Friday, February 20, 2009

How the Atlanta Half Lives

We've got Vallas, they've got national Superintendent of the Year Beverly Hall.

She required low-performing schools to implement rigorous programs that focus on literacy and math skills. She increased the amount of training teachers received and she removed weak principals and replaced them with those she deemed better equipped to improve student learning.

State data shows the programs are working. For example, about 72 percent of the system’s students graduated on time in 2008
This is not the Jamaica native's first award, either. She describes some of her plans to improve at-risk urban schools in this December 2006 interview. (That was before Vallas even came to New Orleans.)

Speaking of the superintendent merry-go-round, Hall has been in her current position since 1999. For those of you keeping score:
Hall has been superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, serving 50,000 students, for 10 years, making her one of the longest-serving superintendents of an urban school district. She previously served as state district superintendent of Newark, N.J., Public Schools.

Hall is credited with transforming the 102-school system in Atlanta through a comprehensive reform agenda. Every elementary school in Atlanta made adequate yearly progress in 2008, and graduation rates at several high schools have risen sharply.
At this point, I've read three different articles about her, and I've seen no debate about charter schools or experienced teachers vs. new teachers.

OH, and it looks like Hall oversees a system with 11 accredited high schools, 4 of which gained accreditation during her tenure as superintendent. (And their names are Carver, Booker T., Douglass - and one of them is located on McDonough Blvd....)

For any New Orleanians who are wondering what this "accreditation" business is I speak of, don't worry - not a single RSD or RSD charter school has accreditation - and none of them appear to have plans to apply for it any time soon. But, in case you're an education advocate who wants to see things like "qualified teachers," robust "curriculum," strong "school activities" and stuff like that, SACS provides a nifty primer on what accreditation is. Or, you could just ask folks at Ben Franklin, Lusher, OP Walker, Warren Easton, Edna Karr, McMain or any of the 60 accredited schools in the Archdiocese...

So, even though I hate comparing New Orleans to Atlanta, this is one area where the ATL is painting the floor with NOLA's ass. We ought to bring Hall down here for education conferences and Cowen's educational committee. She may never leave Atlanta, but maybe we can hire someone she mentored at how to do things right. We will have an opening sometime next year....


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Breath of Hope

The title of this post comes from the title of an article in an online newsmagazine. The magazine, flyp, is located at The link above goes directly to the article.

The article itself is a very interesting and exciting piece on what individuals in Detroit have been and are doing to revitalize their neighborhoods. This includes urban agriculture, small businesses, art, literacy programs, etc.

One of the things I found striking about the piece is that the individuals interviewed iterate and reiterate that government is not the answer. The people are. Again and again, you hear those interviewed say in some form: you cannot wait for someone else to make your life better. You have to do it. If we want our communities to be better, we have to do it.

As one such individual said: "We are the leaders we've been waiting for."

Rules of Gunfighting

Fantastic post. My favorites, in order:

23: Your number one option for personal security is a lifelong committment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

10: Someday, someone may kill you with your own gun, but they should have to beat you to death with it because it is empty.

13: Have a back up plan, because the first one won't work.

Also, the article has a bonus link to the 5 Greatest Gunfights of the Old West...


Predators With Pens

Or, what deregulation, lax oversight, no quality control, unethical salespeople, no accountability, and badly written laws end up doing to your economy. You'll notice also that out-of-control medical bills were what started the whole thing. I wonder how many times this story could be repeated across the country?

It is a shame that, when left to its own devices, the free market devolves into cannibalism and anarchy. It is a shame that the government, charged with monitoring such transactions, cannot keep up.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Savannah's Lessons

I don't have to give too much introduction here. I was raised on one of Georgia's Golden Isles, almost half way between two cities that could not be more different - Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia. Trips to Jacksonville were all driving and concrete interstates, glass high-rises and strip malls.

In Savannah, you got out of the car, walked through city squares graced with fountains and statues. Your feet trod over cobblestone paths past wrought iron fences and the facades of great houses whose bricks were baked from the Georgia red clay hundreds of years ago. The heat of the day was filtered through the majesty of live oak branches, dripping with Spanish moss, fading in the evening to the soft glow of gas lamps. When you were there, you didn't think of the interstates or the mall so many miles behind you where Abercorn goes to six lanes - you thought only of watching the cargo ships on the river, the smell of seafood and steaks from the fine restaurants, and the taste of praline samples from the candy store.

In a way, the path that led me to New Orleans started the first time I set foot on Broughton Street and walked north to the Savannah River and I fell in love with the character of place. Maybe it was even earlier when, back in the 30's, a young doctor named Edward asked a young nurse named Catherine on a date, and traced their courtship through those same streets. A different kind of love, to be sure, but no less important as to where my feet come from and where my feet go.

Given enough factors, comparisons between cities can come easily. I've always wondered why such giants as Atlanta and Houston dominate our conversation here. New Orleans is, after all, the youngest sister of the three iconic Southern port cities alongside Charleston and Savannah. They have their inconsolable differences, to be sure, but all siblings do. But there is similarity in the genetic makeup, and they are haunted by similar demons. Such is the price of the family resemblance.

The comparisons started to get interesting a few months ago when the TP ran a series of articles discussing "shrinking cities," with a theme that New Orleans could learn much from such places as Youngstown, Ohio. Maybe she can, but along with that comparison came one with Savannah - a city of 'roughly similar size' (New Orleans ~300K, Savannah ~250K) that was also 'shrinking'.

That the article compared the two was not shocking. Why the article compared the two was almost completely erroneous. It was as if the authors had picked from a list of cities around that population, ignored their metropolitan areas, noticed a downward turn in population and called that similar. They both have rivers, too!

Since that article, I've noticed an uptick of commentary here and there that the powers-that-be in New Orleans are attempting to make the Crescent City more like Savannah, and that this is perceived as a bad thing. I guess the overall sentiment is that, somewhere along the way, Savannah sold its soul and culture to the developers, and they were able to do as they wished. Then I start wondering if these folks are talking about some Savannah on a different planet somewhere.

I mean, if the people in charge of New Orleans' recovery are attempting to make it like Savannah, they're pretty much going about it in every wrong way. Savannah has been at this for a long time, and if you want to talk about wildly successful historic preservation, proactive community involvement, government + citizen groups working together, referendums on new developments, studies on gentrification placing minorities in at-risk situations, enforcement of codes, accountability of landlords and property owners, removal and rehabilitation of blight and speed of response (which are all issues that are killing recovery in New Orleans), you may want to start reading up on some of the successes Savannah has had in those areas.

I ain't sayin' they got it all perfect in Savannah, but can you imagine holding a voter referendum to approve an $800 million development near downtown New Orleans?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Tired Old Argument

Experienced Teachers vs. New Teachers

This train is never late in New Orleans. One of the most ridiculous public policy discussions nationwide, and specifically in Orleans Parish, is the discussion about school acheivement that focuses on teachers. When I first moved to New Orleans in 2006, there was actually a lot of reporting on problems in the RSD. Not enough teachers, no hot lunches for students, lack of classroom space. I remember articles like that driving out the old RSD Superintendent and bringing in wonderboy Vallas. One of the reasons I decided to try teaching for the RSD was the thought that there weren't enough teachers and something needed to be done. As the 2007 - 2008 school year progressed, and hundreds of new teachers were hired, the public discussion moved away from systematic failings and fell on two other divisive arguments: "charter schools vs. 'regular' schools" and the "experienced teacher vs. new teacher" debate.

At least the "charter schools vs. 'regular' schools" argument had further reaching policy ramifications. The "experienced teachers vs new teachers" debate is simply the most ludicrous red-herring involving student acheivement there is. It smacks of politics over effectiveness, and ignores systematic issues that affect all classrooms. That local newsmakers continue to return to this 'issue' suggests either a misunderstanding of who actually runs schools or a decided lack of access (or interest) to investigating more pressing matters.

Riots, brawls, student-on-student and student-on-teacher assaults are terribly underreported. So are the reasons these things happen. But it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out it ain't the teacher's fault when a student commits what would be a felony - and they are back in class the next day. No, that ain't on the teacher. That's on the principal and on the superintendent. And if you have a principal or superintendent that cannot create an atmosphere of safety for students and teachers (experienced or new), student acheivement is going to suffer.

Fires, theft, vandalism fall into the same "school is a safe place" boat. That it took 6 fires in a week to be reported in the Times-Pic regarding one historic, local high school, and nothing was mentioned about the school being opened without adequate fire safety mechanisms (fire alarms, extinguishers, locked exit doors) is flat out unbelievable. Experienced teachers can die from smoke inhalation just as quickly as new teachers. But the decisions to put students in that school, the responsibility for installing adequate safety measures, and the security of school hallways during class-time is again not a teacher issue.

Once basic safety has been dealt with, we can speak to less immediate if just-as-relevant issues where the system fails students - and teachers (experienced and new). Three in particular are all interrelated, have plenty to do with student acheivement, and contribute to safety issues mentioned above.

Special education, discipline issues and records-keeping. How does it help student acheivement to under-serve special education students while keeping them in a regular classroom setting? It doesn't. It keeps the special-education student from learning and the regular-education students from learning. What control does a teacher (experienced or new) have over such systematic failures? None.

Discipline issue students must recieve consequences to fit their actions, counseling to help them overcome their demons, and specialized attention so they can learn less self-destructive and anti-social behaviors. Moving them from school to school, and not telling the new school their history, or allowing them to get away with their actions without consequences, or keeping them in a classroom with regular students after a history of destructive behavior does not help the student with issues or the regular students who need a safe environment to learn. How much of that does a teacher control?

Record keeping. If the school system cannot even track what student goes to what school, how to contact a student's parents, cannot track and report truancy, cannot track and report special education assessments or needs, cannot track disicpline issues, how are they expected to accurately track and report student acheivement???

This stuff is just the tip of the iceberg. We're not even glancing at extra-curriculars, the fact that the RSD cannot consistently maintain an athletic schedule, the woeful physical shape many of the facilities are in, that teachers are scared to report any of the crazy & illegal things going on in the schools for fear of losing their jobs, the myriad 'specialists' who are supposed to support classroom teachers but who may not, complete lack of effective substitute teachers, the lack of class schedules in some schools, and the fact that the RSD admin staff blames 'new teachers' when students get out of control.

If the local paper was reporting the real issues going on in the RSD, the absolute last thing we would be talking about is if "expereinced teachers" were more effective than "new teachers" in this broken, broken system. When something fails, you look at what's going on at the TOP.


Thursday, February 12, 2009


How big is "too big to fail?" One of the reasons the bailouts make folks so angry is that bailouts don't play by the normal rules. If you can't run your business, your business goes under and you get to go work for someone else. That's the American way.

But there was one thing all the CEO's were really good at: buying up other businesses. While this manipulated their own stock options and were generally considerred a good thing by the stock market, mergers decreased the diversity of our nation's finacial portfolio. Like a conspiracy where the left hand doesn't need to know what the right hand is doing, the high-risk parts of a company made bets with the low-risk parts of a company's money. Give 'em an inch, they took a mile.

Now that the hands are caught in the cookie jar, it becomes apparent to many folks that if organizations like this were to fail, it would bring down far, far more than just that organization alone. There was plenty of talk on the left for years about how mergers were only creating oligarchies, and monopolies. There wasn't enough talk on the right about how such mergers stifle competition. Now we see the awful result.

The essential part of "free-market capitalism" has to do with competition. Take that away, and the results ain't pretty.

So, should we carry Roosevelt's big stick and start busting up some of these trusts? Some folks think so:
"Yes, finance marches on. We're not going back to 1933. But some things about human nature never change. Now that we understand the fallacy of the "dispersion of risk" idea—which Wall Street, with a big assist from Alan Greenspan, sold us on before the crash—we should arrive at about the same place as Glass, Steagall and Teddy Roosevelt did. We can't have a free-market economy dominated by institutions so huge that they don't have to play by free-market rules. And yet we still do."


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Priorities & Competence in Criminal Justice

I remember one day, years and years ago, when I unfortunately let a few snide comments about criminal justice, the drug war, and budgeting turn into a full on argument with an individual who has worked in law enforcement for most of his adult life.

My contention was that over-enforcement of non-violent drug offenders was wasteful and counterproductive; and that when selective enforcement happens it was often based on the race of the non-violent offender. Such were my beliefs, and such was my experience.

Not hearing what I was saying, or perhaps operating on the belief that I was saying such things only to make him angry, he produced endless portfolios and textbooks that demonstrated that, once caught, most non-violent drug offenders of all races plead "guilty," and that the majority of all drug offenders were from a certain demographic.

He was not pleased when I told him that none of that refuted anything I was saying. It took me years to realize that, coming out of my mouth, any criticism of policy or enforcement was not a question of priorities or competency or even government waste. It took me years to realize that he wasn't even arguing with me or anything I said, he was arguing with other people and what they said. He was yelling at imaginary people in the room, saying things he had been trained to refute. He associated any critique of policy as criticism of the police, and any mention of race as exoneration of crime based on skin color alone.

While I said "we should reexamine our priorities, our costs, and our enforcement techniques" he was hearing "police are always wrong, and black people shouldn't be prosecuted for crimes."

I was thinking about that argument the whole time I was reading this article, and I wonder what the imaginary people inside C Ray and W Riley's heads are saying to them as the people of their city - of all races - cry out for some sort of relief from crime.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just to Lighten the Mood a Bit

Just to lighten the mood a bit, I thought I'd post evidence that absolutely ANYONE can get a degree at UCLA.

Since I can't let paT keep driving this ship into the port-side bank...

I give you an alternate theory on the 'stimulus' package being oinked up by both houses of Congress currently. The 'Do-Nothing' theory. Actually, I don't give it to you, because I'm not an economist. Fortunately, Walter Williams is.

Mr. Williams cites historical precedent in that the proposed 'stimulus' plan will in fact, have decidedly the opposite effect:

In 1929 came an economic downturn, most notably featured by the stock market collapse, after which came massive government intervention — you might call it the nation's first stimulus package.

President Hoover and Congress responded to what might have been a two- or three-year sharp downturn with many of the policies President Obama and Congress are urging today. They raised tariffs, propped up wage rates, bailed out farmers, banks and other businesses, and financed state relief efforts.

When Franklin Roosevelt came to office, he became even more interventionist than Hoover and presided over protracted depression where the economy didn't fully recover until 1946.

Never let a little thing like 'historical precedent' get in the way of a good spending orgy, right paT?

Not to be left out of the parade, Stephen Spruiell and Kevin Williamson of National Review Online chime in with their '50 De-Stimulating Facts'. Of note, a large chunk of your tax dollars appropriated to one of paT's favorite punching bags, the Army Corps of Engineers -

The problem with trying to spend $1 trillion quickly is that you end up wasting a lot of it. Take, for instance, the proposed $4.5 billion addition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget. Not only does this effectively double the Corps’ budget overnight, but it adds to the Corps’ $3.2 billion unobligated balance—money that has been appropriated, but that the Corps has not yet figured out how to spend. Keep in mind, this is an agency that is often criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money. “They cannot spend that money wisely,” says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “I don’t even think they can spend that much money unwisely.”

Folks, this bill is bad news for everyone remotely involved. If this is the first spending salvo from this, hopefully blessedly short administration, what's next?

A Swine By Any Other Name

Something has been bothering me about the Stimulus debate, and I realized what it was last night. Though I’m not a big fan of the stimulus bill, I am for anything that rebuilds our out-of-date infrastructure, supports higher and technical education and repairs our crumbling K-12 education system. I am for projects that make our current resources more efficient. I am for projects that invest in the future. So I am still behind this thing, no matter how clumsily Congressional Democrats decided to preside over it, because a lot of what it does needed to get done anyway. Plus, now that President Obama is back on the mic, I’m sure this thing will pass by next week. (As Dante informs us, it just passed the Senate.)

But I was watching Lou Dobbs last night; I’ve been listening to Rush and reading the right-wing to conservative blogs about this thing; I’ve been thinking about the concerns and criticisms of emailers, commentators and callers onto all of these shows and websites, and I’ve been paying attention to what Congressional Republicans have been saying (which seems the least interesting of the whole debate). Last night, I watched the President’s press conference to see how Obama would respond to a lot of the criticisms s against this bill. (He focused on many specific criticisms, which demonstrates an ability to identify problem areas and speak to them in a way we’ve been lacking for at least 8 years.)

And after all this, I’ve realized something: it seems the definition of pork has changed in our political popular culture. It used to mean “bringing home the bacon” to the “home folks” by the most senior members of a party. For a while it was “any government waste.” And now, it has become “any project we don’t like or philosophically agree with.” That is a fairly significant change in just a few years. I’ll not even get into that “pork” is now some sort of dirty word.

Because, and let’s face it, not all pork is bad pork. There was a lot of waste, yeah, but there were also a lot of big infrastructure projects that have brought big jobs to a lot of smaller areas because those places had a senior member on some Congressional committee. A lot of things that needed to get done got done because of that. When you think about how bitter a fight is to keep a military base open, you realize that the geography of many major installations had a lot to do with who was in Congress and when (though we never, ever, ever describe military base selection as “pork”). The problem used to be the concentration of pork, that the majority of projects went to certain districts and states, that too few people controlled the strings, and the use of such porcine projects (or the threat of taking them away) to pass legislation reeked of corruption and inside baseball. But that’s the “way things used to be” – in the days of both FDR and Reagan. Hell, you think Georgia’s sparkling infrastructure system didn’t have anything to do with the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker and Jack Kingston to the leadership back in 1994? If you don’t, well, there’s a bridge over the South Brunswick River in Glynn County, Georgia that you can pick up for the low, low price of $65+ million dollars.

Any Federal money for that bridge (it was a Federal & State project), if written into the current stimulus, would probably be on Lou Dobbs’ hit list. It would probably be considered “pork” by the pundits, even though the return on investment of such a structure will dwarf the original cost over the lifetime of the bridge. All because our definition of pork has changed.

There are things in the current stimulus that are being called pork that aren’t really pork. But I’ll never accuse an entertainer like Rush of trying to educate people. Let’s think about some of these things:

Millions for the National Endowment for the Arts: any artist from any district in the country can apply for a grant, with no political affiliation requirement. May not be an effective stimulator (that’s debatable) but that ain’t pork.

Millions to purchase hybrids for the Federal government’s vehicle fleet: the Federal government is going to update a certain number of company cars this year, the same as they have done every year since they started buying company cars for their employees. My pops drove one of these for years, a gun-metal grey Crown Victoria that looked like it could have been on the set of a Dirty Harry movie. What is the problem with updating the non-enforcement vehicles with hybrids that save money on gasoline? I can only have nightmares about how many taxpayer dollars went into Federal V8’s last summer. This actually saves money for taxpayers in the long run, and employs American car manufacturers (last time I checked, and industry that could use some work thrown its way) in the short term. It also affects the vehicles at Federal offices all across the country, regardless of political affiliation. May have limited stimulating effect (that’s debatable) but that ain’t pork.

Millions to assist fish migration by removing barriers on waterways: this may be the closest thing to pork I’ve heard about yet, and has been called out as pork at least since 2000. But it has more to do with sushi than with swine. The folks who oppose this as pork must never eat seafood, or, if they do, must looove the BS dishes that are tilapia or Chilean shrimp and Chinese crawfish. They must only eat farm-raised catfish. They must not like going into the great outdoors to fish in rivers, and must not understand that millions of Americans do so as a recreational activity. Fish migration is essential to maintaining the health of fisheries where Americans are employed catching items that other Americans buy as food. The economic stimulation return on investment for this plan negates the fact that it only affects a few districts, because money spent here pays for itself in just a few years. That ain't pork.

Millions to weatherize housing: screw off Congressional Democrats. We’re still waiting for billions to weatherize the levees in South Louisiana. But I understand the desire to make US housing stock more energy efficient, just like...

Millions to build/renovate Federal buildings for more energy efficiency: please see also purchasing hybrids – the Federal government is going to spend a certain amount on their physical plant, the same as they have done every year since the Federal government figured out they should work out of offices. That these buildings ought be renovated with a purpose of saving money down the line is something that I welcome gleefully. Saving money by being efficient is something that should be applauded in government. Again, as there are Federal buildings in many, many districts, and there is no political affiliation requirement. Again, that ain't pork.

So where’s the swine, folks? What in the stimulus actually does count as “pork” and not as “maybe not as big a bang for the buck as we want” or “something we just don’t like?” I mean, you folks on the right do call it "Porkulus" after all.


No Surprise Here...

A long time ago, Pat actually called Arlen Specter a really real conservative. But the RINOs are on parade in the Senate and surprise surprise Arlen is among them. He jumped ship along with the two "Republicans" from Maine. The Porkulus Bill has passed the Senate. Unless Pelosi lets her ego get in the way, it will be on Obama's desk soon. At least a really really real conservative didn't jump ship since Obama is already out there telling how much this plan won't work.

Monday, February 09, 2009

JMac Gets Down on Stimulus Haters

"This one actually made me laugh out loud. Does the Chronicle's editorial staff even realize that people have to work on the expansion of these projects?"

Where I've been looking at the politics of the stimulus, the Democrat Dawg back in Georgia has been waxing wonkishly over the economics of the thing, reminding folks that the Democrats won the elections because policies of the past EPIC FAILed, and lamenting the direction Senate negotiations have taken.

That's like a breath of fresh air for me...even though I may qualify as a stimulus hater myself. (Still wishin' we'd pushed the education & infrastructure through seperately, and first!!)


Stimulating Colleges

This is another thing that stimulus money would be well spent on - higher education. Though I don't like higher-education and K-12 education funds coming out of the same section of the bill, the idea behind it is sound.

Let us look at the myriad economic benefits of investing in colleges:

First of all, more students going to school lowers the full-time workforce and keeps other folks employed right now. I'm not even talking about college professors (them too), but all the support staff that make colleges go.

Secondly, colleges spend money to build stuff. Please see also: economic benefits of infrastructure improvements.

Third, supporting colleges and keeping tuition down helps keep money in parents' pockets. Some of that will be saved, and some of that will be spent - further stimulating the economy.

Fourth, supporting community colleges allows versatility in technical or academic education for folks who have to split the difference between work and school. They may have to hold onto their current job, but will be less hard pressed to prepare for a more economically stimulating job if community colleges are robustly supported.

Fifth, this will allow states more flexibility in budgeting.

It just works. Again, this is one of those "stimulus items" that Democrats could have passed individually already had they been thinking more strategically. Who would have opposed it?


Friday, February 06, 2009

Stimulus Package

Though New Orleans’ counter-proposal will be on the table Saturday night (and on the couch, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the streets, dripping down your leg, etc.), the national stimulus package has been the talk of the country for some time. I mean, it should be, as we’ve gone from “the fundamentals of our economy are sound,” “America is a nation of whiners,” and “let them shop at Nieman Marcus” six months ago to “please step back from the ledge, you have a lot to live for.” What surprises me isn’t that we’re talking about it, but how we’re talking about it.

On January 20th, we celebrated the inauguration of a charismatic Democratic President, who won a huge electoral and popular victory, enjoys high job approval ratings and on whose coattails were padded the Democratic majority in the House and Senate. How the hell, then, did Republicans get control of the debate in less than a month? I have three explanations and I’ll order them from most important to least important:

1. Part-of-the-Problem Democrats. Not just Tom Daschle, grand poobah of the out-of-touch-insider, but also the Pelosis, Reids, Franks, Rangels and Waxmans of the world who are undefeatable in their home districts and can’t understand why they have an image problem in the rest of the country. While Obama’s been settling into his new job (and I don’t care how much of a head start your transition team gives you, or how experienced you are, moving into the office of the President of the United States of America has got to have some initial headaches that require your immediate attention). Without Obama around, cameras and microphones end up in front of certain Democratic faces that are neither charismatic nor illuminating and are part of that last Congress which received a lower approval rating than that of Former President Bush.

2. The Republican Machine Always Operates in the Underdog Role. (And Dante has explained this far better than I ever could.) This is their bread and butter – standing back and watching Democrats screw up or explain things badly. They know how to operate as a caucus, they know how to make mountains out of the molehills of policy, and they know to stop talking about ideas that sound ridiculous in the current climate (and that we’ll see that one again if the economy every picks up). They may have sucked as a majority party post-Gingrich: after he left, the only thing they seemed to do was complain about things they had control over; but as a minority party – from the right-wing radio to the most junior member of Congress, they know the playbook. What is more infuriating, having been on the receiving end of this playbook since 1992, most Democrats haven’t figured out how to defend it or where it comes from. They give Rush Limbaugh free airtime and overstate his importance, while he rolls out a well-timed, well-written, seemingly bi-partisan proposal. This train is never late, and the lines never change.

3. Wholesale Strategic Priorities. Yeah, I get it, they were in the minority for so long, they’re excited to get their hands on some legislation that may pass. But politics and policy rarely meet up so closely. All we’re hearing from the GOP is about tax cuts, government as the problem and complaints about pork barrel projects. I recognize that line – it’s the same one they’ve been using since 1994. Let us ignore the 2000 – 2006 years when the GOP controlled the whole government (and had a majority or the Presidency from 1994 to 2008) and constructed all US economic policy based off those ideas – the economy that just collapsed.

The only reason the GOP is not on the ropes right now is because Democrats want to take the whole bite at once, and don’t really have the credibility to do so. Can you imagine how much faster this would be if the Dems showed up on the first week, and hammered out a $300 billion infrastructure bill? Interstates & US highways, power grids, rail, levees, air control upgrades, navigation – these are things everyone knows we need to spend money on (And Democrats could quietly remind voters who didn’t spend money on these things). Opposing such a bill would be incredibly difficult, even if you added provisions to support mass transit, coastal restoration and help to the states for infrastructure projects. It would also start employing folks immediately, and give you a victory and credibility. Next up, go with a $75 billion bill to assist states and cities in school renovation and upgrades; after that, a bill that spends $75 billion police, fire, first responder and emergency responder equipment, hiring and training upgrades. Where would the opposition come from? Follow this procedure and then in a year or two and prove what a good job you’re doing. Then you can spend some money on the lower priority stuff that may not employ as many people.

But the way this is going, Obama will be dealing with a GOP Congress in 2010, for the exact same reasons Clinton dealt with one in 1994.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

The End of Public Education in the South

This Sounds Familiar...

Pay attention, supporters of public education – the Georgia legislature is now looking at a bill that will end public education as an institution in the state. The bill will move Georgia to an all-voucher system. Importantly, what happens in the Georgia legislature usually trickles down to the rest of the South, so expect more of these coming our way very soon.

This will be especially true in Louisiana, as the poster child for public school dysfunction in the South is the non-accredited New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD). We have a governor that already has successful voucher legislation to hang his hat on, a sick-man teachers’ union that has little or no public support, and a system that’s main goal is to charter schools they can’t (won’t) fix.

The AJC Opinion page puts it this way:
Johnson bases his case on the contention that Georgia’s public schools are mediocre and impervious to improvement. However, the failings of Georgia schools are not inherent in public schools. They are a direct result of the state’s deep poverty, its historic indifference to quality education, especially for poor and minority children, and the repeated refusal of the very body that Johnson leads, the Legislature, to fund education adequately and stick with reforms long enough to register improvement.
(Emphasis added by me.)


It sure would be a different story if the same folks who tell us how awesome school choice is weren’t the exact same people responsible for destroying the old system in the first damn place.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Found Money

Stuff literally shouldn't be this difficult. Just reading this article gave me headaches. Some thoughts:

- You know all those people who were complaining about "all that" Federal money spent on Katrina aid? You know how folks on the Gulf Coast were saying they hadn't seen that money? Well, apparently $8 million of those dollars have been found in Georgia because no one who works for the US or Georgia Departments of Education know how to read instructions.

- Hurricanes happen every year. That means evacuations happen every year. Supplementing budgets for systems that take on evacuees has been going on since at least Hugo in 1989. Florida dances this dance every two years. Yet, no one in Washington or Atlanta could get a handle on this since 2005?

- What the hell happens if a hurricane actually hits Georgia and those folks evacuate to other parts of Georgia? I know its been a while, people, but this may not be a lesson you want to learn on the fly.

- Thank goodness Kathy Cox did not win the governor's race in 2006. She apparently has the managment savvy of Kathleen Blanco. You'd think that folks who can't effectively manage an education system wouldn't stand a chance when running for offices with more responsibility....

- And where was Sonny in all this?

- And why didn't anyone from Washington come to check on all this before an audit? They'd rather send people bills later on than make sure money is spent correctly at the onset. Apparently, they were too busy back in 2005 conducting oversight on the financial industry....yeah, that's it.

- I don't like what these findings say about record keeping in the schools of either Georgia or Louisiana. If you go to a public school in any state, you should have a record of your identification in some database somewhere in the state capitol. Maybe students would treat school more seriously if adults treated school more seriously - and I ain't talking about the teachers.


Justice System Blues

Republicans in Georgia are trying to model their legal system after the one we have here in New Orleans. As in: they don't want theirs to work.

In an effort to cut the budget, some GOP legislators want to stop paying those pesky attorneys who work for the state to defend folks accused of crime. These legislators are operating on the Guantanamo Theory of Criminal Justice, and seem to think due process for folks accused of crime is negotiable. They see a well funded public defender system as the fantastic "too helpful to criminals" rather than reality-based "forces competence in prosecution," "ensures due process," and "inspires confidence in the justice system."

I know it might be counterintuitive, but whenever a killer walks free, you don't blame the defense attorney - you blame law enforcement, the prosecutor or the state. Most states that have abandoned the death penalty haven't done so because of squishy human sensibilities, they've done so because they don't trust their states to adequately defend indigents accused of crimes.

In effect: the more competent and robust your public defenders programs are, the healthier your criminal justice system is. Failing that, people lose their faith in the system, and down the road you have out-of-control crime like Detroit, New Orleans or Chicago.

As a staunch supporter of the death penalty, I want elite squads of defense attorneys defending those accused of death penalty crimes. That way, the law enforcement has to behave flawlessly, the prosecution has to cross every "t" and dot every "i." We can have a great deal of faith that every avenue to maintain innocence and mitigate intent has been explored, and that due process has been adhered to with fervor. That way, we can throw the switch without guilt.

But, back in Atlanta, Republicans don't see it that way. They'd prefer to underfund the system and have every case overturned on appeal, possibly involving the Feds and opening themselves up to civil rights violations. I think that's part of the plan, though. At least they'll get to blame the judicial branch when things start going wrong. The GOP always makes money when judges do unpopular things.


Not So Fast...

A short explanation of media and public opinion in the United States. At first, there is the hysteria, indignation and outrage. Only later do the facts start coming to light.

This message brought to you by the little voice inside you that reads a screaming headline and says "bullshit."


The Difference

Racism is an issue in the South, but it can be difficult to explain to some folks because incidents of it are rarely placed side by side where you can see how different people and groups are treated. Now, it may have less to do with skin color than it seems, and there may be other factors at play in the following incidents. But appearances are important, especially when it comes to selective prosecution, especially when the incidents happen so close to one another, in terms of timeframe, geography, and similarity of nature. But how is something like this even explainable?

White fraternity members accused of pouring crab boil and boiling water on pledges, causing second and third degree burns, placing pledges in hospital = charges dropped. Single fraternity eliminated from campus.

Black band members accused of severely beating pledges with a wooden paddle, causing severe physical damage, placing pledges in hospital = multiple felony charges. Whole marching band suspended until investigation is complete.

Look at the coverage as well. The article about the Southern marching band continues and lists incidents going as far back as 1995. The only mention of prior acts in the fraternity article come in the comments section from people’s memories, and those comments are not covering much scope.

So, there’s your difference. Blacks and Whites misbehaving badly with wildly different results, prosecution behavior, and media coverage.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Georgia state lawmaker outraged that taxes support public colleges.

At least one Republican lawmaker doesn’t want Georgia tax dollars to support the public education system. He claimed to be “personally outraged that our taxpayer money is supporting professors.” The representative from Canton aimed most of his ire toward the Georgia State University sociology department, specifically two professors whose academic research is concentrated on the interactions of human health issues with teen psychology and male psychology. The Republican representative to a Republican majority legislature has decided that now is the time to look closely at the state budget of Georgia, and find the most socially divisive ways to make cuts. He wants sociology professors fired from their jobs partly because he feels sociology and psychology are issues most effectively addressed in the Bible, and partly because he wants to appear fiscally and socially conservative at the same time. Creating a controversy is one of the easiest ways to do such a thing in the current economic and political climate.

Ok, ok. All that may not actually be true, it all might be misrepresentation on my part. Saying loaded things to get your interest, sprinkling in a little truth for credibility, feed a narrative while I'm at it and only then investigate what is really going on. But I’m not a representative to a state government, and I’m not being quoted in a paper, so my misrepresentation is only a small one, possibly a misunderstanding of the situation.

Who knows? This representative may only have problems determining the difference between a professor’s biography and a college course catalog. He may not understand the difference between a professor conducting academic studies on certain sexual behaviors and offering classes on certain sexual behaviors. But should someone who can’t look at information and tell such differences be voting on how the State of Georgia structures its budget?




About Damn Time

Maybe this will be the last time Tom Daschle ever rears his mug in politics again. Another "Part of the Problem" Democrat, his continued relevance to national policy only feeds right wing narratives. If you remember, he was the 'majority leader' in the Senate who lost his seat in an election that also cost his party nationwide. They were "out of touch" back then, and it don't look like a lot has changed. $120,000 dollars in unpaid taxes? The Bush economy treated him well. Liberalism as a whole has lost a lot of its luster on this dude's watch, and he's now responsible for tarnishing the Obama administration.

Good. Bye.

On the other hand, I hardly think the GOP has any kind of credibility to offer a statement like that of Sen. DeMint of South Carolina: "Part of leadership is recognizing that there has been a mistake and responding quickly." Responding quickly??? Wow. Look at the balls on that guy.

After the last 8 years, that's a lot of big talk for someone with an "R" after his name. I know they're trying to reestablish the brand and all, but its only been two and a half weeks since Ol' Dubya got in front of the cameras and wondered out loud what the big deal was with the whole "Katrina" thing.

I mean, there are a lot of things the GOP has done quickly in the last decade, but "recognize mistakes" and "respond to mistakes" aren't a part of that group.

Update: Slate provides a clear contrast between Geither's tax sins and Daschles'. Interesting read. Especially to hear all the hubub about Geither, and then find out the IRS is probably going to have to return some of the money, the part that the IRS isn't owed. It are awesome when facts get in the way of narrative.