Monday, February 28, 2011

Torturing Your Way To Freedom

Of course, if this view gains any traction, the neocons and defenders of George W. Bush's Presidential legacy will let us know this was all part of their double-secret plan to bring real democracy and human rights to the Middle East.

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A Game Changer

Well, this information could certainly change things.

Because if we're not really talking about the public employees contributing more or "sacrificing," as the political and media lines have led us to believe, then we're just playing scapegoat politics without real solutions.

(HT: Jeffrey.)

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My Private (Public) Space

Don't worry, northerners. While y'all are busy putting furniture in parking spaces you've shoveled out of the snow, folks down South have to deal with navigating homemade street barricades manned by small children and inebriated adults, or a raft of debris thrown onto public streets to reserve parking spaces during Jazz Fest.

Y'all have fun with that snow.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Insufficient Evidence

What has happened, and what still happens, in regards to our generations' "War on Terror," should be a shame on our national conscience as great as that of the Japanese American Internment. I could relate it to many of the historical injustices the people of this nation, through fear or greed, suspended the rights of fellow Americans for purposes that could only be described as illegitimate or lazy. But the Internment is the one that comes to mind the easiest, because that should have been our lesson on fear-based government overreach.

Maybe it would be easier to draw lines to our history if politicians, pundits and cultural harpies didn't spend so much time trying to rewrite or undermine the events and lessons of the past.

For those of you wondering, this is but one of the reasons I will never fully trust the government. I love my country, I respect my government, and I realize that anyone can make mistakes. But I also know that people who make mistakes don't like to admit it, and any human being can make assumptions. If that human being has some form of authority, he can do significant damage with those assumptions if he is able.

If someone in authority thinks you are a threat, and you have limited resources to defend yourself, they will come for you first. Vigilance is always necessary so that such things like this can be called out when the time comes, cynicism is always necessary to make sure you aren't being fed a bunch of bullshit when those in authority tell you about it.

It is also important from a real security standpoint. Behaving badly will always keep them from effectively focusing resources on the more legitimate threats - they will be too busy with the low hanging fruit.

This is one of the reasons I refuse to respond to the politics of fear.

This is also one of the reasons I find it abhorrent and intellectually sloppy to equate all Muslims or Middle Easterners with terrorism in our political discourse, our campaigns, our media and our culture. That helps cover up those in authority who make mistakes, it helps those mistakes make us less secure, and it only increases the ignorance necessary for our population to forget (and thus repeat) the sad lessons of our own history.

This is also one of the reasons I find it ridiculous that interrogations might involve torture, or that individuals can be held by our government for significant periods of time without formal charges being brought. If someone is a prisoner of war, they are a prisoner of war - obey those rules. If someone is suspected of a crime, bring charges against them in a court of law. It really is that simple.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two Acts of Violence

There are tens of thousands on the streets right now demonstrating support for Labor and "liberal" causes. So why isn't the mainstream media telling you about all the incidents of violence these thugs are accountable for? Because the list really isn't that long.

If you want the media to treat conservative activists as generally good people who have bad apples and assholes in their midst, you have to treat left-wing activists the same way.


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Friday, February 25, 2011

By the Numbers

Events in Wisconsin have collided with an interesting narrative when it comes to public education.

For years, school "reformers" have focused on teachers and teachers' unions as keys to making education better. I would go so far as to say it is a national talking point that teachers' unions ruin public education.

Of course, this line of thinking might make you think that states with the least powerful teachers' unions have the best public education systems, right? Well, the states with the least powerful teachers' unions are all in the South.

Uh oh.

The states with the worst education scores are also in the South.

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Christendom

Rick Santorum sums up the problems with historical revisionism and its application to utopian right-wing politics. He is one of the reasons people can freely associate mainstream Republicans with the policies of 'endless war' and the 'clash of civilizations.'

This is a guy invited to speak to private Christian schools, and Republican womens' organizations in South Carolina - an early primary state for Presidential politics. Santorum has a high profile, nationally, and continues the politics of theocracy, demonization of Islam, and appears to advocate perpetual war by America against nations of the Middle East.

Sounds like a lot of national Republicans these days, doing what they can to fire up the base for 2012.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Victims and Accusers

What is the difference?

This comes to light as part of the national exposure GA State Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) is receiving on account of his penchant for proposing ridiculous and destructive legislation. One of his claims to fame is legislation that would require the government to investigate natural pregnancy terminations to ensure that they weren't artificial pregnancy terminations.

One of his other national claims to fame is a bill that would reclassify individuals subjected to rape, children subjected to sexual harassment, domestic violence and stalking as "accusers" instead of "victims."

Let us first talk about the necessary splitting of hairs in the instances of the alleged crimes under discussion, and the removal of the legal term "victim" or "victim of an alleged crime" and replacing it with the term "accuser."

When someone is a "victim" of something, that something has been proven to have happened to them. When you "accuse" someone of doing something to you, it may or may not have happened, based on the evidence you present. This legislation's supporters focus on those legal ramifications, because those terms indicate a significant difference, you see, in regards to the law.

The legislation in question appears to require that a criminal act should be proven in a court of law before the "victim" is legally described as a "victim." Until that determination by a court has been made, the individual bringing the charges is nothing but a "person making an accusation."

At least, that's what it appears to do. What it actually does is call into question the very existence of even alleged crimes, even those based on evidence or arrests made based on probable cause. The reason so many individuals are upset nationwide, and labeling this legislation part of a "Republican War on Women" is because, to a great extent, that is exactly what this legislation is meant to be.

When someone is "hit by a bullet discharged from a firearm" we call that person a "gunshot victim." They are described, in almost every way, as the "victim," because something demonstrable has happened to them. We do not say, legally, that they are "accusing someone of shooting them," because it is obvious that person has been shot.

Now, I don't know for sure, but I'd say there is language all throughout the Georgia code, and the codes of the several states, where individuals who have suffered a robbery, identity theft, assault and battery, hit and run, fraud, and many other alleged crimes are described as "victims" of the alleged crime. In non-legal parlance, these individuals are described as "victims," because something demonstrable has happened to these individuals. They are known as victims before and after a criminal conviction, they are known as victims sometimes even without a provable criminal conviction. The only time they are NOT considered victims is if it can be proven that no crime had actually been committed.

Changing the text in the code describing the "victims" to "accusers" negates the idea that something has happened to these individuals, and places the burden of proof on them to demonstrate that a crime has been committed (and that law enforcement should take their claims seriously), which is different from proving who committed a crime. The legal parallel to this would be to assume that every gunshot wound was self-inflicted until proven otherwise.

Does this legislation's credibility still exist? I'll get preventative, and go one step further than the self-infliction theory of victimless crime. Looking at this legislation, it seems that there might be some small reason to adjust the legal language, some hiding place where credibility might still be found.

Then you read it in the context of the whole Georgia Code, and you begin to see that convictions were already assumed when the revisions start changing who is a "victim."

Ergo: A person commits the act of stalking when they engage in thus and such criminal behavior. The punishments are thus. A person commits the act of aggravated stalking when they engage in thus and such criminal behavior. The punishments are thus. The victim of the aforementioned crimes has these enumerated rights.

I fail to see a need to revise the definition of "victim" in this case, unless A) you aren't reading the code in its proper, easily understandable context or B) your intention is to undermine the understanding of the term "victim."

This becomes even more obvious when you read the revision to the term "victim" as it relates to rape, even in the context of the individual section of the Georgia code. Here, the text of the law already makes explicit the existant relationship between an alleged rape and a person who is the victim of an alleged crime. It recognizes that taking an allegation of crime seriously is not mutually exclusive to the presumption of innocence. Something demonstrable happened to the victim; law enforcement must take that seriously and investigate.

Ergo: Rape is thus and such, punishments are thus and such (including DEATH!), "when evidence relating to an allegation of rape is collected in the course of a medical examination of the person who is the victim of the alleged crime," the local law enforcement pays for it.

I fail to see a legal inconsistency there as it relates to victims of alleged crimes. The replacement of the word "victim" with "accuser" is nothing more than culture war syntax, hiding behind a veneer of "fairness to the accused," which does not appear undermined by the current reading of the text. Especially since the code does not presume the guilt of some party, but rather the existence of a crime and the need to collect evidence and investigate.

As the legislation continues, and I could pick apart more of it if I wanted, but this post is already 50% longer than it should be. I figure that by destroying the first two revisions, and proving that they are unnecessary in the first place and actually damaging to victim's rights in the second, I have no need to further tear apart this legislation, or spend much more time on this yahoo Republican who is obviously letting some interest group (or deep seated motive) drive his legislative agenda.

I will close with the more shocking things I found out while researching this post. I would like to say that I'm stunned that these items were ignored by the media and internet folks investigating this guy's legislation, but that is just further demonstration that no "side" holds a monopoly on incomplete examinations of fact.

In Georgia, a victim of stalking or aggravated stalking is only informed by law enforcement that their stalker has escaped, posted bail, or been released if that victim has a land-line phone law enforcement can call. That's a problem.

Also, rape is not just something that happens to a woman at the hands of a man. Defining it in such a way is another problem.

Finally, no one should be convicted of a crime based on unsupported testimony of one individual (this is in regards to third of Franklin's revisions). If that needs to be stated, that's probably also a problem.

The lesson? Georgia's criminal code has lots of places where improvement is needed. Changing the word "victim" to the word "accuser" as prescribed by Rep. Franklin's legislation do not represent needed improvement, and in fact represent either a complete misreading of the law or a demonstrated and deliberate attempt to trivialize the crimes of stalking, aggravated stalking, rape, domestic violence, and obscene telephone contact with a child.

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Maybe I'm wrong...

I've always maintained that once retail is dead, it stays dead. Nothing will ever bring it back to prosperity. Wal-Mart is betting a huge chunk of change that I'm wrong. They're building a Super Center in south Dallas on the grave of the old Target at I-35 and Ledbetter.

For those not familiar with the area, it was once home to the first Target in the Metroplex. It was in a nice shopping area with a Red Lobster, a decent strip mall anchored by Kroger, and a few other things. Then the neighborhood went to crap. If you drive through there these days, most houses have bars on the windows and there's even a service station with a couch sitting out front next to the ice machine. That's not really Target's cup of tea so they left in the late-80's when they opened a new store at Red Bird Mall. Everything else that didn't leave for the new mall went under. Now what do you do with a huge red building in a crappy neighborhood? Salvation Army, naturally. So it was a Salvation Army store for a long time but after a while even the Salvation Army left. I don't know what kind of Biff-Tannen-induced post-apocalyptic environment has to exist before the Salvation Army calls your neighborhood a shithole and packs up shop, but Oak Cliff reached that point.

Fast forward to now. Wal-Mart is building a Super Store at that very same intersection. How will it work out? My prediction would be a disaster, but this is Wal-Mart. They didn't become a retail giant by throwing money away on lost causes. I'll be interested to find out how this goes.

CORRECTIONS:
-It has come to my attention that this may not have been the first Target in the Metroplex. It was still one of the first.
-I used "new mall" yet Red Bird Mall was roughly a decade old at that point. That was poor wording on my part.
-That area may not actually be in Oak Cliff. I always considered everything north of I-20 and south of the Trinity River on I-35E to be Oak Cliff. I think I'm wrong about that after looking at Google Maps.

Outlaw Tunes

First-Draft has more video footage of continued union "thuggery" in Wisconsin.

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The Unions Forever?

I don't subscribe to that apparent left-wing narrative that "all unions are always good always." Unions, like any large human organization, are just as capable of serious and fatal flaws as they are to obsolecence.

But the "union thuggery" narrative used so often by the far-right wing, despite contrary evidence, is a national one. It further erodes the credibility of real conservatives who associate with madness like this and refreshes in my mind what is at stake in Madison.

Don't fool yourself, this is all about political power, political marketing and credibility. Ending the right to collectively bargain has very little to do with actually balancing a budget. Because budgets have to do with revenues and expenditures; you don't balance those two things by significantly cutting revenues while reducing tiny amounts of expenditures and granting massive subsidies or giveaways to political allies.

In essence, the Republican runs on a platform of fiscal responsiblity, then institutes fiscally irresponsible legislation while cloaking it in some larger, more emotional national narrative. If they actually win, all the better. If they lose, they get to harvest the support that comes from intellectually incurious individuals on their "side" who see other Americans as less than Americans. Partisan political hackery at its finest.

As for the unions and their sympathizers, I can only hope this serves as a wake-up call to revitalize local and state-level activism. I hope it serves as a moment when these unions and activists become more politically savvy. (The ironic "union thug" t-shirt is a fantastic idea that needs to be replicated.) I hope this is the moment they begin to bring unions back from the brink of outdated-ness that they are fast approaching. There is some serious antipathy towards unions in this country, and for real reasons. These folks should start to see that, and not just base their support on something because all the cool liberals are doing it.

And they shouldn't couch this one event in terms of "losing" and "winning." Just because the GOP gets their legislation now doesn't mean that policy can't change later. You just have to remain vigilant and involved. If you fail to acheive your objectives here, you have to reevaluate and try again later. Once you do acheive your objectives, you must always seek to improve them. In a representative republic, we don't just get to enjoy one legislative battle and then luxuriously never revisit the issue.

Because, when it comes to unions, there is an awful lot of self-improvement that could take place.

I'm from the South, so it ain't like I've had a lot of experience with unions, even though I was in one for a year. A public employees union at that. Despite even active participation in said union, I am at a loss to figure out what that union did for me as a worker. Or for any of my co-workers, for that matter. I am at a loss to figure out what value that union added to the local area, whose public schools had experienced decades of decline and neglect.

Apparently, I was paying dues so some national-level union administrators could have snazzy lunches with congressfolk, and some local-level union administrators could throw cookouts. I also guess that, if anything had happened to me, the union might appoint some local and well connected lawyer to my case, if I didn't have the wherewithal to get one on my own. They could have just called the union I was in "legal troubles insurance." That's how membership was sold to me, after all. Though I never could find out how that would have worked. I also didn't quite trust the track record, since the union watched as 5,000+ employees were summarily dismissed once upon a time, and not one thing could be done about it.

This is all in spite of the fact that I knew some very spirited and sincere individuals who worked for that union. But that's to be expected. After all, I am from the South, and we've got a lot of spirited and sincere people here. Whatever civic or private organizations we create, there are going to be those people - just like there will be bad people. That's just the nature of things.

Despite the fact that I'm a "liberal,"* I'm a Southern liberal, and we tend to focus more on race than collective bargaining. To collectively bargain, after all, you have to accept some semblance of equality in the collective. And corporate interests didn't even have to divide us down here before we were conquered, we generally handled that for them ahead of time.




* (Roughly defined, by both "liberals" and "conservatives" as "anyone who doesn't agree with the most right-wing utopian thought processes.")
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Quirky Strategies"

Continuing the New Orleans Needs a Population Explosion line of thought, Brad Vogel envisions the use of "quirky strategies" to encourage young entreprenuers to move to New Orleans.

We need to break through the static to attract residents from around that nation and beyond. Detroit, to cite one tactic worth pondering, is basically giving away houses to attract residents. Lately, the Louisiana Land Trust is sending rafts of hundreds of blighted New Orleans houses through the demolition approval process – although these properties could instead be sold off very inexpensively to prospective residents looking for a true fixer upper. While there are daunting legal logistics to overcome, it’s time to start brainstorming about things as unorthodox as a vacant house lottery on a national television program – how about The Colbert Report — in which a well-known New Orleanian – Wendell Pierce? — who invites people to come on down not just to grab beignets at Cafe du Monde, but to fix up a camelback in St. Roch and live here, even if the living is a bit spartan at first.


While I agree in concept with the increased population model, I do not think New Orleans needs to "look outside the box" or develop "quirky strategies." I find that kind of thought process counterproductive, as it does not address the controllable root causes of either the blight or emigration problems. As a matter of fact, I think it covers them up in an effort to "trick" prospective residents to move here and fix up homes, going so far as to use the term "bait."

I know we live in Louisiana, and crying "Tiger Bait!" is the counterintuitive rallying cry for the local college football franchise, but "bait" is usually employed to lure some unsuspecting creature into a trap that doesn't turn out well in the end.

"Thinking outside the box" in a productive way would actually require New Orleanians to rely on significant and lasting civic reform instead of hip marketing or appearances on the Colbert Report. Just as you can't advertise BP's oil off the beaches of Mississippi (as Jeffrey spent the better part of last year reminding us), you can't advertise your way out of urban blight.

You don't "bait" new residents to move to New Orleans by offering to give away ramshackle homes in high-risk neighborhoods. If it were that easy, the city would be full already. At some point, you have to figure out that the folks who want to come here to live that "urban pioneer" lifestyle < / rolling eyes > have already done so. That type of marketing is basically preaching to the choir, and you need to expand your marketing demographic if you really want to bring in new residents.

That means you have to figure out what institutional practices are driving people out or keeping people out of New Orleans in the first place, despite the climate and culture and all the advantages of the area. You have to figure out what is keeping people who already live here from addressing these issues themselves. That involves a lot of civic introspection, and a lot of difficult political and cultural work.

It may not be as trendy as sending Wendell Pierce to the Colbert Report, but that is the only way to sustain a robust, dynamic, sustainable and realisitic population expansion.

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The Low Hanging Branches

The poisoning of Toomer's Oaks in Auburn, Alabama continues to be a case study regarding Southern culture taken to the most absurd extremes.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Low Hanging Fruit

Well, I reckon if the ignorant behaviors of state legislators are fair game* in the national political conversation, I'm definitely entering this dingleberry into the record.

Because while this legislation likely won't make it out of committee, I absolutely think it tells you where some Republicans would be on reproductive rights if there weren't folks around to disagree with them.

It also serves as a reminder to all of us back here in reality that natural biology remains the number one terminator of pregnancies in the world.


* (HT: DADvocate)

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All About Progression

"Recognize the romanticism of history but do not be fooled by it."

Even when it comes to the food.

Sentimentality is a powerful emotion. You remember "good times" from the past and want to try and recreate them over and over. Couple that with the natural human trait to replicate those behaviors that brought them success or accolades, as if the situation or circumstances never change, and you've got a recipie for stagnation. We spend so much time trying to replicate past success that we forfeit new successes we could acheive.

And that truth can be applied to so many things.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Four Articles

School systems don't just affect the students attending classes, they affect their entire communities. I think about this as New Orleans - and so many other communities in the South - attempt to reconcile our historical legacies and suburban exodus with rebuilding our cities.

Regarding that motion, I'm reading four articles right now that tie into this.

New Orleans Needs a Population Explosion

A Conversation with Edward L. Glaeser.

Athens Rising February 11

And finally, though it isn't an article per se, I'm still thinking about the panel discussion from Tuesday night, the comments here and the observations of other who were there or those following online.

All of this information has to do with the way cities interact with their populations, which inspire or stifle innovations, affecting education, which in turn affects their populations, which inspire innovations...

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A Good School System

I'm still unpacking some of the things I heard at the 5 Years Later panel regarding the current state of New Orleans public education.

The thing that bothered me most was that everyone on stage appeared to agree with OPSB Member Brett Bonin's statement (and I'm paraphrasing) that 'now New Orleans knows what a good school system looks like.'

That might make for good copy, but the truth was exposed later on when the moderator asked the panel 'what does a good school system look like?' The panelists responded with boilerplate statements regarding "student success" and "school success scores" and students who could engage in "critical thinking." The closest any panelist came was the RSD Deputy Superintendent, who said that a good school system could be identified by a student body with an average ACT score of 20. This was verified by others in attendance.

Pardon me for thinking that if you "know" what a good school system looks like, you can describe more details than that. I could do better than that with my layman's knowledge of basic good school systems. Let me throw some darts at it:

1. A city of 350,000+ people should have, at the very least, 35 SACS accredited public elementary, middle, and high schools. Accreditation should be the basic administrative standard for any public school, traditional or charter. This means that when external evaluators from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools show up at a given school, there are instituional mechanisms in place that are known best practices in the field of education. This goes for academic and administrative elements.

2. A city of 350,000+ people should have, at the very least, 1 public SACS accredited school system, which means there is a governing body of public schools also engaged in administrative best-practices and effective instituional mechanisms that are recognized nationally.

And before you think it cannot be done, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish public schools, Plaquemines Parish public schools, and 15 other public school systems in the state of Louisiana maintain accreditation through SACS, as do hundreds, if not thousands, of other school systems across the South. Yes, it would be a process to get there, for New Orleans, but the biggest obstacle is a local culture that accepts nothing less than progress-prone priorities. Residents of this city deserve no less than residents of any other.

When it comes to "good schools" those two were easy, low hanging fruit. Which makes it more problematic when not one member of Tuesday's panel mentioned them. The elements of "good schools" only get more difficult from here.

3. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to read and comprehend the local newspaper front to back. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should possess a vocabulary large enough to express their thoughts and opinions clearly to others, and to comprehend the thoughts and opinions of others. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to use mathematic skills to solve everyday problems such as calculating cost of multiple items, balancing a checkbook, paying bills, and calculating percentages for tax and tip.

4. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be knowledgeable regarding accepted history of the state and city in which they live as well as the United States of America; students should demonstrate a familiarity with historically important persons, historically important events and why those people and events were important. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to apply the scientific method as a tool in testing theories about both the natural world and the social world; they should be able to identify relevant and valid data; and they should be knowledgeable about prevailing scientific theories explaining the natural and social worlds.

5. Students in a "good school system" will, by the 8th grade, have had the opportunity to engage in the following activities for at least a semester in length, if not more: play a musical instrument or sing; paint or draw a picture; type; use a computer to access information; participate in athletics or competitive sports; build something at school; take part in a theatrical performance; exchange ideas, thoughts and opinions through debate or verbal problem solving; be provided the opportunity to balance a budget, calculate interest/tax/tip, cook, sew, garden, take care of animals or practice some form of home economics; and finally participate in experiential learning outside of school through field trips.

6. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to provide robust access to all of the above to students who have demonstrated learning disabilities or exceptionalities.

7. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to provide robust access to all of the above to students who have demonstrated an inability to socialize into the school environment without disrupting the education of others, while working to minimize the limiting effect of such disruption.

8. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to properly identify and evaluate students with learning disabilities, exceptionalities, and disruptive socialization issues so they can be referred to the appropriate specialists required to provide the appropriate and necessary learning environment.

9. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to properly identify and evaluate students who are demonstrating difficulty in acheiving basic academic goals and develop audacious educational plans to work with these students to overcome these difficuluties.

10. A "good school system" will have the support of the community it serves both professionally and voluntarily; adequate funds to maintain a physical plant while retaining and developing human resources; and a governing board responsible for identifying and supplying needed resources within the means of funding provided.

Those are ten darts at the wall that I would use to describe a "good school system." This is just off the top of my head, but almost all are items I know I've discussed before. Of course, these are just the basics. The devil is in the details regarding how you acheive these goals.

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Chemical Weapons

The 130+ year old live oak trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama have been poisoned with massive amounts of herbicide.

Let me say, first of all, that this crosses the line of college prankery in the worst sort of way. Especially considering the lethal doses of poisonous herbicide used on a landmark where Auburn fans doubtless take pictures with their young children.

When they catch this guy or guys, I hope the full force of the law is brought down against them.

Update: Looks like they have a suspect in custody.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Upping the Ante

Andrew Breitbart must be jealous that Glenn Beck has recieved the lion's share of crazy conspiracy theories attention this month. His allegations against President Obama coupled with his newest explanation of the Shirley Sherrod video (it was all a part of this larger investigation of course) would be tough enough to believe at face value.

But coming from the already widely discredited Andrew Breitbart? Whatever. Burden of proof doesn't even begin to describe what he has to bring to the table before this fantastic tale of vote-buying and tax-fraud can be considered half-serious.

And still, folks wonder why I lump him in the same category as Beck.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 Years Later: Liveblogging



Immediate reaction - the person on this panel the most interested in returning New Orleans public schools to local control, identifying that special needs and low performing students are under-served by the market model, and who mentioned the proposed changes to system governance was the Republican member of the Orleans Parish School Board. He was also the only individual really talking about the serious money issues and externalities faced when running a school system, and his testimony offers the first public acknowledgement of a failed charter school that I've witnessed or heard of.

Also, "blame the teachers" still rules the roost, as far as education reform is concerned. One of the most oft-mentioned advantage of charters is the ability to hire and fire, and ignore tenure laws. This made it to the point where traditional RSD schools are being "forced" to take low-performing teachers, while charters get to pick the best of the best. It makes you wonder who hires these teachers in the first place, how they become certified if they are so bad, and why no one is able to identify or develop their human resources better than this. Teachers just didn't show up one day and take over a classroom, refusing to leave.

Continued "grand opportunity," "petri dish," and "advantages of Katrina" language is pervasive. At least there was some nod to the problems that existed before the storm.

Everyone swung and missed in describing any details concerning what a successful school system looks like. I'm starting to get the idea that no one in this city really knows.

Still, nothing regarding accreditation and how it relates to New Orleans schools or the charters currently participating in this experiment.

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Last question: when the question was asked about a successful school system, nobody brought up the local universities. With the only college of education locally at UNO and having trouble, what is the role between universities and local schools.

Hancock - Loyola used to have school of education, but no longer has it. Have to do better.

Guitterrez - New Teacher Project offering alternative certification, so folks at the state level began investigating ways to offer alternative certification.

Asher - many Teach for America teachers want to continue studies and get masters' degrees and Ph.D's and there is no opportunity to do that here.

Bonin - educating our teachers needs to be a state or government priority, especially teachers that come out of private universities.

8:55

Audience member knows a principal who managed an RSD school, bitter that charters had so many advantages. Had to take bad teachers, had to take bad students, and don't have resources as charters.

Bonin - at OPSB, they've moved to a site-based model. Site based hiring and site based budgeting. Trying to take advantages of charters and move them to traditional schools.

8:50

Why have RSD schools not been as successful as successful charters you've mentioned?

Guitterrez - Charters have no adherence to tenure laws. Charters can control hiring decisions. RSD investigating becoming more charter-like in this area.

Requests for proposals for charters to help RSD's in areas of highest need. Anyone can apply for a charter, but it is a rigorous process. Since inception 60% of charter applications have been denied because they weren't high operators. Always looking for opportunities to improve public schools.

Bonin - With competition for students and test scores, a lot of students who aren't doing well are ending up in regular schools run by the RSD. Place where the market based system doesn't work. Nobody in the marketplace wants special needs kids, nobody wants poorest performing students. Need to provide incentives for charters and schools to take these students.

Some schools end up with all of these students in the bad neighborhoods, and not a lot of wealthy folks put their money into those schools. And when you shut down schools that "fail" or students that move from school to school, what happens to those students.

8:45Q&A from the audience.

RSD in the process of going through a lawsuit regarding special education students in New Orleans. What actions have been taken to address this inequity?

Guitterrez - can agree that there was an problem before the storm with over diagnosing special education needs, especially when it came to African-American males. Had to carefully diagnose or re-diagnose students. Some students just needed to be taught well, others had to receive robust services. Challenges give us the opportunity to meet the challenges head on. Got to meet needs of plaintiff families one-on-one.

Have set up 1-800 number for families to call and approach RSD regarding special needs students.

Bonin - special needs is a money issue. It costs a lot more to deal with a special needs child than the schools can get. Problematic with market-based solutions. State does not have enough money for all of them. No charter can do this individually, risk imploding financially. Heart of issue is inequality of funding. Charters have to protect themselves. Have to find a way to not have so many special needs.

8:30 What went on with the OPSB pre-Katrina?

Bonin - Same amount of money went into OPSB as went into all other city agencies combined. People were upset with the takeover, and the emotions came from shock of takeover effect.

RSD took over more than 100+ schools. The effect is renewed participation and focus on schools. Completely new OPSB, with even two Republicans. Board has made strides, but still a power complaint.

Guitterrez - Regarding governance, natural tension exists with who runs the schools. We have the traditional framework of elected officials, and over 300 volunteers sitting on charter school boards. Mass amount of individuals involved in public education.

Have to keep an eye on which schools are getting more resources than others. How do you deal with the massive amounts of philanthropy? Good problem to have. But have to make sure there is equity so every student is exposed to high quality schools.

Asher - real positives that have come out of Katrina is how many people who are involved from a governance standpoint of our schools. Represent people who weren't involved in old OPSB because of corruption, or who had children in private schools or children who had already graduated.

Bonin - Absolutely right, Board has been working, but only for a short amount of time. Point is to integrate some of the RSD reforms that work and bring that into OPSB.

Final question: What does an excellent public education system look like?

Burns - questions imply that reforms were post-Katrina. Seeds of reforms were planted pre-Katrina. Hurricane provided opportunity to accelerate reforms, but storm didn't create new ideas, they were already coming about.

New Orleans is not a "new" New Orleans, things that happened before Katrina are not irrelevant. Things that went on in the old place will determine what the new place will look like.

Main complaints about OPSB and reforms were planted before hand.

Guitterrez - successful system serves all kids to reach proficiency levels. A system where students are leaving high school with an average 20 ACT score. Have an opportunity so that students can acheive that no matter what neighborhood or family structure they come from.

Hancock - successful system is where every student has the opportunity to get a great education, and have knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Guitterrez - Emotional moment when RSD was authorizing charters and de-authorizing regular schools, when a community member stressed that "reform should be something that happens with me, not something that happens to me." That's the sweet spot where we want to get.

Bonin - We know what a good system looks like, OPSB; RSD's success, and charter schools. Question comes down to power and control, that has to be addressed. Desire a local elected board should be authority for local schools. Desire on the state level to have control, especially of low-performing schools. Hopefully there will be some middle ground. Tension comes when OPSB proves success for 5 years, and once they try to get schools back, are told that a new governance model needs to be put in place.

All learning together. Priestly charter imploded financially just recently, what happens? Does OPSB assume their debt?

Governance is elephant in the room.

Burns - education is a collective problem and needs a collective solution. Does not work when society is divided over solution. Does not work when parts of society abandon it. Can have serious problems in the future, potential for greater tension.

Wonder what will happen when this all gets put back together: RSD, OPSB, Charters.

8:20 Why have New Orleans schools traditionally struggled?

Hancock - For the same reasons most schools have struggled, especially in the South. Lack of seriousness to educate African-American youth, white flight, intense politicization of schools and school districts. Goes back 100 years in New Orleans, when schools were part of political machines. Economic mismanagement and perpetuated willful neglect.

Is this a national city trend, or is there something specific to New Orleans?

Guitterrez - Three school systems in New Orleans before storm: private schools, magnet schools and "other." Most reforms after the storm focus on the "other."

Private school system actually pre-dated public schools in New Orleans. Was confusing as parents determined what private school to sent students to. Now, system can be confusing, but now options are open to low income families.

Schools now a petri dish to figure out what works, but this isn't rocket science. The reforms driving education in the city are 3 things: kids must be aware what test scores mean, so kids can take responsibility of own education, quality of teacher, quality of leader. Movement depends on this, focusing on what we should focus on.

Bonin - completely agrees. Goes back to racism, middle class abandonment of school system. Old system imploded on itself, it went from 180,000, to 80,000 students to 40,000 after the storm. Shrinking school system with a physical maintenance of 120 schools and retirement for a much larger school system. No help from state.

Money for reforms are not pouring into everyone. Minimum funding levels from the state have not increased for three years.

Charter schools great because neighborhoods can participate, but what happens when there is a charter in a good part of the city with massive donations compared to a charter in New Orleans East or the Lower 9 where those donations may not be available.



8:15 Asher - why do you think charters are good, and are they nationally replicated? New Orleans has a tremendous opportunity with the ability to reform education. 71 percent of students in New Orleans attend charter schools, and charter schools are accountable to parents, boards, and lenders.

Charter schools are public schools free to determine curriculum, budgets, discipline and hiring teachers. Charters eliminate collective bargaining that protects teachers, and requires them to perform at highest levels. Charters are no better or worse nationally, but in New Orleans it means you have a shot of being better because you are charter. Charters have better ways to quantify if students are being successful. Needs of students come first.

Value competition between teachers and schools. Can eliminate all academically suspect schools.

Governance framework is critical to moving forward.

8:10 Hancock - Institute for Quality and Equity in Education is continuing research for both parents and systems. Primary focus moving forward is identifying factors independent of school governance that help students succeed. Still in process of building capacity to do that research.

Major concern is to provide resources to organizations and parents to help them navigate the system in its current state. Making sure people have access to data and research so they can make the right decisions.

Also providing opportunity for Loyola students to get involved with the community and engage in New Orleans. Not interested in being advocates, but ready to assist advocates and parents with research or access needs.

8:05 Mogg - how have schools improved since the storm? Improvement in school scores, and student success on standardized testing. It is hard to tell which reforms have driven improvement, from school choice to longer school days. Now that federal funding is running out, some of those reforms will have to be scaled back.

OPSB has made financial progress, RSD has started paying vendors on time.

Nature of new system, and control charters have help money get spent more effectively. "Those closer to students are know better how to spend money than those in a central office."

Pastorek and Vallas were able to get 2 billion from FEMA to address physical concerns, and 3 schools have already been completely renovated.


8 Dr. Burns, what is the most important reform? The increased attention to schools in New Orleans by large sections of the population. This is very important. Increased local participation in civic organizations and focus on schools is a good thing.

Overall concerns: When you read about New Orleans, the word that comes up most is "fragmentation." Before the storm there were ten major entities with interests in New Orleans schools (A jigsaw puzzle would see New Orleans as divided..har.)

First thing thought after the storm was happiness that old OPSB no longer running schools. Second thing is that the schools may now be more divided, based on how you look at things.



7:55 Guitterrez on the RSD. RSD has been around since 1997, was not tied to the storm or recovery, but became that after the storm and flood. Accountability organization, supposed to take over schools that have been deemed failing for four consecutive years.

Average "school performance score" has risen to "93" since 1999. A score of "93" means that at least 68% of students score "proficient or better" on tests. This of course means many students are still scoring too low.

RSD wants to get schools and students to a point where they are high-performing and sustaining that performance so they can revert to local control, charter control or state charter control. Meant to revive schools.

7:50 To Bonin, what is the role of OPSB today and in the future? OPSB is supposed to educate students in New Orleans. Since most OPSB was diminished following the storm and flood, they've been working on making sure tax dollars get where they need to go. OPSB experienced a $3M deficit in 2005, but now has the highest bond rating in the city. Trying to resurrect faith in government and the image of the OPSB.

Role is to marshal all of the talent in the city - universities, new New Orleanians, and locals. Need to channel successes of OPSB and RSD (?) to continue reforms.

They are a taxing body, and this is a heavy responsibility. Have to supply textbooks to various private high schools, and money to test and support special education.

First board to charter a majority of schools (75%). Policies to stimulate high test scores and accountability. Stay out of the news, which they have done.

7:45 I hate to be the one to bring this up, but we're discussing the New Orleans Public Schools, which serves a largely African-American population. And yet. Not one panelist is African-American.

Bonin mentions that he volunteered with the NOPD for nine years, and once he realized that coworkers who had a high school diploma sometimes could not read, he decided to run for OPSB. He is from New Orleans.

Guitterrez is also from New Orleans. Both he and Bonin mention that their formative educational experiences were in parochial, private schools. (Christian Brothers is private, correct?)

Dr. Burns is all about government and systems.

Mogg says the Cowen Institute is an action-based think tank focusing on reforming education and research. Even though Tulane University has no College of Education.

Hancock describes the mission of the Institute for Quality and Equity in Education.

Asher mentions that she is from West Virginia and graduated from Tulane, and she has served on the board of several charter schools over the years. ReNEW Charters took over several low performing schools, and have been approved to take over another school, while opening two specialized accelerated high schools to serve overage and under-credit students. 1200 students at two schools at this time, will serve 2000 students this time next year, and students are an average of 2 - 3 grade levels behind and they spend most of their time trying to catch the students up.

ReNEW does not believe that students have failed, they believe adults have failed the students.


7:40 The panel will be moderated by LSCE President Richard Tucker. Benediction by Fr. James Carter, S.J. Loyola SGA President Kate Gremillion gives the introductions all around.

7:35 Oh, we're on New Orleans time, of course. All the panelists are here and moving to the stage. Event is sponsored by the Loyola University Sociology Student Organization and Loyola Society for Civic Engagement. LSCE always puts up memorable fliers for their events, because they always feature some likeness of Stephen Colbert.

7:30 Much better crowd streaming in. Going over the program, I think about the title. "5 Years Later." As if New Orleans public schools have only been having problems for 5 years.

7:25About to kick things off. Panelists include Brett Bonin, member of the Orleans Parish School Board; Kevin Guitterrez, Deputy Superintendent of the Recovery School District; Carol Asher from ReNEW Charter Schools; Alexander Hancock from the Institute for Quality and Equity in Education at Loyola University New Orleans; Laura Mogg from the Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives; and Dr. Peter Burns, professor of political science at Loyola.

7:20Coming to you live from Nunemaker Hall at Loyola University New Orleans. You always hope more people attend these things.

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Conspiracy Theories & Union Rallies

That slapping sound you just heard was Glenn Beck placing a "fire" graphic over the state of Wisconsin on his map-of-the-United-States chalkboard. And Wisconsin's football teams play in the same conferences and divisions with the football teams from Michigan (the home of a large number of Muslims) and Illinois (the home of Barack Obama). The onward march of Kenyan anti-colonial Marxist Sharia continues!

All because some folks in Wisconsin decided to activate their right to peaceably assemble and freely speak of their displeasure in the budget policies of their state government. Since Jeffrey's already got a round-up and First-Draft has pictures, I figured that left me to give you the right-wing reaction you are sure to hear about on talk radio or on Fox News later tonight.

I know. You're welcome. The script really is like a Mad-Lib.

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A Non-Frivolous Lawsuit

One thing I want to start doing is highlighting lawsuits that matter. I want to do so to counter a popular and dangerous cultural narrative that exists in our society.

I've heard a lot about "frivolous" lawsuits recently, both on talk radio and through chain emails. I'm sure it has to do with the Taco-Bell-Not-Serving-Beef litigation (a suit I do not consider frivolous), which came about the same time some woman who walked into a water fountain while texting attempted to sue the mall she was in for her accident (which I do consider silly).

But the "frivolous lawsuit" comes from a longstanding cultural narrative that America is a too-quick-to-sue culture. The narrative continues that these lawsuits are the fault of trial lawyers (who, we are constantly reminded, robustly support Democratic Pary with donations) and drive up costs for all services and goods, especially in the field of medicine. Every time you see a warning label on a product, we are told to remember that such a warning exists because someone filed a ridiculous lawsuit sometime somewhere someway. The focus driving this narrative is always the initial filing, or initial finding - I do not believe a cultural understaning exists to check on whether any of those cases get dismissed or have an outrageous award reduced on appeal.

Thing is, you rarely hear about the necessary lawsuits. You rarely hear about those lawsuits constantly required to keep big business or government overreach in check. You rarely hear about those lawsuits that fall under the guise of a "redress of grievances" that take years to come to a conclusion, that take hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars from filing to final verdict. You would be hard pressed to find widespread circulation of how damaging a "loser pays" system would be for those individuals who attempt to right some wrong.

Part of that is because following legal minutiae is boring, part of it is because of the cultural narrative that leads us to believe most lawsuits are frivolous.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

GOP Infrastructure

Let me get this straight:

The Port of Savannah needs $500 Million over the next few years to become a deeper, 'supermax' capable port facility. This is so it can better compete with ports in Florida and South Carolina.

This money needs to come from Washington, DC.

The GOP in control of the House of Representatives has forsworn "earmarks," which is one way to get this done. Instead, they will depend on the President's Budget to fund the expansion.

Every GOP official ran political marketing that stated the Federal government spent too much money and that President Obama is a profligate spender of taxpayer dollars. We're "leaving debt to our great-grandchildren" or whatever.

The President releases his budget today, that the GOP calls cowardly and too expensive. We don't have enough money for winmills and trains.

The Georgia GOP is upset, however, that the President's cowardly, too-expensive budget doesn't get them enough money.

So in this budget, Obama is spending too much money and not spending enough money.

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Irrational Relationships & Valentine's Day

Watching sports and being a fan of a particular team can get emotional. I understand this as well as anyone, and I'll spare you the anecdotes I think prove it. The long and short of it is, I get that fanbases can be irrational when things happen to their team. But here's my two thoughts:

1. I'm still going to call you on it.
2. Just because every other team does it doesn't make it OK. Because they do.

Even as the apparent majority of Who Dat nation works through their complex emotions concerning Sean Payton buying a home in Dallas, the irrational reactions must be accepted as irrational.

And you know what? It is OK to be overemotional and irrational - that's what makes sports fun. But you can't let it get out of hand. That's when you let yourself get hurt for no good reason. That's happens when when "The Idea" of Someone comes into conflict with that real someone's actions, behaviors and motivations. Once you realize that the thing you're really angry at is a figment of your imagination, you can take a deep breath and a step back and start synthesizing the reality of the situation.

Here are the facts:

- New Orleans is a great place, but it is an acquired taste. Not everyone is going to love this place like you love this place. Just because they don't doesn't mean they're trying to insult you.

- He picked Dallas because he likes Dallas. Several million people like Dallas, the last time I checked. He did not pick it just to piss you off.

- An NFL head coaching gig lasts, on average, 3.3 seasons. In New Orleans, that average is a little higher, but Sean Payton has been here a long time considering the nature of his job.

- Sean Payton entered the 2009 season facing a go-to-the-playoffs-or-lose-your-job situation. You may not want to admit this, but this was the case. You were ready to get rid of him and his family two years ago. Back then it was you talking about performance on the field and maybe finding someone else if he wasn't up to the task.

- Moving your family every 3 - 5 years is awful.

Don't take this as patronizing advice from someone who is not from here. Understand that, as a fan of the University of Georgia Bulldawgs, I've been listening to the ravings of one of the most irrational fanbase factions in the history of football. I'm primed for calmly discussing overemotion and irrationality. Home football losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech will force you to examine things from a more reasoned perspective.

And don't get mad at my role, I'm just one of the buddies who will sit with you as you drown your sorrows, telling you that the relationship you are pining for only existed in your own head, and that you're only breaking your own heart and inviting ridicule from others by going over and over it. It is time you remembered that your real relationship is with the Saints, and the Saints are bigger than Sean Payton.

And as long as where he lives doesn't affect his performance coaching the Saints to wins, he could live on the Moon for all I care.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Walk-On

I don't think there's much more that can be said about things like this.

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Louisiana Accreditation

Don't get too excited, it was Plaquemines Parish. But it proves that some folks in the New Orleans area know the value of accreditation.

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Building Up

Can new skyscrapers save the city? Some folks think so.

For me, it doesn't even have to be skyscrapers, but dense, mixed use zoning. We're going to need it when gasoline prices keep going up, and living a forever-commute away becomes economically impossible.

Local tie-in at 1031 Canal Street, now going back to the drawing board.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Republican Voters on TV

In the comments section of a previous post, Dante wondered why I lump Glenn Beck in with the rest of the allegedly-conservative "right-wingers," such as Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh.

Maybe because these are the kinds of folks who explicitly stand with Beck? (HT: Daily Dish)

Now I wonder why I didn't lump Beck in with right-wingery of Iowa Republican Caucus-goers.



Here's what the President says that starts this discussion:

The President: "It is important to say that our only two options are not the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people" (though O'Reilly interrupts him during the last part).

O'Reilly (interrupting): "But you don't want the Muslim Brotherhood?"

The President: "What I want is a representative government in Egypt."


Here is where I wonder where any truly conservative individual, outside the general red vs. blue team politics of a situation, will have any problem with this. Right now, in Egypt, we don't have many options. The President of the United States can't tell the demonstrators in Tahrir Square to go home. He can't demand that citizens of Egypt not participate in self-government if they don't reflect our interests.

The President can express the opinions and interests of the United States to whatever government is currently sovereign in Egypt; he can use his influence with the current regime to decrease violent repression in the hope that the demonstrations do not turn anti-American; he can make sure the State Department is looking after US interests, and those of our allies, in that country while these demonstrations continue - which are all things he is doing.

Criticisms of the President, from a conservative standpoint, would wonder if there was anything more that could have been done to use US influence earlier, to move Egypt to a more representative government before people went into the streets in demonstrations that threatened stability. Another could look forward to other autocratic client-states of the US, and how we should begin using our influence there to promote democracy without the same instability (and the anti-American sentiment that might come with it) from happening elsewhere.

You'd think the responses of a real conservative would reflect something like that. I've read about a few, and I've posted a few. I sure hope conservatives who read this will add a few truly conservative thoughts to the Egypt situation.

But what we see in this video is the exact opposite. The responses from the "conservative" Republicans read like a litany of all that has been said by Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, Palin, Levin and O'Reilly over these last two years. Let's see how fast this "policy" conversation goes off the rails.

  1. He doesn't have a grasp on how serious this could be, doesn't know what the details are, doesn't know what we want or what we need as a country.
  2. Doesn't understand the difference between a Republic and a Democracy
  3. No coherent policy/Doesn't know what he's doing.
  4. Barack Obama is a Muslim, and that's guiding his policies.

That didn't take long at all. As a matter of fact, on video, that took exactly 36 seconds. Once that happens, you can see the affirmation of that thought process in the assembly. And before anyone says anything about this being a "liberal media setup," this was on Hannity.

The majority of individuals gathered for this panel think the President of the United States is a Muslim, that being Muslim is a problem, that the interests of Muslims run counter to that of the United States as a matter of foreign policy, and specifically as it relates to the Egyptian people demonstrating against a tyrant.

They also think they will be chided by "the media" for these beliefs. Not that some of these beliefs might be wrong, not that some of these beliefs may be erroneously held, but that they may be complained about by the media. This is what complete epistemological closure looks like: reality has no bearing here, and is seen as a conspiratorial boogeyman.

Who does that sound like?

Now, to be fair, there are some real conservatives who are surprised by this reaction on the part of Republican voters, or do not take this belief on the part of Republican voters seriously. Conor Friedersdorf explains this. On the other hand, I'm not surprised at all. If all people hear from their choice of "populist" media personalities is that the President is a Muslim, that Muslims are bad, and no one but "teh ebil liberals and medai" refute any of those ascertations, what do you think these people are going to think? What did you think they'd say on television?

Let's unpack this.

1. Taking the situation seriously? What we want or need as a country? This country has supported Egyptian autocrats for decades. This runs right up against the later comments in the video that claim President Obama:

  • Feels that the United States is to blame, and doesn't respect all the "good" the United States does in the world.
  • Will lead us down a "path of destruction," like Neville Chamberlain, through appeasement.
  • Always seems caught unaware in the event of a crisis.

What our country "wants" is stability and peace so that our goods and capital can flow to and from foreign markets, and we can access the natural resources we need and new markets for our goods. What our country claims to promote around the world is the dignity of human liberty, individual freedom and human rights. What our country actually does is attempt to reconcile those two things, and the result ain't always pretty.

But don't tell these people. They aren't real conservatives, because real conservatives would understand that foreign policy is an ugly mixture of realpolitik and idealism. For these people, this isn't a complicated issue - the United States does only good around the world, and anyone who thinks we do anything bad hates and blames the United States, isn't a patriotic American and is most likely a liberal (the most intolerant religion).

If our country supports autocrats and tyrants it is because their people can't be trusted with representative or democratic government and hate the United States because of Marxism or Sharia. After all, just look at what happened in Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, the West Bank and Iraq! Why, as soon as those people got out from under their dictators, they started hating the United States for no reason whatsoever. All they do is sit around hating the USA, and being ungrateful for all the wonderful things we did for them under Batista, the Shah, the Israeli occupation or by bringing Saddam Hussein to justice. All these intolerant liberals want to do is encourage that sort of behavior because they hate America.

As far as being prepared for unexpected crises, that's why they're called crises. You can try and be prepared all you want, but sometimes you're not going to be in control of a situation. Real conservatives would realize that.

2. Doesn't understand the difference between Republic and Democracy? Both are governments where the people hold real elections and are not ruled by autocrats.

3. No coherent policy, doesn't know what he's doing? Hell, I told you that earlier in this post. I'll repeat it here for simplicity's sake.
The President can express the opinions and interests of the United States to whatever government is currently sovereign in Egypt; he can use his influence with the current regime to decrease violent repression in the hope that the demonstrations do not turn anti-American; he can make sure the State Department is looking after US interests, and those of our allies, in that country while these demonstrations continue - which are all things he is doing.


I'm quite unclear as to what else our President should or is able to be doing at this time from a policy standpoint. Perhaps one of my conservative readers can clue me in on this as well.

From what I read and hear from the right-wing, however, the basic idea appears as "be outraged" and "blame Obama" and "no, you don't need actual reasons."

And, of course,

4. President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about these people Fox News and Sean Hannity put on television to talk about politics. It tells you everything you need to know about what these people think of Barack Obama, Muslims, liberalism, politics and religion all in one. It tells you instantly what these people really think about the United States of America and our laws, our policies and our place in the world. And if I keep hearing Republican voters talk about this, I'm going to start ascribing this erroneous belief to the whole of the GOP and the Tea Party.

Because this is exactly the reason I do not identify with mainstream Republican voters. That is exactly why I do not trust many Republican elected officials. Put the "R" after someone's name on a ballot, and these people are who I think of. I try to rise above that, and think instead of the people I know who do not act like this, but the reaction has become a gut one at this point.

This is not conservatism. Conservatism focuses on policy, regardless of religion. What you see here is right-wingery, hackery and demagougery. That's what this is.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shoe On the Other Foot

There are many, many legitimate and valid concerns about the charter school movement, and how it is being pursued both nationwide and in New Orleans. There are many legitimate and valid critiques about the "school choice" model of some school systems.

So let us be sure to separate those valid and legitimate concerns from intentionally misleading hit-pieces that amount to little more than whining about how bad charter schools are. Apparently, bashing current practices based on some fantastic, utopian past has become a sort of cottage industry nowadays.

So I'll refer you all to Greg Peters' reality-based, line-item deconstruction of that particular op-ed.

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Actual Wasteful Spending

Oh, the week after the Super Bowl. The hangovers; the football-addicted scouring the internet for just-one-last-article about this year's sport before the long, dreary exile into Basketball and Baseball seasons; and the never-late this is all bread and circuses screeds against the Super Bowl's super excesses.

Guys, when Americans get tired of watching the Super Bowl, they'll stop watching it. They'll stop hosting Super Bowl parties, and they'll stop using it as an excuse to hang out with their friends and family. When folks get tired of paying small fortunes for tickets to that game, they'll stop going. When taxpayers stop wanting to subsidize this event, they'll elect new representatives.

Until then, it is the only near-universal American Bacchanalia, a Carnival event for even the most stiff-collared Americans to celebrate a little something. And like all events for mainstream American popular culture, it must be an extravagant, over-the-top spectacle dripping with marketing and product placement. That can get expensive, after all.

Are you not entertained?

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More Wasteful Spending

Is what I'm sure the GOP and Tea Party will call the Administration's plan for High Speed Rail.*

Do not be fooled. This is the kind of investment in infrastructure our nation has needed for decades. I'm not even talking about the kind of good, paying jobs the building of this infrastructure will create, but the strategic and economic benefits we will receive once it is up and running.

It is also pretty bold talk for folks to call these improvements wasteful considering how less profitable the airline industry would be without government subsidies.

Without those subsidies, airlines would have to charge you the real cost of flying, in order to turn a profit. At that point, flying would return to being the luxury or essential business item it really ought to be.

Unfortunately, with our government needing to cut back on those massive subsidies, American travelers will get caught between the high, non-artificial cost of airline travel and the high and rising price of gasoline. (The rising cost of gasoline that, coincidentally, continues to increase the airlines' need for subsidization.) That will be bad for the economy as a whole as it will decrease our economic mobility.

How many billions in subsidies does this nation pour into the airline industry at the local, state and federal levels? All to support the infrastructure of Americans to traverse great distances more efficiently than by car. Add to that the unnecessary disadvantages that the government has placed on passenger rail service, and the market is rigged. Airlines "won" not because of the "invisible hand," but by the underhanded scheme.

Let me put it to you this way, the only reason people still fly commercial is because they have no options for long or medium distance travel. The only reason there are no options is because the government has interfered in the market on the side of the airlines. At this point, we have to choose between A) continuing to increase the subsidy for airline travel to make it economical for travelers or B) start investing in alternatives, so we can reduce the costs of those subsidies over time.

Remove those artificial disadvantages. Turn off the subsidy spigot for the airlines. Build ourselves an additional transportation infrastructure and give people the option to decide based on convenience and price. Watch what happens.

(HT: Alli)

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Running Back Situation In Athens

No, not that running back, the one who's actually enrolled. The one who can't seem to figure out how not to get suspended.

If you're looking to go somewhere where the coach will just let Washaun be Washaun, you won't find that place in Statesboro. Apparently, you'll no longer find it in Athens either. And for my part, I'd rather work my miserable butt off in Athens than Staesboro if I had to choose. You'll run till you puke in both places, but in Athens the trashcans are nicer and they have more of them.


No, not those trashcans - the ones on South Campus near the Vince Dooley Athletic Complex.

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In the Luxurious Lap of Feudalism

Oh, to live in a nation of liberty, where the freedom of the markets set the prices.

Except for those of importance, whom need never worry about the fickle nature of market forces.

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"Without Silver Bullets"

Folks invested in education reform love telling us that better evaluations of student achievement and getting rid of lousy teachers will make the system better. Well, duh. My problem lies in their methods of evaluation. If your strategy is based on higher student achievement and better teachers, you'd better have a good way to figure out how to measure it.

Right now, all those methods of evaluation seem to consider only test scores. There is no component for taking resources allocated to a school into account (which would require evaluating School Boards or governing entity policies). Nor is there a component for taking school administration into account, other than "your teachers have lousy test scores."

For years, I've heard catch phrases about "high expectations" and "no excuses" and other elements of corporate speak that are trotted out to shine up the old methods: we're testing the students, looking at the scores in a vacuum, and making decisions based on that. The methods are important because they decide which teachers get "merit pay" and which teachers get "fired;" but I've rarely seen anyone unpack the methods of evaluations thoroughly.

I've never seen anyone talk about how truly difficult it is to evaluate a teacher's job performance.

Until I read this article, which looks at teacher evaluation methods exhaustively and realistically.

Organizational reform is usually difficult because there is no one, simple root cause, other than at the level of gauzy abstraction. We are faced with a bowl of spaghetti of seemingly inextricably interlinked problems. Improving schools is difficult, long-term scut work. Market pressures are, in my view, essential. But, as I’ve tried to argue elsewhere at length, I doubt that simply “voucherizing” schools is a realistic strategy.

More serious measurement of teacher performance, very likely including relative improvement on standardized tests, will almost certainly be part of what an improved school system would look like. But any employees, teachers included, will face imperfect evaluation systems, and will have to have some measure of trust in this system and its application. The evaluation system will have some direct linkage to the strategy of the school, and this will have to be at least a decent strategy that has a real shot at improve learning. The evaluation system will have to have teeth, and this means realistic processes that link comp (and probably more important, promotions and outplacement) to performance.

In other words, better measurements of teacher value-added are useful on the margin, but teacher evaluation as a program to improve school performance will likely only work in the context of much better school organization and management.


I added some emphasis there. It is a long article, but well worth the read. HT: The Daily Dish.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More Police State Footage

Video is a shocking thing. While it may not give you the entire story, sometimes it can give you enough. I know that not every arrested individual who complains of police brutality is telling the truth, and there are plenty of videos (like the show, COPS) that demonstrate this.

However, complaints of police misconduct are harder to ignore if you live in a place like New Orleans and keep up with the news. Complaints of police brutality are harder to ignore when you see a group of armed officers basically curb-stomping a teenager.

It doesn't take one minute of attendance at police academy to know that this type of behavior is wrong. I know plenty of responsible police officers who are stand-up men and women who would never engage in this sort of behavior. If the job is so tough and your mental state is so fragile that you feel the need to kick a prone suspect in the face while they are lying on the ground in submission, you ought to find a different line of work. And some therapy. Because you have problems, and that ain't a politically correct judgement on my part.

I want to the police to apprehend and stop the criminals, not become criminals.

And this adds an even more sinister twist to the national push to prosecute individuals who take video of official misconduct on the part of government officials, especially video of the police. Listen to the Today's Show comment: the judge ordered the video not to be released. Those who protect and serve should not be able to intimidate witnesses against them with prosecutions backed up by a judge. The freedom of press, the right to redress grievances, and the right to challenge your accusers are pillars of a stable and functioning free society. Video evidence is so valuable because video is a witness that cannot be intimidated.

This is why I think there should be video cameras in every police car. Every one. Their files should be a matter of public record, searchable by any citizen. In that way, both our police and our citizens will be better served. The police against false accusation and the citizens against brutality.

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First-World Priorities

-or-

10,000 Whiskey Miles of Hot Southern Blacktop*

Truth: Georgia has some of the best roads in the United States of America.

I think I realized this when they re-paved the FJ Torras Causeway from Brunswick to St. Simons Island. I'd driven on that road for a decade, and didn't think it was in any state of disrepair. This was part of an ongoing project where they also widened and resurfaced the Highway 25 spur from I-95 to US-17, and then widened and resurfaced that road from at least the spur to the new $65 million Sydney Lanier Bridge, named after a poet and opened in 2003.

(I think they're still 3-laning I-95 south of town. That project has been going on since I was in high school, to run 95 to three lanes from South Carolina to Florida.)

All this for a county in Coastal Georgia that has a population of less than 80,000 people. Or, slightly larger than New Orleans East.

Over the years, I've seen this construction. The road foundations are laid deep in concrete, reinforced with rebar, more concrete and then topped with asphalt. It takes a while but these roads appear to last.

Or, they last longer - and have less potholes - than roads where the asphalt is poured less than four inches thick directly on top of alluvial mud in a city with a suspect drainage situation.

* Mentally image a black 1977 Pontiac Firebird moving at blistering rate of speed down a two lane road over red hills, shaking the tin roofs of houses in the sticky July heat. Doppler effect of Allman Brothers' guitar solo on AM radio static.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

"Alarm Bells are Ringing, Willie"

If you are a fan of college football, and you feed your religious adherence to the sport by pouring through the websites of college football blogs (the good ones, anyway), you know it is always a sort of ominous sign if a star player on your favorite team becomes an EDSBS college football internet meme. Especially when EDSBS combines with the photoshopping powers of LSUFreek. Comment section ain't bad neither.

Espeically since his senior year of high school is not yet over. Welcome to the SEC internets, Isaiah. Here's hoping you give many Bulldawg undergraduates a reason to have similar pictures taken of them on Bourbon Street next January.



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Whither John Galt's Oil Rig?

Lamentations! And to where shall he take his petroleum extraction infrastructure?

Oh, yeah. That's right. He'll take it to where he can find the oil. And he'll negotiate with the folks who manage the land or sea under which he can find said oil, if he chooses to make his living in the oil industry.

And, lo, should Atlas decide he feels unappreciated or too beset upon by those who expect him to adhere to pesky, profit cutting civic responsibilities, let him "shrug" and take his wares elsewhere.

There will be another who wishes to make their living in the oil industry. They'll be willing to follow the local regulations and turn a smaller astronomical profit. And they'll bed along directly to pick up where "Galt" left off.

Because that is the largest failing of the utopian-libertarian misunderstanding about America. That is the largest miss of the whole "Who Is John Galt?" rhetoric. No one is going to pick up their business and move elsewhere. If there is even a dollar of profit to be made in America, there will be at least 10 people competing for that dollar, and they will do it here.

Like oilmen follow the oil, businessmen will follow the money. American markets have the money those businessment want to make.

So if anyone wants to go all "John Galt" and leave, please don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. Delta is ready when you are. Have fun in those nations with higher taxes and more regulations, or those nations with higher externalities (payoffs to local oligarchs) and more instability. It must always be fun to live far away from the overreach of American regulation and in constant fear that some local uprising will destroy all your capital.

Because if the oilmen want to leave Gulf waters for more favorable business climates, they can have fun in Brazil and off the coast of Mexico. If they don't want to negotiate with the State of Louisiana and the United States government, they are more than welcome to try their hand with Saudi Arabia or the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Have fun with that.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Sadness On a Rainy Day

After a short stint wearing the collar, UGA VIII aka Big Bad Bruce has passed away. My thoughts go out to the Seiler family of Savannah, who have now lost two beloved family pets - pets that they are good enough to share with one of the most passionate college fanbases in the nation - in too short a time.

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Meanwhile in New Orleans

I know I've spent a lot of bandwidth talking about international stuff, and our ridiculous political and media reaction to that international stuff, so I figured I'd give a little local update.

New Orleans: the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Local jails in the South. Criminal Justice or Family Business?

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"Sane People Will Stop Paying Attention"

We can only hope they will. I'm glad I'm not the only individual who noticed that Glenn Beck and the rest of the right-wingers have upped the ante on shark jumping with the Egyptian Revolution (And Why Obama Is To Blame).

I'm literally floored that these people, who spent months to instigate and cash in on the idea of an American Tea Party "Revolution" against a freely and legally elected American government - that peacefully transferred power after the following election - are lining up to denounce pro-democratic, reform-minded Egyptians who are actually facing the batons, water cannons, tear gas, and blades of a tyrant.

Though I've heard Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and O'Reilly - not to mention the blogosphere - tirelessly one-upping one another in hyperbolic warnings of what will come, and why President Obama is to blame for whatever happens, Glenn Beck - "a college sophmore with a big budget" - wins this one going away.

To cut to the chase, a new caliphate will emerge in the Middle East and push further east until China, as Beck puts it, says "Knock it off guys" and takes over India, reaching some way into Pakistan. The caliphate will then push north, which is when it will absorb the UK
...
So there you have it, an "Archduke Ferdinand moment" which will split Europe, the Middle East and Asia into Chinese and radical Islamic zones. In the full Beck, he also introduces Bill Ayers (who Sarah Palin had in mind when she accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists"), Hizbullah and Code Pink, a feminist antiwar group. But that's enough for now.


And keep in mind, this is a show that holds a primetime slot on a major "news" network.

(Link HT's to DSB.)

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