An October Surprise?

Pakistan Raid Start Of Concerted Bid To Hit Al-Qaida

by Tom Gjelten and Tom Bowman

NPR.org, September 12, 2008

NPR has learned that the raid by helicopter-borne U.S. Special Operations forces in Pakistan last week was not an isolated incident but part of a three-phase plan, approved by President Bush, to strike at Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership.

The plan calls for a much more aggressive military campaign, said one source, familiar with the presidential order, which gives the green light for the military to take part in the operations. The plan represents an 11th-hour effort to hammer al-Qaida until the Bush administration leaves office, two government officials told NPR.

"Definitely, the gloves have come off," said a source who has been briefed on the plan. "This was only Phase 1 of three phases."

Pentagon and White House officials have declined to discuss the new plan.

The intelligence community already had approval from the president to carry out operations inside Pakistan, which included attacks by Predator drones, which can carry 100-pound Hellfire missiles.

Additional authority came from the president just recently that allowed incursions by U.S. Special Operations forces, the source said.

A second source said that lawmakers on Capitol Hill were briefed on the new plan shortly before The New York Times broke the story this week about the Special Operations raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The source also said that CIA personnel from around the world were being pulled into the Afghan-Pakistan border area, an intelligence-community "surge" to go after bin Laden and other al-Qaida figures.

There was concern by some lawmakers about the political ramifications in Pakistan. The Pakistan government is offering some cooperation in halting the cross-border attacks by Islamist fighters from the tribal areas into Afghanistan. And Pakistan is a key logistics route for U.S. equipment heading into Afghanistan.

Should the U.S. raids continue on Pakistani soil, there is fear that the Pakistani government may halt — or at least curtail — its cooperation with American counterterrorist efforts in the border area. A military source says that the Pakistani government side is given little prior notice of the American military activity.

There have been some complaints within the military that the Pakistanis, even before last week's raid, were not doing enough to stop the cross-border attacks. And the nation's leaders are balking at allowing more Special Operations forces inside Pakistan to train the country's security forces. Currently, the Pentagon does some limited training of short duration, defense sources say.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this week that he is drafting a new military strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he mentioned that he continues to press Pakistani military and government leaders to do more to curtail the activities of Islamist extremists in the tribal lands.

The raid last week by an elite U.S. Navy SEAL team was a planned operation that took place miles inside Pakistan and led to the deaths of at least nine and as many as 20 individuals — some of them civilians. Sources say the raid was part of a "snatch and grab" operation aimed at Taliban or al-Qaida figures.

A powerful AC-130 gunship, essentially a flying battleship, was used in the operation. The SEAL team members were flown out of Pakistan by helicopter into Afghanistan. A western military source says a SEAL team remains on standby for similar missions on short notice.

"They were definitely after al-Qaida forces," said one of the sources. "But the bleedover between those two," he added, referring to the Taliban, "is significant."

Both sources say those in the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill are raising questions about the political intent of this new aggressive stance.

"The question is," said one of the sources, "Why wasn't this done a year ago?"

President Bartlett Will Kick Your Ass

Saw this over at Shakesville (they're creepy, but topical!):

This is not a fucking game!

John McCain Will Fuck Up The Economy, Again

Remember Supply-side (voodoo) economics? John McCain still likes it, even though there's proof it makes us worse off. Read here.
REPORT: Supply-Side Tax Cuts Fail To Spur Economic Growth»

Sen. John McCain’s economic plan - Jobs for America - is full of tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. It includes a cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, and maintaining the 15% rate on dividends and capital gains, which McCain claims will promote growth and create jobs.

Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute examined the efficacy of supply-side tax cuts on corporations and high-income Americans in a new report, “Take a Walk on the Supply Side.” By comparing the supply-side eras following the 1983 and 2001 tax cuts to the years between 1993 and 2001, they find that, for the most part, supply-side policies don’t work in practice the way that they do in theory.

Among their findings:

- Real investment growth after the tax increases of 1993 was much higher than after the tax cuts of 1981 and 2001.

- Economic growth as measured by real U.S. gross domestic product was stronger following the tax increases of 1993 than in the two supply-side eras. Over the seven-year periods after each legislative action, average annual growth was 3.9 percent following 1993, 3.5 percent following 1981, and 2.5 percent following 2001.

- Wage levels also did better after 1993. Average real hourly earnings following 1981 fell at an annual rate of 0.1 percent and following 2001 rose at a rate of only 0.3 percent. Following the 1993 tax increases average hourly earnings grew by 0.9 percent per year.

- Employment growth was weaker during the supply-side eras than during the post-1993 era. Average annual employment growth was 2.1 percent after 1981, 2.5 percent after 1993, and 0.6 percent after 2001.

And of course, tax cuts lower federal revenue, so supply-side practices necessarily “lead to bigger federal budget deficits and/or spending reductions.”

As a survey of economists released by the Wall Street Journal today notes, “the next U.S. president will be confronted with slow growth, high unemployment and an economy teetering toward recession,” and thus “pumping up the economy will be the first challenge.” Ettlinger and Irons’ data shows that, if history is any indication, cutting taxes on the wealthy and handing out tax breaks to corporations will not provide that much-needed economic jolt.

Matt Damon Has Questions

I think Matt Damon asks a couple important questions in this very short video.

The Drug War = Slavery

Here is an appalling statistic (You knew it was bad, but...):
There are more black men in US prisons today than there were slaves in 1840, and they are being used for the same purpose; working for private corporations at 16 to 20 cents an hour. Half the states have private, for-profit prisons whose lobbyists are demanding longer mandatory-minimum prison sentences. Indeed, American blacks are incarcerated at nearly eight times the level of South African blacks during the height of apartheid.
Read the whole thing:
The solution to the failed drug war
By Jack A. Cole

WAR AND RACE dominate the presidential campaign, but one nation-shaping war with profound racial consequences eludes the political radar: the drug war.

I was a frontline soldier in this self-perpetuating, ineffectual effort that has swallowed more than a trillion tax dollars and currently yields nearly 2 million arrests every year for nonviolent offenses. I helped incarcerate some 1,000 young people as part of this irredeemably wrongheaded attempt to arrest our way out of our drug problems. Those arrests will follow them to their graves.

I know they follow me.

But while no other country locks up as large a percentage of its citizens, the specific impact on minority families has been one step short of the reinstitution of slavery: from media portrayals of marijuana-crazed Mexicans, opium-crazed Asians, and cocaine-crazed blacks, this war has always been about race.

The 1980s produced a jump in the number of cocaine-related stories focused on minority use, yielding grave concern and a dramatic increase in the minority prison population. Many people, of course, assumed that minorities were disproportionately involved in drugs. Even a seemingly street-wise show like "The Wire," which correctly abandoned all hope for this war, supported that impression, portraying virtual swarms of drug-involved blacks.

In fact, according to Federal Household Surveys, whites, blacks, and Hispanics use drugs in direct proportion to their percentage of the population. So, for example, blacks, who are 13 percent of our population, account for 13 percent of our drug use. Yet, according to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, of convicted defendants, 33 percent of whites received a prison sentence and 51 percent of African-Americans received prison sentences. Moreover, the US Sentencing Commission found that black drug defendants receive considerably longer average prison terms than do whites for comparable crimes.

This is not a geographical fluke: a 2007 Justice Policy Institute study found that in Florida blacks were 75 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs while driving than whites; in 1991, blacks were 7 percent of St. Paul's population but 62 percent of those arrested on drug charges; and in Onondaga Country, Syracuse, N.Y., black people are currently 99 times more likely to go to prison for drugs than white people.

There are more black men in US prisons today than there were slaves in 1840, and they are being used for the same purpose; working for private corporations at 16 to 20 cents an hour. Half the states have private, for-profit prisons whose lobbyists are demanding longer mandatory-minimum prison sentences. Indeed, American blacks are incarcerated at nearly eight times the level of South African blacks during the height of apartheid.

Inner-city communities are devastated not by drug use but by the same turf-war street violence that accompanied alcohol prohibition and that dramatically decreased once that drug was legalized and regulated. Almost one in seven African-Americans are denied voting rights largely because of drug arrests, and countless minorities are denied intact families, college loans, driver's licenses, and jobs because of selective enforcement of a prohibition that, even fairly enforced, prevents no one from using drugs.

But things are changing, as resistance grows in precisely those communities hardest hit by this failed policy.

In 2006, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution condemning the failed war on drugs and calling for treatment rather than incarceration. That resolution was echoed by a similar resolution passed unanimously by all 225 mayors at their national conference in 2007. And a national association of black police officers is expected to officially endorse the call for an end to drug prohibition.

I represent Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization of sworn antidrug warriors who know that we must end this prohibition in order to legalize and regulate all drugs, thus wresting control from the cartels and street thugs who prey on children.

Ending this prohibition is a singularly potent civil rights issue. It is a remarkable movement, led by both white and minority law enforcement officials.

In an election infused with racial overtones, we wonder which politicians will be brave enough to follow.

Jack A. Cole is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Natural Aristocrats

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding brothers coined a phrase: Natural Aristocracy. The notion that among the common people there are many who are capable of leadership. Okay, true. Look a little deeper at those natural aristocrats and tell me how they measure up to Sarah Palin:
One could argue that the Founders themselves constituted a self-appointed elite. They were unusually well-educated, literate, intellectually curious men, familiar with Greek and Roman history as well as the new ideas of the 18th century. Some of them were Ivy Leaguers like Obama; James Madison went to Princeton (at 13!), John Adams graduated from Harvard, and Hamilton attended Columbia. Jefferson was formidably intellectual, and his personal library became the basis of the Library of Congress. Hamilton and Ben Franklin were probably geniuses; despite their origins, they rose to prominence because older, established figures recognized their gifts.
Sound like Sarah? No. The nonsense over at Power Line and The Weekly Standard make the notion of NA, well, NA (not applicable). Comparing Sarah Palin to the Founding Fathers is a bit ridiculous. BUT THEY ARE GETTING AWAY WITH IT!!

McCain and company are counting on the fact that there simply aren't that many natural aristocrats around to peel back the bullshit that is the Republican party, and they know it.

Lets remember that John McCain graduated at the bottom of his class at Annapolis. And he crashed a few planes. And he flip-flops. And he picked a flying-wolf-hunter as his VP. This isn't 1808, and as williamyard said earlier, this is not a fucking game.

Funny Stuff From McSweeney's

Enjoy this after expansion:

- - - -

(Alaska governor SARAH PALIN is taking a rare afternoon off from work. She walks by a strip mall. Like all Alaskan strip malls, it contains a moose supply store, a pizza parlor, and a doctors' office. She stops to admire the moose-supply-store window and almost bumps into a DOCTOR.)


Hello. I'm an obstetrician.


Well, hello. I'm a politician.


Good day, madam.


Good day, sir.
I'm not pregnant.


Who said you were?

(A few days later, SARAH PALIN returns to the doctors' office.)


I've been so busy
With governance
That I've neglected
To be inspected.
I'd like to have an exam now, please.


Get on the table and raise your knees.

(The DOCTOR determines that SARAH PALIN is pregnant.)


Holy moly!
Sakes alive!
I have four kids.
This makes five.

(A few months later, SARAH PALIN is at a conference.)


We need to make the country work
For ordinary folk.
Direct reform must be the norm,
And ... Oops, my water broke.

(SARAH PALIN flies home to Alaska to have the baby.)


We'll call him Trig.
It means "strength" in Norse.
We'll care for him, raise him,
And love him, of course.

(SARAH PALIN continues to govern the state, tend to her family, help her husband with his business, and find time for herself.)


Take that, Murkowski!
It's dinnertime, kids!
Goodbye, Bridge to Nowhere!
Hello, dogsled skids!
Need haircut, need yoga!
Need food for the house!
Need to remember
To pick up that blouse!
Drill here, drill now!
No, not you, Todd!
An hour till hockey,
Then the Iditarod.

(One afternoon, SARAH PALIN's teenage daughter BRISTOL PALIN approaches her.)


We have to talk.


Come with me
While I walk.
The guys at work all call it
My morning constitutional.
That's what passes for a joke.
Politics is institutional.


I think I'm late.

(SARAH PALIN's phone rings.)


One second.
In this state,
Where ethical breaches
And pork-filled bills are legion,
We need a real reformer
To rectify the region.


I need you now.


My schedule
Won't allow
A heart-to-heart till Thursday.


Mom, listen, I'm pregnant!


Well, now I'm bouleversée.
I think of you as a child still, a
Tomboy on the loose in Wasilla,
Though I see that you are a woman now.
We have to fix this soon. But how?

(SARAH PALIN visits her daughter's boyfriend, LEVI JOHNSTON. As she approaches him, she hears him bragging to his friends.)


I shot, I scored.
The puck is in the goal.
I shot, I scored.
We didn't practice birth control,
Or gun control, for that matter.
Easy-Bake Oven, meet baby batter.
I may have mixed a metaphor,
But what do I care?
I shoot, I score!

(SARAH PALIN clears her throat. LEVI JOHNSTON turns to see the governor standing beside him.)


I hunt with a shotgun,
Not a musket or pistol.
I'm holding one now.
Will you marry my Bristol?


I'm an effing redneck, ma'am.
It says so on my MySpace page.
I'm not sure I can marry her,
Because, well, we're both underage.


You two can marry.
We'll have a wedding.
Otherwise, it'll be
You I'm beheading.
I'll come down on you like an atom bomb.


Well, uh, I mean, can I call you Mom?

(Across the country, JOHN McCAIN is meeting with CHARLIE BLACK and RICK DAVIS to decide whom to pick for vice president.)


I think I want
Joe Lieberman.


With him, there's no way
You can win.


Well, what about Tom Ridge instead?


Do that and your campaign is dead.


We need a conservative who can serve.


You jerks are getting on my last nerve.

(The phone rings in the Palin home.)


Sarah, phone.
It's John McCain.


The guy from Die Hard?
I love that movie.


No, the senator.


Oh, OK. Groovy.

(JOHN McCAIN offers her a spot on the Republican ticket.)


Is there anything
I need to know
About your family?


No. Although,
Now that you mention it,
Once, back in the '80s,
Todd was driving tipsy
And dinged up a Mercedes.


You sure
That's all?


That's all
I recall.


That's really
Quite small.
Excellent. You've got the job.
Rick and Charlie can polish my knob.

(McCAIN picks her. Though the Obama campaign does not criticize SARAH PALIN directly, they dispatch an army of winged, fanged DEMOCRATIC OPERATIVES to do so.)


How can she
Care for her infant son
And also help
The country run?


The baby's not hers.
It belongs to her daughter.
The water that broke
Wasn't really her water.


She's like a spy
Working in our midst,
A hot one who is
A separatist.


The University
Of Idaho?
Where is that, even?
I don't know.

(SARAH PALIN issues a folksy response.)


Come on, that's just not fair of you.
I'm going to hunt caribou.
Then I'll go for stag. Then I'll go for bear.
Corrupt politicians should also beware.
I'm locked. I'm loaded.
D.C.'s outmoded.
The old way's dying.
The underlying
Causes are too great to number.
For starters, power makes you dumber.
It tends to encumber the heart and the spirit.
Silence your inner voice until you can't hear it.
That's what's happening, you see,
To the Democratic nominee.
I won't do that. Don't forget
I auctioned off a private jet.
I'll listen to myself.
I'll listen to my Lord.
I'll listen to my family.
And we will be restored.

(JOHN McCAIN, moved by her straight talk and her reformer's instinct, steps down from the ticket. The Supreme Court, also moved, permits it. Her opponents in the election, BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN, find themselves overcome with emotion as well; Biden cries so hard that his hair plugs pop out of his head. On Election Day, 100 percent of female voters cast ballots for SARAH PALIN, who is elected in a landslide. SARAH PALIN presides over two terms of peace and prosperity, during which time she and Todd have five more children: Haley, Window, Gossamer, Shemp, and John.)

Yet More McCain Lies: This Time About Size

McCain lies about the size of his......crowds:
McCain-Palin Crowd-Size Estimates Not Backed by Officials

By Lorraine Woellert and Jeff Bliss

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Senator John McCain has drawn some of the biggest crowds of his presidential campaign since adding Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to his ticket on Aug. 29. Now officials say they can't substantiate the figures McCain's aides are claiming.

McCain aide Kimmie Lipscomb told reporters on Sept. 10 that an outdoor rally in Fairfax City, Virginia, drew 23,000 people, attributing the crowd estimate to a fire marshal.

Fairfax City Fire Marshal Andrew Wilson said his office did not supply that number to the campaign and could not confirm it. Wilson, in an interview, said the fire department does not monitor attendance at outdoor events.

In recent days, journalists attending the rallies have been raising questions about the crowd estimates with the campaign. In a story on Sept. 11 about Palin's attraction for some Virginia women voters, Washington Post reporter Marc Fisher estimated the crowd to be 8,000, not the 23,000 cited by the campaign.

``The 23,000 figure was substantiated on the ground,'' McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said. ``The campaign is willing to stand by the fact that it was our biggest crowd to date.''

``Since day one, this campaign has been consistent that we're not going to win or lose based on crowd size but the substance of John McCain's record,'' Bounds said.

Town Hall Meetings

Until Palin, 44, joined him on the campaign trail, McCain, 72, had limited his political events to smaller town hall meetings and rallies of a few hundred people. His Democratic rival, Barack Obama, an Illinois senator, routinely draws thousands of people to his speeches, a phenomenon McCain has tried to use to his advantage by labeling Obama, 47, a celebrity.

That changed on Aug. 30, at Palin's first big public appearance after her nomination. The McCain campaign said 10,000 people showed up at the Consol Energy Arena in Washington, Pennsylvania, home of the Washington Wild Things baseball team.

The campaign attributed that estimate, and several that followed, to U.S. Secret Service figures, based on the number of people who passed through magnetometers.

``We didn't provide any numbers to the campaign,'' said Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service. Wiley said he would not ``confirm or dispute'' the numbers the McCain campaign has given to reporters.

Think Critically, or Die

The Bad Astronomer is concerned about stupidity, and so am I. Here is his post about the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) and its effect on the less-than critical thinker:
Uncritical thinking kills

When I saw this website, I laughed. I couldn’t help it; it’s a funny idea.

That webcam site is a joke. It’s not real, it’s a satire on people who think the LHC would cause the end of the world. I laughed when I saw it.

But I’m not laughing now.

In India the other day, a young girl, distraught with fear that the world was ending when the LHC turned on, killed herself. She died, because she didn’t understand the truth.

Now that site is less funny, isn’t it? All over the world, in all different countries, people are raised to believe in superstitious nonsense, and raised to believe with all their hearts that it’s real.

And when we do that, we do far more than remove people from reality. We leave them vulnerable to all manners of nonsense, from believing in fairies to truly and honestly thinking the LHC will destroy the planet. People don’t learn how to think critically, and then they drink homeopathic water instead of taking real medicine, they chelate their children, or they deny their children vaccinations. And when that happens, people die. Children die.

I’m a parent. I sometimes think the most important thing I can do for my daughter is love her, keep her healthy, protect her. But in all of those, there is an overarching responsibility for me to teach her how to live in the real world. And that means showing her how to think. Not what to think, but how.

Question authority. Be skeptical of claims. Ask for evidence. Apply good logic. Avoid bad logic. Analyze the results. Look for bias.

And doubt. Doubt doubt doubt. It’s one of the greatest strengths of the human mind, and perhaps the least used of all.

There is plenty of blame to lay for the death of one young girl. We can blame the crackpots promulgating the LHC = death garbage. We can blame the culture she was raised in, where superstition can be treated like natural law — much like every culture across the planet. We can blame the media, for choosing to focus on the nonsense instead of the tremendous and wonderful and awe-inspiring inquiry into nature the LHC is performing. We can blame the schools, the environment, the world itself.

But the blame lies in us. Too many people choose not to think. But our technology, our society, our impact is vast, and now, today, in this world, that choice is one we can no longer afford.

John Dean On VP Picks

John Dean, of Watergate fame, has a piece at Truthdig about VP selection, qualifications, and the 25th amendment.
Palin Falls Short of VP Standards

Posted on Sep 12, 2008

By John Dean

In truth, the vice president of the United States is important for only one reason: He or she will become president of the United States upon the death, incapacity or resignation of the president. Nine times in our history, vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency: John Tyler (1841), Millard Fillmore (1850), Andrew Johnson (1865), Chester A. Arthur (1881), Theodore Roosevelt (1901), Calvin Coolidge (1923), Harry Truman (1945), Lyndon Johnson (1963) and Gerald Ford (1974). Of course, the vice president also has a significant secondary role: It is he or she, acting with a majority of the Cabinet, who can declare the president incapable of carrying out the duties of the office, and then take charge—until the action is either ratified or rejected by a majority of the Congress. So far in our history, however, this has never occurred.

Given the fact that the 2008 GOP standard-bearer, John McCain, is 72 years of age, his selection of an inexperienced vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has again focused attention on the process and procedures for selecting vice presidents—or, to put it more bluntly, the utter lack of process or procedures in selecting the person who is a heartbeat away from the presidency. McCain, not unlike others before him, selected a less than fully vetted running mate for political reasons. That is surely a problem for voters to think over in the upcoming election—but it raises a systemic concern, too, for the long run.

Consider this parallel: Does anyone believe that if McCain were president and had selected Palin under the 25th Amendment to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency Congress would have confirmed her? Not likely. In fact, it is even less likely that McCain would have even attempted to do so, for he would have embarrassed himself.

While the Constitution does not expressly set forth qualifications for the vice presidency, it strongly implies them --- and Palin falls short.

How Our Constitutional Process for Selecting Vice Presidents Evolved

Our founders gave little thought to the vice presidential selection process. Initially, the candidate who placed second in Electoral College votes became vice president. While this worked for the first three presidential elections, the election of 1800 produced a tie in the Electoral College, between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr (both of the same party), and although Burr was the announced candidate for vice president, when he came up with a tie vote he refused to step aside, forcing the resolution of the presidential contest in the House of Representatives, which proved to be a messy affair.

This clear flaw in the system was corrected by the 12th Amendment, which requires electors to vote separately for president and vice president. It was the 12th Amendment (adopted in 1804), along with the growth of political parties, that encouraged the pairing of candidates in the presidential election. Since then, the vice presidential selection process has evolved from party leaders’ making the selection to the current system, under which the party’s presidential nominee is given the power to select a vice presidential running mate.

The 25th Amendment (adopted in 1967) indirectly codified the power of a candidate for president to select his vice president, for the amendment states that when there is a vacancy in the office of the vice president, “the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.” A vice president, like a president, must be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years of age and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

Of course, Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, meets the minimum constitutional requirements. But there also exists a clear subtext within the Constitution, and related statutes, that suggests that there are other, implicit qualifications for the vice president, as well—qualifications as to which Gov. Palin falls short. While this subtext is plainly not formally binding on either a presidential candidate or president, candidates and presidents have traditionally followed the implicit qualifications suggested by the Constitution.

The 25th Amendment Suggests the Primary Qualification for Vice Presidents: Be Equipped to Serve as President Starting, if Necessary, on Day One

I served as minority counsel to the House Judiciary Committee when the committee was working on the 25th Amendment. Accordingly, I recall well the difficult debates and discussions on how vacancies in the vice presidency should be filled. The procedures under discussion ranged from a special national election for the vice president, to a convening of the Electoral College to make the decision, to the selection of a vice president by the Congress.

The process that was actually settled on, as I mentioned earlier, codified the procedure that had evolved over the years, through which the candidate selected his running mate. In line with that procedure, presidents were similarly given the power to fill vacancies in the office of the vice president. But there was a crucial difference: Under the 25th Amendment, presidents can fill that office only with the approval of a majority vote of both the House and Senate. Confirmation thus entails not only ratification by the public, but also scrutiny by political pros who assure Americans that the new vice president is up to the task of taking charge.

Twice, the 25th Amendment has been employed to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency. Richard Nixon appointed Gerald Ford to fill the office when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned (under threat of indictment). Then, after Nixon resigned and Ford succeeded to the presidency, Ford used it to appoint Nelson Rockefeller his vice president.

Both Nixon and Ford explained their decisions, and the criteria at the top of their lists. Nixon wrote in “RN: Memoirs of Richard Nixon” that from “the outset of the search for a new Vice President I had established four criteria for the man I would select: qualification to be President; ideological affinity; loyalty and confirmability” (emphasis added). Nixon’s first choice was his secretary of treasury, John Connally, who was dropped because he would have confirmation problems. (Connally was, in fact, later indicted, but he was acquitted.) New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and California Gov. Ronald Reagan were taken off Nixon’s list because the selection of either one over the other would have split the Republican Party. Finally, also on the list was Ford, the minority leader of the House, on whom Nixon settled.

Ford explained in “A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford” that he had given considerable thought to filling the vice presidency when he became president, and his staff developed a ranking system. “There was one overriding criterion,” he wrote to explain his baseline: “[H]e had to be a man fully qualified to step into my shoes should something happen to me.”

Ford’s top aides eliminated George H.W. Bush, who had served in the House of Representatives and headed the Republican National Committee, “as not yet ready to handle the rough challenges of the Oval Office.” And when Ford settled on one of the wealthiest men in America, Nelson Rockefeller, it resulted in protracted confirmation hearings because of the extent of Rockefeller’s holdings (which might have raised conflicts of interest). But in the end, Rockefeller was confirmed.

Congress Has Also Suggested Vice Presidential Qualifications Indirectly in the Succession Statutes It Has Passed

The 25th Amendment covers succession to the presidency or vice presidency only when one of these offices is vacant—not both. It is silent if there are vacancies in both the office of the president and the office of the vice president. The scenario of concurrent vacancies has, however, been addressed by Congress, most recently in a 1947 law.

The line of succession to the presidency begins with the speaker of the House of Representatives (currently, Nancy Pelosi of California). Next is the president pro tempore of the Senate (currently, Robert Byrd of West Virginia). Finally, if neither of these officers is willing or able to take the post, the succession law turns to the president’s Cabinet members.

The current order of succession is secretary of state (currently, Condoleezza Rice), secretary of the treasury (Henry Paulson), secretary of defense (Robert Gates), attorney general (Michael Mukasey), secretary of the interior (Dirk Kempthorne ), secretary of agriculture (Edward Schafer), secretary of commerce (Carlos Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba and thus is not “natural-born"), secretary of labor (Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan and thus is not “natural-born"), secretary of health and human services (Mike Leavitt), secretary of housing and urban development (Steven Preston), secretary of transportation (Mary Peters), secretary of energy (Samuel Bodman), secretary of education (Margaret Spellings), secretary of veterans affairs (James Peake) and secretary of homeland security (Michael Chertoff). Under the succession statute, the presidency is filled for the remainder of the president’s term.

Although this 1947 succession statute has been appropriately criticized, Congress has been reluctant to change it. The congressional consensus has been that if there is a dual vacancy in the executive branch’s elected officials, it should be temporarily filled by a seasoned elected official from the legislative branch. In practice, while the full line of succession has been stipulated, it is unlikely that we will ever need to go beyond the speaker of the House to fill the vacancy temporarily.

If neither the speaker nor the president pro tempore is up to the task of serving, Congress has been comfortable with the caliber of appointees serving as secretaries of state, treasury or defense to serve as temporary president—for no one believes (absent a dramatic situation such as a massive attack on the seat of government that would call into force continuity-of-government plans) that the succession process would ever proceed beyond the “big three” Cabinet posts.

Palin Does Not Qualify Under the Implicit Constitutional Standards

When Nixon selected Ford to be his vice president, and Ford selected Rockefeller, the government was divided, with the Democrats controlling Congress. Yet a Democratic Congress approved both Ford and Rockefeller to be vice president based on interbranch comity. Surely no one would argue that Sarah Palin is in a league with Ford and Rockefeller when it comes to experience.

Nor does Palin possess anything close to the experience qualifications of the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, or the president pro tempore of the Senate, Robert Byrd. Indeed, I feel confident that Palin could not get confirmed for any of the top presidential succession posts, namely the posts of secretary of state, treasury and defense. Palin’s lack of qualifications have been widely noted. Newspapers from her state have raised questions of her qualifications.

Recently, I was in Alaska, just after Palin’s name was first floated as a possible McCain running mate. Although I am not a Democrat, I gave a keynote speech at the Democrats’ state convention. During my visit, a senior Democratic Party official said to me that he sure hoped McCain would select Palin. Based on his observation of her record in Alaska, he opined: “She’s screwing up Alaska big-time, and she could probably assure defeat for McCain.” His wish may be coming true.

She Didn't Blink

Charlie used the word hubris, but I'm not sure Palin gets it:
GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you, and it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say "I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?"

PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, will be ready. I'm ready.

GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I -- will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?"

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink.

So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.
Unbelievable! The whole interview here.


Guest Post

From mom2015

Anyone Can Be President

In her interview with Charlie, Sarah mentioned the wonderful notion that in America, anyone can become president. Let's just do a little deconstruction:

There are certain age and citizenship requirements that immediately make the "anyone can be president" meme false. But, aside from those 2 requirements, that's it. Those are them. You gotta be 35 and a natural born citizen. You don't have to be a college graduate. You can be gay. You don't have to be able to walk. You can be a decorated scholar. You can be a fucking moron. You can be president, 35-year old, natural born citizen!

When we use the word "can" we often mean "may" like when I fuck with the kids when they ask if they "can" do something, then I say yes, then they start to do it, and I say "stop, I didn't say you may". "Can" has implicit requirements--ability comes to mind.

Anyone can be president, if they can. Sarah Palin may be president. She can't.

New Study Raises More NCLB Concerns

As usual, eduwonkette has another cool person we should know. Here's the meat of what he has to say:
Our results raise serious concerns about the current methods that are used to hold schools accountable for their students' achievement levels. Because achievement-based evaluation is biased against schools that serve the disadvantaged, evaluating schools on the basis of achievement may actually undermine the NCLB goal of reducing racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in performance. If schools that serve the disadvantaged are evaluated on a biased scale, their teachers and administrators may respond like workers in other industries when they are evaluated unfairly - with frustration, reduced, effort, and attrition. Under a fair system, a school's chances of receiving a high mark should not depend on the kinds of students the school happens to serve [emphasis mine].
Cool People You Should Know: Doug Downey

To many observers of public education, there is no doubt about which schools are failing - it's the schools with low rates of students passing state tests, stupid!

Of course, this assumes that students' achievement is a direct measure of school quality. "Yet we know that this assumption is wrong....It follows that a valid system of school evaluation must separate school effects from nonschool effects on children's achievement and learning" writes Doug Downey, a cool Ohio State sociologist of education you should know, in his recent paper (in collaboration with Paul von Hippel and Melanie Hughes), "Are 'Failing' Schools Really Failing?"

Analyzing data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort, a national sample of 21,000 kindergarteners that were then followed through 5th grade, Downey and colleagues thus set out to isolate the effects of schools on student learning. The ECLS data are uniquely suited for this task because the study evaluated students in the fall and spring of kindergarten, and again in the fall and spring of first grade. It turns out that summers - a time when students are only affected by non-school influences - are the key to teasing apart school and nonschool factors.

Downey and colleagues look at schools' effectiveness in four different ways. First, they examine NCLB's method - overall test score levels. They then turn to 12-month learning rates; think growth models, which measure test score growth, for example, between a test given in April 2007 and a test given in April 2008. They contrast those rates with 9-month learning rates; imagine a test given in September, and then again in May. Finally, they introduce a measure called impact, which is the difference between the school year and summer learning rate.

"Impact" is attractive because it doesn't require us to measure and statistically control for all of the different aspects of children's nonschool environments that may affect school success, as do cardiac surgery report cards. It captures what we need to know about students' out-of-school environments without bogging us down in the methodological and political problems associated with introducing these controls. And it helps us adjust for "soft" factors like innate student motivation, for which it is difficult to measure and control. Moreover, it holds schools harmless for what happens to their students over the summer, which currently serves as a confounding factor in growth models.

What percent performing in the bottom 20% of overall achievement are actually in the bottom 20% for measures of impact and learning? Less than half! High-achieving schools are concentrated in more affluent communities, but "high impact" schools exist across the socioeconomic spectrum. And the opposite is true. There are plenty of school with good test scores that are skating by because simply because they had advantaged kids to begin with.

What does this all mean for NCLB? Downey and colleagues put it like this:

Our results raise serious concerns about the current methods that are used to hold schools accountable for their students' achievement levels. Because achievement-based evaluation is biased against schools that serve the disadvantaged, evaluating schools on the basis of achievement may actually undermine the NCLB goal of reducing racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in performance. If schools that serve the disadvantaged are evaluated on a biased scale, their teachers and administrators may respond like workers in other industries when they are evaluated unfairly - with frustration, reduced, effort, and attrition. Under a fair system, a school's chances of receiving a high mark should not depend on the kinds of students the school happens to serve.

Crystal clear, creative thinking is the distinguishing feature of Downey's work - see, for example, his paper on school effects on child obesity, or his paper asking if schools are "the great equalizer."

Wonks can rest a little easier tonight with the knowledge that Downey's now turned his attention to NCLB.

Football and Existentialism

Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jacksonville Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life

Williamyard Makes Sense!

Here is an important post from my friend williamyard:
williamyard said:

Ever notice that the ones doing the revolting are always unwashed, uncouth, uncool, unprepared, and/or unexpected? The Czar looks out his window and remarks, "What a peasant surprise!" Only in America do the peasants wear lipstick.

Michael Corleone, telling Hyman Roth about the martyred rebel, says "Now, soldiers are paid to fight. The rebels aren't," and Roth asks "What does that tell you?" and Michael replies, "It means they could win."

You hear that, Barack Obama? They could win.

Running an empire demands its own insularity. It rewards those who follow the SOPs. You cannot think outside a box that is hermetically sealed. Barack Obama is inside that box. The change he advocates is strictly by the book. He has the record to prove it.

Sarah Palin is also inside the box. But she doesn't have the record to prove it. She has the outsider's record, just like those who support her. They are outside the box, they have not been allowed in, and so they seize upon this fantasy--that she is "like them"--and that somehow she will go to sleep next to one of the space invaders' big green pods and not wake up with her soul replaced.

Everyone who works at that level of government is a soulless pod person. But we need them, these Presidents and Vice Presidents and Congressmen and Senators. Elected officials are a subspecies, a lower caste, eunuchs--democracy's niggers. Our first task is to admit that they have no souls, that their souls have been stolen by the intractable, inevitable, inexorable giant pod of political power, and therefore we must keep our eyes on them 24/7, never trust them, never believe a word they say, Republican or Democrat, frisk them, open their bags, strip-search them if necessary because they will rip us off and violate our trust and leave us worse off for the experience every single chance they get. And then they will be gone and another crew will have moved in, like a new generation of cockroaches.

This is OUR job, as responsible citizens and custodians of our country and our planet. Our job is NOT to project our lazy fantasies upon someone who panders to us, who pretends to be different, who is packaged and sold to us as "one of us."

Only a fool hires someone who is just like her. You hire someone you will whip until they bleed if necessary...or kiss their ass if necessary--same difference. Whatever works is the point. You ride them until they do the job, and when they balk or slow down you shit-can them and hire somebody else. And watch them like a hawk when they're on the register.

This is not a fucking game.

Got A Headline?

Give me your headline in comments, and I'll post it!

McCain/Palin: Proof There Is No God


Sarah Palin Thinks She Can See Russia From Alaska

She can't.

Update: See here.

Sarah Palin Got Her 1st Passport Last Year

Ok, 2 years ago.

John McCain Likes War

He thinks it is a great way to solve problems.

Sarah Palin Lied (and is uninformed)

Watch her interview with CG.

John McCain Flip-Flopped

On too many to count.

Cindy McCain Stole Drugs Because She Was An Addict



"She Is Clearly Out Of Her Depth"

"She is clearly out of her depth" says Sully. That's an understatement! Watch:

McCain Is A Liar: He'll Tell You Lies

More Mavericky Honesty

by publius

Lying John McCain calls Lying Sarah Palin the nation's top energy expert. He also noted that she "understands Russia" because Alaska is next to a remote region of that country. Jonathan Martin writes:

Asked what specific national security credentials Palin had, McCain cited her experience dealing with energy issues and went so far as to say she was the country's foremost expert in the field.
"She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America," McCain said.
McCain also pointed out that Palin governed a state that neighbors Russia.

She's a joke, and so is he.
Here's hoping the joke isn't on us!

A Note From A Principal


I noticed that you used your library time to work on other things [the library is not yet open, so the librarian stopped by with a book to read to my students. she is wonderful]. While there are needs in the first 2 weeks of school (eg- sorting emergency cards, setting up grade book), I expect you to actively participate in specials, including library[sic] you should link classroom/library instruction for your students. This book had some interesting sounds/ideas/language.
Well, what can I say. The librarian came into my classroom to read a story. I took that time, since for the first time the librarian was in my room and we were not in the library, to take care of the never ending business. So, I was at my desk, doing stuff. The librarian did not need me, indeed, it is her time! In fact, I do not know how I am to integrate my teaching with the random book the librarian chooses (it's fucking random, and I don't know what it will be till I see it!). The comment in the note seems pretty forced and useless, lacking any pedagogy. It's just a way to nitpick and make the principal think she is of some use.

This note is an example of a principal realizing there is nothing the new adoptions, or the "no" interventions, or robotizing of teaching can do to help close the achievement gap. So, they snipe on the littlest of things to show that they are doing something.

This is what is wrong with education.

Obama On Education: 14 Years Ago

October 28, 1994
SHOW: All Things Considered (NPR 4:30 pm ET)

Charles Murray's Political Expediency Denounced
SECTION: News; Domestic
LENGTH: 635 words

HIGHLIGHT: Commentator Barack Obama finds that Charles Murray, author of the controversial "The Bell Curve," demonstrates not scientific expertise but spurious political motivation in his conclusions about race and IQ.

BARACK OBAMA, Commentator: Charles Murray is inviting American down a dangerous path.

NOAH ADAMS, Host: Civil rights lawyer, Barack Obama.

Mr. OBAMA: The idea that inferior genes account for the problems of the poor in general, and blacks in particular, isn't new, of course. Racial supremacists have been using IQ tests to support their theories since the turn of the century. The arguments against such dubious science aren't new either. Scientists have repeatedly told us that genes don't vary much from one race to another, and psychologists have pointed out the role that language and other cultural barriers can play in depressing minority test scores, and no one disputes that children whose mothers smoke crack when they're pregnant are going to have developmental problems.

Now, it shouldn't take a genius to figure out that with early intervention such problems can be prevented. But Mr. Murray isn't interested in prevention. He's interested in pushing a very particular policy agenda, specifically, the elimination of affirmative action and welfare programs aimed at the poor. With one finger out to the political wind, Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it's artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell. It's easy to see the basis for Mr. Murray's calculations. After watching their income stagnate or decline over the past decade, the majority of Americans are in an ugly mood and deeply resent any advantages, realor perceived, that minorities may enjoy.

I happen to think Mr. Murray's wrong, not just in his estimation of black people, but in his estimation of the broader American public. But I do think Mr. Murray's right about the growing distance between the races. The violence and despair of the inner city are real. So's the problem of street crime. The longer we allow these problems to fester, the easier it becomes for white America to see all blacks as menacing and for black America to see all whites as racist. To close that gap, we're going to have to do more than denounce Mr. Murray's book. We're going to have to take concrete and deliberate action. For blacks, that means taking greater responsibility for the state of our own communities. Too many of us use white racism as an excuse for self-defeating behavior. Too many of our young people think education is a white thing and that the values of hard work and discipline andself-respect are somehow outdated.

That being said, it's time for all of us, and now I'm talking about the larger American community, to acknowledge that we've never even come close to providing equal opportunity to the majority of black children. Real opportunity would mean quality prenatal care for all women and well-funded and innovative public schools for all children. Real opportunity would mean a job at a living wage for everyone who was willing to work, jobs that can return some structure and dignity to people's lives and give inner-city children something more than a basketball rim to shoot for. In the short run, such ladders of opportunity are going to cost more, not less, than either welfare or affirmative action. But, in the long run, our investment should payoff handsomely. That we fail to make this investment is just plain stupid. It's not the result of an intellectual deficit. It's theresult of a moral deficit.

ADAMS: Barack Obama is a civil rights lawyer and writer. He lives in Chicago.

A Superintendent's Hope

Here is a quote from a superintendent of a public school district in the Bay area:
“We have already adopted a new math program and are well on our way to develop a language arts program which we hope will make a difference [emphasis mine],” he said.
I guess the operative word in that sentence is HOPE.

Is hoping a new curriculum will work the best way to help kids? I say no. I have identified many small but significant changes that could be made, district wide, that would improve instruction and not put teachers off or scare them. But because of NCLB, we must purchase research-based curricular materials (a load of crap) that are expensive and too complicated to use on the fly (which is how the district expected us to implement the new curriculum).

Folks, you need universal health care, corporate taxes (to fund NCLB, since you won't repeal it), early childhood education (to close the achievment gap), and a stronger teacher's union. Otherwise citizens, you will continue to have superintendents that use hope as an intervention.

A Sad Anniversary Today: September 11

Today is the seventh anniversary of the day Osama Bin Laden hired some Saudi's to fly planes into our buildings.

John McCain has claimed that he knows how to catch Bin Laden, but won't tell us unless and until he is elected president. WTF?!

John, if you know how to catch him, shouldn't you tell the authorities? Don't you have some military connections you could inform, and then take credit for catching the SOB?

Or would you rather hold your own country hostage in return for an election?

John McCain is a traitor, apparently. Please don't vote for him. He lies, calls women cunts, pushes ladies in wheelchairs, and doesn't know what Walter Reed Hospital looks like.

Oh, and he picked an unqualified person as his VP candidate. Get a clue America! McCain likes war, thinks it works, and will get us in another!

Let's hope the Republicans will not use today as a commercial for themselves.

Remember, it was THE REPUBLICANS IN OFFICE ON 9/11/01!!!


Everyday Math: Sucks

What math curriculum did your district adopt? Mine adopted Everyday Math. Explain something to me; why do we need to adopt new curricular materials if none of us use them anyway? Actually I know the answer. Because all teachers need to teach the same thing, the same way, because research has shown that teaching all children the same thing, the same way, works better than tailoring the curriculum to the kids' needs.

No? What? I am wrong on that? Jebus. I thought my job was to try to teach as many of my students as possible as much as possible in the best way possible. Oh well. Silly me.

Everyday Math for 2nd graders begins with money. That's right, money. Not place value which is the foundation for what will be the major focus of 2nd grade math. And for the money unit I am supposed to ask kids to bring in coins! The district spent I don't know how many thousands of dollars on the new curriculum, and we have to ask poor kids to bring in change. We suck.

And then there are the "math coaches" who are there to help. In our math meeting today our coach told us the district has not yet figured out what assessments we will be using. The coach does not know if or when all teachers will get the materials that have not shown up yet. The coach does not know how we are going to share the materials (1 set for 2 classes), but that is our problem.

We were given an assignment by the coach: the scavenger hunt activity the faculty engaged in consisted of a couple pieces of paper with questions like; where do you find the ELL support in the teacher materials? The principal, who hates me so she sat next to me, couldn't find any of the stuff on the scavenger hunt list. Why? No, she is not stupid. It is that the materials are made for teachers, which means the Everyday math folks can sell us training sessions on how to use their unnecessarily complicated teacher guide (all teacher guides are like this, so, very few people use them, and the are simply overkill anyway).

The sequence of Everyday Math is out of whack, the daily lessons and activities--that must be followed--are less robust than what I do now. When I told my principal that I thought there were a few very powerful but simple things we could do to make our instruction more "regular" among grades, like using academic language, she agreed that would be good. I said considering everone is complaining about the new adoption, and it is no different that what it is replacing, and it is too complicated for anyone to put to good use this year, why don't we make a couple changes that are simple and powerful. Principal said we need to get on board with the new curriculum because not all teachers can handle the academic language on their own.

Okay. Fine. I guess most teachers are stupid, and we need scripted curricular materials. Except that some of us don't. Did I mention my scores?

Principal Certification: For What?

The following post is not about the district where I work, but it might as well be!

Principals used to be experts, former educators, and had to fight for the privilege of becoming principal. Now, well, not so much. I can tell you this from personal experience, as could many, many folks who are in on the hiring of principals (it's always the superintendent's choice!
“Take This Certification And…”

Filed under: Education by Ron Isaac @ 8:39 pm

One fine day a few years ago my principal summoned me for a good-natured chat about a piece I had written that some brownie-point seeker or other well-wisher had retrieved from the Internet and forwarded to her. My piece was about the “reformed” view of what currently passes as qualifications to be a school leader and how it falls short of the admittedly flawed principal-selection process of the past. Basically I lamented the actual (not merely perceived) de-legitimization of credentials that characterize the present chancellor’s presumed rehabilitation of the school leadership concept.

This principal, who although not pristine, was on the whole superior to most (we need to rate and educate the “whole” principal just as we do the “whole” child). She had, to her credit, come up through the ranks and left a track record of achievement. She showed by example that applying administrative skills and displaying humanity are not contradictory.

The principal, sounding more hurt than indignant, asked plaintively, “You don’t think I’m a competent principal? I read what you wrote about new principals.”

Well, most of the time this principal realized that she was neither the center of the universe nor of my articles, but she had been egged on into thinking that she was my target. Heck, she wasn’t even my case in point.

“Yes, you are, competent,” I replied, adding “but your qualifications were incidental to your getting this job. You didn’t get placed here because of them and if you hadn’t had them you’d be here on the throne just the same. Your appointment was a fait accompli. The first time that anyone in this building ever saw or heard of you was when the superintendent popped by to announce his decision to put you here.”

I was glad he did, but that wasn’t the point. It was a fortuitous imposition but an imposition nonetheless. I was accurate and sincere. It was one of those rare times that truth’s levees could not be blown away by the gale of skepticism.

But how has the principal selection process been degraded under the current DOE, with its penchant for self-congratulation? “Let’s “compare and contrast,” as we English teacher dinosaurs used to say.

Before “Children First” (which doesn’t mean what it says. People can make up any slogan just as they can sue anybody for anything or call a dictatorship a “People’s Republic”), principals were invariably veteran educators who had logged at least a decade as teachers and assistant principals before they applied for their first supervisory position. Without training, knowledge, and experience, you could still dream about being the boss of others who had the expertise that you totally lacked, but you wouldn’t have the nerve to think you belonged in that position. If you still put in for the job you’d not only be rejected; you’d be laughed out of town.

Until the present era you couldn’t become a principal practically straight out of college exclusively because of your social networking prowess or DNA links. Naturally there was always an element of “who you know…not what you know,” but rising to the top with nothing substantive to recommend you became an art form only in recent years. Of course, among the “old-school” principals there was a fair (and unfair) share of autocrats, but at least that species knew something about curriculum, methodology, educational philosophy and programming.

A “desirable” school would typically receive two hundred resumes for a vacancy. Representatives from the PTA, UFT, and CSA would separately sift through them and later collaborate to pick finalists among candidates who had met the mutually determined criteria for selection. The finalists were ranked and interviewed in an open and orderly way. There was consultation among the groups doing the selection and their feedback was not only tolerated but mandated. The discussions were frank, sometimes cantankerous, but almost always fruitful and unifying in the end.

The tradition was corrupted intermittently by some incorrigible insiders. The collective will was sometimes suspiciously overruled and a candidate out of the blue got the nod. But rarely did the successful applicant feel they had a right and indeed a holy obligation to barge into a school and like gangbusters impose their ego and redefine a flourishing school culture. Before the corporate children’s takeover, a new school leader usually showed a trace element of humility when introduced to a staff of many dozens of professionals with hundreds of years of total experience. This is often lacking among the new breed of school leaders who though they take the title and ape the role, mock the profession to which they are strangers.

Disclaimers have become the “in” genre for critics, so let me concede that the old system was not all good and the present malpractice is not all bad.

Having said that, let’s suppose that the surgeon doing your transplant is a newbie from the Stomach and Liver Leadership Academy whose prior “operations” were with hedge fund management. Or that NASA’s project manager in charge of rescuing astronauts stranded on the space station was trained to command nothing but investment portfolios before his first gig at Cape Canaveral’s controls. Would your prayers not take on a more urgent ring?

And that is why, with helter-skelter cronyism and nepotism in place and in force, our schools need buckets of worldly activism and divine intercession.

Stop Blaming Teachers and Schools! Part II

The New York Times Magazine has an article by Paul Tough about what is wrong with education. Hint: It's not the teachers! Read it below, or of course, here.

September 7, 2008

24/7 School Reform

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party’s long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.

On one side are the members of the two huge teachers’ unions and the many parents who support them. To them, the big problem in public education is No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law. Teachers have many complaints about the law: it encourages “teaching to the test” at the expense of art, music and other electives, they say; it blames teachers, especially those in inner-city schools, for the poor performance of disadvantaged children; and it demands better results without providing educators with the resources they need.

On the other side are the party’s self-defined “education reformers.” Members of this group — a loose coalition of mayors and superintendents, charter-school proponents and civil rights advocates — actually admire the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind, although they often criticize the law’s implementation. They point instead to a bigger, more systemic crisis. These reformers describe the underperformance of the country’s schoolchildren, and especially of poor minorities, as a national crisis that demands a drastic overhaul of the way schools are run. In order to get better teachers into failing classrooms, they support performance bonuses, less protection for low-performing teachers, alternative certification programs to attract young, ambitious teachers and flexible contracts that could allow for longer school days and an extended school year. The unions see these proposals as attacks on their members’ job security — which, in many ways, they are.

As the fall campaign and a new school year begin, both the unionists and the reformers find themselves distracted by the same question: Which side is Barack Obama on? Each camp has tried to claim him as its own — and Obama, for his part, has done his best to make it easy for them. He reassures the unions by saying he will reform No Child Left Behind so teachers will no longer “be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests,” and he placates reformers by calling himself a “strong champion of charter schools.” The reformers point to his speech in July to the National Education Association, during which he was booed, briefly, for endorsing changes to teachers’ compensation structure. The unionists, in turn, emphasize his speech a week later to the American Federation of Teachers, during which he said, “I am tired of hearing you, the teachers who work so hard, blamed for our problems.” On blogs and at conferences, the two sides have continued to snipe at each other, all the while parsing Obama’s speeches and policy pronouncements, looking for new clues to his true positions.

It’s possible, though, that both camps are looking in the wrong place for answers. What is most interesting and novel about Obama’s education plans is how much they involve institutions other than schools.

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.

The three people who have done the most to propel this nascent movement are James J. Heckman, Susan B. Neuman and Geoffrey Canada — though each of them comes at the problem from a different angle, and none of them would necessarily cite the other two as close allies. Heckman, an occasional informal Obama adviser, is an economist at the University of Chicago, and in a series of recent papers and books he has developed something of a unified theory of American poverty. More than ever before, Heckman argues, the problem of persistent poverty is at its root a problem of skills — what economists often call human capital. Poor children grow into poor adults because they are never able, either at home or at school, to acquire the abilities and resources they need to compete in a high-tech service-driven economy — and Heckman emphasizes that those necessary skills are both cognitive (the ability to read and compute) and noncognitive (the ability to stick to a schedule, to delay gratification and to shake off disappointments). The good news, Heckman says, is that specific interventions in the lives of poor children can diminish that skill gap — as long as those interventions begin early (ideally in infancy) and continue throughout childhood.

What kind of interventions? Well, that’s where the work of Susan Neuman becomes relevant. In 2001, Neuman, an education scholar at the University of Michigan, was recruited to a senior position in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, helping to oversee the development and then the implementation of No Child Left Behind. She quit in 2003, disillusioned with the law, and became convinced that its central goal — to raise disadvantaged children to a high level of achievement through schools alone — was simply impossible. Her work since then can be seen as something of a vast mea culpa for her time in Washington. After leaving government, Neuman spent several years crisscrossing the nation, examining and analyzing programs intended to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Her search has culminated in a book, “Changing the Odds for Children at Risk,” to be published in November, in which she describes nine nonschool interventions. She includes the Nurse-Family Partnership, which sends trained nurses to visit and counsel poor mothers during and after their pregnancies; Early Head Start, a federal program, considerably more ambitious than Head Start itself, that offers low-income families parental support, medical care and day-care centers during the first three years of the lives of their children; Avance, a nine-month language-enrichment program for Spanish-speaking parents, mostly immigrants from Mexico, that operates in Texas and Los Angeles; and Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina that enrolls 4-year-olds who score the lowest on a screening test of cognitive ability and manages to bring most of them up to grade level by the first day of kindergarten.

Neuman’s favorite programs share certain characteristics — they start early, focus on the families that need them the most and provide intensive support. Many of the interventions work with parents to make home environments more stimulating; others work directly with children to improve their language development (a critical factor in later school success). All of them, Neuman says, demonstrate impressive results. The problem right now is that the programs are isolated and scattered across the country, and they are usually directed at only a few years of a child’s life, which means that their positive effects tend to fade once the intervention ends.

This is where Geoffrey Canada comes in. He runs the first and so far the only organization in the country that pulls together under a single umbrella integrated social and educational services for thousands of children at once. Canada’s agency, the Harlem Children’s Zone, has a $58 million budget this year, drawn mostly from private donors; it currently serves 8,000 kids in a 97-block neighborhood of Harlem. (I’ve spent the last five years reporting on his organization’s work and its implications for the country.) Canada shares many of the views of the education reformers — he runs two intensive K-12 charter schools with extended hours and no union contract — but at the same time he offers what he calls a “conveyor belt” of social programs, beginning with Baby College, a nine-week parenting program that encourages parents to choose alternatives to corporal punishment and to read and talk more with their children. As students progress through an all-day prekindergarten and then through a charter school, they have continuous access to community supports like family counseling, after-school tutoring and a health clinic, all designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle-class and upper-middle-class kids through their childhoods. The goal, in the end, is to produce children with the abilities and the character to survive adolescence in a high-poverty neighborhood, to make it to college and to graduate.

Though the conveyor belt is still being constructed in Harlem, early results are positive. Last year, the charter schools’ inaugural kindergarten class reached third grade and took their first New York state achievement tests: 68 percent of the students passed the reading test, which beat the New York City average and came within two percentage points of the state average, and 97 percent of them passed the math test, well above both the city and state average.

Obama has embraced, directly or indirectly, all three of these new thinkers. His campaign invited Heckman to critique its education policy, and Obama has proposed large-scale expansions of two of Neuman’s chosen interventions, the Nurse-Family Partnership and Early Head Start. Most ambitiously, Obama has pledged to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities across the country. “The philosophy behind the project is simple,” Obama said in a speech last year announcing his plan. “If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works.”

Obama has proposed that these replication projects, which he has labeled Promise Neighborhoods, be run as private/public partnerships, with the federal government providing half the funds and the rest being raised by local governments and private philanthropies and businesses. It would cost the federal government “a few billion dollars a year,” he acknowledged in his speech. “But we will find the money to do this, because we can’t afford not to.”

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Obama will convince voters with this position, and whether, if elected, he will do the heavy lifting required to put such an ambitious national program in place. There are many potential obstacles. A lot of conservatives would oppose a new multibillion-dollar federal program as a Great Society-style giveaway to the poor. And many liberals are wary of any program that tries to change the behavior of inner-city parents; to them, teaching poor parents to behave more like middle-class parents can feel paternalistic. Union leaders will find it hard to support an effort that has nonunion charter schools at its heart. Education reformers often support Canada’s work, but his premise — that schools alone are not enough to make a difference in poor children’s lives — makes many of them anxious. And in contrast to the camps arrayed on either side of the school-reform debate, there is no natural constituency for the initiative: no union or interest group that stands to land new jobs or new contracts, no deep-pocketed philanthropy devoted to spreading the message.

The real challenge Obama faces is to convince voters that the underperformance of poor children is truly a national issue — that it should matter to anyone who isn’t poor. Heckman, especially, argues that we should address the problem not out of any mushy sense of moral obligation, but for hardheaded reasons of global competitiveness. At a moment when nations compete mostly through the skill level of their work force, he argues, we cannot afford to let that level decline.

Obama’s contention is that the traditional Democratic solution — more money for public schools — is no longer enough. In February, in an interview with the editorial board of The Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, he called for “a cultural change in education in inner-city communities and low-income communities across the country — not just inner-city, but also rural.” In many low-income communities, Obama said, “there’s this sense that education is somehow a passive activity, and you tip your head over and pour education in somebody’s ear. And that’s not how it works. So we’re going to have to work with parents.”

In the end, the kind of policies that Obama is proposing will require an even broader cultural change — not just in the way poor Americans think about education but also in the way middle-class Americans think about poverty. And that won’t be easy. No matter how persuasive the statistics Heckman is able to muster or how impressive the results that Canada is able to achieve, many Americans will continue to simply blame parents or teachers for the underperformance of poor kids. Obama’s challenge — if he decides to take it on — will be to convince voters that society as a whole has a crucial role to play in the lives of disadvantaged children, not just in the classroom but outside schools as well.

Paul Tough is an editor at the magazine. His book, “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America,” will be published next week.


School Accountability vs Hospital Accountability

I have made comparisons before. I have even equated teachers and doctors before. Here is a definitive comparison having to do with risk adjustment and accountability for hospitals. As a comparison to how we rate schools, look how hospitals are rated:
And it's quite eye-opening to compare the language used by state and federal governments used to explain their accountability systems with the rhetoric we hear in education. Consider this statement from the Department of Health and Human Services to explain the rationale behind risk adjustment:
The characteristics that Medicare patients bring with them when they arrive at a hospital with a heart attack or heart failure are not under the control of the hospital. However, some patient characteristics may make death more likely (increase the ‘risk’ of death), no matter where the patient is treated or how good the care is. … Therefore, when mortality rates are calculated for each hospital for a 12-month period, they are adjusted based on the unique mix of patients that hospital treated.
If you replace the word "hospital" with "school" above, you can imagine the reception this statement would receive in the educational accountability debate. Soft bigotry of low expectations, and you probably kill baby seals for fun, too.
Lessons for No Child Left Behind from "No Cardiac Surgery Patient Left Behind"

New AYP numbers are out, folks. In California, only 48% of schools made AYP, and only 34% of middle schools did so. In Missouri, only about 40% of schools made AYP. Pick almost any state, and you'll see that there are soaring numbers of schools designated as "in need of improvement." With numbers like these, it's worth considering whether NCLB's measurement apparatus is accurately identifying "failing schools."

One way to get leverage on this question is to consider how other fields approach the issue of accountability. Doctor and hospital accountability for cardiac surgery - also the topic of a NYT commentary today - is instructive in this regard. Borrowing heavily from previous work, let me outline how state governments have approached doctor and hospital accountability in medicine. In subsequent posts this week, I'll write about the outcomes of medical accountability systems, as well as some of their unintended consequences.

Medicine makes use of what is known as “risk adjustment” to evaluate hospitals’ performance. Since the early 1990s, states have rated hospitals performing cardiac surgery in annual report cards. The idea is essentially the same as using test scores to evaluate schools’ performance. But rather than reporting hospitals’ raw mortality rates, states “risk adjust” these numbers to take patient severity into account. The idea is that hospitals caring for sicker patients should not be penalized because their patients were sicker to begin with.

In practice, what risk adjustment means is that mortality is predicted as a function of dozens of patient characteristics. These include a laundry list of medical conditions out of the hospital’s control that could affect a patient’s outcomes: the patient’s other health conditions, demographic factors, lifestyle choices (such as smoking), and disease severity. This prediction equation yields an “expected mortality rate”: the mortality rate that would be expected given the mix of patients treated at the hospital.

While the statistical methods vary from state to state, the crux of risk adjustment is a comparison of expected and observed mortality rates. In hospitals where the observed mortality rate exceeds the expected rate, patients fared worse than they should have. These “adjusted mortality rates” are then used to make apples-to-apples comparisons of hospital performance.

Accountability systems in medicine go even further to reduce the chance that a good hospital is unfairly labeled. Hospitals vary widely in size, for example, and in small hospitals a few aberrant cases can significantly distort the mortality rate. So, in addition to the adjusted mortality rate, confidence intervals are reported to illustrate the uncertainty that stems from these differences in size. Only when these confidence intervals are taken into account are performance comparisons made between hospitals.

Contrast this approach with that used by the New York City Department of Education's progress reports, where "point estimates" are used to array schools on an A-F continuum with no regard for measurement error. Readers know well that your friendly neighborhood "statistical nut" has no beef with the use of sophisticated statistical methods to compare schools. But I would just ask that we have some humility about what these methods can and cannot do. (Sidenote: The only winners when we ignore these issues are educational researchers, who can then write regression discontinuity papers using these data. Thanks for the publications, Joel and Mike!)

And it's quite eye-opening to compare the language used by state and federal governments used to explain their accountability systems with the rhetoric we hear in education. Consider this statement from the Department of Health and Human Services to explain the rationale behind risk adjustment:

The characteristics that Medicare patients bring with them when they arrive at a hospital with a heart attack or heart failure are not under the control of the hospital. However, some patient characteristics may make death more likely (increase the ‘risk’ of death), no matter where the patient is treated or how good the care is. … Therefore, when mortality rates are calculated for each hospital for a 12-month period, they are adjusted based on the unique mix of patients that hospital treated.

If you replace the word "hospital" with "school" above, you can imagine the reception this statement would receive in the educational accountability debate. Soft bigotry of low expectations, and you probably kill baby seals for fun, too.

Readers, why is the educational debate so different? Full disclosure: I will shamelessly appropriate your thoughts in my dissertation, which attempts to answer this question, and also establish the effects of each of these systems on race, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities in educational and health outcomes.

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