Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Clark's crime what he said or who he supported?

In a rather stunning and bumbling move, Obama has brtually thrown Wes Clark under the bus for, well, saying "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." Nothing offensive about that, unless you're a Republican looking to make a headline, or a Democrat scared of such Republicans.

At best, this is an amateurish repeat of John Kerry's failures to hit back in 2004. Or as David said disastrous. Obama needs to make the cogent case that being a POW some thirty years ago is sufficient reason to elect McCain president. Clark, a man with four stars' more credibility on national security than Obama, made it for him -- and got slapped down for it.

Perhaps this is just incompetence on the part of Obama and Axelrod. But I can't help noticing such a brutal dismissal of a man who prominently supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries. He is also a leading candidate for vice president. It's not pleasant to think that Obama's campaign is using Clark's common sense as a reason to eliminate a Clintonite from VP contention, but it's not pleasant that Obama swiped at a Clinton surrogate the first chance that he got once the nomination was secured.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Interesting People: Aristedes de Sousa Mendes

Some of my interests in history have come from odd questions for which I was never given a satisfactory answer in my formal studies. For instance, "why is so little attention paid to the largest land empire in human history?" (though that appears to be changing be changing).

Another is "how did Francisco Franco pull it off?" Really, this weak-voiced man emerges from a savage civil war to enjoy 34 years of rule and a natural death. Franco was a fascist (sorta), yet never joined in World War II and would come to receive significant American support during the Cold War. Among recent reads was this biography, Franco: A Concise Biography, which I mention mainly to urge you not to read it. It focuses on a lot of second-guessing and long-distance psychoanalysis of the man to the detriment of describing his career and accomplishments. It might be a good third or fourth read, but not an introduction.

The most interesting thing to me about Franco is his relationship with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Here was a man who gained power to some extent thanks to support from Germany, and especially Italy, during the Spanish Civil War. In response, he stiff-arms Hitler at the height of his power by remaining out of the war. He drags his feet, prevaricates, makes excuses, but above all stubbornly stays put. Clearly, he tilted in Hitler's favor, but never went the whole way. I find this especially amazing considering that Hitler got so much of what he wanted from everyone as long as possible: the Soviets supported him until he invaded the country, the Japanese threw in with this bunch of racists, the British and French turned over Austria and the Czechs...even America was less than aggressive in confronting the mongrel. Yet somehow, this watery, insecure bully said "no" when nearly anyone else had said yes.

Thus, my enthusiastic recommendation for the book Franco and Hitler, a comprehensive and engaging look at the relationship between Nazi Germany and the fascist Falange of Spain from genesis through victory to ultimate defeat. It's really a fascinating story, and I urge people to check it out. Short answer to the question above: Spain couldn't economically or militarily expect success if it entered the war, and he knew it deep down; Hitler also knew it, and had enough to do bailing out Italy that he didn't need Spain as well.

Anyway, it is in this book that I came across Aristedes de Sousa Mendes. Remember Aristedes? This is a post about Aristedes (Get it?). I think there is a strong urge to find heroism in bleakness, which explains the staying power of the stories of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg. It was reading this book that I learned of this third man, Aristedes de Sousa Mendes. Similar to Schindler and Wallenberg, Sousa Mendes saved thousands of lives in all likelihood -- many of them Jews -- by following his conscience rather than his orders.

Sousa Mendes was a minor noble in Portugal, a nation that observed strict neutrality throughout the war, though increasingly tilted toward the Allies (the Portuguese government also had some of the clearest-eyed observations and analysis of the war in situ). Sousa Mendes was the diplomatic chief of post in Bordeaux, France when the Nazis invaded, and his response was to immediately start issuing transit visas for safe passage out of the war zone for refugees. Franco had closed the French-Spanish border, but was allowing entrance of people with a right to be in Spain, or to be in Portugal. Sousa Mendes wrote these visas guaranteeing entry into Portugal (and thus Spain) in defiance of orders from his superiors and by war's end he had issued over 20,000 visas that entitled the bearers to reach Portugal. Though Premier Antonio Salazar was pro-Hitler, fascist Portugal never enacted government policies meant to slaughter Jewish residents. Sousa Mendes had taken the decision to issue visas for Jews, no questions asked, in direct defiance to an order from Salazar that no visas be issued to Jewish refugees. Eventually, Sousa Mendes even we authorized others to issue these visas in his name. There were stretches of 48 hours where personnel signed and stamped visas before a crowd outside the consulate. (Also rescued by Sosusa Mendes' act was the scion of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, whom Hitler had marked for death.)

Sousa Mendes didn't just issue papers...he made sure that they were respected. When the Portuguese consul in Bayonne, France (on the Spanish border) refused to vouch for these visas in contact to Spanish border agencies, Sousa Mendes went down there to personally change their policy. He also guided refugees to a border post without telephone contact, as they would be unaware of orders countermanding Sousa Mendes' visas. He literally lifted the gate to freedom for a crowd of refugees, and was stopped only when a higher official arrived on the spot and declared him mentally incompetent. Though Spain did not cover itself with glory during the war, at the least they did not expel any Jewish residents to feed Hitler's demands.

Unlike Wallenberg and too many others, Sousa Mendes escaped with his life. Upon his recall back to Portugal, though, he was forced out of the diplomatic service. His children were harassed, and two emigrated to the United States and fought in the army. Disabled by a 1945 stroke, and ignored by a government that decreed he be shown no charity, Sousa Mendes died poor. At his death, the only property still owned by the family was the burial plot in which he was interred.

Thankfully, he is starting to receive the recognition due for his heroism and his role in saving so many. The Portuguese government restored the mansion in which he once lived and returned it to his family last year. The only straw upon which to hold in the gale of hatred that is the Holocuast is that many people did do the right thing, regardless of cost.

I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love. -- Aristedes de Sousa Mendes

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Play "who's the next traitor?" !

Step One, watch this:

If you can't stomach it, it's about Lieberman's sad attempts to ingratiate himself with the Republican Party today in 2008.

Step Two, watch this:

It's crazy Zell Miller, supposed Democratic Senator shortly after praising George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican Convention.

Step Three:
Predict who will be the Democratic Senator who screws his/her constituents by becoming the Republicans' mindless and pathetic attack dog in 2012.

My top three guesses: Ben Nelson (NE), Richard Pryor (AR), or Dan Akaka (HI). Yours?

"Liveblogging" the Readiness Report

I'll be doing a more summative response to the Readiness Report (pdf) tomorrow, but for now I thought I'd "liveblog" it. That is to say, give my first impressions as I read through it. Don't know why, but consider it notes for later reactions. I usually put the relevant page numbers (as shown by Adobe, not the report) after the comments. And no, I don't always go in order...I don't read chronologically. Or if you want to skip ahead, look at "final reflections" down at the bottom.

  • I'd be happier if the decision hadn't been taken to make this part of Brand Deval. He writes the opening, gets the frontispiece quote, and ends it with his campaign slogan on the back. Not obnoxious, but definitely unnecessary.

  • A line on international comparisons mentions "Chinese Taipei". That may be how it's phrased in the original report, but I wish that the Deval Patrick Eternal Campaign would have the cojones to call the country Taiwan, or at least the Republic of China. Let the Communists freak out -- let's respect democracy in Asia.(6)

  • Good, fair opening that doesn't shy away from mentioning the success of our K-12 public education system. Doesn't keep them from using the word "crisis" twice, but at least it's not entirely dishonest. (4-5)

  • Interesting dichotomy here. This year and the next two, lots of newer teachers will be eliminated due to budget cuts. Meanwhile, 20% of experienced teachers are slated to retire in the next few years. We're gonna need a lot of teachers in about four years. Recent high school graduates, a lucrative choice beckons... (11)

  • The title "Falling Behind Internationally" suggests that things are getting worse, yet the data merely shows that we are behind the international leaders. Needless alarmism. (9)

  • Ugh. The TIMSS exam. The World Bank dismissed the integrity of this comparison years ago. (8)

  • The word "only" in the phrase "15.1% students in public K–12 schools who claim English as a second language — this number is only expected to increase over the next decade" is unnecessary. It sounds alarmist, or outright racist. (10)

  • "Imagine driving the same car your parents and grandparents drove last century.
    Imagine using the same appliances." Imagine using the same roads Mom & Dad used in 1996! Or following the same religion as your grandparents! Oh, wait...specious argument ahead. (12) There are great ways to make the modernization argument, but this isn't it.

  • "One of the biggest errors in the conception and early implementation of 1990s education reform was to think that setting high standards, creating the curriculum frameworks to achieve those standards and strengthening accountability for results would be enough." Duh. I bet heavy money plenty of people in education were telling you this back in the mid-90s. (12)

  • "We set the right goal — 'all students at proficiency.'" Anonymous Congressional staffers have admitted an understanding that this goal was in fact incorrect, but the only politically feasible one. I compare it to mandating that all patients should be able to run a 10-minute mile, or it's the doctors' fault. (13)

  • "We are off to a strong start. Over the past 18 months..." More campaign claptrap. Shut up about this crap if you want me to take you seriously. (15)

  • My God, where is he going to get the money for all this? (16)

  • Doesn't sound like a bad idea, this "Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet". Hopefully it won't be loaded down with private industry and education college types, as was this group. I've been saying for years that it's a matter of time until we end up with a "Department of Children" that merges DYS, DSS, public ed, children's health, etc. (17)

  • "Develop a comprehensive, statewide child and youth data and reporting system that will enable development of a 'Readiness Passport' for every child and youth enrolled in Massachusetts schools...the data and reporting system as well as the Readiness Passport will increase the efficiency, effectiveness and collaboration of [stakeholders]". Hahaha. The only things additional paperwork do is confuse families, frustrate students, burden staff, and give politicians something to wave in front of cameras. (18)

  • I find it insulting to read "By 2020 all Massachusetts teachers will enter schools with realistic expectations of the realities of the classroom, based on practical field experiences during their training." (19)

  • "Maintain the current MCAS graduation requirement and strengthen the system by adding complementary measures of student growth and 21st century skills. This could include a culminating, multidisciplinary senior project on a student-selected topic of interest." I have an idea...have students do this every other year or so, and kill the MCAS. That's real education, but expensive and doesn't fit easily into a spreadsheet. This plan sounds like MCAS plus, aka "find more ways to fail students, blame schools, and give our buddies in private industry more state $$". (17)

  • "Reform the state teacher certification and licensure processes as well as other teacher development policies to eliminate bureaucratic barriers" Amen!! (21)

  • Much of the teacher prep section reads as giveaways to teacher colleges...their influence on the project is showing here. Strange that one big solution is finding ways for college to take more money from aspiring teachers. (20-21)

  • The money! Oh good heavens, we'd need a casino in each house for the state to make the money he's planning on spending here! Oh...we're going to establish a Commission. (25)

  • Readiness Schools. A third kind of charter school, one that is "typically union", at the behest of apparently any small group of people. Even better, the state can force a town to open a charter "Readiness" school if it feels like it. This isn't good for local control. I love the conversation on charter schools, which goes like this: "These state regulations will make you a good school. If you aren't a good school, I mean really suck, we'll exempt you from state regulations. But we won't change 'em. Uh-huh." (27)

  • "Better align the public education system to real-world needs by analyzing and communicating the academic, skill and training needs of emerging and high-growth business and industry sectors" Good-bye art, music, citizenship... (28)

  • "a Statewide Master Teacher Contract Initiative" Right-wing union busting of the worst kind. Despite all the promises to spend money, a reminder that this report is written for a guy who worked double time to cut corporate taxes. (28)

  • "explore options for advocating for the reallocation of federal Title I and special education funds for early education and care programs." You mean that money can go elsewhere?? (28)

  • "dramatically reducing the number of school districts in the Commonwealth." What means "dramatically"? Sounds like a real state money and power grab here. (35)

Final reflections

This is first and foremost a political campaign document, not a policy document. It slanders the existing, demands the unrealizable, and promises the unattainable. Anyone can solve any problem by promising the kind of money that is outlaid in this report. For teaching colleges. For consultants. For testing companies. Money for schools. For teachers (maybe). For what would be a stunningly bloated and empowered public education bureaucracy in Boston. And on and on. Small wonder the final punch is Deval's campaign slogan. Expect this to be waved at the media far more than at state legislators.

That said, with so many omnibus initiatives, there are some good things, some bad things, and a lot of meh. I was happy not to see an over-emphasis on science and math education in this document. People hone in on these facts like zombies, forgetting that it is in creativity that America excels. We lead the world in patents, and that is the truest source of our economic strength...better ideas made better. Those are not measured in test scores, and it is by working with students in history, English Language Arts, and the fine arts that advantage is preserved. We're killing what makes America great in our attempt to imitate what makes Japan good, and I'm glad to see that isn't too reinforced in this document.

Furthermore, there's a good, clear understanding that education is a lifelong continuum, and our citizens are hurt by its division into exclusive fiefs. If I wanted one major push in education, it would be centered on creating a system that smoothly transitions from pre-K through college.

The union-busting (in the form of statewide contract, and charter schools) is disappointing. The drive to wrest local control of schools in the form of forced charter schools, "dramatic" reduction of school districts, and an increasingly byzantine system worries me as well. Such a large bureaucracy thrives on money and power.

I guess that at the end of the day this feels like a missed opportunity. There are so many little things that could make schools improve soon and quickly. I was shocked to see nothing on school administration: superintendents, curriculum supervisors, and principals. There is immense turnover here, and quality personnel is rare. Schools' ambiguous legal status in many fields is resulting in higher legal expenses, and I'm similarly disappointed that isn't addressed either. Almost nothing on family involvement, the biggest challenge to public education today. I'm sorry, but this does feel like an outsider's document.

Deval wanted a document that dreamed big, and he got it. Affordable college, widespread adult education, second-language's all great stuff! But the price tag remains such a stumbling block. This report may end up a valued resource for future discussions on education policy in this state, but it is not, nor can I conceive it ever significantly becoming, policy. Which makes it good politics.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I'm on vacation! Summer vacation! For a little while, at least. Which means that I'm reading more (more on that soon), and yes watching television, particularly at odd hours. Which means that I'm watching commercials for the first time in a while, and those aimed at people watching television late at night.

Well, on comes a commercial from Cash Call, a company that offers "a quick and convenient application process so you can get the money you need, when you need it, even if you don't have perfect credit." The company offers loans via the First Bank of Delaware in most states. Now, First Bank of Delaware does not disclose loan rates on its website, but the expected rate for a personal loan in Delaware is in the 12-14% range. Now look at this parasitic "sister" company. The amounts were disgusting.

Say I needed $2,525 quick, and was willing to pay it back over 42 months. In most cases, CashCall will charge me a minimal annual interest rate of 99.25%, compared to the The company will lend me $2,525 today...and collect over $9,000 in the next four years. For a 12-month $1,000 loan, there is an additional $500 "fee".

And the foremost defender of the banks that practice these shady approaches...the senator who is the best friend of these legal scams, giving credit card companies a free ride? Joe Biden. Shame on you.

The Corporation that Tests our Students

A post I've been intending to write for some time now, and this wait for the details of Governor Patrick's "Readiness Project" is as good a time as any to talk about the company Measured Progress, a corporation of over 400 people based in New Hampshire that calls the shots in public education here in Massachusetts.

Imagine that Big Pharma could tell your doctor how much of its medication you should take. That's what Measured Progress, Inc. does in education. Unsurprisingly, Measured Progress prescribes a lot of its product; Massachusetts kids need a lot of help, and the best way to obtain said help is by shipping more money up to...Measured Progress, Inc. This crew of former bureaucrats makes money on writing tests that are designed to fail students, and making money on the other end by selling services on how to beat the test -- all with the benign sufferance, if not ignorance, of our government.

A "highlighted member" of American Test Publishers, Measured Progress is the New Hampshire company that is best known round here for "writing the MCAS". The MCAS, the formal assessment used to measure students' progress here in Massachusetts, was originally written in-house by personnel of the Massachusetts Department of Education. For various reasons, the government soon privatized the job, awarding it to Measured Progress. Oddly enough, that company had recently bulked up by hiring many workers late of the Massachusetts Department of Education. So the test was written by the same people as always; now they were just doing it out-of-state, and for more money. (As the company has expanded, they've added education bureaucrats from other states as they pursue contracts elsewhere.) In 2000, they declared themselves a "non-profit," but this interview in Bloomberg Magazine wherein their CFO talks about "tripling margins" demonstrates the superficiality of such a can still make six figures in a "non-profit".

As with all privatizations, this government function now passed to an entity with entirely different motivations. As we saw with the Big Dig, private companies will do the minimal job for maximum profit, and Measured Progress is no exception. More insidious, still, is the fact that the fortunes of Measured Progress depend on students failing their tests. And the choice between corporate financial health and students' education appears to be an easy one.

For the real money in education is in consulting. While Measured Progress makes a lot of scratch selling and correcting the MCAS and similar papers, the growing part of its business model is "consultants". The Department of Education demands more and more engagement of consultants by local districts. Meanwhile, Measured Progress and others have stepped in to take advantage of this forced spending by districts that can't buy their own paper. For prices that range upward of $10,000, a consultant will come on in and tell you how to beat the test that the company writes! So when you think of the budget troubles in your district, do not forget that the state is forcing many of these towns to pad Measured Progress's bottom line by shipping in consultants who just as often tell staff what they already know. Of course, the MCAS has proven to be a boon to private industry, as many companies have gotten into the act.

Paranoid ravings? Well, Measured Progress is very aggressive in keeping the MCAS secret. For a taxpayer-funded document, taxpayers have little access to the fruits of their money. As a teacher I am not allowed to look at the exams as students take them, or even reveal the questions for one year. Losing a question booklet occasions investigations and fines much worse than those following the loss of students' personal information. However, I've been through enough cycles, and discussed the test with enough students, that I have collected some examples of Measured Progress's choices. In the MCAS itself:

  • One common tactic is to ask a question about the very last line on the curriculum. Given that the MCAS is given in two phases in March and May, the test is always administered before the curriculum is finished. Thus, Measured Progress keeps the scores low by asking questions about material students have yet to see.

  • Another tactic is the old cultural bias routine. Science and mathematical questions abound with cabinetry, gardening, and other manner of suburban pursuits irrelevant to urban youth.

  • Finally, some questions are outright not in the curriculum. There are many cases of questions post facto not counting toward scores upon protest, but come next year there are still out-of-curriculum questions.

It bears mentioning that Measured Progress takes a "trust us" approach to scoring. Answer booklets are never returned, just a sheet of what the company says were the correct answers, and which answers the student chose. The veracity of these, in many circles, is considered suspect.

Finally, there is a strong disconnect between the scores of Massachusetts students on national tests and the MCAS. Bay State students score among the tops in the nation on the SAT or the NAEP, yet fail their in-state standardized tests at a high rate. I'm all for tough standards, and I want Massachusetts to demand a lot of its schools and its students. However, this is just another item in this trend toward finding ways to make students fail.

(Of course, when things get really bad, you can just have your friends in the Department of Education suddenly and arbitrarily move the goalposts so more students fail.)

How much of this is a conscious effort to low-ball our students for revenue? Only the company elders know for certain. However, Measured Progress is at best a company whose incompetence in writing tests have led them to stumble into a very lucrative fleecing of the state of Massachusetts. At worst, they have a conscious policy to enrichen the company at the expense of the students of Massachusetts.

I would hope that Deval's new "Readiness Project" will address the fact that our understanding of student performance is held by a company that stands to win as our students fail. However, in my conversations with the staff of this project, I've been disappointed with their ignorance of this situation -- some Readiness staffers were surprised that the MCAS is given by a private company.

(Cross-posted at Blue Mass Group)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Deval's big money "Readiness Project"

Today, Governor Deval Patrick issued a press release announcing his education reform initiative. While the report on which it was based is not yet available, I did want to look at the plan as Deval has presented it. It is an ambitious set of ideas that demands money and space beyond what is already needed, and well beyond what funding is available. There's one really bad idea (first up), but other than that it's mainly good stuff. Of course, the devil is in the details, and it is in the policy details that education usually gets jobbed. So far, here's what we know from the press release (original in italics):

  • Comprehensive, statewide child and youth data and reporting system that would lead to development of a "Readiness Passport" for every child and youth enrolled in Massachusetts schools. I do not know if this will be in addition to, or simply replacing, the MCAS "report card" for student, school, and district. What it does sound like is the typical understanding among politicians that more paperwork is the key to improving schools. Every student will get a new id number, and all education staff will be expected to fill out new forms and arrange new folders rather than, you know, do their job. Re-work the MCAS if you want this...I don't need some campaign gimmick that goes along with this initiative's brand.

  • Immediately create, by means of an executive order, a Task Force to establish a statewide birth-to-school age strategy to ensure the healthy development of children. Worthy idea, but I'm unsure of the money source, and surprised that this is being given to education rather than health.

  • Continue to work toward reducing class size in K–2 classrooms in high-needs school districts. Sure. How? Who pays for the teachers? Where do the other classes meet? Plenty of schools have "class" in the cafeteria or gym.

  • Increase availability and accessibility of state Adult Basic Education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs. Again, nice idea. Money? People?

  • Launch an Urban Schools Early Warning and Dropout Prevention Pilot. I'm disappointed that this approach is limited to urban schools. Anyone familiar with education through visiting schools -- rather than watching movies -- knows that there are plenty of rural and suburban schools with dropout issues as real as urban schools. They're on their own, it seems.

  • Place Student Support Coordinator(s) in every low-income school to assist teachers, connect students and their families. Again, a good idea. Not sure where the money comes from.

  • Establish a Commonwealth Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet Seems harmless enough.

  • Achieve universal pre-kindergarten, beginning with the FY 2010 budget. I have no idea where the money comes from, or where the children go. Where is this going to be housed?

  • Continue state support for high-quality, full-day kindergarten in every high-need district. Universal pre-kindergarten, but not universal full-day kindergarten? What?

Can't fault this on a lack of ambition. We're talking more people, more space, more paperwork...more money. This "readiness passport" gimmick is the only manifestly bad idea on this list, but one thing they all have in common is a demand for more funds. I worry that this will become another No Child Left Behind...a list of new obligations without the money attached. And this doesn't get into his new union-busting proposals, or other dreams.

One last word. On Patrick's side is a crew of people called "readiness representatives", who signed up to promote his plan starting months ago. They were trolling for more "readiness reps" at the breakout session on public education at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention. Few things have brought home to me the blind faith Patrick continues to inspire in some people that he had people ready to promote his plan...without even knowing what it was.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Secularists need not apply

In January, I felt that there were many reasons I didn't want Barack Obama as the nominee of my party. But the number one was always an unsure embrace of American secularism. More than any serious Democratic candidate that I could remember, Obama always seem ready to throw in with the Republican interpretation that Christians get special treatment in our country. So recently, I read Obama's description of a meeting with evangelical "leaders"...

I opened up the meeting by quoting Ronald Reagan which was saying, I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you. I endorse the good works that are being done, the wonderful ministries that are taking place all across the country and my goal here is just to have a dialogue to listen, to learn, to share my faith journey and I think people came out of it, not necessarily agreeing with me on every issue, but I think that they recognized that I respected them, I respected their faith, I respected what they're trying to achieve.

Who is "they"? John Hagee's publisher. A man who pushes "therapy" for gays and lesbians. TD Jakes, opulent hustler in the name of God.

Obama is currying favor with the nastiest, vilest shards of American Christianity, and it makes me sick. I hope it's just talk, but I'm not convinced.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wasserman Watch

As time goes on, I'm becoming more enamored with the idea of putting Debbie Wasserman Schultz high up in the Obama campaign. Since I last addressed the topic, I've been pleased that Obama has made her the point person for addressing the sexism of Primary 2008:

In response, the Obama campaign directed a reporter to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who supported Mrs. Clinton but who is now speaking for the Obama campaign. She said Mr. Obama had no specific plans for a speech on sexism, partly because he already incorporates themes of discrimination as a societal problem into his speeches.

She's also friendly and cognizant of LBGT rights. And check this out:

Asked by MSNBC host Dan Abrams if the committee would go far as having Rove arrested [for refusal to testify before the Judicial Committee], Wasserman said it would.

"Well, if that's what it takes."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Democrats Divided! Check out...some guy!

Clinton v. Obama was the greatest hit on the 24-hour news networks since "We Invade Kuwait" -- impassioned storylines, a clear good guy v bad guy conflict, long-term drama, the importance of reg'lar people, et cetera. But just like so many other television series that went on longer than they should have , the media is trying to extend the storyline past its natural finish.

When even Clinton has conceded and freed her delegates, when McCain is bereft of a significant chunk of support from his Congressional GOP fellows, the media wants to keep stretching Clinton v. Obama. Take this shocking announcement from CNN's Politcal Ticker:

After a bitter primary battle Clinton conceded the race to Barack Obama last week urging her supporters to back her rival. [Will] Bower heard the message, but he is not going to follow it. Instead, he said in an interview he plans to vote for Republican John McCain and has formed “Party Unity My A–,

This was directly linked from the front page of, and boy oh boy does it mean ill winds are blowing. Unity is a must, and there's a prominent group forming that's going to fight it. Stop the presses...somebody important in the Clinton campaign is not joining up with the Obama wagon! Worse still, he's based in Washington State, a swing state in 2008! This is a serious problem from Obama...otherwise it wouldn't be at the top page of CNN. Party unity is not going to occur, we're doooomed! Panic! Democrats Divided! Somebody ask Dick Morris what he thinks of this!

What's that? Bower's not in the Clinton campaign? he's probably on the state committee, or the chair of a county committee at least, right? Um, maybe county DA? Hey, CNN, what's Bowers' title and position within the party, anyway?

36 year-old Washington resident

Huh. Suddenly the whole thing seems a bit...overblown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hoping this is just for headlines

A "fifty-state strategy" by Obama for President? Really? I mean, honest-to-goodness?

Obama is going to have staffers trying to win Illinois? Or Rhode Island, or Maryland?

Okay, I realize you can't really say "45-state strategy" or what have you. It sounds really good to have a 50-state strategy. (Note: is DC getting shafted?) Anyway, I'd imagine that there are some close races in blue states where the Obama staffer could just sliiiiide over to another race in-state, helping out Bill Foster in Illinois-10, or perhaps knocking Chris Shays out of CT-04.

But I'd love to be the Obama staffer detailed to Hawaii. Bring some sunscreen!

PS: I predict that the staffer detailed to Massachusetts will be set up in Chelmsford, and will see the words "Welcome to New Hampshire" most every day in the autumn of 2008. I'm getting tired of these sunny pro-Obama forecasts that do "Kerry plus which states?". Obama is going to have to work for New Hampshire...they made McCain in '00 and '08, and are proud of it.

The attack machine turns on

One thing I learned in 2004 is that John Kerry loves to play dirty against Democrats just as much as he loathes to grapple with Republicans. After seeing unspeakable crap pulled in Iowa and New Hampshire against Dean with my own eyes, I saw Kerry play punching bag during the general campaign.

Nice to see that things haven't changed. We're dealing with a new thread by our hibernating friends over at BMG who only wake up to defend all things Kerry, and attack all things Not-Kerry. Like Democratic candidate Ed O'Reilly. Apparently, some no-name columnist sympathetic to the right said good things about O'Reilly which makes him teh sux! While most campaigns would ignore a challenger to a strong incumbent (as did Bill Galvin in 2006), the Kerry operation is going full blast with arm-twisting, gaming the system, and full-scale attacks. Failing that, they're telling people that Kerry shouldn't have to defend his record.

They don't want to debate the issues.

Let me say that again. The John Kerry campaign wants to do anything -- anything -- but debate the issues.

They don't want to explain why Kerry has notoriously poor constituent services.

They don't want to explain why Kerry voted for FISA and the Patriot Act.

They don't want to explain why Kerry opposes marriage equality.

They don't want to explain why Kerry okayed the invasion of Iraq.

They don't want to explain why Kerry voted for an unconstitutional education policy.

They don't want to explain why Kerry claims to have "led" the fight against Justice Alito...after he phoned in his "leadership" while away in Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


In the corner of QotS headquarters is the DGAC 4500 Meter. The Doesn't Give A Crap meter is the brainchild of seventeen Kennedy School of Government graduates, five people laid off from Google, a schizophrenic monk who only speaks in rhymes, and our downstairs neighbor. It is housed in the shell of an air conditioner, and has attached a coaxial cable, DSL line, scanner, rudimentary artificial intelligence, and bottle opener. It is powered by wind power.

The first DGAC Meter dates from 1984, when Michael Dukakis was first mentioned as a presidential candidate. Since then, the machinery has gotten more sensitive, and has evolved to consume information in new ways (digital cable, online), provide more nuanced analysis (leading to an overuse of the phrase "on the other hand"), and enhanced sarcasm detection. The current generation, the 4500, was built with $2,000,000 worth of small bills that was meant to rebuild the water supply of a small Iraqi town.

What the DGAC does is analyze news, speeches, and policy to determine the level to which the current governor of Massachusetts Doesn't Give A Crap about his current job. Every time it goes up a level, it emits a rather loud beep. The levels are as follows:

0 : Loves the job; Jane Swift
1 : Likes the job; Dukakis, 1984
2 : Willing to look at the want ads; Celucci, 2000
3 : Pursuing better opportunities; Dukakis, 1986
4 : Imagining how best to pack up the office; Weld, 1996
5 : Sobs quietly when going to work; Romney, 2005-06

The DGAC meter has been largely quiet recently under a gathering layer of dust. Some whirring was heard when Patrick introduced a presidential debate in Washington DC for PBS, and increased as he continued to fly around the country campaigning for Barack Obama. Mild shaking was caused by plans for new "trade visits". Nevertheless, it was with displeasure that we heard a *beep* last week. The reading is as follows:

Governor insistence on casinos unabated. Renewed battle with nemesis counterindicates interest in job. Recent mentor victory indicates hope for promotion.

On the other hand, continued politicking: list of accomplishments and ongoing education initiative.

Fina analysis: Patrick Now Open to Possibilities

Currect DGAC reading: 1.4

--End Analysis--

A television ad I'd like to see

Between the NBA Finals and campaign season, I'm seeing many more television ads lately than usual. And it's a reminder how much they suck.

GMC is running a series of ads called "Welcome to the Players' Lot" (watch them here) based on the premise of a faceless NBA player driving his SUV into the parking garage, only to be badgered by an overly enthusiastic and informal lot attendant.

Like so many campaigns, what was entertaining the first time became cute on the third, now annoying on the seventh viewing. The character in general is just pissing me off at this point.

If GMC made an ad of this unnamed player careening about the lot until finally pinning the attendant to the wall with his front bumper, I would seriously consider buying a GMC product. I'm sure I can't be the only who feels this way...isn't there anyone with lots of time and video editing software who could make this happen?

More VP speculation

With little else to do, everyone is monitoring every step of the Obama veepstakes. First Read gives out a list of possibles:

Ret. Gen. James Jones, the former Marine-turned-NATO Supreme Allied Commander...Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius, Ted Strickland, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Jim Webb, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle, and Sam Nunn.

If Tom Dachle is on this list, and Bill Richardson isn't, this means one of two things:

There is a place in Obama's Cabinet consecrated for Richardson, or
These people are really, really stupid.

They do know an election's coming, right?

Part of politics is doing things that you know people like. Helping out people who are popular, even sticking it to people who aren't.

So what does a news article with the headline "Senate GOP blocks windfall taxes on Big Oil" say? Even better is the first line....

Saved by Senate Republicans, big oil companies dodged an attempt Tuesday to slap them with a windfall profits tax and take away billions of dollars in tax breaks in response to the record gasoline prices that have the nation fuming.

Let that roll around in your head a bit..."big oil companies saved by Seante Republicans". Wow. What a statement. Just the GOP's anti-tax ideology on display, right? No...

Shortly after the oil tax vote, Republicans blocked a second proposal that would extend tax breaks that have either expired or are scheduled to end this year for wind, solar and other alternative energy development, and for the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation

So these Republicans aren't for lower taxes per se -- just lower taxes for their friends.

I know that this seems pretty obvious, but it's good to see Democrats maneuver such a clear and prominent statement of Republicans' priorities in the limelight.

PS: Neither McCain nor Obama voted. Too bad.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hey, Jerkface!

Obama and his people won, and we lost. And it sucks.

But there's no reason for such petulant behavior from so-called a professional like Congressman Tim Mahoney, who has thus far refused to endorse Obama. As Bill Clinton said, "You fall in love, the you fall in line."

Polish your Hillary credentials, and go here to remind Tom that it's time to fall in line.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Propers given

I should point out, following upon a previous post on the request of Deval's campaign for plaudits. The Editors at BlueMassGroup relayed that request, and declare (and enforced) an early policy of censorship, deleting any comments that offered critique's of the governor's tenure.

After grumbling and vetching, however, the good men in charge over there lifted the ban on criticism, and retracted the ban on criticism. On balance, I think it was a good thing for the site, and the Deval Patrick Eternal Campaign.

It's hard to admit being wrong, especially when you'd be admitting it to people you've never met who come over to the site you work hard to keep running, complaining about dissatisfaction for something they're getting for free. Good show, gents.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Cool party...can I join?

I'm in some ways an odd duck -- a loyal, lifelong Democrat who hasn't been impressed with either David Axelrod Project (Deval Patrick and Barack Obama). Both times I was in the minority among younger, plugged-in Democrats...and both times my candidate lost. Deval beat what's-her-name and that-other-guy with 55% of the votes. Obama won a plurality of delegates.

In the exultation of beating that old white guy and that other white guy, Deval's people promptly put up a velvet rope. When I mentioned this over at BMG , it was snidely dismissed. Now, all the spin in the world can't hide the fact that in 2006, 55% for a Democratic candidate against a nobody in Massachusetts is a disappointment. There was only one other Democrat elected governor with a smaller share of the vote that night. Heck, Phil Bredesen got a bigger share than did Deval in Tennessee!

And I will maintain that the snot-nosed attitude of so many of Deval's supporters was a reason. There was more grace in Reilly's and Gabrieli's loss than in Deval's victory on the supporters' part. My feeling was pretty much that of coming to a joint and saying "cool party...sorry I'm late. Can I come in?" I was told "only if you dance the way we tell you, carry the drinks, and not interrupt the cool people--us. Oh, and you're lucky we're letting you in, even though you're expected to want to come in." It was Deval's party, but he was busy, and "his" people at the door were too busy harassing the late arrivals.

Deja vu. How much of Obamaland is having a fit at the idea of Hillary Clinton -- the choice of some 18 million Democrats -- ending up on the ticket? Better a charisma-impaired Kathleen Sebelius (can't "outshine" him, y'know) or misogynist Jim Webb (in case ovular Democrats don't get the message).

When the Axelrod Project Acolytes get snotty, they fall way short of where they should be. Suck it up...invite Hillary's supporters to the party. You won the series, don't throw a tantrum because it wasn't a sweep. Doesn't mean Clinton will say yes -- I don't want her to say yes -- but taking her voters for granted gives you warm self-righteousness...and four years of John McCain. How many of Obama's supporters will read one of the many diaries like this, leave a comment that boils down to "you lost, deal with it and vote Democratic," and pat themselves on the back?

If you want to win, Hillary is your first choice as VP. Can you win without her? Sure. Can you win Monopoly without Broadway? Sure. Doesn't mean you should try to do it the hard way.

You think the Mass. GOP is sad...

So, the Massachusetts Republican Party will be fielding barely enough candidates to put together a high school football squad for the 2008 election. Sad, eh?

But the story of the New York GOP is even worse. Congressman Vito Fossella announced he wouldn't run for re-election because he was having sex with a woman who was not his wife. Or something. So the GOP asked someone to run for the seat, the seat currently held by a Republican. Their first choice said no. Their second choice said no. Their top four or five choices, and possibly the guy who cleans their gutters, all said no.

So they got "some dude" to run. Some dude nobody knows. No, even better...well, I'll just let The Albany Project describe it:

A week after the Staten Island GOP nominated...some dude to run for the disgraced "Papa Vino" Fossella's congressional seat, today we learn that that dude's son is apparently going to make a run as well. No, really. Francis H. Powers was given the nod for the run last week and today his son, Francis M. Powers decided to throw his (rather large and asymmetrical) hat in the ring as well with a bid for the Libertarian Party Line and, apparently, the non-existent Anarchist Party one as well.

As the 13th Turns...

That's right. This dude, son of the other dude, both you've never even heard of and sharing the same name, is now also a candidate for Congress. For. The. Same. Seat.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Less oil, less casinos, more American dream

There is no greater stain on my beloved country than the shameful history and present life of its first residents. Slavery is a close second, but I see many more attempts to make amends for slavery in the present than I do to rectify the crushing reality imposed upon such a large number of Native Americans. This isn't so clear in Massachusetts where Native American culture is so assimilated and dispersed, but in the midwest or southwest daily existence on American Indian communities is shameful for the richest nation in the world.

At the same time, too many identify Native American cultures only with casinos. Given the curious understanding of sovereignty concerning Native American government, it is much easier to facilitate gambling on land under American Indian sovereignty. Given that sometime exclusive access to a lucrative revenue stream, popular culture too often shows Native American culture only within the context of casinos (the only time I've seen a Native American on Family Guy, for example, is in a casino setting). This, even though every New England resort casino is matched by a threadbare bingo hall in the midwest.

Meanwhile, we're running out of oil. Demand continues to rise, particularly in emerging economies. Gas is $, $3.90...wait, $3.97 per gallon. We'll need alternatives.

Finally, three facts I'd like to mention about the town of Kayenta, Arizona: almost 93% of the population is Native American. Income, home value, and education are well below the state medians. Per capita income is under $10,000. And every month of the year, there is sunshine at least 70% of the time.

Here's what I propose:

A massive federal government program that would offer low-interest, long-term loans to selected low-income zones within the American southwest such as Kayenta, whose administration is co-ordinated with (but not entirely turned over to) tribal governments. The loans would be for about 20-year terms, at prime rate or just below.

The lion's share of the loans would be used to build large -- very large -- solar power arrays on the flatlands of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. Some money would be used to train local residents in the technology of the plant. Given the regular sunshine and low rate of precipitation, solar collectors would generate enough juice over a couple decades to sell into the grid that would repay the loan, and then some. Furthermore, expectations are set that materials be bought from American suppliers (such as local concern Evergreen Solar) whenever possible.

Benefits to the hosting area:
  • A reliable, regular source of income
  • An attractor for high-income, high education workers and attendant services
  • A largely inelastic industry that cannot be outsourced
  • A job stream for residents, with predecessor education
  • Real American investment in the community

Benefits to consumers:
  • Less dependence on foreign energy
  • High income American jobs across the industry
  • Cleaner energy
  • A long-term commitment to these ideals
  • A wider flow of money to increase jobs in these industries nationwide

There are many holes in the plan, not least of all the need to mandate inclusion of local economy into these projects. No good having a massive company descend upon a town to ship in workers and call the shots. I'm not advocating socialist and nationalist power generation a la Citgo in Venezuela. However, most electric companies cannot be trusted.

Native American government is as susceptible to corruption as any other kind, and strict controls and audits would need to be undertaken.

Of course, it would help to not have a president who takes his orders from the oil industry. Better to have someone like this guy.

People love us. That's not a statement, but a command...

That trademark Axelrod arrogance is on display again. Having coasted to a full 55% of votes in Massachusetts a year and a half ago, the Deval Patrick Eternal Campaign has hat in hand demanding plaudits:

We're asking you to think back over the past year-and-a-half and tell us what you believe to have been the three most significant accomplishments of the Patrick Administration thus far.

Over at my second home of Blue Mass Group, the Editors obliged. BMG is remarkable for its welcoming of people of all stripes across the political spectrum, but the three editors all endorsed Deval Patrick and enjoy good access to his office. The editors obliged by prominently displaying the, er, message. To be sure that everyone understood, it was announced that negative reactions would be censored.

The result in the first few hours? Two responses, one negative...and a post that says in part "An e-mail with the subject line 'your input needed' with the sole request to tell the administration the greatest things they've done, is not only politically tone deaf, but managerially so" that has been receiving agreement. Not an inspiring record.

I expect that Patrick still has many, many fans (not including me). But this is just another step in the alienation of the people who brought him there (again, not including me). His pleas to support Obama over Hillary were ignored, and 56 percent disapprove of his performance in the most recent poll...the highest that number has ever been. That slot in President Obama's Cabinet just can't open up fast enough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Holy carp

Hillary Clinton gives a feisty speech on the day that is really her last day with any chance to be the Democratic nominee. She's lost Maxine Waters to Obama, who now has over 50% of the needed delegates to reach the nomination.

Meanwhile, she's still making the case that it should be her, not Obama. The crowd is chanting encouragement, chanting "Denver" (implying a floor fight at the convention). Clinton smiled, but did not seem disturbed at this reaction. It blew the minds of most every pundit. Mine, too. I didn't expect supplication, but she sounded as if it's a close contest that she has an even chance to win.

It's a real shame, and a real loss of what could have been such a good night for the Democratic Party...won't be. The story should have been Obama Triumphant, McCain Pathetic. Now, McCain's wobbly, sad little speech (that felt like a Kiwanas Awards Dinner) will be forgotten, and it will remain Clinton v Obama. As strongly I support Senator Clinton, I can't agree with that speech.

If I were to guess, it would be that it was been made clear that Obama will not accept her as VP nominee, and she felt she'd nothing to lose. I don't know.

I just hope McCain spends a lot of time in front of the cameras. I'll never be able to vote for Obama...but I can vote against McCain.

Whaddya know...

Jim Clyburn is going to officially back Obama. A nice change from when he was "unannounced" and lobbing bombs at Clinton's campaign behind his figleaf of neutrality, such as telling Bill Clinton "to watch what he says and how he says it".

Who knows...maybe Donna Brazile will shock everyone by endorsing Obama soon herself! And I'm hearing crazy rumors that Michelle Obama is considering making her endorsement official, as well...

Monday, June 2, 2008

The perfect stocking stuffer...

Have somebody on your shopping list who has one of everything? Who likes explosions and loud bombs? Got tons, I mean tons, of money?

Why not buy them their own personal 314-B1 fighter plane??

Granted, it's Brazilian, and prop-driven, so it won't impress like an F22. But more to the point...

A private American entity can buy one or more fighter jets?? And that entity is Halliburton, who I wouldn't trust with a match and a cylinder of propane.

I want one. Gimme gimme.


Unintentional Irony Dept.

Got a phone call over the weekend from John Kerry's re-election campaign, coming a week before the state convention of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. When I told my correspondent that I favored Kerry's rival for the Democratic nomination, Ed O'Reilly, he said "do you really think that this is the time for an unproven, inexperienced candidate?"

This from a campaign that endorsed Barack Obama for president. Not your strongest argument, there.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bright idea of the day

I can't imagine that Hillary Clinton would work out as Obama's vice presidential candidate. I know it worked for Reagan/Bush, but it still seems a waste of a VP slot (for Obama) and a waste of the talents of Hillary Clinton. That said, I do believe that the vice presidency is a good keystone upon which to rebuild party unity. So here's my suggestion today, which is really quite good:

Obama should ask Hillary to chair his VP Search committee.

Here's why I like it:

  • If the VP is anyone other than Hillary, we'll all know that it was because Clinton didn't want the job (remember Cheney?) But this Obama from being publicly rejected by Clinton, and Clinton for being in that somewhat embarrassing position.
  • It gives his eventual VP pick the air of being somebody of whom Clinton approves. That is, "her" committee probably isn't going to come out with somebody she dislikes.
  • It guarantees a fair hearing for her allies. It keeps the Obama campaign from striking off the list anybody who supported Clinton. This especially means Wes Clark.
  • It doesn't really take the choice way from Obama. The VP search committee's job isn't really that hard. They do some "vetting", but chances are you don't end up a Senator if you're completely unable to campaign (though Jim Webb comes darn close to that). Anyway, the committee usually provides the nominee with a "short list" annotated with plusses and minuses. Obama would make the final decision.
  • It sends a strong signal to the Democratic Party. It makes clear that Hillary Clinton is a person of deep knowledge and strong influence within the party, and will be a partner in Obama's presidency. It makes clear to his supporters that there will be no tolerance to turn this bitter primary into a left-wing center from which to attack her in the Senate. It also makes clear Obama's awareness and respect of her influence within the party as a valuable tool, and not a threat to him.
  • It also mends bridges. Seeing Clinton touring the country on "official" business for the Obama campaign will make it more smooth for her supporters join the Obama campaign.

The offer would have to be handled carefully. This job is a somewhat bureaucratic task, and if handled poorly comes across as rather demeaning to Clinton. I'd hope that a statement would make clear that Clinton would have a great deal of independence and autonomy in this job. She should be meeting with/interviewing people on the list. It allows her some prominence throughout the spring and summer.