Thursday, December 9, 2010

Far as I can tell...

There are two groups that love the "deal" on taxes struck by President Obama. Those who think he's American salvation who is clearly the bestest president ever...and those who think he's a secret African Muslim.

Oh, and...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

O'Malley FTW

So get this...Martin O'Malley is named "Education Governor for the Year" by those evil lazy teachers over at the NEA. Kiss of death in a Republican year, right?


He crushes, absolutely destroys, his Republican opponent to a degree only dreamt of by most Democratic incumbents in 2010. He doubled his margin of victory from 2006. Now he's the head of the Democratic Governors' Association. I'm not saying it's all related, but it is another data point that proves that supporting teachers who believe in quality education is good policy...and good politics.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting to Excellent

A data-rich, methodical, and transparent report prepared by McKinsey offers the passionate follower of education much to consider. Unlike, say, the Boston Foundation's pamphlet, this 124-page, rigorously detailed study gives serious policy wonks food for thought. The methodology is carefully detailed, not hidden. The data is easy to weigh and follow.

The most fascinating aspect of this report (PDF) is tracing how school systems develop and improve from one stage of performance to another. One of the more interesting findings is that what works for a school system seeking to spread literacy needs something different from a system seeking to prepare students with 21st century thinking skills.

So how does this affect Massachusetts? Well, of the international spectrum of system provided, Boston is mentioned as a much improved system in the nation's pre-eminent public education structure -- Massachusetts. So how does a system such as Boston, that is good, or great, improve?

"Move the locus of improvement from the center to the schools themselves; the focus is on introducing peer-based learning through schoolbased and system-wide interaction, as well as supporting system-sponsored innovation and experimentation."

Decentralize. Experiment. Professionalize and respect teachers. Provide ways for teachers to collaborate for results, not compete for dollars. Further in the guts of the report, the research team mentions the following imperatives:

In the final frontier of school improvement, the journey from great to excellent, systems focus on creating an environment that will unleash the creativity and innovation of its educators and other stakeholder groups. At this point in the improvement journey, system educators are highly skilled and have a body of agreed routines and practices that have become innate to how they work.

The intervention cluster for the journey from great to excellent serves further to enhance the educators’ responsibility for looking after each other’s development; the systems give their teachers the time, resources, and flexibility to reflect upon and try out new ideas to better support student learning.


When teachers achieve a higher level of skill, as is the case in good to great and
great to excellent improvement journey stages, such tight central control becomes counterproductive to system improvement. Rather, school-level flexibility
and teacher collaboration become the drivers of improvement because they lead to innovations in teaching and learning. The center learns from these school-based innovations and then encourages their use in other schools across the system. Higher
skill teachers require flexibility and latitude in how they teach in order to engage in such innovation and to feel motivated and fulfilled as professionals.

In case you were wondering about those systems that are better than good, the report identifies four. Only Finland is rated excellent in this report; Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea are great.

As mentioned in the last post, all systems are decentralizing at the precise moment that the United States is starting to march in lockstep to Washington DC's tune. Obama wants states, districts, even schools and teachers to compete for dollars; this report mandates that collaboration as superior. Obama wants to tighten control over what is taught on a daily basis; this report mandates the contrary. Obama pushes for an unprecedented level of centralization in this country; the data say this will hurt our students.

This report merely confirms what is widely understood:

  • A large and growing body of data indicate how to improve public education in this country.

  • Those responsible for running education in this nation and state insist on doing the exact opposite.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wrong Way Again

One of the most annoying things that I see in America's approach to education is the oxymoron of claiming we need to "catch up" to other countries...then promptly doing the opposite of what they do.

One can easily question many of the international tests used to compare national education outcomes -- many are entrusted to foreign ministries to be administered and reported fairly. However, I think it's fascinating that just when Obama is using a few pennies to control education in each individual state, our supposed betters are moving in the opposite direction.

Today's object lesson in the United Kingdom. David Cameron's oddly hybrid liberal-conservative government may be the last place on might look for progressive ideas on education. Yet it is there that Education secretary Michael Gove is asserting what people who enter classrooms on a daily basis realize: centralization doesn't work.

Just when Massachusetts turns over its constitutional competences to vague inter-state groups working on shared standardized tests, suborning its achievements to a dumbed-down national curriculum, Michael Gove advocates for the opposite:

While each of these exemplars has their own unique and individual approach to aspects of education, their successful systems all share certain common features. Many have put in place comprehensive plans for school improvement which involve improving teacher quality, granting greater autonomy to the front line, modernising curricula, making schools more accountable to their communities, harnessing detailed performance data and encouraging professional collaboration. It is only through such whole-system reform that education can be transformed to make a nation one of the world’s top performers.

Compare this to Obama's current drive (with Deval's complicity) to take autonomy from the front line, divorce them from their communities and tie them to the state, and poisoning professional collaboration by throwing funding in as a prize of competition rather like the Apple of Discord.

Just reading this White Paper is enough to make any American teacher look at visa requirements. Here are some choice lines:

"We envisage schools and teachers taking greater control over what is taught in schools, innovating in how they teach and developing new approaches to learning"

"The guidance on the National Curriculum is weighing teachers down and squeezing out room for innovation, creativity, deep learning and intellectual exploration."

"Government cannot determine the priorities of every school, and the attempt to secure compliance with its priorities reduces the capacity of the system to improve itself."

"Reform initial teacher training so that more training is on the job."

There are some baffling name-checks on the most destructive practices in America in this document, which contradict pretty much everything else contained therein. However, combined with a McKinsey international study that demonstrates the direct relationship between international achievement and school/teacher autonomy due for release tomorrow, it is clear in which direction the UK is moving.

The same direction prescribed in Germany (PDF) Japan, or South Korea. The same direction embraced by the industrialized world -- except for the United States.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Education: "Thank God for Massachusetts"

On education, the The Atlantic Monthly is an interesting magazine. It's honest enough to be honest about the facts in its education reports and articles. An article some time ago on No Child Left Behind made clear that the target that every single American must possess adult-level math and English literacy skills by 2014 was a political decision. Politicians simply didn't have the courage to admit that somebody learning English, or with severe learning disabilities, wasn't going to get there. In the current issue, the Atlantic gives some notice to Diane Ravitch, who has reversed her stand for the test-and-punish system for something that matches up with research. She has gone back on previous policies based on the copious research that speaks in another direction.

Of course, while admitting the facts -- something the Boston Globe generally doesn't do -- it still pushes the common viewpoint of an elite thoroughly unfamiliar with public education. Of course, the Atlantic sees that nothing in education can't be fixed by the judicious firing of many people. Hence, a worshipful article on what "Teach for America" can tell us (hint, it's common sense to anyone familiar with public education, and epiphanic for the ignorant). This issue's profile of Diane Ravitch is knee-capped by a harrumphing parenthetical that the editor disagrees with her, and a coda for "balance" that praises the superintendent in Rhode Island who arbitrarily fired every teacher in her high school.

So, much like the Wall Street Journal on economics, the Atlantic gives every sign of strong fact-based reporting on education that is utterly ignored by the editorial staff. Hence an article online that includes the following:

One cannot help but thank God for Massachusetts, which offers the United States some shred of national dignity—a result echoed in other international tests. "If all American fourth- and eighth-grade kids did as well in math and science as they do in Massachusetts," writes the veteran education author Karin Chenoweth in her 2009 book, How It’s Being Done, "we still wouldn’t be in Singapore’s league but we’d be giving Japan and Chinese Taipei a run for their money."

I can't see why we'd want to emulate that gerontocracy. They do well on test scores and horrible on democracy. I also highlight this author's kowtowing to the Chinese-mandated name for Taiwan.

What did Massachusetts do? Well, nothing that many countries (and industries) didn’t do a long time ago. For example, Massachusetts made it harder to become a teacher, requiring newcomers to pass a basic literacy test before entering the classroom. (In the first year, more than a third of the new teachers failed the test.) The state also required students to pass a test before graduating from high school—a notion so heretical that it led to protests in which students burned state superintendent David Driscoll in effigy. To help tutor the kids who failed, the state moved money around to the places where it was needed most. "We had a system of standards and held people to it—adults and students," Driscoll says.

Does the article mention how the standards were arbitrarily set when not enough teachers and students weren't failing? No. Does it even attempt to find a reason for Massachusetts' success beyond the preset viewpoints of the editors of the Atlantic? Of course not. But it does admit the truth -- the Bay State was once the national leader on education. We may still be, but not for long.

I say "was" advisedly. Obama's people plow ahead with Bush's failed policies on education. One innovation is to dangle a fractional percentage boost in federal funding for Massachusetts if we dumb down our standards, double the amount of testing in the classroom, short-circuit local democracy, and change laws to fit the model of an education secretary whose own reputation is built on cheap tricks, articles like this need to be cherished. Because I doubt they'll be written five years from now.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From time to time

This blog went dark as personal life got more complicated, aside from a very few occasional posts. Honestly, I figured that what little I felt a need to say I could say on BMG.

That was before my recent post on BMG suggesting Menino for Senate was picked up by the Globe, who asked the mayor's office for a reaction. Meanwhile, the Herald is pushing Brown for Prez. Imagine that -- a ticket where Sarah Palin is the experienced candidate.

Crazy Commonwealth we live in. I may need to resume blogging.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dodd-Peterson debate liveblog

Summary: The biggest change, the biggest difference between these candidates is not their beliefs, but their focus. Tim Dodd talked about people -- people with whom he's worked, people he's met on the campaign trail, people he's helped as selectmen. George Peterson talked about laws, bills, funds, taxes, budgets, and programs. It's an interesting take on their viewpoints. After 16 years of looking at line items and categories, that's what Peterson seems to see when he thinks of the 9th Worcester district. After years as a selectman and a teacher, Dodd sees the people next to him, with whom he works. He seems to want to represent the district, not facilitate it.

7:15 - It's a lot colder outside than it seemed on the way to the car. Standing in the cold holding a sign is proof.

7:30 - Dodd supporters outnumbering Peterson backers. Peterson sign-holders head in first. Small victory.

7:45 - Sheriff's debate starting first. Evangelides, the Republican sheriff candidate, couldn't be bothered to show up.'s a "prior commitment", which comes in second to "more time with his family" on the list of bulls--t political excuses. The Democrat (Foley) and the unenrolled candidate (Nicholas) came. Both are law enforcement professionals. I'm reluctant to comment further as someone unfamiliar with this race.

8:10 - Break time. Foley lays into Evangelides (not by name) for ducking the big issues by skipping the debate. Dodd and Peterson are up in a few. At least half the crowd leaves.

8:15 - Off we go! Peterson's up first with his opening which commences with the pre-Nixon days. He reads it from a paper in front of him. Peterson's been married for 34 years -- good for him! He's also got kids. I just have no idea why he's running for office.

Dodd's opening begins with thank yous to people in the debate, including Rep. Peterson. Calls himself a "citizen legislator" who wouldn't take per diems or a salary raise. Talks about the constituents in each of his four towns.

8:20 - First question asks "what kind of legislator would you be?" Dodd speaks about availability to constituents and would be a full-time legislator. He earned a doctorate while teaching. How many legislators do we have with doctorates? Methinks not enough. Rep. Peterson is full-time, and speaks about constituent services, constant meetings on constituent issues.

8:24 - "Name a concrete proposal you have to create jobs/implemented to create jobs". For Peterson, the answer -- surprise! -- is to cut taxes. The US Chamber of Commerce would be so proud. He's against the excise and income tax, and probably refuses to accept the "Poor Tax" Chance Card when he plays Monopoly. Dodd speaks about his proposal for a district-wide task force to bridge the 2 chambers of commerce in this district that would include local small business owners. Peterson protests that although Massachusetts unemployment has gone down, but we've lost jobs so don't think we aren't in a "terrible situation in this economy". DOOM!

8:26 - "Name a concrete proposal you would implement/have implemented to improve education...touch on a response to the Chapter 70 formula question". Peterson is proud to continue funding through the "Ed reform formula", even though they haven't followed through with the commitment. So, like all state legislators, he brags about how awesome they are at defending local aid. Peterson dodges the Chapter 70 question. This is an easy question for Dodd, as he's in the classroom every day. He knows this law inside and out, and talks about revisiting the charter school funding formula. This formula treats student dollars differently depending on which type of school to which the student transfers.

8:31 - Term limits and pensions. Dodd commits to a five-term/ten year limit of service. Constitutional term limits are "murky water", but he believes in citizen legislators. Defends the idea of hard-working people earning pensions, but continuing Governor Patrick's work against loopholes. Peterson does not, and did not support term limits. Rep. Peterson talks about unfunded pensions, but believes that anyone who pays into a pension system should get it back. Not much daylight between the two of them on this one.

8:35 - Position on ballot questions. Peterson says YES, NO, NO. Claims "double taxation" and dismisses the idea of using those funds for fighting addictions, which is a "gimmick". Calls for reform on Chapter 40B. Supports a sales tax rollback to 5%, but to 3% as per the question. Dodd says NO, NO, NO. People fighting alcohol addiction need the help. Peterson says that raising the sales tax gives these programs too much money.

8:42 - To can you have a "fresh perspective" if most legislators are Democrats? Dodd responds that being a selectman and a teacher gives him everyday contact with the issues, which has resulted in the plans mentioned on his website. To Peterson...three bills he proposed to help the district. Peterson doesn't/can't mention three bills. Everything is everyone else's fault. But government is bad, and there aren't enough Republicans. Oh, government is bad, except when I'm getting all sorts of money for the district -- government is bad when it helps other people, I guess.

8:45 - Peterson asks Dodd "what is the fresh perspective? Can you define it?" Dodd answers that it is not new issues, but rather new ideas. For him, it includes putting bottle bill redemption funds for teaching arts and physical education.

Dodd asks Peterson about Charlie Baker's term limits plan to limit legislators to ten years. Karyn Polito introduced 46 bills, George Peterson passed one bill to rename a road in Upton. So what idea do you have that you could actually done? Peterson talks about restoring the funding for the underground storage tank fund, but he's busy playing defense. Admits that as a legislator, he doesn't have a legislative record.

8:51 - Closing statements. Peterson comes out against taxes and spending, and calls for God to bless the district and America. Dodd again offers energy and experience as a "citizen legislator" bringing new ideas to the district.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Debate liveblog tomorrow

I will be blogging, hopefully live-blogging, the debate between Tim Dodd and George Peterson tomorrow in Grafton. In a contest between a motivated selectman and teacher, and a do-nothing Republican whip on the other, this is a clear choice for anyone who cares about education in the Commonwealth. I'll do it here, possibly on BMG, too.

Ride the wave: Dodd and Cutler

I suppose we could play defense and say that 2010 is an anti-Democratic year. Try to keep what we can keep. Surrender. Alternatively, we could micro-analyze every warp and woof of the governor's race and ignore every other election slated for November. I think there's a better way.

I suspect that 2010 is an anti-people in charge year. Sure, that's a problem for many of us as most of the people in charge at the moment happen to Democrats. Rather than stop at fighting over whose fault is the economic downturn that began months before Obama took office, let's use the tide. Let's ride the wave. No need for Bennett, Murkowski, Crist, and Castle to be the only Republicans thrown out of office this year.

If people want to vote out incumbents, we have a couple Democrats working very hard to help them here in the Bay State. Tim Dodd and Josh Cutler. Two hard-working guys giving of themselves in a tough environment, while the Democratic Party runs its usual incumbent-protection racket. They deserve our help.

Is there an easier job on Beacon Hill than Republican whip? What does that entail -- keeping people awake so they can vote no? Well, Tim Dodd is looking to replace that piece of decorative furniture that is George Peterson. Dodd is a current selectman -- he knows what the towns are going through and how to improve laws to better people's lives. He's a teacher -- he knows how to reform education, not just perform a sound bite. He'll work with the state leadership, not just vote no and go home. And hustle? The guy's everywhere in that district -- and you should see his proposed schedule for district hours. It would make a lesser man keel over. Don't look for him at campaign HQ though, as he's knocking on doors.

Some Republicans offer a differing voice in the Legislature. Peterson offers his constituents indifferent service, and the rest of us a seat warmer. Dodd wants to change that. Smart work on budgets, education, environment, jobs. Far more than "not my fault, I said no" that typifies the incumbent. Unfortunately, the reactive ethics law in force prevents this candidate, pretty much alone on this, from asking for campaign donations. So I'm doing it for him -- give this guy some scratch. Ride the wave, and get someone who knows how to work, and wants to work, in the State House.

Josh Cutler has stepped up when so few would -- to take on a longtime incumbent in SE Massachusetts. To color blue a district largely surrounded by blue, and to add a voice to the Beacon Hill conversation whose vocabulary will extend beyond "no". He's been running hard for several months now, and unlike the current occupant -- he wants this job. He's a businessman who knows how to be responsible for his actions. Cutler knows how to get away from our over-reliance on capital gains taxes. Cutler knows 40B and Open Meeting Law have problems. He's willing to take positions...and fight for them. If the people in Webster's district want to get rid of the incumbent. It will be a real step up. Will you help?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gov. Patrick, Lt. Gov. Tisei?

Maybe I'm missing something here. But if memory serves, voters vote for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor separately. This usually doesn't matter.

Here's a hypothetical. The race for governor comes down to a very close margin, but Deval Patrick is re-elected. However, a number of voters nevertheless choose Cahill, say about 5%. These voters see Loscocco's name still on the ballot, but as they know that Loscocco withdrew from the race because he's a rat, they vote for the Republican candidate, Richard Tisei. Those additional votes overcome Governor Patrick's margin of victory, and our next governor has a Republican LG.

I know that in some places (Arizona under Governor Napolitano springs to mind) managed with a mixed-party executive. Would our Commonwealth? How do you think that would work out?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is it really so hard?

Ad starts with a photo of a precocious, adorable 11-year old.

"Meet Billy. Billy loves his Mom and Dad, America, and especially his dog Skip. Until recently, Billy loved Little League, too. But Billy learned that he had (horrible disease). Billy's Mom and Dad weren't worried, because they had health insurance."

Switch to photo of dense, official looking letter.

"But their health insurance was with Charlie Baker's company, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Incorporated. Baker raised profits by enacting policies like the one that said that Billy didn't qualify for (procedure, care, test) for his (horrible disease)."

Switch to photo of Charlie Baker.

"Charlie Baker made sure that his company sent many letters like this to families that had trusted him with their money. Now, Charlie Baker is running for governor, so he can do to Massachusetts what he did to the people who trusted their health insurance to his company. Charlie, we just can't take that chance."

Last photo, of a happy Billy in a baseball uniform.

"Happily, under CommonwealthCare and Deval Patrick's governorship, Billy's family found affordable medical care, and Billy is make catching fly balls in centerfield."

Sorry, but if Deval loses to a health insurance executive -- one step above losing to the CEO of British Petroleum -- there's no excuse. If his campaign doesn't want to run an ad like this, find someone who will. It's not really that hard.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Huh? What?

You mean I'm supposed to keep this blogging thing going still? Since when?

Okay, it's been a bit of a break enforced by real-life. I have a great thing lined up on the reality v. the rhetoric of pensions, I'll type and buff up in the next few days. However, there's good stuff out there worth reading:

    I've dabbled (here and here for starters) in the Globe's inability to talk straight about education, but this guy is doing a comprehensive series on the subject over at BMG. Wow.

    Speaking of which, Arne Duncan (whose self-reported success stories fall apart under close scrutiny) cheers on the arbitrary firing of Rhode Island teachers. I wonder if the Obama Administration would be so enthusiastic if the victims were financiers rather than teachers. As I note here, the Globe's reaction is that this is a blunt questionable reaction that is nonetheless a good idea.

    If you want to learn what real government waste looks like, check out this publicly built, brand-new $160 million airport in Japan that hosts... one flight per day.

    RedMassGroup shows its true feelings -- remember when offices didn't belong to the holder, but they were all "the people's seat"?

    Why is it that I read the headline "US school cancels prom because of 'lesbian date'" as a headline, I just know that this school will be located south of DC?

    And of course, I could never say no to noternie (purveyor of Someday I Will). That's coming up soon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

He's just out of ideas

Presidential Mad Libs, Education Edition. Fill in the blanks:

Speaking today on education, Barack Obama said that in order to deal with the problem of (1)______ in the public education system, it is necessary to make it easier to (2) ____ . This is an approach that is (3) ____ conservative approaches.

The answer to #3 is "similar to", "indistinguishable from", or another synonym.
The answer to #2 is "fire teachers".
The answer to #1 is....well, it doesn't matter what the answer to #1 is, because the answer to #2 is always, always, "fire teachers".*

If the health care bill fails, and the Republicans win in 2010, I'm not sure I'll be able to tell the difference with this guy.

*Obama's current proposal, delivered before his natural allies in the anti-middleclass US Chamber of Commerce, is to spend his apparently unlimited funds on districts that fire more teachers. That will raise student achievement, close the achievement gap, lower the dropout rate.

Tune in a several months from now when Obama tells CPAC that we need to fire more teachers to, er, um, improve the quality of high-school basketball, or something like that. Remember: Fire Teachers!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

LA does it smart

Los Angeles has figured out that maybe letting teachers do their job might work (emphasis added):

In a move that affects nearly 40,000 students, the Los Angeles Board of Education has let teachers' groups -- instead of charters -- take over failing schools in the city's Unified School District (LAUSD). Twelve failing campuses were overhauled, as were 24 newly built ones. Though charters were selected to operate a portion of the new campuses, the teachers' groups are charged with improving the failing programs.

The teachers' groups, composed of instructors previously under LAUSD authority with local union support, fought hard to maintain a certain level of autonomy -- they argued that greater control over staffing, budget, and curriculum allows teachers to target specific school needs that may not be addressed by district mandates. And so far, giving teachers a more active role in campuses has been an effective tool in fixing the problems of L.A.'s public schools, with various pilot programs receiving high remarks from district administrators.

Wow. What a concept. Have doctors, not HMOs, decide on medical procedures. Give the say to farmers, not multinationals on how to raise healthy food. Allow teachers, not paper-movers to direct education.

It's so obvious you'd have to be a private-sector politician not to get it. Speaking of which...

The Superintendent who unilaterally fired all the high school teachers in her district rather than suffer the indignity of negotiating with them has found two sources of support: a group of far-right taxhaters...and Obama's basketball friend Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could love.

Thank goodness they won

While the jingoistic side of me wished Team USA had won the hockey match for the gold medal today, it's better in the long run that Canada won.

It's a matter of perspective. See, there is no medal in any sport that means as much to the American zeitgeist as this one did to Canada. Ice hockey is Canada's only notable athletic endeavour and more than any singular event, an ice hockey tournament is the only measure of Canada's athletic greatness. On the other hand, basketball tournaments are pretty much a joke for the US in the modern era, we get silvers in ice hockey even though the vast majority of Americans live in areas where it isn't a realistic sport, and arguably most of our better athletes go into American football. Heck, in the second-tier sport of soccer, we made the quarter-finals of the last World Cup. Admittedly, baseball isn't America's strong suit at the moment.

On the other hand is Canada, a regular doormat in international tournaments (didn't qualify for the soccer World Cup, 2008 Beijing Olympics in basketball, etc.). The "Canadian" Football League survives on NFL sufferance and funding. Canada doesn't have the chops to handle more than a single major league franchise in pro baseball or basketball. This is truly all they have. Add in the fact that in a nation as culturally cleavaged as Canada, where one-fifth of the people live in a Quebecois culture which is more distinct than anything else in North America, and hockey is the only national touchstone the nation has. This wasn't an athletic was amusingly close to a vindication of the Canadian experiment.

America wanted this gold medal.
Canada desperately, cryingly needed it. Good for them.

That said, I'm still more pissed about the Celtics losing at home to the New Jersey Nets.

PS: Anybody who watched the closing ceremony knows what I mean. A somewhat limp presentation from Sochi, Russia was followed by a tedious 45 minutes about what it means to Canadian, and Canadian iconography. If there's a culture in the world that cries out for legitimacy more than English-Canadian culture, I don't know it. I'd really have to rate this as the worst closing ceremonies I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Questions of Europe and Race

Do Europeans understand what race is?

Quite a contrast in two stories out of Western Europe today. First of all, a rather stunning decision of the French railways to post some rather, er, targeted signage at some railway stations. The signs read:

"In the last few weeks concerns have arisen about Romanians. Indeed, numerous baggage thefts have been noticed.
"We ask you to redouble your vigilance. In addition, all the activities of Romanians should be brought to the attention of the PCNS [rail security services]."

So apparently, there was little proof of this happening by people of a certain, distinct nationality. But to single out a single group (not Roma, or Gypsies, but Romanians) for pubic notice and shaming represents an astounding callousness -- especially seeing that France is probably the most ethnically diverse country in Western Europe, with about 9% of its residents being non-white. It also indicates that a typical French railway worker or customer unfailingly distinguishes between Romanians and Bulgarians, Hungarians, and other neighbors.

On the other side of the Channel, a merchant in England is apparently getting in some hot water for selling what seem to me to be rather humorous shirts:

A company selling "Anyone but England" T-shirts for this year's World Cup has rejected suggestions it is racist after police in Aberdeen visited its store.

First off, the idea that Aberdeen Scots would be upset about this shirt humors me...I'd sooner expect them to support that shirt as "Yankees Suck" is supported in Boston. Secondly, I think the shirt is funny, and understandable. The English have a less-than-sterling reputation as players and fans, and selling these shirts in Scotland seems plain smart to me. If they were selling an "Anybody but Canada" shirt in reference to Olympic hockey, I’d buy one. Thirdly, even if it's in poor taste, it amuses me that police would feel compelled to visit the store.

There are differences in the two stories: undersensitivity in France, oversensitivity in England, for example. However, what they have in common is two things: an official reaction...and poor understanding of the concept of race.

I don’t grasp how the police in England and a union in France declared these respective actions to be "racist". Sure, if you’re an English yob with no sense of humor, I guess you could say the t-shirt is prejudiced -- if you leave aside the fact that it refers to the English soccer team rather than the nation, and the team itself is mixed-race to begin with. But racist? Since when are the English a separate race? Or Romanians?

I’ve read many a survey form that lists "White (non-Hispanic)" as an option, implying that Hispanics are white. Even in the broadest definition, though, I can’t see how Romanians are a different race than the French, the English a different race than the Scottish. What I do see is a culture so inexperienced with multiculturalism and diversity that prominent unions and law enforcement don’t really understand what racism is, and isn’t.

It’s a good thing that whatever it is, they’re against it; but as trackless as American discussion of race seems to be at times, we’re still light-years ahead of the folks across the pond.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Health-care tale from abroad

The good news is that many Americans (such as Ezra Klein, kinda) have fallen out of love with the Canadian system as a model for health care, after they've gotten a decent look at it. Others (such as this example) haven't:

I'm not saying that Canada's approach is perfect. I am sure that it has its troubles, too, but it looks to me that they are doing a better job of caring for their citizens and that we could learn a thing or two from their approach.

However, north of the border, passions are aflame due to the decisions of an administrator of health care in the country. I remember weekends in Montreal where emergency room wait-times exceeded 24 hours. Danny Williams, premier (equivalent of governor) of Newfoundland decided in was in his interest to avoid the Canadian system:

An unapologetic Danny Williams says he was aware his trip to the United States for heart surgery earlier this month would spark outcry, but he concluded his personal health trumped any public fallout over the decision.

Later on, Williams defended his decision, because "this was my heart, my choice and my health". The premier of each province is responsible for administrating health care in his province and is presumably more familiar with his/her system than any other person. Yet Premier Williams -- like Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney years ago -- ducked out to Florida for care he didn't want to get in Canada.

Living in Canada for about six years, I can't and won't blame either one of them one bit. Wait times were atrocious, medical technology obsolete, and understanding of medicine too often questionable. Now, I am fortunate to be in the 84% of Americans who have health insurance. Before that, I was in the significant number of Americans in the remaining 16% who chose not to have it because I was in decent enough physical health.

Of course the system needs reform, for many reasons. However, whatever form that takes I hope it isn't the kind that gives some 30% of Americans better health care, and drives the other 70% to the point where they get care outside of the country if at all possible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Question of scale I guess...

Why is something like this presented as a human interest oddity:

A shaman in Norway has suggested aboriginal people in B.C. might have cursed the Nordic country's Olympic athletes...when Norway's early results in the Vancouver Games were not as good as expected, the Norwegian broadcaster NRK sought out a Sami shaman — or indigenous spiritualist — who speculated his counterparts in B.C. might be the cause.

The main reactions are ones of mocking dismissal, treating this story as a spiritual amuse-bouche. Meanwhile this is seen as a serious (if outrageous) statement by millions:

Pat Robertson, the host of the "700 Club," blamed the tragedy on something that "happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it."...
The Haitians "were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever," Robertson said on his broadcast Wednesday. "And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' "

Thinking of this sort has engendered actual discussions here and here, for example.

As for the wider scope of the Vancouver 2010 games, it's been interesting contrasting the coverage from American/Canadian sources, and the far less fawning -- even acerbic -- British. I'd say a lot of the British writing makes sense.

PS: I wrote up a thing of Louis Riel months ago. Think the story of that 19th century isn't still sharp? Check this out:

Liberals are demanding a Tory MP apologize for criticizing Métis leader Louis Riel. Edmonton MP Peter Goldring sent out a pamphlet in December to "set the record straight" about Riel's actions in the late 1800s...Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville said the Conservative party should apologize to the Métis for what she calls a "smear campaign" against the founder of Manitoba.

Monday, February 15, 2010

But why?

During an online conversation at BlueMassGroup on charter schools, I got an interesting reply to some questions I posed to the still-not-fired Secretary of Education, Paul Reville:

Secretary Reville often notes himself: the distribution of student performance across charter schools is actually quite similar to the distribution of student performance across traditional public schools. That is really what the aggregate of available charter studies tells us. Meanwhile, some charter schools and some traditional public schools have achieved remarkable results.
--Tom Weber, Secretary Reville's Chief of Staff

I appreciate the willingness of Secretary Reville and his staff to continue this conversation, and the honesty of Mr. Weber in saying this. I'll give him credit.

But this statement to me is stunningly flabbergasting. The most rigorous study in the country says this, and Secretary Reville accepts that data. On average, there is no appreciable difference in student outcomes between district schools and charters. While student outcomes are the most important way to compare the two models, they aren't the only one. If outcomes are equal, then we go to other metrics.

District schools are accountable to democratically elected committee members. Charters are not. District schools educate all students, not just the easy ones. District schools don't shut down suddenly (PDF), get managed by felons, or squirrel public money into a rat's-nest of family and friends receiving astronomical salaries.

So here we see that Secretary Reville knows that charters don't offer anything better than districts in terms of student outcomes, and are beset with other problems. Yet he continues to promote charters in the general and the specific, to the point of engaging in legally questionable acts. On balance, district schools offer as strong an education as charters, yet offer superior service to the communities they serve.

Now, desperate, well-paid charter advocates may try to make hay of the fact that Reville implies that some charters are superior to some public schools, if you take the best extreme of the charter aggregate and the worst extreme of the district aggregate. Well, true. Some private security is superior to some police departments -- should we pour public money into private companies that provide security? If a Blackwater soldiers shoot better than a soldier in the US Army, should we make it easier to hire mercenaries? I don't hear anybody saying Medicare dollars should go to Anthem Blue Cross because an occasional Medicare procedure is worse the same as private ones. Smart policy making does not hope for the best of a given policy, but plans for the aggregate...not what we hope will happen, but what is most likely to happen. Doing otherwise is akin to betting on double zero at the roulette table.

So why does Reville so enthusiastically favor charters, when he frankly knows such policies do not benefit students and harm the democratic process? Why does our governor? I can't answer that question, but the best guide I've found is Secretary Reville's own words:

A number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation

Friday, February 5, 2010

HB376 update and denouement

A draft post became published a while ago on this blog about HB376, a bill in the State House. The thinking is much more logically and clearly presented at my post on BlueMassGroup. I'll talk about the bill in a second, but I do want to relate my experiences attempting to contact the Democratic co-sponsors.

I have made three attempts to contact each Democratic state representative who signed on as co-sponsor of this bill over the past two weeks. I can understand that these representative are busy, so I must highlight Representatives Calter, Dwyer, DiNatale, and Rosa not only for replies to my initial inquiry, but extended the kindness of responding to a follow-up with a real discussion. I also had a productive talk with the legislative aide for Representative Lantigua.

The other representatives' offices have yet to offer even the courtesy of indicating that they have received my message. If anybody would care to contact the representatives below with questions of their own, please feel free. Maybe you'll get an answer; if you do, please comment it here.

Paul J. Donato 35th Middlesex 617-722-2090
Kevin J. Murphy 18th Middlesex 617-722-2877
Kathi-Anne Reinstein 16th Suffolk 617-722-2783
Angelo M. Scaccia 14th Suffolk 617-722-2060

As for the status of the bill itself, I've gathered through my conversations the following impressions:

1 - This bill was filed in a political and legal vacuum of sorts. Representatives signed on as co-sponsors before the initial process of examining the implications of this bill could be addressed. The facts that this law would be swatted down by settled precedent, or the effect of deputizing school committees to arbitrate between different religion(s) seeking time in ceremonies had not even been considered.

2 - Furthermore, given the paucity of sponsors and the deadline for the session on the horizon, there is little chance of this bill advancing toward debate, vote, or passage.

3 - This bill was written in reaction to a student's recounting of a solitary incident to members of the General Court. As described to me, that incident was mishandled by school administration according to current law. The law was not the problem; administration understanding of it was. This is an issue for that district's administration, not the Commonwealth's legal code.

All this to say that this misguided bill seems to have little chance of going anywhere, probably wouldn't stand up much to real scrutiny in the first place, and hopefully will not be re-introduced in the next session.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Well, this is a new spot in which to find oneself.

Grace Ross is going to run for governor as a Democrat, forcing a primary between her and Deval Patrick for the nomination. Mind you, she isn't a Democrat, or at least wasn't when she ran four years ago. She was the Green-Rainbow candidate. This blog post from two weeks ago implies she wasn't a Democrat as recently as the special election.

So I'm in no hurry to welcome somebody who just joined the Massachusetts Democratic Party to campaign for the most prestigious post for a member. I do hope she'll rush out a platform and agenda soon, to make clear where she's coming from. Right now, were I in the voting booth on primary day, I'd likely side with Deval (whose inexperience and idealism resulted in a disappointing tenure) over Ross (who I think would be even worse).


But. I'm hoping to attend the Democratic convention as a delegate. And one of my strongest beliefs as a delegate is that any candidate that rises above LaRouche-level insanity should be on the ballot. The voters should decide, not party activists. To my knowledge, Grace Ross is a serious candidate. And to get on the ballot, a candidate must win 15% of the delegate votes.

So as I present myself as a candidate for delegate, I gotta decide. Do I promise to vote for Deval Patrick, the better candidate, or do I stand with Grace Ross, so the people of Massachusetts can decide.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama, talk, and action

I really like Obama. I really do, and so far I think he's done a fairly decent job. If somebody is forced to put out a fire he didn't start, it's not fair to blame him for getting everything else wet. He's handled the Afghan situation decently well, finding a way for the American military to basically ignore the Afghan-Pakistani border without the people in the two countries get upset as they'd have a right to. That takes finesse

However, I'm having trouble taking the State of the Union seriously, because a lot of it is talk we've heard before, without seeing much done to make it happen in the intervening period. There are a number of tools to deal with the Senate filibuster that have gone unused. If Obama pushed the public option, I missed it. Great Democrats such as Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano were sucked into the Cabinet and have pretty much disappeared from view. We're seeing a bad case of good intentions in bad times.

Ghosts of Jimmy Carter are in my peripheral vision when Obama's on-screen.

So, if I'm going to take the 2011 State of the Union seriously, 3 of these 5 things must be true:

-Guantanamo no longer holds foreign captives;
-Openly gay and lesbian Americans serve in the military;
-There is an exit date for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan;
-There has been a test vote on a public option in health care;
-Tim Geithner is long gone.

I don't care if this is done as a result of political considerations facing the midterms, or just because it's the right thing to do. But considering that numbers 2 and 5 can be done by Obama's office regardless of anyone else's disposition, this is an achievable list.

I'm not trying to put out a litmus test. If Obama wants to ignore a fair economic policy in favor of smart projection of American power, he can. If our president wants to ignore full rights for LGBT Americans, perhaps we can start respecting international conventions. But if Obama can't be bothered to do any of this...well, why should we vote for him?

PS: What real leadership sounds like:

You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.

-- Nancy Pelosi, aka the only federal Democratic leader with my full admiration.

11 Mass. Dems against religious equality

Note: I did not mean for the following article to be published until Monday. It requires editing and will be updated and significantly clarified then. A special apology to Representative DiNatale, who has corresponded with me.

A bill designed to promote majority religions in public schools pushed forward by eleven Democrats. A law built on the template adored by the "Concerned Women for America". The end result would be local officials deciding which faiths to highlight and implicitly endorse at graduations, competitions, and school events. Is this Texas? Alabama? Wyoming?

No, it's happening right here in Massachusetts through bill HB376 -- "An Act to Protect Religious Freedom of Students". You can find it here in PDF format. Any time spent following the far-right knows that "protection of religious freedom" is just right-wing speak for "promoting Christianity". It's the same thinking that a doctor can abandon his obligations and oath if he doesn't like his patient for religious reasons. This particular bill is designed to order schools to accommodate the promotion of religion at public school events. It's the usual foolishness of the far-right, but I just don't know why eleven Democrats in Boston would think that's a good idea.

The bill mandates that public schools implement:

A policy that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies, and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and activities.

First, ignore the word "limited" -- everything, even the universe, has limits (heat death scheduled in several billion years). What this bill provides for is a small group of people (perhaps one) deciding the appropriate expression of religious views at public school events. This bill provides for the exclusion of non-religious students and students holding less common faiths at public events. Make no mistake, a public school allowing the expression of any certain beliefs has the impact of endorsing those beliefs to the detriment of those who do not agree. And let's be clear that if only one speaker is making religious declarations at a school event...which religion do you suppose will get the slot? If 90% of the fans at a softball game are Christian, what's the chance of a reading of the Qur'an starting the game? As for the 22% of Bay Staters without a religious affiliation, well, they're excluded entirely. For that matter, even if the Qur'an is read at a certain high school graduation, non-Muslim students are left out that year.

This failed in the bright red state of Oklahoma, where Democratic Governor Brad Henry understood that this type of bill puts school officials in the place of balancing the Constitutional freedoms of students.

Texas school boards are constantly fearful in navigating what school boards call "the rock and the hard place" of mixing church and state, but in a "limited manner". Of course, far-right groups such as the hate-powered Massachusetts Family Institute love this idea and want to see it happen. It's an easy way to push popular religions in schools at the cost of religious freedom -- a trade-off reactionaries of the world would love.

Make no mistake: students have ample opportunity to live their religious beliefs in public schools as things stand. They do not have the opportunity to use public time and resources to compel others to endure their proselytization. This bill would change that. No student should attend their hard-earned graduation, only to hear the invocation of somebody else's God as school officials applaud, all on that student's dime. Participating on the local high school football team should not include hectoring to change your beliefs. That is what this bill would do.

Now, I don't expect much from Republicans, but I would urge people to call the Democrats who signed onto this bill and ask why non-Christians in public school should be left out of part of their own graduation ceremonies and other events (numbers here):

James Dwyer 30th Middlesex
Bruce E. Tarr First Essex and Middlesex
Dennis Rosa 4th Worcester
James R. Miceli 19th Middlesex
Angelo M. Scaccia 14th Suffolk
Stephen L. DiNatale 3rd Worcester
Paul J. Donato 35th Middlesex
Kathi-Anne Reinstein 16th Suffolk
William Lantigua 16th Essex
Thomas J. Calter 12th Plymouth
Kevin J. Murphy 18th

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reading elections: Lessons from Japan

Today, a note on how implacably elections are reduced to a single-issue frame so quickly and easily. Many Bay Staters are reasonably irritated that outsiders (especially those in Washington, DC) are taking Brown’s victory last week as a repudiation of the health care reform process underway in the nation’s capital. While health care was an issue in this election, it was not the only issue. Such a view ignores Brown’s skilled campaign, the Coakley implosion, Democratic over-confidence, and a number of other factors in the result. Worse still, it led to a short press to force House passage of the Senate health care bill, almost regardless of the bill’s contents.

Many bad effects of the special Senate election stem not from the results themselves, but a widespread inability to view an election result as having more than one cause. Just as the Brown victory was likely a combination of the factors listed above (see Nate Silver’s dissection) but has been reduced to a health-care referendum by DC Republicans, it has been simplified a populist surge among Bay State Republicans, and a poor Coakley campaign among most Democrats. However, this tendency to over-simplify election results is not necessarily ideological, nor is it restricted to the American press. One obvious example is the tendency to view every Israeli election as turning on relations with the Palestinian government(s). The fact that Netanyahu was largely elected on economic concerns rather than relations with Fatah and Hamas was almost ignored worldwide. A smaller example presents itself today in the BBC’s summary of the recent election for the mayoralty of Nago on the island of Okinawa. I choose the BBC as the high-water mark of thinking English-language journalism, and even that august organization has failed the test today.

This election occurred against the background of change in Japan. Recently elected prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has declared an interest in a more equitable relationship with the United States, and has been seeking allies within and without Japan on that score. Meanwhile, the US military was well into plans to move a large base on Okinawa (a source of great tension with the surrounding Japanese) per government request, when Hatoyama was elected. His activism on this issue has led to some arch tension between the two countries.

Anyway, let’s get into the story. The prospective new site of the base, the city of Nago on Okinawa, held a recent election wherein a candidate opposed to the base won election, beating the incumbent by a 53-47 margin. And universally, this election is being back-labeled as a referendum on the incoming American base. If the BBC is playing the role of FoxNews, Hatoyama is playing the role of the Republicans, trying furiously to spin a victory of a distant candidate who shares a belief on one issue as confirmation that the people are on his side.

But there are many things at play here (a partial list of issues from the subjective Stars and Stripes for example). Japanese frustration with incumbency has reached levels beyond even the American public and is narrowly targeted at the Liberal Democratic Party, that of the former mayor of Okinawa. The victor, Susumu Inamine, was kept at arm’s length by the government throughout the campaign, the actions of a popular party that wants to claim someone else’s victory of their own only after the fact. At the same time, the LDP is identified with the assimilation of the unique religious and cultural traditions and dialect of Okinawa into the larger Japanese culture, a trend that concerns many Okinawans. Add to this the ongoing problem of the economy – the main point of discussion about the base in Nago wasn’t about the cultural disruption of the American military, but the economic impact of it – not to mention the ground-level dynamics of the election, something that was a major factor in last week’s result for Brown.

The fact is that this election result was the sum of an array of elements, and not one issue -- you have a complex beast that’s being oversimplified by media from outside the electorate.

Kinda like our own Senate election. One wonders how many frustrated Okinawans today are having words put into their mouths by the Japanese prime minister and the worldwide media, just as is happening here in Massachusetts. Something to keep in mind next time we’re told why an election ended the way it did -- at home or abroad.

PS: Not at all related, but worth passing on; I present to you the most professional newscaster in Australia. That's the danger of using a live feed as a backdrop.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thoughts going into the weekend...

  • The Supreme Court is just making sh-t up with that "Citizens United" decision. I still don't see how money is speech (strange how the Canadian court can declare the exact opposite), or how corporations are persons. Next, the Supreme Court will decide that computers are actually trees. I think corporations should have to serve jury duty.

  • This decision now makes unions more important as far as the left is concerned. I wonder if their input on bills will be accorded more weight. Considering their strong opposition to the middle class tax hike included in the Senate bill, that's another blow to the "pass a crap bill and call it reform" camp.

  • If all this is true, anyone to the left of ExxonMobil's board of directors should be worried that union memberships in the private sector is shrinking -- by 10% this year.

  • The best idea I've seen on health care in the Browned-out Senate is fixing the Senate bill already passed through the 51-vote process of reconciliation. That's smart, and smart is better than desperate.

  • I'm thinking we have a tripartisan system -- Republicans, Senate Democrats, and the rest of the Democrats. This headline is pitch-perfect: "House doesn't trust White House or Senate on health care".

  • I'm not saying it would have changed the result of Coakley-Brown, but I feel that if Chuck Schumer were still head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee rather than nobody Senator Bob Menendez. This doesn't augur well for November.

  • If Republicans are electable in Massachusetts, and Deval has the market cornered on hope...what's left for Cahill? I predict he finishes below 20% on Election Day.

  • With Norfolk County Treasurer Joe Connolly out, Steve Grossman stands unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts treasurer. Of anyone on the November ballot, my vote for him and Barney Frank will likely be the most enthusiastic.

  • Just how out of touch is the Obama White House? Their featured comic at the Correspondants' Dinner is...Jay Leno. As much as a bland comic can tick people off, he's done it. Why not just roll out Tiger Woods for some putting humor?

  • An 84-year-old woman is found alive after 10 days in the Haitian earthquake rubble. In the wake of the calamity, when so many need so much and have so little, at least there is hope.

  • After a half-hour of searching, I've found the text of the law named the "Education Reform Act of 2010" in some reports (PDF). I plan to be reviewing the text over the next few days.

  • In other news, 11 Democrats are teaming up with the hate-driven Massachusetts Family Institute in a Texas-style cramming of religion down the throats of Massachusetts public school students. More on that next week.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This isn't the way to do it

For anyone still agitating that Democrats in the House must vote to push the Senate version to Obama's desk, let me remind them of two consequences:

1. It makes the "Nebraska exception" law. It was embarrassing enough that it was even in a bill (heck, even Senator Nelson was trying to backtrack it) but now the Democrats will write it into the books. This follows us into November and beyond.

2. The law hits people with medium- to high-value health plans with a 40% tax on those plans. Let me repeat this -- people with a good health plan will pay a 40% tax on the value of that. Some of those people are rich, lawyers and stockbrokers, etc. And it is virtually every cop, firefighter, nurse, doctor, and teacher in the country. Five groups that are middle-class and provide enormous union muscle and money to politics (of particular use in the wake of today's Supreme Court decision). If Obama and Pelosi decide that members of those five groups should pay hundreds, if not thousands, more in tax, there will far fewer Democrats on the rolls, at the polls...and in office.

Finally, anyone who still says that placing a new financial burden on the poor ("individual mandate") is synonymous with extending coverage, you're lying to yourself. You may as well just force all Americans to buy a computer, and announce who you've expanded Internet access around the country.

Three years ago, if someone you were asked which political party would force all Americans to buy health insurance from HMOs without a public option, place a huge tax burden that disproportionately affects government workers, and carve out a special exception for Nebraska...would you have said the Democrats? Amazing how people eagerly lower their standards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thoughts on the "day after"

  • First off, everyone step away from the panic button. Just because the Democrats lost this special election doesn't mean that the entire agenda gets junked. Nor does it mean that we slap together a pile of cr-p, call it "health care reform" and pass it before Brown gets there (edit: or pass the crap that is the Senate bill through the House without even thinking). A morass that insists all Americans must funnel cash to a private industry is not going to help any Democrat on the campaign trail this summer and fall. Don't read too many implications into this odd election -- the last law passed in the midst of blind panic was the Patriot Act. Whoops.

  • Politically, it's better to fail spectacularly at Republicans hands than fail incrementally with Democratic help. In policy terms, the best thing is for Reid to grow a pair, as he'll likely lose his re-election anyway. He may as well go out as the Senator who implemented real health care reform after junking the filibuster. Seriously -- if there's a legislative chamber that requires a 60% supermajority on all laws (as the Senate has over the last few years, suddenly) anywhere in the Western world, I've not heard of it. Nuke it.

  • Moving on, there's plenty of blame for this loss to go around. Coakley, having forgotten about people like Weld and Romney, apparently felt that she didn't really need to earn anyone's vote in Massachusetts. Even the greats, Kennedy and Kerry, hustled against Romney and Weld for hard-won victories. She disappeared, and not just around Christmas but for several days in either direction.

  • But it wasn't just her -- if you see your candidate screwing up, you're supposed to do something about it, I thought. There are people whose job it is to tell candidates to get over themselves and hustle for votes, often called the party "elders". They were snoozing as deep as Martha, whether it was the staties in Charlestown or the muckymucks in DC. Would it have killed them all for someone -- someone! -- to take a poll? At the end, Coakley owns the loss because her name was on the ballot, but Democrats who should know better were as complacent as her.

  • Anyway, it's not all the Dems' fault. Brown came up with clever ads, got the help he needed across the state and nation, won every news cycle going away, courted the media smartly, interrupted any Coakley narrative, held his ground in the debates, and worked for the vote. You can be a Democrat with a sucky campaign and win -- just ask John Kerry after his victory over Beatty. Coakley gave Brown oxygen, and he used it in a way that connected with the electorate. Any Democrat who denies this is going to be caught unprepared as well.

  • The electorate didn't change its mind from 2008...the electorate itself changed. People who would have helped Coakley in a regular election didn't vote -- turnout was under 40% in major cities. This gives me hope for 2012, but expecting the Democratic base to show up without being told why is a fool's game, as we saw last night. This to me is the grand lesson about preparing for November, and how to handle the agenda going forward.

  • As to who takes on Brown in 2012, we'll have to wait and see. Here's what I expect: census indicates that some Congressperson must lose his/her seat. After some semi-public negotiation, one of them announces a run for Senate, and allows his/her seat to be re-districted out of existence out from under him/her.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Talk about the issues, Coakley

"How did it end up this close?" will be a question studied by academics and "pundits" for ages. There is no earthly reason that the typically measured electorate of Massachusetts would even be considering Scott Brown as Senatorial material, yet he's tied, perhaps leading, in the polls for Tuesday's election. So what's happening?

My answer is that the electorate of Massachusetts isn't considering Scott Brown as Senatorial material. They're not thinking of Coakley and Brown as possible Senators, but as celebrities.

Brown has masterfully guided this raise from any semblance of the issues, with a narrative-hungry media playing accomplice. When I call voters, they're not talking about health care, torture, or foreign policy. They're talking about the "negative tone" of the campaign and "it's the people's seat". This is a conversation where Brown has a shot, especially with his excellence at playing victim, and sending out his daughters to do the same. He's moved the question from who do you want doing the work of a Senator to who do you want to be Senator. It's a fine difference, but it allows him to move the conversation from the issues (where he loses) to random crap (where he does well). It may seem crazy, but George W Bush turned this strategy into two electoral victories.

The media, of course, has joined in, shelling Coakley with questions about the "negativity" of her campaign -- heaven forbid anyone point out what a nut Brown is -- and focusing on process stories. Unfortunately, bringing in Clinton and Obama makes it look that Coakley is playing down to Brown's level, hoping to borrow some charisma against his. Answering these silly questions rather that insisting that we talk about foreign policy or health care is a disastrous move. The race starting getting wobbly when the issues took a back-seat. The fact that Brown is too cheap and cruel to pitch in on his own employees' health care isn't as important as the fact that Coakley supports a regime where those employees don't have to rely on the goodwill of their bosses for affordable health-care. The fact that Brown breaks military policy by posing in his uniform for campaign materials isn't as important as the fact that Coakley supports a policy where the military isn't risking soldiers' lives by carrying out a dead-end mission in Afghanistan.

I personally find that the most effective thing in talking to voters is to stick to the issues. The message you send with your vote will be received that day. The consequences of your vote last two years. What consequences do you want?

Placing any limits on US government use of tortureYesNo
Women's medical needs override personal beliefs of doctorsYesNo
Returning tax rates of the rich to Reagan/JFK-era levelsYesNo
Expanding health care coverage of AmericansYesNo
Respecting entirety of Roe v WadeYesNo
Preserving equality in marriageYesNo

The values of Attorney General Coakley are the values of the people of Massachusetts. This is the reality that Brown is trying to drown out with noise about his pickup truck and tender feelings. This is the reality that must be hammered home over the next 48 hours, top to bottom.

PS: Future studies of "what happened" would also do well to examine the decision to keep the Mass. Legislature in session over this period to discuss attempts to throttle labor rights in connection with Deval's education bill. Had all these folks been organizing, instead of defending the idea that contracts should be enforceable by law, how would things have gone differently?

Friday, January 15, 2010

I make the National Review!

For all the wrong reasons, of course. The Scott Brown subpage at National Review picked up my last post here (via BMG) as "When Massachusetts Democrats stop being polite and start getting real". My biggest exposure since DailyKos picked up on a sarcastic remark I made almost exactly one year ago. I guess I do my best writing in January.

I was pleased that the writer understood the tone I was attempting, although he indicated so with a dated cultural reference. Naturally, National Review was mendacious about what I said, claiming (without any supporting links) that the agenda promoted by Brown was prevailing public opinion. Of course, polling is against the excise tax on good health care plans and oppose the War in Iraq and believe we've done all we can there. But who reads NR for the truth.

The best part, of course, is in the last line. Unwilling to give anyone else the last word, the post ends with an attempt at flippancy:

With this kind of support for Coakely, who needs negative ads?

A tip to this guy: it's tough to condescend if you can't spell a candidate's name right.

PS: Andrew Sullivan quotes my title, too. This should be my last blog post...I'm peaking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Suck it up: Vote Coakley

Let's get this out of the way. You might not want to vote for Martha Coakley. You might think she deserves what's she's getting after an absentee, self-satisfied campaign (why should I bail her out?). You likely want to send a message to everyone from the attorney general all the way to every Democratic official in Washington, DC. Odds are you didn't vote for her in the primary. And, you might be wondering if it'll make a difference who wins this Tuesday.

You got every reason to be pissed, but it needs to be clear: not voting for Coakley is the same as voting for Brown. And voting for Brown is a very, very bad thing.
sabutai :: Yes it sucks. Yes you have to vote Coakley.
Pissed? Me, too. Not just because I supported Mike Capuano. I'm frankly pissed about Washington, DC. Things are going very wrong -- President Obama was absent from the process as the public option was killed, and would rather tax public servants in the middle class with so-called "Cadillac health insurance" then ask the wealthy to pay their fair share. Health care reform is heading toward a route where more money comes from the middle class, with about half going to people who need health care, and half going to the insurance companies. Oh, and Guantanamo is still open while American soldiers walk the streets in Baghdad and Kabul. Remember Employee Free Choice? Meanwhile, Harry Reid races to catch Ben Nelson's and Joe Lieberman's farts on Capitol Hill.

But I don't think Senator Coakley wants to torture people, give the obscenely rich a tax refund, or tell a rape victim to hospital-shop until she can find the care she needs. Senator Brown does. And the right-wing, desperate to believe it's been forgotten how they ruthlessly dimmed America's power and pride over the last eight years, is pouring as much corporate money as possible onto our airwaves. Disciples of failure are already slavering over bullrushing one of their own into the Senate.

So suck it up and vote Coakley on Tuesday. If you stay home on Tuesday, and a smirking Jim DeMint puts his arm around Senator Brown next month, will you feel good about yourself? Will you take pride in your "message" when Tom Coburn assigns Scott Brown the task of maintaining the filibuster on any health care reform? When you see Scott Brown publicly wetting his pants over terrorists getting American justice, or the latest moron who fails in an inept plan to hurt our country, will you think "Yep, I'm the reason he's there to embarrass Massachusetts on the Senate floor."

I think some folks are already getting a message. The mortal scare the DC Dems are feeling this week about the voters of Massachusetts -- Massachusetts! -- considering walking away. They can read polls, and they realize what they've wrought. Maybe Reid, Nelson, heck even Obama needs a primary next time around, I don't know.

But nowhere on the ballot will be an option to send a message to DC. Your and my only choice is to send a Senator. And that Senator should be Martha Coakley.

(cross-posted on Blue Mass Group)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Collection of thoughts....

  • It sure is strange to read high-profile blog posts and receive nationwide blast emails asking for help to move the vote in Massachusetts. After a lifetime of being taken for granted by American Democrats, it is a bit odd to be the receiver, not driver, of help. I'm not saying I want to be New Hampshire, where presidential candidates offer to scratch my a-- every day for two months, but it is nice.

  • Fact is, though, Coakley's a rotten candidate. After accepting the primary victory, she (and her team) seem to have gone into hiding. I've gotten zero mail from her, and nothing on the phone. Then again, it says something for these high-charging political consultants that my cell number has been my sole number for over 5 years, and nobody in the political universe has gotten their hands on it yet.

  • Obama lied to me. After promising not raise taxes on any family making under $250,000 Obama is backing a plan that would entail a tax hike. Obama backs a plan that would put a 40% excise tax on "Cadillac health care plans". My health care plan somehow qualifies, and my family makes less than a fifth of this $250,000 limit. Then again, my mistake must be in choosing public service that offers decent benefits to compensate for the low pay rate of qualified workers. I'd have been better off as one of those investment bankers who receive tender care from Obama.

  • It's crap like that that's leaving Coakley on the ropes. That, and the whole not-campaigning thing.

  • A local bank has come up with a cutesy campaign urging people to have a "game plan" for their retirement. The cutesy poster is accompanied by the traditional "x and o" format of a football play. Unfortunately for these geniuses, anyone the least bit versed in football recognizes the play as a Hail Mary -- the long-shot play you uncork only in desperate circumstances. Doesn't anyone in the banking world play Madden?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What does it take?

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester just won't give up. You likely recall that Chester was the recipient of the infamous email wherein Secretary of Education Paul Reville urged his underling to approve an inadequate school because a refusal would:

cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation

With Reville and Chester shoving their weight around, the application to open this charter school was approved. But playing Massachusetts education as their political plaything would come to undermine them. Upon request, the Massachusetts Inspector General reviewed the situation and agreed with the obvious, reporting that the school should never have been approved:

the process used in approving the GCACS charter was procedurally defective...granting of the charter was without authority of law

Wihtout Chester's obstinancy, however, we'd perhaps not have learned that his incompetence extended into a "Big Jim Rennie" style of skullduggery:

DESE and CSO officials apparently implemented a policy of disposing of virtually all documents containing the written records of individual DESE and CSO evaluators in determining whether the GCACS charter school application had met the criteria of the final charter school application; and 3) The OIG finds that DESE was not fully responsive to document requests made by the OIG and by legislators for records of DESE and CSO evaluators in determining whether the GCACS charter school application had met the criteria of the final charter school application.

So an illegal decision was made after quite possibly shredding key documents to prevent review, and efforts at oversight were given a stiff-arm. A hands-on executive would have dispatched Chester and Reville long ago. But Deval Patrick is a guy who stood by people like Dan Grabauskas and Jim Aloisi beyond belief. Hopefully, continuing pressure on the governor will convince him to engage in leadership and enact accountability among his allies/appointees. You'd think he'd with the others (and Marian Walsh), this corruption will not die out as a Republican State Senate leader Tisei is calling on Chester to step down.

Shredded documents...contravening the law...currying media favor for the boss...all in service of the private sector to the decrement of the public sector. Even Governor Patrick admits this charter venture is a loser, and has done a 180 by coming out against the charter. As for Mr. Chester, he said on Thursday that:

I recognize that the controversy surrounding [the charter school], whether grounded in truth or not, has created a negative perception of our process.

Oh, he does admit that there may be lessons to be learned in this episode. Tinpot bureaucrat dictators are always happy to learn lessons...when they get caught.

If Chester still has a job on January 31st, Paul Reville should be gone on February 1st.

If Paul Reville and Mitchell Chester both have jobs on February 28th, we can ask if Deval Patrick should continue in his.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Deval-bama turns into Monty Hall

With some Priceline thrown in.

I've explained elsewhere and in-depth my concern about President Obama's power grab on education. He's chosen to continue (and amplify) President Bush's attempt to accrue power to the presidency on education by trying to re-write policy with federal money that forms a tiny portion of education budgets.

Well, it's more nakedly ambitious than I expected. It's more like "Let's Make a Deal!" If a town promises to enter a certain program, they'll get an estimated amount of money (hopefully with more accuracy than the vanished funds once promised under No Child Left Behind), then be locked into an unrevealed set of requirements. See, Deval Patrick is loyally flogging public education districts around the state to sign up for Obama's "Race to the Top" program, wherein towns across the country compete to earn their tax money by most closely appealing to Obama's ideas about what public education should be. Well, Patrick's education department has announced that towns hoping to snare some of this bribe money must send an application to Boston within two weeks. In about a month, Obama will reveal the requirements of the program, and shortly thereafter Governor Patrick will reveal what towns have to do now that they've been chosen for the program.

This is worse than "Let's Make a Deal!". On the game show, you would win something, even if it were 50 pounds of cabbage. On Monty Deval-bama's program, you could win a bill and nothing more. It's kind of like Priceline, actually -- bid for something you're told is valuable, and hope that after you've sent in something of value you won't get shafted.

Deval is expecting Massachusetts towns to lock themselves into a program that promises an undetermined amount of funds in return for an unannounced set of requirements. For instance, a town could receive $100,000 in exchange for the requirement that it hold longer school days -- a move with uncertain research results that would likely cost that district more than $100,000 to implement. If the people of the town, represented through their duly elected school committee, don't want that it's too bad for them. If Obama decides that he wants 200-day school years, regardless of what the people of the various towns want, regardless that such a move won't cover the dollars he's shoveling out of his treasury, too bad. Of course, the hope is that if Deval waves money around in front of the taxpayers of various towns and cities with his right hand, they won't see what Deval is taking away with his right. Anyone who objects is interfering with education progress and sticking the townspeople with the bill.

In the end, though, Race to the Top ends with the town getting screwed, Deval getting a put on the back for pushing this through and Obama getting to push an agenda he can't get through Congress or the local School Committee.

It's Monty Hall meets Priceline. It ain't progressive education policy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I'll admit that my blogging pace was trailed off over the holidays. When "real life" returns in a couple of days, the usual pace should return. But as for now, two stories about political uselessness is Massachusetts.

Nate Silver finds that Stephen Lynch is the least valuable Democrat in the northeast. In his words:

On the other end of the spectrum are a handful of Democrats who have negative scores. They vote with their party less often than a generic congressman from their district would, even without guaranteeing that the generic congressman is a Democrat. In other words, these are people who potentially deserve a primary challenge -- on average, dumping them would leave the Democrats better off, even if there's some chance that they'd be replaced by a Republican.

According to Silver's fancy-pants statistical analysis, Lynch ranks at 247th most valuable Democrat in the House (out of 258). The second-worst offender from the northeast? Massachusetts congressman Stephen Neal.

The Massachusetts Inspector General finds that "the 2008/2009 charter school application and approval process administered by BESE and DESE ended in the granting of a charter to [the controversial Gloucester Charter] GCACS in violation of the provisions of law, regulation, and procedure." This was a complete clustermug mismanaged by Paul Reville in service of Governor Patrick's poll numbers...with absolutely no foreseeable consequences to his career. Hopefully Reville will deny the charter, but his disregard and ignorance of government means that I will wait until it actually happens.