Free Markets, Free People

Education


Revisiting Political History

A little reminder for those on the left who sniff at those uncomfortable about a politician addressing school children. It’s also handy for those who like to like to recall George H.W. Bush’s address to school kids and pretend like the left wasn’t bothered by that:

But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush’s speech — they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.

Of course that won’t happen in this case. Nor will this:

The National Education Association denounced the speech, saying it “cannot endorse a president who spends $26,000 of taxpayers’ money on a staged media event at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C. — while cutting school lunch funds for our neediest youngsters.”

And you certainly won’t hear Democratic politicans saying anything like this either:

“The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students,” said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. “And the president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action.’”

But you know, this is all a new bit of right-wing paranoia, isn’t it?

~McQ


It’s Always The “Conservatives” … (Update)

It couldn’t possibly be independents and libertarians objecting as well could it?

School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday – forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms.

The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.

“The gist is, ‘I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.’ Another said, ‘This is Marxist propaganda.’ They are very hostile,” said Patricia O’Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. “I think it’s disturbing that people don’t want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society.”

The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.

One more time for the slow and stupid, i.e. the media – this is about a president presuming to speak directly to our children without our permission. It’s not so much about the message, it’s the presumption. To me that’s a presumption which he has no right to make. If he wants to speak to the nation on national TV I, as an adult, have the ability to choose whether or not to watch him or instead a Braves’ game. If he wants to talk about education and address children, I’ll put mine in front of the TV if I think what he’ll have to say is useful and necessary. That’s a parent’s job and a politician – any politician – presuming he is above such parental control or choice is just flat wrong.

As this was originally planned, although it appears some school districts are now going to provide an alternate activity for those who object, this was to be a captive audience forced to watch the message. Many parents, not just conservative parents, understand the ability for something like this to be abused. Again, it’s not so much about the message as it is about the precedent.

Lastly, many of the objections haven’t been focused on the speech but the fact that this is an organized event with a lesson plan that, until the outcry, had some portions where were obviously political. And that’s the opinion of more than just conservatives (the White House dropped some of those more obvious portions from the lesson plan).

So to boil it down so even the media can figure it out – it isn’t just conservatives objecting to this. More importantly, it’s about the 3 “p’s” – presumption, precedent and politics.

Oh, and concerning the tu quoque?

Obama isn’t the first president to be criticized this way. O’Neill recalled President George H. W. Bush made televised address to students in October 1991 as campaign season was heating up. A handful of Democrats denounced Bush’s address as pure politics. Bush asked students to “take control” of their education and to write him a letter about ways students could help him achieve his goals, strikingly similar to Obama’s messages.

Yeah, that was wrong as well. Okay? This president as with any president has more than enough to do without presuming he’s welcome to become the national daddy. Why don’t we refrain from centralizing that too and concentrate on taking over another car company or something instead?

UPDATE: Speaking of outrage (and disengenuousness) – I have to ask, given this bit of outrage from the left (and speaking of tu quoque), would this line of reasoning have survived an attempt by George W. Bush to do the same thing?

More broadly, Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him–or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it’s a big deal that he’s speaking directly to students about the importance of education.

Just sayin’…

~McQ


Big Brother Has Such A Nice Smile!

Is anyone else even slightly creeped out by this upcoming presidential address to our kids and grandkids?

Maybe its just me but there’s something just not quite right about it all. Oh, I suspect he’ll be very careful about what he has to say and probably keep it pretty general in tone and nature. But there’s just something about a politician addressing young children without an alternate or dissenting voice that smacks of, oh I don’t know, some novel I read years and years ago.

Its "for the childern"

It's "for the children"

In fact, I’m pretty sure they made a movie of that book.

You know, it’s one thing for a teacher to use a politician’s words or deeds in class as an example of some point they’re trying to make in a lesson. But it is quite another to have a captive audience with no choice as to whether they listen or watch sitting in front of TVs because a politician decided that would be a good idea.

Maybe it’s my cynical nature that’s coming to the fore. Who knows, this may be nothing but a “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best” speech. But then I wonder why, if that’s so, he assumes the right to make such a speech best left to moms and dads. Of course he did tell us this week to make sure we wash our hands, sneeze in our sleeve and stay home if we’re sick. So addressing real children after treating us all like children isn’t a real stretch.

The real reason there’s a growing creep factor to all of this is that not only does he presume to have the right to address our kids, his speech has a lesson plan. It’s one thing to have a politician give a speech and everyone go, “ok, that’s nice” and get back to work. But it is entirely creepy when that politician has a lesson plan sent out to accompany the speech. For the pre-K to 6th grade group the plan suggests pre-speech questions like: “Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”

Now that doesn’t tend to border on indoctrination or anything does it? “Obey you young skulls full of mush. Elected officials are good. Listen to them. Question authority? Not till you get to the 7th grade.”

7th – 12th graders get a little more sophisticated lesson plan than do the little guys. And guess who it is all about?

Short readings. Notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education. Teacher might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, and share their collaborations with the class (Think/Pair/Share) about the following: What are our interpretations of these excerpts? Based on these excerpts, what can we infer the President believes is important to be successful educationally?

Yeah, you see, this seems to be more than “hey youngsters, good luck in school and try to do your best”, doesn’t it?

After the speech, the 7-12 crew will have a “guided discussion” in which questions like, “What is President Obama inspiring you to do? What is he challenging you to do?”, will be pondered.

And the poor little tykes in preK to 6 (preK?)? Well they get the full cult of personality treatment:

Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:

What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
What would you like to tell the President?

Boy, you know what I’d like to tell the President if I was in one of those classes?

Leave our freakin’ kids alone. And don’t ever assume you have either the right or privilege of addressing them about anything ever again without our permission.

But, you know, that’d probably be some sort of overreaction or something. After all, I’m sure his intentions are sweet and pure and good and he only want’s to be our national daddy. And anyway, I don’t even have a lesson plan.

~McQ


Tiger Woods – Bourgeois Tool

At least in Venezuela.  Apparently the game of golf is the latest thing under assault in the socialist paradise Hugo Chavez is fashioning:

After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.

“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.

Meanwhile, the rubber-stamp National Assembly passed a bill that will broaden the state’s control of what is taught in schools:

The bill would order schools to base curricula on what it calls “the Bolivarian Doctrine” — a vague reference to ideals espoused by 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, such as national self-determination and Latin American unity.

Or, more simply said – socialism. Unsurprisingly, it has generated protests a colleges and universities – not that Chavez cares.

Meanwhile, as the economy continues to tank, Chavez is using the dictator’s normal first choice to divert attention from economic problems – claiming there is an external threat.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday raised tensions with Colombia over a U.S. troop plan, accusing his neighbor of sending an army patrol over their Orinoco River border and ending a Colombian gasoline subsidy.

Chavez made his remarks on the eve of a regional summit in Ecuador, where the persistent Washington critic will try to fuel opposition to a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to seven of its military bases.

[...]

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally, says the troop plan is necessary to fight drug traffickers. But Chavez claims a greater U.S. presence in the region is a direct threat to him and risks sparking war in South America.

Where have we seen all of his before? And how predictable is this as well?

Poor Venezuela – they’ve got a tiger by the tail and they’re in for an awful ride. They’ve allowed this goon Chavez to manipulate the democratic process into autocratic rule and he’s now developed into not just a threat to the freedom and liberty of his own citizens, but a threat to other nations.

Anyone can see this isn’t going to end well. I feel for the people of Venezuela.

~McQ


Who Is Going To Say, “We Can’t Afford It?!”

It may seem like a trivial sum given that yesterday the government’s deficit for the year reached a trillion dollars 3 months before the end of the budget year, but it is symptomatic of the problem that got us there:

President Barack Obama plans to announce a community-college initiative designed to boost graduation rates, improve facilities and develop new technology. The effort will involve $12 billion in spending spread over the next 10 years.

We. Can’t. Afford. It.

Why is that so freakin’ hard to understand?!

~McQ


Right Policies: Opting Out

Yesterday Jon Henke challenged the Right to come up with policies that are popular, viable, workable, transformational and sustainable. (Follow the link to see what he means by each of those.) I’ve previously suggested a broad-based agenda that I thought could be sold as an alternative to the Democrats’ agenda, but I think a few of the specific policies are particularly strong, and they stick to a consistent theme.

Libertarian paternalism — which means that certain initial decisions are made for you, but you are left a way to opt out — can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the status quo. If the status quo is freedom, I’d just as soon not add in an element of paternalism in virtually any case. But if the status quo is paternalism, then libertarian paternalism is a step in the right direction.  Fortunately, giving people more options is much more popular than changing their status quo decision.

I propose that the Right should target existing paternalism and offer as many opportunities to opt out as we can devise. My main two examples are education and entitlements.

Education

I consider education to be any political coalition’s #1 long-term priority. If your opponents control education, chances are you will eventually lose on everything else. So, what policies should the Right pursue on education?

Vouchers aren’t a new idea, but we on the Right could be pursuing them in much more creative ways than we are now, to build a broad working alternative to state schools.  With variable-cost vouchers and pilot programs that target the “victim classes”, the Right can play full court press on vouchers in every school district.

Variable-Cost Vouchers

In every school district across the country, we should have vouchers at least equal to the variable cost of sending one extra child to public school. Democrats have argued for a long time that we need more spending per student to give kids smaller class sizes and better materials such as textbooks, and have used that to justify countless bond measures and tax increases to increase public school funding.

If a voucher just covers the variable cost of an extra student, then a voucher helps create smaller class sizes and increases the amount of money the public school can spend on each student.

You can see how a voucher for variable costs puts the Left in a Catch-22: Every extra dollar they want to spend per student is an argument for a bigger voucher, and an opportunity for the private sector to spend the dollar more efficiently than the public sector.

Make Friends in Low Places

We can do even better: pilot voucher programs should very openly target kids who are performing worst in the current system, in part because proposing vouchers for them undercuts the argument that vouchers just skim the cream of the crop.

Voucher proponents have already focused on several low-income and minority populations, using needs-based criteria and simple geography; the Right should be pushing this smart strategy much more aggressively – it undercuts Democrats’ arguments against vouchers beautifully, and makes a direct play for the Left’s base. The apparent success of the DC voucher system has made attempts to cut the program very embarrassing for Democrats; we need more of that.

Moreover, the Right should propose vouchers that help children who score on the bottom half of the test-score distribution. The research I’ve read indicates that these children show the greatest gains from voucher programs.  For the same reason, target kids with histories of disciplinary problems and special-needs children (paging Sarah Palin).

It would be a bridge too far for the Democrats to argue that these kids enhance the performance of public schools after using the opposite argument to fight vouchers for so long.

And finally, the Right should propose voucher programs to target the many minors who have already dropped out of school.  Kids who have outright given up on the public school system, or who rarely show up, aren’t doing anything to improve the performance of those schools.  If Democrats want to keep up the pretense that they care about these kids, they shouldn’t have any problem with helping these kids become part of a new private education market.

Those are just a small number of ways we can turn the Left’s most popular arguments against them and start to build a real market in education. In the meantime, the Right would be demonstrating that markets can work better than state-administered programs, and help the “little guy” who’s been screwed by the public system.

Where necessary to make the policy viable, the Right could be flexible on the matter of vouchers for church-founded schools (like Catholic schools); the first priority is building a broad education market outside of the state.

Entitlements

Here’s another place where reform would be truly transformational. The Right should push for an opt-out for the major entitlements – Medicare and Social Security. A reform doesn’t have to be a full privatization to accomplish a great deal of good.

Many people are currently collecting benefits from Medicare and SocSec, and we can assume that they will turn out to vote against anything that takes away those benefits. The Right can start making progress on reducing our crushing long-term obligations by (once more for effect) giving everyone as many opportunities to opt out as possible.

Social Security

Why not allow people to adjust their expected benefits, with higher or lower individual taxes to compensate for the change from the “standard” level?  The SSA could set a minimum level of contributions to guarantee its promised benefits, so that the legislation becomes non-threatening to beneficiaries, and thus politically viable.  To get the greatest tax cut, you opt out of all retirement benefits; you can change your mind later, but your benefit and/or tax level must be adjusted appropriately.  And the more people who opt out, the lower the minimum tax rate can go; that rate could be adjusted at periodic intervals, perhaps once a year.

Similarly, why not allow people to adjust their expected retirement age, again paying higher or lower taxes to compensate?

Both of these adjustments would introduce flexibility along with a price mechanism.

Yes, this means that some people might choose to pay the minimum tax and find themselves at age 67 regretting their earlier decisions, but everyone would know that they made a conscious choice to change from the status quo.  And in the meantime, those who opt out don’t feel like such direct stakeholders.

Medicare and other state medical benefits

To get more people off the rolls, allow them to opt out of Medicare eligibility and other state medical benefits in exchange for some mix of:

    • lower payroll taxes
    • tax-free health savings accounts
    • a tax cut on their individual health insurance
    • vouchers for private insurance and private disability coverage

… as long as the total cost of the mix is lower than the expected cost of Medicare benefits.  This way, the Right can not only cut into the massive expected costs on the near horizon, but also get fewer people to feel like stakeholders in the future of the state-administered system.

Conclusion

The most effective arguments against reform are allegations that people will lose the benefits they have now. Psychologically, we regret losing a dollar more than we regret not acquiring that dollar in the first place. That’s a big part of how the Right beat universal health care under Clinton: by telling the American people that they would lose their current insurance, with which most of them were satisfied.

Whether we like it or not, it is stupid to do a frontal assault on a hardened position. Instead, we should apply libertarian paternalism to divide and conquer by giving our opponents as many chances to defect as possible.


Immigration May Detract From Other Issues

President Obama, has decided that in addition to the health care, energy and education debates, he’ll also crank up the immigration debate:

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

12 million is the low-side estimate. Others estimate the total to be as high as 20 million.

Here is the argument he can plan on seeing prominently pushed from the other side as it concerns legal status for illegal immigrants:

“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.

“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.

The argument that the jobs immigrants hold are jobs Americans won’t do rings even more hollow in a recession.

Additionally, starting this emotional issue up now, while he’s trying to push the other issues I mentioned is going to diffuse focus and may cost him critical support on health care, energy or education.

This is not a smart political move. But it is one I welcome.

~McQ


Years of Math

From an email.

Why? Because I think it is funny. And yes, I understand that we are still capable of and do teach math well.

But as I chuckled about it, this bit of humor is more about our priorities and some cultural issues than math.

1959-2009 (in the USA )

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $ 2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters , but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? 

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20.  What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok.)

6. Teaching Math In 2009

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

~McQ


The Dishonesty Inherent In The Administration’s Economic Claims

David Brooks, 3 days after a semi-courageous, “what-the-heck-is-going-on” column, received calls from the senior staff at the White House and quietly got back in line:

In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders. They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.

The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.

How moderately wonderful, right? They’ve now dazzled Brooks again. They’re not “liberal crusaders”, they’re moderate pragmatists who want to lend stability to the economy.

Brooks then goes through a litany of things “Republicans should like”. He finishes up by claiming he still thinks they’re trying to do too much too fast, and that may lead to problems “down the road”, but all in all, he’s impressed by their sincerity, commitment to what is best for America and the fact that all of this is not going to cost anywhere near what all the critics claim.

On their face, the arguments are nonsense. This is the biggest planned expansion of government in a century. Estimates are the federal government will be hiring between 100,000 and 250,000 new employees to oversee its new programs and spend the trillions of dollars being borrowed through debt instruments right now.

Unlike the rather facile and easy to impress Brooks, Charles Krauthammer takes a look at the spin and deconstructs it rather handily.

At the very center of our economic near-depression is a credit bubble, a housing collapse and a systemic failure of the entire banking system. One can come up with a host of causes: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed by Washington (and greed) into improvident loans, corrupted bond-ratings agencies, insufficient regulation of new and exotic debt instruments, the easy money policy of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, irresponsible bankers pushing (and then unloading in packaged loan instruments) highly dubious mortgages, greedy house-flippers, deceitful homebuyers.

The list is long. But the list of causes of the collapse of the financial system does not include the absence of universal health care, let alone of computerized medical records. Nor the absence of an industry-killing cap-and-trade carbon levy. Nor the lack of college graduates. Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe in the first place.

And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.

As Krauthammer points out, none of the costly things that Obama pledged to focus on have anything to do with the down economy. They all do, however, include the  the probability of causing even more damage if enacted.

And since they’ve been in office, Obama or his surrogates (mostly in the guise of Timothy “tax cheat” Geithner”) have talked down the stock market, the auto industry, the oil and gas industry, the health care industry, energy, banks, financial and the defense industry. They still don’t seem to realize what impact their words have on markets, or if they do, then one has to assume they’re doing this on purpose. I tend toward the side of ignorance, but at some point, after it has been pointed out to them over and over again, you have to abandon that belief and head toward the other conclusion. Their words, quite literally, are wrecking the economy.

Markets can’t stand instability and insecurity. When leaders talk about what’s wrong with this industry or that industry and what they intend on doing to punish or change how that industry does business, investors get very nervous. As you might imagine, they’re extremely nervous right now, as reflected by the Dow. They know that there is a government assault coming, in some form or fashion, on the industries I’ve mentioned. So they’re going to get out of the position they now hold in them and they’re going to refrain from investing in them until they’re clear what that assault will entail. And I don’t use the word “assault” lightly.

Health care, defense, oil and gas, pharma, auto, energy, housing, banking, finance etc. are all under a form of assault by the new administration. Health care will change and expand dramatically under government auspices, oil and gas will lose tax breaks, cap-and-trade will bury the auto industry and shoot energy prices through the roof – affecting transportion and manufacturing. Cram-downs affect the housing, banking and financial sectors. Who wants to invest in any of that when a judge can reward irresponsible home owners with a write down of their principle? Meanwhile responsible home seekers will see the interest rate go up by about 2 points to cover the losses. That’ll spur homebuying, won’t it?

Like Dale pointed out about the Red Kangaroo, you can see this coming from a mile off. And “useful idiots” like David Brooks climb back on the bandwagon and resume cheering the parade to economic ruin.

~McQ