High cost of lipstick

October 24, 2008

Now we know why the McCain campaign has been so sensitive about mentions of lipstick.

At more than $600 a day for what Delbert McClinton would call lipstick, powder and paint, can the U.S. afford Sarah Palin?


Obama “most liberal,” McCain “most absent”

October 20, 2008

Anyone who has staffed Congress knows the various ratings of the votes of Members of Congress are most often skewed by the organizations that make them.  They pluck a dozen votes out of several hundred cast by a member in a year, to claim that special dozen can tell the character, or value, or liberalness or conservativeness of the member.

So when campaign surrogates claim that one of the candidates is “the most” whatever, it need be taken with a few grains of salt.

Presidential campaigns can wreak havoc on a members voting record — heck, reelection campaigns can do the same — because candidate forums and primary election dates almost always conflict with the work of Congress.  A candidate for president might be lucky to make even the major votes.

Obama missed several key votes, but got enough in to get rated.  According to one rating, by National Journal, Obama is “the most” liberal U.S. senator.  In today’s U.S. Senate, that’s not really saying much, since moderate Republicans have gone extinct there, and most of the liberal lions of the Democrats are at least retired, if not dead.

Listening to the Sunday talk shows today, I wondered why McCain’s people, always anxious to brand Obama as “most liberal,” don’t point to McCain’s own ranking.  Why not show the differences between the two on the issues, where it counts, in the votes?

So I checked.  John McCain missed more than half the votes in most areas rated by National Journal, and so could not be ranked. It looks worse when you look at the company McCain keeps in the “unranked” category.

Three senators do not have scores for 2007 because they missed more than half of the rated votes in an issue area: John McCain, R-Ariz., who was running for president; Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who was recuperating from a brain hemorrhage and returned to work on September 5, 2007; Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., who died on June 4, 2007; and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who was appointed to succeed Thomas on June 22, 2007.

John McCain:  Most absent.


Atomic history, nuclear future

October 19, 2008

We’re going to see more nuclear power plants in the U.S., it’s a safe bet.  Both presidential candidates support developing alternatives to oil and coal.  Nuclear power is one of the alternatives.

John McCain kept repeating his comfort words, that ‘storage of wastes is not a problem.’ There is not a lot of evidence to support his claims.  With turmoil in financial markets, however, the nuclear power issue has gotten very little serious attention or scrutiny.  From the push to get compensation for radiation victims of atomic weapons and development in the U.S., I learned that the issue is not really whether wastes and other materials can be safely used and wastes stored. The issues are entirely issues of will.

Advantage to Obama, I think.  He’s not claiming that the storage problems are all solved.  A clear recognition of reality is good to have in a president.

Son Kenny sent a link to a history site, Damn Interesting, and it tells the story of the Techa River in the old Soviet Union — a place condemned for generations by the nuclear excesses of the past.

To make the story briefer, in their rush to produce nuclear weapons, the Soviets did nothing to protect Russia from radioactive waste products until it was much too late.  Efforts to reduce radioactive emissions, by storing them in huge underwater containers, resulted in massive explosions that released more radiation than Chernobyl (What?  You hadn’t heard of that, either?).

It’s a reminder that safety and security with peaceful uses of nuclear power depend on humans doing their part, and thinking through the problems before they arise.

Can we deal with radioactive wastes?  We probably have the technology.  Do we have the will? Ask yourself:  How many years has the U.S. studied Yuccan Mountain to make a case to convince Nevadans to handle the waste?  How many more decades will it take?

How is our history of dealing with nuclear contamination issues?  Not good.

Last spring SMU’s history department sponsored a colloquium on a power generation in the southwest, specifically with regard to coal and uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation.   We’ve been there before.

One of the photos used in one of the lectures, by Colleen O’Neill of Utah State, showed two Navajo miners outside a uranium mine during a previous uranium boom.  Neither one had a lick of protective equipment.  Underground uranium mining exposes miners to heave concentrations of radon gas, and if a miner is unprotected by breathing filters at least, there is a nearly 100% chance the miner will get fatal lung cancers.

Of the 150 Navajo uranium miners who worked at the uranium mine in Shiprock, New Mexico until 1970, 133 died of lung cancer or various forms of fibrosis by 1980 ([Ali, 2003] ).

Our Senate hearings on radiation compensation, in the 1970s, produced dozens of pages of testimony that Atomic Energy Commission officials understood the dangers, but did nothing to protect Navajo miners (or other miners, either).  It is unlikely that anyone depicted in those photos is alive today.

AP Photo  (borrowed from ehponline.org)

"Mine memory - Navajo miners work the Kerr-McGee uranium mine, 7 May 1953. Today, uranium from unremediated abandoned mines contaminates nearby water supplies. image: AP Photo" (borrowed from ehponline.org) This photo is very close to the one used by Prof. O'Neill. It may have been taken at nearly the same time. If you know of any survivors from this photo, please advise.

At a refining facility on the Navajo Reservation, highly radioactive wastewater was stored behind an inadequate earthen dam.  The dam broke, and the wastes flowed through a town and into local rivers.  Contamination was extensive.

Attempts to collect for the injuries to Navajo miners and their families were thrown out of court in 1980, on the grounds that the injuries were covered under workers compensation rules (where injury compensation was also denied, generally).

Navajos organized to protest the power plant. One wonders whether they can win it.

Sen. McCain seems cock sure that radioactive wastes won’t kill thousands of Americans in the future as they have in the past.  The uranium mining and uranium tailings issues occurred in Arizona, the state McCain represents.  Does he know?

We regard ourselves in the U.S. as generally morally superior to “those godless communists.”  Can we demonstrate moral superiority with regard to development of peacetime nuclear power, taking rational steps to protect citizens and others, and rationally, quickly and fairly compensating anyone who is injured?

That hasn’t happened yet.

When [uranium] mining [on the Navajo Reservation] ceased in the late 1970’s, mining companies walked away from the mines without sealing the tunnel openings, filling the gaping pits, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, or removing the piles of radioactive uranium ore and mine waste. Over 1,000 of these unsealed tunnels, unsealed pits and radioactive waste piles still remain on the Navajo reservation today, with Navajo families living within a hundred feet of the mine sites. The Navajo graze their livestock here, and have used radioactive mine tailings to build their homes. Navajo children play in the mines, and uranium mine tailings have turned up in school playgrounds (103rd Congress, 1994 ).

Think of the story of Techa River as a warning.

Resources:


What if Obama carried Alaska?

October 6, 2008

Just wondering, after reading the latest news from Mudflats:  “McCain Palin Rally vs. Obama Biden Rally in Anchorage!  The blow by blow.


McCain on Eisenhower’s two letters

September 27, 2008

In the first of the 2008 debates between presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain pointed to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s two letters, written on the eve of the D-Day invasion in June 1944.  One letter would be released.  The first letter, the “Orders of the Day,” commended the troops for their work in the impending invasion, giving full credit for the hoped-for success of the operation to the men and women who would make it work.

The second letter was to be used if the invasion failed.  In it, Eisenhower commended the troops for their valiant efforts, but said that the failure had been in the planning — it was all Eisenhower’s fault.  (It was not a letter of resignation.)

You can find the first letter, the one that was released, through links at this post at the Bathtub, “Quote of the Moment:  Eisenhower at D-Day Eve.”

The second letter, you’ll find in image and text with links to other sources at this Bathtub post, “Quote of the Moment:  Eisenhower, duty and accountability.”  Last year I wrote:

In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own).

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?

It was a case of the Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, taking upon himself all responsibility for failure.

McCain has called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which he points to as part of his plan for accountability.  The analogy fails, I think.  The proper analogy would be George Bush taking blame for the current financial crisis.  In his speech earlier this week, Bush blamed homebuyers, mortgage writers, bankers and financiers.  If Bush took any part of the blame himself, I missed it.

I wonder if McCain really understands the Eisenhower story.  I still wonder:  Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?


Palin slashes Special Olympics Budget: Accurate statement still unfair?

September 24, 2008

This is how bad it is:  Even accurate statements about Gov. Sarah Palin are called unfair by McCain campaign operatives and hard-shell, stiff-necked partisans.

Conservatives are complaining about media coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin.  For example, they say, she is accused of cutting funding for Alaska’s Special Olympics in half.  Not fair they say, and they offer the actual figures:  The budget for Special Olympics for 2007 from the Alaska legislature was $650,000.  Palin used her line-item veto, and cut the funding to $275,000.

Hello?  Half of $650,000 would be $325,000.  Palin cut the Special Olympics budget by 58%. Last time I looked at the math tables, 58% was more than half of 100%.

So, why would it not be fair to say that Palin cut the funding by half?  She cut it by more than half.

Oh, no, the conservatives say:  ‘You have to let us jigger the numbers first — the final total, after Palin cut it, was still more than the previous year’s allocation from the state.’

Charlie Martin at Pajamas Media takes up the conservatives’ cudgel, that it’s unfair to Sarah Palin to report her budget cuts accurately (you know, not even Dave Barry could make this stuff up).

And then Glenn Reynolds joins the morning howl, complaining that “main stream media” isn’t interested in debunking the “rumor.”

Excuse me?  Why should anyone be interested in “debunking” a “rumor” which is, as the sources indicate and the conservatives’ own research demonstrates, neither rumor nor error, but hard fact?

If you needed a demonstration that conservatives cannot count, or that they will not count accurately when only honor is at stake, these sorts of stories will do.

Below the fold, for the sake of accuracy, you’ll find a longish excerpt from Charlie Martin’s analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »


From the technology labs of John McCain

September 17, 2008

Al Gore bravely fought to save ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, and for his efforts got a campaign to turn his good work into a joke by Karl Rove and Bush campaign, in 2000.

John McCain’s tech guy claims McCain had role in inventing the Blackberry.

Obama laughed it off.

There’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans.  Have you noticed?


Governors with broad foreign policy experience? Here’s a short list, Sen. Hutchison

September 14, 2008

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, joined a panel on CBS’s “Face the Nation” this morning, discussing the qualifications to be vice president of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

She said, “Four of the last presidents have been governors, and they have come in, every one of them, without an in-depth foreign policy experience.”  Hutchison suggested that Palin reads the newspapers and knows as much as the average governor about foreign policy, but doesn’t need significant knowledge in foreign affairs.

Hutchison challenged:  “Name one governor who has become president who has had in-depth foreign policy experience.”

It pains me when public officials demonstrate such a vast lack of knowledge about American history.  Because you’re from Texas, Sen. Hutchison, let me give you the facts, so you can avoid gaffes in the future.

1.  Thomas Jefferson, former governor of Virginia, assumed the presidency after having served as the American Ambassador to France, after extensive travels through Europe specifically to study government and foreign affairs, and after having served as both Secretary of State to George Washington, and vice president to John Adams.  If we ignore Jefferson’s service after his governorship, we would note that he read fluently in both Greek and Latin before he was 20, and had read extensively of the histories of Rome, Greece, France, Britain and the rest of Europe.  By the time he assumed the presidency he had added fluent French, passing Italian, and Hebrew to his catalog of languages.

Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican (the first of that party), the party that is today known as the Democratic Party.  Perhaps Sen. Hutchison is party blind.

2.  Theodore Roosevelt — you remember him, the guy with the glasses on Mt. Rushmore? — came to the vice presidency in 1901 from being governor of New York.  Prior to that he had been Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Navy, a post from which he wrote the book on naval power in the new age, for foreign affairs.  When the Spanish American War broke out, Roosevelt thought his desk job as head of the Navy too tame, so he created an elite corps of cavalrymen, recruiting almost equally from his old cowboy friends in the Dakotas and his Harvard friends, and insisted on service in the front lines.  His 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the “Rough Riders” were deployed to Cuba.  Coming under fire, they stormed San Juan Hill and pushed better-trained, veteran Spanish troops off, thereby winning the battle (Roosevelt was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for this action, though many years after his death).  Among the more interesting facts:  Their horses had not made it to Cuba; Roosevelt led the charge on foot.  He always was impatient.

Roosevelt’s experience came in handy.  He was the guy who pushed the Japanese and Russians to a peace treaty, ending the Russo-Japanese War, in 1906.  Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace for this work (he’s the only person ever to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor and been president, and the only Congressional Medal of Honor winner to win a Nobel Prize, and vice versa.  If we’re making a case that one doesn’t need foreign affairs experience to be vice president, for fairness, we should consider that vice president’s with foreign affairs experience provide great advantages to the nation, and have advanced the cause of peace, and readiness.

New York City, the major city in New York, was in 1900 one of the world’s greatest cities, a major trading center, and one of America’s largest ports (Roosevelt had been police commissioner there, earlier).  The population of the city alone was 3,437,202.  The population of the entire state was 7,268,894.  Alaska’s population today is about 670,000

3.  Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived at the White House after four years as governor of New York. Like his cousin before him, Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, during a period of frequent intervention in Central America and Caribbean nations.  It is reputed that FDR wrote the constitution imposed on Haiti in 1915.  In his Navy post, Roosevelt visited England and France, and made the acquaintance of Winston Churchill.  Roosevelt played a key role in the establishment of the Navy Reserve, and fought to keep the Navy from decommissioning after the end of World War I.  FDR came from a privileged family.  They made frequent trips to Europe, and by the time he was 18 FDR was conversant in both French and German.  A philatelist, his knowledge of the world’s business and trade was rather legendary.

4.  Jimmy Carter graduated high in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the required curriculum includes extensive instruction in foreign affairs.  He was chosen by Adm. Hyman Rickover for the elite nuclear submarine corps.  As Georgia’s governor, Carter was elected to the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-governmental group whose intention is to create knowledge about foreign relations in the U.S. in order to aid in defense and trade, and the Trilateral Commission, a group founded on the idea that trade between the U.S., Japan and Europe can be a basis for improving international relations and trade.

5. Bill Clinton graduated from Georgetown University with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (BSFS), from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.  Phi Beta Kappa, he won a Rhodes Scholarship, designed to pick from the next generation of great leaders, and got a degree in government in his studies at University College, Oxford.  He also traveled Europe during that time.

Hutchison’s point may apply to two Republican governors who won the White House, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  They brought other gifts, but their lack of foreign policy experience nearly led to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union in Reagan’s first term, and Bush’s lack of foreign policy knowledge probably led to the unfortunate invasion of Iraq, which has led our nation too close to the brink of national calamity.

And for good measure, let’s list this guy at #6:  Bill Richardson, the current governor of New Mexico, has a sound reputation in international relations, as a former Secretary of Energy, and former U.S. Ambassodor to the United Nations.  Among other things, Richardson talked the North Koreans into shutting down their nuclear bomb plans and operations in 1994.  When the Bush administration squirreled that deal, it was Bill Richardson again who stepped in (at the request of the North Koreans — they trust him), and got them to agree to back off the most recent bomb plans and development.  “Richardson has been recognized for negotiating the release of hostages, American servicemen, and political prisoners in North Korea, Iraq, and Cuba.”  In 14 years as a congressman representing New Mexico, Richardson “visited Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, India, North Korea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sudan to represent U.S. interests.”  He previously staffed the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, and worked for Henry Kissinger’s State Department in the Nixon Administration.

Contrary to Hutchison’s claim, of the four “recent” governors to gain the White House, two (both Democrats) had foreign relations education or experience far beyond that of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and at least three other governors brought extensive foreign relations experience with them; one other has foreign relations experience a Secretary of State might envy.

Those are the facts.

Sen. Hutchison:  Can you earmark about $200,000 for education in foreign affairs for Dallas high schools?  Perhaps you can see, now, that experience and education in foreign affairs is useful for high office.  My students will be seeking those offices sooner than we may expect.

I wouldn’t want them wandering the world thinking lack of knowledge about foreign affairs is a good thing.

Update:  Calvin Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts before being elected to the vice presidency on a ticket with Warren G. Harding.  Coolidge’s foreign relations experience could be said to be lacking.  However, Coolidge’s experience as a mayor and governor differed greatly from Palin’s:

[From Wikipedia’s entry on Coolidge] Instead of vying for another term in the state house, Coolidge returned home to his growing family and ran for mayor of Northampton when the incumbent Democrat retired. He was well-liked in the town, and defeated his challenger by a vote of 1,597 to 1,409.[29] During his first term (1910 to 1911), he increased teachers’ salaries and retired some of the city’s debt while still managing to effect a slight tax decrease.[30] He was renominated in 1911, and defeated the same opponent by a slightly larger margin.[31]

And, later:

Coolidge was unopposed for the Republican nomination for Governor of Massachusetts in 1918. He and his running mate, Channing Cox, a Boston lawyer and Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, ran on the previous administration’s record: fiscal conservatism, a vague opposition to Prohibition, support for women’s suffrage, and support for American involvement in the First World War.[49] The issue of the war proved divisive, especially among Irish– and German-Americans.[50] Coolidge was elected by a margin of 16,773 votes over his opponent, Richard H. Long, in the smallest margin of victory of any of his state-wide campaigns.[51]

*   *   *   *   *   *

By the time Coolidge was inaugurated on January 1, 1919 the First World War had ended, and Coolidge pushed the legislature to give a $100 bonus to Massachusetts veterans. He also signed a bill reducing the work week for women and children from fifty-four hours to forty-eight, saying “we must humanize the industry, or the system will break down.”[65] He signed into law a budget that kept the tax rates the same, while trimming four million dollars from expenditures, thus allowing the state to retire some of its debt.[66]

Update:  Lisa has a series of interesting posts on presidents and their executive experience, at As If You Care.

“I-have-gall” (not “I got Gaul”) update:  Some clown actually compared Palin to Roosevelt in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, according to Snopes.comSnopes’s response was much kinder, and less flattering to Roosevelt, than I would have been.  WSJ left off the San Juan Hill episode, the Medal of Honor, and the Nobel Peace Prize (though he won that for his actions as president).


McCain offers to sacrifice American education

September 6, 2008

John McCain’s campaign suggests the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign should concentrate on personalities rather than issues.  Why?

McCain’s issues sound like the failed policies of the George Bush administration, so it should be obvious why he doesn’t want to talk about them.

We have a higher duty, especially on the issues of education.  We need to live up to the challenge of young Dalton Sherman (who gave a more substantial speech than Sarah Palin, I think:  “‘Do you believe in me?’  5th grader Dalton Sherman inspires Dallas teachers.”)

In his acceptance speech Thursday night, McCain promised to continue the War on Education, hurling bolts — okay, aiming sparks — at much of the education establishment, but promising nothing that might actually improve education and help out great kids like Dalton Sherman.

Here I’ve taken the text of McCain’s speech as delivered (from the interactive site at The New York Times) and offer commentary.  For McCain’s sake, and because it reveals the threat to education, I’ve left in the applause indicators.

McCain said:

Education — education is the civil rights issue of this century.

(APPLAUSE)
Equal access to public education has been gained, but what is the value of access to a failing school? We need…

(APPLAUSE) We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice.
(APPLAUSE)

Competition has never been demonstrated to improve education.  In state after state where it’s been tried, we’ve found corruption tends to squander the education dollars, and the education dollars themselves are diluted and diverted from struggling public schools.  If John McCain promised to help New Orleans by diverting money from the Army Corps of Engineers to “competition in the levee building business,” people would scoff.  If he promised to divert money from the Pentagon to offer “competition” in the national security business, he’d be tarred and feathered by his fellow veterans.

We need to make schools work, period.  Taking money away from struggling schools won’t help, and taking money from successful schools would be unjust, and a sin — in addition to failing to help.  40 years of malign neglect of education in inner cities and minority areas should not be the excuse to dismantle America’s education system which remains the envy of the rest of the world despite all its problems, chiefly because it offers access to all regardless of income, birth status, color or location.

Millions of people fight to get to the U.S. because of the opportunities offered by education here.  McCain offers to snuff out that beacon of liberty.  If his position differs from George W. Bush’s, I don’t know where. If his position differs from that of the anti-U.S. government secessionists and dominionists, it’s difficult to tell how.

Let’s remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.
(APPLAUSE)

The No Child Left Behind Act prompted states to develop brand new, impenetrable bureacracies to grant teaching certificates to people who do not go through state-approved schools of education.  These bureacracies often are unaccountable to elected officials, or to appointed officials.  They were quickly thrown together to regulate a brand new industry of training programs designed to meet the technical requirements of state enabling legislation, and often deaf to the needs and requirements of local schools.

The chief barriers to qualified instructors are low pay, entrenched administration, and a slew of paperwork designed to “expose” teachers in their work rather than aid students in education, which all too often keep qualified teachers from getting teaching done, and discourage qualified people from other professions from getting into the business.  Who could afford to get into telephone soliciting if every phone call had to be documented by hand, with evaluations that take longer than the phone calls?  That’s what teachers in “failing” schools face daily, and it’s a chief factor in the exodus of highly qualified teachers from public schools over the last six years (a trend that may be accelerating).

This proposal would make sense if there were a backlog of qualified and highly-effective teachers trying to get into teaching — but quite the opposite, we have a shortage of teachers nationwide (check out the debates in Utah last year on their poorly-planned voucher program, which sounds a lot like what McCain is proposing).

Has McCain had any serious experience public schools in the last 22 years?  (I’m wondering here; I don’t know.)

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parent — when it fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.
(APPLAUSE)
Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have the choice, and their children will have that opportunity.
(APPLAUSE)

Of course, with McCain taking money from the public schools, it will be difficult to find a “better” public school, ultimately.  Here in Texas we’ve experimented for more than a decade with a statewide plan to shuffle money from “rich” school districts to poorer districts, under a plan generally and cleverly called “the Robin Hood plan.”  We still have good and excellent schools in districts across the state, but an increasing number of the designated-rich districts have smashed into tax rate ceilings, and are cutting programs from school curricula, and extra-curricular activities.

Charter schools in Texas are numerous, but in trouble.  Few of them, if any, have been able to create the extra capital investment required to build good school buildings, or especially to provide things like good laboratory classrooms for science classes, auditoriums with well-equipped stages for drama, literature, and general sessions of the entire school, or adequate facilities for physical education and recreation — let alone extracurricular athletics.

Charter schools and private schools often short science education.  A coalition of private schools sued the University of California system to require the universities to accept inferior science education, rather than provide good science education.  (A judge tossed the suit out; the coalition is appealing the decision.) Worse, this coalition includes some of the nation’s best private, religious schools.  When a group claimed as the best plead for acceptance of mediocrity, it’s time to re-examine whether resort to that group is prudent.  When the “best” private schools plead to lower the standards in science, it’s time to beef up the public schools instead.

Worse, many charter schools in Texas and elsewhere are riddled with incompetence, and a few riddled with corruption.  The Dallas Morning News this morning carries a story about a group running two charter schools, one in the Dallas area and one in the Houston area, both in trouble for failing to measure up to any standards of accountability, in testing, in other achievement, in teaching, or in financial accounting.  Economists note that free markets mean waste in some areas (ugly shoes don’t sell — the shoe maker will stop making ugly shoes, but those already made cannot be recalled).  Administration appears to be one area of enormous waste in “school choice.”

Several American urban districts have tried a variety of private corporations to operate schools on a contract basis.  If there is a successful experiment, it has yet to be revealed.  These experiments crashed in San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore, from sea to shining sea. Continued hammering at the foundations of good education, calling it “competition” or “peeing in the soup,” isn’t going to produce the results that American students, and parents, and employers, deserve.

Choice between a failing public school and a corrupt or inept charter school, is not a choice.  Why not invest the money where we know it works, in reducing class size and improving resources?  That costs money, but there is no cheap solution to excellence.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucrats. I want schools to answer to parents and students.
(APPLAUSE)
And when I’m president, they will.
(APPLAUSE)
My fellow Americans, when I’m president, we’re going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades.

Here we see how out of touch with America John McCain really is.  Does he think that any school system in the nation “answers to unions and entrenched bureaucrats?”  Seriously?  Does he realize the “entrenched bureaucrats” are anti-union?

Seriously.  Think about this.  Texas is the nation’s second largest state.  There is no teacher’s union here worth the name.  State law forbids using strike as a tool for bargaining or negotiation.  Teachers here generally are opposed to unions anyway (don’t ask me to explain — most of them voted for George Bush, before he showed his stripes — but there is no pro-union bias among Texas teachers).  Teachers unions are either much reduced in power in those cities where they used to be able to muster strikes, like Detroit or New York City, or they have agreed to cooperate with the anti-union proposals that offer any hope of improving education.  Read that again:  I’m saying unions have agreed to give up power to help education.

So what is the real problem?  The bureaucracy choking schools today is not the fault of teachers.  Significantly, it’s required by the No Child Left Behind Act.  But even that is not the chief problem in schools, and those problems are not from teachers.

Teachers did not move auto manufacturing out of Detroit.  GM did that.  Fighting the teachers union won’t bring back Detroit’s schools.  Charter schools aren’t going to do it, either.  Teachers didn’t drown New Orleans.  The failure of the levees after Hurricane Katrina did that.  Busting the unions in New Orleans has done nothing to improve education, as all of New Orleans struggles, and as former Big Easy residents resist going back so long as the schools are a mess.  Our schools in Texas have taken on thousands of students from New Orleans and other areas hammered by storms — public schools, not charter schools.  In many cases, parents are choosing public schools John McCain wants to push kids out of.  Go figure.

Hard economic times hammer schools.  Teachers didn’t create the housing bubble, and it’s certain that teachers were not the ones who failed to regulate the mortgage brokers adequately.  We can’t improve education if we don’t have the necessary clues about what the problems really are.

Public education is an essential pillar of American republican democracy.  Public education is the chief driver of our economy. McCain appears wholly unaware of the conditions in America’s schools, and he appears unwilling to push for excellence.  Instead, to drowning schools, McCain promises to through a bucket of water, and maybe an anchor to keep them in place.  He’s urging a road to mediocre schools.  Mediocrity to promote political conservatism, or just to get elected, is a sin.

McCain’s running mate brutalized the public library in her term as mayor of Wassilla.  If she has a better record on education since becoming governor, I’d like to hear about it.

Teachers, did you listen to McCain’s speech?  How are you going to vote?


McCain picked the wrong woman

September 3, 2008

We need judgment and wisdom in a vice president of the U.S., as well as in a president.

Judging from this open letter to Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain picked the wrong woman.

So we do get to talk about your policies. And we do get to talk about hypocrisy. You asked us to repect your family’s privacy, but you won’t respect my family’s privacy to make our own decisions!

“Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that, as parents, we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned,” said Palin, 44, and her husband. “We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents.” They asked the media to respect their child’s privacy.

How come she gets to make a decision but the rest of the girls and women in America don’t! You won’t even let me learn in school about all the decisions I might need to make!

McCain could have used a woman like FrecklesCassie. Alas for McCain, she’s about 20 years too young.

Maybe he should have waited. At a minimum, he should have shopped around for someone with more common sense.


“Big LASERS are cool”

September 3, 2008

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin showed off their petawatt LASER last week (alas, couldn’t make the open house myself).

LASER project manager Todd Ditmire summed it up:  “Big LASERs are cool.”

The $15 million laser creates a beam that is brighter than the surface of the sun. The pulses of light can reach 1 quadrillion watts (a petawatt) but last just one-tenth of a trillionth of a second.

Scientists such as Todd Ditmire, a UT physics researcher, will use the laser to heat substances to incredibly high temperatures for incredibly short periods of time, approximating the conditions at the center of a star. It’s also expected to help the U.S. Department of Energy in its ambitious research effort to create a laser-based controlled fusion energy source, which might one day be the ultimate clean energy source for the country.

With such pride showing, it might be a good time to note that this project is the result of pure science research funding with federal assistance.  If we could have a science debate among presidential candidates, the Texas Petawatt LASER should be front and center evidence for the value and fun of expanding federal support for science.  Texas’s U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison participated in the dedication ceremony.  Maybe she noticed.

Congratulations, UT.  Don’t point that thing this way!

Read about it here:


Top 10 reasons McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running-mate

August 30, 2008

We old-line campaigners and politicos watched with great interest the news of Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his vice president ticket-mate.  McCain’s choice offers glimpses of what is going on inside McCain’s campaign, and McCain’s head.

Pythons Michael Palin and friend

Python's Michael Palin and friend

Here are the top 10 reasons McCain chose Sarah Palin, in count-down order:

10.  Michael Palin is not a U.S. citizen, it turns out.

9.   Those pesky science fans will shut up and stop clamoring for a science debate, just to avoid hearing one more fool claim that intelligent design deserves time in classes.

8.   Thought she was Nana Mouskouri.

Nana Mouskouri

Nana Mouskouri

7.   Hillary already pledged to support Obama.

Buy your mukluks at MuklukStore.com

Buy your mukluks at MuklukStore.com

6.   Two words:  Mukluk.

5.   Didn’t want to risk getting a religious nut, so Mitt Romney was out.

4.   Harriett Myers was unavailable.

3.   Impressed by the education plank in her campaign for mayor of Wassila, Alaska.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition - Michael Palin models the robe Sarah Palin will be asked to wear, with Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland and Terry Gilliam - Monty Python publicity image

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition" - Michael Palin models the robe Sarah Palin will be asked to wear, with Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland and Terry Gilliam - Monty Python publicity image

2.   She didn’t object to wearing Michael Palin’s gown during government investigations of non-fundamentalist Christians.

. . . and the number one reason . . .

1.  Britney Spears turned him down.

Britney Spears in 2003.  U.S. Navy photo (no kidding)

Britney Spears in 2003. U.S. Navy photo (no kidding)

Your turn:  Surely there are other, better reasons.  Tell us what they are in comments.

________

Update:  Serious commentary on Gov. Palin’s qualifications, here.


McCain sticks it to the PUMAs

August 29, 2008

Ya gotta feel for the die-hard PUMAs, the people who were so much for Hillary Clinton that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Obama, so they defected to George Bush’s party and hope to sign on with John McCain. (PUMA is an acronym:  “Party Unity My [mild profanity dealing with gluteal muscles]”)

“That will show Obama he can’t trample a good woman in an election race,” they were muttering until about 11:00 a.m. Central Time today.

Then, John McCain picked one of those classic Republican women office holders, one who is female in gender only, who looks at the good politics and wisdom of genuine feminism and instead does her best to act like Attila the Hun with a streak of intolerance, though occasionally acting rational enough to hold on to the few rational conservatives who vote.  John McCain is so certain of their support that he can spit on their issues and kick dust in their faces. Or worse.

McCains boys and former supporter of Hillary Clinton?

McCain's boys and former supporter of Hillary Clinton?

McCain must figure the PUMAs will only love him more for it.

Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska.  That’s about as far from Hillary Clinton as Vladimir Putin is from Harry Truman.

What will the PUMAs do? Maybe they should follow Hillary’s example, and endorse Obama.

What do you think?


Rick Warren and George Washington

August 17, 2008

At American Creation, Tom Van Dyke looks at the questions paster Rick Warren asked Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, with an eye to history.

George Washington probably would have flunked the test, had he been on the dais yesterday, Van Dyke notes.

Santayana’s Ghost shifts nervously.

Washington Bible - image from the Masonic Library and Museum

"Washington Bible" - image from the Masonic Library and Museum


John McCain: Constitution, yes or no?

August 9, 2008

In Denver, Colorado, John McCain has an opportunity to stand up and defend the First Amendment and the rest of the Constitution. All he needs to do is issue a statement that he disagrees with the prosecution of the peaceful woman — he could do even more asking the prosecutor to drop the charges.

Ed Brayton describes the case at Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

The silence from McCain: Will it grow deafening?

More reading:


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