I just received a robocall from Hollywood Video. They were trying to get me to sign up for something. Of course, when I hung up on them, and then picked back up, they were still there. It takes a few seconds for the line to disconnect. The only way to get off the list is to call them back. If you don't have caller ID, that could be a problem. So, I call them back, at their 888-285-5905 number, and after pressing myriad buttons, and following directions, I think I have successfully removed myself from their list.

There is a button you can push to hear their privacy policy. The funny thing about the recording regarding the privacy policy is that it sounds, well, smarmy. Like they know they are assholes, but they have the law on their side (which they mention) so they are allowed to annoy you at dinnertime, legally, even though their message makes it sound as if they understand the immorality, invasiveness, and assholeishness of their position. Reminds me of someone....

Punishment for Torture

Ever wonder how the punishment prescribed by Congress for torture compares with the punishment it prescribes for other offenses?

Under federal law, the punishment for committing or attempting to commit torture is a fine or imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both.
-For distributing at least 5 kilograms of cocaine (or 1 kilogram of heroin or 1000 kilograms of marijuana), federal law requires a sentence of at least 10 years and no more than life imprisonment. If the person has a prior felony drug conviction, the minimum sentence is 20 years, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

-File-sharing child pornography calls for a sentence of between 5 and 20 years.

-If you're an illegal alien who was deported after an aggravated-felony conviction and who reenters the United States: a fine or imprisonment for up to 20 years.

-A person who possesses a machine gun during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug-trafficking crime gets hit with a 30-year mandatory sentence that must run consecutive to any sentence for the underlying crime.
Is there something screwy about the punishment priorities here? Or maybe torture's not such a big deal.

Robert Reich: Make Obama Hire You!

As usual, Bob says it like it is. Now, I don't know Bob very well, but I do know he is one of the nicest guys in the world. He cares about people, has many friends--who are just normal people--and is probably one of the smartest guys ever to have a stint in government. If you do not read his blog, you should. Here is his latest on our suffering economy:

The Heart of the Economic Mess

The Federal Reserve Board's "beige book" for June and July offers a clear explanation for why the economy has slowed to a crawl. It shows American consumers cutting way back on their purchases of everything from food to cars to appliances to name-brand products. As they do so, employers inevitably are cutting back on the hours they need people to work for them, thereby contributing to a downward spiral.

The normal remedies for economic downturns are necessary. But even an adequate stimulus package will offer only temporary relief this time, because this isn’t a normal downturn. The problem lies deeper. Most Americans can no longer maintain their standard of living. The only lasting remedy is to improve their standard of living by widening the circle of prosperity.

The heart of the matter isn't the collapse in housing prices or even the frenetic rise in oil and food prices. These are contributing to the mess but they are not creating it directly. The basic reality is this: For most Americans, earnings have not kept up with the cost of living. This is not a new phenomenon but it has finally caught up with the pocketbooks of average people. If you look at the earnings of non-government workers, especially the hourly workers who comprise 80 percent of the workforce, you'll find they are barely higher than they were in the mid-1970s, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Per-person productivity has grown considerably since then, but most Americans have not reaped the benefits of those productivity gains. They've gone largely to the top.

Inequality on this scale is bad for many reasons but it is also bad for the economy. The wealthy devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they’re rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, the very wealthy are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

This underlying earnings problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found means to live beyond their paychecks. But they have now run out of such coping mechanisms. As I've noted elsewhere, the first coping mechanism was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 — to more than 70 percent. But there’s a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours. The typical American now works more each year than he or she did three decades ago. Americans became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

But there’s also a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third coping mechanism. They began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster from 2002 to 2006, they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans. But this third strategy also had a built-in limit. And now, with the bursting of the housing bubble, the piggy banks are closing. Americans are reaching the end of their ability to borrow and lenders have reached the end of their capacity to lend. Credit-card debt, meanwhile, has reached dangerous proportions. Banks are now pulling back.

As a result, typical Americans have run out of coping mechanisms to keep up their standard of living. That means there's not enough purhasing power in the economy to buy all the goods and services it's producing. We’re finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth.

The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the real earnings of middle and lower-middle class Americans. The answer is not to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway. Nor is the answer to give tax breaks to the very wealthy and to giant corporations in the hope they will trickle down to everyone else. We've tried that and it hasn't worked. Nothing has trickled down.

Rather, the long-term answer is for us to invest in the productivity of our working people -- enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education, while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state, and local levels. In other words, we must rebuild the American economy from the bottom up. It cannot be rebuilt from the top down.


Barack Okennereagama

Here is Obama's speech from Berlin. Pretty impressive!


Stephen Colbert Pussed Out On Spellings (updated)

Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education, and NCLB proponent went on The Colbert Report last night. Stephen, to his credit, asked about sanctions, but his follow-up was a bit lacking.

[this section updated to reflect the fact that prior to update it was a jumbled mess]Spellings said they shouldn't be called sanctions since what they do is help schools be accountable by giving them help! Schools are accountable to whom?-accountable to parents. Parents apparently are not accountable for the education of their children; teachers are. So, it would follow that: patients are not accountable; doctors are. Criminals are not accountable; lawyers are. Congress is not accountable; THE PEOPLE ARE!!!!!!!!

Accountability is something every citizen has. No-one is allowed to blame someone else if one has not taken action one's self to try to ameliorate the offending situation. If your kid ain't learnin', you try help the little fella. Maybe you need to do some learnin' in order to help, so, get on that. Don't expect someone else--a doctor, teacher, politician, lawyer--to fix your shit. Fix your own shit, then you can start to ask for assistance in fixing the shit that you cannot fix on your own. But please, don't expect anyone to fix your shit while you drink a beer.

Read my thoughts on a certain sanction: http://www.thefrustratedteacher.blogspot.com/2008/05/curriculum-of-sanction-lucy-calkins.html


Your Federal Tax Dollars Hard at Work

This sad, sad -- and true -- story will make you glad that Homeland Security is looking out for us all....NOT.

Once upon a time there was a hard-working Mexican citizen, living illegally in the United States with his wife and two school-age kids. Let's call him Luis. He'd never been in trouble with the law; he worked hard as a carpenter and eventually was able to set up his own carpentry shop. He hired some other Mexican citizens, also here illegally and without work authorization, to help out in the shop. Luis' wife also worked in his shop. By all accounts, Luis did good work and treated his workers well. He even paid federal and state taxes for himself and his workers, though because the social-security numbers were false, nobody would be able to claim a penny from the government in benefits.

One day someone called the ICE (Immigration Control and Enforcement, the new INS) tip line and told them that Luis was employing illegal aliens. ICE promptly launched a six-month investigation into Luis and his carpentry shop, sending undercover agents to the shop to talk to Luis and surreptitiously taking pictures of his employees. ICE even recruited one of Luis' workers to act as an informant, complete with body wire.

Ultimately, the federal government charged Luis with, among other things, the felony offense of "harboring" illegal aliens by employing them in his carpentry shop. One of the eight aliens he is charged with harboring is HIS WIFE, the mother of his (now three -- they have a newborn daughter) children. After all, Luis not only employed her but also sheltered her in his house and occasionally drove her to work.

After it filed charges against Luis, the government deported most of his employees. Now, however, in preparation for Luis' trial, they have brought the employees back to the United States (at taxpayer expense) on special one-year visas AND given them authorization to work here. Apparently it's okay for illegal aliens to work here as long as they're useful to the federal government.

Luis, meanwhile, is on house arrest and cannot work to support his family or even leave his home for enough time to make arrangements to rent out his carpentry tools, which are sitting, unused, in storage. He wonders whether he can get permission from the government to take his elementary-school-age daughter to the library for a few hours each week, as recommended by her summer-school teacher. Luis' arrest and the six months he spent in jail have been hard on his daughter, and her schoolwork has suffered.

I can't tell you how many person-hours the government has spent investigating and persecuting -- I mean, prosecuting -- this poor man and his family. How much money it has wasted, and how much venom it has spat, in trying to make this guy out to be Homeland Security priority number one. Shit.


Educational Research: Mostly Crap

Here is a little nugget from a 2007 journal article (or pdf) regarding the re-authorization of NCLB. In it they question the SBR (scientifically based research) requirement that all materials must meet to conform to NCLB. I have said many times that educational research is some of the poorest, least robust, most maligned research. Here is a good reason why:
A basic research goal for educational research is to determine causation. The advantage of using SBR is that having a control group allows a better explanation of the variance in the data. Even with a control group, however, educational research must account for the intentionality of both students and teachers. This is not trivial [emphasis mine]. Intentionality refers to the ability of students and/or teachers to behave in a way that is not norm-regulated (Howe, 2005, p. 311). To determine the effectiveness of an intervention, researchers must assume that control and test group teachers deliver the same content in exactly the same way to the same mix of children. Research design options can minimize errors for these assumptions, but not without considerable efforts and collaboration (National Research Council, 2005, p. 30). Student populations vary widely in their ethnicity, socio-economic status, and family backgrounds. These factors can be controlled for. The student motivation, the intentionality of students and teachers and the variety of administrative philosophies make it impossible to control for all variability [emphasis mine]. Many of these constructs cannot be measured or scaled as a data point; however, each can strongly influence educational achievement. The variance inherent within each of the constructs does not lend itself well to SBR, even with randomization and a control group.
We can't even measure this shit! We know the problems are societal. We have big things to fix before anything is going to improve. All this nonsense is a reaction, and it is a knee-jerk reaction, providing a lot of people with a whole lot space for their self-serving, career-advancing, kid-under-the-bus-throwing, teacher blaming, policy excusing nonsense they decided to name NCLB. TAKE A STAND!!!!!!

So Long, Suppression

Another remnant of the Fourth Amendment is on its way out...

So, the NYTimes yesterday not only predicted but pretty much called for an end to the exclusionary rule, which generally prohibits the government from using at trial evidence that the police obtained by violating the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. The article says that the United States is the only country that "routinely and automatically" suppresses unconstitutionally obtained evidence and claims that police misconduct may be better punished by, say, "internal discipline and civil suits."

Yeah, I have some problems with this.

Let's talk about the alleged "routine and automatic" suppression of evidence. I practice before a relatively liberal court. I've worked on maybe 50 or 60 motions to suppress evidence in my nearly 12 years of practice. I can count on one hand the ones that resulted in ANY evidence being suppressed and on three fingers the ones that resulted in the prosecution being dismissed. (In one of those cases, the defendant was then given a seven-year sentence in a parole-revocation hearing, at which the exclusionary rule does not apply.) Now maybe I'm a bad lawyer, but I don't know anyone who wins these things routinely and automatically. Cops lie, and judges believe them and will look for absolutely any excuse--and the decade-long erosion of Fourth Amendment rights provides many--to not suppress evidence.

Let's talk about the other proposed remedies for police misconduct. Internal discipline? What a joke. Getting the bad guys by any means is cause for police celebration, not punishment. And the Supreme Court justices who are gunning to get rid of the exclusionary rule and suggest civil suits as an alternative remedy seem to have forgotten that 14 years ago the Court decided that you can't sue the police for an illegal search unless you first can prove that you are innocent of committing the crime for which you were prosecuted based on illegally obtained evidence. In other words, if the police bust down your door in the middle of the night and tear apart your house--in clear, blatant and intentional violation of the Fourth Amendment--and eventually find drugs, you can't sue them for the unconstitutional search unless you first can prove that you're innocent of any drug charge. Good luck with that.

One final point about comparing the criminal justice system in the US with the system in other countries. The article begins with the story of a case from Canada: Guy is stopped, illegally, with 77 pounds of cocaine in the truck, and the Canadian courts declined to suppress the evidence. The guy gets five years in prison. In the U.S., someone caught with that much cocaine, with no prior criminal record, would be looking at 12 1/2 to 15 1/2 years in prison under the federal sentencing guidelines. Kind of a big difference in penalty there. You can't just look at one piece of the system in isolation.

I Had An Original Thought...

About merit pay for teachers: If we give money to a teacher because his students did better on the test one year, do we take the money away when the students don't do better?

And if, per chance, student scores in that teacher's class were to vary from year to year, forget financially, what are we to make of that conundrum pedagogically, statistically, educationally, socio-economically, policyily, personally, professionally, confusingly?

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