Tuesday, November 25, 2003

More Wal-Mart

Part Three of the L.A. Times series is up today.

This one is about the battles between unions, particularly the UFCW and Wal-Mart, over the opening of "SuperCenters" in California, 200,000+ square foot behemoths that sell traditional Wal-Mart discount products and groceries, and would likely destroy smaller competitors and cost California thousands of union jobs, to be replaced by the low-wage jobs offered by Wal-Mart.

In late August, the company, through a group called the Citizens Committee to Welcome Wal-Mart to Inglewood, began gathering a new batch of signatures to force a popular vote on the Supercenter. The initiative, which calls for building permits to be issued without a public hearing or environmental impact study, is expected to be on the March 2004 ballot.

"When people feel they're not getting a fair shake with the legislative process, they take things to a vote" of the electorate, said McAdam, the Wal-Mart vice president.

Um, you're not advocating public votes, Mr. McAdam, you're advocating ONE public vote that would prevent you from ever having to face a hearing or study again.

"I grew up in Pennsylvania; my father had a corner market there. When I was 3 or 4, the A&P moved in and put him out of business," recalled the Chamber's Zaremberg. "That was tough for us, but I don't think anyone would go back and say we shouldn't have supermarkets."

And did the supermarket pay a living wage to its workers compared to your father's corner market, Mr. Zaremberg? Did they pay more and often better benefits?

American's obsession with low prices at any cost has got to stop...but it won't, so the next best solution is to keep the good fight going to unionize Wal-Mart at any cost. This is just like the factory hog farms mentioned in RFK Jr.'s environmental article I blogged about last week.

Corporate pork factories cannot produce more efficiently than traditional family farmers without violating several federal environmental statutes.

I would guess that Wal-Mart can't do what it does without paying employees low wages, offering shaky benefits and fighting tooth and nail any efforts for unions to get a foothold inside their stores.

Trial Lawyers

A quick note in response to something I read over at The Left Coaster.

The energy bill is apparently dead for now, which is a good thing. One of its more intrusive and outrageous provisions was granting exemption from liability to manufacturers of MTBE, which apparently turns out to cause cancer and lots of other health problems.

Well, if a company polluted the land with something that causes cancer, common sense would say the company ought to clean it up, rather than the taxpayers, right? And if the company caused someone to get cancer, common sense would say the company ought to pay for that person's medical bills and expenses, right?

And here's the crux. When things like this come into the light, the Republicans twist the issue around by saying crap like this:

"We see no need for a giveaway to trial lawyers simply because a minority of the Senate wants to filibuster the energy bill," said Stuart Roy, a spokesman for Mr. [Tom] DeLay.

A GIVEAWAY TO TRIAL LAWYERS??? This is about MTBE, companies that make it, companies that have polluted waterways and groundways with it, and people who will get sick because of it.

It has nothing to do with trial lawyers. The law as it stands allows people to sue people who hurt them. This bill would prevent those lawsuits, and pass on the expenses for healthcare and cleanup to you and me as taxpayers. The giveaway is to the Republican campaign contributors who don't want to be held responsible for their actions. As usual.

Medicare "reform" passes

54-44 was the final vote in the Senate to pass this horrifying package today.

Most controversial of all, the legislation would create a limited program of direct competition between traditional Medicare and private plans, beginning in 2010. Conservatives argued that would help bring down the cost of Medicare over the long run, while critics said it would privatize the program and lead to “cherry picking” of relatively healthy seniors by insurance companies and higher premiums for those seniors who remained under the government-designed benefit.

Another pivotal Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, gave his vote to the Republican leadership after winning assurances that the city of Providence would not be picked for the program of direct competition, according to officials.

Senator Chaffee is one of the decent hard-working Republicans in the Senate, but even this snippet shows what sort of NIMBY dealing goes on.

The bill would maintain the ban on importing prescription drugs. It would allow such drugs from Canada, but only if the Health and Human Services Department certifies safety, something it has declined to do. The legislation would authorize a study of safety issues.

'Cause those wacky Canadians are taking crazy drugs up there in the frozen North, right? We couldn't get anything simpler than this, could we? And what's this coverage gap supposed to represent, anyway? The vanishing middle class?

Beginning in 2006, beneficiaries could sign up for a stand-alone drug plan or join a private health plan that offers drug coverage. They would be charged an estimated premium of $35 per month, or $420 per year. After meeting a $250 deductible, insurance would pay 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250. There would be no coverage for drug costs between $2,250 and $3,600 out of pocket -- the so-called coverage gap. When out-of-pocket spending reaches $3,600, insurance covers 95 percent of drug costs or requires a modest co-payment. The premium, deductible and coverage gap would be waived for people earning up to $12,123 a year. To qualify for the subsidy, seniors could have no more than $6,000 in fluid assets. The subsidies would be phased out between $12,123 and roughly $13,500 in yearly income.

And harking back to last night's post about the difference, look at the subtle way in which these two comments are framed:

Seniors “will finally have the prescription drug coverage they need and the choices they deserve,” Senate Majority Bill Frist of Tennessee said. “At the same time, it preserves traditional Medicare.”

Democratic opponents, resigned to defeat, complained that the bill was a giveaway to insurers and drug companies. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said it will dump seniors “in the cold arms of the HMOs.”

SCLM, indeed.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Difference

I listened to ABC News on the radio tonight at their top of the hour update. Although they neglected to mention that Warren Spahn died today at the age of 82, they did mention the Medicare bill which will now be voted on tomorrow.

This is what they said, and this is practically verbatim:

Democrats criticize the bill because it will force some seniors to pay more for their coverage.
Republicans criticize Democrats for trying to scare seniors.

I just threw my hands up in the air. This is what passes for meaningful policy debate these days. Republicans know they can't say that the bill is good because it gives huge subsidies to everyone's favorite needy child, HMOs and drug companies, so they just accuse Democrats of trying to scare old people. You know, like the President is trying to scare everyone by complaining that Democrats are attacking him for attacking the terrorists.

Well, the Medicare bill is bad because it will cause some seniors to pay more for drug coverage, it has this ludicrous uncovered portion from $2200 to $3600 of drug coverage, and it GIVES AWAY TAXPAYER MONEY to HMOs and drug companies. I mean, really. Seriously. How can anyone think that's a good idea?

And, Mr. Bush, we're attacking you for NOT attacking the terrorists. You know, Al Qaeda? Osama bin Laden? Afghanistan? The Taliban? That part of the world is ready to erupt into civil war, and you chose to commit lives and money to Iraq, which you KNEW wasn't an imminent threat.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Wal-Mart, Evil Empire or Economy Booster?

The L.A. Times (registration required) is attacking this question in a three-part story beginning today (courtesy of CalPundit).

On the one hand:

Wal-Mart's penny-pinching extends to its own 1.2 million U.S. employees, none of them unionized. By the company's own admission, a full-time worker might not be able to support a family on a Wal-Mart paycheck.

By squeezing suppliers to cut wholesale costs, the company has hastened the flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. By scouring the globe for the cheapest goods, it has driven factory jobs from one poor nation to another.

On the other:

U.S. economists say its tightfistedness has not only boosted its own bottom line, but also helped hold down the inflation rate for the entire country

The article on the whole is a very good read; I look forward to the next two parts. I'm picking evil empire for what it's worth; but people are so short-sighted today that I fear they shop at Wal-Mart because it's cheaper and they vote for George Bush because he cut their taxes, even though both of those are not entirely accurate when you take the big picture into account.

How are we going to get more people to see the big picture?

Update: Part Two is up here

Eaton believes he can reduce costs at least 20% by cutting out the middleman and buying directly from foreign factories. He feels a sense of urgency about his mission, in part because he believes the company's "Buy American" focus left it playing catch up.

Yeah, Made in the U.S.A. forced them to sell shorts for $10 instead of $8. Why were they so stupid?

Saturday, November 22, 2003

A Three Hour Vote

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale
a tale of a fateful night,
that started at Big Pharma's house,
and ended with an awful sight.
The Speaker was a jolly lobbier,
the President's voice was clear,
Medicare set sail that day,
for a slow and painful death.
A slow and painful death.

The House of Representatives approved the god-awful Medicare bill last night 220-215.

After a shameless endorsement by the AARP (L.A. Times. reg. required) of a piece of legislation that harms more seniors than hurts them, House Republican leadership decided that the old rules of 15 minutes for a vote weren't good enough. This isn't surprising, since the vote stuck at 218-216 against for over an hour before enough votes were changed or found to end up passing the bill.

Let me make this absolutely clear. I worked in the U.S. Senate as a page. One of my most important duties was tracking down Senators for votes. It was made absolutely clear to me at that time that nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse than a Senator of your party missing a vote. They have subways running between the Senate and the Senate office buildings just for this purpose (well, not subways really, but little train cars on tracks). Bells ring throughout the Capitol when there are votes. I had to interrupt Senators at dinner and in the bathroom to make sure they were aware there were votes going on (and they usually were).

Extending a vote for three hours because you were on the losing side of it is unprecedented. The Congressional Record for yesterday's debacle isn't ready yet, but you can find it at Thomas probably tomorrow.

Fortunately, some Senators are threatening to filibuster, which was always a possibility, but even more so now that the House leadership has played hard and fast with the rules to make sure things went there way.

[T]he extraordinary House vote, which GOP leaders held open for nearly three hours while they pursued Republican holdouts, brought the promise of a filibuster from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. “Give this bill a fair vote in the House and I’ll drop my filibuster in the Senate,” Kennedy said in a statement.

“I did not want to vote for this bill,” said Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho. But he did, as did a handful of late GOP converts.

Who knows why these late converts did vote for the bill and how hard they were muscled by leadership and by the Bush administration, but this is just ridiculous. I'm still in shock.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Energy Bill Dead ... for now

Opponents of a massive energy bill on Friday blocked the Senate from taking a final vote and sending the measure to President Bush.

On a 57-40 vote, supporters failed by three votes to cut off debate on the legislation, which they said would increase and diversify energy production and provide farmers an economic boost by expanding use of corn-based ethanol

It's not over yet - keep up the calls to your Senators.

You can keep up with the relatively recent news at Thomas, the Library of Congress' web site. The bill # is H.R. 6.

Bush and the Environment

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has an extremely well-written (and long) article in Rolling Stone next issue. I recommend reading it in its entirety. Here's a couple teasers:

I am angry both as a citizen and a father. Three of my sons have asthma, and I watch them struggle to breathe on bad-air days. And they're comparatively lucky: One in four African-American children in New York shares this affliction; their suffering is often unrelieved because they lack the insurance and high-quality health care that keep my sons alive. My kids are among the millions of Americans who cannot enjoy the seminal American experience of fishing locally with their dad and eating their catch. Most freshwater fish in New York and all in Connecticut are now under consumption advisories. A main source of mercury pollution in America, as well as asthma-provoking ozone and particulates, is the coal-burning power plants that President Bush recently excused from complying with the Clean Air Act.

In a March 2003 memo to Republican leadership, pollster Frank Luntz frankly outlined the White House strategy on energy and the environment: "The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general and President Bush in particular are most vulnerable," he wrote, cautioning that the public views Republicans as being "in the pockets of corporate fat cats who rub their hands together and chuckle maniacally as they plot to pollute America for fun and profit." Luntz warned, "Not only do we risk losing the swing vote, but our suburban female base could abandon us as well." He recommended that Republicans don the sheep's clothing of environmental rhetoric while dismantling environmental laws.

It gets worse. If it doesn't make you angry, think back to your childhood, playing outside perhaps? Fishing? Hiking? Hunting? Swimming in a local creek or stream? George W. Bush doesn't care about any of that. And the American people need to know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mark Kleiman's funny

What's the Budweiser slogan?


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

El Rushbo, Money Laundero

Apparently, law enforcement officials may be charging Mr. Limbaugh with money laundering, in addition to whatever they have on him on substantive drug trafficking/possession charges.

This is interesting to me, since my White Collar Crime class just started its discussion of money laundering today. Here are the pertinent charges, which, if true, provide almost an open and shut case.

Authorities say they became aware two years ago, during an investigation of New York bank US Trust, that Limbaugh had taken between 30 and 40 cash withdrawals from his account in amounts just under $10,000.

Limbaugh's lawyers confirm that as part of US Trust's service, a bank employee personally delivered cash to Limbaugh at his New York studio in amounts of $9,900 or so.

Both of those violate currency reporting statutes. The only possible question is whether or not these alleged violations were willful and whether Limbaugh knew they were illegal structuring. It seems clear to me that those are also no-brainers, but you never know...

Thanks to Steve Gilliard for the heads up on this one.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Senator Mary Landrieu

Watch her speech from last night. What a great Senator.

For now, go here and choose Part 15 (10pm - 12am) and forward to about 29:30 where Senator Hutchison is trying to defend Carolyn Kuhl by saying that her decision in a case where a drug salesman was present during an operation without the patient's consent was okay, because even though she dropped the drug company as a party, she kept the suit against the doctor open. I'm not sure what that means, but I do know that Senator Landrieu is a terrific Senator and I'm proud she's representing the citizens of Louisiana, and since I effectively don't have representation in the Senate here in Missouri, I'm glad she's there to counterbalance the ideologues and poor Zell Miller and Ben Nelson, who voted with the Republicans on the nominees today.

I hope CSPAN keeps that page up for awhile, because it is tremendously enlightening to hear in public the hare-brained "arguments" of the Republicans, who, as often as not, are either lying, or distorting the facts beyond the pale, and hearing the arguments of Democrats, which as always, are bolstered by facts.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Advice and consent

Republican Senators have hijacked Senate business this week, now extending their endless debate to 39 hours over the issue of 4 ideologues who President Bush nominated to be federal judges.

The Republicans continue to harp that the Democrats are not allowing them to exercise their constitutional duty by continuing to threaten filibusters on the nominations of these four judges. As I've said before, this is ridiculous. If anything, the Republicans are refusing to perform their constitutional duties by hijacking 39 hours of Senate business to whine about four ideologically agenda driven judges who are not fit to sit on the federal bench.

I wrote about one of those judges, Janice Rogers Brown, a few weeks ago. The others aren't much better, but they aren't the real story here.

The real story is separation of powers. You see, filibusters are a check on majoritarian rule. They allow the minority party (or as one Senator put it today, even a minority of one) to stand up for those who are not represented in the Senate. The Framers of the Constitution, quite aware of how majoritarian rule worked in England under King George III were very concerned about making sure that our federal system had appropriate checks and balances.

These checks and balances can be seen everywhere in our government. Congress passes a law, but if the President doesn't like it, he can veto it. If the law is unconstitutional, the judiciary can invalidate it. For especially important pieces of business, supermajorities are called for in the Constitution, such as approving treaties. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the Framers would have called for a supermajority to approve judicial nominations if they had any idea that the federal judiciary would grow as vast and as wide as it did. For you see, when it comes to judicial nominations, the only check on that process is the advice and consent of the Senate.

This process is the only check, of course, on all nominations of the President through his Article II powers which the Senate is charged with advising and consenting on; however, the other nominations under this clause are all temporary positions, such as Cabinet officers and ambassadors, who serve until the current Executive decides to ask them to resign, which in most cases, is when there is a change in the occupants of the White House.

Federal judges are different, Judges appointed pursuant to Article III are appointed for life. And as we often forget, they have a tremendous amount of power in reviewing and either endorsing or invalidating federal and state legislation as well as their duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws. Court of Appeals judges, in many situations, have as much power as the 9 Justices of the Supreme Court, because an enormous percentage of cases never reach the Supreme Court, so the Court of Appeals is the final word on the case or controversy.

To suggest that the Framers of the Constitution, concerned with the ability of a majority to squelch dissent and pursue their agenda without appropriate checks and balances, would be pleased to hear that a small majority in the Senate, and a ideologically driven President, were attempting to hijack the federal judiciary with appointees who favorably comment on thoroughly discredited precedent, is laughable at best. They would be furious with this turn in our constitutional democracy.

The advice and consent process used to work smoothly with both parties and the President meeting about and discussing federal judicial nominees. This has not been the case under the current Administration. If the President refuses to live up to his constitutional duty to seek the Senate's advice, then more power to the wonderful Senators who are standing up to him and his lackeys in the Senate.

If you have a free moment, I highly suggest you turn on C-SPAN 2 and watch part of the debate tonight; it's scheduled to run through 9 a.m. tomorrow morning as of now. You'll see Republicans whining about judicial nominees who they think have a constitutional right to an up or down vote (they don't) and Democrats whining about Republicans who are ignoring the 3 million Americans who have lost their job in the past 3 years and the 41 million plus Americans who do not have health insurance. That's a pretty easy distinction - should we worry about 3 million Americans without jobs, or 4 judicial nominees who have jobs, and want promotions. This is the distinction between the parties today, and how the Republicans continue to manage to pretend they care about the average American is beyond me, as is how the average American believes them.

Update: Apparently, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean agrees with me. Thanks to Kicking Ass for the heads up.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Updating this post, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed Roy Moore from office today.

Kos thinks Moore is going to end up as the Governor of Alabama. That's a pretty scary thought, since he apparently has no qualms with ignoring federal law; and ignoring direct orders from the government. That sounds about like what Alabama was up to about 150 years ago.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

When headlines mislead

Well, that's about every day, but this one struck me as particularly bad tonight.

W.H. to let 9/11 panel review briefings

This refers to the bipartisan independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks which for months has sought specific documents from the White House only to be stonewalled by an administration that claims it wants to get to the bottom of this just as much as the victims of the attacks and most Americans do.

In the lead, we find out that "the White House would let it review classified daily presidential intelligence briefings."

Well, this is great! This is exactly what the commission wanted, right? Or ...

But commission member Max Cleland, a former Democratic senator, said he was "disgusted" by the deal. "The White House gets to cherry-pick how much access the nation's commission looking into 9/11 gets to crucial documents," he said. "I'm ready to vote for subpoenas right now."

So they aren't getting all the briefings, are they? I wonder which ones they won't be getting, eh? Let's see why the President is into hiding these documents, shall we?

It is important for me to protect national security. You're talking about the presidential daily brief. It's important for the writers of the presidential daily brief to feel comfortable that the documents will never be politicized and/or unnecessarily exposed for public purview. I -- and so, therefore, the kind of the first statements out of this administration were very protective of the presidential prerogatives of the past and to protect the right for other presidents, future presidents, to have a good presidential daily brief.

Now, having said that, I am -- we want to work with Chairman Kean and Vice-Chairman Hamilton. And I believe we can reach a proper accord to protect the integrity of the daily brief process and, at the same time, allow them a chance to take a look and see what was in the -- certain -- the daily briefs that they would like to see.

Q Do you need to bring them here so that the chairman and vice-chairman can see them --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're working out -- we're working out the procedures. My only point is I do want to be helpful to Chairman Kean and Lee Hamilton. These are men of integrity, they're people who understand the process. They know the importance of the presidential daily brief; they know the importance of the daily brief to future presidents. And, therefore, I think they will be mindful of the need to gather evidence and, at the same time, protect the capacity for presidents to get unfettered, real, good intelligence.

So, if they're men of integrity - they won't POLITICIZE OR UNNECESSARILY EXPOSE THE DOCUMENTS. These people want to know what happened leading up to 9/11 and how we can prevent further terrorist attacks on American soil. Why would you even for a second not cooperate fully with them?

This is just another example of the Bush administration hiding their lies, mistakes, and miscalculations.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Supreme Court visits Cuba

Well, not really, but they did grant a petition for a writ of certiorari this morning in two cases, now consolidated, concerning the legality of challenges to detention of enemy combatants captured overseas and held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Rasul v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States (pdf file) will be heard and only the following question will be addressed:

Whether United States courts lack jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

This is why these combatants are being held in Cuba instead of North Carolina. The government is banking on the fact that U.S. procedural requirements don't hold to enemy combatants in a time of war that are captured and held "overseas." Arguments should be scheduled shortly.

This isn't the only "terror" case in the news lately. In the matter of M.K.B. v. Warden; an Algerian immigrant was detained post-9/11, in part (and maybe only) because he worked as a waiter at a restaurant where two of the hijackers ate. The problem with this case is that all records have been sealed. We don't know anything about it other than what's been cobbled together by investigative sources and what M.K.B. alleges in his petition to the Supreme Court (though much of that too has been redacted). Read the petition if you have the time, start on page 15 with the Course and Proceedings in the District Court, and note that several pages are completely redacted.

This is frightening stuff. Court proceedings are open for a reason, because the transparency of them affirms their legitimacy and continues our faith that the judiciary is pursuing justice, unobstructed, and free for all to see. The Salt Lake Tribune, hardly a liberal rag, weighs in on the issue.

Unfortunately, the Court requested a response from the government, which as SCOTUSblog notes, may be delayed for several months as the Solicitor General can and often does request multiple 30-day extensions, so the case may not be heard this term, even if the Court decided to grant cert, which is not a certainty by any means.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Where's your liberal media now?

Amazing but true, the far-right media machine has successfully held CBS entertainment to a higher standard of truth regarding the docudrama, “The Reagans” than the news media manages to hold the Bush administration regarding the war in Iraq

Eric Alterman's piece only gets better from there. I'm not as convinced he is that it's a good thing, since I don't necessarily believe that the fact that this is getting benched is going to get as much news as the series itself would have if it were still on CBS, but I could be wrong. Nevertheless, he's absolutely right about the standard of truth.

Thanks to Melanie, guestblogging at Kos for pointing this article out.

Teachers cheat too

I shouldn't be surprised by this, yet it convinces me all over again that we are going about education reform the wrong way.

Teachers have read off answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions then drilled those topics in class before the test, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is. President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act is a horrible step down the path that leads to results like these. In reality, as some have noted:

President Bush's initiative to improve public schools has an ambitious name: No Child Left Behind. But there's mounting evidence that countless children are being left behind.

When I was in grade school we took standardized tests every few years in general subjects. We didn't study for them, we didn't do assignments geared toward them, they were just general tests we took in 4th grade, 8th grade, and maybe another grade or two. Honestly I don't even remember getting our scores back. This is a far cry from the standardized testing craze this nation goes through today.

In my current home state of Missouri, listen to some of the goals this program has.

What is "adequate yearly progress" (AYP)?

This is one of the key elements of the new law and probably the most complicated. To achieve the goal of all children being "proficient" (as defined by each state) by 2014, all public schools and districts must make satisfactory improvement each year toward that goal. Based on criteria included in NCLB, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has established specific annual targets for AYP in communication arts and math. (Note: NCLB refers to tests in "reading/language arts and math." At least for now, Missouri is using scores from the MAP communication arts and math exams.)

This year (2003), the AYP goal for all schools in communication arts is 19.4% of all students being proficient. The AYP goal in math is 9.3% of all students being proficient. These same goals apply to all subgroups of students (see below). In 2005, these targets jump to 38.8% and 31.1%, respectively. Missouri’s "starting points" for determining annual AYP targets are based on 2002 MAP scores and the overall student proficiency rate in the school at the 20th percentile of total public school enrollment.

Am I reading this right? Missouri has a goal of having less than 1 in 10 students proficient in math? What are they testing these kids on? Or is reading more important?

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that the state of Missouri will receive $29.2 million in federal reading grant funds to help schools and districts improve children's reading achievement through scientifically proven methods of instruction.

On behalf of Education Secretary Rod Paige, Department of Education General Counsel Brian Jones made the announcement today at the Satchel Paige Elementary School in Kansas City. Missouri Department of Education Commissioner Kent King joined Jones for the announcement.

So "scientifically proven methods of instruction" given by "Education Secretary Rod Paige." I wonder if those are the same scientifically proven methods that allowed Paige to pretend that dropout rates in Houston where he ran the school district were significantly lower than they actually were.

When the Texas Education Agency audited records from 16 middle and high schools, it found that 54 percent of the 5,500 students who left school in 2000-01 should have been counted as dropouts but weren't. That helped explain the district's 1.5 percent dropout rate that year – a remarkably low rate for a big-city district, and one that has since drawn derision as "Enron accounting."

[A] series of audits found that dropout rates were widely underreported during Dr. Paige's tenure. He has kept his distance for months, letting aides deflect inquiries with assertions that he had nothing to do with the erroneous statistics. Now Dr. Paige blames "sloppy bookkeeping" and says the controversy is overblown.

"There's been an incredibly unfair examination of the issue," he told reporters at a recent breakfast. "I don't know the issue very well because I didn't think it was appropriate for me to interfere with it. But I think the facts support themselves."

I see. It's the same faith/facts dichotomy we love from this administration. Of course not, Mr. Paige - why would it be appropriate to interfere with news that made you look good, and made the President look like he was doing a good job as governor of Texas. Why on earth would you interfere with such tiny issues?

We need systematic reform of our education system in this country, starting with teacher salaries, full funding of programs like AmeriCorps and Teach for America, and continued college loan forgiveness for graduates that want to teach.

What we don't need is programs that take good teachers and remove them from classrooms based on ridiculously rigid requirements that have no bearing to one's ability to teach. We need common sense, and the Bush White House has so much of that ... um ...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The President was in Australia last week???

Oh yes. He sure was. And some of them didn't like it too much.

That's hard to imagine when we do things like this:

The refusal of the White House to accredit members of the Australian Parliamentary press gallery to cover the visit of US President George W Bush is a fundamental affront to free speech, Cunningham MP Michael Organ said today.

"The White House has refused to allow members of the Australian media access to the grounds of our Prime Minister's official Canberra residence, The Lodge, although American journalists have been granted that right. Australian journalists are also being denied a place in the Presidential motorcade press pool", Mr. Organ said.

"This is not the action of a country with which we have a special relationship, it is the action of a country which has something to hide and it is an egregious affront to our nation."

"This is not the much vaunted American democracy, this is the action of spin-doctors who want to control what you see and hear."

Well, when spin doctors run the country, what do you expect, Mr. Organ?

Howard Dean & Campaign Finance

Howard Dean is asking his supporters to vote later this week on whether or not he should accept federal matching funds. Dean took some heat for even considering foregoing matching funds because he had been such a staunch supporter of them in the past.

As most people familiar with the situation realize, this is a no-brainer. As Dean notes: "For the Republican primary election, even though he has no opponent, George Bush is raising $200 million from large corporate interests." What on earth is Bush going to do with that $200 million dollars besides attack his opponent once he knows who it is? Bush opted not to use federal matching funds in 2000, and was able to smear Al Gore all over the place (and still lost the election, but that's another story.)

I'll post an entry later on why I have been supporting Dean since last April when my neighbor brought me a flyer with his positions, but if you're unfamiliar with his stances on the issues, I recommend you check them out, as well as watching some of the video he has up at HowardDean.tv (TVTonic installation required) .

Dean would be the first Democratic candidate for President in thirty years to opt out of federal campaign assistance, and I expect his supporters will come out heavily in favor of doing so.

Defeating Bush is goal #1, and unfortunately, it's going to require money to do so.

Ten Commandments? Not with a Ten Foot Pole.

The Supreme Court yesterday denied a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Alabama Ten Commandments case. In case we had forgotten, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore thinks that:

[t]he monument properly acknowledges "God as the source of the community morality so essential to a self-governing society."

Lower federal courts had ruled that Moore violated the Constitution's ban on government promotion of religion by placing the 5,300-pound granite monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

This is probably smart. The Supreme Court is going to get an awful lot of publicity in the upcoming Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case. That's the 9th Circuit decision regarding that voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance violated the 1st Amendment, in case we'd forgotten.

Newdow isn't an obvious decision. The Alabama debacle, on the other hand is. The Court, as the L.A. Times (registration required) points out, has ruled on this issue repeatedly.

In 1980, the high court struck down a Kentucky law requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in all school classrooms. In 1989, the justices ordered city officials in Pittsburgh to no longer display a Nativity scene in City Hall during the Christmas season.

Two years ago, the court upheld a ruling in an Indiana case that required city officials to remove a Ten Commandments plaque in front of the City Hall in Elkhart.

Judge Moore will be tried on November 12 in front of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, so perhaps we'll have more news then. He's been suspended as Chief Justice since August when he refused to comply with a federal order to remove the monument.

Thanks to SCOTUSblog for summarizing this news.