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16.10.08

BESE needs to reinforce honesty by banning dishonesty

From their earliest days, schoolchildren are taught to not to cheat. Their elders on certain school boards could take a lesson from their charges.

In particular, the East Baton Rouge School Board is weighing a plan to adjust accountability scores for their schools. Following the precedents set by Jefferson and Iberia Parishes, rather than compute test scores for a school based upon all students attending that school, they want to gimmick the process by taking scores of students attending magnet schools and count them towards the schools in their attendance zones (if not already in it). Typically, this would have the effect of raising the averages at the home schools which may help some of them avoid being designated as unacceptable and whose governance then could be transferred outside of the district.

Supporters argue this already is done for alternative school students, or those who have learning or behavioral problems, and that it has been sanctioned in the other two parishes. The state’s highest school board, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has no current policy on this but some members are sympathetic to the EBRPSD argument.

They shouldn’t be. For one thing, comparing what is done to alternative and magnet schools is like comparing apples to oranges. Alternative schools exist because of special education needs that detract from performance, the outcome of interest. Therefore, it makes sense not to treat them the same way as far as accountability goes. At the same time, however, it is an imperfect solution to count their test scores against their home schools because the home school had nothing to do with their education. That practice should be banned and instead a different set of criteria established to assess accountability at alternative schools using the test scores registered by their attendees.

For another thing, the shuffling of magnet students in Jefferson basically has no impact on its schools accountability scores. Not dispersing them would hardly have changed almost any of its schools’ test scorings significantly, because relatively few students get placed into magnet programs, and remedial program students’ scores also are counted back to their home schools. The impact probably would be much greater in East Baton Rouge because its proportion of students in magnet schools is about half again as high as that in Jefferson.

But dispersal of scores of any kind simply is dishonest. The school students attend, not the school in their attendance zone, is the one educating them. One might see why East Baton Rouge might want to cover up its miserable performance, with 22 or 27.5 percent of its schools currently rated unacceptable and eligible to be taken out of the district’s hands, with another 34 or 42.5 percent teetering on the brink of falling into this category. That’s no excuse.

BESE is going to “study” the issue. Integrity demands it conclude to compute the accountability scores for a school using only those students actually educated at them.

15.10.08

Democrat candidates paint stripes on horse, call it zebra

Regardless of whether it is past performance or future promises, Louisiana Democrats running for reelection to Congress keep trying to say one thing and hope you don’t look deeper to find out what they say they are and what they truly are in fact are different things.

Both Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Don Cazayoux keep trying to run from their liberalism, carefully choosing their rhetoric to shield themselves from reality. But their actions and words keep tripping them up.

Landrieu’s actions belie the “centrist” label she keeps trying to claim, even as it has fooled some otherwise intelligent, attentive people. She will spout off how the for 2007 the publication National Journal rated her at the median of senators on her voting record and how she votes with her liberal party the second-least of any senator.

But looking at Landrieu’s relative standing among her peers obscures the fact that she is very liberal, by her record, because even if she is among the least liberal of all the liberals she’s still being very liberal. Or another way to look at it, put Landrieu-endorsee for president Sen. Barack Obama, and his associates the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Rev. Michael Pflegler, and admitted terrorist Bill Ayres together in the same room, and Obama might be the most “centrist” of the bunch. Yet that does not change the fact that he was rated in 2007 by the National Journal as the most liberal senator as he is scored as extremely liberal.

Landrieu the magazine ranks on the liberal side, if not by much, at 53.7 (100 being perfectly liberal) in 2007. However, Landrieu has a history of sliding towards to center in the years leading up to an election. A better indicator comes from the American Conservative Union’s scorecard of her, which shows she has a 22.4 lifetime rating (1997-2007, where 0 is the perfect liberal score), but remove the years 2001, 2002, and 2007 where she scored 28, 35, and 40, respectively, her average when she thinks she isn’t being watched is an 18. Somebody who votes the liberal line when uninfluenced by electoral politics 82 percent of the time simply is no “centrist” or “moderate.” (Her liberalism is mirrored if not better shown in the ratings put out by the Americans for Democratic Action, where, for example, she scored an 80 of 100 for liberalism in 2007.)

The same applies to her party defection rate. Maybe she’s second-least loyal in the Senate, but when you vote with your party about 78 percent of the time, that’s still being pretty loyal to a party a minority of Louisianans voted for in eight of the nine latest statewide elections. Landrieu’s rhetoric on this matter simply attempts to con voters.

While Cazayoux doesn’t have Landrieu’s record because he’s hardly spent any time in Congress, it’s his talking out of both sides of his mouth which gives him away. At a recent candidate forum, he, who also has endorsed Obama, stated he was against tax increases, for cutting the federal budget, and saying any increased spending would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere (known as “PAYGO”).

Of course, these stated preferences run counter to his party’s articulated goals and, most importantly, against Obama’s who has promised tax increases that will end up affecting negatively most Americans, over a trillion dollars of new spending supported mainly by tax increases (which would not come close to finding that amount of revenue), and, in something Cazayoux hasn’t seemed to have heard yet from his own party, PAYGO is dead.

Cazayoux can’t have it all ways, but that’s obviously something he won’t tell voters. And it’s probably not going to be his way anyway, because if the Democrats get control of both branches of government, the leadership will breathe down his neck to vote their way on these controversial issues, needing every vote it can get to pass such radical changes. Chances are, if he could get reelected, he will end up voting for tax increases and spending increases and probably the only budget cutting he’ll get a chance to vote for is cutting off funds to win the war in Iraq.

At least his opponents state Rep. Michael Jackson and state Sen. Bill Cassidy are honest about who they are and what they’ll do. But, like Landrieu, Cazayoux knows the only chance he has of winning is to appear to be something that he is not. And thus we get this convoluted exercise from both of painting a pale horse with stripes and calling it a zebra.

14.10.08

Ministers misplace faith in Jefferson endorsement

Am I missing something here? A collection of black ministers has endorsed embattled Rep. Bill Jefferson, who is black, for reelection despite the fact he is under indictment for influence peddling, against political newcomer and non-black Helena Moreno for the Democrat nomination.

As regards someone accused of dishonesty in government, one might think ministers in particular would shy away from that candidacy. But apparently not, as Jefferson is touted as the best choice because they believe him to be “effective.”

Ministering to the faithful requires some degree of wisdom, yet in remarks made about the endorsement leads to wondering whether they possess the good judgment needed to lead their flocks. Their spokesman, for one, believes in Jefferson’s innocence. While this certain adheres to the power of faith, after a certain point faith becomes wishful thinking. Besides the mountain of evidence and Jefferson’s associates, friends, and relatives singing like birds about his role, just last week former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd plead guilty to a separate crime which implicated Jefferson. Legally, anyone not yet found guilty of a crime is innocent of it, but at a certain point when giving political direction credulity must factor in.

But let’s really give Jefferson the benefit of the doubt beyond what he deserves. Regardless, there must be great doubt about whether he is “effective” as a member of Congress. He has been stripped of committee assignments where most influence is attained and is shunned by the Democrat leadership, desperate to deflect attention from other scandals such as those concerning Reps. Barney Frank with improper influence and Tim Mahoney with hush money.

All right, let’s concede that, somehow believing Jefferson still could have more pull that a new representative unencumbered by all of this baggage. Yet this brings us to the most baffling aspect of the endorsement, where the spokesman argued even if Jefferson were found guilty and subsequently removed, “I would rather at least go back and have a special election than put the wrong person in.”

Silly me, but if that happened, wouldn’t that prove that Jefferson himself was the “wrong” person? So wouldn’t it make more sense to put someone in office initially that could build up some seniority and not have to go to the trouble of a special election in the first place? And thus avoid the risk of starting over and dealing with a felon?

(“Wrong” is a poor choice of words in this instance; I hope it isn’t being used as a synonym of “not black.” Further, it bears noting whether these ministers also favor Sen. Barack Obama at the presidential level who bleats incessantly about the necessity of “change,” couched in illusory terms. Would that not be inconsistent with their support of a nine-term incumbent?)

Why should men of God recommend such a flawed specimen and with odd reasoning? These spiritual leaders sound like they have let too much of worldly concern affect the electoral advice they implicitly give their congregations.

13.10.08

Column needs history, economics lessons to contribute

Unfortunately, ignorance about political history and economics is all too common in the American public, but it is particularly tragic when we see it in those who disseminate information (that does not constitute a politically dishonest attempt to persuade; in that case it is not tragic but venial). Regrettably, longtime political journalist Jim Beam fell victim to this in a recent column.

Beam asserts that the recent difficulties in the credit markets that caused big selloffs in the equities markets make 2008 too uncomfortably close to 1929, considered the start of the Great Depression, raising the specter of another economic dislocation of that magnitude. This misunderstands that the precipitant of the two events, easy credit. In 1929, borrowing money to buy securities without any real collateral was the straw that broke the camel’s back, whereas in 2008 the borrowing comes with substantial real assets attached. Nor are the magnitudes of the events even closely comparable.

Perhaps he does not recognize the difference because he does not understand what caused the Great Depression in the first place. Too much credit was being extended, but that doesn’t answer why that happened. The answer: government intervention that distorts the marketplace (this summation of a larger academic work probably explains it most elegantly). In the 1920s it was because of government’s expansionary monetary policy obsessed with price stabilization and trade flows, coupled with a sufficiently immature central banking system. None of these conditions operate today; rather, a reason just as political has caused it: policy to push lending to individuals of dubious ability to manage that debt (which Beam doesn’t seem to grasp, either).

Instead, Beam relies on one of the most discredited pieces of boilerplate explanation for the Great Depression, income inequality causing underconsumption at the lower end of the wealth continuum. This view totally ignores that overproduction from easy credit causes a supply problem (too much) yet props up prices artificially so underconsumption occurs not because too many people have too little money, but that artificially low credit pricing encourages them to overextend and waste their resources on something they cannot afford. (During the 1920s, this caused wage stagnation even as prices barely crept up, not the case today.) Proportion of wealth held by various income classes has nothing to do economic performance (unless it is a matter of government policy to redistribute income for that very reason of perceived inequality, which then impedes economic performance and growth).

Not only does Beam not know what caused the Great Depression, neither does he know what ended it. While he believes it was Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, the historical record shows otherwise (this summarizes a good nonacademic and recent work on this point). It actually started with Roosevelt’s predecessor Pres. Herbert Hoover who began to ramp up government spending and planning but it was Roosevelt who started on direct cash payments. Either way, what could have been a relatively short if sharp downturn was prolonged by government interference in the marketplace. In fact, almost a decade later economic conditions hardly were any better than they had been at the beginning of 1929, years after New Deal implementation. Beam needs to understand there was little Roosevelt’s policies did that improved the situation in any way, while his optimistic rhetoric at least boosted confidence. What did end it was World War II, which demanded a massive efficient use of resources that government on its own could not and is institutionally incapable of engineering.

Properly understanding the past and how it relates to conditions today, this helps explain why Louisiana is less likely to be affected by the fallout of this retrenchment. Had Beam a surer knowledge of history and economics, he might have contributed meaningfully to this assessment.

12.10.08

Debate shows Kennedy has chance to make up ground

While polls show Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu holding a decent lead in her reelection bid against Republican Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, she has been unable to gain a decisive advantage with public’s intended vote (which to some degree probably only reflected name recognition rather than real intent). She had a chance make progress towards that goal, and Kennedy an opportunity to work to closing the gap, at their Louisiana Public Broadcasting-sponsored debate Sunday night.

Landrieu’s strategy has been to assert she has some kind of “independence” from her party and ideology – despite the fact that she votes with it most of the time and has a lifetime 22.4 rating from the American Conservative Union (0 meaning a perfect liberal voting record – and trying to convince voters that Kennedy is shiftless. By the same token, Kennedy plays up her liberal votes and stresses a mix of conservative themes especially on fiscal issues while trying to demonstrate he has rethought some of his past preferences. In their debate, both candidates went after each others self-drawn perceptions.

On several occasions she touted how she was “independent,” that her “seniority” would benefit the state, how she had displayed “effectiveness,” and that she could work in a “bipartisan” manner – playing to the populist mentality in Louisiana where many see their elected officials as paraders throwing goodies off of floats. He refused to concede, such as describing her agreeing philosophically with Sen. Barack Obama’s nationalization of health care policy, or voting with Obama on the Democrat measure that would have forced withdrawal from Iraq, or that even as she is chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security responsible for disaster relief that her influence amounted to nothing in speeding up the ongoing recovery process from the 2005 hurricane disasters.