Friday, September 28, 2007

A Seattle MLS Team in 2009

Seattle is set to become the next MLS club according a number of sources, the announcement of which could come within a few weeks.

Seattle Sounders play the Atlanta Silverbacks Saturday in the USL-1 Finals.

We Don't Need an Entire System of Heroic Teachers

Kevin Carey deals with the supposition that in order to fix our schools, we need to hire an entire system worth of Heroic teachers, those educators who spend 80 hours a week working in and out of school to "save their kids."

Carey correctly notes that for roughly 80 percent of kids in American schools, the schools are OK. They are not great but they are not the spirit crushing voids that comprise most of our urban public education either.
And it's not at all clear to me why this isn't achievable at scale for most at-risk students. Many of them are in cities, all of which have big law firms and hospitals that absolutely depend on exactly the kind of time- and human capital-intensive model described above. If law and medicine--the two professions against which education is constantly measuring itself, and lamenting its inferior status--can build stable business models that assume a steady influx of super-motivated people in their 20s and 30s, why not education?
The biggest problem of course is pay. But the biggest obstacle to the pay issue is not finding the funds to pay teachers similar kinds of salaries to attract smart, motivated and commited 20 and 30 year olds, but the fact that such individuals will not serve under the mind and soul crushing auspices of a big city union. Dealing with bureaucracy comes with the territory of any job, but one should not have to contend with two such bureaucracies, particularly when one is supposed to "help" the teacher.

But here is another problem with the heroic teacher model. It cannot work for an entire schools sytem. First, such heroic teachers are the exception, not the rule. Second, a system can only tolerate so many syslistic outliers. Most heroic teachers make other teachers and administrators look lazy or incompentent or both. While one or two individuals per school can be excused, you can't have everyone be that way, or the organization would collapse under the weight of all those egos.

A Reminder About What Free Speech Really Means

From Captain Ed:
People keep muddying the central point of free speech, which is a right because of its non-confiscatory, natural state of humanity. Speaking one's mind requires no subsidy, no government grant. It is an innate, natural right springing from the central spirit of what it means to be a sapient human. It follows rationally from acknowledging that men and women have their own thoughts and values, and any government which seeks to encumber them would be tyrannical on its face.

People lose the meaning of its non-confiscatory nature. Freedom of speech does not confer upon anyone the right to be published. Nor does it impose on other citizens the duty to listen or to acknowledge the speech. Most importantly, it does not grant an immunity from criticism for the speech one gives -- because that would also constrain free speech.
Free speech, as I have said many time before, is hard. It is hard because if you truly believe in free speech, then you have to accept that idiots, haters, morons and bigots have a right to speak to. You don't have to listen, but they have just as much right to speak as you.

That is why free speech is hard.

The College Admission Crap Shoot

That is what Betsy Newmark calls it:
This is the admissions season for high school seniors. Almost every day the past few weeks, I've been talking to kids about their applications as they ask me to write recommendations for them. And most of these kids have great grades and decent scores. Almost all of them have been doing community service and school extracurricular activities. So many of this generation of students have been constructing the perfect record for college applications. But they don't stand out because so many others have been doing the same thing.
I suspect that what bothers kids most about the process is not the cutthroat competition they face, but the arbitrary nature of the whole thing. You struggle to give schools what they want. But ultimately folks like Mr. O'Neill may simply ignore your grades or your test scores, focusing instead on whether you've had the right "experiences" or have the right skin color to be admitted to the sacred city.
I want to tell my students to relax. They'll all get in somewhere and go off and have wonderful experiences and, if they work at it, they can gain a great education. They can make of college what they will and it won't matter all that much which school they choose or chooses them. They shouldn't set their hearts on any one school because it's become such a crap shoot about where they will get in. And so much of it has nothing to do with anything they did or didn't do in high school. But that's a hard lesson for a 17 or 18 year-old kid who thinks that they should reap the reward that they deserve for having done everything that they were told they needed to do to create that great high school record.
It is difficult to imagine, but college admission really is something of a crap shoot and it all is a matter of what admissions officers are looking for that year whether you get in or not.

My alma mater, University of Maryland College Park, has gotten harder to get into now. While I might still be admitted because when I went to college it was after spending four years in the Navy, so I was a non-traditional student. But my wife probably wouldn't get in today. Her grades in high school were good, she was invovled in a few things like the school newspaper and she certainly had good recommendations (so good that her high school English teacher was a guest at our wedding), but she wouldn't hold a candle to some of the kids getting into Maryland today.

But, a college education as much about the student and his/her efforts as it is about the institution. Some of the smartest people I know didn't go to big time or big name colleges, but got a great education at smaller schools because they put a lot of effort into their education.

Bullettproof Backpacks

This is a neat but ultimately not as useful as it is proported to be. First, it only protects the kid from the back, not the front, not the head and not even the entire back.

Second, the kids would have to be wearing it and I see an awful lot of rolling cases today, rather than true backpacks.

Third, if someone is behind me with a gun, I would be far more likely to shuck the back pack to reduce the weight while running as fast as I can.

How Many Uninsured Americans Are There?

Greg Mankiw asks and then answers, that he is not sure, but it certainly is less than the 47 million number cited by Hillary Clinton.

Back in the early 1990's, the number that was often cited by national health care proponents like, oh.... Hillary Clinton, was 45 million uninsured Americans. But as Mankiw points out, a fair number, of those people CHOOSE to be uninsured. If you are making a conscious choice, then while you may be uninsured by definition of not having any insurance, you are not really uninsured because you have no ACCESS to health insurance.

That is a far cry from being uninsured.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Montgomery County Maryland Houses Start at $1 Million Plus

My family won't be moving to Montgomery County any time soon, because we can't afford the price of housing.
In a trend Montgomery County officials called shocking, the median price for a newly constructed single-family detached home in Montgomery rocketed to a record high of $1.13 million in the first quarter of this year, according to government data released yesterday.

The figure, up from $881,600 last year, underscores the escalating cost of new construction in the Washington region and is a troubling sign for officials seeking affordable housing solutions.

Although specific home sales data were not available for all jurisdictions in the region, it appears Montgomery has the area's most expensive new homes. The median price of new single-family homes in Fairfax County was $965,200 last month, according to county data.
Note that the number is a MEDIAN as opposed to an average. That means that half of the new homes in Montgomery Count cost more than $1.13 millian and half cost less.

Two explanations I can offer. The first is that Montgomery County has a lot of high end housing being built and not much in the middle and lower price ranges. Compare the $1.13 million for a new single family detached house with the $540,000 price tag for an existing single family home. That is simply the market working itself out.

The second reason is the result of governmental policies skewing housing costs. Montgomery County's secular religion regarding development is "Smart Growth" plans, which drive up the cost of housing because such policies articially inflate the cost of homes by limiting teh supply and thus builders are able to charge more because demand is artificially high. demand.

Still, seven figures for a house seems ludicrous.

U.S. Women Fall to Brazil 4-0 in Semis

The U.S. women gave up four goals to the Brazilians and will Face Norway on Saturday in teh Third place match. Brazil and Germany will compete for the Women's World Cup on Sunday.

Hsu Assets Frozen

According to CNN. Well it is not like he is using them right now anyway.

It makes paying his lawyers a little more difficult, but that's life.

My, My, Aren't We Changing Our Tune

Democratic candidates debating last night have begun a slow change of tune on Iraq and a troop pullout.
The leading Democratic White House hopefuls conceded Wednesday night they cannot guarantee to pull all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of the next presidential term in 2013.

``I think it's hard to project four years from now,'' said Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in the opening moments of a campaign debate in the nation's first primary state.

``It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting,'' added Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

``I cannot make that commitment,'' said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Aside from Clinton, I seem to recall most of the Democrats declaring 1) that the surge was a waste of time and wouldn't work and 2) most promised to withdraw most American troops from Iraq shortly after moving into the White House. Why the change, well proposition 1 is looking more and more inaccurate and most candidates are starting to realize that proposition number 2 is almost impossible to achieve in short order without Iraq devolving into civil war on their watch.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Presidential Sweepstakes"--an Apt Description

Don Boudreaux thinks so:
Contrary to the myth that the elected Chief of the executive branch of the national government in the United States is a public servant, this official -- "the President" -- is much more like the winner of a sweepstakes. The odds at the beginning of each election cycle for anyone but a first-term incumbent President to win election to that exalted office are small. But the pay-off from winning the sweepstakes is huge -- lots of prestige; a nice, fully staffed house; a nice big airplane; bodyguards for life; enormous demand for your services (such as they might be) when you are no longer in office; your name in the history books; rock-star-like fame; and torrents of influence and power.

Does anyone in the world really think that being President of the United States is a sacrifice, sort of like being President of the East Alabama Old Car Club?

I doubt it. U.S. presidential elections are the world's grandest sweepstakes, with one enormously lucky winner every four years. And just as each person who enters the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes does so because he or she hopes to win incredible personal benefits, so, too, with Presidential candidates: they're in it overwhelmingly for themselves, not for the welfare of the rest of us.
I would hope that unlike the Publisher's Clearinghouse Winner, a President does have at least some kernal of public concern in them--at least I hope.

Indiana Voter ID Cases on SCOTUS Docket

Lyle Denniston has an analysis. Given that the cases will be heard in January or February, a decsion may have impacts on a few states's primaries, and certainly the general election.

American Schools: No Winners or Losers--Except in Life

Selwyn Duke wonders what is happening to childhood--we have so anesthetized it that when kids get to be adults, they don't understand winning and losing:
Huck Finn must be spinning in his literary grave. Just recently a Colorado Springs, Co., elementary school banned tag during recess, joining other schools that have prohibited this childhood pastime. Upon hearing this, I thought about the movement to ban cops and robbers, musical chairs, steal the bacon, and the kill-joys' most frequent target and this writer's favorite childhood school game, dodge ball. Then there's the more inane still, such as the decision by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association to prohibit keeping score in kids' tournament play.

There are many ways to describe this trend. One might say it's a result of the left's antipathy toward competition, the increasing litigiousness of the day, or the inordinate concern with self-esteem and hurt feelings. Then, if I am to speak only of my feelings, the word stupid comes to mind. Really, though, regardless of whether the motivations are good or ill or the reasoning sound or not, at the end of the day I find a conclusion inescapable. Slowly, incrementally, perversely, boyhood is being banned.
It certainly seems that way.

Life has winners and losers and kids need to learn that. When my children are learning to play games, I usually let them win, but as they get better at the game, I increase my competitiveness. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. But we never, ever make them feel bad for losing.

When my father taught me how to play chess, I didn't beat him until I was 13 and then only sporadically. It does nothing for a child to let them win all the time.

USMC versus San Francisco

Geuss who comes out looking better in the end.

Semper Fi!

Privileged Is As Privileged Does

Or maybe, "It takes one to know one" is a better aphorism when it comes to college professors complaining about their "spoiled privileged students." As David French writes: "Yet this is yet another example of academic blindness. It is tough to imagine a more “privileged” person than a tenured faculty member at a major university. Six figure income. Ten month work year. Absolute job security in the absence of actual fraud or criminal behavior. No other profession in America enjoys such benefits."

Disney Wins Pooh Case

Winnie-the-Pooh that is. I didn't know that rights concerning Winnie-the-Pooh were being litigated, but Howard Bashman has the story. From the L.A. Times story:
Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday won an important appeals court ruling in its 16-year battle with a family that holds the lucrative merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh.

The three-judge panel upheld Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy's 2004 decision, which dismissed the state court lawsuit brought by the family of Stephen Slesinger.

McCoy took the extraordinary step of terminating the case after he found that the Slesinger family tried to gain an edge in the litigation by stealing confidential Disney documents from trash and then lying and altering court papers to cover up the thefts.

Stephen Slesinger obtained merchandising rights to the silly old bear in 1930 from the author of the Pooh stories, A.A. Milne. When Slesinger died more than 50 years ago, the Pooh merchandising rights were passed to his widow and young daughter.

Attorneys hired by Slesinger's daughter, Patricia Slesinger, had tried to argue that McCoy did not have the power to throw out the family's case. But, in what some attorneys say is a precedent-setting ruling, the appellate court found otherwise.

"We hold that when a plaintiff's deliberate and egregious misconduct makes any sanction other than dismissal inadequate to ensure a fair trial, the trial court has inherent power to impose a terminating sanction," the 54-page ruling concluded.

Dream Act--Amnesty By Another Name

The Washington Post writes today about The DREAM Act, the provisions of which
would apply only to those who entered the country at age 15 or younger, have lived here for at least five years and have unblemished records. Upon graduating from high school, they would be granted conditional legal status for six years, a grace period in which they would have to spend at least two years enrolled in a four-year or community college or serving in a branch of the U.S. military. If they satisfied all those conditions while staying out of trouble, they would qualify to become legal permanent residents.
I have absolutely no problem with this part of the bill. To a certain extent, these children have been forced into illegal status by the illegal acts of their families and it is patently unfair to hold them accountable for the actions of others.

However, there is one great big, huge, honking loophole that must be closed--sponsorship.

Under current immigration laws, a legal permanent resident may sponsor a very large family to be in the United States. While the provision has some humanitarian concerns which are noble, I fear the exploitation of sponsorship by Dream Act admittees.

Imagine, an extended family of 20 illegal immigrants has illegally entered the United Staes, including a five children, say between the ages of 3 and 14. Under the provisions of the Dream Act, if but one of these children keeps a clean police record, graduates from high school, enrolls for two years in a community college or four year university (not graduate mind you, just enroll) they could become a permanent legal resident and then under other provisions of the immigration laws, be permitted to sponsor the entire extended family of 20 into permanent legal status. With five kids under the age of 15 when they entered, this family would have five attempts to become legal on the backs of the Dream Act admittees.

The Post admonishes us to be "big" or else these kids will be doomed to a life on the margins of society. I am not looking to marginalize any kid who works hard to succeed, I am looking to eliminate loopholes.

In order to eliminate loopholes, any person admitted to permanent legal residence under the Dream Act would have to wait until either 1). U.S. Citizenship is attained or 2). 15 years has passed as a permanent legal resident, with a clean record, by which time most of these Dream Act admittees will be in their late 30's to early 40's. Only then will Dream Act admittees be permitted to sponsor family members into legal residency. The now adult child will be accorded legal status as a reward for his or her efforts at assimilation, but the family cannot be similarly rewarded without further proof of assimilation-either citizenship or a lengthy stay in the United States.

If the Dream Act is a path to citizenship or assimilation, lets make sure one of those happens.

FIRE On the Colorado State Profane Editorial

FIRE takes notice of the free press matter at Colorado State. Apparently, the stuent newspaper has lost some $30,000 in advertisers (which is unusually necessary for most student newspapers because they are usually circulated for free).
Based on media coverage of this incident, there seem to be conflicting reactions from the university. On the one hand, CSU released an encouraging statement that “While we understand that the editorial in today’s Rocky Mountain Collegian is upsetting and offensive to many people, CSU is prohibited by law from censoring or regulating the content of its student media publications.” On the other hand, CSU’s Director of Student Media told The Coloradoan that “he is planning to launch an internal investigation into ‘the decision-making process’ followed in publishing the editorial.” I hope that the first statement represents the university’s most current view of the controversy, because an internal investigation based solely on the exercise of free speech rights is itself an infringement upon those rights. (In fact, the College Republicans at San Francisco State University are currently suing the university for dragging them through just such an investigation and hearing, despite their eventual exoneration).
I have to agree, an internal investigation will lead to calls for a sanction by the University, a dangerous step. However, if the school lets the market dictate things, my guess is that the editor who penned the profanity will soon be out of a job and will be out of a job when he graduates regardless of anything that happens in the next few weeks.

More Hsu News

With this kind of stuff coming out regularly, I just can't seem to wonder how Hsu's past and apparently infinite well of donors, escaped attention at the Hillary Clinton camp.

The more this piles on the more I begin to suspect willful neglect rather than simple negligence.

Jason Whitlock on the Jena Six

Jason Whitlock askes, where were Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton when the incidents in Jena, LA first took place.
Jesse Jackson compared Thursday’s rallies in Jena to the protests and marches that used to take place in cities like Selma, Ala., in the 1960s. Al Sharpton claimed Thursday’s peaceful demonstrations were to highlight racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Jesse and Al, as they’re prone to do, served a kernel of truth stacked on a mountain of lies.

There are undeniable racial and economic inequities in our criminal justice system, and from afar the “Jena Six” rallies certainly looked and felt like the righteous protests of the 1960s.

But the reality is Thursday’s protests are just another sign that we remain deeply locked in denial about the path we need to travel today for true American liberation, equality and power in the new millennium.

The fact that we waited to love Mychal Bell until after he’d thrown away a Division I football scholarship and nine months of his life is just as heinous as the grossly excessive attempted-murder charges that originally landed him in jail.
This is why I love Jason Whitlock's writing, as a black columnist he doesn't follow in lock-step with teh Jesse Jackson, race-baiting, white-hating conspiracy, but holds up a mirror to national indifference. Whitlock also calls B.S. on the opportunism of Jackson, Sharpton and Bell's own father:
Much has been written about Bell’s trial, the six-person all-white jury that convicted him of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and the clueless public defender who called no witnesses and offered no defense. It is rarely mentioned that no black people responded to the jury summonses and that Bell’s public defender was black.

It’s almost never mentioned that Bell’s absentee father returned from Dallas and re-entered his son’s life only after Bell faced attempted-murder charges. At a bond hearing in August, Bell’s father and a parade of local ministers promised a judge that they would supervise Bell if he was released from prison.

Where were the promises and supervision before any of this?

It’s rarely mentioned that Bell was already on probation for assault when he was accused of participating in Barker’s attack. And it’s never mentioned that white people in the “racist” town of Jena provided Bell support and protected his football career long before Jesse, Al, Bell’s father and all the others took a sincere interest in Mychal Bell.
Hat Tip: Betsy Newmark.

Maybe Those Congressional Endorsements Aren't Such a Good Idea

This is a little surprising.
While the average lead of Democratic House members stands at 19 percentage points in the 31 vulnerable districts -- all but two of which are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's incumbent-protection program known as Frontline -- that number sinks considerably when the lawmakers are linked to either front-runner.

"Some people say [your Democratic incumbent] is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and will support her liberal agenda of big government and higher taxes if she becomes president," the poll stated, before asking respondents whether they would still vote for their incumbent or choose a Republican candidate.

Whether the question named Clinton or Obama, the Democratic incumbent's lead shrank to an average of six points: 47 percent to 41 percent with Clinton leading the ticket, 44 percent to 38 percent with Obama as the nominee.
That is not what I predicted and is a bad sign for Democrats. Maybe some of those endangered incumbents are beginning to rethink their endorsement of Hillary, Obama or anyone for that matter.

I am beginning to wonder if the days of coattails are gone.

Do You Really Want to Go to Law School Now?

The Wall Street Journal looks at the legal job market. Of course, they are focusing on the law firm side of practice, there are lots of other things you can do with a law degree, that perhaps don't pay as much, but are still good jobs.

Charles County Schools Set To Become Majority Black -

One of Maryland's southern counties is set to become majority black school district this year. Five years ago, two our of every three students in the 20,000 student district were white. This year, school officials believe that at least half of the students in the now 27,000 student county will be black, reflecting a massive demographic change and challenge for the county's public schools.
As the student body has diversified rapidly, academic performance in Charles has remained steady and, by some measures, improved. This reflects in part the growth in Charles, which is being fueled by relatively affluent and well-educated African Americans moving in from neighboring Prince George's to find less expensive housing and better schools.

It also reflects efforts by Charles school officials to address factors that have pulled down black achievement in some other middle-class communities, such as lower expectations from educators and less involvement from parents.
While a majority of students are black, the overwhelming majority of the county's teacher and school administrators are white, although two members of the seven member elected school board, including the Board's President are black.

Only the Atlanta Suburbs have a faster growing black population than Charles County, according to a Post analysis of Census data. The historical parallels are hard to ignore. Some 35 years ago, Prince George's County underwent a similar transformation, from a majority white county to a majority black county. Today, Prince George's County schools routinely rank at or near the bottom of the state's education measurements. Charles County officials are worried that the same thing might happen in their school district as well.

Right now, Charles County is defying the research that says diversity in student populations generally leads to a degradation of school performance. But one has to wonder about Prince George's County 35 years ago. Did the influx of black families from the Washington DC automatically result in lower school performance, and if not, what is the lag time.
Anirban Basu, an economist who studies demographic trends, said that some research has shown that increased diversity has led to drops in academic performance but that Charles has had a different experience.

"It's a function of socioeconomic status. It's true that many of the newcomers are African Americans," said Basu, who worked with Baltimore's public schools. "But it's also true that many of the newcomers enjoy lofty, affluent incomes. These are young people that come from families of means. I think that is a greater predictor of test scores and academic achievement than is race."
Basu believes socio-economic status plays a bigger role as a predictor, and that could be right. However, I believe that as children get older, the parental expectations and the peer associations and pressure will play a larger role than the affluence or not of the parents.

Charles County offers an excellent opportunity for education theorists to have a real laboratory to watch--is it race, is it socio-economic status, is it school policies, or is it something else that drives success in school or failure in schools. As Charles County receives a larger percentage of black families, will the schools maintain or improve on their successes or will they follow a course like Prince George's County has experienced in teh past 35 years, one of steady decline in school performance county wide.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

College Republicans On Wrong Side of Free Speech Issue

A student newspaper editor at Colorado State University used the f-bomb in an anti-Bush screed and now the College Republicans are collecting signatures calling for the editor's ouster.

Really, really, really bad move.

If you look really hard on this blog, you may find a curse word or two (If you do let me know as I want to edit that post or at least apologize). While cursing has a place in the language and culture, it is not something I would put in print and certainly not in connection to any poltical leader, no matter how much of a idiot I might find them to be or how repulsive I find their politics. I don't think this editor, David McSwane, showed any real journalistic insight by using his newspaper to indulge in what is clearly not a real editorial but a screed of sorts, but he is the editor and he gets to make that decision.

Might he have to answer to the paper's editorial board and advertisers, sure. Was his action childish and self-indulgent-absolutely. Should he be fired for it--Absolutely NOT!!

Free speech is about facing up to language that we find abhorrent, inflamatory and downright rude. But if we are truly to live up to the notion of free speech, Republicans cannot be hypocritical about it.

Here is a test for the CSU College Republicans, if one of you had printed "Tase This--F--- Hillary Clinton," would you expect to be protected?

Freedom of speech and the press is not about ensuring good taste or civility.

California Electoral College Measure News

Professor Rick Hasen has this op-ed about the California electoral college ballot initiative.
The Electoral College measure, if passed, could well swing the 2008 presidential election to the Republican nominee. Currently, California allocates all of its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes among California voters in the November election...Proposed by Republican election lawyer Tom Hiltachk, the initiative would do the same. Although California overall is a “blue” state expected to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, there are enough Republican-leaning electoral districts to give up to 20 electoral college votes to the Republican nominee – enough to swing a close national election for president to the Republican.

Democrats argue that the measure is unfair, amounting to unilateral disarmament. Unless a large “red” state such as Texas were to adopt a similar plan, too, this change would have a distinct partisan skew to favor Republicans. Republicans, unsurprisingly, are not advocating the plan in Texas. Some Democrats instead are lining up behind an initiative adopting the national popular vote plan, which would create an agreement among states to allocate all of their Electoral College votes behind the winner of the popular vote for president nationally.

Despite the partisan implications of the Hiltachk measure, early polling shows it is supported by a majority of Californians, including California Democrats (a situation that likely would change if Democrats advertised heavily against it). What makes the measure more likely to pass is that if it qualifies for the ballot, it would be voted upon by the electorate at the June primary election (not at the February primary election for president), a ballot that will have very little on it in an election with an expected low turnout. If Republicans turn out to vote for the Electoral College measure and Democrats stay home, there's a real chance the measure would pass.

Here's where harnessing Democratic self-interest for good government reform comes in. If two-thirds of the Legislature approve (which would require Democrats to get the votes of a few Republicans), California voters in February could be asked to change the state constitution to provide that ballot measures be voted upon only during general elections, unless the governor calls a special election. Gone would be votes on major state proposals during low-turnout primary elections, when the electorate is less representative of the people. California ballot measures often make major changes in state policy; it seems only right to schedule them during elections when a larger (and more representative) portion of the electorate turns out to vote.
Yes, Democrats could make that change in the state law regarding ballot initiatives, but that may not be a good idea, because there will come a time when Democrats themselves may want to take advantage of a low-turnout primary to get an iniative passed.

All this is beside the point, if the ballot measure qualifies and it almost certainly will, Democrats will begin heavily advertising against it and the measure will close up significantly. Still, it would be a major change and could impact how candidates campaign in the biggest state in the union.

John Edwards on Education: Nothing New to See Here!

Elena Silva looks at John Edwards' education proposals and essentially says, great ideas, but how ya gonna get it to work:
As part of Edwards' plan to Restore the Promise to America's Schools, he wants to ensure an excellent teacher in every classroom. To do this, he'll raise the pay of teachers in high-poverty schools, provide more resources and support for new teachers, train more principals to work in high-poverty schools, reduce class sizes, and require tutors be highly qualified teachers. Wait, what was that last one? That last one strikes me as pie-in-the-sky crazy, despite its good intent. But first, my dos centavos on a few others. On pay perks: Yes, $5,000 might attract some new good teachers to work in high-poverty schools. But it's not enough to get them to put down any roots there, which is really the problem. $5,000 more for national board certification, which has shown some evidence of impact, is a nice idea but not much in the way of powerful incentive to come and stay in high-need and often high-cost urban centers. More support for new teachers is a good call but the devil is in the details here- he's really talking about fewer students and fewer responsibilities for new teachers plus a veteran-novice buddy system. My concern is that this is a tall order that sounds great on the menu but doesn't really convey to the plate. Better leadership is essential for better teaching, as Education Sector proposed here. (links in original omitted)
Aside from the "never gonna happen" tutors being highly qualified teachers thing, I am not seeing anything new.

When are out politicians going to come up with something new in education? At least the Atlanta Journal Consitution is advocating something radically different.

History Vactions--Grants Without Accountability

A distrubing use of tax money, among many others I have heard about.

Hat Tip: Ed Wonks.

National Service, Rights and Responsibility

Ilya Somin has a good piece on national service legislation and why it is always targeted at young people, usually between 18-21. The reason is, as Somin posits, is that young people lack the political force to obviate being picked on by Congress. It is a good point as far as that goes, but some language in Somin's piece, equating national service to "forced labor," that needs to be addressed.
To be clear, I am not arguing for imposing forced labor on the elderly or the middle-aged; but I do believe that doing so would be no worse than imposing that burden on the young... And whatever the validity of the general view that the young should spend more time on political activity, I hope we can agree that forced labor is not a proper punishment for spending too little time on politics.
Why is it when we talk of national service, the concept of forced labor is always raised? Why can't we discuss national service in more positive terms?

Forced labor contains within it some dangerous connotations, namely "slave labor." But national service is not, and should not be confused with forced labor, even if such a program of national service became mandatory for any age cohort.

Many, many years ago, Robert Heinlein wrote that the converse of rights is responsibilities. In an age when our everyday speech, particularly our everyday political speech, is peppered with references to rights, is it so hard to remember that with rights comes responsibilities. We have our politicians talking about all sorts of "rights" we seem to find, the right to healthcare or high quality healthcare, right to an abortion, gay marriage rights, right to a quality education, right to this entitlement or that benefit. Indeed if you were to do a word search on the last 15 speeches given by all of the candidates for president of both parties, I would wager you would find the word or phrase right to XXXX occurs far more often that the word "responsibility to do XXXX." Oh, that is not to say that responsibilities don't come up in political speech, but they are almost always phrased a "a responsibility to our children" or a "responsibility to the old/young/sick/dying/(insert group here)" or my personal favorite "our responsiblity to the world." As election time rolls around, we occaisionally hear words to the effect that we as voters should "exercise our right to vote responsibly" as if the political parties really want us to do that.

In short, our leaders talk incessantly about our personal rights, but never talk of our personal responsibilities.

The practical foundation of a national service plan is to help the government by providing labor for a defined period of time. The problem is that most of the work that sponsors of national service plans envision fall into one of four categories, a) military service with its attendant risks; b) physical labor of varying degrees of difficulty and danger; c) occupations difficult to staff due to various working conditions not conducive to long-term employment; or d) labor so mind-numbingly dull that the government finds it difficult to staff. I can't fault the government from seeking labor for these purposes, even if it is "forced."

However, national service has a moral foundation as well that cannot and should be overlooked. As noted earlier, the concept of rights must have a converse, that being responsibility or accountability. When our nation's Founders set out to build a new nation, they sought expanded rights, rights unavailable to them under British colonial rule. In doing so, they accepted the responsibility that their actions could lead to their imprisonment or death for treason against the crown. In short, the Founders risked everything in seeking the ultimate freedom, the right to manage one's own govnerment.

Today, we tend to think of our nation as conferring rights upon its citizens without ever asking what do we owe the nation in return. John F. Kennedy's admonition, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," seems lost in annals of black and white film. But now, more than ever, we do need to ask ourselves if we have lost sight of responsibilities that come with the trappings of citizenship.

When less than half of the American citizenry votes in a presidential election, the connection between right and responsibility is lost. Perhaps a mandatory refesher of the connection may be of use. The theory of national service is not just about "forced labor," but about remembering that the privileges of citizenship carry a price and sometimes that price needs to be paid by more than a tiny percentage of Americans who choose to serve their country.

Smarter Charter Laws

Andrew Rotherham and Education Sector have issued a new policy analysis calling for changes in the way caps on charter schools operate.

Much focus related to charter schools and the actual chartering, is devoted to the simple number of schools. While legistures and interest groups debate the issue kids who want to attend charter schools are left waiting, in large numbers.
In New York, for instance, the debate over charter schools for years largely centered on whether to lift the cap of 100 schools, focusing little attention on broader issues of charter school policy. And while the Legislature debated the cap, 12,000 students were on waiting lists to attend existing public charter schools. In Illinois 10,000 are on waiting lists, and in Massachusetts, 16,000.
In three states alone, 38,000 students wait for an opportunity to attend a charter school.

Rotherham argues that instead of focusing on strictly the numbers, the states should be focusing on the quality of schools. Rotherham suggests exempting from the caps any charter school with a proven track record of success in the top 15 percent of public school performance, however measured. Also states would need to examine their chartering authoriteis and the ability of those authorities to oversee and manage charter schools. Finally, making charters a part of any effort at systemic school reform on the state and local level.

While Rotherham makes some good point and argues that his proposition is a "grand political bargain," I am not sure how legislatures can adopt this kind of a model. The attraction of a straight numbers cap is that it is easy to measure. Sure you may get into semantics regarding the number of "campuses," but largely a charter school counts as one charter--easy to measure and easy to police. When you start dealing with qualitative issues, you have increased the complexity of management exponentially, something many states and most localities are incapable of managing.

Rotherham admits that his proposal will favor established charter management organizations, like KIPP or Green Dot, and it is an important admission. But there is something missing in all the debate--even among charter schools, we are not really seeing any true innovation in teaching and school management.

While charters can be an agent of school reform, and a powerful agent, the reality is that we are not really innovating in any significant respect in relation how kids are taught. Part of the lack of innovation is the necessarily conservative approach that education practically demands. No parent wants to have their kid be the subject of an experiment in pedagogy or curricula. Furthermore, no charter authorizer wants to put their stamp of approval on something so different from what we see today for fear of being labeld as the people that allowed "that school to come into our neighborhood." As such, even charter schools themselves are reluctant to do more than tinker around the edges of instructional design and school management. They may impose more discipline in the classroom, try longer or shorter instructional periods, cross-disciplinary teaching, etc, but nothing really substantive or different from traditional public schools.

I am not advocating that every charter school be doing something radical with its approach to education, indeed there is little room or political stomach for such widespread innovation. But at the same time, if we are really going to talk about changing the way in which charter schools are authorized and managed, something must be done to encourage, and to a certain extent protect, the innovator, whether it be a "mom-and-pop" or "one-off" type of school or an innovation from one of the established charter management organizations. I refuse to believe that there are not ideas out there that can dramatically and radically alter the manner in which our children learn. Charter authorizors should allow these innovative schools an opportunity to get established and flourish, that would be a real policy change.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Legal Butterfly Effect

Michael Dorf takes us into the world of alternative history and looks at the Butterfly effect and how some landmark cases, had they gone differently (and plausibly differently), might have affected the path of history. Here is one near and dear to my heart, Buckley v. Valeo:
Consider, in this context, the Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo. That case invalidated a number of post-Watergate campaign finance restrictions, including a provision that prohibited a Presidential candidate from spending more than $50,000 of his own money to get elected. The ruling was hardly a slam-dunk, for as numerous critics of Buckley have noted, restrictions on spending money are not identical to restrictions on speech, even though money can be spent on speech. Regardless of who has the better of this argument, it is certainly conceivable that, in 1976, the Court might have upheld, rather than struck down, the $50,000 limit.

Suppose it had done just that. Such a ruling might well have altered the outcome of the 1992 Presidential election. In the general election campaign that year, third-party candidate Ross Perot spent over $60 million of his own money--more than the total amount of money spent by either of the two major party candidates--and won 19 percent of the popular vote. Then-Governor Bill Clinton garnered 43 percent to President George H.W. Bush's 38 percent, and the fiscally conservative Perot probably drew more support from potential Bush voters than potential Clinton voters.

Moreover, even if one thinks Perot drew support more or less equally from the Bush and Clinton camps, many observers at the time thought that Perot's candidacy helped Clinton by, in the words of a 1992 Baltimore Sun article, "distracting the public enough . . . to give the Arkansas governor a chance to get back on his feet after a brutal primary season, and stirring up a call for change." It is thus at least plausible that a different result in Buckley--one that would have had the effect of drastically limiting how much of Perot's own money he could spend, and thus preventing his independent candidacy --would have led to a second term for George H.W. Bush, and a host of resulting dramatic differences in the years since then.
Dorf talks about two cases on the Court's docket for this term, Parker v. District of Columbia (a gun rights case) and Boumedien v. Bush, a case invovling the military tribunals for terrorism suspects. While it is impossible to determine which cases will have the "butterfly" effect in the long term, these cases could affect the short term events of 2008's presidential elections.

Of course, the Court cannot decide cases based upon its view of the Butterfly effect, but it is an interesting line of thought.

Ripping Rep. Sestak

Lori Marcus argues that Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy Admiral, is so far out of touch that he needs to be replaced, but so far no one has stepped up to the plate. Marcus charges that "he is either careless or clueless about domestic security concerns, and that he would be grateful if voters dumped him from office. "

If the stuff Marcus writes is even halfway true, Sestak should be a one-termer.

Friday, September 21, 2007

O'Malley Tax Parade

Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D) is parading around the state talking about his plans to revamp Maryland's tax code. With the state facing a $1.7 billion dollar deficit next year (and I get the feeling that amount is a rosy projection), O'Malley and the Democratic cabal in Annapolis are having to increase taxes--or so they say.

I will give O'Malley credit for one thing, revamping the income tax is probably needed, since the current tax schedules are to a certain out of date and for most people anyway, flat. I don't really have a problem with a 6 percent marginal rate for couples making more than $200,000 and I think that lower the marginal rate on the first $22,500 in income is fine.

However, there are lots of items in the tax package or not included that frustrate me. First, we are going to tax corporations more than we tax individuals. Of course, who cares about corporations, they aren't really people and in a Democratic state corporations are bad. Well, here's the rub, corporations employ people and they pay taxes. Unless you work for yourself (and you may be a corporation) or you work for the govnerment, chances are you work for a corporation of some sort. Corporations makes money by selling goods and services, the sales of which are taxed as corporate profits. The more a corporation pays in taxes the less it has to spend on things like, expansion which generated jobs, which generates income for people, etc. The economic argument has been made many times before.

But I would like to propose something of a radical idea--let us tax corporate income at the same rates as individuals. That is instead of an 8 percent corporate tax rate, why not have a 6.5 top rate (the top rate for individuals proposed by O'Malley). My rationale is this, for the most part the law treats corporations in much teh same way as it treats humans. Sure there are operational differences that affect the law, but when it comes to money, corporations are not all that different from people.

Of course the idea would never fly in Maryland--at least not right now and I know of no other jurisdiction that taxes corporations at the same top rate as individual taxpayers, but that doesn't mean it is not workable.

Paying for the corporate tax cut would not be all that hard. First, as George W. Bush has demonstrated, tax cuts actually generate more revenue. Second, the state could do what it already should be doing, cutting spending. Third, a lower corporate tax rate means increase corporate presence in the state--more revenue from new sources.

The only other aspect of the tax plan that I don't see is changes in the piggyback tax. Maryland is one of the few states that allows counties to impose an additional income tax on its residents, as high as 3.2 percent in some counties. Combined, the richest Marylanders would be paying nearly ten percent tax on their taxable income, this after federal taxes. To be honest, I would rather see a median range of 5.5 to 6 percent for state wide taxes and the elmination of the piggyback tax.

I come from Florida, a state were there are no state income taxes. Florida does well on its sales tax and revenues generated as a result of it tourism industry. Maryland may not be able to do away with the income tax, but it surely doesn't need the tax to be as high as it is.

A Look at the Supreme Court's Terms

The First Monday in October is the traditional starting date for the Supreme Court's Term. Tom Goldstein looks at the upcoming term and discusses the alarm that those on the left are feeling and tells them, more or less, to relax.
I am not trying to rewrite the history of the past Term, which in fact concluded almost uniformly with significant victories for the right. Instead, my point is that the characterization of this Court is part caricature and is deeply dependent on the near-accident of the particular cases that are decided in any given Term. Although the era in which true liberalism was an ideological force on the Court (e.g., Brennan, Marshall, and Douglas) is now over, this is manifestly not a period of conservative hegemony. Like Justice O'Connor, Justice Kennedy's commitment to any ideological world view is too fragile for either wing of the Court to have genuine confidence in the outcome of an entire Term's worth of cases. And moreover, many important cases are not decided on ideological grounds or by five to four majorities.

Because the public's interest in the Court is notoriously weak and its memory short, the relevant question in deciding whether the Court can be a mobilizing force in the 2008 election for ideological groups is therefore not "how were cases decided in OT2006" (the focus of commentary so far), but instead "how will OT2007's cases be decided?" And I think that the existing and anticipated docket strongly suggests that, during OT2007, the outcomes of the highest-profile cases will be perceived as quite liberal.
While the Supreme Court has something of a self-defined docket (in that outside a few very narrow types of cases, it chooses which cases to hear), Goldstein points out that accidents of timing and docketing determine whether commentators call a particular year "conservative" or "liberal." It is also very important to remember that probably half of the cases the Court hears in a given year are more business related than Constitutional in nature. Of course, it is the Constitutional cases that get the most play, and business cases can carry an ideological bent, but that does not mean that the Court can be classified as conservative or liberal based on the activity of any given term. Certainly, with Justice Kennedy sitting with a fence pole firmly between his decisional legs, a case can go either way.

Still, Goldstein writes,
As a consequence, I think it is exceptionally unlikely that next Term will end as this one did, with front-page stories and reports leading the evening news describing the Court as profoundly conservative, with laudatory commentary by the right and howls of protest from the left. Instead, we will see (mistaken) talk of the "surprising" tack by the Court back to the left and (among the legal glitterati) the "good Kennedy, bad Kennedy" phenomenon in which his ideological views seemingly oscillate dramatically from Term to Term. In fact, this commentary will be wrong: the Justices and their views will be exactly the same come June 2008; it is the cases that will be different.

Equally or more important when considering the potential electoral consequences of the Term, the leading cases will be ones in which the more liberal position is distinctly - even profoundly - unpopular with conservatives, creating the prospect that the Court will serve as a rallying cry to mobilize the electorate. Even if the left ultimately does not win all of the five most significant cases of this Supreme Court Term, that wing of the Court will carry the banner for accused terrorists, crack dealers, child pornographers, child rapists, and those who want to forbid gun possession.
As much as I may criticize the vacilations of Justice Kennedy, if you take some time and really look at his opinions, you will probably find a real pragmatist at heart. I don't necessarily disagree with a pragmatic approach to the law, but pragmatism may lead to some inconsistencies from case to case that generates questions, and concerns. Furthermore, even the more ideological Justices, say Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg, tend to think of the cases in and of themselves, no matter what people may think. Yes, each of the three have a defined ideological lense through which they view cases, but such lensework is unavoidable.

In the end, a Supreme Court must be viewed from the perspective of a whole. Looking at one term or another does not yeild a definition of liberal or conservative. For example, quick, name me one case from the October 1953 Term beside Brown v. Board. Name a case from the Roe v. Wade term. You can't and I can't right off the top of my head, but I wouldn't be surprised that if you look hard enough you will find in each of those terms, decisions that could reasonably be classified as conservative decisions. By just about every measure, the Warren Court era was one of the most liberal in American history, but you can't look at an individal Term to arrive at that conclusion, you have to look at the entire breadth of Warren's tenure as Chief Justice to arrive at a conclusion of liberalness. That is Goldstein's point, don't confuse issues of docketing with an ideological bent of the Court--the analysis is almost always wrong.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More on Teacher Performance Pay

Andrew Rotherham notes:
But, too often in education that complexity is held up as a reason not to innovate. I get uncomfortable with "performance-pay" being seen as test for toughness and something to be done to teachers rather than for the profession, but we do know that the current system of teacher compensation is not only unaligned with the broader goals of the education system (student learning) but actually works at cross-purposes with those goals. So, let's find out what works better to recognize and reward performance.
I will agree that some education reformers look at performance pay as a means of punishing teachers or as a short cut to "accountability."

Even casual readers of this blog will quickly find that I am a big supporter of performance pay for teachers. Like Rotherham, I worry that opposition to performance pay based on the argument that it is too complex is a cop out. For a nation that put a man on the moon less than ten years after being challenged, I find it difficult to think we cannot solve this rather mundane problem of how to reward teachers for the job they do.

Teacher hold an unusual position in society. They are entrusted with imparting knowledge, customs and mores to our children, yet they are not compensated along the same lines as other professional entrusted with out culture traditions or personal well-being, i.e. professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers or other learned professions. Part of the problem, as I have pointed out is that "associations" that are supposed to represent the interests of teachers fail to engage on an issue as basic as their compensation, arguing that collective bargaining rights are more important than actual compensation for teachers.

I would love to pay teachers $75,000 or even $100,000 per year. I have no problem with bonuses for outstanding achievement or extra duties. I believe we can formulate a process by which objective and subjective evaluations of teacher performance can lead to performance pay. But note that I always call it performance pay, that is I expect performance for the pay. If you a teacher is not measuring up to his or her peers, why then should I as a taxpayer continue to fund that salary?

Performance pay should not be imposed on teachers. Teachers should want the performance pay, but you can't have your cake and eat it too. With performance pay must come a mechanism by which teachers can be dismissed for failure to perform. There must be a quid pro quo.

Hsu Needs a Really Good Lawyer

Ed Morrissey reports on federal charges filed in New York against Norman Hsu. Hsu has been charged with running a $60 million Ponzi scheme and widespread campaign finance violations. Ed asks
With a federal prosecution looming on the horizon, one that could put him in prison for life, it will be interesting to see whether Hsu starts singing. Someone staked him for his initial confidence games, and for some purpose. Will Hsu crack?
Will some of that singing implicate certain Democratic officials, including one woman running for President. I wouldn't be surprised.

Michelle Rhee--Candid About The Challenges of DC Schools

Eduwonk has the video.

The steps she must take are to a certain extent mind-boggling. At about 6:30 left in teh first video Rhee talks about her effort to get authority to fire incompentent people and being met with the argument that once fired, the employee may not be able to get another job. That is the mindset of DC schools and their patrons, that employement with teh schools is some sort of sinecure.

An American Champions League

The European Champions League always promises great excitement as the top teams from each nation's domestic league participate in an international club competition. Not only do you get to see great international soccer, but you see clubs compete against top clubs in other nations--giving rise to a great question, which league produces the best clubs, is it La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, the EPL or could a top team from the Netherlands, Portugal, France or somewhere else have a Cinderella run and take the Champions League. You can never tell. Well, perhaps the MLS is looking to create a Champions League in the Western Hemisphere with the top four teams of each nation competing internationall.

Alex and teh MLS blog, wonders how people feel about the idea.

I think it would be wonderful, perhaps having the first champions league among CONCACAAF leagues and perhaps then expanding it to South American clubs in a couple of years. A few things are going to have to happen to make it really work, first and foremost a change to a more international schedule for MLS, that means starting the fall, say mid-august and running until May. MLS's attendence is solid enough in the fall and the spring that it need not avoid the American football schedule to draw attendence. Matching schedules means that American clubs are then following international schedules and would make for a more meaningful match up.

I don't know for certain if American clubs are ready to compete internationally against other clubs. But we need to try. The only way to find out is to compete, and contintue to compete. Eventually, probably within a couple of years, American clubs will be able to compete and the competition will only make American soccer better.

The Politics of Privatization

Privatization appears to work in Milwaukee's schools, declares Ed Morrissey.

While I am a proponent of vouchers as a tool of getting kids an education, they have a limited ability to actually produce drastic change in public schools. Even in Milwaukee, with one of hte largest voucher programs in teh nation, there are not enough students on vouchers to effect a change. While vouchers can bring about some change, they can't make enough of an impact, in and of themselves, to radically improve an entire school district.

Other "privatization" efforts are required, although privatization is not a accurate term. Charter schools, magnet schools and truly private schools make a huge difference. A private school or a charter school with a radically different pedagogical and curiccular program that proves to be a success will effect a public school district far more than any voucher program ever could.

Hillary's Polarization Problem

Amy Walter analyzes whether Hillary's polarizing personality means that she can't win next year should she be nominated. Walter compares Hillary Clinton, who she calls more of an incumbent than a "typical" open seat canddiate, against George W. Bush in 2003-2004.
In Sept. 2003, we saw a president still riding high. His overall approval rating was 52-percent positive and 38-percent negative. He had a net positive rating from independents (plus 8), 23 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably and only 9 percent of Republicans rated him negatively.

Compare that with where Clinton is today. She is viewed less favorably among independents (42-percent negative to 39-percent positive) and is liked by just 13 percent of Republicans. Among Democrats, 13 percent view her negatively.

OK, but let's say we compare her to where Bush was in '04 under the premise that she is as defined as she's ever going to get. Voters have already made up their minds about her and there's not much she can do to change that.

In October of '04, Bush had almost universal support from Republicans, even as he was disliked by nearly all Democrats. Independents gave Bush higher negative ratings (49-percent negative to 42-percent positive) than they do now for Clinton (42-percent negative to 39-percent positive). But Clinton doesn't enjoy that same level of support among Democrats that Bush had among Republicans. Seventy-two percent of Democrats view her favorably while Bush had almost unanimous positives from Republicans (96 percent).
In an attempt to be ojective about Sen. Clinton, she and her campaign have worked very hard to generate an air of inevitability about her campaign for the Democratic nod. To a certain extent, the "Clinton machine" is driving that success, but recent problems on teh fundraising front and her appointment of convicted national secrets thief Sandy Berger to her campaign team has people, including Democrats, wondering if she can overcome her polarization gap.

The fact is that while a lot of people might be willing to jump on the Hillary bandwagon, there are still more than a few Democrats who would like to see someone else, anyone else, carrying the Democratic banner in 2008.

An Indictment of American Economic Knowledge

Russell Roberts notes the odd juxtaposition of Wal-Mart spending millions of dollars on a campaign to convince people that lower prices are a good thing.

A Roundup of Thoughts on Immigration

Silvio Canto has a round-up of material on immigration opinion. A couple of gems:
"Fifty-eight percent (58%) of voters nationwide favor cutting off federal funds for “sanctuary cities” that offer protection to illegal immigrants." (71% Favor Requiring Foreign Visitors to Carry Universal ID Card)

It makes sense to me. Sanctuary cities promote chaos because they are defying the rule of law.

Not surprisingly, the public mood is getting more and more sour on immigration reform:

"A recent survey found that 79% of voters favor strict measures requiring employers to fire workers who provide false identification documents.

Seventy-four percent (74%) also believe that proper identification should be required for anyone to rent an apartment." (links in original omitted)
Sanctuary cities are getting to the point where they will see an awful lot of the "throw the bums out" mentality in voters. When nearly three in five say that such cities and states should lose federal funds, they you know some policies are bound to change.

The Hypocrisy of Congress

Radley Balko has the story. Like the Instapundit, I don't want to hear these 13 Congressmen ever complaining about executive privilege in relation to any administration.

The "privileged class" indeed.

More Questions About Bundling

The Wall Street Journal is carrying a story about bundling, that is the practice of one person raising funds for a candidate in excess of their personal limits by tapping friends, colleauges, investors and yes even employees, in order to aid a candidate. While there is nothing illegal about this kind of bundling, the practices behind the scenes are a little troubling.

Campaigns run on money, and this presidential election cycle, the money chase is even more important than ever before. Top fundraisers like Norman Hsu, tap over and over again, the same donors and an expanding circle of donors in order to raise the money needed by campaigns. The pressure to raise more and more money leads to some questionable practices. The WSJ talks about one right off the bat:
When Hillary Rodham Clinton held an intimate fund-raising event at her Washington home in late March, Pamela Layton donated $4,600, the maximum allowed by law, to Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign.

But the 37-year-old Ms. Layton says she and her husband were reimbursed by her husband's boss for the donations. "It wasn't personal money. It was all corporate money," Mrs. Layton said outside her home here. "I don't even like Hillary. I'm a Republican."

The boss is William Danielczyk, founder of a Washington-area private-equity firm and a major fund-raising "bundler" for Mrs. Clinton. Mrs. Layton's gift was one of more than a dozen donations that night from people with Republican ties or no history of political giving. Mr. Danielczyk and his family, employees and friends donated a total of $120,000 to Mrs. Clinton in the days around the fund-raiser.

In an interview, Mr. Danielczyk said he "did not and would not" reimburse employees or others for their political donations. Such reimbursement would be illegal. Mr. Danielczyk said he was a co-host for the event at Mrs. Clinton's home. "Everybody was asked to contribute," he said, "some said yes and some said no." He added, "No arm was twisted."
The problem is that we have a "he said, she said" type of argument and the potential violation, that of making a contribution in the name of another or reimbursing an employee for a contribution is almost impossible to prove and if proven, it is done so far after the fact, indeed usually after the election, that the matter is moot in terms of the candidate.

Add to the matter that the campaign is rarely, if ever, punished for any reimbursement scheme. No candidate is stripped of office or even forced to disgorge the donations because from their perspective, the money was proper, it is that acts before or after the contribution that are the violation. In the case of Layton and Danielczyk, it is likely that there are two possible scenarios at work here, both of which would be improper. Danielczyk leans on his employees to give, which is improper only if one crosses a rather hazy line in the sand. Asking is okay, even begging, but demanding or ordering is not okay. But if your boss asks you to give, there may be an unstated threat and that unstated threat is just the kind of duress that is difficult to prove. The boss can say, "I only asked, she didn't have to give." But the employee may be thinking, "if I don't give, will this affect my job?" The political contributions in question here are not some $25 dollar ticket to a local picnic, but a nearly $10,000 for a husband and wife ($4,600 a piece), so the pressure is intense.

The second scenario is that the employee makes the contribution and then gets some sort of bonus later on. A savvy boss would not reimburse $9,200 dollars, that would be too suspicious, but a $10,000 bonus or a series of smaller bonuses may appear. While obviously the bonus wouldn't say "reimbursement for Hillary Clinton Contribution" on the check, the reimbursement is made--sometimes without even the employee knowing it directly.

I suppose a third scenariou might be possible, that Mrs. Layton's husband said they would be reimbursed and won't be--but that is a marriage problem, not a campaign finance issue.
One person at the event was a Washington-area investor who was considering putting some money in one of Mr. Danielczyk's ventures. The investor, a registered Republican, said he was invited by Mr. Danielczyk and a colleague who were wooing him to invest at least $125,000 in one of their companies.

The investor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says he didn't donate any money to Mrs. Clinton. Campaign-finance records show that the investor contributed $4,600 on March 30 to Mrs. Clinton. The reason for the discrepancy isn't clear.

Mrs. Layton, who lists her occupation as dental instructor at a wellness center, is a Republican, and her husband, Philip, has supported Democrats in the past. Mr. Layton is the information technology director at Galen Capital, according to the company's Web site.

"I was invited but I didn't want to go," Mrs. Layton said.

Other Republican voters who contributed the maximum amount to Mrs. Clinton at this event included Mr. Danielczyk's mother, sister, personal assistant and a half-dozen employees or their spouses. Most of the donors had never made a political donation before contributing $4,600 to Mrs. Clinton, according to fund-raising records.

Mr. Danielczyk said some of the attendees were Republicans, but "they may vote for her [Mrs. Clinton] now." He added, "It's odd ... You try to get involved in the political process and you come under scrutiny."
Mr. Danielczyk is correct. As I noted before, the problem is not for the campaigns, most of whom would never be punished for these kinds of potential violations and if they did come under scrutiny, they have access to some very good lawyers to help them. The problem lies in the fundraisers and donors, most of whom, like Danielczyk, are new to the game. As novices they may make mistakes and errors, most of which now carry some very signficant penalties, including prison time for willful violations. Some may get into trouble and lack the protection of the campaigns, who will cut and run faster than you can say arraignment, leaving the donor on the hook.

So the fundraiser and a few contributors run afoul of the FEC and the campaign finance system, all because the rules are so arcane that it takes a seasoned lawyer to understand them. the problem could be solved rather easily and make life easier on both the candidates and the donors--unlimited contributions, immediately disclosed using disclosure tools currently available.

A little tweaking to the FEC contribution database would allow for the "red-face" test to be the big test for candidates. Can a candidate accept a large donation, say $100,000 from someone like George Soros or Mr. Danielczyk and not be embarassed?

The simple rule would be, any contribution in excess of $5,000 must be disclosed within 48 hours and any contribution in excess of $10,000 (both indexed for inflation perhaps) would have to disclosed within 24 hours. These contributions would also be augmented by current disclosure reports. With no limits, but full disclosure, you get away from the need for these types of bundlers and some of the shady practices that now dot the landscape.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Frederick County Sheriff Getting Immigration Authority

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins is looking to expand his force's role in helping enforce immigration laws.
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins will meet next week with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to discuss local deputies aiding in enforcement of federal immigration law.

The county is working to increase immigration enforcement, a duty once left to the federal government.

"My goal is if there are people here illegally in this country and they break the law in this county, then we can assist ICE in the detainment and deportation process," Jenkins said Tuesday.

Federal law allows local law enforcement to assist by checking immigration status of those who have been arrested.

Officers receive four to five weeks training from ICE at no cost and can then perform certain duties under the supervision of sworn ICE officials.

Those duties will be incorporated into their routine daily patrol, Jenkins said.
The all-but complete abdication of the federal role in immigration enforcement has forced more and more local authorities to start seeking an enforcement role to curtail certain criminal activity in their jurisdictions. Jenkins cites growing gang activity in Frederick County as one reason for his interest in getting ICE authority to help with detainment and deportation.

The trend of local enforcement of some immigration laws is in keeping with the federalist principles of our nation, particularly in matters of law and law enforcement. In our courts for example, just about every court of general jurisdiction in the nation is capable of interpreting and enforcing federal laws, including the Constitution. While there are certain areas of the law that are reserved for federal courts, most courts are deemed capable of enforcing federal law.

The same can and should be said of law enforcment in terms of policing. Yes, there are some areas of the law where federal expertise should take precedence, immigration and ATF are but a couple of examples. However, just because there are federal laws regarding immigration or alcohol, tobacco or firearns, does not mean that local police agencies are incapable of enforcing some parts of those laws. For example, there are local gun laws as well as federal laws, both of which are enforced at the local level.

In an interstate context, the federal police agencies like ICE should take the lead in investigations and prosecutions, but there is no reason why a local police agency cannot, indeed should not, enforce immigration laws. Presence in this nation illegally is a violation of the law and any competent police agency should be permitted to investigate, detain and begin processing illegal immigrants.

Under the program Sheriff Jenkins is entering into, local enforcement agencies would not be permitted to investigate illegal immigration as a crime in and of itself (which seems stupid), but are permitted to question detainees on their immigration status once taken into custody for other crimes.

Sheriff Jenkins' move comes on the heels of another recent arrangement with the federal govenrment to house illegal immigrants awaiting criminal hearings throughout the region.
The Sheriff's Office has already entered into another agreement with ICE by housing undocumented immigrants charged with crimes in states across the region.

There were 49 ICE detainees as of Tuesday, and Jenkins estimates the county will charge ICE $90,000 to house them in the month of September. Under an agreement, the federal government pays $83 per day for each illegal immigrant held. The only costs associated with detaining those immigrants are meals and a small cost for medical screening.

It costs local jails about $70 per day in fixed costs to house an inmate, but Jenkins said many of those costs would remain whether the jail has a few inmates or reaches capacity.

The detention center can hold up to 520 inmates and if it is ever full, Jenkins has the right to refuse housing inmates for ICE.

The county is making a profit on the deal, but Jenkins said that's not his motivation for participating.

"The biggest part of the picture is it allows us to help ICE do their job to move detainees around the region and eventually to deportation," he said.
While profit is not a motive, it sure is a nice benefit.

Kudos to Sheriff Jenkins for taking seriously an issue that much of the rest of state doesnt' seem to care much about, including the neighboring People's Republic of Montgomery County, which is all but a sanctuary county.

Civic Literacy Report

Take this interesting quiz. I did well, missing some questions related to political philosophy and economic policy, but still socred a 55 out of 60 for a 91.6% score. The average for the test is 74.3, so I am ahead of the curve.

the quiz is somewhat hard and is apparently designed to be taken by college graduates. The problem is that many college graduates don't have the same background in political science and history that I do. That is the point behind the group who posted the test.

Clint Dempsey Talks About Fulham

Fulham FC leading scorer, American Clint Dempseytalks about making Craven Cottage a tough place to visit.
It’s very important to get points at home,” he said. “We definitely have a good atmosphere there. I haven’t been here long, but it seems like from the time I’ve been here the atmosphere has got better and better. It gives us something to look forward to. Not only are we getting better as a team, but the atmosphere the fans create is getting better as well.

“I think that with every game we’re playing better and better football. The most important thing is results, but putting in good performances is just behind that. When you’re playing good football it’s fun to be out there and I think we’re doing a better job of passing the ball around, being more creative and creating chances, so it’s exciting. It’s definitely more exciting than it was last season, for me at least.”
I beleive Fulham are playing better ball and that makes me happy. However, their game pattern is disturbing.

I mentioned earlier this season that Fulham was falling into a pattern of scoring and going up early and then blowing the lead in the final minutes. Early in teh season, I might have been able to dismiss the matter as one of game fitness, but after nearly two months of play, including a international break, game fitness is not the problem.

What Dempsey and company have to do in addition to playing better football is to stay mentally sharp from teh starting whistle to the final whistle. The team has teh talent to be easily in the top ten of the League table and compete with the likes of Arsenel, Man. U and Chelsea for top honors, but not until they break their pattern.

Carnival of Education: 137

The Education Wonks are hosting the carnival this week.

Electronic Voting Primer

Prof. Dan Tokaji is probably the nation's foremost expert on the legalities of voting and voting technology. Prof. Tokaji has a great post about the current debate surrounding electronic voting and a voter verified paper trail.

I don't agree with many of Prof. Tokaji's positions, but if you are looking for a good primer on what is going on in the field, his most recent post is a good one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maryland End Run Around Constitution

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley issued a new gun purchase regulation that would require a purchaser to permit their mental health records to be examined by state police.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration has quietly issued a new gun purchase regulation that requires prospective buyers to sign a waiver releasing their mental health records to the Maryland State Police.

The rule, which came in response to the killings at Virginia Tech and took effect Aug. 1, is intended to help police determine whether someone should be prevented for mental health reasons from buying a gun. It would apply to people who have been ordered into treatment by a court or who have checked into a state psychiatric hospital for at least 30 days.
My problem is that why aren't these records affirmatively posted in such a way as to popup on a background check, thereby preventing those who shouldn't buy from actually buying as opposed to asking every buyer to give up their private medical records.

In short, the burden should be on the state to prove that I can't buy a weapon as opposed to proving to the state that I should be able to buy a weapon.

This is How Free Will Is Undermined--One Little Thing at A Time

Hillary Clinton:
She said she could envision a day when "you have to show proof to your employer that you're insured as a part of the job interview — like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination," but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.
Of course, there are lots of things that would have to be worked out with Congress--hence the brilliance and the weakness of the plan.

MLS Expansion Field

Major League Soccer is considering expansion by at least one if not two teams next year. Here is a handicapping of the possible expansion.

I think Seattle and Philadelphia are good shots. Seattle has a solid franchise for United Soccer Leagues and strong fan base, including the Vancover area. I think MLS would be silly to ignore that location. Philly has been abuzz with rumors of a soccer specific stadium in the redeveloped Chester area (just south of the Philly airport and city proper) and that could be great for the area.

St. Louis has long been a great soccer city and would also be a solid choice and I like the idea of some more teams in teh middle of the country as opposed to just the coasts. I don't want to see another franchise in New York at all. The Red Bulls are doing well and unlike LA and Chivas USA, a sort of off shoot of a popular Mexican club, I am not sure New York can really support a second team just yet.

Barring a merger between USL and MLS in the near future, here are my preferences

1. Seattle
2. St. Louis
3. Philly
4. Atlanta--a real long shot I know.

Interesting Questions on the Hillary Health Plan

From The Corner.

Support Grows for Teacher Bonuses -

I am not sure how much longer the teacher's unions can hold out on the issue of performance pay.
The Washington Post carries the story on its front page of the print edition, and the news is not good. A movement gaining momentum in Congress and some school systems in the Washington region and beyond would boost pay for exceptional teachers in high-poverty schools, a departure from salary schedules based on seniority and professional degrees that have kept pay in lockstep for decades.

Lawmakers are debating this month whether to authorize federal grants through a revision of the No Child Left Behind law for bonuses of as much as $12,500 a year for outstanding teachers in schools that serve low-income areas....

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that the teaching workforce is leaking talent and that his proposal would help rejuvenate it. Young teachers watch their friends "go off and get paid for their time and ingenuity" in other fields, Miller said. "In teaching, you go as fast as the slowest person."

Miller's proposal, building on recent federal steps to encourage incentive pay, would provide grants to school systems that choose to pay bonuses to teachers who excel in high-poverty schools, worth up to $10,000 in most cases and $12,500 for specialists in math, science and other hard-to-staff subjects. Decisions on who gets extra pay would be based on student test gains and professional evaluations. Miller's aides said they had no cost estimate for the measure.
When the leading Democrat in the House is pushing performance pay, it is going to be difficult for the NEA and AFT to make a solid case against performance pay. While it could have been argued five years ago that there was no data to suggest that performance pay either improved teacher retention or improved student performance, that may soon no longer be the case.
Performance pay efforts are underway in school systems in Denver and Minnesota, and some local administrators are planning to establish fast tracks for financial rewards for top teachers.
With the improvement in student data and the ability to link students to their teachers in the data, in a few years at worst, we are going to see the impact of performance pay on retention--at least in the short run, and student performance.

Admittedly, the unions do have a fair beef with performance pay being tied to one and only one measurement. However, students and schools are measured on performance on test scores alone as well. While a student's overall grades, both in terms of classwork and standardized tests should be the measure of success for them, and there are certainly other measures of success for a school, teachers unions have yet to make a case for what measurements should be involved in performance pay.

The teachers' uninos are going to have to drop their objection to performance pay. The fact of the matter is that it is real and it is coming. For all their sermons about the noble profession of teaching, every other actor in the education arena is looking to treat, and compensate, teachers as professionals, that is rewarding the truly good ones and incentivizing others to improve, save the unions themselves. The unions are the only education actor worth anything that does not embrace the idea of some sort of performance pay for teachers. The unions are wedded to the notion of collective bargaining, step pay schedules and treating teachers as interchangeable parts, like unskilled, but educated, factory workers.

In fact the unions will need to get out in front of this issue and propose a plan for objectively measuring teacher performance (and yes standardized test scores have to be a part of that measurement scheme--the schools simply cannot cave on that idea). If the unions would make such a gesture, it would be quickly received by policymakers and a reasonable plan can be developed, with all parties involved. Otherwise, a plan will be developed without teacher union input and shoved down their throat--essentially gutting them as a political entity.

Harder Courses Produce Gains

A pilot project in Hartford and Frederick Counties has led to some gains among studentsenrolling in more difficult courses reports the Baltimore Sun.
From 2003 to this year, the number of African-American high school students completing algebra I by their freshmen year rose 158 percent, the number of children from lower-income households finishing a chemistry course increased 115 percent, and the number of students overall taking a fourth science course went up 54 percent.

"We have seen significant gain in all student subgroups and the percentage of students taking rigorous coursework," Haas said.

To become Maryland Scholars, students must complete the prescribed additional courses - algebra II, chemistry, physics and foreign languages - and maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Maryland Scholars, who are eligible for the federal Pell grant in college, receive additional aid for their tuition. In their freshmen year, scholars get an extra $750, and if they maintain a 3.0 GPA, they earn an additional $1,300 in their sophomore year. Students who major in math, science or specific foreign languages could receive an additional $4,000 through the federal Academic Competitiveness Grant in their junior and senior years.

The number of Harford County graduates who met the program's criteria increased from 931 in 2003 to 1,481 this year. More than half of Harford's 2007 graduating class were Maryland Scholars.

Since 2003, there has been a 33 percent increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced-price meals who qualified as Maryland Scholars.

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a statewide nonprofit coalition of employers and businesses, partners with the governor's office and county school systems to run the Maryland Scholars program.
Color me shocked--if you challenge kids, they will rise to the challenge. Self-esteem is not built through touchy-feely help, but through success at something that is hard to do.

It is not enough, of course to simply, encourage kids to take the classes, but to succeed in them. Having a GPA requirement helps. Now that half of one county's graduating class qualifies for a program, it is time to up the ante a little. Let's make the coursework a little more challenging, including adding a significant writing requirement, i.e. a "senior thesis" type effort and a higher GPA requirement, say 2.75 on a 4.0 scale.

I have spoken before to classrooms on behalf of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education and intend to do so again this year. If you live or work in Maryland, I strongly encourage you to check out this program.

U.S. Women's National Team Advance in Women's World Cup

With a 1-0 win over Nigeria in a practical monsoon, the U.S. women advance to the quarterfinal stage of the Women's World Cup. Lori Chalupny scored her first goal for the Women's side in the first minute of play.

With Sweden winning the other Group B Match against North Korea, the United States stands alone at the top of group B. Despite winning against North Korea, the Swedes will not advance ahead of North Korea, losing out on goal differential. The U.S. team will face England on September 22.

Sanchez: Squad Almost Perfect

Lawrie Sanchez believes the Fulham squad is almost perfect , well 20 percent short of perfect anyway.

Look, I think the team is in good shape, but they have to start getting some winning results and quit giving up goals in the last 15 minutes. If they can do that, they will start moving up the League table.

NY Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site

About time.

Hsu--Fundraising Activities Are Bigger Than I Thought

Suitably Flip has done yeoman's work on collecting Hsu's fundraising efforts.

Go check it out--seriously.

Hillary Care and Illegals

Hot Air has links to the question, will Hillary Clinton's $110 billion boondoggle health plan cover all Americans or everyone living in America, legally or not:
Senior [Clinton] policy adviser Laurie Rubiner–-while acknowledging that undocumented immigrants are a “huge issue” in this country–-said, “That’s one we’re going to have to think through a little bit.”
“We have not dealt with every single detail with this plan,” Rubiner continued.
Translation: We’re not sure yet how the majority comes down on that point and want to feel them out. A day doesn’t pass lately, though, that doesn’t include a few new warnings from the media that the GOP’s reluctance to effectively dissolve the country’s borders is costing them big time among Latino voters. The Democrats won’t want to squander that advantage by withholding “free” health care from the “undocumented”; why, to do so would be downright nativist.

Health care in America is not cheap, we all know this. But given that we are facing entitlement budgetary pressure, how can we afford to have another entitlement that will almost certainly top the $110 billion that Clinton claims her plan will cost?

Who Would Do Such A Thing?

The U.S. Park Police are investigating vandalism at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Better Athletes?

Nike Presents the Lie of American Football and it is a big lie.

D over at DCenters notes the problem of the latest Nike ad featuring Shawne Merriman (Go Terps) and Stephen Jackson. The commercial gives the impression of football as a fluid sport, which everyone knows it is not.

However, I love this particular line:
A football player will spring fifty yards and trot to the sidelines for oxygen. A left back will sprint fifty yards and then have to reverse directions and sprint back fifty yards to cover the counter-attack.
What's more, that defender will do the same thing probably three dozen times a game in an inactive game. It would not surpise me to see that the average soccer midfielder runs 5 or 6 miles a game at various paces. A running back might be lucky to run half a mile total in a game--including running to and from the sidelines.

Now tell me, whose the better athlete.