Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ecksteins: Real Family Values

Spring is here and Opening Day is just around the corner. Stories abound about Barry Bonds' shape-shifting and other similar tales which have plagued America's past time in the modern era. However, I came across one baseball-related story of inspiration revolving around one of my favorite players of the current era: David Eckstein. Eckstein, all of 5'7", beat the odds just to make it to the majors, let alone to be on two teams that won the World Series and be the 2006 World Series MVP. The story is not about Eckstein directly but rather his family which is plagued by a genetic disease which destroys the kidneys in those that carry the genetic trait. Theirs is a story about perseverance and real family values.

Here is just a taste: "David Eckstein is up next, and he’s filled with familiar anticipation and butterflies. He’s been on-deck thousands of times as a major league ballplayer, a few steps from home plate, waiting his turn. But this is different. He’s ready to donate a kidney because that’s what people with his last name do. He’s been preparing most of his life, and, as with an at-bat, he’s watched others experience it first. Only three months ago, David’s brother Rick, the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals, donated a kidney to their oldest brother, Ken. An entire scorecard of Ecksteins, in fact, has either needed or donated kidneys. Everybody goes under the knife. The current Eckstein box score: Five kidney transplants with six more anticipated. Two family members and a close friend have donated kidneys."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Still Waiting for Superman

Perhaps no school superintendent (or in her case "chancellor") has ever achieved the fame of Michelle Rhee, the star of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," and the former Chancellor of Washington DC Public Schools. During her tenure, many DC public schools dramatically turned around their performance on test scores. Much of this turnaround was credited to Rhee for her willingness to confront the teachers' unions, fire administrators, teachers, and staff alike, and take aim at the tenure system. Pay was increased for performance by teachers in exchange for giving up of tenure. One DC school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus was the shiniest star pupil of all notching a 48% increase in math proficiency in just two short years.

It was almost too good to be true. And it appears that it was. An investigation by USA Today reveals significant questions about the process of achievement testing during Rhee's tenure. The investigation points to possible fraud and cheating on the tests: "A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones. Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That's more than half of D.C. schools." It's not surprising that teachers and school officials across the country would try to game the system. After all, when raises and jobs are at stake, ethics often go out the window.

Kudos to USA Today--a paper sometimes criticized (wrongly) for lacking substance. I am guessing this is the tip of a very deep iceberg. Investigative journalism, when done right, is a great thing. It is essential to a free society that the media investigate and uncover the facts and the truth, and by doing so, hold those in power accountable for their actions. I hope that the questions raised in this act of muckraking will not go unnoticed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sarah Palin: Swimming in the Kiddie Pool

Politico Arena Topic: Is Palin correct in her Obama-Israel slam?

Do a few trips abroad really “burnish” a presidential candidate’s foreign policy credentials? Heck, if that’s the case, there are thousands of American college kids who would be qualified to serve as Secretary of State after they return from their semesters abroad. I don’t see how Sarah Palin can overcome her lack of foreign policy knowledge, a perception continually compounded by numerous damning You Tube videos. “Foreign policy expert” is not a title earned by getting your passport stamped a few times or chatting up a few foreign leaders. It’s not a test you can cram for.

As former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, once observed about Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy: “She was out of her depth in a shallow pool.” Well, the foreign policy challenges facing America in 2011 reside at the deep end of the pool where the grown-ups swim. President Obama shouldn't worry about criticism of his foreign policy from Palin. After all, you can’t see Israel from the kiddie pool.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Obama, Libya, and the Inanity of Congressional Complaint

Politico Arena Topic: Did Obama Buck Congress on Libya?

These strikes were conducted in the exercise of our right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This necessary and appropriate action was a pre-emptive strike, directed against the Libyan terrorist infrastructure and designed to deter acts of terrorism by Libya….In accordance with my desire that Congress be informed on this matter, and consistent with the War Powers Resolution, I am providing this report on the employment of the United States Armed Forces. These self-defense measures were undertaken pursuant to my authority under the Constitution, including my authority as Commander in Chief of United States Armed Forces.” These words are not Barack Obama’s but Ronald Reagan’s almost fifteen years ago. They were communicated to Congress in a letter two days after the United States bombed Libya on April 14, 1986.

In the modern era and despite passage of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, presidents rarely “consult” Congress (thus bypassing Section 3 of the War Power Resolution); instead they “inform” Congress after military action commences or at least as it about to commence. All Presidents—Democrat and Republican—jealously guard that prerogative. If Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is correct (and I don’t think he is), every president since the Watergate Era could have been impeached based on their interpretation of presidential war powers. As a practical matter, however, it is business as usual—presidents command the troops as they see fit and Congress complains that they’ve been ignored.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

American Manners

I always try to warn my students to avoid putting into an email or uploading to You Tube anything you wouldn't want printed on the front page of the New York Times or played on CNN. Clearly this UCLA student was never warned of this as her offensive rant went viral.

The response by Jimmy Wong is awesome and his tune is unbelievably catchy. The kid has mad talent. Check out his other videos.

UPDATE: NPR profiled Jimmy Wong and his musical rebuttal in a commentary on its "all tech CONSIDERED" show. Jimmy Wong and his video are about as hot as the sun's surface at this point.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness and Political Kabuki

Political Arena Topic: The Brackets Presidency

People forget that presidents are human beings, not robots that operate 24/7/365. They need rest and relaxation too—after all, they have perhaps the most challenging job on the planet. So, if the president wants to take a half hour out of his schedule to fill out an NCAA bracket, I think we should cut him some slack just like we should cut other presidents slack for clearing brush on their ranch, playing golf, pitching horseshoes, or fly fishing, even during a war.

The president’s role as chief diplomat requires that he travel internationally from time-to-time. Unless there is an immediate domestic crisis, it is never a good idea to cancel or reschedule these types of trips. There is incredible expense and time put into planning such missions. And by delaying or cancelling such a high-profile trip, the president may be elevating to crisis level an issue that may not be worthy of that designation (e.g., budget talks). Though the events in the Middle East and Japan are very serious, they are also not happening on American territory and there is only so much the president can do. Besides, with the ability to take their own flying command center with them (Air Force One) and with the most advanced communications technology of the 21st Century at their disposal, it makes little difference whether the president is at the White House or in Waxahachie, Texas.

In the current political environment, criticism of the president is to be expected regardless of who the president is and regardless of what action they take. If the current president were a Republican who was filling out a bracket, you can bet the Democratic National Committee would be all over him. It is a political Kabuki dance and nothing more.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scott Walker's Folly

Politico Arena Topic: Scott Walker's Triumph?

Hubris: “an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin.” The Republican Party, buoyed by the 2010 election that allowed them to take over state governments across the country, have taken direct aim at the Democratic Party’s lifeblood: unions. This is especially the case in the industrial Midwest where Democrats and unions are strong. Let’s make one thing clear: the collective GOP effort to kill collective bargaining rights across the land is about politics, not budgets. It’s about gutting the Democratic Party’s one source of cash that allows them to at least compete with the bags of cash flowing to the GOP from Wall Street. The Republican Party’s political ambition is as naked as Charlie Sheen at a Beverly Hills party.

The GOP is currently winning the battles in the various states. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere, Republican-dominated legislatures are ramming through collective bargaining legislation despite howls of protest and sinking poll numbers. The Wisconsin case will likely be challenged in the courts as the Senate proceedings may have violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law. In Ohio, two Republican state senators who would have voted against Senate Bill 5 were removed from committee and replaced with senators who voted for it, ensuring passage, 7-5, and allowing the bill to be passed by the tiniest of margins, 17-16, in the Senate as a whole. It will pass in the House and be signed by Governor Kasich. But the story will not end there. Signatures will be gathered for a veto referendum and the law, before it can be enacted, will be placed on the November ballot for the people of Ohio to decide guaranteeing that this issue will dominate Buckeye politics for the next several months.

Have the Republican governors won the argument? Well, they have temporarily won the political battle. But it may be a Pyrrhic victory. In just a few short weeks, the GOP has managed to do the impossible: wake up a slumbering Democratic base and managed to convert some natural Republican constituencies. In Ohio, police and fire fighters and their unions which supported John Kasich will be all in for Democrats for the foreseeable future. In Wisconsin, a naturally progressive-leaning state, Scott Walker’s poll numbers are tumbling and recall efforts against Republican lawmakers abound. Because of Republican hubris, Wisconsin, Ohio, and many other states which may have tipped Republican in 2012 may go back to President Obama and the Democrats. The President should personally thank Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues for their help.

Politico Arena comment

Glenn Beck: A Lonesome Rhodes Sort of Crazy

Politico Arena Topic: Is Glenn Beck Hurting Conservatism?

Talk about a dark cloud. Glenn Beck has been increasingly going off the deep end as his own personal doomsday clock clicks louder and louder. The guy is crazy in a Lonesome Rhodes kind of way, laughing all the way to the bank. The more outlandish things he says, the more popular he becomes to a certain element of American society.

Does he hurt the conservative cause? Absolutely. The guy is a runaway freight train and conservatives cannot help be the caboose, pulled along for the ride, seriously hurting conservatives’ credibility with mainstream America.

It’s not for me to tell Fox what to do but having Beck on Fox helps Democrats and progressives. His brand of crazy scares many Americans and many of them are bound to be scared enough to run back into the Democratic tent.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Newt for Prez?

Politico Arena Topic: Should Gingrich Run?

Well it’s not my place to tell any politician whether he should or should not run for office (I’ve tried that in the past and it hasn’t worked out so well). However, I think if Newt Gingrich does run for president, he will have trouble.

Many forget that he had quite a few enemies in his own House caucus during his four years as speaker and was challenged outright for the speaker’s gavel. He also has a propensity to say controversial things bordering on the outlandish such as when he reportedly called first lady Hillary Clinton a not-so-nice name and suggested that a large percentage of President Clinton’s White House staff used drugs. Much more recently, Gingrich suggested that President Obama can only be understood by understanding the president’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world view thus waving the flag of the Birther movement.

Perhaps Gingrich’s lust for political red meat would play well with his base and the tea party folks, securing him the nomination. However, as the GOP nominee, Gingrich would stand little chance. General presidential elections are usually won in the middle of the ideological spectrum as undecideds and independents tip the scale one way or the other. A Gingrich nomination would tip those folks in the middle to the Obama side.

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