Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Here's a shocker of a survey!

This headline must turn heads.
High school students bored, risk dropping out: survey
And the results of the survey are even more startling!
In the report conducted by Indiana University, 75 percent of the 81,000 students who participated said they were bored in class because the material wasn't interesting and 31 percent said they had no interaction with their teacher.
Okay, when do you think you would get a result that didn't show that 3/4 of students said they're bored in school? Do you think other generations of students have been less bored in school? I'm surprised actually that it's that low.

And I am not sure about the number who say they have no interaction with their teacher. Does that mean they're not interaction outside of class or they don't interact in class? If it's outside of class, does that really surprise you? How many of you had much interaction with your high school teachers outside of class? Especially if you're not involved in extracurricular activities.

And I don't understand either why "teacher" is singular. Don't high school students have more than multiple teachers? Or are they all joined together into one giant Borg that refuses to interact with their teachers?

Oh, and here's another jaw-dropping result!
Students who miss school are far more likely to consider dropping out, said Yazzie-Mintz
Boy, that's a correlation I would have never thought existed.

The Leonard Peltier Myth

The whole kerfuffle of David Geffen attacking Hillary Clinton has resurrected the story of Leonard Peltier. Geffen was angry because President Clinton did not pardon Peltier, the Native American activist convicted of murdering two FBI agents, and did pardon Marc Rich.

Jack Cashill summarizes the story of the Leonard Peltier case and how it has risen to the level of myth where lots of people have fallen for stories made up years after the murder and trial to argue that Peltier was not guilty.

Read the whole thing. And you'll see why Cashill concludes that his decision not to pardon Peltier was one of the good decisions that Clinton made in that season of politically motivated pardons. And you can marvel once again of the gullibility of the glitterati and intellectual elites to fall for the stories of beguiling murderers like Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal as long as a story can be told of a minority member being done in by The Man.

Why pay so much for ex-presidents?

Jeff Jacoby has a great column contrasting Harry Truman's sense of rectitude when he left the presidency with our modern presidents of both parties.
WHEN HARRY Truman left the White House in 1953, historian David McCullough records, "he had no income or support of any kind from the federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month. He was provided with no government funds for secretarial help or office space, not a penny of expense money." To tide him over for the transition back to private life, Truman had to take out a bank loan. One of the reasons he and his wife moved back into their far-from-elegant old house in Independence, Mo., "was that financially they had little other choice."

Nevertheless, Truman refused to cash in on his celebrity and influence as a former president. He turned down lucrative offers, such as the one from a Florida real estate developer inviting him to become "chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000." He wouldn't make commercial endorsements, accept "consulting" fees, or engage in lobbying. He wouldn't even take the free car that Toyota offered him as a gesture of improved Japanese-American relations.

"I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable," Truman later wrote, "that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency." He did sell the rights to his memoirs for a handsome sum to Life magazine. But he turned down every other enticement to trade on his former position for private gain.
While I think we might all agree that a former president deserves some sort of pension, the level of what they receive today from the American taxpayer is really phenomenal.
Today former presidents receive a lavish pension -- $186,000, increased yearly -- payable as soon as they depart the White House, regardless of their age. In addition, former chief executives are granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual staff, office, and travel allowances. For fiscal year 2007, Clinton will receive approximately $1.16 million from the US Treasury -- his telephone stipend alone will come to $77,000. All former presidents are also entitled to free, round-the-clock Secret Service protection for themselves and their families. The cost of providing security for previous "first families" is estimated at $20 million a year.
Having younger ex-presidents with longer lifespans adds to the cost. And now they're all receiving big sums for making short speeches to all sorts of groups around the globe. So it's a legitimate question as to why they need to receive so much money from the public till. Do they and their family really need all that secret service protection? And why, for gosh sake, are we paying their phone bill? With stories of the millions of dollars that ex-presidents are raking in for their speeches, why are we footing the bill for their offices and such?

In the grand scheme of things, these expenses are not a big part of the federal budget. But making cutbacks there would be a nice start.

What does it mean to have such a long campaign?

Now that we seem to be in full campaign mode a year out from when people cast actual votes in the primaries and 20 months from the general election, candidates have to figure out how to adjust their campaign strategy for such a long-term campaign. Tony Blankley muses on how campaign managers will have to make decisions on how to adapt to this long campaign season. Do they advertise now? Do they issue policy proposals now and face their critics spending months poking holes in their ideas? How do they keep seeming fresh and interesting to an electorate that isn't really paying all that much attention but is noticing the little flare-ups of news that they see about the campaigns.
For example, what does it mean to be a "fresh face" in a 12-month primary campaign in an Interneted, 24-7 news cycle environment? This, of course, must be a question that Sen. Barack Obama and his people are puzzling over now. He will be as familiar as an old shoe to Democratic Party primary voters by next January and February. He may still be appealing next year, but he will no longer be fresh.
Therein is the logic of both the Clinton hit on him and his fairly vigorous response. The Clintons couldn't let him float above the crowd and build up his positives for months and months, and I assume Mr. Obama understood that in a long campaign he would inevitably have to respond to the attacks — so he might as well punch back early and let the Clintons know right away the price they will have to pay for their future tough tactics.
Likewise, when does Mr. Obama start giving specific policy solutions to the several problems he judges the public cares about? In a traditional active primary campaign of, effectively, three to four months, a new proposal can be launched and well received with little risk of having to endure a long shelf life.
But a new idea put forward a year before primary voting risks not only providing more than sufficient time for an opponent's research team to find and publicize the flaws in the idea (and communicate to and activate the interest groups who would be harmed by the proposal), but also runs the risk of becoming stale and, most dangerously, of letting events overtake the proposal.
Thus is lost one of the great advantage of challengers: that their ideas are fresh, appealing and plausible, but not public long enough to be measured by events and considered judgment — which is the inevitable plight of incumbents and their party successors.
This is a very intelligent column. Right now the candidates' campaign managers are making all sorts of decisions that may or may not be determinative in the election race. Since we haven't seen this before, there will be mistakes that we will only recognize in retrospect. This stuff is catnip to political observers such as myself. The rest of the population will probably just yawn, but I'll have fun.

Remembering Clinton pardons

The Boston Globe writes about how the pardons Clinton made at the end of his term have now slithered back into the news since Hillary's brother received money from one of the people he convinced President Clinton to pardon.
Now, in the wake of the launch of her presidential campaign, the pardon controversy has reemerged in an obscure court case in which Senator Clinton's brother Tony is battling an order to repay more than $100,000 he received from a couple pardoned by President Clinton.

Tony Rodham, who acknowledged approaching the president about a pardon for the couple, is the second of Hillary Clinton's brothers to receive money from people who were eventually pardoned by President Clinton. Hugh Rodham received $400,000 from two people, one of whom was pardoned and one whose sentence was commuted.

But while Hillary Clinton immediately expressed chagrin over the news in 2001 that Hugh received the money -- and asked him to return it -- she said Tony was "not paid," according to a congressional report. The Clinton campaign yesterday declined to comment on the case involving Tony Rodham.

Clinton critics have been seeking to revive an array of controversies, from the Whitewater land deal to the Monica Lewinsky case. The Clinton campaign has sought to depict them as old or moot cases. But the Tony Rodham case could be different because it is in court just as Senator Clinton's campaign reaches full speed.

Yesterday, US Bankruptcy Court Judge Marian Harrison of Nashville ordered Tony Rodham to respond by March 16 to the allegation that he failed to repay a loan of $107,000 from the couple pardoned by Clinton, according to attorneys involved in the case.

President Clinton's pardons have been a political issue for Hillary Clinton because of her ties to a number of the cases. In addition to the people who paid her brothers, those receiving pardons included commodities trader Marc Rich, a fugitive who was prosecuted for tax evasion by then-US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani and fled to Switzerland. Rich was pardoned after his former wife, Denise Rich, contributed heavily to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.
How long ago it seems when we were outraged at how Clinton used his power of the pardon to reap money and political benefits. But as people contemplate putting this couple back into the White House, these are the sorts of stories that will be coming back to remind us again of what we said good-bye to on January 20, 2001.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is the honeymoon over?

Daniel W. Reilly and Jim Vanderhei of The Politico note how Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats just don't seem to be following through on all their fine talk.
It's much easier to promise behavioral change for Congress than to deliver it.

Pelosi vowed that five-day workweeks would be a hallmark of a harder-working Democratic majority. So far, the House has logged only one. Lawmakers plan to clock three days this week.

The speaker has denied Republicans a vote on their proposals during congressional debates -- a tactic she previously declared oppressive and promised to end. Pelosi has opened the floor to a Republican alternative just once.

Pelosi set a high standard for herself when she pledged to make this "the most ethical Congress in history" -- a boast that was the political equivalent of leading with her chin. And some critics have been happy to hit it.

She is drawing fire for putting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who had $90,000 in alleged bribe money in his freezer, on the Homeland Security Committee. And The Washington Post reported during the weekend that she is helping chairmen raise money from donors with business before their committees.
As the article notes, the Republicans faced the same problem when they took over in 1995. Less naive observers were skeptical that the Democrats were truly going to clean house and change the atmosphere in Congress. We've seen this movie before.

The Democats's vision of how labor relations should work

Bryan O'Keefe takes a look at some of the elements of the new labor bill that the Democrats are pushing.
Big labor’s major legislative priority for this year, “The Employee Free Choice Act,” will be voted on by the House this week and, with more than 230 co-sponsors, its passage is virtually a foregone conclusion.


The most discussed part of the bill would eliminate secret ballot elections in workplace representation elections and replace them with a system of card checks. Only requiring that they get a signed card from a majority of employees would make it much easier for unions to organize workers.

A lesser-known provision in the legislation could actually affect both union and nonunionized workers and employers even more than abolishing the right to a secret ballot in representation elections.

According to the EFCA, when a nonunion company is unionized through the card-check method, management and labor would only have 90 days to settle a contract. After that, the union could force the newly unionized company into government-supervised mediation.

If union and management still have not reached an agreement in another 30 days, a government-appointed arbitrator would set the final binding contract terms.

In reality, negotiations for new contract terms almost always take longer than 90 or 120 days, especially when management and labor are negotiating for the first time. The consequence of this proposal then is that government-appointed arbitrators would be setting wages and benefits for private sector companies.
Clever, huh? Use a labor law to gain the power for government to start setting wages for private companies. As O'Keefe concludes,
The likely result is that even more companies will be forced to close shop and move jobs offshore. It’s a mystery how this type of government policy would help the middle class that organized labor speaks of so often.

In fact, the only people who will truly benefit from this type of arbitration are union leaders. By forcing contract terms on new union members without a ratification vote, union leaders would not have to be accountable for their actions or even work in good faith with management.

Also, with their enthusiasm for the minimum wage increase and universal health care reform, it’s clear that many union leaders have no objection to the government playing a bigger role in establishing wage and benefits.

Here’s hoping that when the Senate debates the “Employee Free Choice Act,” senators will recall the original intent of our nation’s labor law. As former National Labor Relations Board member Charles Cohen testified recently before Congress, the National Labor Relations Act was “founded on the notion that the parties, not the government, should determine the applicable terms and conditions of employment.”

Let’s keep it that way.
I hope that, if this bill gets through the Senate, that Bush has a veto pen ready.

Energy conservation for thee but not for me

I don't know what Al Gore is doing in his Tennessee home, but he certainly spends a lot of energy doing it.
Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh — more than 20 times the national average.
Ed Morrissey has more, including an analysis of Al Gore's response. The Anchoress has a lot of links on the story as well as a contrast to the energy measures used at Bush's home in Texas.

Democrats finding that it's not as easy as they thought to run foreign policy

The Democrats are waking up to the fact that our government is not organized for Congress to be the ones in charge of foreign policy, especially when we're in the middle of a war and the president opposes their moves.

Despite her initial support, Nancy Pelosi has now backed away from Jack Murtha's slow-bleed brainstorm.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said she doesn't support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.

The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has said he wants to use Congress' spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.

Pelosi said she supports holding the administration to training and readiness targets, but added: "I don't see them as conditions to our funding. Let me be very clear: Congress will fund our troops."

Asked whether the standards should be tied to a $100 billion supplemental war spending measure - as Murtha has proposed - Pelosi demurred, saying it was up to the panel that drafts funding bills.
Harry Reid is now stalling on efforts in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he wanted to delay votes on a measure that would repeal the 2002 war authorization and narrow the mission in Iraq.

Senior Democrats who drafted the proposal, including Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, had sought swift action on it as early as this week, when the Senate takes up a measure to enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission.

Reid, who will huddle with Democrats Tuesday to discuss whether to postpone the Iraq debate, cited pressure from victims' families for quick action on the Sept. 11 bill as the reason for doing so.

"Iraq is going to be there - it's just a question of when we get back to it," Reid said, predicting it would be "days, not weeks" before the Senate returned to the issue. The war reauthorization legislation also appears to lack the 60 votes it would need to pass the Senate.
All their supporters who thought that they were casting a vote to end the war in Iraq as soon as the Democrats took over are going to have to learn a little more about how our government or they're going to be might peeved with the Congressional Dems for the next couple of years.

Why conservatives like Rudy Giuliani

John Podhoretz puts his finger on one reason why I might be inclined to support Rudy Giuliani in the primaries. He's demonstrated that he can take a position and keep to it despite all the hyperventilating on the left. For all the praise that Giuliani received after 9/11, let's not forget the ridicule and derision aimed his way for his policies as mayor.
His success in turning New York around wasn't merely a matter of changing policies. He had to sustain those policies when they came under deliberate, systematic and unrelenting assault by the city's liberal elite.

In case after case, he refused to accept the veto of liberal public opinion. He drove porn shops out of residential neighborhoods, even though his administration had to fight more than 30 lawsuits on the matter. He crusaded against bilingual education, a disastrous policy that had gone unquestioned in this city for decades.

And most important, he stood up for the police department against any and all attacks - which were incessant and incredibly unjust. The race baiters and their shills at the Not-So-Great Grey Lady talked as though the NYPD was engaging in genocide when the opposite was the case - many thousand of people are alive today who would have died if the NYPD hadn't taken on its newly aggressive posture under Giuliani.

Did Giuliani go too far in defending the police against charges that officers were trigger-happy and brutal? Sure he did, and some of his more aggressive efforts in this regard will also become campaign fodder over the course of the next year or more. But his defensiveness was nothing compared to the shameful and shameless effort to delegitimize his crime-fighting approach by slandering the NYPD as a bunch of goons and killers

He basically took the view that these 38,000 people were an army fighting an enemy, and that they were liberating the people of New York City from a reign of lawlessness.

And this, more than anything else, ties into the national sentiment about Rudy as the Hero of 9/11. He didn't just represent New York to the nation and the world. He had, in fact, changed New York in a way that made this city's response to 9/11 so astounding.

In September 2001, as his mayoralty was winding down, New York had achieved civic equilibrium. This was a city at peace with itself, no matter what Al Sharpton might have said. The New York of 1991 would not have responded with the calm dignity and sense of common purpose that the New York of 2001 did.
Of course, I'm not as strong a social conservative as many on the right are so his stands on abortion, gays, and guns don't disturb me all that much. And his booting Yasser Arafat out of the Lincoln Center a dozen years ago despite a liberal roar of outrage won my support. And those who remember appreciating such moments from Rudy's term as mayor are ready to be won over this year as he runs for president.

Speech money

Dana Milbank has some fun marveling at how much money Rudy Giuliani used to charge for speeches and how now, as he runs for president, he's going to have to give his speeches for free. Giuiliani was pulling down about $100,000 per speech. Hey, if people want to pay that for a speaker, it's a free world. Not what I'd want any group I belong to spending on speakers, but no one is forcing them to spend that money.

And how about Bill Clinton? He gets $150,000 per speech. Again, it's a free world. However, his wife is a sitting senator and there are all sorts of limitations on the outside money that a senator can earn. What about their spouses? Remember all the worry about the appearance of corruption if money got to a politician from a group that has interests before the Congress. Well, how about if money goes to a politician's spouse from such groups?
Many of Bill Clinton's six-figure speeches have been made to companies whose employees and political action committees have been among Hillary Clinton's top backers in her Senate campaigns. The New York investment giant Goldman Sachs paid him $650,000 for four speeches in recent years. Its employees and PAC have given her $270,000 since 2000 -- putting it second on the list of her most generous political patrons.

The banking firm Citigroup, whose employees and PAC have been Hillary Clinton's top source of campaign donations, with more than $320,000, paid her husband $250,000 for a speech in France in 2004. Last year, it committed $5.5 million for Clinton's Global Initiative to help encourage entrepreneurship and financial education among the poor.

Asked about the companies and their relationship to the Clintons, Jay Carson, a spokesman for the former president, said, "It certainly makes sense that reputable New York companies who support the policies and works of President Clinton and his foundation would also be supportive of their senator."
Yes, that does make sense. But they wouldn't be allowed to give the money to Hillary Clinton because she is still in politics. But it's okay to give it to her husband.

It just goes to show that no matter what laws you pass to limit private entities from giving money to politicians, there will be ways to get around it. And hiring family members or paying spouses for speeches is one way around it.

UPDATE: Hmm, I see that Cal Thomas has some thoughts along the same lines.
The Clintons are plowing new ground. Ethics and election laws should keep pace. Never before has the spouse of a former president run for president. One of the reasons for disclosure forms is to ensure no improper influences are exerted on public officials by outside groups, or governments. Among those for whom Clinton spoke were a Saudi Arabia investment firm ($600,000 for two speeches), a Chinese real estate firm, run by a Communist Party official ($200,000), and a Toronto company, founded by a Kenyan immigrant who was convicted of stock fraud and barred for life from the brokerage business ($650,000 in 2005 and an undisclosed sum last year). The public needs to know more about their backgrounds.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What is it like to be a friend of the Clintons?

Martin Peretz, not a man with a thin wallet, writes in his TNR blog what it is like to be a friend of Bill and Hill.
The fact is that the Clintons are all about money. There's a truly shocking story in this morning's Washington Post about how Bill earned $40 million in the last four years just in speaking fees. A lot of this was Arab money, which doesn't mean he doesn't love his rich Jews (he must) ... or Israel, for that matter. It tells you just how easy it is for him to fake his affections. Or to carry two loves in his breast at the same time.

All about money. Imagine if you are a friend of the Clintons. First of all you are rich, very rich. Simply because they don't have friends other than ones with spare and bigger than big amounts of cash. Here are the purposes for which you have been asked contributions: twice for Bill Clinton for President (and all of the skeletal extensions of the local and national Democratic Party), the 727s, the White House refurbishing fund, the Clinton Defense Fund, the Clinton Library, twice for Hillary for Senate, annual contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative, each of his and her birthdays. Was there a Chappaqua remodeling project? If you have a private jet you'd have been expected to hand it over for a day, a weekend. If you have a house in Martha's Vineyard or in East Hampton or in Aspen or in Palm Springs, why don't you visit your in-laws? And it isn't as if the Clintons are asking you directly. Some underling is doing it, and you're afraid to say "no." Or even "boo." $1 million here, $1 million there. Pretty soon, it's a heck of a lot of money. You could have named a building at your alma mater after yourself with that money.

I happen not to agree with David Geffen about a pardon for Leonard Peltier, the Native American who has been in jail for decades after having been convicted of killing two FBI men. Look him up on Google, and judge for yourself. But David is certainly correct to call our attention to the Clintons' last act of presidential hautuer, and that is the pardons Bill and Hillary gave in the 24 hours before leaving office. First of all, there was the case of Marc Rich, zillionaire oil trader and tax felon whose ex-wife was a huge contributor to Clinton causes and one of Hillary's best pals. Rich also was living in Zug, Switzerland because he couldn't come in to the US without fear of being arrested. Now he can. Then there were the cases related to Hillary's brothers as lawyers and advocates. And the pardoning of Bill's brother. And on and on. Go to Google again, and type in "presidential pardons," "bill clinton," and "hillary clinton." You will be basting yourself in hog water. These are tell-tale enormities, more than 140 of them. Yuk.

I believe that deep-down the country agrees with Geffen. It does not want to relive the Clinton years. It was a tacky presidency, and the president's tackiness kept us from facing many dangers--including the perils of Muslim terrorism.
Tacky. That's an apt descpription.

This is how a liberal describes the Clintons. How many others are starting to remember all that went on during the Clinton years and deciding that they just don't want to live through any of that again? Not just conservatives, but liberals. A liberal friend of mine said out of the blue that she just couldn't bear the thought of having Bill Clinton in the White House again. She just yearned for someone new. And that is a liberal who will probably vote Democratic no matter who the candidate is. But if she had her druthers, Hillary would not be that candidate. How many more are there out who, like Bartleby, would prefer not to?

That's why I think that Hillary's frontrunner status is a brittle thing. And David Geffen's comment might be the moment we'll look back on and pinpoint as the beginning of the cracks in the whole Hillary! edifice.

Expect the deauthorization plan to go the way of the Murtha slow-bleed plan

It turns out that the Democrats are finding that it is very hard to run a war from the Congress when the president is opposed to your actions. So now they have come up with a plan to deauthorize the war and say that our troops should just be used to train the Iraqi forces and not be used for combat. Hey, isn't that basically what Bush was doing for most of 2006 while the situation kept deteriorating and all the Democrats demanded that he alter? Why do they think it would be any more conducive to peace in Iraq than it was last year?

And if they've lost Chuck Hagel from their move, they've lost the whole ballgame. Bob Novak reports today that even Hagel wouldn't support such a move in the Senate. And with Lieberman opposing it, that means they don't even have a majority much less the 60 votes they'd need to get the deauthorization voted on the Senate floor.

I think they'll just have to content themselves, even if it won't satisfy their base, with lots of oversight hearings accompanied by much sniping.

The Oscars

All I have to say about the Oscars show is that that had to be the most boring show in a long, long time. And that wasn't because I'd seen only two of the films nominated for the big awards. Somehow, they thought that what the public wanted to see was more attention paid to the less prominent awards like sound editing. No, we don't. And we certainly don't want to see modern dance interpretations of each film. And the tribute to foreign language films that few people saw and fewer remembered was just tedious. It was as if the producers of the Oscars just decided to totally ignore what ordinary viewers would want to see and then did the opposite. Their attitude seems to be: if we can just tell these dumb yokels how important editing is, they'll start to care about these Oscars and these people they've never heard of. We know what's important and just forget about what the yokels are interested in.

If you missed the whole show, the best substitute is to just read the live-blogging from Libertas.

UPDATE: The reviews and ratings are in. All agree. Yawn.

Michael Barone on the Rudy vs Hillary matchup

Okay, I think it's way too soon to start studying polls of matchups between a possible Republican and Democratic nominee. Buy, it's fun so we do it anyway. Michael Barone has an in-depth look at some poll results matching up Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton on a state by state basis. He goes region by region to see which states each candidate can put into play that went for Bush or Kerry in 2004.
What you'll find is that all 11 eastern states and D.C. move toward Rudy; eight of the 12 midwestern states move toward Hillary; 10 of the 13 western states move toward Rudy; and 12 of the 14 southern states move toward Hillary. More states move toward Hillary than toward Rudy. But the movement overall benefits Rudy. Most southern and many western states remain heavily Republican, while other states that were safe for Kerry are thrust into play.
His conclusion is that, with this matchup, Giuliani puts more states into play than Bush did in 2004. Many of the states for which he loses support are ones that were so overwhelmingly Republican in 2004 that the GOP can afford to lose a few percents of their vote from 2004 and still take the state.

Of course, Giuliani hasn't been roughed up yet as he is sure to. And Hillary isn't looking like the inevitability that she seemed to be a few months ago. But I've always thought that this election was about who could change a few of those states on that infamous red/blue map. And I've been doubtful for a while that, if there were a decent Republican candidate, that there are many states on that map that Hillary could pull away from the Republican column. And having Barone analyze Rudy's strength across the map has to be one of the best selling points for Giuliani's campaign to trumpet to potential Republican primary voters.

How Jack Murtha sabotaged his own plan

The Washington Post looks at how Jack Murtha's plan to slow-bleed the troops has faded away mostly because he botched the rollout and managed to unite the Republicans with Democrats from conservative districts in opposition.
"If this is going to be legislation that's crafted in such a way that holds back resources from our troops, that is a non-starter, an absolute non-starter," declared Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Murtha's credentials as a Marine combat veteran, a critic of the war and close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) were supposed to make him an unassailable spokesman for Democratic war policy. Instead, he has become a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.

Freshman Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired Navy admiral who was propelled into politics by the Iraq war, said Murtha could still salvage elements of his strategy, but Sestak, an outspoken war opponent, is "a bit wary" of a proposal that would influence military operations.

"I was recently in the military, and I have to speak from that experience," Sestak said.

The story of Murtha's star-crossed plan illustrates the Democratic Party's deep divisions over the Iraq war and how the new House majority has yet to establish firm control over Congress. From the beginning, Murtha acted on his own to craft a complicated legislative strategy on the war, without consulting fellow Democrats. When he chose to roll out the details on a liberal, antiwar Web site on Feb. 15, he caught even Pelosi by surprise while infuriating Democrats from conservative districts.

Then for an entire week, as members of Congress returned home for a recess, Murtha refused to speak further. Democratic leaders failed to step into the vacuum, and Republicans relentlessly attacked a plan they called a strategy to slowly bleed the war of troops and funds. By the end of the recess, Murtha's once promising strategy was in tatters.
The question is: when will the House Democrats realize that Jack "Okinawa" Murtha has botched his every effort so far to seize the political initiative against the war? When will Nancy Pelosi learn that Murtha is not the fellow she should be tying the political fortunes of the House Democrats to this guy?

Polygamous forebears

The Associated Press decided that it was news to let us know that Mitt Romney's great-grandfather was polygamous. Since when are the peccadillos of a candidate's ancestors worthy news? This all seems part of a concerted effort by the media to keep Romney's religion front and center.

Meanwhile, Sweetness and Light, wonders when AP is going to pay as much attention as they paid to Romney's bigamous great-grandfather to Barack Obama's polygamous father.

Neither man is responsible for the marital habits of their forebears. However, if you're going the broadcast one story all over the country, why not the other?

Neo-Copperheads

Harry P. Wickham reviews Jennifer Weber's book, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North and finds some echoes of the political times we're seeing now.
Copperheads (aptly named after the poisonous snake) demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities, and they reviled Lincoln for continuing the military campaign against the South. One mode of attack was to ridicule his intelligence and appearance. George McClellan, the Democratic nominee in 1864, referred to Lincoln as an idiot and "the original gorilla." (p.183) (italics in the original). The constant references of our Neo-Copperheads to President Bush's supposed lack of intelligence and his "chimp"-like characteristics are nothing original. In the dark days of the summer of 1864, even the sitting Attorney General, Lincoln's version of Chuck Hagel or John Warner, stated that the country's greatest need was a "a competent leader."

The very pretext for the war itself became an issue then as now. Shortly after the South's secession and the shelling of Fort Sumter, maintenance of the Union was the primary reason for subduing the South. However, by late 1862 and 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, the moral issues of slavery and its abolition became the dominant theme of those who supported the war.

....The nefarious Lincoln, like President Bush, supposedly had ulterior motives for pursuing the war that were kept from the public. One can imagine the stickers affixed to the Copperhead carriages: "Lincoln Lied, People Died."

As Ms. Weber notes, the Copperheads could never articulate any serious plan for what they would do if successful in stopping the Civil War.
Sound familiar?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Amazing Grace

My friend and I saw Amazing Grace this afternoon and I want to recommend that you go see this wonderful film. If you like an intelligent movie that teaches you something about history that you may not have known, this is the movie for you. The movie tells the story of William Wilberforce's long battle to get a bill though Parliament to ban the slave trade. While the movie gives us an education about the nobility of Wilberforce's character and his determination to end this terrible commerce in human souls, it also a great film about politics. You'll see how the coalition that Wilberforce led had to fight to muster public opinion against a trade that was, in many ways, the backbone of 18th century England's economy. This is great political drama.

This is not an era of British history that I knew all that much about before going in and the movie certainly made me want to read more. One error that did grate a bit was having nobility such as the Duke of Clarence, the king's son, sitting in the House of Commons rather than the House of Lords. But I guess it makes better drama to have the antagonists present to face each other. If you enjoy watching Parliament on C-Span, you'll enjoy the raucous and sometimes bawdy debates in the movie.

Some critics have said that the movie was dull and Wilberforce just comes across as a boring, noble do-gooder. Personally, the movie kept my attention all the way through and Ioan Gruffudd's fine acting revealed the depth of character and emotional character of William Wilberforce. All the other performances were top rate. It's a movie that, I can tell, will stay with me for a long time after seeing it. I hope this inspiring film will do well so that more movies like it will get made.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sorry for the light blogging

I was actually at two separate Quiz Bowl tournaments today. First, four of our students at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council, called World Quest. For the third year in a row, we won the regional contest and will be traveling to Washington, DC for the national contest in March. Then I went over to another contest that the rest of our team was competing in. And we won that also!

All in all it has been a very satisfying day. However, now I'm doing a forced march through school work so that a friend and I can go see Amazing Grace tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Don't mess with retired American soldiers

That's a lesson that one Costa Rican would-be robber learned too late when he and his buddies tried to hold up a bunch of American senior citizens touring on the beach.
A tour bus of U.S. senior citizens defended themselves against a group of alleged muggers, sending two of them fleeing and killing a third in the Atlantic coast city of Limon, police said on Thursday.

One of the tourists _ a retired member of the U.S. military aged about 70 _ put assailant Warner Segura in a head lock and broke his clavicle after the 20-year-old and two other men armed with a knife and gun held up their tour bus Wednesday, said Luis Hernandez, the police chief of Limon, 80 miles east of San Jose.

The two other men fled when the 12 senior citizens started defending themselves. The tourists then drove Segura to the Red Cross where the man was declared dead. The Red Cross also treated one of the tourists for an anxiety attack, Hernandez said.
And then these senior citizens got back on the cruise ship and they plan to carry on with their cruise.

I love this story!

The other rape at Duke

Were you aware that there was another rape story involving Duke? A white girl went to a party at a black fraternity off campus house and claims that she was raped in the bathroom. A black man has been arrested for the rape. KC Johnson has a post contrasting how this new case has been handled compared to how the lacrosse story was handled. Either everyone has learned a valuable lesson in how to react when something like this happens or the racial mix in this story wasn't as incendiary as the lacrosse story. Probably the difference involves a mix of both reasons.

The Chicago Sports Register has an interview with KC Johnson to explain how he came to be involved in the story. As a history professor he was appalled by how the professors and Duke administration responded to the original story and that reaction was what drove him to start his blog and reporting on the entire mess.
What have you learned about academia and higher education during this process?

I'm a professor, and for me this has been the most depressing aspect of the entire affair. One of the things that I assumed across the board is that as professors we have strong opinions, but the assumption is that most people enter the profession because they like students, and they enjoy working with students. And with this, you can see the behavior of the Duke Arts and Sciences Department, where close to 100 professors were eager to forward their personal agendas on the backs of their own students. I can't think of another case in the history of American higher education where that can be said. Here you have a students own professor cited in the case for a change of venue. Really, the absolute refusal of the Group of 88 or other players in this affair to apologize or tone down their behavior in any way, as if all of the facts are the same now as they were on March 29th, and to show no indication they've comprehended anything … it's depressing.
As a mother of one Duke graduate and another daughter who is there now, this aspect of the case also struck me. Though I must say that neither girl has encountered anything like this sort of bias in their classes. They've either been lucky or have made better course selections.

Also, as a teacher, I fully agree with KC. No teacher should start trashing his or her students in public like this. It's not quite the rules of doctors in respect to their patients, but to me it's part of an unwritten contract. As KC concludes,
think it's disappointing to me the sort of role I've played in this case to the extent that it wasn't played by professors at Duke. We have 47 guys on this team that are encountering, say, 150-200 professors a year. I don't know all the players on the team. I've met a few; some I like. Nice kids. And you have 200 or so Duke Professors that came into contact with these people, knew they were pretty good people, and chose to remain silent or sign the Group of 88 statement. These guys were targeted in part because they were college students. I wish there had been more involvement by Duke. It's depressing. In terms of the media coverage, local was great, like the Observer. They were even better than I thought, but that didn't percolate into the national media. It just shouldn't have gotten to the point where a blog like mine could be influential.

Why you need a good night's sleep

Here is more evidence that our brains are designed for us to get a good night's sleep.
Bob Stickgold from Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found that people were better able to recall lists of related words after a night's sleep than after the same time spent awake during the day. They also found it easier to recollect themes that the words had in common - forgetting around 25 per cent more themes after a waking rest. "We're not just stabilising memories during sleep," says Stickgold. "We're extracting the meaning."

In another experiment, people were shown cards with symbols followed by reports of various weather outcomes - so for example, diamond shapes might be followed by rain 70 per cent of the time. Twelve hours after training, people felt able to guess the weather from the symbols, though they struggled to voice their "rules". After sleeping, their predictions were 10 per cent better.
So, if you start feeling that things aren't making sense to you and that perhaps they will look better to you in the morning, now there is science to support your suppositions.

Evidence of grade inflation

The newest results from the National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) shows that high school students are getting better grades in high school but they're scoring more poorly on standardized tests than ever before.
About 35 percent of 12th-graders tested in 2005 scored proficient or better in reading -- the lowest percentage since the test was launched in 1992, the new data showed. And less than a quarter of seniors scored at least proficient on a new version of the math test; officials called those results disappointing but said they could not be compared to past scores. In addition, a previous report found that 18 percent of seniors in 2005 scored at least proficient in science, down from 21 percent in 1996.

At the same time, the average high school grade-point average rose from 2.68 in 1990 (about a B-minus) to 2.98 in 2005 (about a B), according to a study of transcripts from graduating seniors. The study also found that the percentage of graduating seniors who completed a standard or mid-level course of study rose from 35 to 58 percent in that time; meanwhile, the percentage who took the highest-level curriculum doubled, to 10 percent.
What this means is that schools are calling courses something that they're not and they're allowing, perhaps encouraging, teachers to inflate their grades so that it seems that everyone is doing well. This is why we need to support the fundamental idea behind No Child Left Behind that assessment of student progress in a transparent way is the key to figuring out how best to reform education. I have problems with how the assessments are being done with each state free to create their own testing program. I'd rather see one nationally accepted assessment such as NAEP than letting each state define what levels of achievement are acceptable. We can see that they can't do this from county to county, school to school, much less state by state.

The Democrats' new trial balloon

It seems that John Murtha's plan to slow-bleed the administration's efforts in Iraq is basically dying before it is even submitted. He made the mistake of making his plan known on a left wing website before the vote on the House nonbinding resolution. That alerted everyone to his attempts to micromanage the war effort to such an extent that the commander in chief would not have freedom of operation. And Democrats are now coming out against his plan.
But that approach may be all but dead, according to several Democratic lawmakers. Murtha doomed his own plan in part by unveiling it on a left-wing Web site, inflaming party moderates.

"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha's whole effort "clumsy."

Cooper's position underscores the challenges now facing the House Democratic leadership. While the caucus's liberal wing is demanding legislation to end the war almost immediately, moderates such as Cooper say Congress should focus on oversight of the war and stay away from legislation that encroaches on the war powers of the president.

"I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations," said Texas's Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.
And Rahm Emanuel is quite public about how it's all about political calculation to him.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) pointed out that Democrats still have public opinion strongly on their side and that a vote on any plan would place Republicans in more jeopardy than Democrats.
Remember that statement when you listen to the Democratic congressmen debating what to do in Iraq. They want to "place Republicans in more jeopardy than Democrats." Putting our troops in jeopardy is not the issue for them. Republicans are.

The newest idea is to rewrite the authorization to use force. This is what Senate Democratic leaders are working on now and they've been leaking news of their idea, perhaps to see how it plays on the Sunday shows.
Senior Senate Democrats, stepping up their confrontation with President Bush over Iraq policy, are preparing legislation that would limit the role of United States troops there to counterterrorism efforts and prohibit them from interceding in sectarian violence.

Senate officials said Thursday that the proposal now being drafted would be a new turn in their attempts to force the White House to halt its troop buildup in Baghdad. They described it as more substantive than the nonbinding resolution of opposition to the increase that stalled in the Senate last Saturday.

The officials would speak only if not identified because the central proposal was still being drafted and needs to be presented to all Senate Democrats when they return from a weeklong recess next Tuesday.

They said the proposal was intended to essentially overturn the 2002 resolution granting Mr. Bush the authority to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and limit the military to combating Al Qaeda in Iraq, keeping Iraq fromac becoming a haven for terrorists and training Iraqi forces. The proposal’s goal, officials said, would be to allow combat forces not engaged in those duties to be removed from Iraq next year.
How exactly the troops are supposed to be able to determine beforehenad whether the dangers they face in Iraq come from Al Qaeda or are part of sectarian strife is not clear. This is what happens when lawyers and politicians write rules of engagement rather than military commanders. We can hope that this will fade away as Murtha's idea seems to be doing. Our armed forces in Iraq don't need to be worrying about whether they're shooting at a Sunni or Shiite bomber rather than the approved Al Qaeda terrorist. These guys don't flash their identification papers before attacking.

One of my former students just returned to visit after having been serving on and off since 2003 with the Marines in Iraq. He complained that they are already being bound by rules saying they couldn't shoot at anyone unless they were attacked first and that this rule of engagement was endangering his men. I can just imagine what he'd say about this new idea.

The Democrats in Congress seem determined to do something, anything to show that they are against the war in Iraq.
Lawmakers and senior aides said that such a plan was unlikely to pass Congress, and even if it did, it would certainly be vetoed by President Bush. But Democrats say their intention is to keep pressure on both Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans who are facing a public frustrated with the war. Democrats say that other Iraq proposals are likely to emerge as well.
Hey, message received. We know you're against the war and determined to show your political supporters that you are and to force Republicans to register votes to stop you. But stop these ideas of micromanaging the war from the halls of Congress. As Charles Krauthammer writes today, this is no way to end a war.
There is something exceedingly strange about authorizing the use of force -- except for combat. That is an oxymoron. Changing the language of authorization means -- if it means anything -- that Petraeus will have to surround himself with lawyers who will tell him, every time he wants to deploy a unit, whether he is ordering a legal "support" mission or an illegal "combat" mission.

If Levin wants to withdraw our forces from the civil war in the cities to more secure bases from which we can continue training and launching operations against al-Qaeda, he should present that to the country as an alternative to (or a fallback after) the administration's troop surge. But to force it on our commanders through legalisms is simply to undermine their ability to fight the war occurring on the ground today.

Slowly bleeding our forces by defunding what our commanders think they need to win (the House approach) or rewording the authorization of the use of force so that lawyers decide what operations are to be launched (the Senate approach) is no way to fight a war. It is no way to end a war. It is a way to complicate the war and make it inherently unwinnable -- and to shirk the political responsibility for doing so.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thomas Sowell gives some economic lessons to Obama

Thomas Sowell tries to explain to Barack Obama that unions are not the answer to whatever it is that Obama is trying to fix about the nation's economy.
Senator Barack Obama recently said, “let’s allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country’s middle class again.”

Ironically, he said it at a time when Detroit automakers have been laying off unionized workers by the tens of thousands, while Toyota has been hiring tens of thousands of non-union American automobile workers.

Labor unions, like the government, can change prices — in this case, the price of labor — but without changing the underlying reality that prices convey.

Neither unions nor minimum-wage laws change the productivity of workers. All they can do is forbid the employer from paying less than what the government or the unions want the employer to pay.

When that is more than the labor in question produces, some workers who are perfectly capable become “unemployable” only because of wages set above the level of their productivity.

In the short run — which is what matters to politicians and to union leaders, who both get elected in the short run — workers who are already on the payroll may get a windfall gain before the market adjusts.

But, sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost. They have been coming home to roost big time in the automobile industry, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost over the years.

It is not that people don’t want automobiles. Toyota is selling plenty of cars made in its American factories with non-union labor.
Read the rest. You'll learn something, but I doubt that Obama will. If he did learn some economics from Dr. Sowell, he'd have to drop all his soothing prescriptions for how more regulations are the easy solutions that he pretends they are.

Democrats and Iraq

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of why the Democrats voted for the authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein.
The original fear of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, of course, played a role in their votes — but only a role. In the 23 writs that authorized force to remove Saddam, senators at the time also cited Iraq’s sanctuary and subsidies for terrorists. Then there were Saddam’s attempts to assassinate a former United States president; his repression of, and use of weapons of mass destruction against, his own people; and his serial violations of both United Nations and Gulf War agreements. If paranoia over weapons of mass destruction later proved just that, these other more numerous reasons to remove Saddam remain unassailable.

Nevada’s Sen. Reid summed up best the feeling of Democrats that there were plenty of reasons to remove Saddam Hussein in a post-9/11 climate. He reminded his Senate colleagues that Saddam’s refusal to honor past agreements “constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict.”

But it was not just fear of Saddam alone that prompted Democrats to authorize the use of force to remove him. There was the more general, liberal notion of using American arms to stop violent dictators. While the Democratic party has a strong pacifist wing, its mainstream has always advocated a global promotion of American liberal values — sometimes through the use of preemptory force.
As Hanson reminds us, this is in accord with a tradition of Democrats supporting intervention abroad.
Throughout American history, it was usually the Democratic party that proved the more interventionist. Democratic presidents — whether Woodrow Wilson in 1917, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939-40, Harry Truman in 1950, John Kennedy in 1963 or Bill Clinton in 1999 — long battled Republican isolationists who insisted that it was never in America’s interest to fight costly wars abroad unless directly attacked by a foreign nation.
So why the switch now? Is it because the cause is no longer worth it or because it has been going badly?
Partisan advantage explains much of the present posturing against an opposition president. But mostly, the rising Democratic furor comes as a reflection of public anger at the costs of the war — and the sense that we are not winning.

Unlike the invasion of Panama (1989), the Gulf war (1991), the Balkans war (1999) or even the Afghanistan conflict (2001-2007), Iraq has taken over 3,000 American lives. Had the reconstruction of Iraq gone as relatively smoothly as the three-week removal of Saddam, most Democratic candidates would now be heralding their past muscular support for democratic change in Iraq.

So instead of self-serving attacks on the present administration, Democratic senators and candidates should simply confess that while most of the earlier reasons to remove Saddam remain valid, the largely unforeseen costs of stabilizing Iraq in their view have proved too high, and now outweigh the dangers of leaving.
They can throw in their blame of the Bush administration for botching the war, but that would necessitate their showing how they would have done better. Is their criticism that we should have had more people there all along? If so, how do they then deny their support for sending more in now? As Hanson concludes, their antiwar rhetoric may come back to haunt future Democratic presidents who want to intervene again in the future.
The next time a Democratic administration makes a case for using America’s overwhelming military force to preempt a Milosevic or a mass murderer in Darfur — and history suggests that one will — the Democrats’ own present disingenuous antiwar rhetoric may come back to haunt them, ensuring that such future humanitarian calls will probably fall on ears as deaf as they are partisan.
And if they create precedents for a partisan Congress to interfere and micromanage a commander in chief's leadership in wartime, future presidents (which many of these people hope to be one day) will regret such a loss of executive authority.

A world without America

18 Doughty Street, a British group that doesn't hate America has produced an Internet ad looking at what a World Without America would be like.
Thank you. It's a telling reminder.

This is almost fun

Can they keep this up for a year? Listening to the charges and countercharges zing back and forth between the Obama and the Clinton campaign could almost make conservatives eagerly anticipate the year long pre-primary campaign. It all started when Maureen Dowd quoted David Geffen, who has switched from being a big financial supporter of the Clintons to now shoveling money into Obama's campaign, as saying "everybody in politics lies," but Bill Clinton and Hillary "do it with such ease, it's troubling." All the lies that the Clintons had so obviously told in their careers hadn't bothered Geffen until Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich but refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, a man convicted of murdering two FBI agents, but whose trial many liberals have undertaken with the same fervor as they have police-killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The two campaigns then proceeded to issue press releases and public comments all yesterday sniping at each other.
Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson released the following statement this morning: "While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.

"While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser."

Obama's team responded a few hours later. Communications director Robert Gibbs just released the following statement:

“We aren’t going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because he's black."

Geffen protested to Arianna Huffington today that he has no role in the Obama campaign beyond co-sponsoring his giant Hollywood fundraising event this week.
Meanwhile, all this brouhaha completely overshadowed the first Democratic debate forum of the season - a full year before people start voting. Just the sort of sniping that American voters all say they can't stand, but secretly enjoy.

So who got the better of this exchange? I'd say it has to be Obama. The last thing that Hillary Clinton wants is reminders of having rich donors sleeping over in the Lincoln bedroom and questionable pardons. That is not the part of the Clinton legacy she hopes to ride back to the White House. I've always thought that one of the biggest hurdles she has to face is fatigue with the whole Clinton drama. I can't believe that there are many people who want to go through all that again and Geffen served to remind people of what they may have forgotten. Sure Obama's campaign didn't come across as so above-it-all as he tries to portray himself, but this wasn't coming out of his mouth so it seems more like a fallout between the Clintons and one of their former Hollywood fat cat supporters.

Probably both campaigns are regretting that the political news story yesterday was all this bickering and they'll step back from such sniping. All the rest of the Democratic candidates were quick to deplore such attacks and go all holier-than-thou.

What a shame - just when it was getting fun.

UPDATE: The Anchoress ponders Hillary's tendency to send her surrogates out there to whine and demand that opponents return contributions whenever anyone says anything bad about her.
She wants to lead the nation, and the free world. And our troops. But let someone with a little disposable cash cast a disagreeable eye her way, and Hillary thrusts out her lip, plays the victim, calls them “mean” and demands that they pull back and let her win!

Hey - there is a tactic we haven’t tried! I wonder if we can defeat Islamofascism by labeling them “meanies” and making a moue.

Can you imagine if this woman had to endure one fiftieth of the personal and political nastiness and criticism heaped upon President Bush every day? If she can’t take a few shots from Geffen, she’s demonstrating just how weak she is. Indeed, no lion-heart is Hillary. There is no clanking when she walks.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Steve Jobs takes on teacher unions

Steve Jobs spoke recently on education reform and demonstrated what an entrepreneur understands about creating a successful operation that the education bureaucracy doesn't.
Steve Jobs has guts — enough guts to speak his mind about what he thinks is wrong with public education even at the risk of harming his business interests.

In a speech on Friday, the chief executive officer of Apple and Disney honcho declared: "I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."

The problem with unionization, Mr. Jobs argued, is that it has constrained schools from attracting and retaining the best teachers and from dismissing the less effective ones. This, in turn, deters quality people from seeking to become principals and superintendents. "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good? Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, ‘I can't win,'" Mr. Jobs said. He concluded by saying, "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."
Teacher unions oppose any sort of merit pay because that would mean that some teachers would earn more than others. Teachers wouldn't want to give all students the same grade regardless of quality yet that is the attitude they adopt for their own pay.

Of course, the real problem with merit pay is how to determine which teachers are good and which ones aren't. I bet that at any school, you could survey teachers, students, parents, and administrators and come up with a decent consensus on which teachers were good and which ones weren't. But there would be some anomalies. Students might prefer the easy teacher rather than the one who challenged them. Some parents might have the same attitude. Administrators might prefer the teachers who volunteered to take on extra duties without complaint. But, in general I think that people know who is a quality teacher and who isn't. But that isn't quantifiable. How do you base a pay system on such gut feelings?

What most public schools have now is a matrix on which teachers are evaluated. Do they have a good five-point lesson plan that hits all the standard points of a lesson? Any experienced teacher can put one of those together in time for an administrator observation.

I'm all for merit pay, but I have doubts about bureaucrats coming up with any formula to determine who exactly merits that pay.

My daughter has a lot more on the difficulties of merit pay.

Who is the more likable candidate?

Jonah Goldberg raises this question in pondering the 2008 primary elections. I remember seeing the statistic that the poll question: Which candidate would you rather have a beer with? as having better predictive ability than asking a simple match up of which candidate do you intend to vote for?

It's hard to judge the candidates of the other party dispassionatley but I think that on the Democratic side, Obama has got it all over the other candidates on the likability index. Biden might come across as a fool, but I can see how people might find him likable. He's certainly popular among the DC press corps. Like Goldberg, I can't stand John Edwards. He was my senator for six years and I've always found him an opportunistic fake, however, I can believe that others find him a nice guy. Reports from Hillary Clinton's friends talk about the fun and funny person she is in private. Sorry, I just don't see it and I can bet that few people, Democrat or Republican, would describe her as likable. In fact, of all the candidates running, I bet Hillary would lose on the likability index.

On the Republican side, I think that the three top candidates: Giuliani, McCain, and Romney all come across as likable guys. Romney doesn't drink alcohol but he might be pleasant to have a soda with. Which would you guys rather sit down with?

The Democrats don't give up on unionizing security workers

You might remember the battle over whether or not the employees of the Homeland Security Department that occurred before the 2002 election. The Democrats lost that battle but they haven't given up. The Wall Street Journal reports on their new effort to slip in collective bargaining rights for airport screeners,
Democrats figure they owe Big Labor for helping them take Congress, and now comes the payback. Tucked away in House and Senate bills that purport to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission is a provision that the Commission most assuredly did not recommend: collective bargaining rights for the Transportation Safety Administration's 43,000 airport screeners.

Congress created TSA in 2001 without union rights on common sense grounds that the agency overseeing airport security was more like the Defense Department than, say, Agriculture. Unionization, with its myriad work rules, would make it harder for the executive branch to hire, fire, train and reassign workers to best meet changing terrorist threats.

Democrats haven't stopped trying to overturn that decision, and in 2002 they forced a showdown with President Bush over union rights as part of creating the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Bush opposed the effort by Senate Democrats who were then in the majority, and the dispute helped the GOP gain Senate seats that November. This may explain why Democrats are now trying to unionize TSA sotto voce, under the cover of 9/11 Commission "reforms," and so far the press corps has barely noticed.
The question is whether or not Bush will veto the 9/11 bill over this issue. This is a battle worth fighting. We should keep the the war on terror secure from union battles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This will be the next big change to push in local voting laws

There is a renewed push in New York City to give non-citizen immigrants the right to vote in local elections.
A bill that would grant permanent residents and other legal immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections has been stalled in the City Council since last year.

"More than 50,000 adult noncitizen taxpayers in those two districts are disenfranchised by citizenship voting laws," said Cheryl Wertz, of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, referring to today's special election for council seats in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), the sponsor of the Voting Rights Restoration Act, said that years ago, when immigrants were mostly European, they had voting rights.

"Then when the complexion of immigrants changes, then all of a sudden, the laws change," he said.

Ron Hayduk, a CUNY professor, concurred, saying immigrants voted in national elections from 1776 through 1926.
When the voting rights were taken away in 1926 for immigrants to New York, that probably wasn't because of the complexion of immigrants. First of all, the 1920s were marked by extreme nativism. It was an era when the national government passed three separate laws to limit immigration. The goal however, was not to limit immigrants of a different complexion, but to limit the influx of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe rather than those from northern and western Europe who had dominated the immigration flow prior to around 1890. Those laws didn't even restrict immigration from the western hemisphere and this certainly wasn't an era when we were seeing a lot of African immigrants. So the idea that the restrictions on non-citizens voting placed in 1926 were part of some effort to limit the rights of black or brown immigrants is just plain wrong.

And I would point out that the 15th Amendment concerns not denying the right to vote to any citizen of the United States on acount of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Note the word "citizen" in that amendment. So, non-citizens have not had the right to vote in national elections at least since 1870.

If New York City wants to grant the right to vote to non-citizens in their local elections, that is their prerogative, but I wonder how the citizens who vote now in the city like the idea of their votes being diluted by non-citizens. I can imagine that sparking a rather heated debate.

Clinton's paid endorsements

Hillary Clinton tried to defend her campaign's choice of giving a $10,000 a month contract to the media consulting firm of South Carolina state Senator Darrell Jackson who then turned around and endorsed her. They trumpeted Jackson's endorsement and only acknowledged that he was also receiving the big bucks from the Clinton campaign when the deal was exposed. His endorsement was important because he's an influential black leader in South Carolina and she fears that Obama might cut into the support she feels she is entitled to as the wife of the first black president.

Now she's just trying to explain hiring his firm as normal politics because he'd supported Bill Clinton.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton responded to questions about the consulting contract her campaign negotiated with state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who last week endorsed her candidacy rather than of top rivals John Edwards or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"Senator Jackson was someone who was involved in my husband's campaigns. He was someone we turned to for political advice and counsel and I'm proud to have him on my team," Clinton told the AP.

Soon after the endorsement, Jackson acknowledged that his media consulting firm had negotiated a $10,000 per month contract with Clinton's campaign. Jackson has said he turned down more lucrative contracts from other candidates.
Here are some questions I'd like reporters to research and answer. This seems like a natural to study rather than just reporting what excuse each person involved gives the press. How common is it for state officials to have media consulting firms and also endorse candidates who come to the state? Is a $10,000 monthly contract a normal price for a state of South Carolina's size a year out from the primary? When did state Senator Jackson establish his media consulting firm? Did he have a similar deal with Bill Clinton? In any other state where candidates have started to receive important endorsements from influential figures do those figures have their own campaign consulting company? Whom else has Darrell Jackson consulted for? Did he endorse them also?

This whole story cries out for more reporting. Are there some reporters in South Carolina who need story ideas?

Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine

Now that the Democrats are back in power in Congress, there is a lot of talk of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine to mandate the radio stations balance a conservative talk show host with a liberal one. Having lost the control of talk radio in the open marketplace they now want to muzzle conservatives and provide job opportunities for liberal talkers who can't succeed on their own. Kenneth Blackwell takes on this idea.
Congressman Hinchey is a liberal and liberals are good at several things. They make entertaining movies and write catchy toe-tapping songs. They even make delicious all natural ice cream. But they can’t figure out talk radio. In fact, they are terrible at it. Al Franken never really competed with Rush Limbaugh as he had promised. And Air America Radio became a better punch line than bottom line.

While liberals hold a virtual monopoly on broadcast television and print news, many on the left just can’t stomach the reality of a dominant conservative presence on talk radio. They want to give Mr. Franken and his pessimism and rage-filed talk radio comrades something they could not obtain on their own – market share.

This is why liberals are so eager to bring back a roundly rejected and blatantly unconstitutional piece of government intrusiveness know as the Fairness Doctrine. And Hinchey is ready to do the heavy lifting with his Media Ownership Reform Act, which includes reinstatement of the doctrine. If it passes, the legislation would force radio stations that air conservative talk shows to also air liberal shows – regardless of listener interest or sponsor support.

It’s a tried and true strategy intended to silence voices with whom Hinchey and his liberal brethren disagree.
I don't think that such a law could ever get through both houses of Congress. I can't see the Senate Republicans being so stupid as to let such a bill come up for a vote there or, if they did, a Republican president signing it.

But it is a clear indication of how liberals think. If they don't like what is being said, they want to regulate it out of existence. We've seen how unsuccessful they've been in limiting critical campaign ads with campaign finance reform. With the explosion of radio in the past few years on AM, FM and satellite radio, the last thing we need to do is try to dictate to radio program managers what content they should be playing.

San Francisco's golf courses

Apparently, San Francisco has too many municipal golf courses and they're losing money. Thomas Sowell takes the occasion to point out the differences between how politicians and economists view a question.
Put bluntly, the poor are in effect being used as human shields in the political wars over government spending, which extends far beyond anyone who could even plausibly be called poor.

Politicians will spend money wherever that is likely to increase their chances of getting re-elected. Of all the things that governments spend money on, none is further removed from fighting poverty than municipal golf courses.

Are the taxpayers being asked to support municipal golf courses so that the poor and the downtrodden can play? Not bloody likely.

San Francisco has six municipal golf courses -- and they are losing money. Now there is all sorts of hand-wringing over what to do about it.

An economist might see this as a non-problem. If the golf courses are losing money, then get rid of them. Given San Francisco's sky high land prices, selling the land that the golf courses are on would bring in millions, if not billions, of dollars.

But such advice is why so few economists get elected to political office.

A politician has to be all things to all people -- a friend of the golfers, a protector of the workers who maintain the golf courses, and of course a believer in mother and apple pie.

Even the suggestion that the golf courses might be turned over to some private operator of golf courses has caused opposition. One golfer declared: "Privatization would raise greens fees. Nobody could afford it."

This is the kind of talk that has to be taken seriously by elected officials, even if an economist would dismiss it as sheer nonsense. Have you ever heard of any business raising its prices to the point where it no longer had any customers?

Obviously, what "Nobody could afford it" really means is that this particular golfer and others like him might not be willing to pay it. But that is the whole point of prices -- to determine where resources go when different people want to use the same resources for different purposes and have to bid against each other.

Hillary's thoughts on Iraq

Jim Geraghty fisks Hillary's latest statement to her supporters on Iraq. I'd like to see Geraghty in one of Hillary's next "conversations."

Monday, February 19, 2007

A fitting way to celebrate Presidents' Day

Maryland is unveiling today the original draft of George Washington's resignation letter to the Continental Congress at the end of the Revolutionary War. It has been held in private hands all these years, but the state of Maryland recently acquired it.
The speech, scholars say, was a turning point in U.S. history. As the Revolutionary War was winding down, some wanted to make Washington king. Some whispered conspiracy, trying to seduce him with the trappings of power. But Washington renounced them all.

By resigning his commission as commander in chief to the Continental Congress -- then housed at the Annapolis capitol -- Washington laid the cornerstone for an American principle that persists today: Civilians, not generals, are ultimately in charge of military power.
George III, upon hearing that Washington was voluntarily laying down the reins of power is purported to have exclaimed, "If he indeed does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." (If you're interested in learning more about Washington's first farewell to power, read Stanley Weintraub's George Washington's Christmas Farewell.)

The draft letter that Maryland is unveiling today reveals the subtle changes that Washington made in the document to take exactly the proper tone for a general displaying his commitment to civilian control of the military. This was a deference that he continually displayed during the War and it is mostly to him that we owe our traditions of a military that serves the government instead of the opposite path to power that has destroyed so many other revolutions.
Washington had carefully prepared his speech that day, according to the revisions in the newly acquired manuscript. It appears that he wanted to stress the importance of Congress and his subservience to it. He crossed out, for example, the word "deliver" and said instead, "I here offer my commission," leaving his resignation up to the will of Congress.

When he read it aloud, "the spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears," McHenry writes in his account. "His voice faultered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations."

Washington paused to recover from the emotion.

From there, the draft originally ended: "bidding an affectionate, a final farewell to this August body . . . I here today deliver my Commission, and take my ultimate leave of all the employments of public life."

What is notable in the manuscript, however, is that Washington crossed out the words "final" and "ultimate," as though saying to Congress after years of wearying war and service he would be willing to serve again, if needed.
Thankfully, he was ready to serve again four years later at the Constitutional Convention and then as our first president. I often ask my students to picture some other man, whether a different founding father or a different figure from American history as our first president and to ponder what different precedents would have been established if that person had been instead of Washington our first president. Just a few silent moments of reflection is enough to knock it home how fortunate indeed we were that George Washington was there to take the job.

Happy Presidents' Day!

Ron Paul running for president

George Will has a profile of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas who votes against everything that he thinks violates the enumerated powers of the federal government.
Paul thinks everyone is born an instinctive libertarian, "wanting to be let alone." Unfortunately, "the school system beats it out of you." Paul voted both for the ban on partial-birth abortion (a fetus is alive, leave it alone) and against the ban on same-sex marriage (none of the federal government's business). He refused to allow any of his five children (three of whom are doctors) to accept federal student loans, and he will not accept his congressional pension. He voted against campaign-finance regulation in 2002 and the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act in 2006, denouncing the former as the left's attack on free speech and the latter as the right's attack. Because they are "not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution," he regularly votes against awarding gold medals to distinguished figures, including—gasp—the Gipper.
Will anticipates Paul's presence in the Republican debates as Paul runs for president. At least, it should be interesting how the other candidates answer Paul's criticisms of anything that extends federal powers. It will definitely expose the difference between what a libertarian and a conservative are and that might be a revealing discussion.

I do have one small question for Congressman Paul. George Will mentions that there is a picture of only one politician in Paul's office.
Most congressional offices are decorated with photos of representatives gripping and grinning with presidents and other eminences. Paul, who thinks the presidency has swollen to anticonstitutional proportions, has photos of two Austrian School economists, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who warned against what Hayek called "the fatal conceit" of governments thinking they can allocate wealth and opportunity more reasonably than can markets. Paul's office has a picture of one president—Grover Cleveland, the conservative Democrat who asked, "What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?"
Why does the libertarian Paul celebrate Grover Cleveland, a president who ordered federal troops in to put down the Pullman strike in 1894 effectively putting the federal army at the disposal of the Pullman company in order to quash the Pullman workers strike? It doesn't sound like the type of libertarian action that Paul would admire.

A different sort of Duke lacrosse story

Mary Laney has the story of a Duke lacrosse player who became a true hero.
This story is about the strong character of Duke lacrosse player Jim Regan. It's a story that should change your perception of Duke -- particularly because, unlike much of what has been alleged about Duke and its lacrosse team, this story is true.

Regan arrived at Duke and it wasn't long before he known on campus and on the team. He was a scholar in the classroom and was selected from Duke to the academic all-ACC team. On the Blue Devils team he scored 22 goals and four assists, and led the team to a four-year record of 43 wins, 21 losses and two ACC championships along with four trips to the NCAA tournament. His senior year, Regan was selected for the ACC all-tournament team.

He earned a bachelor's degree in economics, with a minor in business and marketing and was immediately offered a position with UBS, a financial services company. He was also offered a scholarship to attend Southern Methodist University's Law School.

Life, as they say, was looking good for Regan. He met the girl of his dreams. He had great options. He also had great dedication.

Michael Barone on intelligence

Barone has a very apt column today criticizing those who are so quick to sound suspicious of the recent unsurprising intelligence that Iran is helping fuel the violence in Iraq against our troops.
To many of us, these reports seem unremarkable. There is every reason to believe that the mullah regime in Iran wishes us ill, and the border between Iraq and Iran, much of it highly mountainous, is surely porous. Yet from many critics of the administration emanate cries that these reports are not to be given credence — they are just a ploy to justify military action against Iran.

To be sure, it appears that our military has been given orders to take action against Iranian agents in Iraq and that those orders have been followed. One wonders why such orders weren't given long ago. And there is certainly a case to be made — I'd make it myself — against a land war in Iran. But why should the reports be treated with suspicion?

The mullah regime has been making war against the United States since 1979. It committed an act of war against us by imprisoning our diplomats for 444 days. It sponsored Hezbollah, whose suicide bomber killed 240 Marines in Lebanon in 1983. It was behind the attack on the U.S. barracks in Khobar Towers in 1996. It calls the United States the Great Satan, and its current president has called for the eradication of the United States and Israel. The New York Times laments that America is "bullying" Iran. Actually, the mullah regime has been bullying the United States for 28 years.

So why the suspicion? The answer seems to be that because intelligence erred in its judgment that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction it could be erring here, too: All intelligence that could be used to justify military action is inherently dubious.
Read the rest.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Iowahawk does Amanda Marcotte's resume

Iowahawk proves why he is one of the best conservative humor writers around. He's outdone himself with this satire of John Edwards' former blogress's resume now that she is unemployed.
CAREER OBJECTIVE

Seeking challenging, fast-paced thought leadership position in major Western industrial phallocracy. I have experience in a number of positions, including chapters 1-6 of the Kama Sutra, and an established record of speaking angry truth to theocratic power through edgy PostModern Riot Grrrrl punk feminism, which I am happy to disavow at your request.

EXPERIENCE

2/13/2007 - Present: Blogger, Pandagon.net. Created hard-hitting apology retractions, planned revenge strategies, investigated reich wing organization charts, indexed enemies database, achieved fetal positions, consumed several quarts of Blue Bell ice cream to dull psychic pain.

2/01/2007-2/13/2007: Blog Master, Edwards For President, Raleigh NC. Managed campaign website for top Democratic presidential candidate. Crafted strategic economic and military position papers, spearheaded outreach programs to progressive online community, led cross-functional archive-erasing teams, coordinated crisis management program, achieved follow-through on apology plan, renegotiated labor contracts, spell-checked resignation letter, successfully avoided pregnancy. Reason for leaving: international theocratic christofascist conspiracy.
Read the rest. What a hoot!

How Nancy Pelosi regards national security

This story says it all.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stripped embattled Rep. William Jefferson of his seat on a powerful tax committee last year, has decided to put him on the Homeland Security panel, infuriating some Republicans who charge that he could be a security risk.

Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was kicked off the Ways and Means Committee amid a federal bribery probe, yet still won re-election to a ninth term.

Pelosi is giving him a seat on the panel after Jefferson was outspoken in his criticism of the homeland security agencies that responded to Hurricane Katrina. His appointment must still be formally approved by the rest of the House Democrats.

The decision immediately came under fire from the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Peter King.

"It sends a terrible message," King, R-N.Y., said Friday. "They couldn't trust him to write tax policy, so why should he be given access to our nation's top secrets or making policy for national defense?"

Jefferson, 59, is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he accepted bribes related to a telecommunications deal in Africa. The FBI's evidence against him includes $90,000 found in his freezer - fodder for late-night talk show jokes but not funny to Pelosi, who promised to run the most ethical Congress in history.
A long, long time ago I had a summer job for which it was necessary that I get a security clearance. I had to undergo a FBI background check, take psychological tests, and pass a lie detector test. It was all aimed at determining if I was a security risk, perhaps for blackmail or corruption. Now Congressman William Jefferson, a man subject to an FBI investigation for corruption, will get access to all sorts of classified information due to his perch on the Homeland Security Committee. This guy that Pelosi thinks has a special expertise on Homeland Security because of Hurricane Katrina is also the guy who diverted a National Guard contingent to escort him to his home so he could retrieve his personal belongings. Yeah, he has some expertise. For shame.