Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's the big deal, Poirot?

The French have hit the streets, again. This time it is over government attempts to loosen strict labor laws that make it hard for employers to lay people off. The Constitutional Council in France has upheld the government's proposal, thus the nation will come to a halt.

The law basically removes job protections for workers under the age of 26. To American youth who have no idea what a "job protection" is, it is hard to see what the big beef is all about. Even I am having a hard time understanding this overpowering sense of entitlement that many French seem to feel when it comes to state protection and assistance. That said, over the years in my trips to Southwest France, I have seen this attitude changing somewhat. But the Southwest is France's answer to Orange county. I can't speak for the rest of the country.

The French suffer from a type of schizophrenia when it comes to the government. They have a fundamental mistrust of the government while at the same time, an over-dependence on the welfare state. From the French perspective, the government is full of elitist politicians with their hands in everyone's pocket, nobles in need of a little metaphorical decapitation. The welfare state however, is a fundamental part of the Republic in that it maintains the mechanisms for redistribution of wealth and control over the elites. The French all complain about the civil service (bloated and spoiled) and power of trade unions (which are making up a smaller percentage of the workforce). But at the same time, they tend to support strikers. What is worse, the youth are now all aspiring to become civil servants. As the Economist put it, "What a chilling lack of ambition."

Here is the scarier part: 68% of the French are against the changes. So it is no surprise that the youth have managed to bring the country to a halt. (and please, no comparisons to the student protests of 1968. That was about democracy. These protests are about nanny state benefits. Not the same thing.)

France has a long running, persistent problem with double digit unemployment, especially among the young. This is in part what sparked the riots last year. With EU rules that allow the free movement of labor among the members, the employment pressures are increasing.

From my perspective, the problem with the government plan is that it isn't coupled with a job creation program. They see their proposal as THE job creation program. I agree with the hard line that the government is taking, but I am not convinced this alone will solve the problems. The whole labor market has to be opened up. I bet they will have to negotiate a settlement that will result in some half-measure that changes very little, which is what always happens.

One example of a half measure was the 35 work week, which was supposed to create more jobs. That failed because it wasn't coupled with looser employment regulations thus making hard for employers to ramp up production to meet demand because they were limited in the overtime they could grant. It also penalized the average French worker by cutting salaries for newer employees who are paid by the hour. This came at the same time that consumer prices and demand were rising in France.

It is time for the political elite to bite the bullet and make the hard changes that a modern, globalized economy requires. And if the French public wants to cry foul on capitalism, I'd remind them that they are quite happy buying subs (now with cup holders!), yacking on cell phones, typing away on home computers, taking vacations to exotic destinations, and getting fat like the rest of us in the free world. This all thanks to capitalism and globalization.

If France wants to create more jobs and keep its best and brightest at home, it must become more competitive. It has to loosen its labor laws, end subsidies in key sectors, liberalize the business environment and cut the red tape that makes opening a small business difficult. And while they are at it, start letting retail outlets run sales when they want rather than limiting them to twice a year. It's such a drag, you know.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Greetings from Southern California!

Greetings from California's beautiful 50th district! It may be dead to Stephen Colbert, but believe me, it exists and is a great place to be. The 50th district is a pretty solid Republican district, but two words might change that this year: Duke Cunningham. The Duke-Stir and his wonderful defense contractor yacht seem to have people re-thinking who they want to vote for in a few weeks. A new poll shows the Democratic candidate, Francine Busby, in the lead over the otherwise Republican field with 39%. But if no one gets 50% of the vote, this is heading to a run-off, which would seem to favor whichever Republican candidate comes out on top.

It's hard to get a feel for this race here. There are ads on TV on all sides, of course, but one can't really say that people are terribly energized about this election. Is that a good thing for Busby or not? We shall soon see -- the election is on April 11th.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Standardized Testing And NCLB: A Case Study of Absurdity

It was reported today in the NYT that several schools are cutting back on classes and focusing on math and reading. This news is paired with protests in California over its exit exam (which we have previously discussed on this blog) and news of scoring errors on SAT tests as well as several state exams.

I wanted to devote a little space to this because I happen to know a lot about it and I have grave concerns. There are several things that are being left out of the standardized testing story and that policymakers may or may not get.

First: The Testing Movement

The tendency is to see testing either as a panacea for all things wrong with education or the cause of them. The testing movement really gained steam under Bush Sr. He was pushing what became known as Goals 2000. The idea was for each state to have solid state standards of what students should be able to do and then to periodically administer tests that were based on those standards. Teachers’ unions were 100% behind the idea. All 50 states had educational standards, however, most of those were weak, minimum competency requirements. And the tests that measured “progress” were one-size-fits all, norm referenced tests like the Iowa Basic Skills or the Stanford 9 which were purchased by states along with text books. The idea of Goals 2000 was to raise the bar all around. It was voluntary; however, a certain amount of federal funding was tied to implementation. Back in 1994, when I was working in educational issues, the firm I worked for was trying to evaluate the strength of state standards under development. What we learned is that something like 48 states were participating in the program. All were planning to build tests around the new standards by 2000. Overall, the quality of the standards ranged from poor to good, but not great.

By 1996, states were starting to contract with the big test companies to build custom tests for their state. These tests took 2-5 years to develop, cost millions and millions of dollars in development, administration, and scoring. Testing was usually done in 3rd or 4th, 6, 8, and one high school year, usually 10th or 12th and they covered math, science, English Language Arts (ELA), and Social Studies. Goals 2000 was a good, middle of the road type of program.

By 1999, a disturbing trend was starting up. Teacher pay was being linked to student performance on these tests. Thus was born the “high stakes” test. Testing specialists advised against this. For starters, standardized tests like polls and surveys are not a science in the true sense. They can be “scientized” (my term) by analyzing trends in field test results, but like all statistics, they are utlimately based on what is often problematic data. Like judges, statististians can only analyize and make judgements based on the data they recieve. Furthermore, psycometricians can design algorithms to do just about anything to smooth out undesirable results. I mention this because testing specialists do NOT design tests to be used in carrot-stick- scenarios. They know the limits of standardized testing.
Psychometricians point out that much more piloting should be done to insure that the tests are valid. States don’t want to pay for this. So the warnings and the cautious statements of test specialists go ignored and test developers and researchers have no leverage to stop states from improperly using tests. The aspirn bottle tells you to just take two, but that doesn't stop you from taking 10. This is a prime example where researchers are counseling policymakers correctly and policymakers ignore the counsel. And it is creating huge problems.

Two: The Industry

With the arrival of NCLB I was expecting a gravy train for testing companies like McGraw-Hill, Harcourt, ETS, etc. It has turned out to be only partially true. Companies as well as states are facing shortages in qualified people, cost over runs due to inefficient operation and constantly shifting demands from state policy makers. These companies have a terribly fickle clientele. The states often change requriements half way through the development process, stiffen up drop dead dates, etc. And the companies accept this without much complaint because they have to make the customer happy.
It is estimated by Eduventures that in the 2005-2006 academic year, NCLB cost states $517 mil. We are talking tests with a shelf life of maybe 2-3 years depending on the state policy regarding public release of the test items and the size of the item pool developed.

The NCLB has been like a tsunami for the testing companies. They can’t handle the demand. These were companies that mainly developed shelf-products and custom contracts were very limited and largely for license exams in various professions. In the past, a company could build a shelf test for $5 mil and then sell it for several years earning $15 mil. About 70% of their business was shelf-product. Now 70% is custom contract work and they haven’t yet adjusted. Custom tests can cost 4-5 times the amount to develop as shelf products. Profit margins are a lot lower and competition is pushing companies to bid lower and lower on contracts and make bigger and bigger promises. States are increasing penalties, sometimes $100K a day for a late deliverable. ETS lost $18 mil on a 3-year $175 mil California contract. It has since won a bid for a second 3 year term, and let's hope it has learned something.

There is growing side industry of small start ups. Now there are firms that will deliver the test; others will adminisiter it; others will score it; some will provide innovative score reports, etc. So now big companies can co-bid on state contracts. So McGraw-Hill will take the lead on the project and run the psycometrics and scoring and say Riverside will write the content or visa versa. The idea of "onestop shopping" is coming to an end because big companies are loosing too much money.
Firms like Dell, XEROX, and Microsoft are also benefiting because testing companies need large numbers of printers, computers, copy machines, software licenses, and test processing equipment. The companies are having to expand rapidly and they have to quickly restock their equipment. These represent huge capital costs for the industry. In the last 10 years, McGraw-Hill's CTB in California has had to expand its office space first by building a state of the art building and then renting additional office space off-site. It has even moved some of it scoring to Sacramento to deal with the demand for space. This mounts the costs for these companies and shrinks profit margins. Companies then have to save in other costs. Result: armies of temp employees working as such for years at a time, never being offerd regular positions, thus not requiring medical insurance, 401K, and the like.

The actaul company employees are doing double shifts under big time pressures. Many are overworked and burnt out. They all have to criss-cross the country visting clients and the squeeze to save on travel budgets is on, thus the accomodations, which weren't great in the past, are even worse now. All that travel takes a toll on employee health and morale.
States used to test once a year and so the work of scoring was seasonal. It made sense to use temporary employees for that work. Now they states are testing year around partially because schools are in session year-around. States want score reports back before the next school period and thus, turn around times are very tight. They want say 3 million test graded and score reports delivered in 1 month time. This means mistakes get made and there is little oversight over the testing companies. In short, states often ask these companies for the impossible.

The state departments of education and their assessment and accountability offices aren’t in any better shape. They are severely understaffed thanks to budget cuts. Qualified personnel are hard to keep. Private industry pays more and the politics are a lot less messy. But even private industry is having hard time paying big salaries when the bottom line is getting thinner.

Three: The Problems and the hypocrisy: What no one wants you to know

A. Test developers are told to design tests that measure student performance on state standards. So you have to have clear, comprehensive, and cogent state standards to begin with. That is a key element to your blueprint. Absent that, test developers, like architects, are left to interpret and design things to the best of their abilities. Many states still do not have proper standards.

B. State testing programs are run by policymakers who may have once been educators but who are now politicians. Politicians earn votes by promising to “fix” education. Thus, they have a tendency to be either over-confident about the skills and abilities of their students and teachers or over-ambitious in their goals. So they come to one of the 5 big testing companies wanting a tough test. Then they start building policies in order to incentivize teachers and punish “low performing” schools. There are no stakes for students . Telling students to do well so that teacher earns more money is as stupid as it is useless.

Once the tests come out, teachers (who were part of the test development process. In some states, they actually write the test questions and the testing companies have to review and edit those- a miserable task let me tell you), parents, unions, school administrators are all yelling. The politicians are now in a tough spot. So they come back to the company and ask the psycometricians to mess with the statistical data, develop algorithms to smooth over edges, etc. while the company faces huge penalties for late product delivery. And politicians either start developing new policies or altering older ones in order to re-adjust to reality. They fiddle. They want the tests dumbed down. They extend implementation dates, they develop new programs to prepare students or train teachers. the empanel committes of "neutral specialists" to "advise" them. And then in the end, when the statistics show improvement, they stand up and claim that NCLB works!
This is a massive scam and an even bigger cover up. And it isn’t happening just in public education. It happens anywhere high stakes tests are used. Education is not improved because expectations must always be re-aligned to fit reality. The bar is never raised.

C. Despite the importance of these tests, states spend less than one quarter of 1% of their edu. budgets on testing according to one Harvard study. Industry insiders say that states spent on average $10-$30 per student for the tests. Eduventrues says they spent twice that amount on test-prep materials.

NCLB was a bold attempt to use testing to push overall educational improvement. It seemed like a good idea on paper. In practice however, it is another story.

The Losers: Everyone

Federal funding and teacher salaries are contingent on student performance on these tests regardless of other challenges such as ESL, special needs students, or other systemic problems. And in the end everyone looses. States can always find the money to pay testing companies, but they can’t fund PE classes, art, music, vocational or business classes. Everything gets directed at the lowest performers at the expense of the middle and upper range performers. The lowest performers don’t get the type of education they need or the types of opportunities that the better off get to explore what fires their curiosity. It is an attempt not just to standardize testing, but the student as well.

It is a prime example of bringing a business model to bear on a social program. It doesn’t work because it doesn’t attack the root of the problem. The root of the problem, in my view, is a culture that does not value education. It is over-worked a parents who don’t sit with their children at night a help with homework. It is a culture that thinks the only thing that counts is math, science, and reading and fails to see that if a kid loves music, the math becomes more relevant to his world. Or if he loves to paint, then suddenly reading or maybe learning a foreign language isn’t so hard. It is a culture that fails to place any responsibily for success square on the shoulders of the students.

Tegardless of what we do, not everyone will succeed . We should fail people who don't keep up and accept that as a "cost of doing business". That said, however, everyone should have the opportunity to succeed. And that just isn't the case. Separate but equal? Tell that to an inner-city youth who's Jazz band just lost its funding.


The Protest is Not in Our Schedule

Half a million people in LA. Organizers had alerted the media to perhaps 100,000. 50,000 in Denver. 20,000 in Phoenix. But news coverage is sparse. Why? Unlike the Million Man March, this was not planned. Largely impromptu demonstrations attracted masses of angry people. Make it a felony to be in this country illegally? What have we come to??

The solution to illegal immigration is very easy. Throw in jail anyone who knowingly hires an illegal immigrant. Enforce that law. Make THAT a felony. They come here for jobs, nothing else. If jobs dry up, so will illlegal immigration. Believe me, if they threw all the farmers in the central valley and all the taco bell owners in jail (and yes, it would be all of them, make no mistake) for a minimum of 6 months for knowingly hiring illegals, there would be no more illegal immigration.

What is maddening is that the same people who vote for these punitive laws are the ones who hire illegal immigrants. I wager 80% of the people who hire illegal immigrants are conservative Republicans. Small businessmen and farmers. They want to keep the flow of illegals alive because they can mistreat them, pay them below the minimum, even stiff them on pay, then threaten to report them. This is just cruel, and I'm so happy that half a million of my fellow Angelenos have turned out to say "Enough is enough." It's worse that they are now planning to criminalize priests and social workers who try to help those in need, because of the immigration status of those people.

Stop criminalizing the workers who come here poor, desperate, but eager to work, and start punishing the employers who invite foreigners to break the law and come, employ them, then vote to make them criminals so they can control them.

Sadly, this will make hardly a ripple on the news, because the conservative media have no stomach for calling the Republicans on who they really are.

We all know people who are here in violation of one immigration statute or another. They come into our homes as friends and workers. I will not become a tool of the right wing. If this law passes, forbidding me from treating them as human beings, I will not obey.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Can it be?

Good news out of South Dakota? Really?

It seems a Native American tribe has plans to put an abortion clinic on their reservation. Good for them! I am, however, interested in LTG's take on the legality of this ...


Friday, March 24, 2006

Twice a Martyr

Abdal Rahman of Afghanistan is preparing for martyrdom. He converted to Christianity; for that, the Afghan imams say he must be killed. US-installed President Hamid Karzai seems unsure what to do. The result is not certain. If Rahman is put to death for exercising his right as a free human being to worship as he chooses, he will be a martyr, above all, to the cause of human rights and democracy.

Is this what we went to Afghanistan to do? Is this what we defeated the Taliban for?
For shame.

The time has really come when Western governments must firmly state that the principle of human rights is universal and applicable to all societies at all times. These are our core values. Respect for Islam does not mean permitting radical versions of Islam that deprive human beings of their human rights. That goes for fundamentalist Christians and ultra-Orthodox Jews as well. Tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions must not be used as a cloak to permit intolerance and oppression within those cultures.

We can start at Guantanamo, by restoring the rule of law. We can then, in South Dakota, overturn a law aimed at controlling pregnant women based on religious objections to abortion.

Let's make Rahman's martyrdom matter.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Justice O'Connor Warns of Dictatorship

No kidding. O'Connor spoke at Georgetown on March 9, 2006. Bits of the text are starting to circulate. Here is the Guardian's report.
An excerpt:

**Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."
She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."**

Slate also reported on this speech. As usual, the conservative media cover this up.

Bush must be impeached.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Feingold for Prez-ee-dent?

On March 13, Russ Feingold moved to censure President Bush for the unlawful wiretaps that he authorized the NSA to carry out. Not a single Democrat in the Senate stood up to second the motion. And by this Washington Post account, he caught his Senate colleagues off guard. However, Raw Story indicates that he announced it on ABC the day before. So the Senators would have had time to caucus, right? Why did Feingold step up and then out with such a serious move without consulting his colleagues? Does he have ambitions?

Part of me would love to see Bush censured. To date, the only poll done on the issue was done by the American Research Group The poll shows that a respectable number of voters (48%) would support such a move. And let's not ignore 43% of voters who wouldn't mind seeing an impeachment. ARA puts Bush's disapproval rating at 58%!

But, is it really good idea to make such a huge step at such a critical time without bringing your party with you? Is this a move too far to the left? It is just a stunt like Kerry's calling for a filibuster from the ski slopes of Davos? Does is further fracture the Party?

What do the Citizens think of Feingold's move?

(Yes, LTG, we know . . . Bush must be impeached.)


Friday, March 17, 2006

American Academia

Hi All,

Last weeks issue of The Economist (the one with Bush riding a nuke) has an article about what's wrong with American academia. They argue that the biggest problems are the tenure system which prevent unproductive professors from being fired, a systematic disrespect for undergraduate teaching, and pervasive limitations on free speech imposed by a wide spread ideology of political correctness. I usually agree with The Economist but on this one I think they got much of their argument wrong and some of the rest of it backwards.

I think the biggest problem in American academia is the increasing share of the university budget being devoted to matters completely unrelated to either the research or the teaching mission of the university. Administrative functions and "student life" functions are growing exponentially as a share of the university budget. Even as overall budgets decline (especially at state universities), the amounts spent on and by various Deans, Associate Deans, Provosts etc goes up every year. Yet this was not mentioned by The Economist.

The next biggest problem in American academia is related to the explosion of administrative overhead. That is the proliferation of separate departments for every obscure and politically motivated field of study. For example while sociology, political science, anthropology and history all produce volumes of work on ethnicity and culture, there are now separate departments (which means separate administrative staff, offices, budgets etc) for every ethnic group you can imagine. The existence of these new disciplines depends entirely on the political demand for departmental status by interest group activists rather than any real difference between the new discipline and the more established fields. This was mentioned tangentially by The Economist.

The Economist reserved its greatest criticism for the tenure system. They blame it for "unproductive" faculty who don't spend enough time teaching undergraduates. But they fail completely to define what a productive faculty member would look like. If universities banned tenure tomorrow but still required publications for promotion, it would make faculty less attentive to undergrads not more. Furthermore, the tenure system was originally designed (and is often used) as protection against exactly the kind of PC tyranny that The Economist complains about. In the past it was centrists and leftist academics being protected from the excesses of the far right. Now it is the far left that is threatening academic freedom on campus (although not nearly as much as the far right did in the past).

So what do I propose? If I were dictator of the universe, I would eliminate all the "fill-in-your-favorite-group-studies" departments and fold their faculty back into the traditional fields of their choice (anthro, soc, poli sci, history etc). That would allow me to lay off dozens of otherwise useless administrators who do little more than soak up resources. Any extra money created by this process would be spent on hiring more faculty so that the ridiculous practice of crammig hundreds of students into each course could be addressed.

What do you all think?


Thursday, March 16, 2006

The U.S.- Where the Debt Just Keeps on Growin'

You need to listen to this from Robert Reich.

It is relevant to today's Senate announcement that it will raise the debt ceiling. Today, the Senate approved by a vote of 52-48 an increase in the federal
debt to $9 trillion, which is expected to be reached before the end of
the year.

When "Wah" took over, the federal debt was $5.6 trillion. So by the end of
this year, W will have added about $3.4 trillion of new debt, or 38% of
the total in less than 5 years of control over the budget. $9 trillion
debt translates to $30,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US.

In a related story, there are now more millionaires and billionaires in
the US than in any time in history. In the last twelve months alone, the
number of millionaires jumped 21%, while the number of billionaires went
up by 19%. Together, this segment of the population now controls an
astounding $11 trillion in assets. Add to that that families are now getting hit
with the AMT had greater levels than ever before. Just wait until the home-owner
piggy bank runs out!

I just have one question: Dude, where's my billion?


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I'm thinking of putting up a permanent link to Glenn Greenwald's Blog. He's really, really long-winded, but his points are excellent. Here's an excerpt of his thoughts about Feingold's resolution:

So, to summarize what our survey reveals: We have Democrats running and hiding, afraid to stand up to the President even when he gets caught breaking the law. We have the media mindlessly reporting GOP talking points even when they are factually false and when the falsehood could be easily verified with about 60 seconds of research. And we have Republicans accusing those few Democrats who are willing to criticize the Leader of being on the side of Terrorists, while the media passes along those false accusations without comment and Democrats run away and hide some more, never showing any offense or anger at all from watching Republicans accuse them of treason.
Head over there and read more. It's worth it.



LTG and others will like The Daily Show's treatment of Paul Hackett (click on "Couldn't Hackett"). Unfortunately, you need Internet Explorer to make the most of the viewing.

The best line?

I got mugged the other day... and this bum was beating me with a bottle. And I said, you know what? I'm going to sit back and wait for him to accidentally hit himself with the bottle. Sure enough, he did! I mean, I was unconscious, but I think I won that battle.
Needs to be seen, so check it out.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bring out the Little Guns

I've been thinking that one of the problems with the Democratic Party is how they select candidates. The Republican leadership, in 2000, got together and selected Bush Jr. to be their candidate (more or less). But the Democrats are fractured--they rely on the whims and ambitions of individuals to throw their hats into the ring, and only then does the leadership try to take sides. As a result, only the big guns run, and after several losing election cycles, almost all the Democratic big guns are out of ammunition.

Who here would really be excited to see Gore run again? Or Kerry? Or Edwards, or Daschle, or Hillary Clinton, etc...? Maybe it is time for the Democrats to stop this pundit's guessing-game approach to choosing a nominee, and instead mount a concerted effort to find a relative unknown to be their standard bearer--someone who would have neither the fundraising ability nor the ambition to run on their own, against the field of big guns, but who would be a fresh, new face for the new century?

Here are some suggestions. I am eager to hear more ideas from the citizens.

1. Marcy Kaptur. She is the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives, completing her twelfth term (1982-present). She is from Ohio's 9th district--a swing state. She's a Catholic (member of the "Little Flower Roman Catholic Church" in Toledo, the town where she was born and has lived all her life). She voted against the war in Iraq, against the Patriot Act, and against the anti-gay-marriage amendment. She introduced the original legislation to build the WWII memorial, and fought for 17 years until it became a reality. She is a white woman and will turn 60 in June of this year.

2. Wellington Webb. He is a former three-term mayor of Denver (1991-2003), former regional director of the U.S. Dep't of HEW under Carter. He has been president of the U.S. conference of mayors, the conference of democratic mayors, and the National Conference of Black Mayors. He briefly considered running for the DNC chairmanship before withdrawing and backing Howard Dean. He's a baptist, was an all-conference basketball player in junior college, and a forklift-truck operator. His wife was a Colorado State legislator. He is a black man who has just turned 65.

3. Jim Doyle. He is the current governor of Wisconsin (2003-present); he was formerly the state atty general for 12 years (1990-2002). He's a graduate of Stanford university and Harvard law school. He and his wife spent 2 years in Tunisia in the peace corps. Health care is his top priority. He vetoed a bill that would have banned gay marriage and has denounced a current voter initiative (due in November) to do the same. He is a 59-year old white man.

4. Ed Pastor. He is a fourteen-year, seven-term U.S. representative from Phoenix (1991-present). He was born in the small mining town of Claypool, AZ, and has a B.A. in chemistry and a law degree, both from ASU. He is a Catholic, but has a 100% pro-choice rating from NARAL. He is a former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He voted "No" on the war in Iraq, and Kosovo. He is a 63-year old hispanic man.

5. Jim Davis. (Not to be confused with the creator of Garfield.) He is a five-term congressman from Florida's 11th district, Tampa, (1996-present). He was elected head of the 1996 Democratic freshman class in Congress and he is running for Governor of Florida this year. He voted YES on Iraq, Yes on the Patriot Act, No on an amendment to ban gay marriage, and no on a bill to ban gay adoption in DC. He is a 48-year old white man.

My point is, maybe it is time for the DNC to search the nation and draft a candidate (or a few) to run in the primaries. Maybe 2008 is a time to bring out the little guns.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dead Rat

Slobodan Milosevic is dead. In referring to the longevity of some evil people, I so often remark that "the Devil takes care of his own." Sometimes, the devil calls them home. On behalf of all the survivors of Srebrenica and Gorazde: rot in hell. I am sorry he was not convicted before he died. I doubt he was killed while in the Hague. Far more likely is some form of suicide. His father committed suicide when Slobodan was 15.

This also is a time for a bit of personal reflection. We saw, I saw, genocide happening right in front of us on television. The UN soldiers stood by while Serb forces surrounded Gorazde and massacred the people... then Srebrenica. The USA should have done more - a lot more. Sadly, Bush was committed to doing nothing when war broke out in Bosnia in April 1992, and Clinton inherited a do-nothing policy, and did no better. Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and opposed intervening in Bosnia. We were told repeatedly that there was "no national interest" in this region.

When Clinton intervened in 1995 to produce the Dayton accords that stopped that war, Republicans scoffed about nation-building. When Clinton stopped the genocide in Kosovo in 1999, the response of the Republicans was to brutally question the war effort and accuse Clinton of lying. And again, they scoffed at nation-building. Again, we were told there was no national interest there. The greatest scandal of the Clinton presidency was not doing anything about Bosnia for three years. The greatest moment was when he visited Rwanda in 1998 and apologized for not having done anything. If we have values as a people, these are the concerns we ought to have. Today, Republicans call any wartime dissent, or even questioning, "unpatriotic" and "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." They call it "irresponsible talk." Bush will never apologize for anything. He thinks Jesus is commanding him, and has no humility at all.

I am reminded of a cartoon I saw in 1992, a drawing of a girl dying on the streets of Sarajevo. The caption: "If only your veins were filled with oil, my child, the world would rush to stop your bleeding." Contrast the real need to stop Serbia with the phony necessity of attacking Iraq, and you can also see what Republican "values" amount to. There is no oil in Darfur either.

I thought I would feel good that Milosevic is dead. I don't.


Friday, March 10, 2006

A Party Political

Well well. It looks like the Republicans are having a Little Party Political to try and audition Presidential nominees. Reading the reports, one thing becomes clear . . . they aren't happy with Bush. They want to get back to "conservative" values or balanced budgets, small government, tax reform, etc. Here is the funny part, they are sounding like disaffected Democrats. They are upset, says Brownback at the Bush Administrations "failure to produce innovative plans on health care, energy, the environment and rebuilding the American family."

I heard today that Republicans are concerned that their wives will vote for Hilary. I am all for a woman president, but I am not sure Hilary is the one I'd vote for. She'd be too polarizing now.

So who is the 2008 Republican nominee???



I refuse to believe it. President Bush is threatening a veto on the new tax package unless they remove a $5 billion tax hike on oil companies?

What is this world coming to?


As ye sow...

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush and Cheney deliberately and repeatedly blurred the distinction between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda--two completely separate entities that had nothing to do with each other except they both were Arab, both muslim. Despite an occasional public facade of tolerance, Bush and Cheney have quietly (sometimes loudly) spent 5 years teaching Americans, especially their Republican base, to view all things Arab with the worst suspicion. They have taught us we need no allies in the struggle against Al Qaeda.

Is it any wonder, then, that even steadfast Republicans rejected the Bush Administration's outsourcing of American security to Dubai Ports World? Bush's politics of fear finally collided with his economics of greed. As ye sow, so shall ye reap...


Thursday, March 09, 2006

HR 1606

The Online Freedom of Speech Act is up for passage again, and it does look like a good bill (though I'd like to have LTG's opinion of it). In fact, Kos of Daily Kos and Krempasky of RedState have teamed up to support it.

Now, are you ready for something fun? Go check out the comments to the shared post on both of these sites: the one at Daily Kos, and the one at RedState (I can't seem to link directly to the comments there). Boy, are these people uncomfortable about working with each other or what? And in some cases ... it's worse than just being uncomfortable.

Things like this make me think bipartisanship is just a pipe dream. Am I wrong?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Roving Citizen's First Report

[Update -- picture added by Bell Curve. Roving Citizen is kinda new at this ;)]

Dear Readers,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Roving Citizen. I am The Citizens' virtual election correspondent. I will report on local political races in any area that one of The Citizens (or one of our friends) has personal experience.

My first report is from the Second Congressional District of Iowa. This is a solidly Democratic district that includes a college town (Iowa City) and lots of union voters (especially in Cedar Rapids). Despite this, the Iowa Second is represented by a "moderate" Republican, Jim Leach (good name for a Bush/De Lay/Cheney Republican). Here is what says about Leach's ideological position. Leach is adept at appearing less extremist than the Party to which he belongs. However, when it comes down to it, Leach is a party man. When it comes to reigning in abuses of power by the Bush administration, he's as loyal as the most frothing at the mouth Christian Fundamentalist Jihadist. Leach also never saw a tax cut or a spending bill he didn't like. A balanced budget is not his primary concern. Finally, Leach is a strong supporter of privatizing Social Security.

Leach is being challenged by Dave Loebsack, a political science professor from Cornell College - a small, private, liberal arts college outside of Cedar Rapids. Loesback doesn't have enough of a political record to show up on However, I've heard the man speak and he's got a real Horatio Alger story. He grew up very poor in Sioux City, IA. I have to say I was not impressed with this personal presence or charisma. But in today's climate, I would say the make up of the district will be his greatest asset. People around here are mad as hell about Bush. Even the once omnipresent "Support Our Troops/God Bless America" bumper stickers are nearly completely absent now. At a local Democratic Party Caucus the delegates were unanimous in their desire to see Bush impeached. That won't happen with so called "moderate" Republicans like Leach representing them.

The feel of the district is that Republicans are a little down in the mouth and Democrats are fighting mad. In a district where turnout could really dominate an off year election, Leach could be in real trouble.

That's my first report in. I'm off to my virtual time/space machine to report on another district!


Harm and Pain vs. Shock and Awe

Iran is at it again. Today they promised the US (rather than the West in general) "harm and pain" if we succeed to get sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. Notice that once again, the rhetoric heats up just when things heat up in Iraq. Coincidence? I think not, my fellow citizens.

We have talked about this before. It is hard not to laugh at the rhetoric, even if the game is dead serious!


Feeling patriotic

I don't know if I have mentioned it before on this blog, but I would like to see the Cuban embargo lifted. I feel for the people of Cuba and want to see their situations improved.

But I find myself rooting strongly against Cuba in the World Baseball Classic. I don't just want them to lose, I want to see them embarrassed. How much would that humiliate Castro?

Am I the only one who feels this way? Does anyone else even care about the WBC?


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Put on your thinking caps

Okay, time to face reality. Digby links to a video of pro-life protestors being asked if women should be legally liable for having an abortion. I think he and others are right -- people who want to make abortion illegal just sort of want some fantasy world where abortions simply don't happen. They fail to think about actually sending people to jail and coat hanger abortions and the like.

The way I see it, there are two options. We can keep the system we have, where abortions happen. Or, we can have doctors being sent to jail, lots more unwanted children and women doing God knows what to get abortions. We would all prefer a world in which no pregnancy is unwanted, but that is not going to happen. So think of the consequences, please!


Monday, March 06, 2006

Misogyny Reigns Supreme

South Dakota's Republican Governor signed one of the toughest pieces of Anti-Abortion legislation today. The law bans all abortions, even in the case of rape or incest or if the woman's health (but not her life) may be in danger. It puts a penalty on Doctors of up to 5 years in prison and a $5000 fine if they perform the procedure. The law is set to go into effect in July.

There is only one abortion clinic left in South Dakota, 1 left in Mississippi. For an excellent documentary of where the abortion stands today, see Frontline's The Last Abortion Clinic You will learn that we have fewer clinics now than we have had any time since Roe V. Wade. You will learn that 87% of counties in the US do not have a clinic. We have talked about this before. The South Dakota law is a direct challenge to the standards initially set in Roe and then changed in Casey. The whole point of this law is to force US Supreme Court to act. The state already has a private donor who has put up $1 mil to fend of legal challenges.

I ask you, give me one example of a MEDICAL procedure that requires you to wait 24 hours, have face to face meetings with psychological counselors, see graphic pictures, be heckled by protestors, and be asked personal questions about your living situation, personal finances, etc. The only one that comes remotely close is assisted suicide and that is pretty much illegal. In fact, give me any medical procedure that anyone has to go through to that requires such degrading treatment! But women who are seeking a medical procedure have to go through this, often alone with no support from anyone. And for some reason, this is acceptable.

For a quick reference to see the latest abortion laws by state go to this interactive map at Frontline's webpage.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Beware Falling Poll Numbers

This morning's polling news: FOX news conducted a poll of registered voters, and found that only 39% approved of the president, 54% disapproved, remainder undecided. That's very low, given that it is Fox. It also corroborates many other recent polls showing the president's approval ratings at 40% or below. When all the big outfits are giving the same numbers, it's something to pay attention to.

Fox News, of course, will use its low number so that it can claim, when the president's popularity ticks back up to an abysmal 42% or so that the president's popularity is increasing. Then will cite to tax cuts and his 'strong stand on terror' as the supposed reason. But even they cannot conceal that the GWBush is very unpopular now, and heading south.


Bombs, not Feathers

So, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is about to go the way of the Kyoto Protocol. This is neo-realist foreign policy at work. The realists say the following: Screw the treaties and mulilateral folderol. We should aid India to balance China, and we should block Iran from getting nuclear weapons or nuclear power because they are hostile. Who needs more of an explanation than that? To a realist, sending nuclear technology to India, a non-NPT state, is fine, even though the NPT treaty forbids it, because it's in our interest to align with India.

The problem, as I see it, is that temporary advantage gives way to long-term detriment. In the end, this sort of policy will make it easier for Iran to get nuclear weapons. It will contribute to general destabilization. Make no mistake, Bush is abandoning a 60-year commitment to multilateral institution-building in the form of treaties and organizations in favor of old-fashioned balance of power. The kind that brought us two world wars. The kind that was rebuked in the preamble to the UN Charter, which begins, "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow and suffering to mankind."

And what, pray tell, will Bush now offer Pakistan, our "ally" in the "war on terror?" Less than for India? These people can't even think things through three DAYS ahead.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My previous comments are coming true. Today, Alberto Gonzalez "clarified" his statements (incorrectly called "testimony" - Republicans refused to require him to be sworn in about the President's secret spying on American citizens, so that he would not really have to tell the truth). We will soon find that Bush has not confined himself to international telephone calls. He is spying on Americans at home, talking to other Americans, and likely on all sorts of liberal groups, including and others. Does anybody seriously trust anything this president or his cronies say anymore?

In response to criticism of the so-called Patriot Act (really the Elimination of Freedom Act), Jim Bunning (R-KY) said "Civil liberties aren't worth much if you're dead." That's the Republican position: anything and everything is justified as long as you say you are fighting terrorism. Republicans are unfit to run a free country. Lenin could not have made a better ends-justify-the-means argument.

And they wonder why we snicker when they claim to support democracy abroad.

Bush must be impeached!