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


What I Wish One Of Our Guys Would Have the Fortitude To Say 

scene: hypothetical press conference

enter Conservative candidate

Press: Are you concerned that this extremely divisive law passed by a neanderthal legislature in Arizona will lead to lynchings and a Nazi-like policing regime that forces Hispanics to live in constant fear?

Candidate: I must admit, this new law in Arizona, which enjoys the "divided" support of better than 60% of Arizonans, does concern me. I never, in my life, imagined a time when a state of this union would need to pass a law specifically spelling out that something already deemed "illegal" would actually be illegal. Imagine that: illegal immigration is now illegal in the state of Arizona. It's crazy. Next thing you know other states may follow Arizona's lead and start making all kinds of different things illegal, like soliciting campaign contributions from foreigners or evading taxes or bombing the Pentagon. What kind of a world would that be?

Arizona has an enormous problem: its border is being overrun. The violence in the state is on the rise while it is dropping elsewhere, the kidnapping capitol of the country is now Arizona, and individual ranchers along the border are being forced to pay a tribute of food and water so as to avoid becoming a target for violence. This is a problem that there are laws in place to prevent; so I ask you, what good are the laws? Arizona has a sovereign right to deal with its problem in its own way if the laws that are currently in place are inadequate to do so. Clearly, they are.

As to the fear that this would lead to a police state, nobody--and certainly not this law--would favor giving police the right to pull people over at random and ask for some identification and a little information. That would be very intrusive, and we would never do that. Except, of course, unless we suspected that somebody somewhere might be drinking alcohol. Then we'd set up checkpoints at random, pull cars out at random intervals, ask for identifaction, and administer a very invasive . . . oh, wait. Why would it be okay to do this for alcohol but not for illegal entry into the country?

But nobody would want the police to have the authority to pull them over, demand to see their papers, and then if there's any question at all about them to haul them into jail to await a "clearing up" of the issue. Why, that would make us awful people--we'd be just like Mexico if we were to do that.

If we're going to call an activity "illegal," we ought to deal with it as illegal. You can make all the arguments you want about "jobs Americans won't do" and "hard working people taking care of their families," but the same could, at one time, have been said of many people within Al Capone's organization. Illegal is illegal. You need an i.d. to check out a movie at Blockbuster; you need an I.D. to get into a YMCA--I don't think it's too big of a deal to ask you to have an I.D. that shows that you belong in this country.


Re: SB 191--Teacher Tenure Reform 

It's about time I wade in to this debate. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am a public school teacher in my 19th year who has bought all the proper pay raises (by getting advanced degrees), but I am not a member of the union.

Before I go in to the merits, did you notice who is lined up for this and who is lined up against this? In Sunday's Post, the front page picture of a teacher in support of this and the editorial in support of the reform are both of teachers who work for charter schools, and the "counter", the two teachers who oppose it, are both people who teach in normal public schools. Reform vs. Status Quo, "outsider" vs. "system", independents vs. Big Education. Just wanted to point that out right away.

This bill would effectively eliminate teacher tenure, making the teacher evaluation process 50% administrator review and 50% student growth on standardized tests. After two years of poor student performance (or bad administrative review), the teacher will lose nonprobationary status and be subject to the rules of at-will employment.

On its face, this bill seems to accomplish a thing that has been needed for a long time: remove the safety net. From anecdotal evidence, I can tell you the process for removing a tenured teacher who is bad but who chooses to fight dismissal can take a long LONG time--up to seven years in some cases. And that was just to eliminate one teacher, and the building had a few others that needed that process but "had to wait their turn." A bad teacher has a lot of safeguards in place, and the public perception (not entirely inaccurately) is that the union exists to protect bad teachers' jobs.

But in an odd twist, I tend to side with the opposition to this bill. First of all, the push for this is the same as it ever was--because we're falling behind other countries, and the federal government is giving money to states that are willing to play ball. Unfortunately there is no evidence from those countries that the criteria the federals have set up are the ones that make them SO darned effective. And for that matter, is there any reason to think that by simply following the feds on this one that it will work? Again, we're chasing at phantoms without really looking at what the other countries have learned works! So on top of that, I add the same reason that I dislike Colorado's current sudent assessment: the only people actually being tested are not the same ones for whom the consequences fall. If the students decide that they have no interest in performing well on the test, then oh well for them; but for their teachers and schools the consequences are substantial and meaningful.

Unfortunately the union is in the same public relations position its been in for years: opposition to change. The Post hints with its editorial headline that the union's position is sort of "we know that reform is necessary, but this is the wrong mechanism." Well, great!--exactly what would a good mechanism look like? The union has unfortunately squandered any credibility it may have had on this issue: they've owned the statehouse for six years--where was their proposal!?! For that matter, when was the last time the teachers union came up with a single idea for meaningful reform?

So I do not think the unions' reasoning is very good on this one, but I find myself on the same side of the debate. Find a way to tie any aspect of a students' life to their performance on the same test that you will be using to evaluate teachers, and you can likely count on my support. But as long as teachers are the ones paying for the quirks and sins of the children, meaningful reform--however well-intentioned--will continue to elude us.


A Question 

Remember not so long ago, in a country very much like how ours used to be, there was a political party that was up in arms about its opposition calling it "un-American." Never mind that not a single person in the leadership of the opposition ever actually said "un-American," that's entirely beside the point because the media never told you that part. No, it was special for reasons other than the media; the Democrats were afraid that Republican accusations of "un-American" activities would stifle debate and opposition.

Do you suppose that Bill Clinton going out and comparing the Tea Party to the militias that spawned Timothy McVeigh was any less an attempt to stifle opposition to Barack Obama. The empty rhetoric that the left regularly employs is hideous and is absolutely calculated to stifle debate. Don't like affirmative action? "RACIST!" Don't like illegal immigration? RACIST!! Oppose the President's plans? RACIST!HOMOPHOBE!AND DANGEROUS RIGHT-WING HATE-MONGER!!

There's only rarely a debate in which the Left is willing to constructively engage and try to sell their points. Our side needs to do that on a regular basis. To wit: take a page from Abraham Lincoln and show up at one of your opponents' public speeches, then invite the crowd to stay for 15 more minutes to hear your rebuttal or to come back tomorrow for the same. TAKE THE ARGUMENT TO THEM because they can't win if they have to argue specifics.

And don't let Clinton et al . throw ya'--ignore him or mock him, but stay focused on your own message.


You Want Real Education Reform? 

Maybe we should all start the conversation by reading this article in the current edition of Time Magazine (courtesy Hot Air).

No, I don't think genuine school reform starts with paying students to do well in school. And that really isn't what the study this article reports on says. If I can distill it down as best I can, what the article really says (with a few caveats) is that when students are rewarded for good habits, those good habits tend to stick, and lead to better performance. Students who get rewards for good test scores show little improvement; students who get rewards for good grades show a little improvement; students who get rewards for good attendance show modest improvement; students who get rewards for reading on their own make significant improvement.

This is really nothing new: ask any coach or musician what the real purpose of practicing is, and they will (should!) tell you that the purpose is developing habits. Yes, it's all well and good to learn the plays or the notes and rhythms, but the habit of doing a thing to the point of achievement leads to greater and greater achievements.

What a concept.

It's not the reward part of this that fascinates me the most; it is the idea that focusing on habits is what leads to results, NOT focusing on outcomes or other extrinsic measures along the way. Grade inflation? Teaching to the test? Even standardized testing? Not that important, unless we spend the time in the schools encouraging good habits, reinforced how ever we need to (ideally, of course, by a parent trying to encourage the same good habits.)

By the way, for consistently smart commentary on education issues, check out Ben's blog and also EdNews Colorado.


The System Can Not POSSIBLY Sustain This 

Three stories have been running together in my mind for the last several days, and I think my thoughts on them have finally congealed to the point that I can write something lucid.

I know--nice change, huh?

First, it would seem that about half of all Americans pay no income taxes any more. If you haven't seen Mark Steyn's take on this, it is a must-read. And generally you would think that I would like fewer people having to prop up the federal government, right? The problem is, if fewer people are paying taxes, how are we going to pay for . . .

Two-thirds of all states have run out of money to pay unemployment benefits. TWO THIRDS! In order to meet their obligations, states are borrowing huge sums of cash from the federal government (California, for instance, has already borrowed $8.4 billion) And with unemployment continuing to hover around ten percent, those benefits are not going to be diminishing any time soon, it would seem. Even if one of the recent efforts to "stimulate" the economy weren't . . .

99 weeks of unemployment insurance, backed up by the federal government. That's nearly two years worth of the government paying people a portion of their previous income if they can't find new work. The problem is several-fold: one, the system is easy to game so that it looks like you can't find work as opposed to won't find work; two, the system is cooked to encourage the unemployed to not do much to help themselves--it's better to rely entirely on unemployment, rather than find something part-time to help out; three, it probably never occurred to these people that two years of reliance on one source of income probably creates a somewhat dependent relationship--once on the dole, doesn't it make a lot more sense to continue voting for people who will keep you on the dole. (Full disclosure: my family has dealt with Unemployment, as the Bewitching Mrs. BestDestiny was one of the first to feel the brunt of the housing collapse--it is, like all bureaucracies, a joke. Just the sort of people we want running health care. But that's for another day . . .)There is a decent place in America for a safety net of unemployment insurance to help keep families afloat, but there is a difference between a life preserver and a yacht!

This is yet another system that the Obama administration is pushing to the brink of collapse. States are borrowing an absurd amount to continue paying people who aren't working, based in large part on the tax money paid by the few remaining people who are still paying taxes. This is a slope that long since stopped being slippery, and is now all-out super-kinetic. When you also consider that the administration is starting to make a push to prevent banks from foreclosing on homes in default, there seems to be a deliberate effort to push the system over the edge.

And, so, big picture: if the burden of paying taxes is shifted to a minority of the people, and the people in the majority are no longer even responsible for working or maintaining their contractual obligations, at what point does dissolution of the union become inevitable? Won't the taxpayers become so disillusioned with the system that they will do anything to end the system? Isn't the only way for those taxes to continue being collected come at the end of a gun? Any guess what the country would start to look like?

Consider this for a thought experiment: what would happen if the only people who were allowed to vote were those who paid taxes? Think the make-up of Congress would change a bit? Yeah, I do too.

It may be too late to turn this one back. The only way this could possibly change is for some politician to come out and tell the absolute truth, and then ask you for your vote even though he/she was going to make your life harder in the short run. Doesn't sound very likely, does it?


Stray Thoughts 

Completely random:

:Go Rockies!! Still in first place!!

: I had a friend once who threw terribly. I think it was because he was a naturally right-handed thrower but his dad made him throw lefty to be different or "special." Problem was it was so unnatural that he never did figure out all the mechanics. Oh, he could look good to a point, but there was always something not quite right, and the ball never managed to get to where it was supposed to go (something about a "release point"). The President throws like that now!

:Congratulations Butler on a game and gutsy performance. A little bit more forgiving rim, and who knows? Either of those last two shots could have been the game winner, but instead they bounced harlmessly into the awaiting hands of a Duke BlueDevil.

:YES!! I'm saying the President throws terribly. Do I really think Obama is capable of a cynical show of left-handedness like I'm suggesting? Of course I am!! For a guy who's supposed to be a good athlete, he looks pretty stupid at the foundational athletic skill of throwing! So what are the odds of that as opposed to left hand being his unnatural choice?


The Syndrome Can Be Chronic, Not Fatal 

The 2006 and 2008 elections and the Health Care debate tell us that the American character has aged—we are no longer the brash, vibrant, and reckless people who dominated the latter half of the 20th century; we are much more akin to our older brothers and cousins in Europe who prefer a governmental infrastructure to manage risks and make sure that nobody has to face hardships alone. England just announced that government spending represents 52% of their economy—kinda like the older brother whose grown daughter just moved back home with her heavily-tattooed boyfriend. France has a subculture of Muslim immigrants who live in slums, go to madrassas and who never assimilate—like the aunt whose hip replacement forces her to be a shut-in. And Greece is, well . . . Greece is in hospice care.

We can fight aging. I watch what I eat (a little) and exercise more than I used to so that the effects of aging are put off. The country can do that, too: the renewed interest in the Founding Fathers and the civic engagement of the Tea Party movement are indices of “youthful vigor.” But it’s easy for that energy to expend itself (like a New Year’s resolution), and it will be critical for that engagement to continue, even through the seemingly unrelated debates about immigration and energy policy. The character of our nation used to be grounded in rule of law and self-sufficiency; “maturity” seeks accommodation and dependence. Which side of the argument will prevail?

Because the problem with aging, even when you fight it, is that it truly is irreversible: it is not possible, as either an individual or as a country, to youthen. And that’s not all bad—none of us reckless young adults would have been in that position if somebody hadn’t been responsible for us enough to help us survive our own follies. But it is different, and it does make us somewhat less exceptional. And when the world needs somebody in twenty years with the spine to stare down a bully, they’ll have to look somewhere else.

We’ll be settling in for our afternoon nap.

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