Sunday, October 31, 2010

This

Is a fairly compelling opinion on the matter. Luckily, I spent the rest of the weekend surrounded by family and friends, while we ate, drank and were merry, and had a fantastic time.

And while I may tune in, I will place exactly zero blame on Georgia fans if they find something other to do than watch this game next year.

Because we're beyond explanations and logic and futility and and faith and moral victories at this point.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capital Investment

That's one thing about infrastructure. Sometimes the projects are big and costly, and you have to take out loans to pay for them.

While I understand the knee-jerk reaction to big ticket items, this is a mistake, and a big one. This isn't about total cost, it is about return on investment.

The worst thing this says about our nation isn't that we're spending too much money, but that we're incapable of getting Big Things done on time and on budget. Christie could have focused on implementation, and pushed through a major project. Instead, he just wants to cancel it. I can understand his reasoning, even as I disagree with it. His "solution" solves nothing.

Though I also have a problem with the way it is reported. Cancelling the project "cost" 6,000 jobs a year for a finite number of years. It "cost" a projected 45,000 jobs long-term.

Not one item, however, about the cost-effectiveness of tax dollars funding the creation and maintenance of those jobs. Not one item about how this process could be sped up or costs could be brought under control. Not one item about who the planners are or why this is taking so long or why there are expected cost overruns. Not a thing on the contractors and planners who have already collected $600 million with nothing to show for it.

(But I'd bet they all talk shit about Louisiana....)

And that's a problem. We don't have the will or budget to make major infrastructure improvements in this country because our infrastructure projects are used, politically, as temporary employment programs. There is no political incentive to get the jobs done efficiently and actually improve infrastructure even though doing so rewards you with more jobs and economic development in the long term.

Yet the GOP sees this guy as a rising star. Which tells me where they're at in this process: addressing problems uncreatively with lazy solutions that solve nothing. The problems this project was designed to solve will remain undone, the money will remain spent, and development will continue to be slowed by an unresponsive government.

Infuriating.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Culture of Fear

Scared, frightened people make less rational decisions, are more prone to misplace their priorities and are easier to mislead. Belief that crime is perpetually on the rise is part of a larger American narrative that is destroying this nation economically and culturally. Such irrational fear leads to bad decision making and mismanagement of resources. It also has political ramifications:

Part of the reason for this divergence is what sociologists call pessimistic bias: the unshakable conviction that things are not just worse than they are, but also worse than they used to be. Humans appear to have a hard-wired tendency to compare contemporary life with largely fictitious good old days, in which all schools were top-notch, politicians had integrity, children behaved, and crime was nil.


HT: The Daily Dish.

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More Election Thuggery

In South Carolina and a brutal bit of tape from a Rand Paul event in Kentucky.

Curb stomping a political opponent? Really?

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Instant Recall Voting?

Want.

Of course, it might take about 4 cycles to get rid of everyone, and it would be very interesting to see Americans straight up shut down their government for a year, but I think this could work.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Your Vanishing Oil

Over? Nothing's over until we decide it is.

Well, or until the national media stops reporting it.

Nothing to see, here, please move along.

It is time for BP to blame others for overstating the damage.

Because the oil has vanished. Really, it has.

#LandOfMakeBelieve

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Freedom of the Press

(Tangentially related, this is the 2010'th post on Hurricane Radio.)

Everyone who talks about politics should go and get involved with their local community politics. You want better government, you have to work for it. Part of working for it is taking rational action to affect your politics locally.

That being said, one can only imagine the importance of having independent media like the American Zombie to investigate stuff most of your locals won't touch.

And that's the thing that has intrigued me the most about this episode in New Orleans. Here is one overwhelming problem with our politics - locally, statewide and nationally - that has led us to the government we have today.

Here is an independent internet investigator going through pages and pages of official documents and timelines to examine and thoroughly vet a candidate for the United States House of Representatives. This is stuff you would expect media groups with more robust resources to be doing.

But they're not.

You'd expect this to be bigger news, especially in this town. You'd expect this kind of possible scandal to be on all the talk radio and all the papers. But except for a passing mention, it isn't.

So one must beg the question: why? Why not?

First of all, these questions are being asked of the frontrunner. This guy is very likely to become New Orleans' next congressman. And in a town more suited for feudalism and patronage than the free market and results, he is poised to hold a great deal of power. If he wins, he is expected to hold the seat for a very, very long time.

No one wants to be on his bad side. Few members of the local media want to be that person who self-limits their access by investigating his past.

Moreover, as I learned this summer, many of the things being talked about were considered normal behavior on the part of state legislators of both political parties. If the frontrunner has his career options limited by this type of behavior, other powerful patrons will likely run into the same scrutiny. (Well, not really, but in theory.)

In a macro sense, these are problems that exist across the land. It is why the GOP tend to focus on marketing utopian visions of the "good ole days" countered by paranoid fantasies of what will happen if Democrats get elected. It is why the Democrats tend to focus on ethnic and labor memberships to provide their base.

Nobody really wants to fix the problems inherent in political government. And with so much power at stake, few individuals in the media are willing to expend the resources necessary to exhaustively investigate those who would lead us when A) those investigations may go nowhere, B) aren't guaranteed to increase readership from a harried population if they do, and C) result in limited access in any case.

In a perfect world, or at least a more rational one, our Democratic frontrunner for US House would be facing serious critique and examination for his qualifications. In a more rational world, our GOP Senatorial frontrunner would be facing serious critique and examination of his record, competence and ideological consistency.

But we have none of those things. Instead, we have only outrageous political advertisements and appeals to team loyalty.

And real independent, beholden to none, investigative journalism posted on the internet.



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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Your Small Government, Constitutionalist Authoritarians

Y'all remember when the most egregious political thuggery had to do with Georgians stealing political signs and covering themselves in fox urine? How we are wont to pine for those days.

I saw this news story pop several days ago, but like a lot of flashes in the pan of divisive elections, I always want to give something "controversial" a few days to settle down. Most of the time, the story isn't as bad as it first seems, or the video ends up being from the Andrew Breitbart film studios or whatever.

But the story of Joe Miller's bodyguards just keeps getting worse.

For those of you not following this one, here's the long and short of it:

If it's not completely intolerable to have active-duty soldiers handcuffing American journalists on U.S. soil while acting as private "guards" for Senate candidates, what would be?


Miller is Palin's candidate, the Tea Party choice. Their selling point is small government and Constitutionalism. On one side of the country, Christine O'Donnell is demonstrating that these folks may not actually know the principles of the United States Constitution; over in Alaksa, Miller is demonstrating that lack of knowledge in practice. That's two candidates of the same political group, on a Senatorial slate, with similar rhetoric, in very different states on different sides of the country. They are the inheritors of the Party that brought us the PATRIOT ACT and the last decade of hyperventilation and hyperbole.

And part of their political narrative is that President Obama and the Democrats are the illegitimately elected, secretly socialist activists who will lead us down the path to police state and government control.

Because if Miller was a Democrat, and this had happened, you'd be hearing plenty about OMG KENYAN ANTI-COLONIAL DICTATORSHIPS!!

There is another video donwpage that shows just how hairy things are getting out there in the political theatre. I wonder how much the hyperbole is affecting the way these people act?

But make no mistake, thugs exist on all sides, and should not be tolerated.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Puttin' On Airs

Timothy Noah at Slate thinks the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear should not be held because it smacks of elitism. He thinks it pokes fun at ignorant people like Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck's followers. And you know how ingorant people chafe at those elitists laughing at them.

How patronizing.

First of all, the Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck's followers, and other members of the activist right aren't stupid or ignorant. There is no biological reason for their lack of knowledge, as a movement. And they aren't ignorant, as they have been able to memorize entire universes of knowledge. If they were ignorant or stupid, it would be just plain mean to make fun of them, since they'd have no control over what they thought, bless their hearts.

However, willfull ignorance can be made fun of mercilessly, and is hardly an elitist gesture. As a matter of fact, doing so is incredibly important to moving politics forward. That's why it is a moral wrong to bully the kid with learning disabilites, but it is an essential cultural trait of functioning democracies to have individuals demonstrate in and to the public that the emperor has no clothes.

And let's face it, it isn't "elitist" to expect someone who considers themselves an expert on a topic to have at least basic reality-based working knowledge of said topic. It is high time this nation stopped turning its back on established history and fact because accepting established history and fact is somehow snobbery.

Die-hard members of any political movement are acting in willfull ignorance of at least some facts that either discredit their own arguments or they don't agree with. The thing is that right now, on a scale far greater than the politically correct mavens of the 80s and 90s, many Tea Partiers and the Glenn Beck followers of the world aren't just being willfully ignorant, they're actively celebrating it in front of the video cameras. They're so proud of their willfull ignorance, that they have become the elitists of a different universe. And they aren't content to just talk about it amongst themselves, they want to lecture everyone they know about it.

And the stuff they're lecturing the rest of us about are whoppers, let me tell you. Exposing them as whoppers is not "elitist."

I wouldn't take you seriously if you told me the Ohio State Buckeyes were still undefeated in football, so how can I take you seriously if you tell me the Supreme Court allows local school boards to inject religious doctrine into public schools; or not one drop of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the hurricanes of 2005; or that only Muslims can be terrorists; or that our President is a secret Kenyan anti-colonialist, who wasn't elected in free and fair elections in this country? That these are the same people who claimed the Dow would hit 30,000, that we would be "welcomed as liberators" in Iraq, and that we should do something about those pesky illegal immigrants who clean their homes.

Credibility, credibility, credibility.

But the problem does exist when your regular American-consensus conservatives start buying into these falsehoods, or when the media lets folks get away with those kinds of falsehoods without challenge. I expected real conservatives to be appalled by O'Donnell's butchering of concept, fact, and history, but that is just not happening.

We are now witnessing a wholesale destruction of the concept of historical fact, where self-proclaimed experts can say whatever they want, and people will believe them (or at least defend them) if it lines up with their political beliefs. That's not good, and it isn't OK when anyone does it.

Which brings me back to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. At this point, satire and mockery are your last major outlet defenders of cultural democracy.

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Got Make Believe?

Now that we've witnessed Constitutional constructionists who don't know what's in the Constitution and Christians who don't know what the Bible says, we are exposed to history textbooks that make up history.

Shocking, I know.

We're back in the land of if-you-don't-like-the-facts-make-up-your-own.


Alternate title for this post: "They're climbing through your textbooks, they're snatchin' your people up."

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not the Crime But the Coverup

There are a lot of folks on the right and the left who will claim their political opponents, if successful, will take us right down the road to a police state. Some claims are more credible than others. But what I don't understand is how so many folks will focus on the erosion of their rights from Washington, but won't demand accountability from government offices down the street.

Because, really, "Isn't the Blue Wall of Silence really just the most successful Stop Snitchin' campaign in history?"

You don't have to live in New Orleans for this issue to be important. It happens everywhere.


HT: Daily Dish

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Tea Party Candidate Hearts US Constitution

But Christine O'Donnell doesn't know what's in it.

I'm sure she likes the Bible a lot, too.

No wonder the preferred campaign strategy is silence.

She also addressed her widely publicized unfamiliarity with the Supreme Court of the United States, and specific decisions made in the past:

O'Donnell began by defending herself for not being able to name a recent Supreme Court decision with which she disagrees at a debate last week. She said she was stumped because she largely agrees with the court's recent decisions under conservative chief justices John Roberts and William Rehnquist.


One can only hope a sharp moderator then followed up by asking her to name one she agreed with and why.

Updated Summary: Because in a world where Christianity requires no knowledge of the Bible, and being a Constitutional Constructionist requires no knowledge of the Constitution, it stands to reason that you can use politics to convince people that a tax cut was a tax increase.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Game On

A Federal Judge has rules that the states' healthcare suits can go forward. I don't think anything will come of it, but I really didn't think the state suits would make it this far. If the challenges do go through successfully, I wonder what the outcome would be. Does Congress scrap the plan and start over or do they try to patch over the pieces that would be deemed unconstitutional?

Budgetary Oversight

Mayor Landrieu unleashes the hounds with the New Orleans City Budget.

My first complaint? Property tax increases. Not that I'm specifically opposed to such increases if you get a return on your investment, even as they drive rents up. But how can you raise the mils when your city does not have an accurate or credible system of assessing property values? There are an awful lot of very valuable properties in this city that are not being assessed at value.

Put a serious penalty on out-of-commerce properties, and actually go after their owners for those tax dollars, and you'll go a long way to close the shortfall. We have too many speculators sitting on land and keeping it bligted to reduce their values artificially. Start assessing the properties as if this were a fully functioning city and watch how fast those parcels get sold to people who give a damn.

Priority, priority, priority.

And considering how much money New Orleans' citizens put into their homes on a yearly basis, there needs to be a robust homestead exemption. Give folks a reason to own homes here, not just rent, not just flip, and you'll see strong neighborhoods become stronger.

Couple that with the way money is usually spent by the city - overpaying private (though often well-connected) contractors. Our service delivery is more often tied to private businesses who suffer zero consequences when they do not deliver.

Next up: you have to make it easier for businesses to open in Orleans Parish. While no one has to go the "big box" route, it might be nice to have shopping options other than CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid in one corner and all those Magazine Street boutiques on the other. We could use some more supermarkets, first of all, and I wouldn't mind being able to purchase video games for my cousins at a Best Buy somewhere the sales tax dollars actually go to the parish I live in. Aesthetics can be addressed by zoning and code enforcement and this will bring new money to the city without one tax percentage raised.

Aside from that, there are a lot of things in the budget that I really like, because the proposed changes to city agencies will help us acheive all of the above initiatives.

That's my take, at least.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rescue Chile

Why are so many Americans tuning in to watch Chile rescue the trapped miners? This story has dominated world news, especially once the actual rescue operation was underway. Now, there are celebrations and champagne.

But why this story? Why now? What about it made folks tune in? Especially Americans, who usually don't follow major world events when Lindsey Lohan is in court.

This story is compelling, and it was some rare good news in a world full of bad. We needed to watch something positive outside of sports and fictional television. This was a real life feel-good story, and people want to believe in beating the odds.

And make no mistake, Chile is a developing country, and they just smashed the odds to rescue thirty-three human beings from more than 2000 feet below the surface of the Earth. Frankly, that's an incredible accomplishment. It is being compared to that greatest of human technological accomplishments, launching a man into space.

Not to mention the behavior of the trapped themselves, who told the world they had survived through a love letter sent to the surface, and argued about who would be the last one out of the hole.

It becomes even more incredible when you remember that Chile is still digging out from a massive February earthquake to its second-largest city. How about that for overcoming adversity?

Americans, especially, need this news. We are now living vicariously through a South American nation whose citizens would be ID checked if they lived in Arizona. Here's a few reasons why:

- The last mining disaster in the United States had a far more tragic ending.

- The BP oil spill took lives at the outset, destroyed a coast, is still being cleaned up, and went through numerous well-publicized failures to close the leak. It took months to even get a handle on the situation, it took dozens of false starts and an argumentative leadership to begin addressing the crisis, and it will take decades to completely remediate. Private industry failed to do the job right, government failed to regulate industry effectively, and both had incredible problems coming up with a response.

- After our economy melted down, not even the modest gains from the incredibly expensive TARP, Automaker Bailouts or Stimulus legislation have been able to correct fundamental problems with our nation's economy, and none of that legislation was designed to correct those problems. We read that our own banks may have been screwing up the legal mechanisms of the foreclosure process by cutting corners. Our leaders in government and business seem to have no clue about how to fix what ails us. Our political choice is to continue the current dysfunction or return to the last dysfunction.

- We still have 50,000 troops in Iraq, and have experienced two "Mission Accomplished" moments - one premature, arrogant and celebratory, one humble and realistic if politically motivated - despite the fact that we have not closed a war with a nation charitably considered a fourth rate power for almost 8 years. The last war against this same nation was "won" in 100 hours.

- Our nation, despite spending more than half of all world expenditures on defense, has been unable to eradicate resistance in Afganistan after nearly a decade of fighting alongside our NATO allies.

- In the Fall of 2005, our nation experienced a fairly public rescue failure in the case of the flooding of New Orleans. Compounding the Biblical scale of human misery was the helplessness of our nation to proactively mount a concerted effort at rescue and rebuilding. Frustrations that arose, instead of focusing the nation on the task at hand, led to political infighting amongst our nation's leaders. Blame assignment became the main story in our national news, leading to incredible national misconceptions of the situation on the ground. Even though millions of Americans selflessly volunteered their efforts to assist in both the immediate rescue efforts and the eventual (and ongoing) rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, that story went largely unreported - supplanted by the larger frustrations of no local, state or national rebuilding plan organized by major political leadership.


In short, Chile is getting things done with less resources and more disadvantages, while our own society flails away ineffectively at numerous problems despite massive resources.

They have a reason to celebrate, while we watch their triumph on television wondering when we will again be able to do so.

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OH NOES THEY BE STEALIN OUR SIGNZ

There is some sort of rampant political yardsign stealing epidimic taking place in Georgia. They've set up surveillance. Some places are even offering rewards for information. And at least one enterprising individuals is selling "Sign Thief Repellant", a gooey mixture of bird gel and fox urine.

Because nothing says political involvment like the pee of small woodland creatures.

My first thought questions the deep and disturbing necessary psychoses present in the minds of those individuals who are so offended by your political yard sign that they would creep through the middle of the night to steal it out of your yard.

And while I know that having your yard sign stolen pisses you off something righteous, my second thought concerns those individuals so dedicated to their candidate that they would shell out cash money to make their yards smell like fox urine.

I wonder if the first generation of this product used cat pee and was found to be too offensive.

Though I absolutely understand that the likelihood of sign-stealers only sets up made-for-YouTube moments of pie-in-the-face pranksterism. I cannot wait for the inevitable "Sign Steal Fail" to show up all over the internets.

Someone's celebrity is about to be made, people. Keep your eyes on the signs.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Not the State, Not the King"

Your marching towards feudalism link for the day: Foreclosure Fraud Endangers Capitalism & Western Civilization.

As we noted previously, esteemed economists such as Hernando de Soto have identified that the respect for title, proper documentation, contract law and private property rights are the underlying reason capitalism works in Western nations, but seems to flounder elsewhere.

We cannot have free market capitalism without this process. So what does it mean if banks have been systemically, fraudulently and illegally undermining this process?



Of course, questioning the banks might cause trouble for the already troubled economy, which we all know was caused by Democrats, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and not banks at all. Really.

Though it is funny to hear White House staffers balk at a foreclosure moratorium because it may have "unintended consequences." #isntitironic #dontchathink

HT: Jeffrey

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This Year's Playoff Proposal

Talking college football. A book comes out this week. Blutarsky breaks down Barnhart's review.

I never thought hating the BCS would become a bonafide industry, but here it is. One new predictor of business model success is how much money individuals can be made advocating for change in your business model.

This year's critique actually comes in the form of a book, instead of heated message board flame wars and blog posts. I wonder how many people go out and actually buy the book, as so much BCS/Playoff debate has already taken place online (and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon).

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Outside Its America

One interesting theme discussed among those individuals who see the United States descending into a police state is the rumored existence of FEMA re-education camps. (It is one of the reasons used to justify the argument that the US taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for a national emergency response agency...)

But, really, who needs FEMA re-education camps when you already have this kind of thing up and running?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Most Despicable Political Ad Ever

Set the scene:

A traditional caucasian family in a modest home in Anysuburb, USA. Sweet wife reading to two beautiful kids from the Bible. Then the shot of the back door, and the husband sneaking out, like a thief holding his boots. Close-up of his wedding ring.

He carefully slips out the backyard gate, and then sees a giant, blinking sign that says "Enter Here!" The lights come up, and there are a team of heavily made-up, scantily clad, busty women holding a sign that says:

Your Republican Senator Welcomes You to the Serious Sin Bunny Ranch


The husband, seeing no danger, gleefully motions for some friends to follow him inside. The scene changes, and now there are fat cat oil lobbyists "making it rain" hundred dollar bills on dancing girls in various states of undress. Text appears on screen noting how certain GOP candidates tried to keep oil companies from cleaning up the oil spill.

An Aerosmith look alike band is on stage, playing "Hot For Teacher." Text appears on screen noting how certain GOP candidates want to eliminate the Department of Education.

Cops and prosecutors watch from across the street, arresting what appears to be a news crew.

A well dressed gentleman opens the door to what can only be the Champagne Room, and through the door, there is a man on all fours, in a diaper, being fraternity-pledge paddled like the bad boy he is by a temptress with knee-high leather boots. On her top, she wears only "Hello, My Name Is" stickers.

On it is scrawled the name "Wendy," seductively.

Photomontaged over this is the scene from a Republican office holder's press conference, where he apologises for his "serious sin."

As the commercial fades out, the man in the diaper picks up the paddle and advances on the temptress. Before we can see what happens, our view becomes obscured by the closing door, and all we can see is the man's buddies - cheering and hi-fiving.

It is a disgusting commercial, one that has no place in the rational political discourse of a healthily functioning democracy.

The really bad part is that political types all over the nation are so drawn to this type of campaign ad, that they are planning to run it in several tight races, with only the names and faces of the candidates changed.

Disgusting.

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Guaranteed Retirement Accounts: The Government's Own Little Tea Party?

So when Santelli finally gets around to throwing those junk derivatives in the river, are our 401k's going to be floating right along beside them? About once a month, Neel Boortz froths at the mouth that Democrats in Washington are going to take your 401k's, IRA's, etc and roll them into some new government-controlled pension plan. I don't buy into slippery slopes and crap like that so I've largely ignored him until today. It seems Boortz claims talk has started on just such a seizure.

And I have a hard time believing it. If you think Pat is politically in the tank just wait until a political Party takes the retirement money I spent the last decade of my life saving up and dumps it into Social Security Part Deux. So naturally I don't believe it and I dig deeper. I went to ABC News to get more info. Looks like I was right. Democrats aren't planning further Seppuku. The lady promoting this plan hardest is even backing off the idea of ending private contribution plans. All they really want is another layer of Social Security pension checks disguised as retirement accounts, which is equally stupid but isn't going to lead me becoming Pat(R).

Look, private industries don't do pensions anymore for a reason. You can pretend this is some sort of individual account but as long as your balance depends on "each worker's contributions and income level" (emphasis mine) you're probably using a pretty nonstandard definition of "account." Offering a "guaranteed a fixed rate of return that exceeds inflation by 3 percent?" Hell, Wall Street can't do that. How's the Party that can't find a candidate better than Barney Frank to chair the House Financial Services Committee going to do any better? I'll tell you how: they'll introduce us to yet another ponzi scheme. This is a train wreck waiting to happen, but fortunately not for the big reason Mr. Boortz would like us to think.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Equivalency Exam

Oh, if only columnists would hold themselves and their industry to the same standard they require of football coaches, we may have an actually informative, investigative, accountable media that is worth reading.

I mean, could you imagine a world where AJC columnists, editors and reporters held the Atlanta Public Schools or candidates for Georgia governor to the same standards they hold Coach Mark Richt? Could you imagine a world where Louisiana and national reporters spent as much time discussing the tomfooleries of Senator David Vitter instead of Coach Les Miles?

< / rolling eyes >

Compare and Contrast

Private company causes major ecological disaster. Check the response:

four things now needed to happen: Damages must be paid to those affected by the spill; jobs at the plant must be saved; those responsible must be held accountable; and further risks at the company's sites should be identified.

Strong words. How do they get backed up?

"We need to bring the company responsible for the [spill] under state control, and its assets under state closure, until all of these four tasks are handled,"

Then the authorities went out and detained the company's director "on suspicion of public endangerment and environmental damage". They didn't stop there, either, as they seized the company's accounts "to ensure that funds were available to compensate for the damages caused by the disaster."

OMG TEH SOCIALIZMS!!!

He said the spill was "not a natural catastrophe" and so any damages must be paid "first and foremost not by taxpayers but by those who caused the damage."

Oh, the accountability! But wait, levees might be involved?

"In light of what happened, we have good reason to believe that there were people who were aware of the dangerously weakened state of the walls of the reservoirs, but driven by their private interests they believed they were not worth repairing and hoped that the trouble could be avoided," he added.

Wow.

Now, I don't want the United States to become Hungary, but that kind of response cannot be trifled with. Think about that next time something happens in the USA, and some elected official starts up with a song and dance.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

The Orleansification of Atlanta's Schools

And not in a good way. The DeKalb County School Board is about to implode their system, and nobody seems to have any idea how to stop the nosedive.

And, after reading that article, that's a nosedive of spectacular fashion.

Reading about this reminds me that New Orleans isn't the only place where this type of system-wide collapse takes place. (Though the Atlanta article does include a word you aren't likely to hear within 100 feet of any New Orleanian discussion on public education: accreditation.)

I'd bet charter-school and school-choice advocates are licking their chops to get after DeKalb. But that just brings me back to my main complaint about charters, school-choice and privatization-of-public-resources in the first place: If we can't fix problems when our tax dollars pay the bills and officials we elect will not do the people's business, why do you think contracting those services out will bring any better response? If something isn't working, why put another layer of unaccountable individuals between ourselves and successful communities?

All this is further proof, to me at least, that we don't have to go all Tea Party and play revolution in order to "take back our country." We don't have to take every decision out of the "government" hands that we, the people, theoretically control. We just have to reengage and reinvest with local and state decision making processes in the dynamic and progress prone ways that have been essential to every forward step this country has taken.

If we don't, the drama of the DeKalb School Board will only continue to plauge us, no matter where we live or what we do.

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"The Problem With New Orleans' Charter Schools" Continued

Well, not so much "continued" as "redirected."

As you should all click here and read Jeffrey's comprehensive post on this matter. A teaser:

What the charter system does is segregate students according to their families' ability to navigate the application process. More often than not, such divisions occur along the same lines as class, social status, and race. The result is a system where the best performing charters draw the most privileged students while the most needy are shunted off into a separate but equally "public" educational ghetto.


Boom.

On another tangent, this is one hell of a demonstration about how the media can manipulate public opinion. I wonder if the Newsweek article showed up in a print edition? I'll have to go to the store on the way home and find out.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"The Problem With New Orleans' Charter Schools" (Updated)

That's the title of this Newsweek article. It spends time examining the numbers. Though education "reform" and "school choice" advocates nationwide have been holding New Orleans' charter school experiment up as a runaway success, the truth goes much deeper than their breathless press releases and powerpoints.

Especially for special needs students who are not recieving adequate attention or education.

It is the first national article I've read that is in any way critical of what is going on here. If you're intention is to really fix a problem, and really enact sustainable, long term reforms to better serve our nation's students, you can't just look at everything through rose-colored lenses.

Update: Thursday Breakfast

Jeffrey from Library Chronicles rightly adds to this conversation by pointing out this article at The Lens on charter school public accountability.

Basically, the taxpayers fund the charter schools, and as such, they are required to hold open meetings and follow certain sets of rules. The Lens investigated how well they follow the letter of the law, and many were found wanting.

If any charter school or school choice advocates out there wonder why those movements are viewed with suspicion, taking public money on one hand and claiming to be exempt from public funding rules on the other is one very quick way to erode credibility. If the charters are supposed to be doing it better and cleaner than the last system we had here, why are so many of them engaging in the same problematic behavior that plauged the system before?

Again, real reform requires open eyes and accountability. Responding rationally to questions and critiques is not only a necessary part of that process, it is a common sense approach to deep, sustained, long lasting reforms.

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Feudalism Now (Updated)

I'll file this item in two places:

1. Local government decisions affect your life in enormous ways; you also have a greater say in local government decisions, should you so choose. Don't spend all your time complaining about folks screwing things up in Washington, D.C., when there are plenty of folks screwing things up down your street.

2. Follow through. Once you think you've "won" something, you have to make sure it is implemented correctly. Because progress-resistant forces, like roaches, will always find the little hole in the wall of your best intentions to squeeze through.


Update: Wednesday Lunch Break

Related - a black judge rejects plea deal for white defendant. The judge claims that DA would not be so lenient on a black defendant. Look for this issue to become the next "oppressed white people" meme on talk-radio and right-wing blogs.

If you don't think that DA's across this land statistically and consistently go easier on white people for the same crimes committed as black people, as many of the commentors on the MSNBC article seem to think, you just are not living in Reality.

Sorry.

You don't even have to read the research to understand the truth of this matter (PDF), you only have to live in the South for more than 15 minutes.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Moments of Truth

Are the folks playing revolution really about limiting spending and the size of government? One of my long-term agreements with honest and intellectually consistent libertarians is the need to reign in defense spending.

The Economist's Democracy in America blog rightly calls our current situation the "Warfare State," as the USA accounts for more than half of all military expenditures worldwide.

That means we're subsidizing "peace" on the backs of the US taxpayers, a point that isn't missed:

Slashing military spending will not only shrink government and help put us on a path to fiscal responsibility while stripping unaccountable, fat-cat defence contractors of hundreds of billions in corporate welfare. It will also strip foreigners, many of whom speak ridiculous languages, of large defence subsidies paid out of your pocket!


It isn't lost on the author that our nation's subsidization of peace currently includes two global conflicts, one a pre-emptive war.

What isn't mentioned is that, despite our jaw-droppingly profligate military budget, our nation has yet to subdue adversaries in two nations that could charitably be called "fourth rate powers."

The narrative used in American politics is that "supporting the troops" requires nothing more than spending more money on "defense," even though we rarely see the line items of where those funds distribute. We rarely see the shareholder reports from the companies landing government defense contracts. I suspect those distributions and reports are much higher dollar values than those recieved in the paychecks of our troops on the ground, their families or our veterans seeking assistance once back at home.

One other reason it is so difficult to make hard choices and scale back on "defense" spending is that political opponents (of any stripe) will immediately latch on to the funding cut and label the rational actor "un-American" or "spitting on veterans" as if the Lockheed-Martin contract is some blood covered hill.

And don't get me started about how much crap is added to defense appropriations bills in Congress because "who wants to vote against the troops?" is somehow allowed by the voters of this nation to be an effective political device.

Because the way we pay to secure the world's peace is one of the fundamental problems with our nation's economy.


HT The Daily Dish (with more links on this subject)

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I Wonder

What does South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint think of Louisina Senator David Vitter? DeMint is fairly outspoken regarding other Americans' private lives, after all.

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Pattern and Practice

When prosecutors don't follow lawful, legal proceedures when prosecuting alleged criminals, not only do you run the risk of convicting the innocent, but when nobody trusts your office to enforce the laws - there can never be any justice for the victims of crime.

Especially if you screw up a death penalty so bad you end up defending yourself in the presense of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

John Holloway at Slate examines Connick vs. Thompson, which will be heard before the SCOTUS tomorrow.

In 1995, Esquire photographed him, for a piece on the death penalty, standing confidently in front of his desk with one of his favorite office decorations: a 12-inch-high, battery-powered (and operational) electric chair, complete with the mug shots of the five men he had personally prosecuted successfully in capital punishment cases. All five have subsequently been released or had their death sentences commuted to life due to procedural problems in their trials.


The plaintiff, the wrongfully convicted party, released after 18 years on death row and "acquitted in 35 minutes" once all the evidence and witnesses in the case were heard. Yes, he won his lawsuit. For an awful lot of money.

Now on defense, "prosecutors should have absolute immunity from suit—that there simply are no circumstances serious enough to allow private citizens to recover damages from the DA's office."

No circumstances serious enough. Because the state executing an innocent man isn't considered serious circumstances.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

We Don't Need No Water

Since I have been one of those realists who has "scored points" pointing out the inherent socialism of our nations' fire departments, I will submit the following for your consideration:

Man's house burns down because he didn't opt in to voluntary Fire Department participation. He even tried to pay the fire department to put out the fire once they got on the scene.

And Atlas Shrugged.

HT: Adrastos at First-Draft

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

"Georgia football may or may not exist to begin with"

And now we begin the strange, out of body experience that is witnessing a previously elite SEC football program, with talent on the level of any team in the country, go 1 - 4 in their first 5 games.

T Kyle King at Dawg Sports pens an eerily even keeled, if insomniac, perspective peice, whereas Hey, Jenny Slater is taking his Audi Q5 to his condo on the Gulf to start writing his second book.

And the Georgia loss wasn't even the worst one of the day. That goes to the LSU Tigers, who lost to a scrappy, never-say-die Tennessee team at home. Or, at least, they should have. But games cannot end on defensive penalties, and the Volunteers inexplicably had 13 defenders on the field as LSU's offensive bumbles would have ended under any normal circumstances. As the Senator says, "That might be the most gut wrenching loss I've ever seen."

Which means next week's Tennessee vs. Georgia game will be won not by the x's and o's, but by whichever team gets the best psychological therapy this week.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Castles Made of Sand

Meanwhile, at The Lens, Mark Moseley points out massive government failures and media oversights Louisiana has experienced over the course of this BP Gulf Oil Spill thing, which continues even today.

Only this time, the folks responsible aren't the ones you've heard about from the national, liberal media.

The pictures of the heavy earth-moving equipment foundering in the Gulf of Mexico would have been political dynamite, had they hit the national media at any time.

And why is that important? "Austerity." Please see also: paragraph six.

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Closing the Enthusiasm Gap

About 5 weeks left, but if Obama brings more of this, it might be a long 5 weeks.

The Democrats and the President are betting hard on the under-30 crowd, and that's usually the group that leaves candidates at the electoral altar. But he's right about this: if everyone who showed up to vote in 2008 shows up to vote in 2010, Democrats win. Again.

Can they get that turnout, though?

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