My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Is He Really Going To Be The Face Of The Party?

On the heels of the announcement that Wellington Webb is pulling his name out of the contest for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, comes word that Howard Dean may win the position on the first ballot.

Webb, a former three-term Denver mayor, pulled out of contention immediately after an influential group of state Democratic Party chairpeople overwhelming supported Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate who promises to rally the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

At least McAuliff stayed on point; Dean has shown such little regard for self-discipline that he could say and do anything at any time. This could be the most amusing four years since . . . what, Dukakis?

So That's Their Answer

Yesterday, I put forward the question of whether the Denver Post would belly up to the bar and acknowledge the reality of the Iraqi vote, in light of its horribly skewed coverage it gave the election in Sunday's paper. While the front page did declare "Iraqis Seize Own Future," the editorial page is strangely silent.

What liberal bias?

Did I Actually Read This??

From today's WaPo lead editorial:

For the emerging democratic regime to have any chance of taking root, U.S. soldiers will have to continue fighting, and dying, to protect it. The elections probably won't make their job any easier, or the price any lower, in the short term. Yesterday, however, Americans finally got a good look at who they are fighting for: millions of average people who have suffered for years under dictatorship and who now desperately want to live in a free and peaceful country. Their votes were an act of courage and faith -- and an answer to the question of whether the mission in Iraq remains a just cause.

Is there any way to read this as other than an endorsement of the war?? "an answer to the question of whether the mission in Iraq REMAINS a just cause"?? So, not only was this once a just cause, but it is still a just cause?

At the same time, this rings as a repudiation of Ted Kennedy's call for a rapid withdrawal--"will have to continue fighting".

Remarkable. Was it matched by the New York Times?? Let's have a look.

Courageous Iraqis turned out to vote yesterday in numbers that may have exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. . . But even in some predominantly Sunni areas, turnout was higher than expected. And in an impressive range of mainly Shiite and Kurdish cities, a long silenced majority of ordinary Iraqis defied threats of deadly mayhem to cast votes for a new, and hopefully democratic, political order.

That is a message that all but the most nihilistic of the armed insurgents will have to accept. . .

Yet all who claim to be fighting in the name of the Iraqi people should now recognize that - in an open expression of popular will - Iraqis have expressed their clear preference that these battles be fought exclusively in the peaceful, constitutional arena.

Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people.

And so on. Of course, those who have read this know that the editorial is actually quite a bit longer -- I just edited out all of the petulant little sideswipes at the administration.

The grudging admission from the likes of the New York Times, the genuine acknowledgement from the Post, and the pictures that (if the Denver dailies are any indication) adorn the front pages of the major papers should get the information through to the American public that THIS WORKED. In a little while, it will sink through to them that this success is a credit to the President and U.S. armed forces.

But mostly, this is a triumph for the Iraqi people and for the idea--unapologetically asserted by the President--that given the choice people will always choose freedom. Even when it could cost them their lives.

One More Thought

On the democratic pilgrimage thousands of Iraqis undertook in walking from Abu Graib to Gaziliyah to cast their ballots:

kinda puts Jesse Jackson's claims of "disenfranchisement" to shame, considering that what he was complaining about was people waiting in lines in the rain. And, as near as I can tell, waiting without any threat of being shot at or blown up.

If only those who merely lost had any idea of how precious many consider the opportunity just to participate.

I Know It Went To Press Early. . .

but there was enough info out by press time that you would have thought the Denver Post could have gotten a LITTLE accurate information out on this historic day.

But, no. The front page story is from Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, and the first four paragraphs are all about the minor attacks of the day before the elections and the attacks in the wee hours of the voting. They could get that thing in about the wee hours explosions, but not about the joyful turnout. . .huh.

Then turn to pages 12A and 13A for the full coverage, and the whole page is NYTimes folks prognosticating and skepticizing (yeah, I just made up that word). Here are the column titles: Vote Divides Iraqis Who Yearn For Democracy; Women's Vote Remains The Great Unknown; Voter Turnout Difficult To Gauge; and U.S.Troops Hope Elections Are Another Step Toward Returning Home.

I wonder if tomorrow's coverage will be accurately reflective of the positive results from today.

You know, you have to wonder, if somebody didn't have a TV and just got their news about the Iraqi elections from the newspaper, what exactly would they think happened?


Can Somebody Explain This Babble From Inside The Bubble

From today's Washington Post lead editorial:

Analysts who reduce the war in Iraq to a nationalist "resistance" against a U.S. occupation should be pressed to explain the events of the past couple of weeks: the brutal murders of election officials; the bombings of schools where voting was due; the bloodcurdling threats against those who approached the polls -- and the extraordinarily courageous response by tens of thousands of Iraqis who presented themselves as candidates or volunteered as poll workers.

Is the WaPo saying that the terrorists are more than a "nationalist resistance," somehow more significant or representative of Iraqis? Or are they saying that the Iraqis are showing great courage in the face of a minor uprising?

Or is it a deliberately misleading line which is designed to diminish both the innate desire for freedom as expressed by the Iraqi voters and the accomplishment of the American military and diplomatic corps who have put up with great resistance--both in Iraq and America--to bring this day o pass.

Iraqis Have Voted

It appears at this hour that the Iraqis have pulled off a remarkably successful election day. One MSNBC correspondent puts the number of attacks at eight, which, I think, would be the same number as when I went to bed last night. In other words, not only did the insurgents not motivate the massive sort of intimidation campaign ("thousands" of attacks; streets "run with blood") that they threatened, but that their efforts petered out after only a few hours. Other reports put turnout at "strong" to "massive"--some polling places had to ask for more ballots-- except in the terrorist strongholds of Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra.

Especially heartwarming are these three points:
:voters BY THE THOUSANDS are completing the thirteen-mile walk from Abu Graib to the polling place at Gaziliyah
:Iraqis in places like Syria are being allowed to cast ballots, and are doing so in significant numbers
:some reports have voter turnout estimated at 72 percent

Let me say that again


Last night, before I went to bed, some of the doubting talking heads on MSNBC were saying that if turnout could reach the 30 to 50 percent range it would be considered a pretty good achievement. What say they to 72, hmmmmmm?

What a great day for the Iraqi people, and what a proud day to be an American!!

UPDATE: It appears that early reports of low turnout in Fallujah were, um, mistaken.

Even in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a steady stream of people turned out, confounding predictions. Lines of veiled women clutching their papers waited in line to vote.

At the same time, the early estimates of 72 percent may also have been mistaken:

Despite the suicide bomb attacks, up to eight million Iraqis voted, or about 60 per cent of those registered, the Election Commission said.

It had initially said about 72 per cent of voters had cast their ballot, but later said that was "just an estimate".

If this new estimate is true, it only underscores the significance of this day. When early estimates need to be revised DOWNWARD BY 20%, and only then do they show the same turnout as the recent American election, you can be sure that the Iraqi people are taking their new freedoms--and new responsibilities--to heart.

Sometimes An Outsider Can See Quite Clearly. . .

that which is overlooked by those close to the situation.

I draw your attention to this column in the London Daily Telegraph (registration required) by Alisdair Palmer.

The horrors of what undoubtedly took place in Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq, have convinced many people that the Americans must also have administered hideous tortures to everyone they imprisoned at Guantanamo. In fact it is not at all clear that the Americans have tortured anyone in Guantanamo. Some of the "sexual tortures" – women interrogators rubbing their breasts against the backs of those being questioned – sound, to Western ears, too close to the comfy chair of Monty Python's Spanish Inquistion to be taken seriously. Surprisingly, perhaps, the US army authorities took them very seriously: . . .

When the Brits start making fun of you for being mamby-pamby, you know you're in a little too deep for your own good.

Especially when this point comes up:

The men's claim that they were tortured at Guantanamo should also be set in the context of the al-Qa'eda training manual discovered during a raid in Manchester a couple of years ago. Lesson 18 of that manual, whose authenticity has not been questioned, emphatically states, under the heading "Prison and Detention Centres", that, when arrested, members of al-Qa'eda "must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by state security investigators. [They must] complain to the court of mistreatment while in prison". That is not, of course, proof that the Britons were not tortured in Guantanamo. But it ought to encourage some doubts about uncritically accepting that they were – which seems to be the attitude adopted by most of the media.

I'm also reminded of another scene from Monty Python--from "The Holy Grail." Couldn't I have just a little of the peril . . .

Iraqis Are Voting

As of this writing, the polls in Iraq have been open for about 3 hours and 45 minutes. And so far, the turnout seems pretty strong, and the warnings of major attacks have not come to pass.

By my informal tally, there have been seven attacks on polling places, with (relatively)minimal casualties. Not to diminish the significanc of even one death over this, but the fact that, so far, the casualty count is still in the single digits is significant. And when you weigh that against the outright glee with which you see Iraqis casting their ballots, you can conclude nothing but that this is HUGE!

Stay posted. . . of course, everything can change in a moment. The polls will be closing at about 7am Denver time, so by the time I'm able to see straight to read a news article, we'll know what the bottom line is on all this.

I wonder which of the Democrats will be the first one to come out and congratulate the Bush administration for its steadiness and persistence in seeing this come off. You know, John Kerry has a great chance to be a little gracious--he's on Meet the Press in the morning.

Anybody want to lay odds?

This Is Interesting, If True

Debka is reporting that an al-Qaeda plot has been uncovered to launch a major attack in Jordan on the day of Iraqi voting, and that the royal family has evacuated from Amman.

So far, I have not been able to track down independent confirmation. So take that report with the appropriate grain of salt.

Remember that there was an attack in Jordan last year that, had it gone completely according to design, could have killed tens of thousands; not at all conclusive, but it does lend a little credibility to this report.


A Little Perspective

Some on the loopy left will, no doubt, try to make big news out of this bit of info from the BBC:

On Thursday, January 27 2005, the Iraqi Ministry of Health released to the BBC's Panorama programme statistics which stated that for the six-month period from 1 July 2004 to 1 January 2005:

3,274 people in Iraq were killed and 12,657 injured in conflict related violence

2,041 of these deaths were the result of "military operations", in which 8,542 people were injured

1,233 deaths were the result of "terrorist operations"

These figures were based on records from Iraqi public hospitals.

The BBC reported these figures as meaning that the deaths and injuries resulting from "military operations" were the result of actions by the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.

Two things:

:first, you can be sure that those who want to use this for political gains will fail to add this note, now included on the BBC site:

Today, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has issued a statement clarifying matters that were the subject of several conversations with the BBC before the report was published, and denying that this conclusion can be drawn from the figures relating to military operations. It states that those recorded as killed in military action included Iraqis killed by terrorists, not only those killed by Coalition forces or Iraqi security forces; and that those recorded as killed in military action included terrorists themselves, and Iraqi security forces.

The BBC regrets mistakes in its published and broadcast reports yesterday.
[emphasis mine]

:secondly, doing a little quick math, if we've found--so far--mass graves for over 300,000 Iraqis, and if Saddam was in power for about 30 years, then in any given six-month period during his reign on average 5,000 Iraqis would have been killed by deliberate actions of the government, a government whose first task is supposed to be protecting them.

Of course, the proper use of math has never been a strong suit of the left. And keeping issues in perspective has never been their second suit--or third or fourth.


So Much For The EU Superstate

From the Saturday London Telegraph:

Voters would reject the European constitution by a margin of two to one, according to the first poll to use the question the Government has chosen to put to the country.

A survey conducted since the wording was published on Wednesday suggests that 45 per cent of the public would vote against the constitution, with only 24 per cent in favour.

Which, of course, brings up the question of how effective or important will the European Union be without England? I think it's fair to assume that it would be significantly, if not hopelessly, crippled as a unified force to counter-balance America. It's not as if France, Germany, Russia, and much else of Europe is already speaking with one anti-American voice already. An EU without England would just be . . well. . .the U.N. Pointless, leftist, and corrupt.

The one downside to this would be that a defeat of this referendum would be seen as a major blow to Tony Blair. Even though Blair is fairly leftist, he has been a bold and courageous ally in the War on Terror, and I would be disappointed to see him defeated. On the other hand, that might leave an opening for the Tories to come back to power, which might be even better for our interests.

I Agree

Hindrocket puts all the recent news of Zarqawi-related arrests in a nice, neat package.

It seems pretty clear that one of two things is happening: either 1) the Iraqi authorities have steadily rolled up Zarqawi's network to the point where they are on the doorstep of catching the master terrorist himself; or 2) rumors that Zarqawi himself was caught several weeks ago are true, and the reason why his closest associates are now being captured is that Zarqawi is squealing on his friends.

One can hope. One can hope. . .


Sometimes the Throwaway Lines. . .

contain surprising observations.

The Rocky Mountain News today carried a column by Bonnie Erbe (link unavailable), which was the predictable leftist tirade against the "extreme right-wing" tilt of the GOP.

But buried within was this beauty:

The saddest part is, there is nowhere for pro-environment, pro-business, pro-lower taxes and pro-abortion-rights voters to go. THE DEMOCRATS HAVE BECOME A SORRY EXCUSE FOR A NATIONAL PARTY. [emphasis mine]

Ouch, Bob. That's gotta hurt. And from one of their own.

Irony Alert

Is it just me?

A suicidal man who allegedly parked his SUV in the path of a commuter train and triggered a horrific wreck that killed 11 people was charged with murder and could face the death penalty, authorities said Thursday.

I guess this would be what they call "suicide-by-state."

Anybody want to take bets on how long he fights the death penalty, at what cost to taxpayers? Yeah. . .me neither.

This Seems Like A Bad Bill

The Rocky opined today about Colorado Senate Bill 25, which would raise the cap on general non-economic damages (“pain and suffering”) by $84,000 dollars next year, and them raise it by the rate of inflation every year after that.

In such an environment over time, many businesses already too familiar with the mess of our product-liability system would surely suffer. More defendants would settle out of court to avoid the costs of going to trial. Businesses looking to relocate here would stay away. It is consumers, however, that would ultimately finance all of this via higher prices for goods and services.

Even stranger, to me, is that one of the co-sponsors of the bill is House Minority Leader Joe Stengel. I would like to know what he’s thinking about this bill. No, seriously, I want to know—that’s not a rhetorical point.

My quick take, knowing very little about this, is that, since Colorado already has a few ways around the cap to begin with (judges’ discretion to double the award, multiple defendant’s full liability, and no limits on economic damages), this hardly seems like a necessary addition to our laws. It seems more like lawyers’ pay-raises’ insurance.

I hope somebody out there can explain why this would be a good thing.

Good News From The Schools

This, from today’s Rocky Mountain News:

Colorado’s public and private schools have made big strides when it comes to the percentage of students earning top scores on Advanced Placement exams that provide high school students with the opportunity to earn credits or be placed in higher-level courses at many colleges and universities. . .

More than a quarter of Colorado high school students [25.3%] took AP exams last year—up from 18.6 percent in 2000 [compared to 20.9 percent nationally]

Moreover, 16.2% of Colorado students scored a 3 or better, where only 13.2% earned that score nationally. A score of a 3 or better means the student will receive either college credit in that area of study, or will be allowed to register for higher-level college coursework earlier.

There is substantial evidence out there that one of the greatest indicators of college success is the rigor of the high school curriculum, with a particular correlation to AP coursework. This study provides the numbers.

I would have to say this is good news. Colorado is, supposedly, one of the best educated states in the union, and this is why—we start them early.

This also relates to one of my answers to the persistent question: What’s wrong with today’s youth? The answer, to my mind and based on long experience working with them, is absolutely nothing—depending on who you look at. If you take a look at the top 5% of students now and compare them to the top 5% of students 20 years ago, I think you would be stunned to see just how involved, how busy, how ambitious, and how excellent this generation is. I have worked with high school seniors who were not only in advanced placement classes, they were in the top music groups, the student government, were working as interns for local politicians, were involved in their church youth group, and, on top of it, were taking classes at the local community college and holding down a job. Now, I was a pretty good kid, but the schedule some of these kids keep makes me tired just to hear them talk about it.

But if you look beyond the top students, the problems are substantial. To use a sports analogy, this generation is lacking a bench. It’s as if someone has told them if you can’t be the superstar, don’t try it or work very hard at it—destined for middle management, as it were.

But if these test results give you some comfort about this generation, they are merely one indicator of a generation of children that will change the world if they’re given a chance and a little direction.

Don't Miss This One

Claudia Rosett wrote a great piece in the OJO yesterday on the domino effect ending tyranny has on ending poverty. It is a theme I picked up on a couple weeks ago thanks to a lengthy essay by Colin Powell, and it deserves to be written about frequently by the best out there. And that certainly includes Claudia Rosett.

One of the truths wrested at great cost from the grand social experiments of the 20th century was that the prerequisite for prosperity--if we are speaking of wealth for the many, not just for a ruling few--is freedom. It is not only by smothering free speech or jailing loyal opposition that dictators keep control. It is also by decreeing--in ways that suit the pleasures of the ruler, not the ruled--the rules and conditions under which people may seek work, earn money, own property and buy what they need to feed their families and otherwise pursue happiness. With every reasonable choice that gets cut off by dictatorial rule, with every payoff that must be made to authorities who exist for no other purpose than to please themselves and collect tolls, more human energy and talent and knowledge goes to waste.

To whatever extent Mr. Bush's vision of ending tyranny is realized, it will do more to end poverty than any amount of aid, including the $195 billion the United Nations now proposes to pour into development over the next decade, following the advice of a 3,000-word study put together by 265 experts (which works out to about 11 words, or $730 million in recommended spending, per expert).


U.N.: Mission Accomplished

I wonder if the alternative way to read this would be: Our work here is done; now let's get the hell out of here!

According to today's NYTimes, the U.N. director of electoral assistance said yesterday "We have done everything in supporting this election we could from a technical point of view, but nothing replaces the will of the people," said Carina Perelli.

I suppose that, in itself, is somewhat remarkable, to think that a U.N. bureaucrat would go out and say that Iraq is ready for its vote on Sunday. Even more amazing is this kudo handed out to the Iraqi Election Commission:

She said there would be 5,300 voting centers, all of them staffed by party agents and national poll watchers. "For us, this is extremely important," she said, "because it shows that beyond the interest of the various political entities, Iraqi civil society has responded to this challenge and is participating in rather impressive numbers, considering the risks."

She added, "For me as a professional in elections, it is absolutely amazing how far the electoral commission of Iraq has come, considering that eight months ago it didn't exist." In establishing procedures, she said, the electoral commission had insisted on installing as many cautions as possible. "Where we advised one lock to prevent fraud from occurring, they put in two," she said.

I wonder if this story will get more play in the MSM. I doubt it--it's all good news about Iraqis taking responsibility for their own country, showing a passion for the democratic process, and receiving praise from the U.N. in the process.

I won't hold my breath to see Dan Rather report on this story.

But it does give me some hope for the elections this Sunday, in a week marked by growing uncertainty. I suppose one needs to sit tight and watch as events unfold, but if the country as a whole shows the same zeal as the people who put the vote together, this could turn out pretty good.

By the way, I wonder if we could get a few of the "locks to prevent fraud" put in in places like Washington and Milwaukee.

Can You Hear The Drums A-Bangin'?

When both the Washington Post and the New York Times come out on the same day and call for the defeat of Alberto Gonzalez as the next Attorney General, you can bet that something is going on. When, on that same day, Condeleeza Rice passes confirmation in the Senate with 13 votes against her (the highest number dissenting since, like, 1825), you can bet some people are sharpening their swords.

First, from the WaPo, which, in fairness, did not explicitly call for Gonzalez's defeat:

ALBERTO R. GONZALES was vague, unresponsive and misleading in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Bush administration's detention of foreign prisoners. In his written answers to questions from the committee, prepared in anticipation of today's vote on his nomination as attorney general, Mr. Gonzales was clearer -- disturbingly so, as it turns out. According to President Bush's closest legal adviser, this administration continues to assert its right to indefinitely hold foreigners in secret locations without any legal process; to deny them access to the International Red Cross; to transport them to countries where torture is practiced; and to subject them to treatment that is "cruel, inhumane or degrading," even though such abuse is banned by an international treaty that the United States has ratified. In effect, Mr. Gonzales has confirmed that the Bush administration is violating human rights as a matter of policy.

So, not a call for defeat, but certainly a shot across the bow, and an unfair attempt to link this man's legal opinion with atrocities committed at Abu Graib.

Then, the Times:

The attorney general does not merely head up the Justice Department. He is responsible for ensuring that America is a nation in which justice prevails. Mr. Gonzales's record makes him unqualified to take on this role or to represent the American justice system to the rest of the world. The Senate should reject his nomination.

The biggest strike against Mr. Gonzales is the now repudiated memo that gave a disturbingly narrow definition of torture, limiting it to physical abuse that produced pain of the kind associated with organ failure or death. Mr. Gonzales's attempts to distance himself from the memo have been unconvincing, especially since it turns out he was the one who requested that it be written. Earlier the same year, Mr. Gonzales himself sent President Bush a letter telling him that the war on terror made the Geneva Conventions' strict limitations on the questioning of enemy prisoners "obsolete."

These actions created the legal climate that made possible the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib prison.

Just a bit more direct. Of course, wrong--the Geneva Convention does not apply to terrorists, who are not in uniform, respond to no chain of comand, and who, themselves, are not bound by any treaty limitations.

Add to those two opinions from the leading opinion-makers on the East Coast the fact that thirteen Dems voted (okay, twelve Dems and an "Independent") against the first African-American woman nominee for SecState, and you're clearly seeing a willingness on the part of the Dems to engage in the worst sort of partisan politics.

The only remaining question vis-a-vis Gonzalez is are they willing to filibuster his nomination? Based on the 10-8 Committee vote on straight party lines, you can easily imagine a 55-45 floor vote; but are there 40 of them bold enough to filibuster?

Oh, I hope so.


Why Social Security?

It's such a hot-button issue, once considered a "third rail" of American politics. You have to ask yourself why the President has chosen to make this his signature domestic issue of his second term.

Certainly, the forces opposed are both large and well-funded (think AARP), and the Democrats are likely to be able to hold thier caucus together in opposition to actual legislation. Given that, the odds of getting the reform through Congress is a 50-50 proposition, at best. And having the signature legislation defeated would cripple the remainder of the President's term.

So why push Social Security Reform?

The Rocky Mountain News has run a two-part editorial in support of this reform over the last two days. Some key points:

The problem is relatively straightforward: Payroll taxes at current levels are woefully insufficient to fund the benefits of 77 million baby- boom retirees. According to the most recent report of the trustees of the Social Security trust fund, this imbalance over time will lead to a projected $10.4 trillion in unfunded liabilities (promised benefits), plus $1.5 trillion to redeem the Treasury bonds in the Social Security Trust Fund.

This is an unsustainable trajectory, but not a few opponents of reform would prefer to ignore the math. In the late 1930s, when Social Security was in its infancy, there were 41 workers for every retiree. With rising life expectancies and declining fertility rates, the ratio plunged. It fell to 16 to one in 1950. It is now three to one and expected to fall to two to one by the time today's young workers retire.

Meanwhile, real rates of return have plummeted. When the payroll tax was 2 percent in the 1930s, the average rate of return for retirees was as high as 110 percent. Payroll taxes are now 12.4 percent of wages, but most young workers can expect future returns of less than 1 percent. . .

The worst 20-year return of U.S. markets has been 3 percent. Compare that to Social Security's future rate of return for younger workers, officially estimated at less than a paltry 1 percent. In contrast, returns on stocks, according to the Social Security Administration, are expected to be 6.5 percent. . .

Would financial markets look favorably on increasing the federal debt to cover the remaining costs? Most likely, since borrowing now prefunds future Social Security obligations that the government must eventually finance anyway. Over time, moreover, the use of private accounts would grow and therefore reduce the program's unfunded liabilities.

Private accounts won't solve all of Social Security's problems, but they would shore up the system while giving working Americans their own retirement wealth in the form of stocks and bonds. And they'd ensure that today's young workers and their children will be able to count on a fully funded pension system.

Now, if I were to base my own analysis on the numbers alone, it would seem fairly logical and straightforward that the system needs fixing, and that this proposal has some very attractive elements. But politics is only rarely based on logic, so it is unlikely that these arguments alone will prevail.

So, again, why?

The answer is simple: THIS President grasps the seriousness of the problem (which his predecessor also recognized), and THIS President has vowed not to pass on difficult problems to the next guy (which his predecessor did on any number of issues). There's a word for this sort of thing:


Romanoff's Budget Proposal

The Rocky tells the tale today.

Democrats will introduce a bill in the Colorado House this week to solve the state's long-term budget problems, even as they negotiate with Gov. Bill Owens and leading Republicans in hopes of gaining bipartisan blessing. . .

It would balance the budget by asking voters to let state legislators keep hundreds of millions of dollars in the near future that they otherwise would have refunded to taxpayers, because of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

It would earmark that extra revenue for spending on health care, education and transportation - programs that score highly with likely voters in statewide polls.

In exchange for keeping TABOR refunds, the state would cut personal income taxes from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent. The governor's staff estimates that will save taxpayers $42 each on average. . .

Romanoff's plan would re-start refunds once government spending reaches the level it hit in 2000, before Colorado's recession, which he calculates at roughly 6 percent of residents' personal incomes.

In theory, and based largely on the explanation we in the RMA got from the Governor a couple weeks ago, I have no objection to returning government to the state it was in prior to the recession. It seems reasonable to put the government--which, in Colorado, is actually quite efficient--back in full working condition (which, I guess, requires an acceptance that CO gov in 2000 was fully working. . . that's for another day) when external influences are amenable to it.

My concerns are twofold: one, what is in this plan that would limit the growth of government once it is put back to 2000 levels; and two, with Amendment 23 on the books, why would some of this extra money have to be dedicated to education spending?

What's Up With Hillary?

In the same day that we in Colorado are seeing an heightened awareness of the abortion debate, Hillary Clinton has taken an odd position:

In a speech to about 1,000 abortion rights supporters near the New York State Capitol, Mrs. Clinton firmly restated her support for the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. But then she quickly shifted gears, offering warm words to opponents of legalized abortion and praising the influence of "religious and moral values" on delaying teenage girls from becoming sexually active.

"There is an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate - we should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be wanted, cherished and loved," Mrs. Clinton said.

Oh. Are these the values the Dems are trying to talk about? But she goes even further:

She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education - including abstinence counseling - family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.

"We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. "The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place."

This is just a little strange, given her clear stand on the issue throughout her public life. Maybe she's really kinda mellowing, trying to acknowledge the realities of abortion and modern life.


Maybe she's getting ready to run for President in 2008, and needs to use the language of values to attract a more centrist sort of voter. That seems much more likely to me.

More Troubling News From Schools

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky have penned this troubling article in this morning's WaPo.

When the National Endowment for the Arts last summer released "Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America," journalists and commentators were quick to seize on the findings as a troubling index of the state of literary culture. The survey showed a serious decline in both literary reading and book reading in general by adults of all ages, races, incomes, education levels and regions.

But in all the discussion, one of the more worrisome trends went largely unnoticed. From 1992 to 2002, the gender gap in reading by young adults widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women slipped from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men plummeted from 55 percent to 43 percent.

Placed in historical perspective, these findings fit with a gap that has existed in the United States since the spread of mass publishing in the mid-19th century. But for the gap to have grown so much in so short a time suggests that what was formerly a moderate difference is fast becoming a decided marker of gender identity: Girls read; boys don't.

When I was going through my teacher training classes, one of the hot button issues was gender balance. For instance, at that time (fourteen years ago) the research strongly suggested that teachers tended to ignore girls more, to be less exacting in their expectations of girls, and to, in general, communicate that boys were more important in schools.

That has all changed. I recently heard the startling statistic that women outnumber men on college campuses by 3-2. Recent research has pointed to a stark change in school culture in which boys are underachieving, overtroubled, and more often consigned to the wasteland of AD/HD and Special Education than their female counterparts. I cite as more evidence of this the fact the Laura Bush has decided to focus some of her energies in the next four years on the issue of boys.

From my perspective, a major part of the problem has been the effort in recent years to "de-boyify" boys, which goes hand in hand with the equally fallacious reasoning that there are no differences between boys and girls. What I have seen are efforts to remove competitiveness from the public schools, efforts to reduce the access boys have to real athletic challenges in school, and efforts to impose a set of behavioral standards on boys that are not fitting with what we know about how boys develop. All of these efforts are reflected in curriculum, as well:

Although one might expect the schools to be trying hard to make reading appealing to boys, the K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. It has long been known that there are strong differences between boys and girls in their literary preferences. According to reading interest surveys, both boys and girls are unlikely to choose books based on an "issues" approach, and children are not interested in reading about ways to reform society -- or themselves. But boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys.

Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.

If you don't think this will have consequences in the world to come, think again. Imagine an entire generation of men, many from home lives which do not have a good male role model, whose picture of manhood is reflected through the eyes of the women who are put forward to them as heroines and through the pop-culture icons of the day.

I hope the first lady is successful in, at least, shining a big light on this problem and getting the country off of its PC butt, and doing something about really bringing up boys.


OJO opines today on judicial filibusters, and the impending confrontation about them.

It's been a long time coming, but we now have an approximate date for a confrontation in the Senate on judicial nominations. Majority Leader Bill Frist has announced that if Democrats filibuster the nominations he expects to bring to the floor next month, he'll take action.

It's possible Mr. Frist won't have to pull this trigger, or at least he won't if his 55 Republicans hold firm. It hasn't escaped the notice of the 17 Democrats up for re-election in 2006 that obstruction of Mr. Bush's judicial picks was one reason Tom Daschle was defeated last November. Colorado's newly elected Democrat, Ken Salazar, has said he hopes all nominees get an up-or-down vote.

I would say holding Republicans firm is a mighty big “if”, but if Frist can pull this off, he should be considered a front-runner for 2008. There is no bigger issue, save the War on Terror, than the Judiciary, and it’s about time a Republican started showing a little leadership to get good people on the bench.

So Respect Is Worthy Of Protest, Too

I guess internal consistencies have never been the hallmark of most liberal arguments. That was never more on display than yesterday in Boulder, an event covered by both a news article in the Monday Rocky Mountain News and a column by Jeannie Torkelson.

Hundreds of parishioners of Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church buried the ashes of aborted fetuses Sunday, an act variously described as sacred and outrageous. . .

Under a white statue of Jesus, members of the church knelt and carefully unwrapped a small box covered in blue velvet. Then they poured what they said were mostly the ashes of up to 500 aborted fetuses into a hole and covered the ashes with soil.

The burial was punctuated by tears, prayers and a small protest.

Such burials had been going on quietly for years. Susan LaVelle, a parishioner who founded the memorial wall, estimates that up to 5,500 cremated remains have been buried since 1996. She said the church decided to publicize Sunday's ceremony to reach out to people who may be grieving about having an abortion.

But Hern and other critics blasted the Catholic Church. A handful of protesters, stationed at the church entrance, raised signs with slogans such as "What gives you the right?" and "Stop forcing your will on us."

So, on the one side are the parishioners who have been holding these memorials for the last several years to give the dignity of a human burial to the aborted and miscarried fetuses; on the other side, abortion-rights activists who see this as. . . I don’t know, maybe an incursion into their privacy? I think that’s the first big question this event brings up: why, exactly, do these people care that these ashes are being buried?

But that’s only the first big question. Read this quote:

[abortion clinic director Dr. Warren] Hern could not be reached for comment Sunday. In a previous statement he said, "These fanatics simply cannot leave other people alone with their most intimate sorrow."

If, as abortion-rights activists assert, the fetus is nothing more than property—-and, once discarded, trash—-why in the world would it matter what somebody else does with it? Do these same people get worked up when the garbage collector comes around every week to take their trash to the dumpster for proper disposal? Does the disposal of a used Kleenex cause these people "sorrow?" Or does this “trash” fit in a different category of trash? Perhaps one to which you wish no awareness to shine. That opens up the uncomfortable (to them) possibility that these fetuses DO have intrinsic value, and that they are not simply so much excess flesh to be discarded at will.

[hospital CEO John] Sackett said he was surprised to learn that remains of miscarriages from his hospital were included in the mix through Crist Mortuary. He said it was his understanding that Crist provided a "common burial" in a non-sectarian setting and that he would review the hospital's relationship with the mortuary.

If the fetuses are so value-less, and these people are so wrong to give them a proper burial, then why does the hospital have a policy for burying the ashes? Why not simply discard them with the rest of the trash?

Torkelson writes: But if it's only tissue, like an amputated finger, what's the difference if it ends up in a dumpster or buried with respect?

"But it's not their tissue to treat with respect," said protester Helen Kamin. "It's arrogant. This is none of their business."
Also this quote: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, it's a mother's choice you must trust," said one. Or this: "This is just another example of religious fundamentalists making decisions for all of us," said Boulder public school teacher Karen Rosenshein.

First of all, all of humanity is our business--I thought that was one of the great mantras of the "tolerant" left. And what is the big crime in treating ANYTHING with respect? I find it amusing that the argument they would put forward is the need to discard. And, by the way, I don't think treating the aborted baby with respect in any way affects the mother in the least. And, by the way, in what way is this making a decision for anybody? If the child is trash, how does where it finds its final resting place an infringement on anybody's decision-making process?

The big picture here is that the Left is making our point for us. By responding in the over the top way that they are, without any shred of logical argument, they shine a bright light on the fact that they ARE ashamed of the practice of abortion. It isn’t that they don’t want you to impose your religion on them—in point of fact, nobody is doing that; what they don’t want is for you to bring their murdered child into the light of day for all to see.

They want aborted fetuses to be the proverbial tree falling in the forest; what this Church has done is to go into the forest to listen to the anguished cries of the fallen, and to bring them some measure of comfort.

So This Is Where This Is Going

Charter School advocates, buckle up.

According to today's Denver Post, Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) and Rep. Michael Merriweather (D-Manitou Springs) are sponsoring a bill to eliiminate the state board's ability to sanction charter schools in districts which refuse to approve them.

Last year, two Denver Democrats sponsored legislation to create a state institute to authorize charter schools in districts where school boards refused to open any more. The main goal of Rep. Terrance Carroll and state Sen. Peter Groff was to encourage more charter schools to open and help at-risk students.

State Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said Wednesday that the bill unfairly punished districts who didn't break any laws by passing moratoriums on charter schools. She has introduced a bill that would allow them to keep the authority to sanction charter schools instead of giving up that power to the state institute.

I suppose Windels could make the case credibly that moratoriums aren't illegal; that, however, does not address whether it is either wise or within the spirit of the law to have such moratoriums. And that certainly does not explain this:

Windels' bill, which is co-sponsored by state Rep. Michael Merrifield, would also let local districts limit both the enrollment at charter schools and how many charters can be in an area in the district.

Not only do we want to dismantle the State Charter Institute so that districts can arbitrarily decide to refuse every charter application, but then the districts can impose limitations on geographical considerations, AND impose enrollment limitations.

Obviously, enrollment limitations are intended to protect the revenue stream headed to regular schools. The geographical limitations create the same sort of thing--it is akin to saying to Arvada that there can only be two charter schools in the city, and their enrollment is capped at 800. So all you regular schools out there can plan to only lose, at most, "x" amount of kids--and revenue--to charter schools.

Oddly, not all Democrats agree.

However, [Rep. Terrence] Carroll said the new bill would give school districts free rein to restrict charters and puts the interests of school districts ahead of those of parents and teachers.

"It's a backdoor attempt to completely undo charter schools in the state. If they want to do that, why don't they just come out and do it upfront?" he said.
The obvious answer is that the incremental erosion of freedoms are harder to notice than quantum removals, and so they happen without anybody raising the alarm. This has been part and parcel of the liberal playbook for the last 70 years.

And in there is the crux of the debate--this bill puts the interests of the school districts ahead of those of parents and teachers, though I would revise that to say "parents and students". The average public school teacher is as opposed to charter schools as they are to vouchers. So this sounds like a good move for a former teacher to make--you don't suppose she gets a lot of her support from unions, do you?

Look, I've blogged this topic before: charter schools are not a silver bullet cure for everything that ails the public schools. And charter schools do end up draining resources out of the general district acouunts (charters get 95% of the state's per-pupil allocation; it costs districts more than 5% per pupil to maintain facilities and programs et cet.). But in as much as charter schools are making a sincere effort at reforming education and exploring ways to o things better, I see them as a very good thing. In fact, if districts were smart, they would get a few of these going on their own to use as laboratory schools.

But for a couple legislators who are in the hip pockets of the unions to start pushing to dismantle the Colorado charter school program, while calling it a push for "fair and equitable" schooling, is both obvious and disingenuous. I would hope that the slim GOP minority can beat this down with the help of the Dems who have split on this issue.

But, more importantly, keep an eye on this space--if you think this is the first retrograde the Dems are going to try in these two years, you'd be sadly mistaken.

ASIDE: Of course, this could all be a moot point, if this lawsuit in Boulder goes for the district. The only way I can see for the district to win this case is if the judge finds that the Charter Institute violates the "Local Control" provision of the Colorado Constitution; and remember, it was that very finding that got the voucher experiment thrown out two years ago.


Unhappy Teachers

From today's Rocky Mountain News:

A survey of Denver teachers shows many are dissatisfied with district reform efforts and up to 40 percent either are leaving Denver Public Schools or would do so for higher pay.

If that number alarms you, it should. Or, at least, it is intended to. What you need to read a bit to understand is that 10 percent are leaving and another 30 would if they could get better pay. Looking at Denver's data, you find that starting pay in DPS is $32k, and average pay for teachers is $52k. Now, that's fairly high, so better pay is not commonplace, but not totally out of reach of other districts. Unfortunately, because of rules negotiated and created by the unions, for a teacher to change districts after their fifth year means forfeiting years of experience on the pay scale, which translates into forfeiting money.

At this point I can hear my conservative friends saying "well, why should you get extra pay just for surviving?" To which I, unfortunately, do not have much of an answer. On the other hand, wouldn't it be reasonable, and perhaps improve education in general, if a teacher had the ability to negotiate better pay for themselves if they deserve it?

At any rate, without getting too bogged down in the minutae of teachers' contracts, I think it's safe to say that if you polled teachers generally, not just in DPS, a huge portion of them would say they would change schools if they could get better pay. Duh.

But let's get past the newspaper's narration, and look at the raw numbers:

More than 1,100 teachers in Denver Public Schools filled out surveys in December to help union leaders decide contract bargaining goals. Among the findings:

So this is a poll BY THE UNION that had roughly 25% return about conditions leading to the latest contract negotiation. In my experience, those 25% were likely either union activists to begin with or, at least, somewhat unhappy teachers. The good ones, the busy ones, probably put the survey on the pile on their desk and never got around to reading it.

• 80 percent of elementary teachers say the focus on state tests has reduced time spent on science and social studies.

• More than 60 percent of middle and high school teachers say reform is needed in their schools, but they say district initiatives are not helping students.

Maybe it's just me, but it does seem as though focusing on reading, writing, and math are reasonable requirements at the younger ages. In fact, it seems that without a mastery of math and reading, science and social studies are just a little pointless and out of reach. But again, maybe it's just me. . . And of the 60 percent in secondary who say reform is needed, I wonder how many of them gave input to district committees who worked on the reform. And, by the way, I believe it is teachers who help students, not initiatives.

By the way, I've been teaching for just 13 years now, and I've seen at least six different waves of "reform," and there really is very little that changes in the long run. Good teachers modify and adapt the curriculum, but remain teachers; bad teachers get overwhelmed by new stuff because they never got the hang of the other stuff to begin with.

• Most of the teachers responding say their workload has increased by at least 20 percent in the past three years.Denver Classroom Teachers Association

First of all, I wonder how they measured the amount that their workload has increased. Hmmm. And second, note the credit: DCTA. Not just a poll by the union, for union purposes, but reported to the paper by the union. Makes you wonder (don't spend too much time thinking about it) what the purpose of writing this article was.

Look, the vast VAST majority of teachers that I know are hard-working, dedicated servants who do what they do out of love and a sense of purpose. There are, of course, both the goofy crusaders in the classroom and the burn-outs/never-should-have-beens. But I think, if you asked most teachers, they would trade in pay raises for greater power to enforce discipline in their classroom and greater ability to raise/maintain high expectations for student achievement. Reforms come and go, and some are more annoying and intrusive than others, but most teachers have seen this sort of thing before and go with it as they need to.

If you really wanted to change teachers' opinions, break the union stranglehold on education and allow a little capitalism to shine in. Good teachers should be fought over by schools like left-hand pitchers are fought over; experience should be what counts for something, not survival; and the ability to influence and challenge students should count for much more than drifting in and out of college classes (which is another way teachers earn pay raises).

A good teacher should have control over their destiny; a great teacher should have their pick of schools and salaries; good schools would attract good teachers for reasonable pay; struggling schools could bring in great teachers by incentivizing their employment with great pay.

Just my two cents.


This Is What I've Been Saying

But Terry Moe managed to get it in the Wall Street Journal.

The subtitle tells you what you really need to know: Unions Don't Have Children's Best Interests At Heart.

Here's a quick excerpt:

The problem is not that the unions are somehow bad or ill-intentioned. They aren't. The problem is that when they simply do what all organizations do--pursue their own interests--they are inevitably led to do things that are not in the best interests of children.

Now, insofar as that goes, I have no problem with that. That, after all, is capitalism: each individual or group engaged in the legal struggle to promote its own self-interests. The problem I have is that the unions tend to hold themselves out to the public--with little dissention--as the best advocates for schools and children. And this is simply fallacious. Be what you are, but don't pretend to be what you aren't.

And, as far as it goes, why the heck does that assertion so often go unchallenged?

The best litany from the piece is this one:

The unions are opposed to No Child Left Behind, for example, and indeed to all serious forms of school accountability, because they do not want teachers' jobs or pay to depend on their performance. They are opposed to school choice--charter schools and vouchers--because they don't want students or money to leave any of the schools where their members work. They are opposed to the systematic testing of veteran teachers for competence in their subjects, because they know that some portion would fail and lose their jobs. And so it goes. If the unions can't kill these threatening reforms outright, they work behind the scenes to make them as ineffective as possible--resulting in accountability systems with no teeth, choice systems with little choice, and tests that anyone can pass.

Keep this in mind as we watch the Democratic-controlled State Legislature this session.

UPDATE: on the same page is the OJO editorial about the response Mr. Moe's column inspired last week when it ran in the dead-tree version. They go even farther:

Far from refuting Mr. Moe, the AFT's letter barrage proves his point. Teachers unions have become the largest single barrier to better American schools, and the political system needs to find ways to reduce their destructive influence.

A Digression

And I apologize: the following may not live up the standards of seriousness I try to maintain (guffaw chortle).

But I just gotta say kudos to the FoxNews Channel for assigning Megan Kendall to doing some of the late reporting from the Inaugural Balls.

That's all I'm gonna say.

Correction: apparently, her name is spelled Megyn.

Final Thoughts

Now that I've had 24 to let the taste of the Inaugural Address settle in, and I've heard the thoughts of a large portion of the punditry, I thought I'd chime in one more time.

I still love this speech. It was honest, sincere, ambitious, clear, and powerful. This President is not a man to look at little problems and look for little solutions; clearly, it is now his goal to transform the world we live in.

Stylistically, I like it even better. In that it rings with the echoes of the past--from Eisenhower and Kennedy to Reagan and Lincoln--it gives due respect to the accomplishment of this country; in what it calls upon Americans to do for their futures it reaches for greatness, and commands a generation and the generations to come to listen to its insistent demand to spread freedom. This is one for the History books.

And even better if he's able to accomplish even one-tenth what he set out to do.


Peggy Noonan Disagrees

Surprising, to me, that Peggy Noonan did not like this speech. She describes it as "over the top."

I'll leave you to read and absorb her thoughts on the matter.

The Main Event

So the President gave this little speech today. . . (link here).

And, in truth, the only thing "little" about it is the fact that it fits on three pages if I set the font size right.

And it all starts with the "Big Idea"--and what a whopper this one is:

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world

You know, not a big agenda.

I love this speech. I did not get a chance to hear the President deliver it (day job, you know), but reading it, I'm left with the impression that this is a speech for the ages. So many little gems within--I'll just list a few of my favorites.

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. Not only enlisting the generations yet to come in this all-encompassing struggle, but challenging those who do not want to take up the effort to get on the train.

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty. I've often thought this very thing whenever I get stuck behind some moron with the bumper sticker "There can be no peace without justice." Of course, it seems obvious that justice is only a byproduct of a free judiciary ruling on merits of law; just too many people would rather define peace as "appeasement", and ultimately "slavery." This is the U.N.'s problem--they think stability is an acceptable substitute for freedom.

All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself - and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character. Very Kennedy-esque, and very important and appropriate.

If the Bush Doctrine sees significant progress over the next four years, I think it likely that we are living in a time of Presidential greatness. The Presidency of George W. Bush might go down as the single most important transformative event in world affairs for the 21st century, and I am proud to be living in such times.

Of course, such an ambitious agenda will have a hard time coming to fruition, particularly in four years. Nonetheless, it is good to strive, to seek, and to reach out. On such dreams are the best angels of our nature given flight.


More Good Reading At Opinion Journal Online

Paul Gigot also offers an interesting read on today’s OJO. His conclusion is simple, and important: Republicans now have an opportunity to re-make the way government works for the people. . .if Congressional Republicans have the same courage as the President and will it into being.

Republicans in Congress like to complain about this White House's negotiating style, and of course they will want to put their own stamp on legislation. But they should also recognize how fortunate they are to have a president willing to expend some of his own prestige to persuade the public and make their reform votes easier.

If they think they can walk away from his agenda in the name of their own incumbent self-preservation, they might want to recall why they were able to win the majority back in 1994. Democrats ran the entire government then, but liberals told the upstart president from Arkansas that the welfare reform he'd run on was a non-starter. The campaign reform they'd all promised for years? Also no way. Their (much larger) majority proceeded to split apart over guns, health care and taxes. It could happen to Republicans too.

A wise bit of warning, to be sure.

But that isn’t the best part of the article. I like Gigot’s recounting of major accomplishments by liberals:

Whatever one thinks of its policies, the Democratic Party surely made a difference during its 20th-century heyday. Set aside its last, corrupted years in power. When liberalism was ascendant, from the 1930s through the 1970s, Democrats permanently altered the face of government.

They ended poverty for the elderly with cross-generational entitlement programs, broke Jim Crow's hold in the South with civil-rights laws, built the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that bedevil American business every day, turned our courts into quasi-legislative bodies, and planted the seeds of government-run health care that continue to grow today. As the party of government, they built institutions and processes that have consistently expanded its scope.

If we ever needed to be reminded of good reasons to vote for Republicans, that list sums it up rather nicely.

Words on Leadership, Courage, and Vision

The Opinion Journal Online has an editorial in today’s edition that nicely articulates many of the things I like about the President, starting with this:

. . . it is this willingness to take on challenges that are necessary as policy but optional as politics that chiefly distinguishes Mr. Bush's Presidency.

On issue after issue, the OJO points out that the President is facing the difficult—and politically treacherous—issues with surprising directness. I respect and admire that in the man, and I think it is why he has an opportunity to transform the country and the body politic. And, in the words of OJO,

If he can stick to his guns and principles, his second term will confound the skeptics as much as his first one did.

Bad Poll, or Bad Reporting?

I suspect a little of both.

The CBS News/New York Times Poll is a mixed bag for the President—or so the Times would have you believe. Just as a ‘for instance,’ consider the title of the article: Public Voicing Doubts on Iraq and the Economy, Poll Finds.

To be sure, the poll is not glowing news: 49% JA, 56% Wrong Track. On the other hand, 60% are “optimistic” about the second term of W.

But just to give you an idea how poorly written, or how deliberately confusing the writing is in this article, take a look at the following lines (in order of appearance in the article), all dealing with Social Security.

. . . and many have reservations about his signature plan to overhaul Social Security, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
Seventy percent, however, said they thought Mr. Bush would succeed in changing the Social Security system.

Just under 80 percent, including a majority of those who said they voted for Mr. Bush in November, said it would not be possible to overhaul Social Security, cut taxes, and finance the war in Iraq without increasing the budget deficit, despite Mr. Bush's promises to the contrary.

That could undermine his leverage in Congress, where even some Republicans have expressed concern about major aspects of Mr. Bush's Social Security plans.
Fifty percent said Social Security is in crisis, echoing an assertion that Mr. Bush has made and that has been disputed by Democrats and independent analysts.

Answering another question, 51 percent said that while there were good things about Social Security, the system needed "fundamental changes," while 24 percent said it needed a complete overhaul.

But 50 percent said it was a "bad idea" to permit workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into the stock market, as Mr. Bush is expected to propose. That number leaps to 70 percent when the question includes the possibility that future guaranteed benefits would be reduced by as much as one-third.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were not likely to put their own Social Security money into the stock market, and a majority said that in pushing for a Social Security overhaul, Mr. Bush was more interested in helping Wall Street than protecting the average American.

Still, 54 percent of respondents said they do not expect the Social Security system to have enough money to pay them pensions when they retire, a figure that has not varied much since the Times/CBS News Poll started asking the question in 1981.
And younger people were much more likely to support the change Mr. Bush is seeking than older Americans.

Got all that? It’s bad and in trouble, but don’t do anything about it, but it won’t be there for me, but he shouldn’t try to change it. . . Again I ask, bad poll, or just bad writing? Well, the part about the writing is obvious; what the question really should be is ‘how skewed was the questioning on Social Security?

The important number that I pulled out: 75% think the current Social Security system needs significant change (respondents answered either “fundamental changes needed” or “complete overhaul.”

Lucky for us, we have a President who is willing to lead on this issue.

The Other Side

On the Letters page of today’s Rocky is a rebuttal by Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) and Rep. Michael Merrifield (D-Manitou Springs) of the News’ editorial from last week “Don’t Dump School Ratings.”

In this letter, the two chairpersons of the Legislature's Education Committees accused the News of misrepresenting their positions.

As former teachers, we believe strongly in the value of testing, reporting and school accountability. Our proposal – crafted with input from teachers, school administrators, legislators, and state regulators—aims to build on the strengths of Colorado’s current school accountability system, while simultaneously simplifying it. . . .

Our proposal streamlines the process for determining those ratings, and ensures that students’ and schools’ improvement over time is reflected in their ratings.

Notice who was not consulted? Yep, that’s right—-parents. Taxpayers. Consumers of the education product. And I wonder exactly which state regulators were consulted in the making of that proposal. It sounds to me like all the usual suspects who have an interest in making the public schools look as good as possible, while insulating them from real accountability.

So, okay—maybe I’m overreacting. We will be happy to look at the specifics of the proposal when it comes out of committee to see just how many of the strengths are left intact. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. And we’ll be watching.

Just In Case Anybody Had Forgotten. . .

that we're at war, this from Fox:

The FBI (search) notified Boston area law enforcement Wednesday to be on the lookout for four Chinese nationals described as possible terror suspects who may be headed to the area.

Of course, there's been all the usual qualifying and backpedalling to stop a full-blown panic, but. . .

Don't you think it odd for the FBI to release photos of the four Chinese suspects if this were simply "one of thousands of tips [they] pursue every day"?

Weak-Kneed Senators

This from MSNBC:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Wednesday to approve Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to be secretary of state, but after two days of strenuous questioning on the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq, Democrats planned to delay her widely expected confirmation by the full Senate, NBC News has learned. . .

Rice’s quick confirmation by the full Senate on Thursday had been considered a formality, but Democrats who opposed the nomination were in negotiations with Senate leaders for a full floor debate and a roll-call vote. With most senators attending events surrounding Bush’s inauguration Thursday, those demands could delay Rice’s confirmation into next week, NBC News’ Ken Strickland reported.

Note to Bill Frist--your answer in these "negotiations" should be one word: NUTS!

I swear, what good is it to have a majority if you have know idea how to wield your power? If we learned nothing from Trent Lott's brief and inglorious time as Senate Majority Leader it's that no good deed goes unpunished.

Frist should tell Reid to get on the floor and vote, or resort to a filibuster--let's see how it goes over to filibuster a black woman nominee to SecState.

Would They Really Do This?

Of course, if you have to ask, you already know the answer.

Captain Ed has an excellent discussion of the just released analysis of what went wrong with the exit polling. One of the key points:

They also found suggestions that interviewers may not have carefully followed rules for selecting voters at random, which may have skewed results.

This is followed by this point of analysis found over at Powerline:

The pollsters whose results were most off-target were young and had advanced degrees. Which makes one wonder whether liberal groups like MoveOn.org and ACT got their people hired as exit pollsters for the purpose of distorting the early results and thereby depressing Republican turnout.

So, of course, you ask yourself "would they really do that?" To which the answer is "Of course they would. If they can invent several hundred ballots weeks after the election is over in Washington state, why wouldn't they try to skew an early exit polling sample?"

And here there was this big hubbub about how the networks and pollsters were going to do it right this time and avoid influencing the election like they did in 2000. Fat chance. As long as there's an opportunity to game the system, you'd better believe the Democrats will play.


Barone On Second Inaugurals

Michael Barone, in my opinion the best out there at seeing the political "big picture", has written a piece in the OpinionJournal reviewing past second inaugural speeches, and putting some in some context his expectations for tomorrow's speech by the President.

My favorite excerpt, from both a literary standpoint and because he is (in my humble opinion) the greatest President in history, is from Abraham Lincoln: "With malice towards none, and charity to all. . ." But I was surprised and pleased to hear the tone of another famously "dumb" President, Eisenhower: "Our world is where our destiny lies--with men, of all people, and all nations, who are or would be free."

This is the tone I expect the President to take tomorrow--a grand, eloquent, and sweeping defense of the Bush Doctrine. He will, of course, spend some time on the domestic stuff, especially social security, but in the end all of his domestics will lead towards the "Grand Theme": Freedom. Freedom here. Freedom abroad.

By the way, I wonder if there's any way he could manage to challenge George Washington's speech for brevity: 135 words. Ms. Kinsey always said say what you need to in as few words as it takes.

For Your Consideration

Not much to get worked up over in the late night tonight, so I'll just throw this out for your consideration:

"In this situation of this ssembly, groping s it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of jumbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--That God Governs in the affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"

These words of timely--and timeless--wisdom, uttered by Benjamin Franklin to the Constitution Convention on Thursday, June 28, 1787.


Of The WaPo-ABC News Poll

You’ve probably all seen the numbers by now, so I won’t go into too much depth on those. Suffice to say the big number—52 percent job approval—was buried so far in the article that I thought it would come with a Jimmy Hoffa signature.

What struck me about the poll, though, was this little snippet buried even further in than the JA number:

Americans divide equally over Bush's proposal to index Social Security benefits for future retirees to increases in the cost of living rather than to wage growth as is now the case, a change that would effectively mean benefits would be lower than currently projected. A clear majority of Americans -- 55 percent -- support the president's proposal to allow younger workers to put some of their Social Security savings into stocks or bonds. When packaged together, the two components draw the support of 54 percent of those surveyed.

The survey suggests that Democratic leaders may be out of step with their rank and file on the severity of the problems facing Social Security. Those leaders are attempting to thwart Bush's plans by saying there is no immediate crisis. But two-thirds of all Democrats said they worry that there is not enough money to keep Social Security funded until they retire.

“Democratic leaders may be out of step with their rank and file. . .” Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

Look, the overall impression that is emerging from the wave of polls that have come out in the past week is that the country likes this President, and trusts him with the big issue of security and terrorism. On everything else, this country is deeply divided, and no amount of compromising will close that chasm.

The President and his team should focus all their energies on crafting good policies—the politics will follow.

U.N.: “We Just Need All Of You To Give Us Money”

The NYTimes has a laughable account of a report put out by the United Nations Millenium Project that will solve poverty in the world. . . if only they had more money.

An international team sponsored by the United Nations proposed a detailed, ambitious plan on Monday that it says could halve extreme poverty and save the lives of millions of children and hundreds of thousands of mothers each year by 2015.

The report says drastically reducing poverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease - is "utterly affordable." To fulfill this goal, industrial nations would need to double aid to poor countries, to one-half of 1 percent of national incomes, from one-quarter of 1 percent.

Yes, that’s what we need to do—give the U.N. more money. How about we try to find that $22 billion first, and see what kind of good we can do with that. And, of course, given the U.N.’s startlingly successful track record at dealing with poverty and famine in places like India, Ethiopia and the Sudan, what could be more reasonable than to just fund this failure of an organization at even greater levels?

At least one person on the panel has a clue, and to the Times’ credit, they even mention her:

At least one economist involved, Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development in Washington, said she worried that it put too little emphasis on the need for poor countries to make deep political and social changes to reduce poverty.

Unfortunately, her views were not the prevailing sentiment of the article. To give you an idea of the naivete of the Millenium Project, here’s part of their agenda:

The project's agenda is the first in a series this year intended to refocus attention on fulfilling promises to fight poverty that were made at the United Nations in 2000. There, world leaders unanimously agreed to institute universal primary education, promote sex equality and achieve sharp reductions in hunger, and in the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, by 2015.

Now, let’s just think about this for a moment, and consider the U.N.’s history. It wants to institute universal primary education and promote sex equality. Does this desire to do good extend into the Arab world, where in extreme cases women are forbidden from going to school? Is that what they mean by universal? And by what measure would “universal” be evaluated? Does a madrasa count?

Perhaps the U.N. ought to try to put the horse back in front of the cart. Universal nothing happens until corrupt governments and despots are thrown out—political systems create their own prosperity or poverty. If the U.N. would just come to grips with this simple fact, we would all be much better off.

What?!?!? The Left Might Have Lied?

The second editorial in today's Rocky blows the arguments of Amendment 23 supporters right out of the water. To wit:

When the education- funding Amendment 23 was on the ballot in 2000, one of the most effective weapons in the campaign was the widespread belief that Colorado was 48th, or maybe 49th, in spending for education. To this day you still see the claim on bumper stickers.

But as we pointed out at the time, that ranking was phony - and now the magazine that perpetrated the misleading statistic has admitted as much.

The ranking assigned by Education Week in its annual "Quality Counts" report was never about "spending" as normal people understand the term. It was based on a formula for "adequacy" of resources, which included not only actual money spent but how fast spending was going up and how high taxes were.

This year, at long last, EdWeek admits to having known for some time that adequacy studies are, well, inadequate. It cites two such studies for Colorado, both released in 2003 and done by the same company, but using different methods. Adjusted for 2004 costs, one said that $5,263 per pupil was adequate funding, while the other that $7,707 was needed.

EdWeek has decided it isn't going to rank states by that measure any more. "There is no agreed-upon measure of adequate spending on education," it concedes. Now they tell us.

Again, lies, damn lies, and statistics. I've always thought it was laughable to equate pure spending on education with public support or excellence--you have no further to look than Washington D.C. and New York City, both of which spend huge amounts of money per pupil, but have cesspools for public school systems.

But to find one of the arguments that shamed voters into approving A-23 undercut in so pointed a fashion is, well, enlightening. Maybe we'll ask better questions next time around.

UPDATE: Ben makes some excellent points along the same lines today.

The Cost Of Getting To School

Today's Rocky Mountain News contains this in-depth article titled "School Transit Crunch." The main intent of the article seems to be to point out the increasing costs school districts are facing in relation to transportation, and how that's having a bad effect on school budgets.

Some nuggets from within the article:

"With CSAPs, there's been such a focus on the academic side of education," Wilcox [Adams 12 Transportation Director] said of the state's standardized testing program. "As legislators focus on that side, they've got the same choices we have.

Um. . .er. . .yes. Not sure where to go with this quote. Would he be saying that maybe transportation should get a highr priority than adcademics? Or that it should somehow factor into to major program decisions? Of course, that's absurd, and I don't think that's what he's saying. Nonetheless, those of us in the schools are constantly amused/amazed/bewildered by how the bussing schedule seems to dictate huge parts of our lives. More on this below.

Charter schools spur worries

Little's main safety concerns involve charter schools, which are independently operated public schools.

Although he inspects school district buses every five years, he says he's had time to inspect buses of only two of more than 90 Colorado charter schools, and both had major problems, such as incomplete driver, repair and maintenance records.

This was a whole sub-heading in the article, clearly put there to give the idea that charter schools are, in some way, "unsafe", continuing the meme that charter schools are actually bad for education.

Of course, it's only a couple paragraphs later that it is revealed that

Jim Griffin, executive director of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, says transportation is not a major problem for charters because only Pinnacle and maybe one other school run their own transportation.

A bit misleading, don't you think? By the way, having been very closely associated to a charter school and familiar with its budgeting process a few years back, it's the very fact that many services the public has latched on to as entitlements form the schools are, in fact, quite expensive and quite optional. Imagine a school where no money was going into buses, and every child had a parent on school grounds at least once a day. . . Could be a formula for success.

But the real kicker is in the last few paragraphs.

Each morning, buses pull up to Lakewood's Bear Creek High School and three other high schools by 7:05 a.m. - 10 minutes before the bell rings. The early start times allow buses to make two more runs to pick up younger students who attend other schools. But the start times are not educationally ideal. Some research shows teenagers learn better later in the day.

"Usually during second period, I'm fine," said Bear Creek freshman Alex Fouts, who wakes at 5:30 a.m. to catch the school bus a few minutes before 7. "But at the beginning of first period, you want to fall asleep. You're really tired."

Bear Creek Principal Phyllis Emrich agrees. "Seven-fifteen is too early for high school kids," she said.

First, be clear: the research is inconclusive on this count. While it is a widely held belief that older students do better later in the day, there is some research to the contrary. Nonetheless, it is ABSURD and shameful that the reason high schools start classes at 7:15 is because of the BUS SCHEDULE, while many younger students don't start until 9 am. This sort of odd scheduling is one of the many follies of public education.

And it's not for lack of effort. I've sat in on meetings where bell/bus schedules were discussed, and it's very clear that every person in the room was trying to arrive at a solution that was best for kids while being dealt an untenable set of circumstances.

I don't know what the solution to this particular problem is. But I do know two things: one, this is certainly one more area where we should be re-thinking our approach to public education; and two, as long as the decision-making process in a school is being driven by external factors which have no relation to--or concern for--the students' education, we cannot deliver a product we can be proud of.


Meanwhile, Back At The School House. . .

Two different takes on the same report out of the Chicago Public Schools.

First, from the Rocky Mountain News' Linda Seebach in Saturday's paper:

(Ed. note: just to get a glimpse of the prioritization of ideas, both excerpts presented will be the 3rd through the 6th paragraphs of the pieces)

Controversy or no, Chicago adopted a retention policy in 1997, under the leadership of Mayor Richard Daley, who had taken over the Chicago Public Schools in 1995. Two articles in the Winter 2005 issue of the journal Education Next examine what has happened since.

As author Alexander Russo explains, the new policy required children in the third, sixth and eighth grades who scored below cutoff scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to attend summer school, or to repeat a grade, more than once if necessary. Retention rates rose from almost nothing to from 7 percent to 20 percent, depending on the year and grade.

"Test scores among Chicago's lowest-performing students rose, particularly in the upper grades," Russo says, "while the proportion of schools with extremely low performance fell."

Russo also cites a study by Brian Jacob of Harvard and Lars Lefgren of Brigham Young, which compared students who fell just below the cutoff (and thus faced retention and had to attend summer school) with those who fell just above it. Those who faced retention improved substantially more.

Or this, from the New York Times' education writer Monica Davey:

''They were like little bitty ants,'' Paige recalls of the classmates she did not really consider friends. ''I was bigger than all of them.'' This past fall, though, Paige was moved to a class with others her own age and size. Testers concluded last spring that she needed to be in a special education class. But Paige, whose birthday willcome in a few weeks, says she has not made friends among these seventh and eighth graders, either. And little of use goes on in class as far as she is concerned. ''Everyone just plays around too much in there,'' Paige says.

Paige's arduous journey through school is a growing mystery to her. By now, the notion of report cards, of tests, of reading aloud in front of others turns an already shy girl deeper inside herself. Asked her own understanding of why she was held back, again and again, Paige grows quiet, then says, ''I guess the teachers didn't like me.''

EIGHT years ago, as Paige Bonds was starting school in a struggling neighborhood called Englewood, the city's leaders were embarking on a controversial campaign that would change the public school system. In an effort to end the practice known as social promotion, Chicago officials announced what amounted to a get-tough revolution: third, sixth and eighth graders who failed to achieve minimum scores on standardized tests would be required to repeat a grade.

The wisdom of retention, the policy of holding a child back to repeat the same grade, has long been debated. The battle -- between those who believe retention is damaging to children's psyches, social lives and attitudes about school, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and those who believe it is the best way to improve skills over the long haul -- has played out in waves over decades past. Periods in which retention grew popular are followed by times when it is not.

The point of the above exercise was to show how two different people look at a story different ways. My view of this: conservatives (and I don't think Linda Seebach is a conservative on everything, or maybe even most things--just this one) tend to look at the facts first, and evaluate based on the question "does it work?"; liberals tend to look at things through the question "how do you feel?"

Granted, the New York Times devoted six pages (online) to their article on this subject, and the vast majority of it is the story of Paige. Somewhere, buried on page three, is this remarkable admission by Paige's mother:

Many days, Ms. Bonds blames poor teaching and a failed school system for her daughter's struggles. At other moments, she wonders what she should have done differently, much earlier.

Ms. Bonds, now 31, had Paige when she was 19. She depended on her own mother for help with Paige. During many of those years, she worked full time. ''I was just young and I didn't always have enough time for Paige,'' she says.

Today, Ms. Bonds lives with her two girls and longtime boyfriend in a cluttered three-bedroom apartment where the front door knob sometimes falls off. She works odd hours now -- early mornings and evenings -- as a barista at Starbucks. Money is tight, but she has more time at home now with Amanda than she ever did with Paige.

''I'm teaching Amanda her ABC's and her 123's,'' Ms. Bonds says. ''I do wish I would have been here more for Paige, that I would have read to her more.

As a married father of two, I sympathize with Ms.Bonds--even with a spouse around it's difficult to make all the time for children that you want to. But had I had children when I was nineteen, there's no way I would have prioritized my time properly. What Ms Bonds was doing having a child by herself when she was nineteen is beyond me, but it was clearly a mistake they are both paying for.

And, NO, lefties, that doesn't mean I think she should have had an abortion--there were many "choices" she could have made better before the "choice" of killing her baby became an issue. But I digress. . .

At any rate, I think this is one of the critical issues facing schools today: what do you do with a child who is not ready? And you can see this as early as Kindergarten: some kids come in knowing all their ABC's, able to count to ten, and knowing all their colors and shapes; some kids come in knowing how to work the remote control and which Pokemon card beats which other one. Do you start retention at age five? Or wait until age eight, after they've had three years to stay behind? Or wait until . . .

The point is that the education system in America is predicated on the idea that age is a contributing factor to learning and performance, when the reality is that this is rarely true. So many factors go in to a students' ability to learn in school that are completely beyond the school's control, yet we expect schools to turn out eight- and thirteen- and sixteen-year olds who can all do the same things. It's a recipe for frustration.

So, how about a radical proposal: de-couple grade levels from age. Make promotion to second grade based solely on the ability to perform first-grade skills, and etc. . . As it is now, the state (through taxes) will pay for education, but it will only pay for twelve years' worth for every student. If in those twelve years a student only reaches an eighth grade level, so be it; on the other hand, if a student manages to complete a college degree in twelve years, then so be it.

Mike Coffman said to a group of us last fall that the time may be here for us to radically re-think how we fund education; why not extend that to how we provide education.

As Linda Seebach pointed out

The retention policy affects more students than just the ones who do repeat a grade, however. It motivates some students to work harder so they won't be held back. Russo quotes G. Alfred Hess of Northwestern University, who says that the effect of the threat of retention on all students and their families is also part of the justification for retaining students. "This dual intent for ending the social promotion policy is frequently ignored by its opponents and is rarely considered in evaluating the effectiveness of the policy," Hess wrote.

Perhaps a full-fledged approach to sutdent/family accountability is in order, as well.

By the way, this isn't meant to let the schools off the hook; they too, should be evaluated on this new criteria. But more on that another time.

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