains an open question, will be to appoint a strong chancellor, along the lines of the Chicago schools chief or New York City schools chancellor. He wants to bring to Newark many of the promising education reforms he sees around the country: closing and replacing chronically failing schools (Newark has some 30 of them), letting parents choose which schools within the system to send their kids to, and inviting more operators of successful private schools into the city to run charter schools. “I have stopped going to lotteries for admission to charter schools because I was so saddened to see parents who have run out of options for their children,” Booker says.

Booker has thrown his weight behind a state bill, sponsored by Democratic legislators, that gives tax credits to companies that contribute to a scholarship fund for Newark students who want to attend private schools or jump to public schools in better-performing districts. Critics, especially the state’s powerful teachers’ union, have branded the scholarship money a surreptitious voucher program that will eventually harm public schools, and the state’s governor, Jon Corzine, has yet to endorse the legislation. But Booker responds: “Who can object to a pool of money that will give poor children the same opportunities as middle-class kids?”

Booker could have even tougher education battles to come, especially in ending seniority rules that allow veteran teachers to pick where they want to work, regardless of performance, and rewriting bureaucratic regulations that make it tough to fire bad educators. “If you can’t change those things, you will fail in any effort to fix this system,” says Gaby.

Privacy at High School

Joanne Jacobs has a story about two girls at a Washington State high school who were caught on a security camera kissing.
Video cameras at Gig Harbor High School were installed to catch trespassers, fights, harassment – the stuff that threatens safety at the campus of 1,700 students.
The surveillance system has also helped administrators find and discipline students who break rules, such as leaving trash on a lunch table.

But the high school says it will tighten its own rules on security cameras after two female students were filmed kissing and holding hands.

Keith Nelson, the high school’s dean of students for almost two years, shared the footage with the parents of one of the girls. They have since transferred her to a school outside the Peninsula School District, officials said.

“It’s not our normal practice,” said Principal Greg Schellenberg. “It’s not going to happen again.”

The other girl, who remains at Gig Harbor High, says their privacy was invaded.

“We weren’t doing anything inappropriate, nothing anyone else wouldn’t do,” she said.

The girl, a 17-year-old senior, described the kiss as a quick “peck.”

The News Tribune is not naming her because she is a minor and her family feared retaliation. Her father works for the newspaper.

Nelson said the parents who transferred their daughter approached him before the kissing incident. They asked him to notify them of any out-of-the-ordinary behavior, he said.

A few weeks later, he was inside the busy high school commons area, where by chance he witnessed the kiss, he said. He went back to the security room, watched the footage and invited the parents to view it.

There’s no expectation of privacy when students are in a crowded place, Nelson said. And he would have acted the same way if it had been a boy and a girl kissing, he said.
Okay, from a parental perspective, I can see asking the principal to report to parents any "out-of-the-ordinary behavior" and I don't really fault the principal for acceeding to the parental concerns. Also, I fully support the notion that a high school commons area is not a place where anyone, let alone two minors, would have any expecation of privacy.

However, I do dispute the notion that the principal would have reacted the same way if the girl had kissed a boy. Yes, such public displays of affection are usually against the rules, but often the rule is ignored by students and staff alike if the kiss is indeed a quick peck. So long as the kiss doesn't cross into spit swapping or other more aggressive behaviors, a quick kiss is usually ignored and perhpas rightfully so.

But the fact that it was two girls kissing, and the incident becomes much more involved and perhaps to the level of a double standard. Had this been a boy-girl kiss, maybe, maybe, there would have been a warning, but I would guess that boy-girl PDAs are not policed nearly to this level.

Carbon Emissions, Spending and Private Planes in the Friendly Skies

Well, it seems that all those Democratic candidates debating last night really don't think much of their carbon emissions or their campaign cash.
A flock of small jets took flight from Washington Thursday, each carrying a Democratic presidential candidate to South Carolina for the first debate of the political season.

For Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, it was wheels up shortly after they voted in favor of legislation requiring that U.S. troops begin returning home from Iraq in the fall.

No one jet pooled, no one took commercial flights to save money, fuel or emissions.

All but Biden, who flew on a private jet, chartered their flights -- a campaign expense of between $7,500 and $9,000.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bad Case Yeilds Bad Laws

This op-ed makes a pretty good case for why we need to make sure we know what we are doing when responding to the horror of life, whether it is 9/11 or Virginia Tech. There's a saying in the legal profession:
Bad cases make for bad law. Drafting sweeping legislation in response to a particularly terrible incident can end up doing more harm than good. The Patriot Act, produced quickly and without serious deliberation in the wake of 9/11, is a case in point.

The Virginia Tech massacre, with its horrific toll and brutal perpetrator, leads everyone to ask: Could this incident have been prevented, and how could we stop something like it from happening in the future?


The victims of last week's shootings deserve more than just a quick fix that will do little to address the real problems brought to the fore by this tragedy. Designing laws aimed at preventing "future Virginia Techs" will require serious, thoughtful and time-consuming deliberation.

And, even then, they still might not work.
As tragic as the events may be, there is probably little that can be done systematically to prevent Virginia Tech from happening again. It is tragic, but probably the truth.

The Problem of Truancy

The Indianspolis Star has a series of Editorials about the problem of truancy. (Check the right side column for the links)
A Star Editorial Board analysis found that about 13 percent of students in the county's public schools -- roughly 16,000 children -- recorded 10 or more days of unexcused absences in the 2005-06 school year.
That is only unexcused absences, what about the excused absences for those students?

Why Don't We Talk About Education's Goals

That is the question Will Fitzhugh is asking:
Edupundits have chosen very complex subject matter for their investigations and reports. They study and write about dropouts, vouchers, textbooks, teacher selection and training, school governance, budgets, curricula in all subjects, union contracts, school management issues, and many many more.

Meanwhile, practically all of them fail to give any attention to the basic purpose of schools, which is to have students do academic work. Almost none of them seems inclined to look past the teacher to see if the students are, for instance, reading any nonfiction books or writing any term papers

Of course all of the things they do pay attention to are vitally important, but without student academic work they mean very little. Now, I realize there are state standards in math and reading, and some states test for writing after a fashion, but no state standards ask if students have read a history book while they were in school or written a substantial research paper, and neither do the SAT, ACT, or NAEP tests.
Of course, Fitzhugh's lament is not new, but purpose and content are difficult questions full of "politics" that no one likes to talk about because it entails realizing fully that failure of politicized curiccula and the failure of that adults in the education system.

Media Willing Dupes of Military "Propaganda"

Ray Robinson has the story of shoddy reporting that lead to the mythologizing of Jessica Lynch.
The recent hearing was to cover Lynch's 2003 kidnapping and rescue in Iraq, which the Department of Defense painted as a story of heroism, despite a differing account from Lynch.

There are two facts that get left out of this type of reporting:

a) Jessica Lynch is a hero just by serving her country whether she fired a shot or was knocked out immediately during the ambush that injured her severely and

b) the story of her shoot-out with Iraqi forces was not a product of the US military but of the US media.

The US media created this recounting of her exploits from vague, unofficial statements by "undisclosed officials" and having been revealed as rumor mongers started looking for someone to blame. Who else would they pin it on but the US military?

Will Henry Waxman investigate shoddy reporting? Don't be the farm on it.

Free Speech (Free Press) Victory in Washington State

The Center for Competitive Politics has the links to the deciion in the Gas Tax case in Washington State.

Give Charter Students the Same Chance

This editorial appearing in the Baltimore examiner asks an interesting question, if charter school students get less money per student, should their parents pay less in taxes?
The state’s highest court earlier this month heard arguments about whether charter schools in Baltimore City should receive the same funding per student as traditional public schools.

We would like to ask the court a different question: Should parents who send their children to charter schools — which are public schools — pay the same taxes as those who go to traditional public schools?

Why ask? Because their children each receive about half as much money as those in traditional schools for their education. We won’t even mention parents who send their children to private schools and reap no direct benefit from their taxes spent funding public education.
The case being mentioned is awaiting an opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. Previously, a lower court ruled that aside from a small percentage (around 2-5 percent) for central administrative services like payroll and benefits administration, charter schools are entitled to the same funding level as traditional public schools. Teh basis for the ruling--the plain language of the statutes, which the Examiner points out:
The 2003 Maryland Public Charter Act says the city school board must fund charter schools in a way “commensurate with the amount disbursed to other public schools in the local jurisdiction.” That seems pretty clear. Maybe city public school officials can’t read?

That problem at least could be fixed. Their worldview cannot. Supporters of short-shrifting charter schools say paying nearly $11,000 per charter school student could lead to layoffs for those in other public schools. Since when did protecting a few jobs become more important than preparing the 4,000 students in city charter schools for college and gainful employment?
In truth, the Baltimore city school board can't even budget its money correctly, let alone allocated funds for charter schools. But I digress, the fact that the adults in the education system are more worried about their own skins is nothing new. But it is not layoffs they are worried about, but pay differences.

If a charter school had more money, they might be able to pay teachers better and since most charters' teaching staff is outside of union contracts, that increased pay might lead to more teachers wanting to teach at charters--in short leaving the union. We can't have that, now can we.

In conlcusion, the Examiner writes:
Charters should be given the same chance to succeed as other public schools. Restricting their funding only serves those who care more for protecting their jobs than educating students. The court must force the city and all jurisdictions in the state to fund charter schools at the same level as public schools.
I think the Maryland Court of Appeals will feel the same way.

Reaction to Wisconsin Right to Life Arguments

True, a number of far more experienced and dare I say wiser, minds have posted their thoughts on the arguments. I have only the transcript to to work from, but unlike Brad Smith, I can't help myself but to take a guess as to an outcome--I like to.

I think as applied challenges will be allowed on a 5-4 decision with Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy in the majority. However, I expect a somewhat fractured opinion on the test that will be used. Perhaps only a 4 Justice plurality on one test and Justice Kennedy again sitting astride a fence.

Justices Thomas and Scalia will vote to overrule McConnell on the matter of the electioneering communicatian, but that is not surprising, it was their original opinion. We can expect a scathing opinion from Scalia on this issue again.

But what strikes me most odd about the argument was the completely lack of ability of the Governemnt and the Intervenors to articulate even some semblence of a test other than a "context" test. But that context test also seems more focused on the subjective intent of the speaker, in this case WRTL. Because WRTL and other groups might be predisposed to defeating the candidate mentioned in the futhre ads, that in and of itself would disqualify the ad.

But this intent test ignores some significant political realities, that there may be groups with a primary issue goal who may seek to influence a lawmaker via grassroots activity and advertising and not care one whit, publicly or privately, whether or not the lawmaker is elected or not. They have an issue agenda and want to talk about it.

But a subjective intent prong in any test presents a real difficult matter for the Court. How do you measure intent? Where do you find the intent? What evidence must be presented to show intent? These would be subjects for more litigation

Then for me there is another, more Orwellian overtone. Absent an declaration or some concrete statement of a desire to defeat a lawmaker in an election, will the government seek to have a presumption of intent to defeat, that must be rebutted by the defendant? How do you square that presumption with "innocent until proven guilty?"

The other fator that struck me about the arguments of the Government and intervenors is that the assumption that these electioneering communications would be negative in tone, that is anti-incumbent. The Court seemed to accept that characterization, but wouldn't a positive ad be just as violative of the law if the intent of the sponsor was to elect a lawmaker?

Finally, I hope to post a few comments later about corporate contributions, but that is for another time.

Neveda Legislative Committee Passes Bill with Charter School Salary Caps

I had to read this story twice to make sure I didn't miss anything:
The Senate Human Resources and Education Committee voted unanimously to pass AB334, sponsored by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, which tightens several regulations regarding charter schools.

State and local school boards don't have the authority to even question the budgets of charter schools, said Smith. While charter schools need independence, state lawmakers have to establish some basic guidelines on what is allowable, she said.

Her bill would establish educational requirements for charter school administrators, and limit their salaries to the salary of the highest-paid administrator in the district, excluding superintendents.

Since school boards don't have much power over charter schools, the salary caps are a necessary safeguard, said Smith. As more charter schools pass students on to other institutions, or use online or distance education, the state has to be on guard, she added.

"I don't think there is a lot of abuse," said Smith. "But I don't want charter schools to get a bad name."
While that is a noble sentiment on the part of Sen. Smith, I don't see why it is necessary to have the caps.

But the more troubling aspect is that this could be the first step to exerting control over charters, which by design operate outside the traditional school bureaucracy. If the school board gets budget review, then they will soon seek changes to the charter's budget and then you are essentially regulating the charter and the school loses the independence.

Charter schools are accountable to the people they serve and most charters I have seen operating publish their budget to the students and parents. That is how budgets and salaries don't get out of hand--information in the hands of consumers.

Fred Thompson Also Cites Orwell

George Orwell is getting a work out today. Fred Thompson also cites Orwell while dicussing the watering down and rewriting of history in Great Britain. Of course, one could say that we are not British, but the point Thompson is making nonetheless holds true in the United States, we cannot ignore historical fact in order to avoid offending people.
The British are, in the main, a particularly polite people, but there is a point when the desire not to offend the easily offended becomes an even bigger problem. We’ve already seen an English organization ban images of Piglet, the harmless character from the classic Winnie the Pooh books, because of protests by those who imagine that simply seeing a cartoon pig is a violation of their civil rights. We’ve even seen the banning of pins bearing St. George’s cross, because it reminds some of the Crusades — accompanied by demands that Great Britain get rid of the venerable Union Jack for the same reason.

These views, common in the Middle East, are not just an academic or intellectual challenge. We have seen homegrown British terrorists act on the same lies and conspiracy theories that are now being used to silence teachers. Ideas do have consequences and we all need to understand that the war on terror is taking place as much in the realm of ideas as it is on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

America is a free country and we do not tell people what they can believe or say. We should realize, however, that there are people in America who are also telling their children that the Holocaust is a lie and that those who say otherwise are their enemies. We cannot prevent them from doing so, but we also cannot let them promote their agenda by claiming they are victimized by historical facts.

This would be a good place to quote an important British writer, George Orwell, who wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Even in America, our children are often taught a watered down, inoffensive, and culturally sensitive version of events ranging from the Crusades to the battle at the Alamo.

It’s time for people who believe that they have a stake in Western civilization and its traditions to get a little backbone — even if it offends somebody.
We Americans seem to be on a path that whatever we say, we have to make sure that we don't offend people. So we use terms that are politically correct rather than accurate. There is of course a need to be civil in civil society, but that is not a license to speak in falsehoods and euphemisms. Nor is it a license to ignore history and the present.

Poor Thoughts and Poor Language

Jonah Goldberg has a great piece titled Orwell's Orphans: The Meaning of Meaningless Jargon. The heart of the problem with modern "intellectual thought and writing" is that they are so painfully bad that they reinforce each other.
I say that if George Orwell were alive today, he would beat these people into submission with a London phonebook.

Why drag Orwell into this? Well, because he is the secular saint of clean writing and clear thinking.

Orwell argued that bad thinking and bad language are, in the parlance of today's twelve-step culture, mutual enablers. "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, but then fail all the more completely because he drinks," Orwell noted by way of illustration. The English language "becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

This was especially true in the realm of political speech. He noted in his brilliant 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" that "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible." The "transfer of populations" or the "elimination of unreliable elements" were, for example, what people say when they really mean, "I believe in killing my opponents when I can get good results by doing so."
Go read the whole thing.

Yeah, And If Pigs Had Wings

The title of the op-ed by Froma Harrop in the Providence Journal (courtesy of Real Clear Politics) is "If Young Americans Voted" could just as easily called, If Pigs Had Wings. Sure, if young americans voted, we might have a differnt Congress, we might have a different President, and we might have a different everything.

But they don't vote and in the 35 years since the ratification of the 26th Amendment (which lowered the voting age to 18), the political parties and many others have been searching for a way to get more 18-25 years olds to the polls and nothing has worked.

Harrop points to a recent Pew Research Center study which found that 59 percent of 18-29 year olds had a low knowledge of current affairs.
Another recent survey, from Harvard's Institute of Politics, attempts to assess the political attitudes of the 29 million Americans age 18 and to 24. It finds that 35 percent identify with Democrats and 25 percent with Republicans, but 40 percent with neither. Some 61 percent think health insurance is a basic right, and only 23 percent want religious values to play a strong role in government.

The Millennials sound liberal but feel independent. If push comes to shove, they'd probably be Democratic voters, were they to vote.

Stand aside, Boomers and Xers, the Harvard report declares, "The Millennial Generation is preparing in 2008 to make their voice heard again, perhaps louder than ever." We shall see.
Indeed, we shall see. But I wouldn't hold my breath about getting more 18-29 year olds to the polls.

It is not that these younger people don't care, its that they don't feel compelled to vote. Whether it is apathy or a general feeling of inability to make a difference, most young people don't vote. Until a motivator can be found, they won't vote in droves either.

One Democrat friend said that the war in Iraq may motivate them to go to the polls. When asked why? The response was, because they are the generation that would fight the war. When reminded that the military is an all-volunteer force and this generation simply didn't need to volunteer, the response was silence.

Motivation to vote is a tricky thing and it is largely based upon roots. Having roots in a community, things like home ownership, kids in school, church attendence and other factors that bring a person into a community are much better predictors of voting behavior. These are all things that most 18-29 year olds don't have. That is not a knock against them, it is simply a fact.

Advice on Social Security

I liked this short little post over at Coyote Blog on Social Security, particularly these last two points:
If you have some control of when you you earn your lifetime income, try to earn as much as you can in the next 10-15 years. After that, taxes are almost sure to go up substantially. It would not surprise me to see top marginal rates back well above 50% again.

Democrats in Congress are pushing for new welfare programs, particularly socialized medicine, right now because they must understand that in 10 years, the window for major new spending programs will be closed. The pressures in a decade will be for program cutbacks as costs really start to balloon, and I can't imagine that new transfer programs will be taken seriously as the old ones eat up a larger and larger part of GDP. Of course, my point is that this is the last time that such a program would be politically feasible. From a financial management point of view, we are past the point where adding major new social programs makes any sense. In fact, adding such a program now would be like a guy who has gotten over his head and knows he can't pay his credit card bills taking his last money out of the bank and buying a plasma TV.
Coyote also points out that if you are under 50 and in the top 40% of earners in this country, simply forget about getting Social Security beneifts.

I had pretty much given up on getting SS about 10 years ago, although only recently has the savings rate in my household gone up. It has taken a hit due to those nasty student loan payments, but we are trying.

Mitt Romney on Campaign Finance Reform

Writing at, Romney takes on McCain-Feingold:
Washington's back-scratching political class apparently sees it differently. A few years ago, they locked arms around a measure sponsored by Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Russ Feingold, a Democrat, imposing unprecedented restrictions on the political activities of everyday Americans. Initiatives that had been legal for as long as anyone could remember were suddenly transformed into sanctionable offenses, all under the guise of "campaign finance reform."


So who, other than lawyers trained in the intricacies of federal campaign law, has benefited from McCain-Feingold? Washington's political class. Restricting political speech ultimately hurts those in the greatest need of political speech – challengers to incumbent politicians (thus the joke that McCain-Feingold should be called the "Incumbent Protection Act"). Do we really need Washington politicians doing themselves more favors to protect their jobs?

America has a rich history of protecting speech, and these protections draw on the unambiguous language of the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech." We step into dangerous territory when politicians start eviscerating our fundamental freedoms in the name of amorphous principles, like campaign finance reform. If I am elected President, a top priority will be to push for the repeal of this deeply-flawed measure, and restore the full freedom of political participation and expression to the American people.
The pledge to repeal the law is a nice thing to hear.

Why Teachers Quit

Teacher Magazine has a story on the reasons why teachers leave the profession--stiffling administration.
It wasn’t her teenage students who drove Meghan Sharp out of teaching—it was the crippling inflexibility of her administrators.

All the innovative curriculum ideas and field trips she proposed to engage her 10th grade biology students were promptly shot down, and she left the profession after just two years.

“I still enjoyed teaching, but it was a constant battle with the administration,” says Sharp, who worked in an urban district in northern New Jersey. “I had to do things like submit weekly lesson plans. There was a lot of bureaucracy.” She now goes by her maiden name and asked Teacher Magazine not to identify her old school because she works as an education policy analyst.

According to a recent report on teacher attrition by the federal National Center for Education Statistics, her predicament—and her departure—are common in the profession. Among former teachers who took noneducation jobs, 64 percent said they have more professional autonomy now than when they taught. Only 11 percent said they’d had more influence over policies at school than in their current jobs.

The survey, based on interviews with more than 7,000 current and former teachers, also found widespread problems with workloads and general working conditions, and it notes that the percentage of teachers abandoning the classroom continues to grow. Among public school teachers, that proportion reached 8 percent in the 2004-05 school year—up from 6 percent in 1988-89.
Here is the study from the National Center for Education Statistics. According to the article, it would seem like teachers are leaving education in droves at least as compared to 15 years ago, right. Well, yes and no. According the NCES study the top two reasons why teachers leave the classroom are retirement (30 percent) and to take another education related but not teaching job (29.1 percent). The latter could be administrator, public policy, consultant or any number of other jobs. Another 12.5 percent leave to care for family members. Only twelve percent take a job outside the field of education.

Of those staying in the field of education, over half, 54 percent, are working for the local government, which leads me to conclude that those who stay in education are working for the school board in some capacity. Likewise, 28.5 percent are working for the state governemnt. So over 80 percent of public school teachers who leave teaching stay in teh education field working for the local or state government bureaucracies. (See table 7 of the NCES study).

Yes, teacher turnover is a problem, particularly when trying to find staffing for the regular turnover of younger workers, those most prone to change career tracks and at teh same time dealing with a large retiring workforce. But take care when reading these "the sky is falling stories."

Bad News Alert!!! Dow Closes Above 13,000 For First Time

That would be the headline if AP business writers Malden Read and Tim Paradis were writing the headline.
It looks like cause for celebration: The Dow Jones industrial average surged from 12,000 to 13,000 in just six months. But appearances can be deceiving, and there may be more reason to worry than rejoice about Wall Street's latest accomplishment.

Stronger-than-expected profits from several large companies helped push the stock market to historical heights. But many big corporations, including the Dow components, made a chunk of that money overseas, where economies are growing faster than in the United States. And many of the same worries that weighed on investors earlier in the year remain: rising energy costs, a slumping housing market and a possible credit crunch.
so no matter what evidence might be showing to the contrary, the economy is on the verge of tanking.

Forgive me, but a great many people keep crying wolf and the economy continues to chug along and grow.

Appearances may be decieving? Seriously, are these guys on crack? Unemployment is at a 20 some-odd year low. Jobs are being created at a good pace. True, the housing market has slowed, but when the stock market slows, it is called a correction. Can't the same thing happen in the housing market? Durable goods manufacturing is up, investment is up and U.S. companies are making money overseas.

That last one is supposedly a cause for concern? How so? If U.S. companies are making money selling products overseas, doesn't that mean that U.S. exports are up? Isn't that a good thing? I simply don't get where the bad news is.

Oh, one other thing, you can bet that the Bush Administration will get zero credit for this economic good news.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oregon Governor On Food Stamps

That is the truth, although it is a short term experiment:
In fact, the Democratic governor couldn't afford much of anything during a trip to a Salem-area grocery store on Tuesday, where he had exactly $21 to buy a week's worth of food the same amount that the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries.

Kulongoski is taking the weeklong challenge to raise awareness about the difficulty of feeding a family on a food stamp budget.
Kulongski was accompanied by a food stamp user, who is also a state employee:
Along the way, Sigman-Davenport, a mother of three who works for the state Department of Human Services and went on food stamps in the fall after her husband lost his job, dispensed tips for shopping on a budget. Scan the highest and lowest shelves, she told the governor. Look for off-brand products, clip coupons religiously, get used to filling, low-cost staples like macaroni and cheese and beans, and, when possible, buy in bulk.
It seems that other political leaders could take a page form Kulongski--but I wouldn't count on it.

Supreme Court Transcripts in WRTL case

The transcript is posted here. Prof. Rick Hasen has reaction to the hearing here.

McCain-Feingold Unstable Law

That is the assertion that Sen. Mitch McConnell, the name plaintiff in McConnell v. FEC from 2003, makes in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.
Those who agree with me have reason to hope that the Supreme Court will overturn this restrictive provision. One reason is that the court already acknowledged its potential harm in McConnell v. FEC; another is that the number of groups wrongly swept up by the blackout provision will only multiply as the primary season becomes longer. The prospect of so many appeals would itself be a sign of the law's instability.

The irony in all of this, of course, lies in another prospect: that groups as dissimilar as Wisconsin Right to Life and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin might soon stand together to applaud the same ruling.
And if the latter happens, is that not an signal to the Congress that McCain-Feingold is a poor law indeed?

Bob Bauer
expounds on Sen. McConnell's point:
McConnell does, however, predict that the law will continue to be vigorously litigated, and he sees in this a mark of "the law’s instability." This is worth considering: that the significant (and some would say, mounting) opposition to the law, and the endless disputes over its meaning and alleged "loopholes," have sapped its credibility and put into doubt its effectiveness. This instability is costly—to the litigants, but also to the bystanders, who include not only members of a befuddled public but also a range of political actors denied any clear or settled understanding of what the law allows. "Specialists" are springing up all over the place, ready to the help. Their services are not cheap; access to those services is not widely available.


In truth, no part of the law is uncontested: not the ban on party soft money, not the solicitation of soft money by candidates or officeholders, not the ban on corporate or union pre-election advertising. It is all contested, these and other provisions, and the disputes show no sign of abating. Senator McConnell is right: the law is unstable. And here is to be found a clue to its life expectancy.
The wide range of the law and its many disparate provisions means that very little will escape the crucible of the courtroom. While many laws are often challenged upon enactment, the fact that even its sponsors are not of a common mind about the purposes of the bill and its effects should be an indicator of the continued efficacy of the law, or more accurately its lack of efficacy.

Center for Competitive Politics on Wisconsin Right to Life case

Brad Smith and Steve Hoerstring have this op-ed in the Washington Times today regarding the Supreme Court case heard today. The money quote:
Neither the government nor Sen. John McCain, who has personally intervened in the case on behalf of the FEC, is shy in revealing the purposes of the electioneering communications ban: preventing criticism of and limiting voter communication with officeholders.

According to Mr. McCain's brief, Wisconsin Right to Life's advertisements possessed "two critical characteristics" that should make them illegal. "First, the ads took a critical stance regarding a candidate's position on an issue. And, second, they referred to the candidate by name in urging the audience to contact the candidate about the issue." The government argues that Wisconsin Right to Life could avoid the ban by leaving Mr. Feingold's name out of its ads, or, because the ban only applies to television and radio, using print media. But experts agree that not naming the officeholder makes the effort less effective, and grass-roots efforts also fare better when run in broadcast media. In other words, the government can tolerate criticism, so long as it is ineffective.
The solution, either don't criticize a candidate by name or do using PAC money. The fist option is absurd on its face and the second is not particularly easy to do on short notice, which is what most tactical political situtations tend to be. The Senate usually schedules votes with short notice, maybe a week and finding funding to run television/radio ads or even print ads in a week is difficult for small groups without an established PAC.
This delay can be fatal to a grass-roots campaign. As Wisconsin Right to Life asserts, "A lost opportunity at the critical time is an opportunity lost forever." And data show that McCain-Feingold freezes many groups out of the process at the most critical time. For one thing, it's not as if Congress stops voting close to an election. Within the 60 days preceding the 2004 election, for example, there was a 156 percent increase in the number of House bills and resolutions introduced over the previous 60-day period. In recent years, within blackout periods, the House and Senate have voted on such high-profile issues as abortion, impeachment, homeland security and appropriations.

Worse yet, the ban on ads often extends far beyond 60 days before the election. In presidential races, for example, the ad ban is triggered for 30 days before the national party conventions and 30 days before the primary in each state reached by a broadcast station. In many broadcast markets, stations serve several states. As a result, in markets such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., the blackout period extends upward of 200 days in a presidential election year.

Officeholders have no right to insulate themselves from criticism for even a single day, let alone 200. If the First Amendment means anything, it ought to mean that a nonprofit membership organization such as Wisconsin Right to Life can speak freely about politicians and issues -- especially close to an election. The right to do so is central to the First Amendment and fundamental to the maintenance of a healthy democracy.

Wal-Mart, The Next Big Healthcare Player

For all the heat that Wal-Mart has suffered over the years for its employee health benefits, I wonder how much play this story will get.
Wal-Mart announced today that it is planning to open as many as 400 health clinics in its stores over the next two to three years. The retail giant says that if demand remains high, it could open as many as two-thousand of the clinics within seven years.

The company says it will contract with local hospitals and other health organizations to get the clinics up and running.
In a speech to the 2007 World Health Care Conference, Scott notes:
The fact is the time for politics in our nation’s debate on health care is long past. The
time for real and meaningful change has come.

We think the country agrees that health care needs to be affordable. It needs to be
accessible. And it needs to be high quality.
Scott also took the opportunity to talk about the last big healthcare initiative undertaken by Wal-Mart, the $4 generic drug program:
I think the American people want to make better health care decisions. But most importantly, I think Americans -- with the help of their doctors and the right tools and information -- are ready to make better health care decisions.

Our company saw this with our $4 prescription drug program. It was one of the most
exciting things we have done in a long time -- for a lot of reasons.
It reaffirmed that Wal-Mart is the unbeatable price leader. It energized our associates.

They saw yet again the power of our company’s purpose -- to save people money so they
can live better.

There were a lot of great stories about seniors not having to cut their pills in half, or parents being able to do something extra for their families. The $4 program made -- and continues to make -- a difference in the lives and the health of the American people.

We also saw pharmacists and doctors working together in new ways on behalf of their
patients. When patients had prescriptions that might cost hundreds of dollars, our
pharmacists reached out and worked with their doctors to determine if a generic might be a better alternative.

But you know what else it did -- on a more systemic level? It empowered consumers.

We educated consumers about the efficacy of generics. We gave them complete price
transparency. We posted the list of prescriptions and the price -- $4. We encouraged
them to talk to their doctors and learn about generics. And you know what happened?
They acted like consumers. They started making more informed and better decisions.

The response has been nothing short of spectacular. Since we launched the program, our customers have saved about $290 million dollars on their prescription drugs -- that is $290 million removed from the cost of health care in this country. $4 prescriptions now account for more than 35 percent of all the orders we fill -- and that percentage is growing. And listen to this: nearly 30 percent of the $4 prescriptions are filled without insurance.

Within days of announcing our $4 program, countless other discounters, drug stores and supermarkets dropped their prices on generic prescriptions. That has surely saved our health care system millions more.

So let there be no doubt that the private sector can lead. The private sector can make a difference.
The cost savings for consumers cannot be overstated, Wal-Mart, by itself, saved American consumers $290 million dollars on drugs since September 2006, a span of 8 months, that comes to $36.25 million a month or over $1 million dollars a day. If there is any doubt as to whether private market forces can effect real change in a short time, take this lesson to heart. One company saves American consumers over $1 million a day on one of the most expensive health care costs around--prescription drugs. That does not count how much money is being saved by consumers at other pharmacies and companies. I would be suprised if Wal-Mart's leadership on this matter was saving consumers some $2 to $3 million a day through market competetion. At $3 million a day, this market drive approach saves American consumers nearly $1.1 billion a year. That is Billion with a great big fat B.

Now with teh announcement of health clinics, my suspicion is that this too will server to drive down the costs of health care while providing transparency about costs. But the clinics provide a way to deliver healthcare without the hassles of an emergency room and for the uninsured this can be literally a life saver. Will Wal-Mart make some money off this program--you bet, they are after all in the business of making money. But the difference is that Wal-Mart makes its money not on individual transactions, but on the power of volume. If a visit in a Wal-Mart clinc costs $5 dollars, they might lose money on that transaction, but they make money on other transactions or on the fact that they might have thousands of such transactions per day and that volume is what drives their business model.

Campaign Finance At the Supreme Court Today

Today the Supreme Court will hear one hour of oral arugments in the consolidated cases of McCain, et al v. Wisconsin Right to Life and FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life. The issue is whether the ban on electioneering communications present in McCain-FEingold is subject to "as-applied" challenges even though the Court upheld the law in a facial challenge in teh case of McConnell v. FEC in 2003. SCOTUSBlog has a very good preview of the case. Prof. Rick Hasen has comments and links to lots of other commentary and the briefs in the case.

Baltimore City Teachers Union Calls Contract Offer Insulting

It seems to me that the embattled Baltimore City School Board, who has been battling the public relations disaster of a really bad budget document, is taking anoter PR shot to the chin:
The head of the Baltimore Teachers Union called the city school system's contract proposal for teachers and aides "insulting, degrading and downright disrespectful" last night as about 40 union members rallied outside a school board meeting and accused the board of failing to negotiate in good faith.


Union officials say the board wants to extend teachers' work days and increase their health care premiums while giving them almost no pay increase and cutting back on their sick days. In addition, teachers would be required to perform lavatory duty, and administrators would be allowed to dictate the format of teachers' lesson plans.
Since we don't know the details of the proposal, it is impossible to comment on whether it is fair or unfair, or whether it is simply a negoitation position. What is clear though is the the School Board is now on the defensive on the matter since it won't comment on negotiations.

The unions have no self-imposed limitations on their ability to speak about negotiations and it is time that school boards call them on it. The school board should present their side of the story as well. The unions are also not afraid to use hyperbole in making their case:
"These negotiations have been an insult to us," said Marietta English, co-president of the union. "What they're asking is ridiculous."

At the rally, she led chants of "enough is enough." She compared the system's treatment of teachers to the way slaves were treated, saying, "What happened on the plantation when the slaves had enough?"
Apparently, part of the problem is the schools that are not run by the school board, but schools run by Towson University and Edison schools, both of which have undertaken steps or have working conditions different than those at board run schools.

Tillman, Lynch and "Propaganda"

Those who serve our country deserve not only our respect but also our gratitude, for it is a profession that entails the potential loss of one's life in the protection of our nation and the advancement of our national goals. However, the circus that occured yesterday on Capitol Hill regarding Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch is not about finding the truth or about finding out why two soldiers' stories were exploited by the military for public relations purposes, it was about scoring political points against an Administration that attempted to score political points with the stories.

I don't think anyone seriously believes that the military does not use public relations spinning to weave a good story about the courage, skill and fortitude of its soldiers. After all, we need to continue to recruit soldiers to undertake a hazardous mission. Nor do I think anyone truly believes that Pat Tillman was not killed by friendly fire or that Jessica Lynch was made out to be something more than she really was, a soldier wounded in the line of duty and rescued. By her own admission, Lynch is not some "little girl Rambo." Did the military spin the stories of Lynch and Tillman? Yes and I am not particularly happy about it, but it is understandable.

However, what transpired yesterday was not truth finding, for we already know the truth. What happened yesterday is nothing more than another attempt to deride an Administration that, while making missteps, has tried to protect this country.

The crusade of Kevin Tillman and his mother to find out why the death of their brother and son was improperly reported is understandable, but is this really the kind of witch hunt this Congress needs to be involved in? The Bush Administration has proven itself time and again of making bad judgments when it comes to bad news. Do we really need to capitalize on this family's grief and tragedy to make the point again? What will really be accomplished? Rep. Henry Waxman pledged yesterday to get answers to what the Pentagon knew and what the White House knew and when about Tillman's death. The answer may be "nothing" and that is an answer that won't wash with Waxman, so hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars will be spent on an investigation that will not yeild anything new.

Yes, the Pentagon exploited Tillman and Lynch, making them into heroes on a scale that is not accurate. That is not to say that they are not heroes, for they are, but rather they are ordinary heroes. Now the Democrats want to make them in to martyrs, for a cause far less ignoble than hero worship--political grandstanding.

Make no mistake about it, what Henry Waxman and the Democratic leadership are doing is grandstanding and nothing more. They seek to bask in the light of the media and in the stories of Tillman and Lynch to further a political agenda. If what the Pentagon did with these soldiers is wrong, what the Democrats are doing is dispicable.

A Potential New Habitable Planet Found

How cool is this news:
For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for "life in the universe."

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away.
One of the fruits of mankind's quest for knowledge is that we find neat things, both here on Earth and far, far away.

Now all we need is a warp drive and a few hundred hearty souls ready to get going.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

To Own Home, Teachers Compete in Essay Contest

My hometown newspaper, the Frederick News Post has this story about a pair of teachers who recently won a contest for $7,500 to be applied to the closing costs of their first home.
With a $7,500 check, Nicolle and Michael Joshua will be able to realize a lifelong dream.
Both 27 years old and teachers in the Montgomery County school system, they won an annual contest run by the Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County

The AHC "Break the Barrier to Home Ownership" program helps people buy homes, basing their eligibility, in part, on an essay contest.

Nicolle, an English teacher in the county since 2002, wrote about her dream of owning a home so she can invest in neighbors, students and the children's friends. More than 150 people sent in essays explaining why they want their own homes.
Congratulations to the Joshua's.

But a larger question is why this couple needed the help in the first place. Of course, people who think teachers need to be paid more will pick up on this story and run with the meme that teacher are so underpaid that they need Affordable Housing assistance to own their own home near where they work. I think the answer lies in a different place, that is the expense of living in Montgomery County, Maryland--the richest and most expensive county in the state. Now obviously, teachers should not have to need to win contests to help them buy a house, but the problem is not teacher salaries, but rather a cost of living in a place that not only needs quality teachers (and pays them pretty well too), but fails to control other costs of living.

The problem is one of priorities for the county. Montgomery County has tried for years to be all things to all people and spends money like water flows through the Amazon River. Instead of focusing on what it must do, protect and educate its citizenry, the county builds massive performing arts complexes, courts big name businesses with massive tax breaks that then must be shouldered by the very same workers who struggle to buy a home in that same county. What does it say about a county when even teachers, who are fairly well paid, cannot even afford a home in the county? Clearly priorities are skewed and likely to remain that way.