Saturday, February 28, 2009

Richard, come here, we need you

I would take a second to note that Richard Dawkins, one of our least apologetic atheists, is going on a speaking tour this spring, and coming to North America. If you check out his schedule, he is going to Omaha and Norman, Oklahoma, a town whose existence was until a minute ago unknown to me. So he's hitting the troglodyte belt, but is he coming to the northeast? Noooooo.

I'm all for spreading the word and turning back to lies, but why not spend a night among people eager to hear your thoughts?

PS: To show you how godlike this man is, he will apparently be in California and Oklahoma simultaneously. Apparently he's trying to horn in on God's "omnipresence" gambit.

PPS: Is Al Franken going to be seated in his Senate seat in his lifetime? What's to keep the GOP from pulling this crap no matter the margin of a Democratic victor? They could delay the seating of a dozen members this way...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Dying newspapers...

I've grabbed this from the website of the late Rocky Mountain News. A sad look at the death of a newspaper older than the state of Kansas:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Along with the news that Seattle and Philadelphia mainstays are on the ropes, ya gotta wonder what the future is for newspapers.

Lest you think I just complain...

I mentioned earlier my approval of President Obama's challenge to parents' being accountable. Something I wouldn't mind seeing and hearing from our leaders more often.

Anyway, in the comments on that post, Charley on the MTA asked "So what's the approach for those places that tend to have dicey or inconsistent parental/guardian involvement?" When I reached paragraph four of my response comment, I decided to just put it in a new post.

I desperately want solutions to some of the challenges faced by American students who lack adequate familial supervision, and valuing of education. From what I can see broadly, there are four ways to try to increase that supervision of children, and there aren't so many awesome choices here. In ascending order of plausibility, they are:

A - Demand true parental accountability.
B - Do nothing.
C - Encourage private society to take over familial roles.
D - Have government take over familial roles.

A - Demand true parental accountability. By true parental accountability, I mean that the government expects a lot more of parents than currently. Frankly, unless you regularly and savagely beat your child, the government is pretty much okay with what you do as a parent. Since DSS is so overstretched and underfunded, it takes a lot to face consequences for poor parenting. Telling the child that s/he isn't that smart and high school, much less college, is a waste of time for someone so stupid, isn't going to get the government involved. But it does deliver a body blow to that child's future.

Thus, putting in a regime of true accountability for parents would be expensive as heck to do. Furthermore, what are the consequences for not living up to standard? The current practice of taking away children to put in foster care has an uneven record, shall we say, and stricter accountability implies a willingness to follow-up, probably in more cases. How would the parents be treated, and what would happen to the children? Parental education classes that would be of value, administered before or after birth, would be rather expensive. We're talking more bureaucracy and more money to enter into a very messy discussion of intervention v. parental rights. So we head off to...

B - Do nothing. This is our current overall course of action. Broad change will cost money and require enormous political capital to conceive and implement. It also falls quickly afoul of a parent's rights to raise children as s/he sees fit. So for the most part, nothing is done for these children other than holding out hope that a cleric, teacher, or other adult figure will help a child in ways that his/her family is not. In that case we make a movie or write a book about them, and ignore the 10 children in similar situations who aren't so lucky.

C - Encourage private society to take over familial roles. Here, we are talking the idea that children are raised outside of families and government. I think a whole spectrum from Big Brother/Big Sister to private boarding schools. As with the other choices, the question becomes "where do the resources come from?" There are far more children who need help than there is currently the ability of the non-profit sector to serve. The greatest chance, and something not uncommon in the South, is for churches to fill this role. Given the declining religiosity of the country, however, as well as the everpresent church-state question, I'm not sure how well that would work out.

The non-government sector always has and always will play a big part in improving American society. I'm not a liberal who thinks that government is the solution to everything. However, government has the greatest raw ability to effect widespread change, and given this is a widespread issue, the private nonprofit sector clearly would need help.

D - Have government take over familial roles. Insofar as we advance beyond doing nothing, this is the most likely course of action. Government is a hyper-nonprofit in many ways, and can do things the private nonprofit sector can't. And given the queasiness implicit in more strictly monitoring what parents do, it seems most likely that government will be called in to fill in the gaps.

This is already happening in many subtle ways. Some familial duties are being moved into schools. Schools, in the guise of health class and counseling, increasingly offer guidance on decision-making, morals, personal care, peer relations, and a host of things that were formerly learned at home. Students are reminded that when they enter puberty, deodorant would be a good thing. They go through role-playing exercises on diffusing conflict without entering into violence. Somehow, I doubt this was common 50 years ago.

"Lunch bunches," "check-ins," and "inner circles" are all programs put into place at different age levels whereby school personnel monitor the non-educational portion of a child's life. Questions about parents, relationships, peers, frustrations, all come out at this point. It is amazing the spectrum of problems that teachers end up working with kids on, everything from handling the parents' divorce to what to do when your crush doesn't like you back. Often without the formal training in counseling.

Another approach that is gaining popularity is frankly to decrease the time children spend under the (non-)care of their families, and increase the time children spend under school care. This is the core point of extended-day programs. An extra two hours in schools (hopefully doing enrichment) is two hours less with poor or no supervision.

Not that this is all about schools. My prediction for years has been a merging and streamlining of DYS, DSS, and the Department of Education -- whatever Deval has now named those divisions. Call it a "Department of Children" where the people who ensure that the child is fed are in regular contact with school personnel, who are often the people who spend the most time with a child.

Frankly, (D) seems in some ways Orwellian, a shade lighter than the shadow of omnipresence implied by (A). At the same time, much of this is age-old -- teachers have been counseling their students for centuries (millenia, counting Socrates' example). The scale of the problem may be increasing, and I wonder for how long we will continue this ad hoc system of government intervention, and if somewhere somebody will try a wholesale reform, reactions be damned.

That is an honest answer to a question, but I don't mean to seem all gloom-and-doom. There are plenty of role models out there who help kids without the need for some program. It just often seems that more and more kids are slipping through the cracks, and the cracks are becoming wider. Lest I get too dark, though, I offer the following quotation:

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.”

The source? Socrates -- over 2000 years ago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In case you missed it...

From the President's speech last night:

In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child.

I speak to you not just as a president, but as a father, when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home. That is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. That's an American issue.

On one hand, it distresses this automatic and outmoded belief that parents supervise a child's education. These days, it's so often the aunt/uncle or grandmother/grandfather. Referring to a students "parents" is a risk.

That nitpick aside, it's nice to hear Obama refer to this reality. He is entirely right. Mind you, as students age, they take a greater share of responsibility for their actions. But the choices that are made are so often rooted in the values that he or she home. And a value doesn't just mean "what is right" but also "what is important". Raising a child to value and pursue his or her own education is the single most powerful advantage he or she can have for the future, and any education system only serves to maximive, foster, and guard that drive.

Heck, Switch the staff of Newton's and New Bedford's schools, you're not going to see the almighty test scores change that much. One school system enjoys great support at home, the other works with uneven backup. That is the difference. And despite the stomping and crying, that is the hidden pillar of charter schools -- they service families who take that extra step of applying to enter, and families who ensure that student isn't sent back.

Mind you, I don't imagine we'll ever see "parental accountability" fetishized the way we've seen "teacher accountability", but at least the president is sending an important message. Let's hope the citizenry listens.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I called it!

One of many sources reporting on the next Commerce Secretary nominee:

After two withdrawn nominations to head the Commerce Dept., President Obama appears poised to take a third swing, naming former Washington Governor Gary Locke, who has a reputation as a wonkish, bland straight-shooter.

And this was me, a whole three weeks ago:

I don't really see how Gregg is such a great selection for Commerce Secretary -- what about Gary Locke? -- but the idea that the GOP was going to give up their party-line filibuster so easily was never in the cards.

And again on February 12:

Rather than detouring the careers of future Senators such as Kathleen Sebelius, I'd suggest that we use talented Democrats who are not in elected office right now [er, five other people, then]...retired Washington Governor (and one-time wave of the future) Gary Locke...

What now?

Education Platform Review on March 5th

With much help, the ruminated Massachusetts Democratic Party platform committee meeting on education will be held. I'm pleased to say that this appears to be the only policy-specific meeting on tap for this process. Details:

Thursday, March 5th.
Starting at 7pm
The Paraclete Foundation
207 E Street, South Boston
(Broadway T stop)

I'm hoping to have available a copy or two of the "Readiness Report"as well as the education plank of the Democratic Party platform. We have a facility that should handle a fair number of people, but I would very much appreciate it if people would let me know they're coming so I can plan for the crowd size.

Please RSVP at or in the comments to this post. We should have a healthy agenda and discussion (ahem *charters* ahem) and the ability to collect any submissions through audio-to-text or perhaps video format.

If anybody wants to email me documented submissions to forward to the party, I will do that as well.

More news and ideas as they come to me. Please tip me off with any advice or questions...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Curious Giving of Charlie Baker

I can't help finding Massachusetts Republicans fascinating, I really can't. So more on them. Charlie Baker is returning to his Desk of Indecision as talk opens up about the 2010 race for governor. There is a "Draft Charlie" website, with Facebook and Twitter -- but no donation link yet. Massachusetts Liberal is impressed:

Charlie Baker is the real deal. He served as secretary of health and human services and administration and finance under Bill Weld. In the private sector, he delivered Harvard Pilgrim from receivership.

Unlike the past four Republican governors he has the street cred when it comes to knowing how to run a bureaucracy and a business (and knowing where the bodies are buried). He knows how to blog. He also has a commitment to making it in Massachusetts.

Of course, Baker is only a danger if he enters the race. he already hemmed and hawed his way through much of 2005 before declining a run in 2006. While Baker is considering it again, he really has to enter the race unless he wants to become Massachusetts' version of Richard Blumenthal. Short of a vicious primary battle between Deval and Tim Cahill, I don't see how Baker wins.

Anyway, one of my first stops on the "get-to-know-the-candidate" tour is the OCPF and FEC databases. Here is what I found -- since the beginning of 2006, Baker has put about $60,000 of his dollars into Republican campaigns around the country -- and less than one-sixth of it is going toward local Republicans:

The spending is sporadic with only a couple in-state donations throughout all of 2007, and not coming close to what Baker can afford to give. If one breaks down Baker's state- and federal-level donations in 2008, this is what one sees:
GOP candidates outside Mass: $12,300
Mass. GOP candidates/PACs for US Congress:$7,500
Mass. GOP State Sen/Rep with no challenger: $1,700
Mass. GOP State Sen/Rep with Dem challenger: $900
Mass. GOP Challengers for State House: $750
Other (PACs, other offices): $800
Total donations in 2008: $23,950

What really jumps out at me is the second line. Talk about pissing money away. The Mass. GOP is on life support, and why a possible knight-in-armor is blowing his donations on wild goose chases rather than the hard and vital work of getting people into office is beyond me. He spends more on State House incumbents than on GOP challengers! Spending that will improve fortunes for Massachusetts Republicans clearly isn't high on the list of Baker's priorities.

Of the couple dozen Republicans who in 2008 sought to take an open or Democratic seat in the State House, Baker supported...three. In other words, he invested more in unopposed incumbents than in Republicans trying to grow the party. Baker has invested a titanic amount in the hilarious and incompetent Republican attempts to win a Congressional seat.

I don't know what Republicans want. I wouldn't be surprised to see them invest their dreams in a man who is spending money on every possible function of the Republican party other than a realistic attempt to revive itself. But it is kind of an odd thing, ain't it?

Below are the results of OCPF (Massachusetts) and FEC (federal) contribution reports on Charlie Baker:


3/9/2006 Republican State Committee, MA $65.00
3/28/2006 Jones Jr., Bradley H. $200.00
4/22/2006 Knapik, Michael R. $300.00
4/22/2006 Peterson Jr., George N. $300.00
4/27/2006 Smola, Todd $300.00
6/9/2006 Barrows, Fred J. $250.00
8/30/2006 Hillman, Reed V. $500.00
9/1/2006 MA Republican House PAC $500.00
9/19/2006 Healey, Kerry Murphy $500.00
9/25/2006 Republican State Committee, MA $2,500.00
10/21/2006 Lees, Brian $250.00
10/25/2006 Villamaino III, Enrico John $200.00
2006 total: $5,865.00

3/6/2007 Tisei, Richard R. $300.00
5/5/2007 Knapik, Michael R. $200.00
2007 total: $500.00

1/11/2008 Tarr, Bruce $300.00 Unopposed Incumbent for State Senate
2/28/2008 Blaisdell , John $500.00 Challenger to Dem Incumbent
3/20/2008 MA Republican House PAC $300.00 PAC
5/22/2008 Bennett, Doug $500.00 Candidate for City Council
6/18/2008 Brown, Scott P. $300.00 Incumbent Senator, Dem Challenger
7/31/2008 Lees, Brian $200.00 Unopposed Incumbent for State Senate
8/2/2008 Peterson Jr., George N. $300.00 Unopposed Incumbent for State Rep
8/7/2008 Barrows, Fred J. $300.00 Incumbent Rep, Dem Challenger
8/26/2008 Jones Jr., Bradley H. $300.00 Incumbent Rep, Dem Challenger
8/28/2008 Smola, Todd $300.00 Incumbent GOP State Rep, unopposed
10/9/2008 Pope, Susan W. $250.00 GOP challenger to Dem incumbent state rep
2008 total: $3,550




06/08/2006 1000.00 26950355755

08/29/2006 2500.00 26940339415

09/25/2006 -2500.00 26950657214

12/19/2006 1000.00 27940116945

02/27/2007 3000.00 27930342695

02/04/2008 3000.00 28990592040

11/04/2008 2000.00 28993358959



06/12/2006 500.00 26930408529



10/07/2008 500.00 28992932379



09/11/2008 1000.00 28020510075



02/08/2006 500.00 28930066850



06/08/2008 1000.00 28932181972


08/27/2007 1000.00 27931292333



10/09/2008 500.00 28020700483



05/16/2008 2000.00 28020352865



06/02/2006 500.00 26020491203



03/19/2008 1000.00 28020153158

09/21/2008 2300.00 28020520745



10/02/2008 2000.00 28020730435



05/22/2008 2000.00 28991300300

Total Contributions: 24800.00

Sunday, February 15, 2009

26 days

As I write this, we are moving into the 27th day of the Obama Administration. It has not been the best 26 days, this is true...stimulus...Judd Gregg...Susan Collins...renditions... Tom Daschle...Bill Richardson...

Yeah, not that great. Generally a mixture of incomplete vetting and faux "moderates" in the Republican Party. I'm not of the school that is whining for everyone to shut up and "let Obama lead", but I can't get too worked up over these mistakes for two reasons: 1, it's the rookie stuff we all should have expected, and 2, it may be toward a larger end.

First of all, Obama is not a little inexperienced for a president -- he just moved to DC about 4 years ago. He essentially moved out to the campaign trail about 18 months ago, so he's going to make some rookie mistakes, the same way that his understudy Deval Patrick pretty much blew the first few months of his tenure as governor (remember the poorly chosen phone calls, and the lavish Inauguration? Remember Deval praying with anti-homosexual bigots the morning of?) I'm willing to wait for Obama to settle into his new job.

However, one thing that I don't think is a rookie mistake is this continuing outreach to Republicans. Yes, it drives me crazy. But see the whole board, here -- Obama is concretely proving how little interest Republicans have in the success of the federal government in improving the lives on Americans. He can only do this one way -- by putting Republicans in place where they choose between working with him or clearly, undeniably demonstrating their hostility to the very idea of any success for America. Unfortunately, this means that President Obama has to let these Republicans spurn him -- having them refuse to meet, refuse to vote, refuse to negotiate, refuse to compromise, refuse to talk.

After four or five anguishing months of outreach, Obama will have every justification to work solely with Democrats. If President Obama conferences with Republican "thinkers", and gets nothing out of it, if Republicans continue to promise to vote down legislation before they even see it, his case will be made. If they can't hide behind the idea "we were never asked" or "we never had a chance to talk", they're out of excuses.

Then Obama can make his case to America. He can demonstrate on issues X, Y, Z, bills A, B, C, that Republicans had the opportunity to help, to compromise, and simply said no. Hence, Obama had no choice to work solely with Democrats, and furthermore our best chance of accomplishing anything is to add more Democrats -- Senator Hodes (NH) and Senator Murphy (PA) , for instance. Yes, political savants realize this already, but it has to be made starkly obvious.

It's been a frustrating 26 days, but if it provides crystal clear basis for a truly, unashamedly Democratic administration for the next 20 months, the next 44 months, then it's worth it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

You may find this funny

Disclaimer: This is a news report about Molly Bish, the case of the young girl who went missing several years ago. It's a sad story, and there is much sympathy from all of us for their family.

However, this Massachusetts station pulled a doozy of a mistake in their coverage of a new lead. I will admit that nothing on YouTube has made me laugh this hard for months....

It's one thing to put in a photo of a hamster, but the hamster is apparently directing a movie. What filing system do these people use where the two images are so easily confused? It's like the opening scene of a movie about a hapless techgeek who is really meant to be a poet or something, but still romances the hot anchor. (H/T)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What made Gregg go away?

So, Judd Gregg is out. Out of consideration as commerce secretary, because he apparently hadn't realized that President Obama was going to push Democratic ideas. Oddly, though, he has immediately ruled out running for re-election despite a rather healthy campaign balance approaching $900,000. This makes the Secretaryship seem to be a failed attempt at a retirement plan.

I wonder why Gregg is so shy about running for re-election. It seems a bit early to give up, especially with a a campaign account 15 times that of challenger Paul Hodes. It would be an off-year election under a Democratic president, and it certainly doesn't look as if the economy will improve anytime soon. So we can eliminate that Gregg was convinced that he was going to lose -- it's too early to tell, and this race was a toss-up at best right now. We can eliminate that Gregg wanted to get away from the DC game, considering that he was lobbying (intensely, if we can believe Obama's people) to stay in DC. So there's something out there that doesn't add up. Maybe Gregg like being powerful, but doesn't like being answerable to the electorate. Maybe he had some polling that showed him getting killed. Maybe his links to Abramoff are deeper than currently known. Whatever the cause, the Senate will probably be a better place in 2011 because of this decision.

As for the next person to take on the Curs├Ęd Secretaryship, I'd like to suggest that we nominate a Democrat. Crazy, I know. And again, rather than detouring the careers of future Senators such as Kathleen Sebilius, I'd suggest that we use talented Democrats who are not in elected office right now. I've kindly supplied a list of Democrats who lost office from 2008 to 2009, be it by choice or not. Best stuff in bold:

  • Nick Lampson: A Texas (read Southern) Democrat who got screwed by Tom DeLay's redistricting putsch. Give this man a job.
  • Tom Allen: A Maine Congressman who gave up his seat to try to take out Fauxmoderate Susan Collins, but failed. Give this man a job.
  • Albert Wynn (D-MD)...a corporate Democrat, but still a Democrat. It's awfully close to the effect of appointing a Republican.
  • Nancy Boyda (D-KS)...a people-powered candidate who won in a red district, but could not keep fighting the nature of her constituents.

In addition to retired yet great Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, retired Washington Governor (and one-time wave of the future) Gary Locke, and former DNC Chair Howard Dean, there are four more candidates that don't involve crippling the Democratic bench. Have at it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mass. Dems Platform Meeting on Education?

In what seems to be a good idea, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is allowing pretty much anyone to hold a meeting to help contribute to the process of examining the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform. One just has to notify the party and hold the meeting within the window of Feb. 11 to March 29. According to this BMG Diary, notes from the hearings can be forwarded to the Democratic State Committee for consideration before the platform is presented to the convention. Furthermore, John Walsh said he was okay with hearings centered on a region, or an issue at a recent Democratic event.

While I am not sure how much impact a platform hearing could have, I imagine it would be more impact than none. Personally, I think a casino/gambling platform meeting would be a good idea, but I am more interested in a meeting on education.

The state platform on education can be found here, and a brief summary breaks down very roughly as:

* Keep improving schools on model of the Education Reform Act of 1993.
* Funding education is more important than cutting taxes
* No money/vouchers for private or religious schools
* Challenging standards, accountable teachers. Graduation should not be based wholely on passing MCAS
* Do what it takes to get good teachers.
* No discrimination in education. Yes to bilingual education
* Universal pre-k
* Afterschool and summer programs are good.

I'll note that there isn't much here about public charter schools, or the NCLB/federal regime. There is nothing on gifted and talented schools either. While these are priorities to me, they aren't to everyone. I'm not trying to make this out as "the agenda", but those are two absences that jumped out at me.

While I wouldn't be surprised if teachers' unions or Deval's "Readiness reps" seek to convene a meeting along their narrow interests, I am writing this to elicit support for an early-March platform meeting on education to be held in metro Boston, probably in a restaurant of public library on a weekday night. Please let me know (in the comments of via email -- ) if you would be interested in attending and/or helping organize.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Short musings

I think 90% of Twitter is pretty stupid. It's like miniature blogging, and 20 years from now will be the reason nobody has face-to-face conversations anymore. the other 10% is due to people like kick-butt Senator Claire McCaskill.

My understanding is that in any union shop, it's far from easy to get fired. But the only industry where people seem to feel that is a problem is in education. When the Big Dig collapsed, I heard nothing about the idea that it was due to incompetent construction workers protected by seniority. Funny how it's only teachers' unions where seniority apparently has nasty side effects.

Israel is voting on Tuesday. This great in-depth questionnaire tells you which party you seem closest to on the Israeli scale. I'm a Laborite (no surprise there!), but I'd be happy if anyone other than Benyamin "Blow It All Up" Netanyahu wins. Kadima and Tzipi Livni seem to have assembled some last-minute momentum so here's hoping.

Someday I'd like to read an explanation why Tom Allen never really got any purchase in his race against Susan Collins. Now I gotta hear about her for the next six years, dithering on all manner of issues.

Why do I think that bloggers are going to slowly kill off the word "failure", in t same vein that "hatred" was cut off? Invest the time in the second syllable, guys.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obama delivers on his promise

Lost amid the tug-of-war over the stimulus bill, and the ongoing process of building a Cabinet, Barack Obama announced his opening/continuance of the "Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships". One key passage from The American Prospect:

He is authorizing the office's director, Joshua DuBois, to work "through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues." This means that the controversial Bush-era executive orders permitting direct funding of houses of worship and religion-based employment discrimination will remain in place indefinitely. "Giving the same, flawed program a new name and new personnel is not the change we need,” said Ron Millar, acting director of the Secular Coalition for America. “Not another taxpayer dollar should be spent until all the constitutional and civil rights concerns are addressed."

Joel Hunter and Jim Wallis are big parts of this function. These guys are "moderates" because they advocate the destruction of the separation of church and state without yelling. On issues such as state funding of religion and abortion policies, they are to the left of Sarah Palin, and to the right of the directives of the Constitution, much less the platform of the Democratic Party.

Hopefully when Obama is no longer a political figure, we will learn the sources of his antipathy toward the separation of church and state, and toward Howard Dean.

PS: In this thread over at BMG, I objected to the rule some people are applying that anti-LGBT bigotry should be an apparently essential question in any conversation. I noted that I don't talk about discrimination against atheists as much, which other took to mean that I didn't have a point. All this to say, maybe I should talk about s--t like this teacher being fired due to accusations of atheism more often:

On January 16th, I was called to Mr. Richard Turner's office (my principal), and he informed me that I had been put on administrative leave with pay. The reasons, as stated to me by Mr. Turner at the time, were that I was accused of being an atheist and teaching atheism in the classroom, and I was too liberal...I later had conversations with parents and a person who lives in the community, who informed me that the principal had met with the minister of the local church and had discussed my suspension with him. I also later received information from REDACTED,a "SCHOOL EMPLOYEE-POSITION REDACTED", that the minister was now subbing...

Friday, February 6, 2009

True Bipartisanship: Reagan's Corpse for HHS Chair

Still smarting off his continuing repudiation by enormously powerful Republicans, we must ask ourselves, is Obama being sufficiently bipartisan? While some bloggers and other know-nothings continually scream for President-by-Grace-of-Republicans Barack Obama to act as if he resoundingly won the 2008 election, that's not the route to go.

Packing his Cabinet with Republicans is not sufficiently bipartisan. Republicans deserve more than three chairs around the table. They deserve more than the evisceration of the stimulus bill to suit GOP codewords...more than simply larding it up with tax cuts and cutting out reproductive health. It is not enough to simply enlargen and deepen George W. Bush's government-religion office. We need true bipartisanship.

With the vacancy in the position of Health and Human Services, this is truly a chance. A few dead-enders are touting remorselessly partisan, if successful, doctor and politician Howard Dean. Wrong -- partisanship is so 20th century. Some visionaries in tune with the country's mood have suggested Mitt Romney. Finer readers of today's zeitgeist offer Newt Gingrich. But these times require true bipartisanship, so I offer this advice:

Appoint Ronald Reagan's Corpse as Secretary of Health and Human Services

There are so many reasons why this is a good idea:

  • According to most Republicans, Ronald Reagan was an outstanding president, even better than Abraham Lincoln. A dead Reagan in Cabinet is better than a living Daschle, quid pro quo. We desperately need Republican support for everything Obama will do (apparently), and this really reaches out to those crucial voters.
  • It would be like having two presidents. Apply some good makeup, find a good suit, and prop Reagan up in the Oval Office with his eyes closed. Aside from the smell, having a motionless, dozing Reagan would make it feel like 1986 all over again!
  • You need someone who can take the long view. A really long view.
  • You will not find a more unique understanding of the urgency of health care than somebody for whom medical help right now is just a bit too late.

If this true outreach doesn't make Republicans like us, we're out of options. One can only hope that the GOP will quickly confirm Reagan's Body as HHS Secretary, as the last remaining hope would be to appoint Sarah Palin as VP, and have Obama resign.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Educating autistic children "just takes a good teacher"

CNN is continuing to soften its news focus with a series following a family who includes an autistic child. Autism is a struggle for many families, and its rate in the United States has skyrocketed. According to the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons: (PDF)

As shown in Figure 1, the number of children aged 6 to 21 with autism in U.S. schools rose steadily from 5,415 in 1991-1992 to 118,602 in the latest published Department of Education report for the 2001-2002 school year.

Autism can create daily challenges if not outright burdens on a family. Witness the Bilson family, subject of CNN's series:

This is the high-pitched, ear-shattering sound of a 13-year-old girl. More accurately, it is the sound of a frustrated, irritated, very loud teenager with autism.

[...] Marissa and her tantrums rule the household. 'I don't want to hear her screaming and tantruming, so we pretty much let her do what she wants,' Bilson says. Keeping the peace means that, when it comes to Marissa, the rules are different. She is allowed unlimited time on the one family computer. She is allowed access to her siblings' rooms and possessions. She is allowed to eat dinner at the computer instead of the family table.

I simply cannot perceive the exhaustion of living with an autistic child. It demands an incredible degree of energy and patience, and I admire any family raises such a child. The compassion of the parents and the understanding of the siblings would wear down many a hardy soul.

My admiration for such families is matched by my contempt of outsiders who offer bromides in place of solutions. An autistic child, as you can see, is challenging enough at home, much less in a classroom of 25 others who each deserve learning opportunity. So after reading the sympathetic portrait of an autistic family, we're going to get a call for smart, effective solutions to educating autistic children, right? We're going to see similar sympathy for the child's teacher(s), aren't we?

Dr. Ronald Leaf, co-director of the group Autism Partnership believes we have set the bar too low for what we think children and adults with autism can do. 'They are highly teachable,' he says. 'You just have to have a good teacher.'

Oh, that's it! I just have to be a "good teacher", and everything will magically fall into place. So a child is given over to tantrums at her home, allowed to flaunt any rule, and run amok in a household of five by her parents. But if she doesn't do well in my classroom of a couple dozen students who all deserve an education, perhaps the only place where she is expected to conform to any rules, it's because I can't even manage to be just a good teacher.

Every kid who comes through my doorway gets educated. Point simple. Not all the same way, but they're all going to get educated, even if so-called autism advocates are mouthing idiocies in place of policies, and snottiness in place of strategy. Thanks for the help.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Civics for every newsroom

While waiting for snowfall totals on the Channel 7 news on Channel 56, the mistakes from their political "coverage" came fast and furious:

  • Mitch McConnell's name was spelled incorrectly on a screen footer;
  • It was said that the Democrats would need 1 or 2 Republican Senators to pass the Economic Recovery Act in addition to their entire caucus;
  • Two minutes later, it was stated that replacing Judd Gregg with a Democratic Senator would give Obama a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

That doesn't even get into the editorializing on the Republican taxcut package. Somebody needs to explain to these television products what a filibuster is, and what it isn't.

Ten minutes of ignomy.

The Magic 60

Awww. Turns out the Republicans aren't utter, complete morons, unwilling to part with one of their last remaining scraps of power that easily. No, little ones, there will not be 60 Democrats in the Senate for a while yet. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell confirms what New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg has been saying -- he won't be leaving his post unless Democratic Governor John Lynch promises to appoint a Republican for the remainder of the Senate term.


Sure, it would have been nice to add a Democrat to the Senate that easily. Hell, maybe we could have shoehorned 70 Democrats into the Senate with this strategy. Appoint Bill Enzi as Ambassador to Lesotho or Mike Crapo as Director of Marketing Services at the USDA. It was never going to be easy. But the people of New Hampshire voted that they wanted Gregg as their Senator from 2004 to 2010. If they can't have Gregg, they can at least have another Republican. Serves 'em right.

There are two reasons I can't get too upset:

1. While Gov. Lynch will apparently appoint a Republican , I can't imagine he'll appoint a Republican to the right of Gregg. Senator Replacement won't vote like Jeanne Shaheen, true, but I wouldn't expect him/her to vote like Jim DeMint.

This is germane as applies to "The Magic 60", this addled belief that the main obstacle to Obama's agenda will disappear once there are sixty Democrats in the Senate. Cloture votes were not party-line in the last Congress, and I don't think they will be party-line in this one. As noted here, Mary Landrieu voted for cloture 21 times in the last Congress, and Pryor, Bayh, Dorgan, Baucus, and McCaskill recorded a dozen votes in that direction as well. Meanwhile, the Ladies of Maine are emerging as reliable backers of Obama's agenda. So the question of replacing Gregg with a Democrat doesn't matter nearly as much as would seem.

2. This also makes incumbency disappear as an advantage. Gregg has nearly $900,000 in the bank, and that's 900,000 fewer worries for Carol Shea-Porter or Paul Hodes. Suddenly, we have a much fairer contest than we would have against somebody so entrenched. Meanwhile, much of New England will be training its Democratic resources on New Hampshire as the last red mote in our Congressional representation winks out.

In other news, Paul Corrigan's SoapBlox-driven blog Blue News Tribune debuts on my blog list. Recently, Awful Announcing does the place of Fire Joe Morgan in the "snarky jock" slot in the blogroll. Check 'em out.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rules, rules, rules

Went to my annual town caucus yesterday, Saturday morning. To be honest, when I think "caucus", I don't think first of getting together with fellow Democrats, or even a potential contest to go to the state Convention. No, I think of six pages, some 38 paragraphs, being read aloud to me. A half-hour process. Including many things that are of no concern to us: ward committees? What to do if Steve Grossman is in your caucus (the only one to whom the "former DNC Chair" provision could possibly apply)? What to do if the caucus is canceled due to snow, in which case we aren't here anyway?

I suppose that I can see the legal reasons why all the rules are read at the yearly caucus. I suppose I can see the party covering its legal butt regardless of what it does to caucusgoers. But does it suck any bit of enthusiasm and excitement out of the process. I can't imagine a surer way to ensure that somebody new to the process doesn't come back than inflicting this to him/her on a Saturday morning. It's quite a comedown from the thrill of the campaign hustings to having arcana read at you for thirty minutes. If you walk in with energy and fire from a candidate or campaign, this will dampen it ruthlessly. The rules readathon won't keep me from going, but boy will it turn out anyone with a nascent interest in the party or process.

It simply can't be healthy for the party. Some combination of net access/posting/mailing could evade this I would hope. Consider this -- if somebody can't or won't read the regulations, is s/he going to track the oral dispensation thereof well enough to use them in a challenge? And if a chair is going to manipulate the process, is s/he going to read aloud the fruits of his/her undoing?

There was got to be a better way.