2/7/09

Let Them Filibuster!

Why are the Democrats so timid? They say they are compromising because they need 60 votes in the Senate (I hear it may be only 59 because of the lack of 100 "Seated" Senators) to avoid a filibuster. Let those fucking obstructionist Republicans filibuster! Let them show the world what they are made of! If they want to stand up there and claim, against the experts' opinions, that tax cuts will stimulate the economy and spending won't, let them. Then Democrats, come the next election, will have even more seats! No? Oh, and the filibuster they mount is bound to fail anyway.

Hey Republicans--Fuck You!

Education Research: Silly Season

I have written before about education research, and the near uselessness of much of it. Here is a fellow blogger who also has issues with education research.
What is Scientifically Based Research?

A nagging little pamphlet from NIFL appeared in my teacher mailbox the other day. I’d been hopeful that the government’s fetish for experimental reading research design would go into remission with the new administration, but that seems not to be the case. Always curious about government propaganda, I read through “What is Scientifically Based Research?” instead of grading papers or running the copy machine to generate more papers to grade.

Page 1 says that “educators need ways to separate misinformation from genuine knowledge,” and we should be wise consumers of education research to help us “make decisions that guarantee quality instruction.” Looking for the punch line, I continued reading, drawn to riveting passages such as, “Teachers can further strengthen their instruction and protect their students’ valuable time in school by scientifically evaluating claims about teaching methods and recognizing quality research when they see it.” Translation: Good intentions are not enough. Teachers may be misled by educational hucksters. I’ve had those same suspicions myself, but the target population isn’t limited to the teaching profession.

The main point of this document is to give us the “federal perspective” on scientific research, which:

* Progresses by investigating testable problems;
* Yields predictions that could be disproven;
* Is subjected to peer review;
* Allows for criticism and replication by other scientists;
* Is bound by the logic of true experiments.

It reads like the introduction to a sixth-grade science textbook. Nothing on that list, however, is evident in our national school reform policy. But federal education reform is political, not educational. And since this is the age of double standards, I’ll let that go for now, and write it off as another example of how, when you write the rules, accountability is for everyone else.

What interests me at the moment is the federal perspective on curriculum and instruction. Principally, how much weight should be given to teacher observations in instructional decision-making? We often hear that innovation is a good thing, but it’s hard to imagine how new ideas are propagated in a standardized environment that myopically focuses on a single measure of success.

“What is Scientific Research?” tells us that teachers should “look for evidence that an instructional technique has been proven effective by more than one study,” cautioning us to be aware there are different stages of scientific investigation, and that we should “take care to use data generated at each stage in appropriate ways.” Then comes this attention grabber: “For example, some teachers rely on their own observations to make judgments about the success of educational strategies.”

Some teachers?!

At this point, we learn that “observations have limited value” and that scientific observations must be carefully structured to make determinations about cause and effect. Well, maybe so. But experimental evidence has limits, as well. We’re cautioned that, “In order to draw conclusions about outcomes and their causes, data must come from true experiments,” and “Only true experiments can provide evidence of whether an instructional practice works or not.”

So, teachers, don’t get any funny ideas about evaluating your own effectiveness.

Just to make sure we understand they don’t have every little detail quite worked out, we’re reminded that, “In many cases, science has not yet provided the answers teachers and others need to make fully informed decisions about adopting, or dropping, particular educational strategies.” No kidding.

So, what then? My teacher perspective is that all knowing is personal, classrooms are not sterile laboratories in which the variables can be tightly controlled, and doing experiments on children is still frowned upon in our society.

Coincidentally, The federal perspective on education research received some attention in Elaine Garan’s recent article about sustained silent reading in The Reading Teacher. Garan reminds us that the “medical model” is not well-suited for education research because messy human variables such as motivation, emotional difficulties, and other human qualities can contaminate the results. She argued that a lack of consensus among researchers converges with common sense, recommending that students have time to read freely each day, despite the National Reading Panel’s failure to find any evidence in support of the practice. If there is “no evidence” in support of a particular practice, it may have everything to do with the research methodology, and nothing to do with what is true about the real world of classrooms that researchers have awkwardly tried to shoehorn into a narrow view of reading instruction.

I’ll have more to say about free and voluntary reading some other time. It’s working out remarkably well for my students this year. That’s my observation, anyway.

Saturday Cartoon Fun: GOP Tunnel Vision Edition



Krugman Shows Morning Joe Who's Boss

Republicans are so annoying! Here's Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and Zen master, explaining to Joe, Mika and Pat why they are stoopid:

Rachel Maddow On Stimulus

GOP obstructionism, Democrats being wimps, and Obama caving in. Come on, people!

2/6/09

Proposition 8: Love Will Prevail!

A Proposition 8 update

Some news about California Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that reinstated a ban on same sex marriage in California:

- The California Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 on March 5th. A decision is promised within 90 days of the hearing. In addition to ruling on the constitutionality of the amendment, the court will also rule on the fate of the 18,000 same sex couples that married prior to the amendment passing.

- California Attorney General Jerry Brown will argue for the overturning of the proposition, arguing "inalienable rights" cannot be eliminated without compelling reasons.

- General Brown's position of challenging an electorate decision is not unprecedented. In 1964, 65% of the California electorate approved Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment that permitted racial discrimination in property sales and rentals. Then California Attorney General Thomas Lynch argued the proposition violated U.S. constitutional standards. The Court overturned Prop. 14 in 1966 and the U.S. Supreme Court did likewise in 1967.

- The disclosure of campaign contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign revealed the Mormon Church contributed $190,000. Individual Mormon donors also contributed, and there is an investigation by the state campaign watchdog agency into whether the Church violated state law by not disclosing the extent of it's involvement during the campaign, including providing airline tickets, hotel expenses, rental cars and compensated staff costs for members to travel to California to campaign for the proposition.

Finally, a video (via Ezra Klein) representing the 18,000 couples asking the California Supreme Court, "Don't Divorce Us"


Why Your Kids Suck At Soccer

Very funny stuff from McSweeney's:
WHAT PARENTS
MUST ASSUME I'M
SAYING TO MY YOUTH
SOCCER TEAM.

BY BEN JOSEPH

- - - -

Lucky break, Tigers—I talked to the ref and, for the next five minutes, we get a point every time we blow all the seeds off a dandelion in a single try. Go, Jenny, go!

- - - -

James, I don't care if your father played soccer at Duke. It's my job to make sure you're a huge disappointment to him. Now pretend you're a magic airplane or else.

- - - -

Nelson, watch out! The ball is now a horrible, child-eating monster and the only way to defeat it is by running away and crying.

- - - -

Ralph! Hear me raise my voice slightly? Your parents need to come over and explain my shortcomings as a coach and a person.

- - - -

Timmy! Nice aggression. I support your decision to give that kid a bloody nose, and you should resolve conflicts similarly at school and at home.

- - - -

Nice half, guys! Remember, a true soccer player saves his energy for the sprint to the sideline—especially since I only have enough juice boxes for half of you.

- - - -

Now, Christian, we're all about to make assumptions about your future sexuality, so make sure to run that way we practiced.

- - - -

Tigers! I'm sure you'd never notice on your own, so I'll point out the apple-juice stain on Tim's crotch that looks suspiciously like urine. Stop what you're doing right now and laugh till he cries.

- - - -

Nelson, don't panic, but that monster's back. Put your hands in your pants and pretend not to see it and you may survive.

- - - -

Good game, guys. Remember: It doesn't matter whether you win or lose. What matters is that you all played worse than the Joneses' kid.

Friday Cartoon Obstructionism

2/5/09

Obama's OpEd

The Action Americans Need

By Barack Obama
Thursday, February 5, 2009

By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives -- action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.

These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.

The writer is president of the United States.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Taxes Edition





2/4/09

SCHIP Passes: Waxman Waxes

Maybe There Is Hope For Education Policy?

This could be very good news for education nationally:
Is Darling-Hammond Going to Be Duncan's Deputy?

Remember the controversy over Linda Darling-Hammond, Obama's campaign and transition adviser on education? Well, she's back. Rumor has it that Darling-Hammond might be getting the deputy secretary position at the Department of Education, which, as this graph shows, wields great power. "That's the person that really runs the agency," one education expert and reformer told me. It's a scenario that reformers, who favor tough new approaches to changing education and see Darling-Hammond as a traditionalist, had hoped wouldn't happen. "I guess we lost on this one," the reformer told me.

Calls to several education policy experts confirmed that word is circulating in the community that she might be tapped as second-in-command under Arne Duncan. "She's made the rounds talking to people, doing the kinds of things you do if you're expecting to stay in Washington," said Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank in D.C. He noted that, if she's not about to get the deputy gig, she could be getting another department position, perhaps one focusing on teacher quality.

In my conversations with them, education policy folks also said they've heard that Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, of which Darling-Hammond isn't a big fan, turned down an administration job. Michael Johnston, an Obama campaign adviser, TFA alum, and school principal who's working in the senior staffing process for the education department, declined to comment on who's getting which posts. "The team will be tremendous," he said in an e-mail, noting that an announcement about senior staff could come any day now.

Reformers are crossing their fingers that Darling-Hammond won't be named the No. 2.

--Seyward Darby

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Greedy Bastards Edition







TFA And KIPP: $$$$$

A great piece by Jim Horn:
TFA and KIPP: Ivy League Temps and Corporate Missionaries Part I
In just a few years, TFA has established itself as one of the smart-people-who-just-graduated-with-liberal-arts-degrees-and-now-have-no-idea-what-they-want-to-do-with-their-lives-but-are-pretty-sure-it-isn’t-remain-in-the-spin-cycle-of-academia-or-move-on-to-the-next-preset-hierarchy-in-the-finance-world demographic. Used to be those poor souls could only go to law school or move to New York and “go into, like, publishing or something.” But TFA positioned itself in such a way that it gets the lost souls who have an impulse to do something to help the world immediately upon graduating.

It’s like the Peace Corps. But, you know, creepier.
-–David Chernicoff, Yale Daily News, 10-27-06
In 1990 Teach for America, the wildly profitable non-profit that skeptics often refer to as Teach For Awhile, received an initial grant from Exxon Mobil and, thus, began an organization whose avowed mission remains to place as many Ivy League would-be teacher recruits in poor public schools as possible. This year TFA has an operating budget in excess of $100 million, net assets of over $120 million, and a work force of over 6,000 bright, energetic, and, yes, clueless recruits engaged in on-the-job training in some of America’s most desperately-poor, low-achieving schools, where children, by the way, need most of all (beyond the need to end their poverty) the most highly qualified, experienced teachers with deep knowledge of the subjects they teach and knowledge of how to teach those subjects.

Despite what the grim reality calls out for, TFA, in contrast, places teacher trainees with zero years teaching experience and without qualifications from any accredited training program in schools with the least resources and the greatest need. Beyond a five-week pre-service basic training course and four visits during the first year, TFA leaves their primarily white, middle-class recruits (1 in 10 is African-American) to their own devices in providing poor, minority students with what these recruits quickly find out they do not have. And with the TFA public relations machine that is able to instigate media wars and think tank assaults against legitimate research that shows the advantages of certificated teachers when compared to TFA and other uncertified recruits, there is little to stand in the way of the new definition of teaching as, not a calling or even a profession, but as a job that the service oriented do for a few years before moving on. Sort of like the TFA model.

But nothing about this grandiose do-gooderism exercised at the expense of poor children in poor schools seems to matter to the growing network of individual, foundation, and corporate donors eager to write checks in support of this growing mission. TFA now includes groupings of contributors for the 5 and 10 million dollar categories. The Dells, the Fishers, and Eli Broad are listed among several others in the $10 million “Expansion Fund” list.

Nor does there seem to be any moral reservation or element of doubt expressed by these idealistic recent grads who would seem equally eager to sign up. Last May TFA announced that the new class of 3,700 recruits was drawn from a pool of 24,718 applicants. The air of exclusivity comes at a price, however, for despite the impression that top-performing Ivy Leaguers are beating a path to the recruitment office, TFA spent $2 million more in 2007 on recruiting and selection ($18.5 million) than it did on candidate training ($16.5 million). But then, Madison Avenue never came cheap.

And yet for all the sunny assuaging of white middle class guilt and the successful beefing up of law school resumes skimpy on service that TFA has enabled for its thousands of past and present recruits and donors, there are some dark elements of TFA that are incubated and grown by this movement.

First and foremost, TFA leaves unchallenged the urban reality of schools that are largely or entirely segregated by income and race, preferring instead to focus on interventions that do not challenge the poverty that is the root of test score gaps to begin with. Not unlike the vast majority of education reforms of the past century that have been divorced from social forces that are at work in perpetuating poverty, TFA focuses narrowly on changing instruction and on altering the organization and content of the child’s mind as the ready remedy for poor schools. In so doing, TFA barricades itself from the root cause of weak test scores, which is poverty, while necessitating, it would seem, a draconian kind of pedagogical treatment that we might expect of 19th Century missionaries in a heathen land. Ira Socol, in fact, refers to TFA as a colonial missionary project.

The most highly publicized of the prescriptive regimens for changing the poor, rather than changing poverty, has been developed, in fact, by two celebrated TFA alums, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, the founders of the KIPP Schools (Knowledge Is Power Program). Based on highly-scripted lessons, iron-fisted discipline, memorization, recitation and drill techniques, longer school days, longer school weeks that include Saturdays, and longer school years, this type of teaching is suited, if for anyone, for the young, energetic, single, and temporary social missionaries of TFA. As John Derbyshire noted,
I am sure there are some people who enter the teaching profession with the desire to crunch their way daily across the crack-vial-littered streets of crime-wrecked inner-city neighborhoods in order to put in 15-hour working days, but I doubt there are many such.
KIPP and TFA have formed, then, a marriage that is mutually supportive and sustaining, and both organizations are now fed by the same deep institutional revenue streams that flow toward social manipulation, privatization of public spaces, and limitless tax credits. Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of TFA, is married, you see, to KIPP’s CEO, Richard Barth.

2/3/09

Reich On Daschle

Tom Daschle and the Populist Revolt

Tom Daschle's surprise withdrawal today shocked most Washington insiders -- after all, Daschle had been a key figure in the Senate, was Obama's pick for a major role in the new administration, would very likely have done a superb job getting a new health-insurance system enacted, and, probably could have mustered enough votes to be confirmed. So what happened? My guess is that official Washington underestimated the public's pique at what appeared to be the old ways of Washington. Hill staffers tell me that many offices have been inundated with telephone calls, emails, letters and faxes expressing concern (to put it mildly) about Daschle -- not only his failure to pay back taxes but his relationships with major players in the health care industry and rich consulting contracts with the private sector since leaving the Senate, and even the fact that he was given a car and driver by one of them.

What's going on here? Maybe official Washington, much like most of Wall Street, is still not quite getting it.

Typical Americans are hurting very badly right now. They resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections. They've become increasingly suspicious of the conflicts of interest, cozy relationships, and payoffs that seem to pervade not only official Washington but our biggest banks and corporations. In short, many Americans who have worked hard, saved as much as they can, bought a home, obeyed the law, and paid every cent of taxes that were due are beginning to feel like chumps. Their jobs are disappearing, their savings are disappearing, their homes are worth far less than they thought they were, their tax bills are as high as ever if not higher.

Meanwhile, people at the top seem to be living far different lives in a different universe. They're the executives and traders on Wall Street who have lived like kings for years off a bubble of their own making while ripping off small investors, the financial louts who are now taking hundreds of billions of taxpayer bailout money while awarding themselves huge bonuses and throwing lavish parties, the corporate CEOs who are earning seven figures while laying off thousands of workers, the billionaire hedge-fund and private-equity managers who are paying a marginal tax rate of 15 percent on what they say are capital gains while people who earn a fraction of that are paying a higher rate, and, not the least, the Washington insiders who have served on the Hill or in an administration and then gone on to pocket millions as lobbyists for the same companies they once regulated or subsidized. To the American who's outside the power centers -- the places of entitlement and I'll-scratch-your-back-while-you-scratch-mine deal making -- the entire system seems rotten.

I'm sorry Tom Daschle won't be in the Obama administration. He would have served the public well and with distinction. But the public wants change, real change, big change. There's no tolerance any longer for the way things used to be done.
This sounds about right. I know I am tired of playing by the rules and getting screwed!

Update:Obama admits he screwed up, causing Democrats cognitive dissonance due to the prior admisnistration's inability to do same.

Blogger Problems

Well, it seems we are having some page loading problems with the blog. Would you all be so kind as to leave a comment describing any viewing problems you may be experiencing here at TFT? Like, if the blog loads only sometimes, or not at all.

I am trying to diagnose the problem. Come on, don't be shy!

Grading The Test

Grading the ELA

Filed under: New Teacher Diaries by miss brave @ 2:53 pm

[Editor’s note: miss brave is the pseudonym for a second-year elementary school teacher in Queens. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared on Sunday, Feb. 1]

I haven’t posted about school all week because I haven’t been at school all week. Instead I’ve been at another school, on the other side of the borough, grading the state English Language Arts (ELA) exam for third, fourth and fifth graders.

It’s difficult for even an experienced teacher-blogger like me to describe the disheartening disorganization and incompetence that’s been a daily part of this experience. First of all, the entire thing seems to have been thrown together last-minute when it was decided that rather than pay teachers per-session to grade the exams after school and on weekends, each school would have to send a few teachers away from their regular assignments to grade the exams during the day. I missed a week at my school, but some teachers are grading the ELA for up to three weeks in a row, right up until February break. By the time we come back from vacation, they will have missed an entire month of school! Most of these are not classroom teachers, but still. At one point the site supervisor attempted to placate us by referring to us as the “cream of the crop,” as if we had been selected by our principals because of our competence; we all laughed, because we knew that we had actually been selected because we’re disposable.

In any case, the entire experience grew more ridiculous by the day. I don’t know who was in charge or how it was supposed to be organized, because it seemed to us like the supervisors had very little idea how to run things. Like how about the fact they had one sign-in sheet for 200 people and expected all 200 of them to sign in and then sit down before they made announcements? Or the fact that they wanted us to count ourselves off by 24 in order to send us upstairs to rooms? Or the fact that every morning we practically played musical chairs as the supervisor said things like, “If today or tomorrow is your last day but you have not been trained on the fourth grade reading and writing, move to this side of the auditorium”?

And then there were the more serious transgressions, the ones that had us worried about the actual integrity of the test grades. If, for example, you were about to give a student a 2 on one section of the test and happened to notice that another grader had given the same student a 4 on another section (as 4 is the highest grade you can receive, this seems like a substantial discrepancy), and you voiced your concern, you were told to (exact words) “MYOB.” (Listen, lady, I’m not being a nosy parker here, this is my first time grading a very important state exam and I just want to make sure everything is copacetic.) If you and all the other graders at your table happened to notice that the essay appeared to be written in two very different handwritings, as if it sure looked like the teacher had made a few changes, and you voiced your concerns, your objections were dismissed. I don’t know what teachers at other grading sites experienced, but I have to say that I was treated with less respect than I typically try to treat my second graders, and that had me worried for the validity of the scoring.

My fellow graders and I did our best to be thorough. We frequently passed tests around the table to get a second opinion, and for those essays we were truly on the fence about, we had spirited discussions and consulted our rubrics frequently before committing to a final grade. When grading the editing passages, in which students have to correct grammatical errors, I always counted twice to make sure I was grading correctly. But we were only one room, and who knows what was going on in the other rooms at the other grading sites? Some schools sent intermediate and junior high school teachers to grade third graders’ exams, and some of those teachers had to be gently reminded that they were dealing with the writing of eight-year-olds, not teenagers. Some graders seemed to be handing out 4s to nearly every essay, while others seemed to be unwilling to give the students the benefit of the doubt. Despite our supervisors’ best efforts to get everyone on the same page of the same rubric, grading the ELA, I learned, is frighteningly subjective. The exams we graded, for example, all came from districts outside our own — districts that tend to be high-scoring. I teach a population of mostly ELLs in a low-scoring district, so I was pretty impressed by the work that I read — until I thought about teachers who are used to teaching high-scoring kids in other districts who would be reading the exams from my district and wondering what the kids could possibly be thinking.

I don’t want to accuse the ELA graders of incompetence, or cheating, or messing with the exam results, or even incomplete or invalid training of the graders. All I want to do is point out that my own experience grading the ELA was less than positive because of the overall disorganization of the process. It set a tone that was unfortunate, given the vital work we were doing. And that vital work was what I tried to remind myself of each time I opened a new test booklet and faced the determined, sprawling handwriting of a new student trying to make himself understood.

Daschle Withdrew!

It was the right thing to do.

Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Money Trouble Edition




Primer On Rendition

Want to know what "rendition" is? Here you go!
Ask Dr. Rendition!

by hilzoy

Since the publication of the LA Times story about rendition yesterday, I've noticed some confusion about the topic. So Dr. Rendition will try to answer your questions.

Q: What is rendition?

A: Rendition is the act of transferring a person into a different jurisdiction.

Q: "It occurs to me that this more benign definition of rendition as transferring someone to another criminal justice system, used to be called extradition. Can someone explain the difference to me?"

A: Extradition is one form of rendition, as you can see from Lawyers.com's Glossary of Legal Terms, which defines 'Rendition' as "extradition of a fugitive who has fled to another state." Here's a nice example of the term's normal usage from a hundred-year-old case:

"Among the powers of governors of territories of the United States is the authority to demand the rendition of fugitives from justice under 5278 of the Revised Statutes, and we concur with the courts below in the conclusion that the governor of Porto Rico has precisely the same power as that possessed by the governor of any organized territory to issue a requisition for the return of a fugitive criminal."

That was just the first case I found when I looked. There are lots more.

Q: But extraordinary rendition means sending someone off to be tortured, right?

A: No. Extraordinary rendition is rendition outside normal legal frameworks. (Extradition is a form of "ordinary" rendition.) It includes sending people off to countries where we have reason to think that they will be tortured. But it also includes things like catching Osama bin Laden in another country and bringing him to the United States to stand trial. What makes something a case of extraordinary rendition is the way the person is transferred from one jurisdiction to another, not what happens to that person once s/he arrives.

Q: But don't most people who talk about 'rendition' just mean 'sending people off to other countries to be tortured'?

A: Probably. That's the kind of rendition that became famous when Bush was in office. But remember: lawyers are not most people. They use all sorts of words in peculiar ways (besides using words like 'estoppal' that normal people don't use at all.) To them, this is a technical term. They use it accordingly.

Q: So when the LA Times quotes the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch as saying that ""Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions", he might just mean that he has no objection to legal extradition?

A: He might. Offhand, it seems more likely that he's referring to extraordinary rendition in its technical sense, and saying that it might be OK in some cases. Imagine, for instance, a modified version of Glenn Greenwald's hypothetical: Osama bin Laden is living in a country whose intelligence and police forces we know have been seriously infiltrated by al Qaeda. We have a warrant for his arrest, but we believe that if we asked that country to arrest him, the police would tip him off and he would escape. We also believe that he is planning further attacks. Is it OK to capture him in that other country and bring him to the US to stand trial? If you think not, ask yourself whether there is any attack so awful that, if we had convincing evidence that he was planning it, and convincing evidence that the police force of the country he was in had been compromised, we would be justified in capturing him ourselves.

Capturing bin Laden under these circumstances in order to bring him to trial here is extraordinary rendition. When the Israelis snatched Adolf Eichmann and brought him to stand trial in Jerusalem, that was extraordinary rendition. If you think any such cases could ever be justified, then you agree with the Director of Human Rights Watch that ""Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions". Obviously, this does not imply that you approve of sending people off to Syria to be tortured. And if you had previously said that the US should "repudiate the use of rendition to torture", saying that it would be OK, under these circumstances, to capture bin Laden and bring him to trial would not constitute a "flip-flop", since this would not be "rendition to torture."

Q: But I thought that the official translation of that Human Rights Watch statement was "all that stuff about the need to end rendition? “Oh, that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.”

A: You were misinformed.

Q: Isn't all this just hairsplitting in a frantic attempt to defend The One from criticism?

A: No. If you think that the difference between extradition and sending someone off to Uzbekistan to be tortured is just semantics, you probably need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

Q: Have you "screeched hysterically over the CIA practice of rendition" "for the last seven years"?

A: No. I can't recall screeching hysterically about rendition even once, let alone for seven whole years.

Q: Do you have "truly disturbing, quasi-sexual “rendition” fantasies" involving Doug Feith?

A: No. *shudders*

Q: Why does Michael Ledeen think you're a guy?

A: No idea. You'll have to ask her.

2/1/09

The Stimulus Debate: Here It Comes

From Bob Reich:
The Real Fight Starts After the Stimulus is Enacted

The real stimulus debate hasn't even started yet. Congress will pass President Obama's stimulus package in the next two weeks, more or less as he wants it. The House has already done its part, and the Senate appears likely to follow suit. But when the economy starts to turn up again, perhaps as early as next year, the president will have the real tough decisions to make. He'll have to choose which spending will continue -- or whether any of it will continue at all.

Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton came to Washington with his own ambitious plans to reverse widening inequality, rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure, create an efficient and affordable health-care system and address the growing environmental crisis. But because of raging budget deficits and a towering national debt, he was unable to accomplish most of this. As his secretary of labor, I shared his frustration. Alan Greenspan, then Federal Reserve chairman, and most of Wall Street warned that the nation couldn't afford the risk of runaway inflation.

Some aspects of Obama's stimulus package look eerily familiar to me, although the price tag is far higher than Clinton ever dared imagine. Yet today, economic advisers across the political spectrum support Obama's plan. A few weeks ago, Martin Feldstein, Ronald Reagan's chief economist, told Congress that the stimulus should be $800 billion. (Although he apparently has quibbles with exactly how that sum will be spent, he's not taking issue with the total amount.)

The biggest difference between Clinton's original agenda and the public investments Obama is proposing is that Clinton came to office as the U.S. economy was emerging from a recession; Obama is facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Even fiscal conservatives concede that when consumers stop buying and businesses stop investing, as they are now, the government must step in as the buyer and lender of last resort.

But the moment the economy appears to be on the mend, conservatives such as Feldstein will want the government to cut spending. In their view, this is the only way to get the economy fully back on track. But others believe that it is precisely the track we were on that got us into this mess in the first place.

Those who support the stimulus as a desperate measure to arrest the downward plunge in the business cycle might be called cyclists. Others, including me, see the stimulus as the first step toward addressing deep structural flaws in the economy. We are the structuralists. These two camps are united behind the current stimulus, but may not be for long. Cyclists blame the current crisis on a speculative bubble that threw the economy's self-regulating mechanisms out of whack. They say that we can avoid future downturns if the Fed pops bubbles earlier by raising interest rates when speculation heats up.

But structuralists see it very differently. The bursting of the housing bubble caused the current crisis, but the underlying problem began much earlier -- in the late 1970s, when median U.S. incomes began to stall. Because wages got hit then by the double-whammy of global competition and new technologies, the typical American family was able to maintain its living standard only if women went into the workforce in larger numbers, and later, only if everyone worked longer hours.

When even these coping mechanisms were exhausted, families went into debt -- a strategy that was viable as long as home values continued to rise. But when the housing bubble burst, families were no longer able to easily refinance and take out home-equity loans. The result: Americans no longer have the money to keep consuming. When you consider that consumers make up 70 percent of the economy, the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent.

What happened to the money? According to researchers Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, since the late 1970s, a greater and greater share of national income has gone to people at the top of the earnings ladder. As late as 1976, the richest 1 percent of the country took home about 9 percent of the total national income. By 2006, they were pocketing more than 20 percent. But the rich don't spend as much of their income as the middle class and the poor do -- after all, being rich means that you already have most of what you need. That's why the concentration of income at the top can lead to a big shortfall in overall demand and send the economy into a tailspin. (It's not coincidental that 1928 was the last time that the top 1 percent took home more than 20 percent of the nation's income.)

Other structural problems are growing as well. One is climate change and our dependence on oil. Another is the United States' growing reliance on foreign capital, mostly from China, Japan and the Middle East. Neither is sustainable.

Meanwhile, our broken health-care system drains more of our dollars yet delivers less care. When President Clinton tried to tackle health care in 1994, it represented 14 percent of our GDP, and 38 million Americans were uninsured. Now, the nation spends 16 percent of its GDP on health, and about 44 million of us are uninsured. Most cyclists acknowledge these problems, but they tend to think of them as separate from the current crisis -- issues to be tackled after the economy has recovered, and then only to the extent that we can afford to do so.

But structuralists like myself don't believe that the economy can fully recover unless these underlying problems are addressed. Without policies that put the nation on the path to higher median incomes, higher productivity, renewable energy and a more accessible and efficient health-care system, we'll face deeper and more prolonged recessions, followed by ever more anemic upturns. Bill Clinton's inability to do enough about these problems in the 1990s, followed by George W. Bush's negligent disregard of them, allowed them to grow to the point where any major triggering event can cause a vicious downward spiral.

As early as next year, the business cycle may hit bottom and begin climbing. At that point, cyclists and structuralists will want two different things -- and which side the president chooses will be, as Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute puts it, the "central drama" of the Obama administration. The president recently sought to placate the cyclists by promising to focus on controlling the future costs of Social Security and Medicare. Perhaps Obama has in mind a "grand bargain" that would allow him to continue his structural agenda after the business cycle turns upward in return for limiting spending for those two giant entitlement programs.

Let's hope he has something more in mind, something more fundamental: a debate about public investment and sustainable growth. For structuralists, the size of the federal debt itself is irrelevant. Debt has to be considered in proportion to the economy as a whole. According to government projections, the national debt will exceed half the nation's gross domestic product by the end of this year -- not including the stimulus package. That's certainly high, but not close to a record. The debt was far more than 100 percent of GDP at the end of World War II. That mammoth debt, not incidentally, put Americans back to work, financed industrial production, underwrote a new generation of science and technology and created a wave of demand for consumer goods when the war ended. In short, it got the economy on a new and faster track, thereby allowing the United States to pay down the debt and ushering the country into a new era of widely shared prosperity.

Even a high ratio of debt to GDP isn't especially worrisome if much of that debt comes from investments that put the economy on a path toward solid growth. One recent study from Columbia Teachers College, for example, shows that cutting high school dropout rates in half would generate $45 billion in new tax revenues and savings on expenses such as welfare and incarceration.

We cannot assume, however, that gains from these sorts of public investments will grow the economy enough to reduce the relative size of future debt. We must consider the tax code's structure as well. Should marginal taxes be raised on the most affluent? That could help finance what must be done to put the economy on a sustainable growth path.

But I don't think that our new president should wade into this debate right away. He has his hands full. He needs to implement the stimulus package and reverse the downturn. Bill Clinton had to choose sides almost right away -- and had little choice but to cave in to the cyclists and forfeit most of his long-term economic agenda. The severity of the current crisis gives Obama more time.

But he will need to open the larger debate sooner rather than later. This downturn is revealing the U.S. economy's underlying flaws. Once the business cycle turns up, the public and its representatives may be less inclined to tackle the things that truly drag us down. Clinton was, after all, reelected in 1996 on the wave of a cyclical upturn in the economy. But the structural problems that he failed to address -- widening inequality, sagging median incomes, a broken health-care system, crumbling infrastructure and global warming -- are that much larger now, making the current crisis all the worse.

How To Talk To Non-Skeptics

skeptic etiquette

In the face of my very scientifically brilliant co-bloggers, this post might seem ridonkulously dumb, but this problem has been weighing heavy on my mind, and I'm trying to work it out.

My neighbors and I once shared a community garden in Los Feliz. It was a small space in the back of our building that had once been filled with trash, broken furniture, and decades of rotting cigarette filters.

We decided to pool our resources and plant a garden. We salvaged some drawers from a broken bureau and grabbed some wine boxes from the local liquor store to repurpose as makeshift planters. Over time, we refinished a picnic table, purchased a barbecue grill, and ran electricity out to the patio and hung Christmas lights along the ivy on the back wall so we could actually see each other after sunset.

Normally, my friends are the product of a shared common ground in ideals, beliefs, and hair care products. Neighbor-friends are solely the product of shared geography, and they are therefore more likely to shock the shit out of me with firmly held ideas and beliefs that I find bizarre, and sometimes physically harmful.

For example, there was the time I woke to find a dirty hippie standing in the hall outside my apartment door with a cooler full of raw bison liver, promising to cure my neighbor’s Lyme Disease, naturally. Enraged, I glared at the crunchy bastard as he took her last $70 as she melted against the wall in exhaustion, having given up her antibiotics due to a weird distrust of “western medicine.” Eventually, she tried exorcism (to which my only reply was, “Uh, don’t you have to be Catholic for that?” because seriously, what else can you say?), but that didn’t work any better than the mystical healing meat.

She’s okay, now. Back on the antibiotics, and thriving. But if I see the hippie and his cooler of magic meat ever again, I’m going to punch him in the throat and drown him in disinfectant. Jerk. But aside from the rare-meat life-threatening stuff, most of my magic/god/meat-cure social problems are etiquette-based.

What exactly is the polite response when someone at a dinner party asks, “What’s your sign? I bet you’re a Taurus!”

The last time this question came up was at birthday celebration with my neighbors, at the bottom of the third bottle of wine at a tapas bar.

After listening thoughtfully to my dinner companions each explain how they were like their signs, it was my turn to answer.

I said, “You do realize that Jupiter and some random stars have no effect at all on you, right? I mean, why is it that you’re protected from the magical personality rays of the constellations when you’re buried a few inches deep in flesh and fat, but the second you come screaming out of your mom, the magical personality rays pierce through the brick, mortar, insulation, tile, and electrical wiring of to the third floor maternity ward of the hospital in which you have emerged to touch you with the magical essence of “Taurus,” you stubborn little baby bull!”

I am a bummer at parties.

No one was any more skeptical of astrology, and I ended up looking like the big jerk I actually am. So I’m trying to develop a personal etiquette code for situations such as this.

I consulted Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School to help me with a skeptic’s etiquette plan, and presented her with my current options:

Question: What’s your sign? I bet you’re a Taurus!

Response Options:

1. AWKWARD AND POLITE: “Aries, I guess. I don’t believe in astrology, so, um, how ‘bout those Mets?”
2. SNARKY AND SATISFYING: “What’s your religion? I bet you’re an Episcopalian!”
3. ITCHING FOR AN UGLY END TO DINNER: “You know that astrology is horseshit, right? What are you, a moron?”
4. OMG U R SO WEIRD: (I make up my own “sign,” stringing together random celestial objects) “I’m a Bo├Âtesian, with Pleiades rising. I am so totally fucked this week because Haumea is in retrograde. Stupid Kuiper Belt. I wish they had never discovered it.”

“Personally, I'd got with a combination of 1, 2, and 4, because I'm wacky that way,” says Jilli. “I have friends who believe LOTS of things I don't, and ... I guess I try to honor other people's crazy and quirks the way I'd like them to honor mine. So I'd probably say, ‘I don't believe in astrology’, and if they pushed the subject I'd counter with, ‘Look, I really don't believe in it, and nothing you say is going to change my mind. Let's not talk about it.’”

“Of course, knowing me, I'd probably go on to talk about it, and try and get them to explain to me WHY they believe. Because, y'know, people are freaky and interesting, even if I privately think some of their beliefs are whackaloon.” Jillian’s point here is a good one. People really ARE freaky and interesting, and I’d hate to pass up an opportunity to do my own personal sociological study on freakiness. Perhaps I can apply for some sort of research grant.

Both the Lady of the Manners and I ended up agreeing that option #4 was the best, not for any particular etiquette reason, but because it’s weirdly zany and charming. Sometimes it’s best to answer Crazy Talk with more Crazy Talk. The key is to sound sincere. There’s a thin line between cleverly ironic and smarmy assholishness.

But it isn’t just astrology where I find myself on the edge of turning an otherwise pleasant conversation into prison riot. A friend I genuinely care about once spent $700 on astral-projection classes.

It’s not just astrology conversations where I feel awkward and left out.

One of my neighbors joined me for a drink one night and launched into an excited explanation of astral-projection. She had spent close to a grand on classes and had her first out-of-body experience. I have no poker face. None. It’s not that she didn’t have the money for such things, she makes plenty of dough and could just have easily spent it on new shoes without hurting her savings account. But she wanted to talk about this revelation, and my response was, “Sweetie, you had a hallucination. You paid a ridiculous sum of money to have a hallucination. You can get a bag of ‘shrooms for a tenth of what you just spent, and had enough cash left over to buy new shoes, too!”

This devolved into an argument on the “science” of astral-projection, and she swore that she has read many studies on how it is a fact, A FACT, that one’s mind can ski on out of one’s body and, I dunno, look up ladies’ skirts on the escalator at the mall.

The end result was that I promised to eat the full contents of my cat’s litter box if any of these “studies” could be repeated in an independent laboratory. Gah. I hope that never happens. I’m really lazy about cleaning the litter box.

Once again, I turned to Jilli for an appropriate response to, “I just spent a grand on an astral projection class and had my first out-of-body experience!”

“Yeah, I guess congratulations would be in order,” says Jilli. “And then probably an attempt to change the subject, because if you don't, the person will probably gush enthusiastically at you all about the astral projection class, and then you're stuck with nodding a lot and biting your tongue.”

Jilli’s advice is different if the friend in question is actually going into debt on such things:
“Sit down with them privately and say ‘Look, I understand you're seeking something, but I am worried about you being duped out of money and self-esteem that you shouldn't lose’. Try to explain why you're concerned, and maybe give them suggestions of other ways they can seek out answers without dropping huge amounts of cash? Most public libraries have a pretty good metaphysical/occult/New Age/spooky-pants section, and I would *strongly* encourage someone to investigate all of that before spending huge amounts of money for someone to hand enlightenment to them.”

Disclaimer: I’m not talking about when someone you love has just spent their retirement savings on a handful of magic beans. That sort of thing isn’t about etiquette, it’s about intervention. People who drain their bank accounts trying to attain access to magic have a problem akin to gambling, and I’m not equating random frivolous trips to a palm reader with taking out a second mortgage to gain “clarity” at the Scientology center on Sunset.

My neighbor Michelle is one of my most favorite people. She brings me soup when I am sick, feeds my cat when I am out of town, and is otherwise a wonderful friend.

She’s also ridiculously superstitious and quickly falls prey to any scam that promises to cleanse her body of toxins or clarify her soul. I steer her away from things like Kinoki Foot Pads and The Secret, and she cuts my hair for free.

Michelle is convinced a ghost is turning the lights on and off in her kitchen. Michelle sees ghosts and troubled spirits in every electrical problem and broken radio.

I once told her that the sun will eventually go all red giant and scorch all evidence of humanity off the planet, and what will the ghosts do then? Haunt the ashes? Won’t that be really lame for the ghosts?

She laughs at me, and I laugh at her, and then we start making supper out in the community garden, tossing fresh asparagus in lemon juice and garlic.

“But dude! An OLD LADY DIED in that apartment!” she exclaims.

“DUDE! Something like SEVENTY BILLION PEOPLE died since the dawn of humanity. An OLD LADY DIED EVERYWHERE!” I holler.

Then we laugh again. I’m never going to convince her that her ghost is crappy wiring, and she’s never going to convince me that the dead return to life just to fuck with the ambient lighting schemes of aging hipsters like us.

These differences in beliefs don’t matter to me, really. Not in the grand scheme of a friendship with someone who comforts me when I’m going bananas, and genuinely cares for me.

Michelle is my only wacky-belief friend who has ever asked why I don’t believe in god, astral-projection, ghosts, or kinoki foot pads, and it is one of the many reasons why I love her.

Sometimes I think Michelle needs to believe in the supernatural, because she doesn’t really know how much there actually IS of the natural world to be dazzled by. No faith is required, just your own two eyes to see and hands to feel.

I told her that the universe is wonderful enough on its own. Space, stars, planets, black holes, galaxies, suns. The fact that out of all the elemental soup, people like us have evolved to walk and talk and create art, music, white wine, patent leather stacked mary jane shoes, Cocoa Puffs cereal, truck nutz, chocolate chip cookies, surf boards, and the Neiman Marcus cosmetics department is AMAZING. All by itself. Saying, “god did it” is heartbreaking. It pisses on the sheer wonderousness of it all, you know? I don’t need more.

The universe doesn’t need to be imbued with the mystical to make it “more” special. It’s like salting a pot of soup in someone else’s kitchen without permission. It’s awfully presumptuous, and, well, more than a little rude.
h/t Bad Astronomy

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