Scapegoat season

June 21, 2011

Say what?

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Grampa Simpson at it again:

In comments made over the weekend, Senator John McCain R-AZ., blamed illegal immigrants for the some wildfires that have raged across his state of Arizona.“There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” McCain said Saturday at a press conference. “The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”’

The Senator from Arizona’s comments set off a wildfire of their own, as the Wallow Fire currently blazes across his state across 500,000 miles.

A forest service spokesman on the Wallow fire in Arizona says there’s no evidence that this specific fire was caused by immigrants.

I still can not believe that there are people who want to argue that there would have been no difference between the current Obama administration and a McCain/Palin reign of terror.

What’s going on there?


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.


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?


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?


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:


On economics, pay attention to Santayana, and Greenberg

August 5, 2008

George Santayana is best known as a historian. He’s famous for his observation on the importance of studying history to understand it, and getting it right: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  (See citation in right column of the blog.)

Steve Greenberg is a historian cartoonist whose work is published in the Ventura County (California) Star. He offers a Santayana-esque analysis of economics positions of presidential candidates.

Steve Greenberg, published in the Ventura County Star

Steve Greenberg, published in the Ventura County Star

Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, via Cagle Comics

Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, via Cagle Comics

Greenberg has compressed into 33 words and 5 images a rather complex argument in this year’s presidential campaign.

Is Greenberg right? Do you see why Boss Tweed feared Thomas Nast’s cartoons more than he feared the reporters and editorial writers?

This election campaign we may be able to get the best analysis and commentary from cartoonists. Same as always. Teachers: Are you stockpiling cartoons for use through the year in government, economics, and history?

Other resources:

Note to Cagle cartoons: I think I’m in fair use bounds on this. In any case, I wish you would create an option for bloggers, and an option for teachers who may reuse cartoons year after year. I’ve tried to contact you to secure rights for cartoons in the past, and I don’t get responses. Complain away in comments if you have a complaint, but let us know how we can expose cartoonists to broader audiences and use these materials in our classrooms for less than our entire teacher salary.


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