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


Around the Horn

Sure, I've been in a cave for the last several days. But a few things have gotten through and deserve comment.

:For the record, I come down on the side of "Going Grant." If Senate Democrats really want to try to shut down the Senate to make a point about the "unfairness of letting the majority get to vote on a judicial nominee," then let them. First of all, I don't think the public will be in the least bit sympathetic to their cause. And secondly, since when was it a bad thing to shut down the Senate?

:Another State Supreme Court Out of Whack. With a hat tip to my brother, I bring your attention to the case in Connecticut of Kelo v. City of New London. Apparently, the CT Supreme Court has ruled that (and on this point they were unanimous) economic development IS suffcient grounds--all by itself--to a governmental body the right to exercise Imminent Domain. Given just about every SCOTUS ruling since Bush v Gore, I suspect very strongly that SCOTUS will NOT step in on this one, and this ruling will, very likely, stand. In yet another blow to select portions of the Bill of Rights. And if you don't think my previous bullet point is important, think again.

:watched the Oscars tonight with only half an eye (which is still more than the brainpower I devoted to it). What a miserable presentation. Even if you disregard Chris Rock's pointless two-minute tirade against the President, this was still a vry boring, pointless exercise.

:Keep an eye on the CO Senate Education Committee--Sen. Sue Windels is claiming a victory for "bipartisanship" in crafting a compromise that effectively killed her Charter Schools Bill by sending it to a commission for long-term study. Charter School advocates ought to watch this with a very wary eye when this commission presents its findings in the Fall.

:Bill Gates is Talking Education Again to the National Governors Association. Best line: When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

At least Gates is willing to put his considerable money where his mouth is (through his foundation). This gets to something I'm starting to understand more and more: every aspect of the American educational system is in need of a complete overhaul. It may be time to scrap the model and get outside the box a bit.

:And in the really important news, Randy Moss is now playing in the same division as the Denver Broncos. And I was so hoping not to have to spend too much time this Fall lamenting the failures of the "shut-down corner." Dear Champ: See Randy; See Randy juke; See back of Randy's jersey; Observe obscene endzone celebration from a disinterested distance.


Excuses, excuses. . .

Light blogging for the next couple weeks. I have some deadlines and some contracts due, and, frankly, I probably spend too much time at this as it is.

I'm not saying I'm disappearing. Just, you know, gonna be in the other room. I'll pop my head in when things get loud.


On High School Reform

The Sunday Post/News dedicated the entire front page of the Commentary Section today to high school reform. It featured three articles:

First: an article written by Jared Polis (member of the State Board of Education and financier of several liberal 527s in the last election cycle) and Patricia Hayes (member of the CU Board of Regents), who were co-chairs of the Colorado Commission for High School Improvement. Their article was dedicated to detailing the recommendations of their commission , which included creating one statewide standard for computing graduation rates, supporting high school options, improving data management, enhancing school-level flexibility, and altering the mindset from K-12 to pre- through college. Unfortunately, their justifications are weighed down by bad datae:

While the 2003 graduation rate for white students was 68 percent, it was only 44 percent for black students and 42 percent for Hispanic students.

We can and must do better.

In today's competitive job market, a college degree is fast becoming a necessity, not a luxury. Currently 80 percent of adults with bachelor's degrees are employed, as opposed to 60 percent of high school graduates and only 40 percent of high school dropouts.

I have not seen a single piece of evidence to support the proposition that the graduation rate in Colorado is hovering around 60 percent--NOT ONE (except, of course, the Commission's own report, which selectively ignores vital statistics such as GEDs and late completions). And what world are these guys looking at that has the overall employment rate at around 65% (extrapolating and guessing from the numbers provided above) when the UNemployment rate is only 5%? It's those little details that undermine the credibility of this argument.

The second article is by Dorothy Horrell(director of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation) and Lucia Guzman (member of the Denver School Board), who co-chaired the DPS Commission on Secondary School Reform. The main thrust of their article is focusing on academic Rigor, educational Relevance, and positive Relationships. They talk some of the resistance to change, and imperative to make difficult choices together. In the end, they don't especially recommend any concrete steps, though they do suggest that schools start studying other schools that are successful (ed.--is it wierd that education is the only field where somebody needs to TELL you to copy what works? or is it just me?)

The third article is the most interesting to me. Post editorial board member Dan Haley devotes his space to a case study using the Denver School for Science and Technology. His conclusions are that a diverse population which is held to high standards in a community-fostering environment can--and likely will--defy the odds and be highly successful.

At DSST, which eventually will enroll about 425 students, students interact with their advisers an average of 10 times per week, since teachers also act as advisers.

And remember the community circle? Before the school day even began, each student was addressed by name by Brosius, a positive adult contact, and they stood among their "advisory groups."

Kurtz hand-picked his staff at DSST, choosing people already sold on the school's principles. He can ask them to work late to tutor students and can fire them if it's not working out.

What Haley is careful to never say, though I think most people know it already, is that DSST is a CHARTER SCHOOL!! Of course the Principal has more flexibility and the students have more accountability--IT'S A CHARTER SCHOOL! In a traditional school, the Principal cannot ask for more hours because it's a violation of the teacher's union's contract, and firing a teacher is usually a seven-year process. No such freedom exists now in traditional schools, nor will it ever exist if unions have anything to say about it.

DSST is still in its infancy, so it's an unproven model. But if education leaders follow these two reports, there will be more schools like it in Colorado's future. It's worth a shot.

This particular charter school was the result of collaboration between Gov. Bill Owens and Bill Gates (another factoid Haley leaves out), and is based on the idea that partnerships outside of the traditional school systems have some flexibility to be creative and successful. The key, I think, is that "outside the traditional school systems."

Proponents of charter schools ought to study these articles carefully and glean from them all the anecdotal evidence they can to justify the charter school movement. As I have said before, charter schools are not a silver bullet; what they CAN be, though, is a creative niche enterprise that has the unique ability to serve specific populations in enriching and encouraging ways.


A Comparison Of Three Free Speech Moments

Big in the news of late, and not thickly gracing the pages of this blog, are three separate and interesting cases of candid conversations, free speech, and consequences.

The first of these is the most local one: Professor Ward Churchill's assertion in a 2001 essay that the victims of 9/11 were not "innocent;" indeed, he described their capitalist efforts in the World Trade Centers as akin to "little Eichmanns."

The second one of these is Harvard President Lawrence Summer's posing the idea that there is an intrinsic quality lacking in women which may explain the relative dearth of women in positions of science in higher ed.

And the third is the assertion by CNN Executive Vice President Eason Jordan at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that American troops have targeted journalists in Iraq and killed many as a result.

First of all, it needs to be made clear that, as of this writing, nobody has been arrested. Why? Well, of course, because each was speaking well within their rights under the U.S. Constitution. In other words, no law has been broken, and no governmental body has yet to do a thing in reprisal for these rhetorical rhapsodies.

What has happened so far? Ward Churchill has resigned from the departmental chairmanship of the Ethnic Studies Dept at the University of Colorado, and the Board of Regents is in the midst of an investigation into the process by which he was hired, got tenure, and continues to embarass the University. Lawrence Summers has apologized--profusely--for the comments he made, while large parts of the faculty at Harvard have signed a "Letter of Concern." And Eason Jordan, while refusing to ask for a release of the transcript of the session (which his employer also refused to do), has resigned from CNN.

So, two things jump to mind about these stories. First, note that neither CNN nor the University of Colorado, or the mainstream media or the greater University of Colorado, have had anything to say by way of censure of the two in their midst. Rather, what seems to be more the case is that these two institutions have circled the wagons around their embattled persons, and have been very free throwing around terms like "McCarthyism" and "censorship." Summers, on the other hand, has been basically reduced to prostrating himself at the alter of academia in hopes of slowing down the tidal wave, while the institution of which he is a part--in both small terms and large terms--has been up in arms and calling for his scalp. Why does his offense rate such treatment by his peers when the others don't? Ding Ding Ding! you guessed it: he said something to which there is actual empirical evidence. No, no, no. . .that's not it. It's because he violated the all-important code of Political Correctness.

And, secondly, note the links I posted above--all of them were links to MSM stories very early in the controversy. Churchill: three years later; Jordan: two weeks after the event; Summers: one day after the event. The first two only broke into the MSM after the work of a college newspaper coupled with good work by a radio talk show, and the work of bloggers coupled with Hugh Hewitt. Lawrence Summers, however, was MSM news almost immediately.

This is what we're talking about when we say there's a predominantly liberal bias in the both academia and the media. If you still doubt it, imagine the outcry if Miguel Estrada had gone before the Federalist Society and posited the idea that Affirmative Action has done noticable damage blacks attempting to getting into the law profession. No. . .think about it. You see my point.


More Iraqi Terrorism

Eight suicide bombers struck in quick succession Saturday in a wave of attacks that killed 55 people as Iraqi Shiites marched and lashed themselves with chains in ritual mourning of the 7th century death of a leader of their Muslim sect. Ninety-one people have been killed in violence in the past two days.

Is it not clear to EVERYBODY now that the terrorists have no interest in genuine Jihad; there is not even a serious attempt anymore to strike at the American presence in Iraq. Rather, these vicious cowards are driving all of the hatred, all of the ire, and all of their frustration at the most helpless possible victims. If there is any comfort, it is that these victims were sent to Allah while they worshiped. I cannot imagine any deity--even in a Roman, Viking, or Mayan sense--granting credit or glory in the afterlife for acts such as these. And I am quite certain the God I worship, the one true God, has no place for these cowards in His kingdom, and quite a special place for them in Hell.

Still, their failures are becoming noticable:

For the second year running, insurgent attacks shattered the commemoration of Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite religious calendar, but the violence produced a significantly smaller death toll than the 181 killed in twin bombings in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala a year ago.

Couple this with the two arrests announced today, and it becomes clear that it is only a matter of time for the "insurgency."

More Hillary Positioning

Hillary Clinton was among those Senators in Baghdad today. As the reports of terrorist attacks were streaming in, she had this to say:

The fact that you have these suicide bombers now, wreaking such hatred and violence while people pray, is to me, an indication of their failure.

Now, it could be that she is again demonstrating an unusual ability to see reality--unusual, at least, for a leading Democrat. And, I suppose it could be fairly said that despite her domestic policy record, Hillary does have a tendency toward hawkishness on foreign affairs.

Or, it could be that, like her rhetoric in regards to abortion of a couple weeks ago, she is merely trying to position herself as the most moderate and reasonable Democrat in the leadup to 2008.

Sadly, the competition for "moderate and reasonable Democrat" is, shall we say, thin.

Whoa. . .John McCain Gets It Right?!?

From the WashTimes : Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a resolution yesterday calling on President Bush to work to suspend Russia's membership in the G-8 group of leading industrial democracies until Russian President Vladimir Putin proves his commitment to democracy.

McCain strikes me all too often as an attention-grabbing publicity hound with very little in the way of core values. But I suppose you have to try to recognize when he does something sensible and even leader-like.

Plus, the novelty worth drawing attention to.

On The European "Constitution"

I'm not sure that this editorial has a lot of bearing on my life, or your life, or anybody any of us knows. But it is witty, and it does point to the abject foolishness that informs European attitudes and why America ought not be interested in emulating Europe.

It is natural for Americans to like the sound of the word "constitution". They have the best one ever written in a single document. It consists, in the copy I have before me, of 12 pages, 11 if you exclude the list of the men who signed it. There are also amendments added over the past two centuries: they amount to another nine pages. If President Bush tucked himself up with it at his famously early bedtime of 9.30, he could finish it well before 10.

I should be surprised if the State Department, the Washington faction keenest on turning Mr Bush into a Euro-enthusiast, has encouraged him to go to bed with a copy of the European Constitution. My copy, published by TSO (note that the former name Her Majesty's Stationery Office has quietly been relegated), is 511 pages long. I do not claim it would keep Mr Bush up all night – in fact, I guarantee that, if he tried to read it, he would still be asleep by 10 – but it would wake him and the First Lady up with a start as it slipped from his nerveless hands and crashed, all 2lb 8oz of it, on the floor. . .

I would draw attention to the opening words of the two documents. The US Constitution begins, famously, "We the People…". The European Constitution begins, "His Majesty the King of the Belgians…". That gives you a fair idea of the different spirit of each document.

This Sounds Like An Endorsement of Vouchers

And from a surprising source: the editorial page of the London Daily Telegraph.

Governments always try to raise school standards through Whitehall schemes: the national curriculum, admissions policies, literacy hours, examinations. All have failed, because no secretary of state, however pure her motives, can thrust her hand into every classroom in the land. The one thing that has not been tried is giving parents the wherewithal to pay for their children's education, and letting the schools compete for custom. Teachers would then be judged, not by their pupils, nor by an inspectorate, but by their prospective clients. Bureaucracy would fall away, good schools would expand and standards would rise. It has worked in every other field. Surely it's worth a try.

Sure, you have to fish through the British-isms a bit. But in the end, this paper across the pond thinks that the shortest road to effective school reforms is to open the schools up to the market place. And expressing such thought with a distinctly British eloquence.


More On Global Warming

The Opinion Journal Online jumps into a topic I started last night (actually, to be fair, it was a topic Michael Crichton started, and I'm pretty sure my obscure little post had absolutely nothing to do with OJO's editorial; still, I like the timing). They give a good condensed history of the global warming theory, and then end with this:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet--as much as $150 billion a year--on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn't everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?



Then Just What Are They?

The Bush administration is arguing with European governments over whether they should designate the Lebanon-based Shiite group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Read a little into this article, and you see the real problem:

The Netherlands, Italy and Poland support the Bush administration's view, several officials said, while Germany and Britain believe the issue is moot unless the French change their minds. One European diplomat said other countries were "hiding behind" France on the issue.

Ah, yes. Our old friends and allies.

As Dennis Miller would say, "f%%^#ing Frogs!"

Charter Schools Debate

Th Sunday Denver Post had a debate between Sen. Sue Windels and Sen Nancy Spence as the front page contribution to its Commentary section. Sen Windels was defending her proposed legislation to reform Clorado's Charter School laws, and Sen Spence was defending the status quo.

Though Sen Spence's defense of the status quo was surprisingly inadequate, Sen Windels' case was startlingly weak. And, given that she is the one who would change how things currently stand, it seems the burden of convincing me is disproportionately on her.

She begins nicely enough, saying that her bills are simply attempts to improve communication.

Experience in the legislature has shown me that some of the biggest problems that explode into controversy could have been avoided simply by improving communication. I have learned the wisdom of evaluating "the communication level" of proposed legislation and strengthening it where it is lacking. Two of my bills this session focus on providing that "ounce of prevention" - better communication - to avoid what potentially could result in upset, angry parents and community members.

She then goes on to list what her bills are intended to accomplish:

SB 71 requires the state chartering authority to share information with the local school board regarding the anticipated student enrollment so that the school district can staff its schools appropriately. . . requires that the local school board be notified of the proposed site and that it have the opportunity to comment and give its recommendation as to whether the proposed site is acceptable. . . . "

Seems innocuous enough. Until you actually look up the bill. Among the things this bill will also cause are giving local boards the authority to "request" that the state institute deny charter applications, creates an appeals process for boards to circumvent the institute, allows a local board to deny charter applications that are geographically close to other schools, and gives individuals the right to appeal an approved charter.

And I'm not saying that these things are necessarily bad. But it draws my attention when, in defense of an idea, a person glosses over many--MANY--elements of the idea. The first thing that jumps to mind is that Sen. Windels is going to great lengths to hide her real intentions with this bill, and disguising it as "reasonable improvements to communications."

Please. Senator, don't insult our intelligence. Defend your whole bill, or withdraw it. This is not, as you claim, a simple tinkering to improve existing law--it is an oblique assault on that law with the ultimate intent of eliminating the State Chartering Authority.

Can eliminating Charter Schools altogether be very far behind?

Not Just A Gifted Novelist

Michael Crichton gave a speech at CalTech last month titled "Aliens Cause Global Warming." (courtesy RCP) As the title might suffst, he takes science to task for becoming hopelessly entangled in politics, and with devestating effect.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. . .

say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends. . .

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was "responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults," and that it " impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people." In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% coinfidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second hand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that "Second-hand smoke is the nation's third-leading preventable cause of death." The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent. . . .

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won't get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and "skeptics" in quotation marks-suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done. . . .

Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we're asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?

It is a lengthy speech, and I have only pasted a small and, admittedly, disjointed portio of it to give you the flavor. The entirety of the speech is well worth the read--WARNING: not written in flowing prose but in scientific presentation form.


On Affirmative Action

Not sure how I missed this from Sunday's NYTimes, but here it is: affirmative action may have a negative impact on career success.

At least for lawyers.

a recent study published in The Stanford Law Review by Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found a new way to inflame the debate. In fact, the study has ignited what may be the fiercest dispute over affirmative action since 2003, when the Supreme Court found some forms of it to be constitutional.

Professor Sander's study tests a simple, but startling, thesis: Affirmative action actually depresses the number of black lawyers, because many black students end up attending law schools that are too difficult for them, and perform badly.

If black law students were accepted to lesser law schools under race-blind admissions, Professor Sander writes, they would receive better grades and pass the bar in greater numbers. Even accounting for the many black students who could not attend any law school without affirmative action, the ultimate number of black lawyers would still increase, he concludes.

This is startling, on its face. The idea that allowing students admission who do not necessarily meet the criteria for admission may adversely effect their performance. . . REALLY? But what's more interesting is that the inability to overcome that barrier may depress the ability of those AA beneficiaries to even sit for the bar would, I believe, constitute prima facia discrimination itself.

I remember having this dialogue about a year ago as the state legislature was considering ending affirmative action at state institutions. The bill ultimately failed, but I did pose the question at the time of whether AA had any positive effect on minority success. The only answer I got came from the News' Linda Seebach, who noted that California's experience was one of minority frustration. I suppose this study bears that out pretty well.

Now, I know it's easy to start making excuses and attacking the messenger. But before you do, consider these grafs:

The basic numbers are not in serious dispute.

Using a standard 1,000-point scale to reflect both L.S.A.T. scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, Professor Sander writes, the average black student's score was 130 to 170 points below that of the average white student.

Once at law school, the average black student gets lower grades than white students: 52 percent of black students are in the bottom 10th of their first-year law school classes, while only 8 percent are in the top half. And the grades of black students drop slightly in relative terms from the first year of law school to the third.

Black students are twice as likely as whites to fail to finish law school. Nineteen percent of the black students who started law school in 1991 had failed to graduate five years later; the corresponding figure for whites was 8 percent.

About 88 percent of all law students pass a bar exam on the first attempt; 95 percent pass eventually. For blacks, the corresponding figures are 61 percent and 78 percent.

Pretty damning, I would say.


Is Our Best Ally In Trouble?

Tony Blair seems to be striking a ridiculously humble approach to the British electorate in his be for re-election a few months hence.

Tony Blair admitted yesterday that he became arrogant in his first seven years as Prime Minister as he began a personal campaign to regain the trust of voters in time for the general election. . .

Striking a deliberately humble tone, he said he had learned over the past year, by going out and discussing issues with the people, how "tough" life was for most of them. He realised that his success as a politician depended on a blend of "listening and learning".

Pursuing the new self-critical approach, he said: "I understand why some people feel angry - not just over Iraq but many of the difficult decisions we have made," he told delegates. "And, as ever, a lot of it is about me."

This is not the bold, forceful leadership we in the States so valued in this man over the last four years. I would be sad to see this important ally reduced--it seems obvious that even victory would bring about a weakening of his leadership.

On the other hand, defeat for Tony Blair most likely means a Tory victory--a conservative victory. This would be startling, and perhaps a very good thing for Europe.

In Honor Of Valentine's Day

A British researcher has discovered that love has many similarities to madness.

The idea of love as a form of mental illness "is not as absurd as it sounds," author John Preston said, reviewing Mr. Tallis' book for the London Daily Telegraph. "Love ... shares a lot of symptoms with various forms of psychopathology, notably obsession, depression, mania and manic depression."

I think, really, the important question is this: which of the two, love or madness, is the symptom, and which is the pathology?

The "Nuclear Option" In Reach

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he has the 51 votes needed to change Senate rules and make it easier for Republicans to overcome Democratic filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominees, but he hopes such a change won't be necessary.

Perhaps the good doctor has a little more backbone than we'e gotten used to seeing from majority leaders. This would be a very good thing, if for no other reason than the threat of it could force the Dems to do their job. But they know that not only will they be unable to meet Ralph Nees' demands, but in the process they will look like (and only because they are) losers. Having this happen to them would be devestating--lose, and disappoint the base.

If he pulls this off, I might be inclined to push Frist to the front of the 2008 pack.


Some Cautious Optimism

A couple of militant groups in Palestine have said that, while not adhering to the cease-fire, they will enter in a period of "quietude."

Of course, at the same time, word comes out that Hezbollah is plotting to assassinate Mahmoud Abbas.

I suppose even getting two groups to stop shooting is progress. Sadly for the whole region, two is just a drop in the bucket.

As Much In What They Don't Cover . . .

This story about Benan Sevon blocking a U.N. audit broke about five hours ago. In my mind, this is a pretty significant story, certainly the sort of thing worthy of a headline in the International News section of a newspaper.

And yet, looking at the online sites, there is precious little coverage of the story. The MSNBC website has no link to it. The WashTimes has the link above, in a fairly easy-to-find place on their website. The NewYorkTimes has a link, but it's well down the page and not anywhere you would see it if you weren't looking for it. USAToday has no link (though it does have a whole section devoted to the North Korea "crisis"). The WaPost has no link to be found. Even the London Daily Telegraph is link-empty. FoxNews, of course, has the link.

You would think, given the surprise factor of Eason Jordan's resignation, that newspapers would try to be as quick to get news out there as they could be, if for no other reason than to pretend to be credible.

By the way, if the head of the OFF both benefitted personally from the program and blocked UN internal audits of the program, this is a much bigger scandal than anything Enron perpetrated.

Captain Ed has some excellent analysis up already.


More Education Reform

I'm always interested to hear about education reform trends--most of them (lately, anyway) are little more than belated common sense.

Like this one:

New York State, desperate to improve the quality of its middle schools, is giving educators more freedom to experiment, relaxing some of the strict requirements that for two decades have dictated how many minutes students spend on specific subjects.

The new policy, which the Board of Regents announced yesterday, will give educators in failing schools the ability to spend less time on nonacademic subjects like arts and home and career skills and more time on math and reading, if they see fit.

Remarkable that a liberal haven like New York would reform by returning some of the control to the local schools.

However, the cause for this reform should give everybody a very disheartening pause:

The policy was approved after a nearly three-year process in which the state's Education Department scoured the country to figure out what makes middle schools work, but failed to find one successful model to bring back to New York. [emphasis mine]

If you have kids, and wonder what middle school is going to be like for them, well . . . think home school.

Leave It To The Times. . .

to spin Ward Churchill as nothing more than a provocateur and victim.

The storm of controversy that has blown up around Professor Churchill over his essay about the Sept. 11 attacks, with its reference to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann - the "technocrats" at the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns," Professor Churchill said - has turned the professor into a talking point and a political punch line. On conservative talk radio, on campuses across the country, and especially here in Boulder, debate about Professor Churchill means debate about freedom of speech, the solemnity of Sept. 11 and the supposed liberal bias of academia.

Many people here say that the professor - with his scholarly record under investigation by the university l and with Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, calling for his dismissal - has become a symbol of academic expression under fire. Others worry that subjects like Sept. 11 have become "sacred," and cordoned off from unpopular analysis. Some say that the vitriolic debate itself is the message and that people have been transformed into mirror images of the man they love or loathe - little Churchills, as it were, who are just as entrenched, over-the-top and, apparently, eager to offend as he himself.

SUPPOSED liberal bias?

Anywaym, I just couldn't be any prouder of my alma mater. Sheesh.


Almost Graceful

From the Wash Times:

Former President Jimmy Carter, who predicted that elections in Iraq would fail and in the past year described the Bush administration's policy there as a quagmire, this week ended 10 days of silence to declare the historic Iraqi vote "a very successful effort."
"I hope that we'll have every success in Iraq," Mr. Carter said in a CNN interview. "And that election, I think, was a surprisingly good step forward."

As I ws reading this, I couldn't help but picture the Fonz. "I was wwr...w..wu...wr... I'm s..s..s.. sor. . .so..s..."

You would think he'd find a way to be more garacious about this, given that his one "achievement" of his life has come completely unraveled now that Pyongyang has claimed to have nuclear weapons.

Tort Reform, Step One

The Senate today passed--and rather easily--a bill that would change the rules on how class-action lawsuits are brought across state lines. This seems to be the (hopefully) the first step towards legitimate tort reform in this country.

In a note of local interest, both Colorado Senators voted in favor of this bill. Yes, even the lawyer, Ken Salazar.


Oh, The Cruelty

The Washington Post is reporting that women interrogators at Gitmo used sexual tactics.

Female interrogators repeatedly used sexually suggestive tactics to try to humiliate and pry information from devout Muslim men held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a military investigation not yet public and newly declassified accounts from detainees.

The prisoners have told their lawyers, who compiled the accounts, that female interrogators regularly violated Muslim taboos about sex and contact with women. The women rubbed their bodies against the men, wore skimpy clothes in front of them, made sexually explicit remarks and touched them provocatively, at least eight detainees said in documents or through their attorneys.

So many thoughts, so little time. . . So I'll just go stream of consciousness on this, and don't think less of me for it.

I wonder what category of the Geneva Conventions this is covered by.

Are we going to see pictures of this, like we did Abu Graib? Cuz.. . well, never mind.

Seriously, no disrespect, but. . . I really don't think there are that many Marines that look like Catherine Bell. Which makes some of the possibilities for this, well, distasteful.

Given all the choices of possible torture, does this strike anybody else as a "best-case" scenario?

"Nobody expects the Comfy Chair."

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice to say I find the idea that members of our military might be prosecuted for this seems to be stretching reasonableness to new, absurd lengths.


Branson, Colorado Is On The Map

With no grocery store or gas station and a population of 77 souls, this desert village seems an unlikely home for a fast-growing public school that has enrolled students from all across Colorado.

There are just 65 students attending Branson's lone brick and mortar school, but there are an additional 1,000 enrolled in its online affiliate. And with the state paying school districts $5,600 per pupil, Branson Online has been a bonanza. Founded in 2001, it has received $15 million so far.

This is how the story in the WednesdayNew York Times opens. This is sort of innovation and clever thinking that educators who have a less insular view of the world should be doing on a daily basis.

Of course, the report isn't all rosy--the academic performance of such schools is mixed. So who comes to the rescue?? Yep, you guessed it--your not-so-friendly local legislator.

State Senator Sue Windels, a Democrat who heads the Education Committee, introduced a bill last month that would tighten the monitoring of online schools.

You had to know that was coming.

And, I wonder when the last time Branson was mentioned in the Times.

Funny Numbers On Medicare

From the Wash Post: The White House released budget figures yesterday indicating that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost more than $1.2 trillion in the coming decade, a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003

From the New York Times:The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit on Tuesday, saying it would cost $720 billion in the next 10 years.

That is much more than the $400 billion Congress assumed when it passed legislation creating the benefit in late 2003.

Yeah, sure. . . but what's $500 billion between friends?

So what accounts for this discrepancy? Oh, just a little thing a little later in the WaPo article:

Last night, he acknowledged that the cumulative cost of the program between 2006 and 2015 will reach $1.2 trillion, but he cited several major savings and offsets that he said will reduce the federal government's bottom-line cost to $720 billion.

I wonder if the Post deliberately put that paragraph after the banner headline and opening paragraph announcing 1.2 tril?? Nah, I don't wonder.

On a side note, this strikes me as a massively expensive program. But I think what we need to know about this is how much do these drugs reduce the need for hospitalization and in/out-patient procedures? Does this drug benefit actually ultimately reduce the costs to the feds because patient management is easier than emergancy care?

I don't know. And I don't think anybody does, yet. This is the sort of thing that should be tracked by media.


Of Ward Churchill

I actually have nothing to add here. Josh pretty much owns this story--everything you want to know about this whack-job professor is here.

Too Busy To Blog For Real

Just one of those days, ya know? It just felt like the very best I could do was to keep my head above water.

And I made it. But not much left.

So I'll leave you tonight with a link and a thought. The link: Truce to be declared. And the thought: though we've been down this road before, and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, it would seem as though the President's much-derided policy has, again, been vindicated.

Wonder if he'll be put up for the Nobel Peace Prize after this.

Nah, I don't wonder. The talking heads will all say "they did it themselves." And isn't that the point? The real peace could only ever be as a result of them doing it without being cajoled into it by a President or anybody else.


Um. . .This Just In??

The WaPo is at its perceptive best as it reports that Iraqis' attitudes towards the insurgency seems to be shifting a bit.

With a hero who gave his life for the elections, a revived national anthem blaring from car stereos and a greater willingness to help police, the public mood appears to be moving more clearly against the insurgency in Iraq, political and security officials said.

In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country.

I wonder if the Dem chorus of "yeah, but. . . " is going to come to realize what everybody else seems to already have recognized--last weekend's vote was a seminal moment.

Now, if only we could get Ted Kennedy to shift his attitude.


More Social Security Info

Perfect timing, given last night's post.

This morning's NYTimes has a surprisingly balanced accounting of what the President's plan for Social Security would look like for a worker.

Take somebody who will be 19 this year and will enter the workforce in 2011 . . . earning $38,566 in today's dollars. This employee - who currently faces a 6.2 percent wage tax, matched by his employer - would be allowed to place as much as 4 percent of his wages in a personal account. To reflect the substantially lower contributions to the standard Social Security system, though, the standard benefit would be considerably lower than under current law. The basic benefit, . . . would be cut by the amount contributed to the personal account, plus a sum that reflected the gains from investing it at a rate of return of 3 percent above inflation.

The worker could still come out ahead under these terms. If the account were to earn an average 4.9 percent a year after inflation, minus 0.3 percent in fees - the figure often cited by White House officials based on estimates by the Social Security actuaries of the expected returns of a mixed portfolio of stocks and bonds - the worker's piggy bank would grow to more than $188,000 in today's dollars if he invested the maximum allowed, according to calculations by Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Taken as an annuity payment that would last the rest of his life, that money would generate $11,270 a year, or $940 a month, Mr. Baker found. Even after the offset carved out of the standard Social Security check, this worker's retirement benefit would add up to $24,530 in today's dollars, or $2,044 a month. That would be substantially more than the $21,220 a year - or $1,771 a month - that Social Security currently promises a medium wage worker after a similar career ending in 2050.

But there are other possibilities. As investors discovered in 2000, stocks can fall in value and stay down for some time. If a poor equity market or ill-timed investments left the average return on this worker's personal account at just 1 percent better than inflation, instead of 4.6 percent, the benefit would add up to only $18,650 a year, or $1,550 a month.

Ah, yes, but then that additional money (which my quick math tells me is about $500 per month) STAYS WITH HIM AND HIS FAMILY!! It's HIS money, not the goverments, and when he dies, the money stays with the peopleto whom it rightfully belongs. Sure, the monthly benefit isn't much, but it's more than his family would get without a personal account.

Just something to chew on.

Not A Lot Of Serious Going On, So . . .

let's make a prediction on the Super Bowl.

'Cuz I'm so good at predicting stuff.

Until someone knocks them down, the champ is still the champ. And in getting to the Super Bowl the Patriots have dismantled a team that wins with spped and finesse and a team that wins with power and strength. And, frankly, neither of those teams were even in the same class as the Patriots. And I haven't seen anything from the Eagles that would lead me to believe that they are in that class, either.

Patriots 37, Eagles 16.


Am I Seeing This Right?

I've been working pretty hard to try to get my arms around the whole social security thing. I'm not an actuary, and I don't play one on TV, so it's all pretty vague to my mind. So what I'm trying to do is come up with an analogy--let me try it out on you and somebody out there tell me if I'm on the right track.

Let's say Social Security, as it stands right now, is your dad's Oldsmobile. Comfortable, but not glamourous; steady, but not fast; and when you're done with it (i.e. you die) your car goes back to where it came from.

What I think the President is trying to create is a two-car system. One of them, the two-thirds of your taxes, is your dad's Oldsmobile, but the compact model. It may only be about 60% of what you used to get, but it has all the characteristics of the old car. But on top of that, if you want to, you can get a second car. This one is not as steady or certain, but it does have the potential to be a real performance model--it could also be a lemon. The difference is, when you're done with this second car, you get to pass to down to your heirs.

So I guess, as much as you're willing to undertake risk, you might get unsteady returns which could be great or could be weak--but it's yours.

Is this close? For my money, give me that second way--even if it's not going to outperform my dad's Oldsmobile. When given the choice of two uncertain policies, it seems to me that the best approach is to take the route that involves more, not less, liberty.

By the way, can somebody PUH-LEEEZE explain that the President's plan involves VOLUNTARY personal account diversion. If you all (speaking to the left) are so darn certain that this ship won't float, then don't opt in. But leave me the freedom to do as I please, if you don't mind.

Of Ward Churchill

I have avoided this topic for the last week or so, despite the heat of the debate, and for several reasons.

One, as a C.U. alum, this didn't shock, surprise, or frankly, even raise an eyebrow. I was at CU from 87-91, during which time I lived through the anti-apartheid/divestment movement, the Nichols Hall movement, and then, eventually, the protests to the first Gulf War. There was this character at CU who would spend his entire day screaming at anybody who happened to walk by "his" UMC Fountain about the evils of capitalism, the greed and corruption of "the man", and any other topic he happened to wander onto. Me and my buddies called him the Fountain Rat--he could have easily been Ward Churchill. During the anti-apartheid days, a movement got afoot to try to force CU to divest from South Africa, and any company that did business with South Africa. At its height, this movement spawned a shanty town, in which hundreds of these students(?) lived in boxes and under cardboard props and in sleeping boxes--in the UMC Fountain area. There was another series of protests by American Indian groups (I don't know if Churchill was among them) in front of my dorm,which at the time was called Nichols Hall. Apparently the man whom the Hall was named after took part in the Sand Creek Massacre; never mind that he also went to extraordinary lengths later in life to secure funding for the University from the legislature. The Dorm is now called Cheyenne-Arapahoe Hall. And, of course, the first Gulf War was cause of much campus radical activism and goofiness. So, though memories fade, none of what Churchill has said or done seems out of the norm of University behavior.

Secondly, I try never to devote much thought or energy to idiots who, ultimately, have very little power or influence in the world. When Ted Kennedy spouts off, that's important because he's--near as anyone can tell--the leading intellectual/ideological light of the Democratic Party at the moment; when Ward Churchill spouts off, most people go "who?" Besides, there's an old Chinese proverb about wise men arguing with fools, and he definitely fits in that third category.

And third, I thought that eventually either Churchill or his supporters would reeal themselves for the childish, churlish, moronic, hate-filled fascists that they really are. And today's exhibition at the Board of Regents meeting certainly accomplished that.

About 100 supporters of Ward Churchill showed up at a University of Colorado Board of Regents meeting called to discuss the controversial professor.

While the meeting was initially open to the public, no time was scheduled for comment. Instead, Churchill's supporters spoke and booed during the proceedings until one student was escorted out by police and the regents voted to convene the rest of the time behind closed doors.

After the regents left the room, a shoving match ensued between one man and an officer. In the end, two people were arrested.

What they are revealed for, these disciples of Ward Churchill, are hypocrites who espouse the wonders of free speech but are willing to resort to violence to prevent others from exercising their own free speech. This is the danger of a man like Ward Churchill, who I suspect is slightly sociopathic and delusional with a heavy dose of a messiah complex. His type finds weak minds to manipulate and then drives them to excesses of behavior to which he himself is unwilling to resort, all the while living quite comfortably on his $100k salary and tenure.

And that's all I'm gonna say on this.

But if you want more intelligent and thorough commentary, check out Joshua's work on this, or go the Caplis and Silverman website (the two radio deejays who have really been driving this story)


Early Reactions

From the WaPo:

The personal accounts Mr. Bush advocated are intelligently structured in many ways. The requirement that workers, on retirement, use at least part of their money to buy annuities to keep them above the poverty level; the prohibition on workers withdrawing money before retiring; the default investment plan of a "lifestyle account" that would shift workers, as they age, into less risky investment blends -- all of these are sensible approaches. but. . . .

Remarkably, almost all the world outside the greater Middle East -- Russia, China, Africa, Latin America -- went unmentioned. Disappointingly, so did U.S. foreign aid beyond Palestine. Those topics appeared to fall victim to Mr. Bush's desire to refocus attention on domestic policy, an ambition that a still-dangerous world may complicate during the coming year.

Notice something missing? Let's see if we find it elsewhere.

From the NYTimes:

The State of the Union speech has come in recent years to be a laundry list of everything the president would do if he had the power to do everything. Bill Clinton was a particular fan of that approach, and polls have always shown that Americans like it. Last night, George W. Bush delivered a modified version, with a raft of initiatives that included some things new but a great deal that was very familiar. We were pleased to hear the call for better defense in death-penalty cases and more community health centers in poor areas, and the mention of $350 million in aid for Palestinians to promote the peace process with Israel. but . . . . But we were disheartened by the renewed call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and the failure to mention development aid to Africa or virtually any other country that is not identified as a prime source of terrorism.

Still missing something. hmmm . . . .

How about the Gallup Poll, via USA Today:

(+/- numbers reflect pre-speech poll to post-speech poll; note the survey polled 52%Rep, 25%Dem, 22%Ind)

Overall impression: 86% positive, 13% negative; 60% very positive

Overall policies right/wrong direction: +10
economy right/wrong: +6.5
healthcare right/wrong: +13.5
SOCIAL SECURITY right/wrong: +12
Iraq right/wrong: +11.5

In his speech, do you think George W. Bush did, or did not, make a convincing case that the government needs to take action in the next year or two to change the Social Security system?

Yes: 74% No: 24%

While the sample was, in truth, skewed, you have to note that the President moved the ball down the field tonight. And the two broad questions both have results that can not be explained away by the 52% Rep in the sample--the only way to get the results that he got would be to also convince EVERY independent. Not very likely.

And the political gauntlet is down. As for the Dems, the best that can be said of their response was that they tripped on the gauntlet. Reid is remarkably dull, and Pelosi has all the credibility on foreign affairs that, well, I do.

But the two majors both failed to mention the inescapable image, the one that will be on the Today Show, The CBSMorning Show, and everywhere else tomorrow. The image of the American mom hugging the Iraqi mom is an indescribably powerful image, that wordlessly justifies both Iraq and the Bush Doctrine.

The Dems may want to come up with an agenda. The fallback position of being a blockade is not going to be enough to slow down this President.


Interesting Politics Read

USA Today ran an interesting story today profiling some of the voters who can't be called Republican but who voted for the President in November, all of whom came from counties that switched from Al Gore in 2000 to GW in 2004. It also has a five-point analysis of what caused these counties to swing.

Interesting factoid from within the article:

Still, across the nation, the shift was striking: 153 counties that voted Democratic for president in 1996 and 2000 chose Bush in 2004; only 11 chose Democrat John Kerry after voting Republican in 1996 and 2000.

Not a must-read, but interesting if you have some time.

On Social Security Reform

Bob Kerrey--yeah, the one who shot all his credibility to hell in the 9-11 Commission hearings--penned a piece for the OJO this morning encouraging the liberals to get involved in a substantive way in the President's push to reform Social Security.

The late Pat Moynihan used to joke when I asked him why liberals were so reluctant to consider changing Social Security so that it guaranteed wealth as well as income: "It's because they worry that wealth will turn Democrats into Republicans." Leaving aside that possible correlation, it will be a shame if liberal voices, values and ideas are not brought into the debate initiated by President Bush's Social Security reform proposal. . . However, liberals are wrong to fear that President Bush's proposal represents a threat to Social Security.

I sincerely hope they do not merely defend their proudest achievement. I hope they see that President Bush is giving them an opportunity to finally do something about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Not all of Kerrey's thoughts are on the money, but simply the fact that he's not shooting the reforms down is remarkable. It shows that maybe, somewhere in the Democratic Party, are people willing to look at problems and address them. And even if their conclusions are flawed, its better than sticking your head in the sand.

As Kerrey said: None of this will happen if liberals merely shout "hell no, we won't go." The best they can hope for with that strategy is to prevent reform from happening. They should feel no pride of accomplishment if that is the result.

Another Call For School Reform

The New York Times ran an editorial this morning calling for fundamental changes to the way America delivers high school education.

The achievement gap between rich and poor students is narrowing in some states, thanks to the added resources and better instruction that are a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. But that good news is largely limited to the early grades. Progress is stalled in high schools, where more states are slipping behind than are making progress, and American teenagers have lost ground when compared with their peers in other industrialized nations. The United States, which once led the world in high school graduation rates, has plummeted to 17th - well behind France, Germany and Japan.

The American high school is a big part of the problem. Developed a century ago, the standard factory-style high school was conceived as a combination holding area and sorting device that would send roughly one-fifth of its students on to college while moving the rest directly into low-skill jobs. It has no tools to rescue the students who arrive unable to read at grade level but are in need of the academic grounding that will qualify them for 21st-century employment.

First of all, notice that the Times gave credit to the President for No Child Left Behind.

But once you get your breath back after that, recognize that this is a fundamentally excellent point. What is happening in too many high schools right now is students who arrive with very weak skills have very little opportunity to catch up. Even worse, if they are given the chance to "make it up," it is in a setting which not only tells them they're behind, but it more often than not communicates to them that NONE of the things that interest them (art, music, etc. . .) are important or valuable.

I would argue that the Times doesn't go far enough in calling for reform. Certainly, the elementary schools have been quicker to adapt to NCLB, and some of the progress that is being made at that level is remarkable. But even at this level the ability to recognize and adapt to a student who is behind is limited. I have a theory, which has been validated to some degree by people who have vastly more experience than me, that if a student falls one year behind, it can be made up with one focused year of work; if two, two; if more than two years behind, the odds of getting that student back up to grade level are remote.

And these are the kids who learn how to game the system to sneak past the weak rigor of the late elementary and middle school, who then become the students that the Times is talking about.

I've written before that there is coming a time on the not-too-distant horizon where we're going to have to start looking at big changes in how we finance public education; I also think we need to get more creative about how we provide public education.

Which is where charter schools come in. If only school bureaucracies would recognize the opportunity to open their own charter schools--or franchise out--and use them as laboratory experiments to implement new, creative ways of delivering education to our children. Unfortunately, the inertia of the public school makes it almost impossible to implement large-scale reforms from within.

Which, again, is where charter schools come in. . .

I Guessed This Was Where This Was Going

When I got an e-mail from Sue Windels about a month ago, in which she announced her intention to introduce a bill related to charter schools. At the time, I voiced some concern that she would be trying to rein in the autonomy of charter schools.

I was wrong. Her bill is actually intended to cut back the authority of the state charter school institute, which would reduce chartering authority to only the school districts, some of which are hostile to charters. I've blogged on this topic before.

But today the Rocky Mountain News picks up the ball:

The new chair of the Senate Education Committee, Arvada Democrat Sue Windels, has lost no time making her priorities clear. She has introduced Senate Bill 71, which would eviscerate Colorado's charter school movement. Her counterpart on the House Education Committee, Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs, is the other major sponsor.

The chief mischief of the bill is that it explicitly expands the grounds on which a local school board can deny a charter application. A district hostile to charters - and there are a few - need only demonstrate that "approval of the charter application is likely to adversely affect the quality or viability of programs and services offered by existing schools in the school district."

I'm glad to see that one of the major dailies has chosen to keep a light shining on this committee in the legislature. There's only so much I can do from here, but the Rocky can certainly make a big noise here.

I'll let the conclusion of the Rocky editorial speak for itself:

All in all, SB 71 is a pernicious measure, and we hope legislators from both parties who have supported charter schools in the past will recognize it for what it is.

Just To Keep Perspective

Yes, the MSM has been quick to remind us that this is just the first step in the process, and that the Iraqis have yet to prove their ability to write a constitution that guarantees rights for minorities, and form a government, and so on.

It would be funny to see how these guys would have covered the first 12 years of this country.

Well, yes, Dan, the Continental Army seems to be poorly supplied, has not planned very well for this military effort against the British, and have had to beg the French for support. . .

So, the British have left now, but it remains to be seen whether this experiment in governance can get a foothold on this continent. With all the factions and in-fighting, it's hard to imagine a scenario where this will end as the optimists say it will. . .

Tom, it's been five years since the Continental Congress was formed, and they still haven't retired the national debt, and seem to have very little plan for enforcing national levies. . .

So, from outside Convention Hall in Philadelphia, where the leading lights of American government have been debating for two months without anything to show for it, I'm Kat Scratch--back to you, Peter. . .

So finally, eleven years after declaring independence, and after three months of secretive debate, the Convention has published the results of its deliberations. And after all that, they still had three members who were unwilling to sign on to the document. It would appear this new Constitution has a long road to becoming a reality, after these first small steps in what everybody hopes, is the right direction.

Just my impression.

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?