Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Teacher Quality and School Districts

Darren over at Right on the Left Coast had a post about teacher quality, which presents an interesting concept:
What if "improving teacher quality" isn't the answer?
Think of the ramifications for public education if it's not. It's a chilling thought, and one that merits some serious thought.
There is the broader/bolder crowd, that argues that it's unfair to hold schools accountable for raising student achievement because so much that influences achievement is outside of schools' control. There is the growing chorus of voices that wonders whether "closing the achievement gap" should continue to be the primary objective of our education system, mostly because such an objective implies that we are not much interested in maximizing the progress of white, middle-class, and/or high-achieving students.
While I agree that schools alone can't fix the problem of student achievement, that does mean that schools shouldn't do everything in their power to affect what and who they can. Let's not use "we can't control what goes on in the home" as an excuse not to do anything.
The ramifications are indeed troubling. But as interesting as this post was, it was the comment section that really got my head smoking. One commenter, Allen(in Michigan) posted this:
In fact, probably everyone who reads education blogs knows of *schools* in which teacher quality was a pivotal consideration. Some smart, dynamic principal made it a non-negotiable consideration and as long as that principal ran that school teacher quality wasn't allowed to erode. As long as that principal ran that school.

Trouble is, schools are part of larger entities - districts - which have their own driving agendas and teacher quality isn't all that important at the district level. Nor, I'm beginning to think, can teacher quality even be made an important consideration at the district level. Certainly I've never heard of a district, at least a large, urban district, in which the sort of forceful prioritization of teacher quality that's doable within a single school, has been accomplished.

That's why I've come to be convinced that an effective, efficient public education system, within the confines of the school district model, can't be done. It's either school districts and what we've currently got or it's no school districts and things'll change.
After which came a discussion of school districts and teaching.

So, like many questions in education, there is a bit of a definitional problem here. Like the idea of "a better education" or "quality teachers," we come to a problem when thinking about school districts. Specfically, what is the mission of a school district?

To be honest, I really don't know. In Maryland, a school district is simply a county school system, that is all the schools in one county belong to a school district. I know that other states have smaller school districts composing of perhaps as few as one and as many as a dozen schools within a governmental unit. Northern Virginia, for example has this set up in some cases.

I know that a school district has a multitude of administrative and logistical functions, i.e. managing textbook purchases and other supplies, payroll and other Human Resources functions, busing and other transportation, etc.

But what is the role of the school district in actual educational practices? Does it set curriculum--not exactly it does provide imput to the school board who sets curriculum. Does a school district hire teachers? Well, yes and no.

What is teh return on investment in having a school district in terms of educational impact?

I believe a school district is simply a relic of centralized administration. This is not to say that centralization is a bad thing as there are certainly cost savings by having a centralized payroll system for example. But beyond certain administrative functions, I wonder if the "school district" is more of a hinderance than a help when it comes to the actual practice of education. A bureaucracy as large as a county wide school system is slow, if not outright resistent, to change. Very little can be done without far too many people "signing off" on a change. Can it be that less than county wide districts would work better, serve their community better since the community is far more like to be engaged locally?

Or should we explore going the other way and have larger, multi-county districts. After all is centralization is good on the county level, wouldn't it also be appropriate on the multi-county level?

Frank's Fingerprints

Jeff Jacoby, in the Boston Globe no less, reminds us of House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank's (D-MA) role in the mess:
'THE PRIVATE SECTOR got us into this mess. The government has to get us out of it."

That's Barney Frank's story, and he's sticking to it. As the Massachusetts Democrat has explained it in recent days, the current financial crisis is the spawn of the free market run amok, with the political class guilty only of failing to rein the capitalists in. The Wall Street meltdown was caused by "bad decisions that were made by people in the private sector," Frank said; the country is in dire straits today "thanks to a conservative philosophy that says the market knows best." And that philosophy goes "back to Ronald Reagan, when at his inauguration he said, 'Government is not the answer to our problems; government is the problem.' "

In fact, that isn't what Reagan said. His actual words were: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Were he president today, he would be saying much the same thing.

The pressure to make more loans to minorities (read: to borrowers with weak credit histories) became relentless. Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, empowering regulators to punish banks that failed to "meet the credit needs" of "low-income, minority, and distressed neighborhoods." Lenders responded by loosening their underwriting standards and making increasingly shoddy loans. The two government-chartered mortgage finance firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, encouraged this "subprime" lending by authorizing ever more "flexible" criteria by which high-risk borrowers could be qualified for home loans, and then buying up the questionable mortgages that ensued.

All this was justified as a means of increasing homeownership among minorities and the poor. Affirmative-action policies trumped sound business practices. A manual issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston advised mortgage lenders to disregard financial common sense. "Lack of credit history should not be seen as a negative factor," the Fed's guidelines instructed. Lenders were directed to accept welfare payments and unemployment benefits as "valid income sources" to qualify for a mortgage. Failure to comply could mean a lawsuit.

As long as housing prices kept rising, the illusion that all this was good public policy could be sustained. But it didn't take a financial whiz to recognize that a day of reckoning would come. "What does it mean when Boston banks start making many more loans to minorities?" I asked in this space in 1995. "Most likely, that they are knowingly approving risky loans in order to get the feds and the activists off their backs . . . When the coming wave of foreclosures rolls through the inner city, which of today's self-congratulating bankers, politicians, and regulators plans to take the credit?"

Frank doesn't. But his fingerprints are all over this fiasco. Time and time again, Frank insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in good shape. Five years ago, for example, when the Bush administration proposed much tighter regulation of the two companies, Frank was adamant that "these two entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are not facing any kind of financial crisis." When the White House warned of "systemic risk for our financial system" unless the mortgage giants were curbed, Frank complained that the administration was more concerned about financial safety than about housing.

Bad News For The Bailout

Consider these passages from Forbes' coverage of the bailout:
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says his office has gotten "close to zero" calls in support of the $700 billion plan proposed by the administration. He doubts it'll happen immediately either. "I don't think it has to be a week" he says. "If we do it right, then we need to take as long as it needs."
Sherrod Brown is not what you would call a conservative Democrat and when Ohio residents (a key battleground) are not sold on the idea of a bailout, maybe it is time for Congress to really think long and hard about whether a bailout is needed and on what terms.

This one should rock you back:
In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Wow. If it wants to see a bailout bill passed soon, the administration's going to have to come up with some hard answers to hard questions. Public support for it already seems to be waning. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday, 44% of those surveyed oppose the administration's plan, up from 37% Monday.
What, the number is not based on any data--color me shocked!!!

Wonder why the public support for the bailout is waning? Because of some of the underlying news.

1. The FDIC has stepped in to prevent banks from failing or to minimize the damage from failing banks--see Washington Mutual and Wachovia. People are not worried about the security of their money, which was one of the leading causes of the great depression, that is a run on banks when depositors lost their confidence. Is Wall Street nervous? Clearly, but I don't think Main Street is.

2. The causes of the failures around the country are being viewed by average Americans as a failure of big companies putting too much into risky investments. Whether you think so or not, most Americans understand the concept of risky investments and really don't feel much sympathy for trading houses and banks who fail because of risky investments.

3. We are too close in time to a previous legislative debacle, i.e. the PATRIOT Act for people to forget that when Congress passes something very large, very complex in a very short period of time, it is almost always a disaster early on. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

4. The American public assumes Congress is going to screw it up and thus they would rather Congress not act.

A Few Points on the Bailout Fiasco

From RedState's Erick Erickson
I'm a bit gobsmacked that conservative pundits who supported the bailout are attacking members of Congress for listening to their constituents. Amazing how representative democracy worked well today and that's not good enough for some people. Truth be told, the public could very well be wrong, but members of Congress, like on the immigration bill, listened and voted accordingly.

Does it really hurt Republicans that the media is blaming the GOP for killing something the public did not want anyway?

Those of us who opposed the bill may actually have shot ourselves in the foot. Now Nancy and the Dems could very well pass a bill far to the left of the compromised Paulson plan by rallying some of those Democrats to the plan who refused to vote for today's plan. The President, naturally, will sign it.
But, the side effect of a far left bill will be twofold:

1. Obama, if president, would be able to afford his financial morass of social engineering.
2. If a democratic lead bill actually passes and fails (which it no doubt will), then the blame is easy to assign.

The financial crisis in bullet points

Thanks to Tom Clougherty at adamsmith.org for these. The Brits have something at stake, but can look with a bit more objectivity.

Obama: ‘Stay Calm’

This is just too rich. Obama is urging people to "Stay Calm" after the House vote on the bailout package.

Um, Senator Obama, you have been whipping the nation in to an economic frenzy, running around like an economic Chicken Little screaming "recession, recession" and other doom and gloom.

Obama cannot have it both ways, you can't start a riot and then say calm down.

Pelois Speech to Congress

At least I am not the only one who thought that Speaker Pelosi's speech made no sense, Amy Holmes did too. In one breath Pelosi slams the "8 Years of failed Bush Economic Policy" and in the next is asking Congress to pass the biggest economic plan the Administration has ever put together.


I don't think anyone would accuse the current administration of being one focused on economics, but really, if the seeds of the crisis were sown 20 years ago, who is really to blame? Congress--as much as I would like to blame the Democratic Congress, this one isn't really their fault, you have to go back to the Congress in Bush I and early Clinton years, when diversity ruled the roost and diversity in home ownership was seen as a good thing, no matter what.

Oh, then there is that failed oversight of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, but we won't talk about that.

REally, the blame has to fall on those commercial entities who seemed to think it was a good idea to lend money to people with bad or no credit and no ability to pay the mortgage back.

"Spasmodic Jerk to the Latest Opinion Poll"

Mark Steyn, as usual, talking about bailouts and representative duties:
I always enjoy hearing Burke's admonition that a member of parliament owes his constituents his judgment rather than a spasmodic jerk to the latest opinion poll. But isn't it the case that we're in this mess because US politicians previously subordinated "the general reason of the whole" to "local interests" and "local prejudices"? That's to say, with their usual casual destructiveness dressed up in the baby talk of "diversity", they chose to turn the mortgage industry into just another branch of the affirmative-action racket. The United States government in effect decreed credit a human right rather than a privilege judiciously granted by one independent contractor to another.
And isn't that what we are really talking about, the idea that credit is something to be given as a divine right of life, rather than something earned through hard work, religious devotion to repayment and wise application of common sense.

Homeownership is a wonderful thing, but like most things in life, it has to be earned rather than simply given away.

"Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime" certainly holds true in this case.

While the stock markets panicked yesterday on the news of Congress' inability to pass the bailout plan, I think it should be a time of rejoicing. Whether the cause is cynical politics, the GOP staying true to the roots of free market principles, or some other reason, if the bailout is such a good thing, then I would rather Congress make sure it is done right.

Of course, Democrats don't want to be saddled with the blame if it is done wrong.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Seth Godin on Travel

I don't travel for work as much as I used to, but SSeth Godin does and has some thoughts:
Why does a banana cost twenty cents at the supermarket and $1.61 at SFO?
A damn fine question.
What would happen if Imagineers from Disney designed the security line? Why not let them try?

Why doesn't the airport have sleeping benches?
Disney does a lot of things very well and line management is clearly one of them. Why not, at least the lines would be more entertaining and would probably move better.

All of those armrests in the waiting area could flip up to allow sleeping. If they can move arm rests in movie theathers to allow "snuggling" while watching a movie, why not move the armrests to allow a traveler to catch a few Z's, particularly when the airlines cancel flights.

Hat Tip: James Joyner

Have the House Republicans Grown a Spine in the Past Couple of Months?

I will be honest, my family is facing a financial crisis of our own, one which is of our own making. While I would love a bailout, I simply don't see one coming.

But on the heels of the House GOP successfully killing the Bailout Bill, can it be that free market, free enterprise conservativism is on the verge of carrying the day? On the heels of two recent bank meltdowns or near meltdowns (See WaMu and Wachovia) and the FDIC stepping in to prevent a massive run of failures, are the GOP and a few people like me actually making a difference in reminding people that failure is as much a part of capitalism as success.

But did the GOP kill this bill or did the Democrats simply want to keep painting Bush and therefore McCain with a "failed economic policy" meme? The House vote was 228-205 to reject the bill. Keep in mind that 218 is the magic number in the House and the Democrats have control of the chamber, with 233 Democrats. Thus, in order to force a defeat of the bill, at least 14 Democrats had to cross party lines. And lots more did, although more Republicans voted to kill the bill than Democrats.

I wondered what the rationale would be if the bill failed to get passed. The rationale for many conservative free market, small govnerment Republicans is rather apparent. But why would so many Democrats vote against the bill?

I have been concerned about this bill for a number of reasons. James Joyner eloquently summed up my feelings:
Then again, I’m not at all convinced that anybody truly understands what’s going on here, let alone that there’s an expert consensus on what the impacts of the compromise legislation arrived at some 24 hours ago will have on the economy. That some action needs to be taken and soon seems to be a given. This action? Right now? That’s hardly settled.

It may be true that when forced to eat a crap sandwich, the thing to do is to take big bites. But it’s not unreasonable to first take another look in the pantry to see if there’s a more palatable option.
Some action will be taken, but I think all the hoopla surrounding the potential bailout is creating a false expectation that this particular bill, with these particular specifics (or rather lack thereof) and the complete lack of reasoned analysis of the bill (how can you have reasoned analysis of this monstrosity in less than 48 hours) is reason enough for us to pause and say, hey, maybe we don't know what we are doing here.

Congress is pretty good a long term discussion, maybe not effective but good at the process, and notoriously bad at quick action.

I am sure something will get done, but I pay my leaders to take a deep breath before committing me and my children and potentially my grandchildren to a disasterous step that may not be absolutely necessary.

Likely Bailout Beneficiaries: Lawyers

Nothing quite like stating the obvious: Likely Bailout Beneficiaries: Lawyers sayeth the ABA Journal.

Well, duh!!! And I'm a lawyer.

To Avoid Foreclosures--Make the Parties Talk

Philadelphia courts have adopted what amounts to a mediation program of sorts to prevent or at least minimize residential foreclosures.
A program to curb foreclosures by the city and courts of Philadelphia has staved off the sale of nearly 80 percent of the properties referred to it in the first three months of operation.

The plan requires courts to review all scheduled residential foreclosures with borrowers and lenders before the properties can be sold, the New York Times reports. The parties try to reach agreements to modify the loan terms so borrowers can stay in their homes. The effort, called the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Program, is the first to be sponsored by a city.
So making the parties sit down to talk about a workout or other arrangments.

It also has the benefit of easing the courts' already crowded docket.

Alito Opts Out of the Supreme Court Cert Pool

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's Chambers will no longer participate in the "cert pool."

Among the leading criticisms of the Supreme Court is that its dockets keeps getting smaller and smaller. While Congress has put a few more issues into the "direct appeal" category, that is cases that once heard by a federal District Court (Usually a three judge panel) that then get a direct appeal to the Supreme Court without a stop in the Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Supreme Court takes fewer and fewer cases on certiorari, that is the discretionary grant of appeal to the highest court.

One reason that has been mentioned is the cert pool, where the law clerks of the various justices read the cert petitions, analyze the case and then determine if a cert petition should be granted.
The cert pool has been criticized as a possible factor contributing to the court’s shrinking docket. Some theorize the law clerks have a bias against granting cert so they won’t appear foolish if the case is later dismissed as improvidently granted, otherwise known as a DIG.

Critics also say the pool concentrates a lot of power in the hands of inexperienced law clerks. Each clerk in the pool is assigned cert petitions to review, analyze and make a recommendation on whether the court should grant review. The recommendation is circulated to each justice in the pool.
An earlier ABA article on the subject points out that clerks use more objective criteria, such as a split between the Circuit Courts of Appeals, rather than make the subjective judgement as to whether a case present an "important" question. The Clerks, while smart and knowledgeable, have no authority other than that derived from the Justices themselves. It also seems to hint that Justices are more inclined to agree with their clerks than not.

While law clerks are there to help the Justices do their job, I think the over reliance on clerks to do the dirty work of deciding which cases to hear is a abrogation of their duty. I think Justice Stevens and Justice Alito are right, each chamber should look at the cert petitions themselves and make independent recommendations.

Judge Rebukes Prosecutors in Stevens Gift-Giving Case

From the ABA Journal, Judge Emmet Sullivan is "peeved" that the prosecutors in the case of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is on trial for improper gifts, sent a key witness home without informing the court.
The witness dispute involved a Robert Williams, who supervised the renovation project. Williams reportedly called the defense to say that prosecutors were overblowing how much time on the project.

Sullivan was incredulous that prosecutors sent Williams, who is suffering from health problems, back to Alaska without notifying the court.

The AP reports, that Sullivan, with his voice rising said, "Why wasn't I consulted? I'm peeved now. It's a federal subpoena to appear in my court. I think the government is treading in some shallow water here. What should the sanction be for that?"
when a judge uses the word peeved and sanction so close together, you should know that the prosecutors will have to be near perfect in order to avoid that sanction--which could result in a mistrial.

MLS 2.0: Not Much Hope.

American Soccer Spot had these comments about the word out of the owners meeting in Chicago amoung the MLS honchos.

That Don Garber isn't getting the problem is a sign that someone new needs to come into the game's leadership.

There are three problems with MLS, all of which can only be fixed by taking a good, long hard look at the league's structure.

1. Fixture Congestion for the top clubs. Right now, the only MLS club that is handling the fixture congestion is the two time defending Houston Dynamo. I think Dom Kinnear has done a wonderful job with his club, but he hasn't had the injury problems that New England, DC and to a certain extent Chivas has suffered this year. Injuries suck and that is part of the game. However, DC United probably won't make the MLS playoffs and won't advance in the CONCACAF Champions league because for the next four weeks, they will play 2 or 3 matches every 8 days. Simply put, the League has done nothing to help these clubs who are "rewarded" with international play, by doing a little more front loading of their schedule or otherwise working with the teams to give them a fighting shot at these international competitions.

2. Roster size limits are killing the clubs. At this point, the MLS roster freeze essentially says to teams on the verge of the playoffs, "this is all you get" and no ability to replace an injured player who won't be able to play the rest of the season. That means developmental players and that means poor game quality.

3. Expansion is overly ambitious. Game quality is suffering because the talent pool is not deep enough to justify an 18 team league. Seattle starts up next year and Philly the year after. Then MLS needs to stop expanding. Yes, I would love to see a club in St. Louis and I would love to see a club in Miami, or Vancouver or whereever. But what I really want to see is quality soccer. I harbor no illusions about MLS coming close to a Eurpoean or even the Mexican League any time in the future. But for cripe's sake, the shambolic nature of play does not attract the casual fan to become a club supporter because the quality of play is not there. Solidify the league, get each club with its own stadium or at least sharing a bigger portion of the stadium generate revenue (see Seattle and Qwest Field) so that these clubs can have an operation in the black and the ability to pay a larger squad a living salary.

A number of these problems come down to money and I get that Garber has helped the league avoid a financial meltdown. But at this stage, the most knowlegeable fans in the United States are not going to turn out for games unless the MLS starts acting like a top tier domestic league.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama Website: Unfortunately Only Citizens Can Vote

Is there an implicit message here?

Jet Man Flies Across English Channel

Human ingenuity and daring at its best.
Swiss daredevil Yves Rossy today became the first person to cross the English Channel using only a jet-propelled wing trapped to his back.

After two previous attempts were postponed because of bad weather everything went to plan for Rossy's 9 minutes and 32 second flight. He was helped on his way by a tailwind that cut his flight time by around two and a half minutes compared with his calculations before the attempt.

As he crossed the White Cliffs of Dover just after 1.05pm Rossy even had enough fuel left in the four kerosene-burning turbines powering his self-designed, homemade device for some celebratory aerobatics to entertain the crowds gathered below.

He then deployed his parachute and drifted gently downwards, waving his legs excitedly. Rossy's ungainly face-in-the-dirt landing contrasted with the elegance of his high-altitude flight through the crystal blue autumn sky.

The self-styled FusionMan declared that he felt "great, really great" shortly after touching down from the historic flight. He said he dedicated the achievement to his support team who had made it all possible.
Not your average, everyday news.

This guy makes David Blaine look like rookie.

DC United Stadium Quest

The hunt by DC United to get their own stadium built continues. However, earlier this week, the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a report which said that the stadium would add some $6 million in revenue to the state and Prince Georges' County Maryland if the 20,000-25,000 seat stadium is built in the county east of DC. The report assumed some 60-70 events a year at the stadium.

In addition to DC United games, the Washington Freedom could potentially use the facility as well as larger games for the University of Maryland soccer teams, concerts and other sporting events could be held there.

Here is DC United's Statement (Courtesy of Goff):
D.C. United would like to thank Prince George's County for requesting and the Maryland Stadium Authority for its efforts in analyzing the potential economic impact of a new home for our club in Prince George's County. The comprehensive report, compiled on behalf of the MSA, substantiates what D.C. United has always believed: our new stadium will be a strong economic catalyst providing significant benefits -- which will promote and enliven additional mixed-use development around the county.
I think DC United still want to build a stadium in the District, but I am not sure that the DC owners are willing to continue to jump through hoops. I think PG County would quickly jump on the bandwagon.

As for me, PG county wouldn't be so bad, although I would hope the stadium is closer to Greenbelt than Largo (just a little less farther to drive). But so long as the facility is Metro accessible and convenient to the highways, I wouldn't argue.

DC United is the most decorated club in MLS and it is quite honestly a travesty that they continue to play in RFK, a stadium that is too big for their needs and one which they don't own and lose a majority of the revenue from hosting games there. DC United pulls in around 20,000 fans a game and a 25,000 seat stadium (with decently priced tickets) will probably sell out just about every game. The atmosphere at a soccer specific stadium, with Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles supporters club in full force, would be tremendous.

The Maryland Stadium Authority report will put pressure on the DC political leadership to get their head out and take steps to make sure the most successful sports franchise in the DC area has a home in DC. But if not, their loss.

The Maryland Slots Referendum

As election day approaches, and having already made my mind up regarding the Presidential election and most of the other top-of-the-ticket races, I figured it was time to start looking at the other matters that will appear on the ballot. In Maryland, voters will be asked to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to the Maryland Constitution to permit 15,000 slot machines to be placed in pre-determined areas for the purposes of generating revenue. The posited reason for slots in Maryland is to provide a method of saving Maryland's horse racing industry (but no slots will be at the tracks for some odd reason), provide an additional stream of revenue (by taxing slots at some 70%) and to compete economically with Delaware and West Virginia, both of which has significant slots operations at their horse tracks at Dover Downs and Charleston Races.

I am adamantly opposed to slots for the following reasons:

1. The Maryland Constitution is not a place for this kind of legislative activity. A Constitution is a document that describes the structure of government, its macro-level operational contours and the rights, responsibilities and duties of the citizenry and governmental institutions. Measures involving revenue generation (not normally something the Maryland General Assembly is squeamish about) is the duty of the General Assembly, not the citizenry.

2. The fact that the General Assembly foisted this measure off on the voters is an act of political cowardice that simply should not be tolerated. By doing this, the General Assembly is trying to have its cake and eat it too. At a time when budgets are going to be crunched by dwindling tax receipts, the General Assembly is doing its duty by either A) cutting spending (the preferred response) or B) raising taxes and thus bear the brunt of that decision or C) a combination of the two. What the General Assembly will get is if the measure passes, a big revenue stream they will spend without guilt or reason. If the measure fails then they can point to the failure of the measure as the reason for having to take such drastic budgetary cuts. What the General Assembly won't have to do is should the responsibility. As I said--cowardice.

3. I don't want the state to get addicted to the revenue stream. Stop me if you have heard this before, but the revenue is supposed to be used for education. I am all for education spending, but the reality of the matter is that the slots revenue will be thrown at education without any regard for how it will be used, where it will be used and on what programs. Furthermore, slots revenue is like everything else, it is not guaranteed and what will happen if the revenue is not what was expected? The measure is bound to create an addiciton to revenue that cannot be cured later.

4. The measure improperly interferes with business. By putting the slots only in pre-determined locations, the State dictates where the market will operate. It is one thing to ban slots outright (I don't agree with it, particularly since the state allows gambling on horse racing), but it is a far different matter to say that slots will be in such and such a location and no other place. If slots are to be allowed, slots owners should be allowed to put them in any location where they can get a permit from the local government. Adding to the matter is that if the move is designed to help the horse racing industry, why then are not slots being put at already existing tracks?

For all the Marylanders out there, I encourage you to vote against the referendum. If this state really wants slots, we should not allow the General Assembly to abdicate their duties just because they don't want to take a public stand one way or the other.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Bailout's Skeleton

From ABC:
1) a panel to conduct oversight of how the vast sums of taxpayer cash are spent;
2) taxpayer protections -- a way for taxpayers to receive some equity, through warrants, in the companies receiving government aid;
3) limits on executive compensation for officers of the companies receiving government aid -- regarding golden parachutes, bonuses based on erroneous earnings (or 'clawback'), and tax deductions for bonuses;
4) but a source tells ABC News that there was a problem resolving the issue of how to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Democrats want to re-write bankruptcy laws to enable judges to re-negotiate mortgages; Republicans do not.

A Democratic source says that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, advocated for the Bush administration's argument that the bill needs to passed as quickly and as cleanly as possible.
No, number 4 should not happen. I don't want the whole thing to happen, but certainly not the latter.

What strikes me as odd is that the people most likely to declare bankruptcy and then seek to renegotiate those mortgages are the very people that Democrats wanted to get mortgages, i.e. those "diversity" mortgage recipients who would probably not otherwise qualify for credit. So not only have Democrats given these people an improper way into homeownership other than being a good credit risk, but now we are going to force mortgage companies to accept mortgage terms that add to the risk of these high risk mortgages. The inevitable result--no risk taking by mortgage lenders.

Arnold Kling's Case Against the Bailout

One of the best I have read.So far, I haven't found a counterargument from an economist that comes close to arguing as well on behalf of the bailout.

When Did American Businessmen Become Socialits

Executives from Ford and Dow Chemical Company want to hold a "summit" in 2009 to talk about the government's industrial policy. Businesses have summits all the time and that is all well and good. But this one wants to figure out a proposal to protect industry through government intervention. Don Beaudreaux talks about the "Industrial Policy" now being discussed among big business leaders.
Today's economic woes, although not remotely close to being as bad as those of the Great Depression, are nevertheless -- like the Great Depression -- causing lots of people to rethink the role of government in the economy. The clamors for more regulation are as loud today as I ever recall them being during my adult lifetime. (I turned 50 this year.)

Especially scary are the calls for an "industrial policy." This term is jargon for central planning.

In America today the desire for industrial policy springs from the fear of change -- from the anxieties people suffer about competing in a dynamic market economy in which producers serve consumers (rather than vice versa).

Industrial policy reverses this relationship. Consumers would exist for the benefit of producers.

Or, more precisely, consumers would exist for the benefit of already-established producers -- firms, industries and occupations that happen to be dominant at the time the industrial policy is implemented. Tomorrow's producers would be excluded by the policy, prevented from ever emerging.

The firm that would produce the yet-to-be-invented device for curing lung cancer; the industry that would manufacture an amazing but yet-to-be invented automobile engine that runs on tree leaves; specialists who educate us using a yet-to-be-invented remarkable process -- these producers, and countless others similar to them, would be harmed, not helped, by industrial policy.
Ah, the slippery slope of the bailout.

The Bailout

Lots of talk about the President's Speech last night, but I didn't learn anything I hadn't already learned or surmised on my own. I still am not sure how exactly Joe Sixpack will be impacted. But with regard to the bailout, it is clearly going to happen, that train has already left the station and is hauling a $700 billion train of momentum with it.

However, like Arnold Kling, I think it is being put together far too hastily. Yes, Congress is capable of acting quickly, but unless that act is something simple, i.e. a declaration of war, it is supremely incapable of doing big, complicated things very well.

See, for example, the Patriot Act.

Alcee Hastings Gets Stupid on Palin

From Gateway Pundit and CNN:
Rep. Alcee Hastings told an audience of Jewish Democrats Wednesday that they should be wary of Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin because “anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks.”

“If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention,” Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida said at a panel about the shared agenda of Jewish and African-American Democrats Wednesday.

Hastings, who is African-American, was explaining what he intended to tell his Jewish constituents about the presidential race. “Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through,” Hastings added as the room erupted in laughter and applause.
This is absolutely shameless and beneath the dignity of the office of a U.S. Representative.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ex-Judge Disbarred

Disbarring ex-judges doesn't happen all that frequently. Normally, I wouldn't post this as it kind of offends my general desire to avoid truly salacious matters with no editorial point, but I couldn't let this one pass, the ABA headline was simply to hard to ignore. This was the ABA Headline :Ex-Judge Disbarred for Using Penis Pump During Trials.

He was using the thing while hearing cases???!!!!

What on earth was he thinking? Here is the opinion by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

LA Times Hysteria of Health Care Workers

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is all in a lather about a proposed Health and Human Services rule that "would require healthcare facilities to certify in writing that their workers do not have to assist with procedures they find objectionable."

The times hysterically hyperventilates
This isn't a matter of religious freedom clashing with private liberties. Healthcare providers who do not want to provide abortions or sterilization have been protected from discrimination by the federal Church amendments since the 1970s. This provision is an attempt to roll back the clock on reproductive rights to the early 1960s, when doctors could be arrested for selling contraceptives even to married couples. (It took an activist, liberal court to wipe out that anachronism.)

An early draft classified birth-control pills and certain other contraceptives as "abortions," saying they take "the life of a human being." That language was removed after an outcry, but the current version is almost as bad. It gives no definition of abortion, leaving it up to the individual provider. It's equally unclear what else might be morally objectionable. Providing HIV tests? Treating the children of same-sex couples? Giving a rape victim emergency contraception, or delivering life-prolonging treatments to seniors?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 98% of women of reproductive age in the U.S. have used contraceptives; the pill is the leading method among young women, and sterilization the preferred method of women over 35. But should Health and Human Services or the president permit this change -- congressional approval is not necessary -- husbands and wives would share the decision about whether to have children with a pharmacist at a CVS, a volunteer at a federally funded clinic or a second-year medical resident. So much for individual freedom.
Let's take a couple of seconds to quickly disabuse the LA Times about something important in this last paragraph. The proposed rule is a regulation and ALL regulations, no matter what type they are, are subject to Congressional disapproval. All Congress has to do is pass a resolution disapproving of the rule--that is all, and the rule is done. Regulations are passed under a delegation of duty to executive departments to deal with the minutia of implementing laws.

But on the substance of the discussion. I would dare say that most healthcare providers would never be in a position to have to make a choice between the Hippocratic Oath and their personal morals. I would dare say that to many the Hippocratic Oath or similar oath is part and parcel of their personal moral make up.

See the problem with the LA Times and those who share the Times' "concern" is that they view healthcare as a right and anyone who practices in the field of medicine is therefore reqruied to provide services demanded by a patient with no questions asked. That is not how it works. These doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are just that, professionals. They have the right to contract to perform certain services and not perform others. If a doctor does not want to perform abortions, that is his/her right. If that doctor will not proscribe birth control pills to teenagers, that is their right. The patient will no doubt find health care providers who will do these things.

Just because a person is a health care provider doesn't mean they give up their rights either. The LA Times would have you believe that if it medical related then the patient's demands carry the day. Sorry, it just ain't so.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Biden Rewrites History

Heard about this on Rush Limbaugh, but here is a quote from Joe Biden:
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed," Biden told Couric. "He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"
Biden was talking about our current financial crisis and making a comparison to the Great Depression.

Two problems:

1. There was no TV in 1929. My history is a little fuzzy, so I will say this, TV was not widespread in America, but it may have existed in 1929.

2. FDR was not president in 1929, Herber Hoover was. FDR was not elected until 1932.

You would think a man like Biden would know that?

Oh, by the way, I don't get the princes of greed reference. Is Biden excusing the actions of the Wall Street Barons of 80 years ago or the Wall Street morons of today?

Obama may scale back promises

Gee, you think?

Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism On Schools - WSJ.com

Obama pushing radical educational thoughts? Color me not too surprised:
Despite having authored two autobiographies, Barack Obama has never written about his most important executive experience. From 1995 to 1999, he led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists.

The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s. Among other feats, Mr. Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon, and he has never expressed regret for his actions. Barack Obama's first run for the Illinois State Senate was launched at a 1995 gathering at Mr. Ayers's home.

The Obama campaign has struggled to downplay that association. Last April, Sen. Obama dismissed Mr. Ayers as just "a guy who lives in my neighborhood," and "not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis." Yet documents in the CAC archives make clear that Mr. Ayers and Mr. Obama were partners in the CAC. Those archives are housed in the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago and I've recently spent days looking through them.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge was created ostensibly to improve Chicago's public schools. The funding came from a national education initiative by Ambassador Walter Annenberg. In early 1995, Mr. Obama was appointed the first chairman of the board, which handled fiscal matters. Mr. Ayers co-chaired the foundation's other key body, the "Collaborative," which shaped education policy.

The CAC's basic functioning has long been known, because its annual reports, evaluations and some board minutes were public. But the Daley archive contains additional board minutes, the Collaborative minutes, and documentation on the groups that CAC funded and rejected. The Daley archives show that Mr. Obama and Mr. Ayers worked as a team to advance the CAC agenda.

One unsettled question is how Mr. Obama, a former community organizer fresh out of law school, could vault to the top of a new foundation? In response to my questions, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that Mr. Ayers had nothing to do with Obama's "recruitment" to the board. The statement says Deborah Leff and Patricia Albjerg Graham (presidents of other foundations) recruited him. Yet the archives show that, along with Ms. Leff and Ms. Graham, Mr. Ayers was one of a working group of five who assembled the initial board in 1994. Mr. Ayers founded CAC and was its guiding spirit. No one would have been appointed the CAC chairman without his approval.

The CAC's agenda flowed from Mr. Ayers's educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Ayers taught at a radical alternative school, and served as a community organizer in Cleveland's ghetto.

In works like "City Kids, City Teachers" and "Teaching the Personal and the Political," Mr. Ayers wrote that teachers should be community organizers dedicated to provoking resistance to American racism and oppression. His preferred alternative? "I'm a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist," Mr. Ayers said in an interview in Ron Chepesiuk's, "Sixties Radicals," at about the same time Mr. Ayers was forming CAC.

Conservatives Try New Tack on Campuses

From the NYTimes.com:
Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.
They are finding like-minded tenured professors and helping them establish academic beachheads for their ideas.

These initiatives, like the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions at the University of Texas, Austin, or a project at the University of Colorado here in Colorado Springs, to publish a book of classic texts, are mostly financed by conservative organizations and donors, run by conservative professors. But they have a decidedly nonpartisan and nonideological face. (Links in original omitted)
I don't know if this is necessarily a "new tack" but here is what it will do--create an environment of real debate and real academic inquiry.

Soccer Greatness

This is what is great about soccer, it is not just a game of rich foreign players or Mickey League Soccer.
Elijah Thomas always had a thing for soccer. But with cerebral palsy that keeps him mostly in a wheelchair, the 11-year-old never had the opportunity until now.

On a recent sweltering evening Elijah — with the help of some University of Florida volunteers — kicked ball after ball into a goal.

Elijah is one of dozens of disabled Alachua County children and young adults who have found their feet through the TOPSoccer program run by the Gainesville Soccer Alliance.

“Elijah has wanted to play for four years now. This is all he wants to do now,” said his grandmother and guardian, Kathy Thomas. “This is his favorite thing. He gets so excited that you’d think he would fall asleep on the way home, but all the way home he keeps thanking me.”

TOPSoccer stands for The Outreach Program for Soccer and was created by the US Soccer Youth Association as a way to get disabled youngsters involved in the game.

Patti Atchison, an officer with the Gainesville Soccer Alliance, started the program locally last year. The alliance is a nonprofit organization that runs soccer teams and built fields at Alachua County’s Jonesville Park, which is where TOPSoccer is played on Friday evenings.

Hat TipTheOriginalWinger.com

American Options

For a while now, I have been listening to the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, hosted by Kartik Krishnaier and Dave Denholm. there are subject on which I agree with and subjects which I don't, but this particular post by Krishnaier hits the nail on the head. Krishanier writes:
With the recent proliferation of foreign players in Major League Soccer and the dumming down of the quality of the league thanks to expansion and fixture congestion, it’s easy to be sour on MLS. I’ve been particularly disturbed by MLS clubs continued reliance on signing foreign players to plug holes in their side, when plenty of good American options exist. Given the kind of support a club like CD Guadalajara has south of the border and the talk that other traditional Mexican clubs feeling the blowback of South American influence on their league may mimick Chivas in the future, I believe the time has come for an MLS or USL-1/2 side to take the chance and field a team made up entirely of American nationals.

I disagree strongly with those people who believe importing foreign talent will continue to sell the beautiful game to the masses here in the United States. American fans eventually want to cheer for and take pride in home grown players. Foreign imports save David Beckham and in year one of the league Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni and Hugo Sanchez have done little to stimulate attendance for the league. Instead they have been used by coaches and managment too lazy to scout American players or simply who buy into the inferiority complex many have about American players. The time has come for some bold club to step forth and make this change.
Now, I don't necessarily think that foreign players are bad, per se, but the Mickey League Soccer has apparently become overly reliant on foriegn players. I say apparently, because, as is usual, Krishnaier leaves some things out of the calculus.

First, some teams, like New England and DC United and to a lesser extent Houston and DC United, and to a greater extent Toronto FC, have done a good job recruiting young foreign players from Africa and South America who they can pay less, hope to get a couple of years out of them and probably sell them on to Europe or back to South America for more money than they paid. As a business model, it is not a bad idea, buy cheap and sell for more than you paid. If the player goes bust, no big deal, you didn't spend that much money in the first place. Makes good business sense. Why?

Well that brings me to my second point. It is not that there are not quality American players out there on the horizon, coming up through the high school, youth national team programs and college, but let's face it, you can't expect to offer a college player $17,000 a year salary and expect him to stay in the U.S. Should the MLS have more American players? Yes, but until those American players can earn a decent salary from MLS, it won't happen. An expanded roster and an increased salary cap will help keep more American players in the MLS.

The MLS still does a decent job of getting American players into the league and then see quality players move on to Europe, while less stellar quality players remain in teh MLS, plying their trade and trying to bring the quality of the league up. But until you can have a team with adequate depth to ride out injuries, national team call-ups and multiple competitions, the MLS will suffer from a lack of American players.

Now, there are teams out there that use a large portion of native players. They can be competitive also. Take teh example of Aston Villa in the English Premier League. Villa's 18 man squad from this past weekend had the following players (nationality in parens, starters in bold, subs entering game in italics)
Brad Friedel (USA)
Luke Young (England)
Nicky Shorey (England)
Curtis Davies (England)
Martin Laursen (Denmark)
Nigel Reo-Coker (England)
Ashley Young (England)
Gareth Barry (England)
Stiliyan Petrov (Bulgaria)
Gabriel Agbonglahor (England)
John Carew (Norway)
Brad Guzan (USA)
Zat Knight (England)
Carlos Cuellar (Spain)
James Milner (England)
Moustapha Salifou (Togo)
Marlon Harewood (England)
Craig Gardner (England)

Seven of Villa's starging 11 are English. Fully 11 of the 18 man squad are English. Villa is doing well in the Premier League and will be advancing in the UEFA cup with this kind of a line-up.

My point is that you don't need a ton of foreign players. But to develop the American game, we need to see more American playmakers, people in the roles of Cuathemoc Blanco, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Shalrie Joseph, Marcello Gallardo (when healthy) and even to a lesser extent David Beckham. We need players who can create plays, chances and to dictate the game. Right now, there are not enough American players who can do that, although a couple are developing.

While I would like to see more American players in teh MLS, the fact is that we will not until the owners are willing to part with more more money to pay American players American wages.

Underground Soccer Stadium

This is what you get with lots of oil money, some good engineering and lots and lots of creativity.

Qatar will have the first, open air, air-conditioned stadium. It is already being built and called "the Laptop" and you can see why.

Monday, September 22, 2008

NBC Goes Over the Line

I love good political satire and the whole Tina Fey as Sarah Palin bit was hilarious. But last week's bit about Todd Palin and incest was neither funny nor appropriate.

I don't watch Saturday Night Live a lot, and I probably won't be for a while.

Whoa! Japanese Space Elevator Planned

This is just too cool!
From cyborg housemaids and waterpowered cars to dog translators and rocket boots, Japanese boffins have racked up plenty of near-misses in the quest to turn science fiction into reality.

Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator. Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier.

For chemists, physicists, material scientists, astronauts and dreamers across the globe, the space elevator represents the most tantalising of concepts: cables stronger and lighter than any fibre yet woven, tethered to the ground and disappearing beyond the atmosphere to a satellite docking station in geosynchronous orbit above Earth.

Up and down the 22,000 mile-long (36,000km) cables — or flat ribbons — will run the elevator carriages, themselves requiring huge breakthroughs in engineering to which the biggest Japanese companies and universities have turned their collective attention.

In the carriages, the scientists behind the idea told The Times, could be any number of cargoes. A space elevator could carry people, huge solar-powered generators or even casks of radioactive waste. The point is that breaking free of Earth's gravity will no longer require so much energy — perhaps 100 times less than launching the space shuttle.

“Just like travelling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space,” Shuichi Ono, chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, said.

The vision has inspired scientists around the world and government organisations including Nasa. Several competing space elevator projects are gathering pace as various groups vie to build practical carriages, tethers and the hundreds of other parts required to carry out the plan. There are prizes offered by space elevator-related scientific organisations for breakthroughs and competitions for the best and fastest design of carriage.
Here is my basic question, it takes a long time to travel 22,000 miles, how fast will these things accelerate and what will be their speed?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ives Galarcep's "Magnificent Seven" Deserving of National Team Call Ups

I cannot argue with any of these except maybe Jeremiah White, who I have not seen in action.

Will Bob Bradley call these guys in for World Cup qualifiers in October? Nope, but maybe for minutes in the final match in November. Certainly they should see a call up for the January U.S. team camp.

So who are they:

Jozy Altidore
Kenny Cooper
Freddy Adu
Charlie Davies
Jeremiah White
Chad Marshall
Robbie Rogers

Again, no arguments from me.

Blackburn v. Fulham Tomorrow

Fulham will travel to Ewood Park, home to the Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn is reeling from their last two Premiership games against West Ham United and Arsenel in which the Rovers conceded four goals in each of the two games. Playing at home may give them a little comfort, but it didn't help last weekend when Arsenel and Emmanuel Adebayor shelled them for four goals and the hat trick by Adebayor.

Fulham are coming off league wins over that same Arsenel side and Bolton last week. Fulham have been playing with solid form, great possession and the flair for creating chances to score. But, let's face it, Fulham's away form is, to be quite charitable about it, less than stellar. Granted, they have had only one away game thus far when they traveled to Hull City to start the season, but even then they did not play poorly, conceding the final goal in a complete howler by Paul Konchesky.

The injury list is practically non-existent, with only Leon Andreasson being the only regular first team member with injury and possibly eligible for selection this weekend. But even if Andreasson is out, I don't expect Roy Hodgson to make an significant changes to his starting XI tomorrow from last weekend's win over Bolton.

I would expect the 4-4-2 that has served Hodgson well this season. I am hoping to see a little more out of Andy Johnson's paring with Bobby Zamora up top. The central midfield tandem of Jimmy Bullard and Danny Murphy are creating great chances and hopefully we can see a little more out of Zoltan Gera on that left wing.

Going to Ewood is tough and Blackburn desperatly need a win and Ewood Park can be a hard place to play But I like Fulham's style of play lately and if they are on that form, I can see a win. I like 2-1 for Fulham, but I would be happey with a draw as well.

Affordable Equals "subprime"

Russell Roberts brings us hard information about how the economy got to where we are.

House Passes Bill To Expand Drilling, Fund Renewables

It is bogus, but this story was buried behind all the financial mess.

Sarah Palin is GASP!! A Politician

Shocking, I know. Apparently the New York Times has never met a Democratic politician.

Charlie Cook: Are We Due For Another Momentum Shift?

It certainly looks that way, doesn't it?

Bankruptcy is Not a Dirty Word

That is the message from OpenMarket.org, earlier in this week, and I would think the message would not change all that much.

The bailout plan being touted by the Treasury Department and the bloody awful, shambolically stupid ban on short selling, means that govnerment is preventing the natural cycle of business, that is, growth and death, making money and losing money,
Business failure is not only a permissible outcome of capitalism, it’s a necessary one. As the great economist Joseph Schumpeter has written, the process of “creative destruction” is essential for the market to function. For innovation to flourish and the standard of living of the populace to improve, the market must be free to reward success and punish failure.

There is no doubt Lehman’s failure will be difficult for the firm’s employees, investors and others affected by the firms’ dealings. But Wall Street and the U.S. economy has survived similar failures before and come back to prosper. The investment banking firm Michael Milken’s Drexel Burnham Lambert, a powerhouse of the ’80s, went bankrupt in the early ’90s. The ’90s decade still roared, and many of the innovative companies financed by Drexel, such as Turner Broadcasting, still continue to prosper to this day.
Times are going to be tough for the big investors, but honestly, aside from money market mutual funds, most investors are not going to be touched directly by this crisis. Will interest rates go up, will it be more difficult to get consumer loans? Yes, and that really is nothing new. It happens in cycles throughout financial history.

From everything I have read, we as a society are reaping what we have sown by trying to expand homeownership. That is a noble and perhaps valuable goal, but really, it means risks and those risks carry the chance of failure. No one put a gun to the heads of these financier and told them to invest in mortgage backed securities which included risky subprime mortgages. They made that decision and they need to bear the costs of it.

I am not so much of a fool as to believe that in the short term, I am my family will be unaffected by the credit crunch. But I am not willing to sacrifice the financial future of myself and my family in order to cushion the blow of the marketplace on risk taking financiers.

Your Tuition Dollars At Work

Lots of other people are linking to this story. I know that professors are entitled to their opinion, but at this point, the students should be demanding money back for this kind of behavior.

To be honest, the only way this kind of crap will ever be prevented is if students start demanding refunds for professors spouting their personal political preferences particularly in non-relevant courses like English Comp.

Future Teachers of America

From a while back at Joanne Jacobs:
Forty-two percent of college-educated 24- to 60-year-olds would consider teaching as a second career, reports a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation survey.
But money and compensation are a big hurdle:
More than 60 percent of those interested in teaching say they’d need a starting salary of $50,000 or more; average starting pay is $31,753, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

Remedial College Courses, Even for A Students

Joanne Jacobs talks about the phenomenon of A students in high school having to take remedial courses because they are not prepared for college level work.
Christina Jeronomo was an “A” student in high school English classes; she thought she was prepared for college. But she had to take remedial English at Long Beach Community College, delaying her goal of transferring to a four-year college where she can earn a psychology degree. From AP:
. . . a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.
The students take the hit by having to 1) take course material they should have learned in high school again; and 2) pay for the privilege of doing so.

This is not something that should be allowed to continue. From teh comments on Joanne's post:
You ought to see how unprepared these kids are from an English composition perspective! I feel sorry for them every time I give them a failing grade on their first paper, and their faces fall. Then they come up to me and tell me “I always got As and Bs in high school…” All I can tell them is that we look for different criteria in college papers.

I don’t blame them. I don’t blame their parents. I blame the people who were supposed to give them accurate feedback, and teach them to correct their mistakes. I blame the people who don’t teach them how to use the nuts and bolts of building papers. I blame their elementary school and middle school teachers–by high school and college, it’s almost too late to teach them how to correctly use punctuation and grammar rules.

Ugh! Secretary Paulson Proposes Something New: The First National Bad Bank of the United States

This plan gets worse the more I read about it.

"It's Time to be Patriotic"

And rich people paying more taxes is being patriotic. Not, really, Joe Biden said that. You can't make this up.
"We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people," Biden said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Noting that wealthier Americans would indeed pay more, Biden said: "It's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut."
How blantantly redistributionist and blatant class warfare.

Zero Tolerance Policies Attack Again

This time in Blaine, MN. Tony Richard, a 17-year-old senior at Blaine High School in Blaine, Minnesota, works 20 hours a week at a local grocery store, where he uses a retractable razor blade to break down boxes for recycling. One day after work, he tossed the box cutter into his car, which he later drove to school. Anyone familiar with "zero tolerance" insanity can already guess where this story is heading: Richard was suspended from school, and may be expelled, for bringing a "weapon" onto campus. School officials say their hands were tied.

No, their hands aren't tied after all it is a "policy" not a law.

Ah, yes, Zero Tolerance really means zero common sense.

Bailouts Continue?

Bailouts may continue for the biggest financial companies for the U.S. has apparently become addicted to government intervention.
Global stock markets roared higher on Friday after news of a possible U.S. government plan to rescue banks from toxic mortgage debt raised a collective sense of hope amid the world's worst financial crisis in decades.

Europe exchanges, which had spent nearly all of this week drowning in declines responded with ferocity to the possible plan, surging as battered bank stocks rebounding along with them.

The news of a likely U.S. lifeline, along with new changes to short-selling in the U.S., Britain and Ireland, also helped push markets higher, analysts said.

Early Friday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission took the dramatic step of temporarily banning the routine practice of betting against company stocks, announcing the move on its Web site.

The commission said it was acting in concert with Britain's Financial Services Authority in taking emergency action to "prohibit short selling in financial companies" to protect the integrity of the securities market and boost investor confidence.

"The short-term changes to short selling are certainly giving markets and regulators room to breathe," said Keith Bowman, equity analyst Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers. "But there are going to be a significant number of hurdles to overcome for this temporary measure to prove useful at solving the fundamental problems over the long term."

Another factor were moves by the European Central Bank, Swiss National Bank and Bank of England to offer up more cash Friday. The three banks put a combined $90 billion into money markets in a lockstep move.
I don't mind pumping money into the economy, that is what central banks are for, in part, but bailing out companies is not the proper course of action.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Charles Renken to Arsenel?

Remember when I told you the keep the name Charles Renken in mind? Well there is a rumor that Renken might move on to Arsenel. Kartik Krishnaier thinks it a bad idea and I actually agree.

Renken's life story is not your normal American teenager story, but I think at minimum a wait for a couple of years will do him well, if for no other reason than to mature.

Yes, Renken's development as a player will stagnate if he remains here in the U.S. too long. Yes, Arsenel's legendary Arsene Wenger is brilliant at developing young talent and teh style of football that Arsenel likes can certainly help, but there are lots of coaches and clubs in Europe who can do the same thing.
Frank Simek signed with Arsenal at 14, the same age and he now remains an outsider in the US player pool struggling for recognition on a second division side in his twenties. This pattern has played out with many of the other Americans I listed above who went to England as teens to develop their footballing skills. On the other hand the list of youngsters who went to continental clubs or academies is more impressive and dare I say has been much more impactful on the fortunes of the US National Team program.

Charles Renken is a special player. He has the potential to be a similar, even complimentary player to Freddy Adu a few years down the road in the US setup. Along with Stefan Jerome and Carlos Martinez he represents part of an attacking trio that could lead to US to glory in upcoming youth world cups. However, all of this is predicated on Renkin making the right move following his time at the US Soccer’s Academy in Bradenton and continuing his impressive growth as a young player.
Simek is a quality player who was probably not as gifted as Renken, but you can never tell at this stage.

Apparently The Question of McCain's Citizenship May Be Resolved

In case those you out there didn't know, John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone at a time when his Navy Dad was assigned there. That of course lead to the question of whether McCain is a "natural born citizen" as required by the Constitution. Well a San Francisco federal Judge(!!!!) said, yep, McCain is a citizen.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup said McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone made him a citizen under the relevant statutes, Legal Times reports. “Plaintiff has not demonstrated the likelihood of success on the merits necessary to warrant the drastic remedy he seeks," Alsup wrote.

Alsup also said the plaintiff, an elector pledged to third-party candidate Alan Keyes, did not have standing to challenge McCain’s placement on the ballot. Two other lawsuits claiming McCain does not meet the constitutional requirement for citizenship to be president have also been dismissed on standing grounds, the story says.

Lehamn Fallout in Lega Community

From the ABA: 42% of Lawyers Surveyed Fear Career Fallout from Lehman Woes.
Forty-two percent of practicing lawyers responding to a survey through the blog Above the Law said the recent bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the sale of Merrill Lynch would harm their careers. Only 27 percent felt that way when the government bailed out Bear Stearns.

The survey, sponsored by legal recruitment firm Lateral Link, got 830 responses. Most of those who answered were associates, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.
Of course, bankruptcy creditor's attorneys are going to make a mint.

Did McCain Forsee the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Mess

maybe says Betsy Newmark and Ed Morrissey. In a 2005 speech,
McCain managed to predict the entire collapse that has forced the government to eat Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with Bear Stearns and AIG. He hammers the falsification of financial records to benefit executives, including Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson, both of whom have worked as advisers to Barack Obama this year. McCain also noted the power of their lobbying efforts to forestall oversight over their business practices. He finishes with the warning that proved all too prescient over the past few days and weeks.
Read both posts, it is well worth it.

A Fairly Understandable Explanation of the Financial Mess and What It Means

Steven Levitt of the Freakonomics blog admits he can't explain the mess on Wall Street and the federal governments' apparent mish-mash response. So Levitt asked his colleagues, who put together a pretty good description. They admit that this is a most extraordinary moment and a remarkable invervention into the financial markets by the federal government, perhaps teh biggest since the Great Depression (as much as I hate saying that phrase.

I would like to point out, that the financial crisis is not necessarily the worst since the Great Depression, but the government's response, i.e. intervention, probably is, so there you go.
2) Why did these things happen?

The common denominator in all three cases was the ability of the firms to secure financing. The reasons, though, differed in each case.
The explanation is somewhat long, but fairly understandable even to non-economists. A little heavy on some lingo, but if you can read it, you can understand it--probably.
5) What does it mean for the Fed and Treasury going ahead?

A reasonable reading of the recent bailouts suggests a simple rule: if a firm is on the verge of collapse and its ties to the financial system will lead to a cascade of chaos, the firm will be saved. A bankruptcy will be permitted only if the failure can be contained.

Assuming the level of chaos is sufficiently high, this dichotomy is probably consistent with the mandate of the Federal Reserve. The rescue of A.I.G., however, raises some major challenges.

One is where to draw the line. A.I.G. was an insurance company, not a bank or a broker dealer, so the Fed had no special relationship with A.I.G. Presumably, if a very large airline or automaker had been involved in the C.D.S. market, the same reasoning that led to the rescue would apply.

A second challenge comes with defining the acceptable level of chaos. We will never be able to find out what would have happened if A.I.G. had been allowed to fail. Furthermore, there are some reasons to believe that even if A.I.G. continues to operate, the fundamental stress in the financial system will remain. If the rescue does not mark a turning point, the bailout may be viewed quite differently down the road.
And this, I think, is going to be the biggest challenge, that is where to draw the line and how much market chaos to accept.

Yes, the market is pretty chaotic, but there are patterns to it and those patterns provide the ability for firms, investors and ultimately the government to determine when and where to intervene. From this description, I am a little more comfortable with the A.I.G. bailout, but still nervous. Will size matter? Will the manner in which their debt is financed matter?

Right now, my belief is that the government is not pursuing a rational course of action. Not in terms of bailouts anyway, since I am not sure whether or not there are criteria for intervention. That is the fear, not that bailouts are needed, but that bailouts will be given for little or no reason nor any consistent reason. And no, I don't like the "too big to fail" descriptor as it implies that any big company has a case for intervention to protect it from its own stupid decisions.

Economists Tell Us Not To Worry About Manchester United and AIG

A relief for Manchester United fans since that sponsorship deal is not small potatoes.
A.I.G., the largest insurance company in the world; perhaps best known to most of the world as the shirt sponsor of Manchester United soccer club, A.I.G. has assets of over $1 trillion and over 100,000 employees worldwide. The Fed has the option to purchase up to 80 percent of the shares of A.I.G., is replacing A.I.G.’s management, and is nearly wiping out A.I.G.’s existing shareholders. A.I.G. is to be wound down by selling its assets over the next two years. (Don’t worry, Man U will be fine.)

Reid: "No one knows what to do''

Bloomberg is reporting that Congress may adjourn rather than face the crisis.

My cynicism radar just went into high gear.

First, I and the voters of America elected these people to represent us and help address these issues. Now I believe they should do nothing to fix the matter since it is not a problem that can be fixed by government regulation.

But that doesn't mean that there is not other business of the people that needs to be addressed and abandoning their job is a problem of the greatest magnitude. I want their pay to be forfeited for the days they are out of session.

Second, contrary to what I think should be done, the fact of the matter is that Congress is going to pass some sort of legislation to "address" the financial "crisis." I am not so much of a fool as to believe something won't happen. That being said, then Congress needs to stay in session and work the problem.

Third, by looking to get out of town in the midst of a crisis, the Democrats are hoping the Bush Administration will screw the pooch (a pretty likely possibility given that any response will be too rash to be considered properly). That gives them the cynical position of being able to be critical without having to offer something up themselves.

Shockingly Stupid: Suit against conservative talk show hosts

The problem with this suit is that it could be the litigation equivalent of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.

Radio stations use public airwaves on licenses granted by the FCC. If broadcasting conservative hosts only is found to be an improper use of the license, it could have a very debilitating effect on the medium.

Still, I am not sure what relief is being sought and that could be a big thing. If it is money damages, in all likelihood this suit will do down in flames (after all the man could have easily changed the channel). But if it is some type of declaratory or injunctive relief (i.e. the radio station can't broadcast all Republican all the time) then we get into a different territory.

What about free speech/press you may ask? Well, there are at least theoretical limitations on that speech when you are using a publicly granted license. Whether those hold up is a nother matter.

BlackBerrys are Homewreckers

From the ABA Journal, 35% of Professionals Would Choose BlackBerry Over Spouse. Two possible scenarios: they don't like their spouse or they have real issues with communication.
Professionals have a love-hate relationship with their BlackBerrys, and in some cases it’s interfering with their marriages.

Thirty-five percent of 6,500 professionals surveyed said they would pick their personal digital assistants over their spouses, if they had to choose, and 87 percent said they take their PDAs into their bedrooms, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Eighty-four percent of the respondents check their BlackBerrys before they go to bed and when they wake up, while 85 percent check them in the middle of the night, according to the survey by Sheraton Hotels & Resorts.

Eight-five percent said modern technology makes them feel compelled to be connected to work 24/7. On the other hand, 84 percent said PDAs give them more quality time and flexibility with family and friends.
I have a work issued BlackBerry and I have to tell you that while I take it with me when we go out, I am not obsessivly checking it.

The problem with BlackBerry toting lawyers is that if you use them to respond to clients at odd times, the clients will begin to believe they can contact you at odd times and expect an answer. While I work very hard for my clients there are boundaries to my efforts and clients have to understand that very little work they think they need acutally has to be done right now.


Sorry, liberal loonies, this impeachment is not of President Bush or Vice President Cheney, but rather the House of Representatives is preparing for a possible impeachment of a federal judge.
Getting into gear to consider possible impeachment proceedings against a federal judge, the House Judiciary Committee today formed a task force today to consider the case against U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous.

"The move begins a congressional inquiry into allegations against Porteous that include bankruptcy fraud and perjury," explains the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The judge allegedly misrepresented his financial position in his bankruptcy case, concealed assets and gambling debts.

Porteous is also accused of having taken money from lawyers who appeared in cases before him, while he was working in a previous position as a state judge.

As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, Porteous, who sits in New Orleans, was reprimanded last week by an appellate judicial council. It determined that he should not hear any cases for the next two years, but Porteous continues to collect his judicial salary of nearly $170,000.

His lawyer says the appellate judicial council's report greatly exagerates his shortcomings, and insists that the judge has given fair treatment to all parties in cases he hears.

If the case proceeds, "it would be the first impeachment of a federal judge since 1989, when the House impeached Alcee L. Hastings, now a Democratic congressman from Florida, and Walter Nixon of Mississippi," reports the Associated Press.

New Manchester United Kit Mockup?

Now that the United States owns like 80% of AIG, the official uniform sponsor of Manchester United, shouldn't this be the design for Man U's kits?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Financial Industry Mess

Steve Verdon breaks out a good Star Trek reference with "Its dead Jim," but the pointshe makes are solid. Riffing off this essay by Robert Samuelson, Verdon writes:
Then there is leverage–i.e. borrowing money to invest in securities. Really more of a sophisticated form of betting.

Finally, investment banks rely heavily on borrowed money, called “leverage” in financial lingo. Lehman was typical. In late 2007, it held almost $700 billion in stocks, bonds and other securities. Meanwhile, its shareholders’ investment (equity) was about $23 billion. All the rest was supported by borrowings. The “leverage ratio” was 30 to 1.

Leverage can create huge windfalls. Suppose you buy a stock for $100. It goes to $110. You made 10 percent, a decent return. Now suppose you borrowed $90 of the $100. If the price rises to $101, you’ve made 10 percent on your $10 investment. (Technically, the price has to exceed $101 slightly to cover interest payments.) If it goes to $110, you’ve doubled your money. Wow.

Wow indeed. Lehman could have made a huge killing if the market hadn’t turned against them. Of course, that huge killing would likely induce them to gamble again. And again, and again, and again until finally the party went sour.
That is what we are really talking about here, incentives, risk and reward/consequences.

So here is a scenario of the three big financial stories of the past week, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG, and of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, which entity will learn its lesson best?

Put your money on Merrill Lynch, why? Because it doesn't exist as its own entity any more. Sure, Bank of America will probably keep the name around (maybe), but you can be sure that Bank of America will a) keep a tight lease on their leveraging and b) make sure that profits Merrill makes in the future are distributed to Bank of America stockholders, not Merrill stockholders and traders. In short, the market forced the demise of all of htese entities, but only Merrill Lynch has not been sheilded from its failures.

You could argue that Lehman Brothers will learn a lesson, but that is not exactly a sure thing. Bankruptcy, which is not a bad word by the way, can sometimes cause a company to rethink its strategy, but unless more analytical heads prevail at Lehman, the blame will be affixed to the market breakdowns rather than a failing in the business judgment of Lehman's leadership.

Certainly AIG and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac are going to learn anything in my opinion other than to run to Uncle Sam when the excretment hits the wind producing machine.
Reminds me somewhat of the internet/tech bubble in the 1990’s. People had this wacky notion of the “New Economy”. They had all sorts of goofy ideas such as it higher growth rates were now possible. Negative growth wasn’t really possible. It wasn’t the number of people at work that mattered, but the number of processors. Of course, that all came to an end.

How Wall Street restructures itself is as yet unclear. Companies need more capital. Merrill went to Bank of America because commercial banks have lower leverage (about 10 to 1). It seems likely that many thinly capitalized hedge funds will be forced to reduce leverage. Ditto for “private equity” firms. In time, all this may prove beneficial. Financial firms may take fewer stupid and wasteful risks — at least for a while. Talented and ambitious people may move from finance, where they were attracted by exorbitant pay, into more productive industries.

And there in lies the danger of bailing these firms out. The people who made these mistakes are then insulated from their mistakes. There is no or reduced downside. Being stupid is not longer horrible, just unpleasant and maybe a tad embarassing.
And therein lies the problem. The federal government determined that Fannie/Freddie/AIG were "too big to fail" or occupied too important a position in the economy to be allowed to fail. But I don't really think that is the case. They should be allowed to fail since by preventing their failure, these companies have not been subjected to the brutality and mistake correcting influences of the market place.

The market place is not a neat and tidy place, but it is a wonderful teacher of lessons, and the most important of lessons are usually the most brutal. But if the lesson is not taught, it can't be learned and if the lesson can't be learned, you can bet that it will be repeated and it will surely be worse next time.

Palin's Email Account Hacked

Michelle Malkin has the details on the hacking of Sarah Palin's personal email account.

Look, her Alaska Government account is fair game, but her private email account is just that, private. Hacking it is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a pretty hefty fine.

Publication of private photos and the private email accounts of her family members is invasion of privacy. Sarah Palin is a public figure. Todd Palin could be described as a public figure (but I haven't seen him make any public appearances since the convention) and certainly the minor children of Sarah and Todd Palin are entitled to their privacy (despite what people may think otherwise).

That hackers did their crime is one thing, that people at Gawker Media think it is then fair game for the media cesspool is another. Sure, right now we don't know if Gawker did the hacking (and I, unlike Gawker, am willing to give them the benefit of hte doubt), but they knowingly published information gather in an illegal manner and there should be consequences.

Instapundit on Obama's "Digital Brownshirts"

Instapundint links to this story from the Chicago Tribune. I love this line:
Obama's campaign describes the system as a grass-roots truth squad that arms supporters with information. But others see an attempt to stifle free speech.

"If Barack Obama demonstrates this little regard for free speech from his opponents during the campaign, what could the American people expect from him as a president?" Ed Martin, president of American Issues Project, said in a statement.
Blasting campaign ads as false has a rich tradition in our polity, but flooding radio call in shows with emails and telephone calls to denounce a guest with a point of view the host considers important is just little more than jackboot tactics.

With the Democrats support of the Fairness Doctrine because of the conservative dominance of talk radio, it seems odd that the Democrats use of the internet is not being denounced by Republicans.

Now who is the party for free speech?

Sarah Palin and Feminism

Seriously, go read this essay by Harvard's Harvey Mansfield.
Sarah Palin was appealing and accomplished, with the force of a man and the grace of a woman. But while reaching another, higher first for women, she expressed no gratitude to the women's movement. She has had good words for women politicians like Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton, but she showed none of the features that betray the feminist in action. On the contrary: She spoke proudly of "my guy," grateful to the man who was hers--implying that she needed him, and that any woman needs a guy of her own. She introduced her children, especially little Trig, the one with Down's syndrome. She was displaying a mother's unconditional love, as opposed to the conditional love that insists on a "wanted" child. She did these things unapologetically, quite unafraid of seeming to be a normal, healthy sexist female: one who knows what it is to be a woman and enjoys it.

All Sarah Palin did was to claim her equal opportunity to a job once held exclusively by men. This sort of equality--the opportunity to take on public careers outside the home--is something liberals and conservatives agree on. That conservatives accept it is proven by the rapturous reception she received from Republicans, who greeted her as a political savior.

This she may or may not be, but she seems to have had the effect of enthusing the base, in part because of her sex.

Now, why could the women's movement not have taken advantage of this bipartisan agreement from the beginning? What impelled it to adopt a radical feminism hostile to both liberals and conservatives? Was this feminism necessary to attack male domination and to stir up the status quo?

An obvious difference between the women's movement and the civil rights movement is the ease with which the former triumphed. Of course there was male chauvinism at the start, but it was complacent, passive and ineffective. No man could look a woman in the eye and say "you are not equal to me" once the issue was put. There was nothing like the "massive resistance" to racial desegregation in the South; instead, there was a massive movement of women into jobs and careers.
Here is the interesting thing, while Palin may have benefited from the women's movement of the 50's and 60's I see her rise as simply the latest step in a society in which women are both the social and political equals of men. No Palin does not thank the women's movement, but she is a result of their efforts, their bipartisan efforts, rather than a result of the radical brand of feminism we as a society think of when we hear the term "feminist."

Sarah Palin is a woman, of that there is no doubt. She is a smart, successful, attractive woman. Thirty years ago that was an acceptable description of someone who most likely would never have risen to the heights Palin now has achieved.

Feminists want very much to be considered the equal of men in all things (as if there were possible). But the radical feminist movement has corrupted that notion. The women's movement of the 50's and 60's would have embraced the success of Sarah Palin--a woman who had succeeded on her own terms, in her own way, indeed in a manner that suggests feminity while at the same time displaying a strenght that is to be admired, not pilloried.

But Radical Feminism is more about rejecting the femine in favor of something more masculine. Radical feminism reminds of the seen in Working Girl, where at a bar, Harrison Ford's charachter remarks to Melanie Girffiths's femme appearence, "you are the first woman I have seen at these things that actually dresses like a woman rather than like a woman things a man would dress if he were a woman" or something to that effect.

Feminist success has been built upon the notion that women can do anything a man can do, a notion which is not only ludicrous for its biological impossibility (right now a woman cannot get another woman pregnant, for example) but also for the ludirous belief that there are no differences between men and women (and what a boring world that would be).

Yes, in terms of intellectual and business pursuits there are no differences. Any dolt who thinks so is a relic of the past. However, just because a woman deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of employers or the law does not mean that there are not differences between the two sexes.

Interestingly, radical feminism is premised on the notion as well, that a woman can be as tough as a man, a truism in every sense of the word and probably more so. But oddly enough, when Sarah Palin acts tough and feminine, that is somehow an affront to feminism.

So far in our history only two women have been nominated to be Vice President. Democrat Geraldine Ferraro and Republican Sarah Palin. Ferraro had the misfortune to be paired with Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan, a match up doomed to failure for the Democrats. Now in a open seat, the woman with the possibility of being the first woman elected to the executive branch is a woman who is every bit the result of the women's movement, but not the heir to feminism.