Saturday, July 29, 2006
Look! Over There!
Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
George W. Bush: Political Poison
After trailing earlier in the campaign season, Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich (D) now leads Republican State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka by 11-points in his bid for re-election. The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows Blagojevich with 45% of the vote to 34% for Topinka.
The Blagojevich campaign has run an advertising campaign raising the question "What is She Thinking?" about Topinka and touching on issues ranging from the state budget to Iraq. The Blagojevich campaign has also raised complaints about lease payments by Topinka to a developer who is also a contributor. A better job performance in the state may also have something to do with the turnabout.
The governor, too, has had to contend with charges of impropriety, but that's old news and he has more money to spend on campaign ads. Many Republicans in the state concede that he has managed to put Topinka on the defensive lately.
And how has Blago put her on the defensive? By linking her to George W. Bush and the Bush administration's policies. With television ads (like this one) asking "What's she thinking," the Blogojevich campaign has made this election more about the Republican party's platform than about Topinka herself. And guess what folks, Illinois is not impressed.
Now of course, this is a blue state that Kerry won by eleven points in 2004. However, if you check out the county-by-county electoral map, you'll see that Bush took the majority of the state, including almost all of down-state Illinois. But according to SurveyUSA, Topinka only leads by a scant 4 points in that same downstate region.
As I've said many times before, Bush is an albatross and we must hang him around the neck of every Republican currently running for office. If corrupt Blago can do it, so can every other Democrat in the country.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Thursday, July 20, 2006
So Dark the Con of NCLB
The press release reads in part:
Year after year, some schools fail to live up to the important standards that ensure our students get the education they deserve. President Bush and I believe that families in communities where schools fall short deserve choices when it comes to their children's education.
Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that parents can make choices that strengthen their children's future and give them a great start in life, regardless of their resources or the communities they live in. The President's America's Opportunity Scholarships program will help low-income students in under-performing schools transfer to the private school of their choice or sign up for intensive tutoring after school or during the summer.
The insinuation, of course, is that private schools are superior to public schools and will therefore help our children to succeed. This has been considered common wisdom for a number of years based upon a study done in the early 1980s. Unfortunately for the GOP and supporters of the voucher program, it's not true.
In last Saturday's edition of the NewYork Times, it was reported that a study by Spellings' own Department of Education showed that public schools perform as well as or nearly as well as private schools in the key areas of reading and math.
The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better.
The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, found that fourth graders attending public school did significantly better in math than comparable fourth graders in private schools. Additionally, it found that students in conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools on eighth-grade math.
The study, carrying the imprimatur of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department, was contracted to the Educational Testing Service and delivered to the department last year.
Quoting from the report's executive summary (PDF):
Results From Grade 4
In the first set of analyses, all private schools were compared to all public schools. The average private school mean reading score was 14.7 points higher than the average public school mean reading score, corresponding to an effect size of .41 (the ratio of the absolute value of the estimated difference to the standard deviation of the NAEP fourth-grade reading score distribution). After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was near zero and not significant.
In the first set of analyses, all private schools were again compared to all public schools. The average private school mean mathematics score was 7.8 points higher than the average public school mean mathematics score, corresponding to an effect size of .29. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was -4.5 and significantly different from zero. (Note that a negative difference implies that the average school mean was higher for public schools.)
Results From Grade 8
In the first set of analyses, all private schools were compared to all public schools. The average private school mean reading score was 18.1 points higher than the average public school mean reading score, corresponding to an effect size of .58. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was 7.3 points and significantly different from zero.
In the first set of analyses, all private schools were again compared to all public schools. The average private school mean mathematics score was 12.3 points higher than the average public school mean mathematics score, corresponding to an effect size of .38. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was nearly zero and not significant.
Spellings and others dismissed the significance of this report noting that the report itself listed several caveats and warned that the findings were of "modest utility" (due in part to a small sample size and the researchers inability to control for certain socioeconomic variables)
Unfortunately for Spellings, though, this is not the only study comparing public and private schools. In 2005, Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, associate professors from the University of Illinois, published a study in the educational journal Phi Delta Kappan titled A New Look at Public and Private Schools: Student Background and Mathematics Achievement (sorry, no link - if you're interested in reading the article it can be found in Phi Delta Kappan v86 n9 May 2005, p696). The study compared the achievement of mathematics students in grades four and eight while controlling for socioeconomic status (SES). To do this, Lubienski and Lubienski considered a number of SES variables including poverty level, computer access at home, internet access at home, extent to which students' studies are discussed at home, and parents' education level. What they found is that when compared across the board, public school students actually fared better than their private school counterparts when compared within their own SES quartile.
As the figures show, within each SES quartile, the public school mean is actually higher than that of the corresponding private school mean at both grades 4 and 8. Specifically, public school fourth-grade means were 6 to 7 points higher than private school means within each SES quartile, and eighth-grade differences favoring public schools ranged from 1 to 9 points.
So why the misconception that private schools perform better than our public schools? Well, as you can see from the two graphs above, students from the High SES quartile tend to score higher than the others. Private schools are far more likely to consist of students from that High SES category than public schools. In fact, this particular study found that less than 40% of public schools were of high SES while over 80% of private schools were of high SES.
So what does this mean for NCLB? Well, considering that school vouchers - or school choice, as the Republicans like to call it - are a major part of the NCLB act, this renders a large portion of the act moot. What would be the advantage of sending our children to a private school if the research shows that such a change will not increase their level of achievement? Seeing as how such a change will be unable to effect a student's socioeconomic status, there appears to be no evidence that it will produce the promised result. In other words, the promise of NCLB is based upon a myth.
Such is the con of NCLB.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
The debate over stem cell research is heating up as the November election nears. President Bush is standing by his earlier position of $25 million for research and the order that no new stem cell lines can be created. Meanwhile John Kerry has promised to lift the current ban and give scientists more freedom and his running mate, John Edwards, has said that the administration would give $100 million for research and establish ethical guidelines for scientists to follow. To combat the Kerry plan, the President has resorted to using his secret weapon: Laura Bush.
First lady Laura Bush defended her husband's policy on embryonic stem cell research Monday, calling Democratic rival John Kerry's criticism "ridiculous" and accusing proponents of overstating the potential for medical breakthroughs.
"We don't even know that stem cell research will provide cures for anything — much less that it's very close" to yielding major advances, Mrs. Bush said.
First of all, let's talk about this statement. If we had applied this logic - let's not do it because we're not sure it will work - to other things in our nation's history, what would the outcome have been? Would we have a vaccine for polio? Would we have landed a man on the moon? Would Hitler have been defeated? The list could go on and on. Somtimes we have to take a risk if we hope to gain anything.
But let's get to the heart of the Bush administration's opposition to stem cell research. Quoting from the AP article:
Religious groups oppose the scientific work in which culling of stem cells kills the embryos, equating that with abortion, and had urged Bush not to be the first president to fund the research — even with limits.
Religious groups, also known as Bush's base, are the driving force behind his decision. If President Bush were to support this research, he risks angering his largest group of supporters. However, the views of these religious groups is inaccurate as was pointed out by Ron Reagan in his speech at the Democratic Convention.
... no fetal tissue is involved in this process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens in the laboratory at the cellular level.
Now, there are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research. They argue that interfering with the development of even the earliest stage embryo, even one that will never be implanted in a womb and will never develop into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder. A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves. But many are well-meaning and sincere. Their belief is just that, an article of faith, and they are entitled to it.
But it does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many. And how can we affirm life if we abandon those whose own lives are so desperately at risk?
It is a hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make distinctions. Yes, these cells could theoretically have the potential, under very different circumstances, to develop into human beings-that potential is where their magic lies. But they are not, in and of themselves, human beings. They have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have no thoughts, no fears. They feel no pain. Surely we can distinguish between these undifferentiated cells multiplying in a tissue culture and a living, breathing person-a parent, a spouse, a child.
Many people have spoken out on both sides of this issue. Bush and his religious base have called this "junk science," while others have called this a the future of medical research. While the Republicans focus on the fact that it probably won't cure Alzheimer's (which is the popular misconception because of the stance taken by Ron Reagan and its association with the recent death of his father), they neglect to consider that it could cure diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, and a number of other devistating illnesses.
In my opinion this is a risk that we can't afford not to take. By pandering to his religious base, President Bush is playing politics with the lives of millions. We've already watched him do this in Iraq with our young men and women and now he's doing it here at home. The President likes to claim that he is decisive and doesn't follow the polls, but what he really means is that he's not going to follow the general polls. He only follows those polls that reflect the opinions of his base no matter what risk it may pose to others.
The more things change...
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an internal probe of the warrantless eavesdropping program that monitors Americans' international calls and e-mails when terrorism is suspected.
The department's Office of Professional Responsibility announced earlier this year it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency intercepts some telephone calls and e-mail without court approval.
At the time, the office said it could not obtain security clearance to examine the classified program.
Well, isn't that interesting? I seem to remember someone else who tried to block an investigation into possibly illegal activities. I wonder how that worked out?
Monday, July 17, 2006
It wasn't meant to be overheard. Private luncheon conversations among world leaders, picked up by a microphone, provided a rare window into both banter and substance — including President Bush cursing Hezbollah's attacks against
Bush expressed his frustration with the United Nations and his disgust with the militant Islamic group and its backers in Syria as he talked to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the closing lunch at the Group of Eight summit.
"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (expletive) and it's over," Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.
Now you may recall that this has happened before.
The Republican presidential candidate George W Bush has said he regrets the fact that people heard him make an insulting comment about a journalist, but he refused to apologise.
Just before a campaign speech in Illinois, Mr Bush said to his running mate Dick Cheney: "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole from the New York Times."
Mr Bush later said he did not realise that live microphones were going to pick up the remark, but he stopped short of an actual apology.
Honestly, I don't care that he said "shit," or "asshole." Hell, he could have said "fuck" and it wouldn't make any difference to me. God knows I've said much worse. But the media sure had a field day with this latest gaffe. They were like a bunch of little kids who just heard the teacher slip up - "tee hee, he said shit!"
But as usual, the media has completely missed the boat. Instead of spending their day wetting themselves over the fact that Georgieboy said a naughty word, they could have spent it pointing out what a hypocritical bastard he is. For years we've been hearing about how the Republican party is the party of higher morals. (Yeah, I know, it's bullshit but that doesn't stop them from saying it.) They are supposedly the party of good Christian values. In fact, Bush has even claimed that he appeals to "a higher Father." So I wonder what that higher father has to say about words like "shit" and "asshole." From Ephesians 4:29:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
And from James 3:9-12:
9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
So as I see it, there's no doubt about it. He's going to burn in hell. I'm sure the media will be all over this tomorrow.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Republicans are in jeopardy of losing their grip on Congress in November.
With less than four months to the midterm elections, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that Americans by an almost 3-to-1 margin hold the GOP-controlled Congress in low regard and profess a desire to see Democrats wrest control after a dozen years of Republican rule.
Further complicating the GOP outlook to turn things around is a solid percentage of liberals, moderates and even conservatives who say they'll vote Democratic. The party out of power also holds the edge among persuadable voters, a prospect that doesn't bode well for the Republicans.
The election ultimately will be decided in 435 House districts and 33 Senate contests, in which incumbents typically hold the upper hand. But the survey underscored the difficulty Republicans face in trying to persuade a skeptical public to return them to Washington.
Mmmm... just like fresh cut Democracy. I love that smell.
Hey, if you're looking for something fun, try being a George W Bush Speechwriter. It's hours of fun!
(Hopefully, posting will return to a more regular schedule now that my summer classes are over. I handed in my last final project today. Whew! Only six more classes to go!)
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Phew! I'm Back
A recent Op-Ed piece in the Chicago Sun-Times sheds some light on the true effect of a raise in wages.
The "retail living-wage ordinance" currently being considered by the [Chicago] City Council would make large retailers (with stores of at least 90,000 square feet) pay a starting wage of $10 an hour, plus $3 of health benefits. Though the proposal would apply to numerous large retailers in the city, including Target and Costco, it quickly got the attention of Wal-Mart. To put it mildly, the world's largest employer, with plans to open numerous stores in the city, wasn't happy and immediately threatened to suspend the store openings.
The $13 an hour total compensation cost mandated by the Chicago ordinance is roughly a 20 percent raise over what Wal-Mart claims to pay its employees. A raise of this size could be financed through a combination of Wal-Mart allowing its profit margin (after-tax profits divided by sales) to fall from its current 3.6 percent to 2.9 percent and by raising its prices 0.7 percent -- less than a penny on a $1 pair of socks.
0.7 percent? That's the massive price hikes the Republicans are warning us about? To put things in perspective, the price of $100.00 of groceries bought at one of Wal-Mart's "Supecenters" would cost a whopping $100.70 after the 0.7 percent price increase. That's right - 70¢.
To be honest, the proposed raise in the federal minimum wage would have been an incremental raise of 40% over the next two years - double what the above quoted scenario investigated. However, the numbers clearly show how small of an impact a raise in the minimum wage would actually have on consumer prices.