Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strange New Right Wing Talking Point

Ready for it?

Barack Obama's approval ratings are too high because we include black people in our calculations of overall popularity.

Don't blame me, blame Doug at Hey, Jenny Slater! for stepping on this particular nerve. The comment section of that post is worth reading as well, if you feel like joining in the debate.

Strange enough, we in New Orleans already explored this school of political theory while explaining former Rep. William "Dolla Bill" Jefferson's defeat in November.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dead RINO

If you haven't heard by now, Senator Arlen Specter officially left the GOP and has joined the Democratic Party. But why now? Why didn't he do this the first year the Democrats took control like the spineless state legislators in Georgia who switched parties when Republicans took control? It's because he can't really make it out of the Republican primary. In 2004, Specter has the primary well in hand. This time around Toomey already had a slight lead in polling late last year. Once Specter broke rank and voted for the stimulus plan, Toomey's lead skyrocketed. Last I looked, Toomey had a 21% lead over Specter among voters who identified themselves as Republicans. Specter's political future required him to either become an independent or Democrat. Now the Democrats have a theoretical fillibuster-proof 60 votes, but this is the Senate. It's going to be hard to get 60 on your side for anything.

My personal opinion is that Phil Gramm set the proper template on how a politician should switch parties. When he became a Republican, he resigned his seat and reran in the special election. But that shows a sort of cojones that politicians typically just don't have. But such a move hasn't been done before or since as far as I know.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Innovate or Die (Part 2)

The for-profit, market-based education experiement is something we discuss often.

This is a commuter click, as I suggest Liprap's tirade and additional research on for-profit management for schools for your perusal.

The telling quote (amongst many):

The charter's administrators will pass that blame on to teachers, who weren't teaching well enough to attract students that would stay, who couldn't establish a superhuman mentor/therapist/counseling/advocating role with each student along with their daily duties of imparting reading, writing, and arithmetic skills needed to pass every standardized test on the planet and show what a great school it desperately needed to be to survive.


We already hit on that the sustaining force behind many charter school movements is based on teachers whose lives become consumed with their work, or the thing doesn't work.

The first priority to ensure good, professional teachers get in and stay in your schools is to treat teaching like teaching is a profession, where you get to go to work during a certain time of day and go home during a certain time of day and enjoy your life, family, friends and hobbies.

If you need more, competent teachers, you shouldn't require them to be absolute superheroes to be successful. Because, if you do, your pool of applicants will be very, very small, and your turnover will be very, very high.

And, as a post-script, we should remember that one of the biggest "blame teachers" public officials in the United States is gearing up for another run at the Georgia Governor's mansion.


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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Innovate or Die

The result? When the states decide not to pay for education, they get what they want.

So now there are two paths:

States pay for education; states run education; education doesn't work (its the teacher's fault); states hire contractors to run education.

Or...

States pay for education; states run education; education doesn't work (its the teacher's fault); states stop paying for education; states bring in contractors to run education.

Because what we need is more middlemen. Luckily, we know that when education doesn't work, it is the teachers' fault, not the states (who fund education and dictate the rules), the systems (who implement the rules), the principals (who run individual schools) or any of the above who leave government service to become education contractors (who run the charter schools).

Awesome.


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Federalism Ammendment?

I wouldn't attribute anything in this article to the tea parties (as the author does) but it's sure an interesting scenario. If the states really did get fed up with their treatment by the federal government, they could call a constitutional convention and introduce their own amendment(s) to the Constitution. It would take 2/3 of the states to petition for a convention and 3/4 to ratify any amendment coming from the convention.

I doubt it'll happen. It would take 34 states just to get this going and 38 to make it a reality. If it were close and Texas wanted to jump on the grenade, they could use their long-held option to split into 4 states but that would only buy them 1 state and would assume that all 4 newly created states would support such a resolution (and I doubt the coastal area would). I'm also not sure if any other states would have similar options or if such states would consider splitting worth the amendment.

But it's a fun scenario to think about, and it would get me supporting the Fair Tax as my primary opposition to the Fair Tax* would be removed.

* I'll never support a Fair Tax myself as long as there is still an amendment on the books allowing for income tax to return. Sure the Fair Tax would get rid of the IRS... for now. By the time my kids are grown up, they'd be paying both income and national sales taxes. Repeal the 16th Amendment and I'll support Fair Tax but not until then.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

School's Out Forever

One of New Orleans' charter schools' independent board cites trouble with the for-profit management team and packs it in.

(I bet its some teacher's fault.)

While this exposes a lot of problems many local charters are having (and that the news doesn't seem to want to cover), it is being touted as a reinforcement of the strength of market-based schooling.

Now, it is one thing to phase out ideas that aren't working. But high turnover, especially in leadership positions, will hamstring schools whether they are public or charters. You can't make gains if you are constantly reinventing the wheel, but we never talk about how to address that concern.

It does talk about how difficult it will be for the 200 students to find new schools, since the best public and charter options available for parents have filled up already.

I guess this is what it feels like to have an invisible hand slap you in the face.


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You can all breathe easier...

...Congress did get their cut of the bailout money. I know that you were concerned that none of the TARP funding would make it to the people who really needed it: those poor lobbyists and Congressmen up on the Hill. But relax and rejoice. The politicians given out $300 billion and netted a nice $9.5 million for themselves. The best part is that the initial $300 billion is someone else's money. It's yours.

Torture

Included in the link above is an column written by a Bush Administration official. He points to passages in the released torture memos and to the redacted sections which he apparently read pre-redaction.

He raises a glitch in our public discourse.

I think we're all on the same page when it comes to whether torture is bad. However, one thing the opponents of "enhanced techniques" repeat again and again: "torture doesn't work."

If what this columnist - Marc A. Thiessen - says is correct, torture can work. And has.

He cites to specific outcomes in memos themselves. He alludes to what are in the redacted section (I can accept that actually divulging what is in those sections is a national security "no-no").

In other words, the question Americans should focus on is this:

Even if "enhanced techniques" provide actionable results, should we still refrain from employing them, even when doing so might be in the best interest of our national security?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kill the Culture

Cliff responds to the kidnapping and murder of two young New Orleanians: "We’ve had a love affair with the thug even though we know there’s a good chance he might not live long or destroy the community. It became such an acceptable way of living that it spawned its own culture. It has its own music, dress, and language."

Every time I hear something like this, the neurons start firing, and I wonder when the great debate over culture will finally take the center stage. Real culture wars aren't waged against Santa Clause and nativity scenes. Real culture wars spill real blood and it is time we began to recognize that fact. Even talking about this is fraught with peril.

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan

I remember when Harvard went back to re-examining Moynihan, and his highly controversial study. Go and read it, because so much of what dominates our public discourse today is the same thing that we were arguing about back in 1965. The more things change, right?

Following in this vein are two recent works that have been brought to my attention since I moved to New Orleans, where the rubber really hits the road on this issue. The first is The Central Liberal Truth by Lawrence Harrison. It ain't an easy read, both in style and in content. But it is a bitter pill worth forcing down.

Next is More than Just Race by William Julius Wilson, which was pilfered from my hands by another before I could really get into it. I will get it back, eventually, for a full report.

But these are good places to start if you truly want to examine how to kill the culture, and how cultures kill.

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Yeah, No Kidding...

A lot of people make assumptions about the state of Texas and Texans in general that stray pretty far from the truth. While I was looking at the Rasmussen polls on the Tea Parties (as references by pb in an earlier post) I saw a poll indicating that 71% of Texans wish to remain in the Union. The only thing surprising about this poll is that anyone bothered to do it. To give you the background from the article:
Texas Governor Rick Perry, in response to a reporter’s question about secession at a protest "tea party," said Wednesday, "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." The comment was widely reported in the media.

Texans have absolutely no problem talking about seceding from the Union. They're proud of their state. But when push comes to shove, they don't really want to drop out. And there's quite a bit of historical evidence showing that would be a bad thing. By the time Texas joined the United States in the first place, they were on the verge of insolvency and in another war with Mexico. By the second time they rejoined the Union (after the Civil War), they were on the verge of insolvency again and recovering from a war with the North.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kill Them Back

We may not use it. Hell, we may not even get a conviction. But for whoever did this, the death penalty is the only result that comes close to justice.

Enough is enough. When are we marching again? We obviously weren't loud enough last time.


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Black Helicopters, Indeed

Here's something interesting I picked up from the Financial Times:
Strong banks will be allowed to repay bail-out funds they received from the US government but only if such a move passes a test to determine whether it is in the national economic interest, a senior administration official has told the Financial Times.

I don't believe the story as long as the source is "a senior administration official" (who is never identified in the article), but if this turns out to be the case, I find it very disturbing. If a private business is getting understandably leery of the increasing strings attached to government loans and wants to pay back the taxpayers' money, more power to them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Return of the Black Helicopters

So, it ain’t enough that folks go into the streets this week to protest whatever it was they were protesting (stories vary – some folks didn’t want to see imaginary taxes raised; some folks didn’t want to saddle their future generations with imaginary debt; some folks didn’t want our nation to fall into the hands of imaginary socialists, communists, atheists; or any other anti-American-“ist” they could think of; and many folks wanted to take their imaginary country back from the folks who won very real democratic and free elections….).

Now, these folks have another bone to chew on that feeds their paranoid psychoses. It feeds straight into the “imaginary anti-American” mythology, that somehow, folks like me are Godless communists sitting around sharpening our knives getting ready to send the government after them. That’s why all my conservative friends jump when I say “boo.”

So what is the new “evidence?” What is the latest rumbling from the new government that has Oliver North, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck et al apoplectic with popping veins?

This DHS report on right-wing extremism.

Some will call it a “nine page screed against phantoms” (some heady words from the side of the gallery that calls the current government “communist”), and downplay the memos from the last 8 years who point to left wing groups, foreign groups, and said the same things about right wing groups.

Because, remember, only Democratic administrations are un-American and would use this information against people.

Sticking points include a repeated mantra that somewhere in this report, it warns that military veterans, 2nd amendment advocates and members of the anti-choice movement are likely suspects for domestic terrorism. I’ve heard this said on the TV, the radio, in print and on the webs.

If you read the actual report, however, it says none of those things. What the report does say is that:

“Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts”

“Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.”


The report then lists several factors that these extremist groups will attempt to exploit to grow their organizations, including - but not limited to - the economic and political climate, the presidential election, illegal immigration and any future change to gun control laws. The report does not say people who are simply unhappy with these things are likely terrorists, it says that likely terrorists will attempt to appeal and recruit individuals who are unhappy with these things.

The report also outlines the similarities in right wing extremism now and the historical bridge to right wing extremism in the 1990’s. And though many pundits and conventional wisdom have tried to convince us for the past 8 years that terrorists only come from Middle Eastern countries, we would do well to remember where the biggest threats came from during that decade.

The most controversial passages of the report deal with returning military veterans: “Rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” It does not say that returning veterans are likely to become terrorists, it says that likely terrorists will attempt to recruit returning veterans.

The report also states that both rightwing extremists – and law abiding Americans – will likely make bulk purchases of guns and ammunition in the coming year. This is perhaps the most important point of the whole 10 page document. As the report was written for the audience of law enforcement, it makes sense to put this in the report. It also makes sense considering recent events where law enforcement has found themselves in shootouts.

So, almost all of the items news pundits are getting angry about are incorrect interpretations of this report. The best reaction I have seen comes from conservative blogger DADVocate, who points out the actual flaws in this report by pointing out the flawed prose of the thing, and poking fun of the breadth and general nature of the report by making “you might be a terrorist” jokes (like Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” jokes).

Speaking to those particular, and more valid issues, I can only think that DHS wrote the report in such a way because it had to be readable by many, many, many different individuals in many different branches of law enforcement in many different locations. The generalizations of the report I also think were used to remind or inform law enforcement agencies of the climate in the 1990’s as it pertained to right wing extremist groups. When lessons are learned in law enforcement, it pays to repeat and repeat, no matter who gets offended.

I find it interesting that the folks who defended profiling throughout the last 8 years get upset when the shoe is put on the other foot. Don't say we didn't warn you, because you responded by calling us crazy if not treasonous. Now, you're demanding more nuance in report writing.

Besides, we have a lot of new agents and officers out there who saw 9/11 but may not remember Oklahoma City, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Unabomber, the Atlanta Olympics, or Eric Rudolph.

After the whole “Osama Bin Laden determined to attack within the United States” memo controversy, who can blame DHS for erring on the side of caution?

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Death Taxes

No, not "death and taxes," but "Death Taxes" like the political rhetoric.

Watching the tea parties on every news channel and website yesterday (so much for the liberal media not covering the story) and listening to the song "Shutting Detroit Down" over and over on the radio, I'm paying close attention today to talking points that don't make much sense as anything other than political rhetoric or good, symbolic copy.

I mean, I'm not sure what to think when seeing thousands of people go into the streets to protest high taxes during the first year I got a significant tax break - and the whole while they seem to be indicating that people like me are dirty social engineers with treasonous communist leanings and general anti-American sentiment. I thought that kind of talk was sooo last 8 years.

So my eyes perked up when scanning the news on my lunch-break, and coming across an article that specifically examines rhetoric surrounding the Estate Tax/Death Tax, and some of the numbers behind the words.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Manhattan Project

You know, with all the newspapers going out of business, there should be stables of investigative reporters around, and journalistic ventures that understand how much money they would make by sending folks after real stories.

Instead, we have to hear about some family getting a new dog.

Meanwhile, stories like this are left to citizen-bloggers who try to unravel civic mysteries because no one else will.

Keep on keepin' on, American Zombie. Real tea parties will happen soon enough.

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Marching Orders

from Super Secret Liberal Takeover Headquarters

Glenn Beck got the memo folks. We have a leak at Headquarters. They know what we plan to do. Here's how I know:

Yesterday, I'm driving from Athens to New Orleans and this generally gives me a good selection of old country and bluegrass songs on the radio. Unfortunately, scrolling through the stations landed me on the Glenn Beck station.

I thought Glenn has made some OK points in the past. I generally give credit where credit is due to folks on the right who use logic and common sense to make their points.

But, after listening on Monday, it sounds like ol' Glenn has lost his mind. I reckon if I'm disappointed in the Obama administration so far, that feeling is amplified into mental breaks from reality to those on my right.

For those of you who don't know, tomorrow is "Tea Party Day". Now, if the tea parties were just about taxes and spending, that'd be one thing. I think most Americans are taxed too highly, and that our current spending patterns are terribly inefficient. And if I think that, the folks who want to privatize police, schools and infrastructure must think we live under absolute tyranny.

But even Beck mentioned that these events aren't about taxes and spending, and that to let them be labeled as such would be a failure.

Because folks might look at the events and say "my taxes haven't gone up." (Disclaimer, I finally got a tax break this year.) No, Glenn says, these events have to be about where the country is going and liberty and freedom.

(Didn't I hear that same thing from a bunch of hairy, patchouli smelling protesters for the last 8 years?)

He spent most of the show telling listeners that they would have to be careful during the tea parties, because the media and the liberals will be out to discredit the events. As a matter of fact, and delving into the deep psychoses of the right wing conspiracy-theorist's mind, Beck mentioned that activists from the other side would show up and attend these events, pretending to be participants, planning to embarass the real participants by saying and doing unreasonable things. Then, they will get those embarassing moments on camera.

They point to this article at the Huffington Post as 'evidence,' because it involves the phrase "you will be contacted with further instructions." So, Beck & co are upset that liberals have marching orders to cover an event that Beck & co has said the liberals don't want covered.

And they've now disclaimed any of the real crazies that may be at these events, who get pictures put on the news. If the media does show any of these folks embarassing themselves, Beck & co can say "we told you so."

All because Beck & co are worried about being portrayed as lunatics. That's heady talk when Glenn's radio show is sponsored by so many reality-based organizations.

I made mention in front of several Athens conservatives that, even if the election had gone the other way, we'd still have stimulus packages and bailouts and earmarks. I'd put more stock in the tea party "movement" if they had shown up sometime in the last 8 years. I'd put more stock in these folks if they had gone out and joined their local political parties and ratcheted down the tomfoolery, and then kept involved to clean up their localities first. But they didn't.

And now, here they are.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Book Review

"An Epic Tale of Rank Douchebaggery" might be the best book review title I've ever read. In honor of my Easter weekend vacation, I have an analogy for you.

Michael Adams is to the University of Georgia what C. Ray Nagin is to the City of New Orleans. This means we shoureld never allow Mr. Leebern to meet Mr. Meffert. Bad things could happen. Very bad things.

Consequently, both Adams and Nagin were roundly and loudly booed by the Georgia fans before the Sugar Bowl in 2007. It was about that point where the Hawaii fans began to realize that there was just something different about us folk down South.


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Wrongs

In the spirit of all the "Think That You Might Be Wrong" signs around New Orleans, I'm linking to a recent Slate article that asks what else are we wrong about?

Sometimes those "end of history" statements seem like just yesterday. Conventional wisdom's assumptions have misfired on several biggies in recent years, including (but not limited to):

Before 2001, few Middle East scholars worried that the United States was vulnerable to a major terrorist attack. Before 2003, everyone from neocon hawks to French lefties agreed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Before 2008, few economists wondered about the fundamental soundness of the American financial system.
Any thoughts on what else conventional wisdom might be missing?

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Culture Wars, We Has Them

I don't think it means what they'll think it means. Some copy editor decided he needed to cause a stir and sell a few magazines, so there are a whole lot of folks who are going to read a certain article today and get the wrong idea.

Despite the terribly unfortunate (and incorrect, and provocative) name, "The End of Christian America" is a fantastic and informative article. You have to make it through the first several paragraphs until things really start to pick up:

Let's be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that "these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians." With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.


Yes, let's be clear. Though the percentage of "self-identified Christians" apparently "fell" from 86% to 76%, that ain't a huge cultural shift - it just means they called more college students during this round of surveys or talked to folks too busy reading facebook to understand the question.

Seventy - six percent is not a minority number. But watch for the reactions: culture warriors on the right will feel validated in their "we're turning into a God-less society" mythology to keep whipping those flocks into frenzies.

Our problem has never been a lack of fervent belief. Our problem is generally a surplus of fervent belief coupled with a lack of religious literacy. Heck, my RSD students last year claimed they all went to church & read the Bible, tried to tell me what the Bible said about people like me, and overwhelmingly failed to name the first 5 books of the Old Testament or the 4 Gospels.

And there is no "Book of Gonzales," no matter how many 8th graders believe it.

You can tell me my beliefs will land me in Hell all you want, but if you get Noah and Moses mixed up, and somehow end up with only 6 commandments, up you may lack the credibility and fire and brimstone you had intended.

But the article reminded me of the most important book I read in 2008, Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero, which is a must read for anyone interested in American religious history and education.

Or anyone interested in telling culture warriors on all sides to go to Hell.


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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Testing Week

You all know how I feel about standardized testing, so I probably don't have to repeat my utter disdain and loathing for individuals in that particular part of the educational-industrial complex. Or what I plan to do with them once the revolution comes.

But if you notice your friendly neighborhood teachers and students with that burned-out, exhausted and shell-shocked look on their face, it is because they're going through the annual dance of "pass or never-amount-to-anything/get fired for lack of trackable 'progress'" our system subjects them to.

Here's a few more reasonable thoughts:

Cliff shares some personal experiences.

Sam from Georgia has a few well spoken consequences of the implementation of the GEE:

[S]tudents at schools like Clark experience unnecessary, stifling pressure to pass the tests because they realize that their 13 years of school is wasted and future opportunities are limited if they can’t pass the test.
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In addition to the pressure, the GEE also guts the curriculum for core classes and perpetuates low standards—especially in 11th and 12th grade courses.


Both worthwhile reads. I'd check the other local edublogs for more news as the week goes by.
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New Republican Savior

Now that we've seen that Sarah Palin is unable to deal with such intimidating reporters like Katie Couric; now that we've seen an angry Mt. Redoubt refuting Bobby Jindal's contention that volcano monitoring is a waste of government money; now that we've seen GOP chair Michael Steele stop doing TV interviews in fear of pissing off Rush Limbaugh; now that even Newt is trying to dust himself off and become relevant again; Republicans are looking for a proven leader with winning track record to take the helm of their party and push back against their rivals.

That their new savior comes from Florida, a swing state no less, is just as important as his saturating nationwide name recognition. The only drawback is how long they will have to wait for him to qualify to run for high office, but that's OK - they're thinking longterm game plan here.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new Republican savior Tim Tebow. The best chance to turn Georgia blue since Zell Miller left office.

(HT: EDSBS)




happy 4/1/09