Friday, December 18, 2009

War on Christmas - 2009

Oh, don't you remember the fervor of the War on Christmas back in 2005?

American society was about to crumble because the most extravagant Christians were not allowed to do things like put nativity scenes in the middle of busy intersections or follow you around all day yelling Christmas carols into your ears. Anyone saying "Happy Holidays" was threatened with midnight disappearances to Bill O'Reilly inspired reeducation camps in order to save what was left of our country. Glenn Beck was weeping, but he wasn't a major factor on television yet. Several high profile culture warriors released well timed books on the subject (how did they know it was going to be a topic du jour?) of the coming cultural takeover of American society driven by people...like...me.

Wasn't that fun? It was really important, too. So important, in fact, that the "War On Christmas" meme has been mentioned less and less each year following 2005, despite cultural conditions staying relatively static.

I mean, maybe people are focused on other news stories right now, but I can think of more than a few rather big national news stories the press could have focused on in the final quarter of 2005. Can you name anything more important on which we could have spent our time back then?

But it isn't like the "War on Christmas" is over. It seethes right below the surface, on Facebook status updates and chain emails from folks I know who really believe I am mindlessly supporting a cabal of elite individuals who plan to strip me of my culture and traditions. (They think about this while shopping at Wal-Mart, I'm sure.) Talk radio still hammers the narrative, asking breathlessly for callers to describe how badly affluent, caucasian Christians are oppressed during this woeful time of the year.

Take for example the "kid who got suspended for drawing Jesus on the cross from his public school" meme. How outrageous! Talk radio yammers. If he had drawn a picture of Obama, he'd still be in school! They say. Brainwashing! Oppression! Badness! Outrage! RARRR!!

Until the real story comes out. The real story you won't hear about on Fox News or talk radio. The local media screwed the pooch here and got almost everything wrong. Because the story fit so neatly into the precanned "War on Christmas" narrative, it got play.

No, the teacher hadn't instructed them to draw things that make them think of Christmas.

No, it wasn't a sketch of Jesus on the cross, it was a picture of the student himself on the cross, with eyes 'X'ed out to signify death.

No, the kid didn't get suspended, but he did have to see the school psychologist.

NOW, the father disagrees with the above statements from the school and maintains that all this is about the school oppressing his family's religion. He is demanding compensation from the school for "all the suffering" this has cased the family while inviting the press to publicize the story. There is no indication how the story first came to the media's attention, but the father's quotes give me some idea.

(Remember, folks, only godless liberals take public demands for compensation to frivolous lawsuit status.)

Just as a hypothetical, had the student actually done anything to hurt himself or others, after the teacher had seen such a drawing, the same press driving the "War on Christmas" meme would instead be driving the "Why Weren't Warning Signs Heeded?" narrative.

But we don't get to hear about a teacher doing their job correctly, effectively, and with regard to a student's welfare, or how a school has rather appropriate operating proceedures and didn't overreact to a situation. We hear instead about how that teacher hates Christmas, and how this public school is doing its part to rid America of religion.



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The Old Dirt Road

An old Jeff Foxworthy joke went something like this: If the directions to get to your house include the phrase "turn off the paved road," you might be a redneck.

To which we now add Or living in America during the Great Recession.

A few thoughts on this:

1. Do not tell Ray Nagin that this is how some localities are cutting back on "services."

2. On the other hand, some gravel roads might be better maintained than our current roads in New Orleans.

3. "First world" standards are just one big crisis away from "developing world" standards of living.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Conservative Nuance

Like my link to an article on liberalism earlier, today's heavy opinion focuses on real conservatism defended on rational & thoughtful grounds. It is another article I'll be going back to for a long time.

There isn't any demonization of liberalism to be found behind that link, so if you're looking for soundbytes and zingers, it ain't for you.

I can only imagine how different our nation would look today if those individuals who play conservatives on TV, radio or politics sounded anything like this.

HT: The Daily Dish.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Water(less) World

Speaking of how taxes are spent, let us look at how metro Atlanta and Georgia handle water resources.

Before this autumn, northern Georgia was suffering from a rather severe drought. This wasn't its first drought, as we went through several while I was in college. This has been going on for years, and yet little has been done in the realm of figuring out how to manage water resources more appropriately. Their latest "attempt" to do so is called the "Water Contingency Task Force" made up of mostly Atlanta business types. Martin Matheny at Beyond the Trestle describes one of the Water & Power's big ideas thusly:

What interbasin transfer means, in simple terms, is that a region that needs water, say Atlanta, finds a place that has water, say Lake Hartwell, and starts piping water out to fill their own needs. Right now, interbasin transfer is illegal. It needs to stay that way, because if it becomes allowable, every lake, river, stream, and puddle in Georgia is fair game to satiate Atlanta's thirst.

Your tax dollars at work. The rest of Georgia is responsible for subsidizing metro Atlanta's subpar urban, suburban and exurban planning.

Because that is far simpler than "Instead of building a reservoir, spend less, create more jobs, and fix the pipes."

Two thoughts:

One, hopefully the real estate bubble bursting taught metro Atlanta developers a thing or three about overbuilding, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that.

Two, we must figure out a way to pump New Orleans' water to metro Atlanta and charge those business types by the gallon.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Taxes

Let us hear again about how bad high taxes on the top margin of American income earners would be. How it would destroy the business class of America and lead to national ruin. Let us hear again how we should return to the good ole days of American pie, baseball without steroids, olde tyme values and low taxes.

Whoops.

To be clear, I am no fan of high taxes. My views on taxation have more to do with getting a return on investment on tax dollars spent and doing the job right when the job is done with tax dollars. This has little to do with the false big government vs. small goverment choice, or liberalism vs. conservatism. The real difference lies between effective government and kleptocracy.

Back in the good ole days of the 40's and 50's, we had taxes so high modern "conservatives" would all die of shock. And yet, how we spent those tax dollars made us the most powerful nation the Earth has ever seen.

But don't let actual history get in the way of talk radio narratives.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 Prediction Roundup

These are some predicitons I made in December of 2008. Let's see how I did.

- Obama's first year won't be as bad as Republicans think it will.
Check
- Obama's first year won't be as glorious as Democrats think it will.
Check
- A federal universal Health Care package eerily similar to Romneycare is going to make it to the floor this year...
Check
- ...but union card check will happen first.
Wrong
- Bail outs will continue and any financial institution or heavily unionized industry will qualify.
Wrong (bailouts were not extended to other heavily unionized industries as I suspected)
- There will be no terrorist attacks on US soil in 2009.
We have a few weeks left but I'm going to go ahead an mark a check here.
- Oil prices will remain low in 2009.
Check
- Our likely recession will not last past 3rd Quarter 2009.
Check, but barely. We had 2.3% growth in Q3.
- There are going to be some serious power play issues among Pelosi, Reid, and Obama.
Check (see healthcare debate)
- Assassination attempts on black politicians by white supremacy groups will be the formula plot of the 2009 Fall TV lineup. It's no "family/individual getting cash it shouldn't" or "family/restaurant-on-top-of-bar finds out part of neighbor's property really belongs to them" but it'll be there.
Wrong. Not a single one...

So for my 2009 predictions, I'm 7-3. I can live with that. I'll have some 2010 predictions up in the coming week or so.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Epic Sports Bet Fail

Ah, social media. Not only can you use Facebook to connect with friends, you can update your status to make bets with your friends that include them drinking beer, driving their trucks to your house, with all their guns and ammo in tow, taking your 60" television, and unloading their ordinance upon it.

And then Youtube lets you share the video of this behavior to the world.


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GOP for Nagin (con't)

Meanwhile, in Chocolate Moose Party news, let us consider the fact, ONCE AGAIN*, that the GOP had a huge hand in Nagin's 2006 reelection. You can talk about busing evacuated voters in from Atlanta and Houston all you want, so long as you mention the GOP's behavior in the same breath.

One of the architects of that strategy even went on to become the current national leader of the Young Republicans. She used the Nagin election, and her work on it, to prove her colorblind bonafides after several Obama jokes on her Facebook page called her racial sensitivity into question.

Nagin's got plenty of "outsider" popularity as a "run government like a business" candidate...


* (Because I am never, ever, ever going to let my Republican-leaning friends forget this one.)

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The Oyster Guy

No, not that oyster guy. The the other oyster guy. The one that is ingloriously digging carbon levels out of oyster shells. Is he part of the Vast Climate-Change Conspiracy too? (HT: The Daily Dish)

When we had this discussion in November, I made the following comment:

That's the strength of having a lot of scientists around the world running tests and tests and engaging in research and peer review.

If one small group loses credibility due to shenanigans or incredibly incorrect predictions, it does not reduce the credibility of the entire body of work worldwide, because it is usually the scientists themselves who disprove the work of other scientists. That's generally how science works. That's where their overall credibility comes from.


Despite the emails from the University of East Wherever, and their "validation" of the far-reaching and decades long hoax that legions of unnamed scientists have pulled on the whole world in the interests of recieving more research dollars, endowed fellowships and TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION!1!, the numbers coming out of that university represent only a small part of the worldwide body of knowledge on this subject.

Even if you invalidate all their numbers and all of their studies, there are still mountains of statistical data, compiled by folks like the oyster guy, that the deniers have zero answer for.

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Long vs. Palin

A University of Georgia professor examines the similarities between Huey Long and Sarah Palin. His thesis is that both are populists who did/will move their respective parties to the left/right. Though allowances are made to Long & Palin's respective differences:

The analogy is not exact. Huey Long was by many accounts a brilliant thinker and politician. Former President and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft proclaimed him to be one of the finest legal minds he had ever encountered. Sarah Palin has yet to exude intellectual brilliance.


I still maintain that Palin shares far more similarities to a different Louisiana populist: Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans. (Chocolate Moose Party! 2012!)

Update 4:30pm: I forgot to add a link to Christopher Hitchens' spot on Palin's Dangerous Populism.

Thoughts?

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Probation = Not a Good Thing

Again, I thought Charter Schools were supposed to solve all these problems.

First of all, I like how this article came out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at 6:31pm. One wonders which issue of the paper it ran in, and how many people read that issue while preparing for Turkey Day. I follow these issues, but I was traveling then. Dangerblond had to tell me about this, and I had to go back a few days to find it online.

Turkey Day. Indeed.

The Orleans Parish School Board only has "local control" over a handful of schools. (Please see chart and post at G-Bitch) Nine of them are accredited through SACS (like Ben Franklin High School, OP Walker and Warren Easton), but not all of them are. One would think that the administrative staff OPSB pays out of NOLA's property tax dollars would be able to keep up with what is going on at their schools more frequently than every two years.

But, as we can see from the chart, all four charter schools on probation with OPSB are either non-network charter schools or are not directly overseen by the OPSB Superintendent.

So, instead of one system of oversight here, we have six: the Louisiana Board of Education (well paid as they are), overseeing the OPSB and threatening to take away schools if performance isn't there; the OPSB that contracts out the charters; and the charter organizations of each individual school.

And yet, charters are politically sold to us as a way to get bureaucracy out of the way of childrens' learning.

Let us look now to the charges that brought on probation: two are on probation for academic reasons and two are on probation for financial reasons. The financials come down to ineffective auditing practices at two schools. This means the chartering organization has to spend money hiring accountants and auditors (or contractors) to do this work, while the OPSB has their own auditors and accountants to audit the auditors. So much for getting bureaucracy out of the way of childrens' learning.*

The acadmic probations hit one school due to test scores and another due to attendance. These are problems that face almost every school - but what will happen to these charters if the problems are not resolved? Well, if they aren't brought up enough, the charters between the OPSB and the people running these schools will be revoked or not renewed. That means some other organization (and perhaps several) will bid for the contract to run these schools. How much turnover will this cause each school?

How does high (or entire) staff and teacher turnover help test scores or attendnace in any way besides lowering it? How many years will the new staff need to adjust to the new way of doing things? How many years will the students need to adjust to the new staff during their adjustment period?

And yet, these events are the exact selling points for charter advocates.

Now, I don't want y'all to get this idea that I in any way support the system that was here before. I don't want y'all to think that I'm completely against the idea of charter schools (I have many friends who do fantastic work at charters). My problem is this "system", which looks to have a lot of the same problems of whatever existed here before.


*(though the "fix" for this "red tape" would be to contract the same company to audit the schools and audit themselves auditing the schools - coming soon from a politician's mouth, I'm sure of it)

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Monday, December 07, 2009

A Nation of Too Many Laws

"To be clear, then, evidently it was too much law that got us into the war on terror, and yet there's too little law to get us out of it."

-Dahlia Lithwick


One of my greatest complaints about the Bush Administration was their nebulous and disingenuous handling of United States law and how it related to the Global War on Terror (GWOT). While I'm not one of those "Bush is to blame for - insert problem here -" partisans, on this matter, his Vice Presiden and Justice Department take plenty of blame, and I've thought so for years.

Our nation has fought terrorists before, and won. No, make that: won handily. We caught them, tried them, jailed them if they were convicted and executed those whose crimes warranted such. We have done this with, literally, hundreds of violent terrorists throughtout our nation's history (depending on your definition of terrorism, which we have seen in American politics is as malleable as popular culture would like it to be).

But all that changed during the Bush years, with all the talk of the "new kind of war" and the collective memory loss that we had been down the tragic road of terrorism before. To say nothing of the politization of the conflict.

But the most undermining to What America Is was done to us by that administration, convinvcing us, for a time, that we should not use our own laws in the prosecution of the terrorists or the persecution of the war. It is shameful and political that members of that administration continue to try and erode confidence in America's own legal system even as the new administration plans to use it.

Because restoring faith in our own, established system of justice is one of the changes I believed in and voted for last year.

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Georgia GOP Leadership Implodes

Not that Georgia Democrats will be able to do anything about this, but the folks in charge of the Georgia GOP are getting caught up in a firestorm of scandal.

Strangely enough, it seems that this behavior will be called out best by other Republicans in Georgia. Good on them.

If Tiger Woods' private life wasn't the media's main concern these days, this would be all over the news. For a lot of the same reasons.

And just like the Woods thing, where an international celebrity's private life unravels at the first sign of trouble after years all the insiders helping him get away with it, the hits just keep on coming for the Georgia Republicans. Because while Tiger is a towering figure in sports, he is just one man and his fortune comes from advertising money.

The Georgia Republicans do it with lobbyists and tax dollars.

Update: Could the Lt. Governor be next?

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

United in Celebration

There will be many, many things written about Saturday's SEC Championship Game. Alabama downed Florida in perhaps the biggest and most anticipated college football showdown in years.

Luckily, there is only one SECCG wrap up you need to read, as Doug Gillet at Hey, Jenny Slater! brings you covereage of V-T Day from Atlanta.

Prepare yourselves, fellow New Orleanians, for the last battle of the four year struggle will be fought on Poydras Street on New Year's.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

NOLA World Cup

As futbol dignitaries from around the world meet in Cape Town to draw their group assignments for next summer's World Cup in South Africa, I am reminded of two things.

1. I need to procure a US National Team jersey before the summer, so I can rock it when watching games in the early morning hours CST.

2. When the United States gets the nod to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, New Orleans MUST rally to get games played here in the Superdome.

Any game would be a fine day. But I dream bigger. Hosting a South American, African or Carribean National Team here would be magnetic. Hosting a game with the Irish or Italian National teams would be appropriate and celebratory. We already have the parade gear for all of these things.

But the chance to host a game between the United States and France? In New Orleans? In the Superdome?

Be. Still. My. Heart.

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Not Just Nagin

The value of Ray Nagin is that he says things other politicians are thinking and doing but leave unsaid. This is his one real non-zero-sum game theory intrinsic value. He just doesn't understand why anyone would think what he says is wrong. This is why he sees nefarious motives behind all his critics - the only reason they would criticize someone for being right is if they have an underhanded agenda.

Nagin doesn't believe in transparency, because he doesn't think he holds anything back. I think at this point, if there is anything he won't say on camera, we can accept that he really doesn't know it.

But let us not believe, for one single minute, that this is only a New Orleanian problem. Let us not believe, for one single minute, that this is only a Democratic or Republican problem. Let us not believe, for one single second, that this is only a black/white problem. Hiring contractors previously convicted of felony corruption goes on lots of places and is a practice engaged by many governments.

This is why transparency in government contracting is so important, not just in New Orleans, but everywhere. People must be able to see the process, know who they are paying, and know their tax dollars are not just lining pockets. I think about this every time I see a school falling apart, a pothole in a road, when a new development springs up in the Atlanta or Gulfport suburbs, or a thousand other times when I know a government contract is involved.

And if any contractor fails to do the work right (or on time, or on budget), or is convicted of corruption, or who hires illegal immigrants through subcontractors so they can engage in wage theft - they should never, ever, ever get another government contract again ever. Let them go work for private business, if private business will hire someone with such a record; but don't ever let them near a tax dollar again.

Most politicans disagree with what I just said, but would never admit it. For all his faults, at least Nagin doesn't mind going on the public record with his opinion.

All the more reason to encourage Palin/Nagin 2012 - Chocolate Moose Party, Baby!

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tweet or Twit?

It was only a matter of time before someone had to update their Twitter and Facebook accounts from the altar during a wedding ceremony. I mean, more power to him. At least his wife seemed cool with it, so she obviously knew what she was getting with that ring. It is their wedding after all, and not everyone is cool enough to riff the scene from November Rain.

I have only two questions:

What is the over/under on this guy being a Georgia Tech graduate?

What did he tweet from the first night of the honeymoon?

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If You Cannot Afford an Attorney

The New Orleans Public Defender's office has said that, due to budget cuts, they are going to stop defending those idigents charged with crimes like rape and murder. This announcement may sound more like bombast than substance, but it ties into many important issues facing our criminal justice system from a policy standpoint.

My thoughts on this are rather extensive, and I hope our in-house attorney (Sprout) will share his thoughts on this matter as well.

While the knee jerk "My-tax-dollars-shouldn't-pay-for-criminal-defense" crowd will think this is a good thing, our legal system says quite another. Without access to a defense attorney, charges of rape and murder brought against indigents will have to be dropped. It doesn't matter if the DA's office is on the ball (finally) in getting cases together and prosectuing criminals. If there is no defender to represent them, a public defender if they cannot afford their own, they walk.

I have several thoughts on this issue.

First of all, this is why we have to take indigent defense seriously at all levels of government. This is one of those government responsibilities that should have concensus. Without adequate representation, our common law says we let those charged with crimes go, because we are a nation of laws. It is no wonder that entities with problems paying for indigent defense have deeply flawed criminal justice systems.

Second, shame on the Public Defender's office for playing politics with this issue. Especially if you plan to play politics in uncreative ways that agitate the general public and turn them against you. I have a gut feeling this is one of those plays to smear the City Council's stand on making the city budget work, which is why the statement itself is so inflammatory.

For example, if this was really about securing adequate funding for the Public Defender's office, instead of not defending major crime cases, they would state their intention to defend ONLY major crime cases, because that is the most supportive of public safety and in the interests of justice. Keep the system moving on the dangerous, high impact stuff.

Stop all defense of minor drug possession offenses, non-DUI traffic offenses or whatever non-violent municipal violations are taking up your work load. Let folks charged with non-violent offenses walk. That makes up the majority of your workload anyway, so cutting time spent in those areas would both endear you to the public (for prioritizing correctly) and strike back at the city that uses such offenses mainly to collect fines.

You'll also start emptying Orleans Parish Prison of minor offenders, freeing up space for those charged with major crimes.

(As an aside, this should be even more evidence that criminal prosecutions are prioritized inefficiently by the local system. That we go after non-violent offenders so hard in a violent crime plauged city suggests there is an underlying, foundational flaw.)

Third, where the heck is the state in all of this, as they are the ones who should be responsible for the Public Defender's budget?

Fourth, this is why social scientists talk about the "tiered" criminal justice system, where indigent defenders end up represented poorly in certain locales. It may not have to do with the dedication or ability of the public defender themselves, it has to do with not having enough hands on the work and hours in the day.

Such inefficiency at the hands of government undermines the interests of justice. With insufficient defense, innocent people can get convicted and guitly folks can have their convictions overturned on appeal (for insufficient defense). Credibility of the system becomes strained and this leads to an even less robust system.

Thoughts?

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Benefits of Skepticism

This story sure does pull the heartstrings. In all kinds of directions.

People, pay attention. We have something called the "scientific method." We have it for a reason. It should be used whenever there is a supposed "miracle cure" for anything. This is also why we have "peer review" and "research universities."

We have to know the difference between snake oil and real medical advances. And we have to be able to accept that something may fall somewhere in between, where we are allowed to study limited utility to find out where something works for real, and where it is just make believe.

I hate to sound like a cold and heartless SOB, and I selfishly hope I never understand the simmering desperation of a parent whose child cannot communicate. How quickly must those parents swallow the faintest hint of hope for any form of normalcy?

But, at some point, we have to accept that there are still disadvantages and ailments that our current level of technology cannot relieve. We have to accept that sometimes our hopes will be dashed. We have to accept that sometimes, something just doesn't work. No matter how much we want to believe it will.


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