Wanted: Party Loyalty

By way of Rick Klau‘s shared items in Google Reader, I learned that They — and by “They” I mean Patrick Ruffini — have it in for Ron Paul. The candidate whom Mr. Ruffini suggests would be the more “traditional conservative Republican” choice is Chris Peden, who states, I’m running for Congress to fight for our traditional values in Washington, D.C. In essence, we need Republicans to vote like Republicans again.

Ah, so by “Republican” he means like sheep.

Against the Dragnet

Dear Senator Clinton:

You should be ashamed.

Dear Senator Schumer:

Thank you for voting to remove the telecom immunity provision from the contemptible bill recently before the Senate.

Dear Representative Hall:

I am very concerned about the direction this country is taking under President Bush and a Congress which seems willing to abandon our essential liberties at the slightest shadow. We are not small children scared of the wind in the trees at night.

In 2006, I voted for you to replace Sue Kelly because she had abandoned us. Will you stand for the citizens of this great nation against invasive searches? Will you allow the citizens to sue if they are somehow caught in an overly aggressive dragnet?

I am not only a citizen of the United States, but also an employee of AT&T. I am ashamed of my employer. Do not let them escape justice.

I am not only a citizen of the United States, but a Republican. I am ashamed of my party. Do not let them destroy our liberties for the illusion of security.

Do not allow the Congress to grant immunity, either retroactive or otherwise, to the telecommunications firms assisting the Executive in illegal searches. Do not let the Executive search or seize our private communications without a warrant. Follow the demands not only of your heart, but of our Constitution, and do not let this wonderful country become a police state.

I trust you will do what is right.

On the Superdelegate Question

Taegan Goddard quotes Todd Purdum, It would mean that Clinton’s only hope of winning would be some kind of backroom deal….

Might I suggest that perhaps the candidate who can win through the use of such tactics might be the one best suited to Get Things Done? That candidate is not necessarily Senator Clinton, though for some reason that’s assumed. Most writers and talking heads also assumed that she would easily win the nomination. (Note that this does leave open the question of whether the Federal government should be doing anything in the first place.)

Who’s bringing the cigars?

Simple Economics Too Complicated for Lou Dobbs?

I walked past a television at the hospital today, and Lou Dobbs was bemoaning that families could no longer afford college, though I’m sure his can. It seems to me that college tuition has always been expensive. There are many within living memory who were the first in their families to attend college. But it also seems to me as a naive observer that the explanation for the sharp increase in tuition costs over the past 20 years is relatively simple: demand exceeds supply. Why demand exceeds supply is a different question, but, again, I think that’s relatively simple: demand is increased by employers asking for college degrees because of the deflated value of a high school diploma — people think they need a college degree to get a good job — and supply is constrained by the accreditation process.

I think the same applies to health care costs, but think that the difference there is in the treatment of health insurance as a third-party payor rather than as a means to reduce one’s own risk.

In both cases, I do agree that they may be of great concern to voters — at least to those who also happen to be journalists — but I don’t think that a $500 Pell grant will significantly reduce the cost of a $40,000 tuition, nor that requiring health insurance for all citizens will reduce the demand for an over-priced good. Nor, even, that either is any business of the Federal government.

Sins of Omission

I’m bothered by The Media’s self-imposed role as society’s filter, particularly when it comes to elections. Take this very interesting electoral season for example. There’s no incumbent running for President, so it’s considered a “wide-open” race. Would that it were so.

In some cases the filtering is with adjectives, such as “front-runner,” a somewhat meaningless designation indicating which horse is in the lead at a given point in the race, made even more meaningless because it was used even before the gates opened. In other cases the filtering is with debate invitations. In others, with simple lists of the candidates. Take, for example, this nifty reworking of the New York Times’ results page.

There’s one problem: They lie.

As far as you can tell from this list, the only candidates are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson. There are more, though some of them have dropped out. Click through to the detailed results, where the percentages aren’t rounded. On the Democratic side, there are Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and the dropouts Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, and Bill Richardson. On the Republican, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, and the dropout Tom Tancredo. Bill Richardson put up a respectable showing for someone who would have been completely ignored by the journalists if he weren’t an Hispanic with an Anglo name. Ron Paul beat Giuliani in Iowa and Michigan, and Thompson in New Hampshire and Michigan; his 10% showing in Iowa, 7.7% in New Hampshire and 6.3% showing in Michigan completely disappears in the overview page. Heck, Dennis Kucinich got more votes in New Hampshire than Fred Thompson. I suppose Rudy’s there because New Yorkers are on a first-name basis with him, and Fred because, well, Law & Order is set in New York.

It’s an interesting race this year, even mediated. Stop filtering it.

Questions for the Candidates

Here are a couple of elementary civics questions which should be asked of the candidates.

What are the responsibilities of the President? Alternately, what is the job of the President? The answer is not “heal the sick, cure the lame, and raise the dead.”

The business of the Executive is to enforce the laws of the United States. Under what circumstances would you refuse to enforce a law passed by Congress?

Framing the Question

Congress.org, a “facilitator” of civic participation, sends out an e-mail update each week which includes a simplified issue and a simpler survey question. Here’s an example from today’s mail.

Performance Pay for Teachers

In a recent speech, Congressman George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, proposed “performance pay” for teachers as part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Law. What do you think?

I think Congress should mind their own business, but that’s not the question asked.

School Budget Season

The board of the Arlington Central School District approved yet another year of increased spending. I’m sure their hands were tied by the contract negotiations last year. One hopes the district will post the budget online before we vote “No” on May 15th.

Here’s an amusing tidbit from The Poughkeepsie Journal‘s article on the subject.

To eliminate $302,000, the district eliminated all seven proposed, new non-academic positions in transportation and clerical staff….

They eliminated proposed positions? How do you eliminate something that doesn’t exist?

Gee, I’d love to be able to bring my budget under control by adding this trip to Italy or that trip to Italy, and then removing it. Look, dear! We saved $14,000 by not going to Europe! Let’s buy a car!

Suppose You Have a Pie

While driving the Bigger Sister to school this morning after I had voted, I tried to explain the election.

Suppose you have a pie. Further suppose that you have to give the whole pie either to someone you like, or to someone you don’t. Who do you give it to?

My friend.

Now what if you had to choose between giving the pie to someone you don’t like or someone else you don’t like?

I’d keep it, and eat it.

Yeah, I’d keep it and eat it too, but that wasn’t on the ballot.

The Powerlessness of the School District Budget Process

On Tuesday, voters defeated most of the proposed school district budgets in Dutchess County. The New York State Education Department, however, said that state-wide, most voters approved the school district budgets. Except that department only gives the approval in terms of a percentage of budgets passed: 88.9%. This leaves some unanswered questions.

What was the margin of victory? How many voters of how many eligible cast ballots? How many school board seats were contested?

The vast bulk of our property tax is from the school district. However, because of State law and contracts, we have little discretion in terms of spending. Further, the law puts the budgets before the voters only twice before a contingency budget goes into effect. This contingency budget, in combination with the mandatory and contractual expenses, reduces the power of the voter. Those who disapprove of the spending plans see the tax increase itself as a fait accompli. The only question is how large it will be.

So why is the margin of approval obscured?

Spare the Belt, and Spoil the Child

The Big Sister goes to kindergarten in the Fall. On Tuesday, I went to an orientation session about the school buses, where I learned an interesting thing. The buses have seatbelts. The drivers may “suggest” that the children wear the seatbelts, but the children are not required to wear them. At this tender age the children may exercise their discretion in this matter of personal safety, but we adults may not.

I recall in 1980-something when Virginia proposed and passed a bill requiring the occupants of a car’s front seat to wear safety belts. We — that is, the consensus in Highland County — were aghast that the State’s interest in preserving the life of its citizens extended so far as to curtail the risks one willingly undertook to drive a vehicle. We, or at least I, could understand the negligence of a driver in not asking his passengers to wear their safety belts, but to penalize a consenting adult for actions that would harm only him? Such a thing could happen only in a Nanny State like New York.

Now I live in New York, and find that safety belts and seats are required in private passenger vehicles, not in public buses; that the State’s actions in the public sphere are inconsistent with those in the private; and I have to laugh because it so absurd. The State, to which we entrust our children, acting in loco parentis, deems it unnecessary for our children to wear the same belts they fine us for not wearing.


The Economics of Government Schools

This year’s Mahopac Central School District budget proposed to increase our property taxes by approximately 10%. We rejected it by 2 to 1. While I do not like this increase, it seems like a good value, does it not? For about $7,100 per year, my daughters will receive a pretty good education. But is it? Are these prices fair, either to property owners or to parents?

As this increase is presented in terms of supply and demand — we’re expecting more sixth grade students therefore we must hire more teachers and build more classrooms — let’s consider how supply and demand affect the cost of public schools. First, the government artificially stimulates demand, through attendance requirements and truancy laws. Then, the government restricts supply by establishing school systems, and fixes a price floor through property taxes. Non-government schools will always be more expensive than the government school because those costs are in addition to the property taxes.

Big School Districts

We just voted down the proposed budget for the Mahopac Central School District, because of the 9.95% property tax increase involved. 2,593 persons voted, with 1,728 against and 865 for the proposed budget. 5,289 students were enrolled in the district for the 2003-2004 school year. Most of the budget increase was blamed on things beyond our immediate control: pensions, health plans, and fuel.

In an essay in the American School Board Journal, Deborah Meier writes,

In1930 there were 200,000 school boards in the United States. Today, with twice as many citizens and three times as many students in our public schools, we have only 15,000. Once one of every 500 citizens sat on a school board; today it’s one out of nearly 20,000. Once most of us knew a school board member personally; today it’s rare to know one.

When the cell reaches a certain size, it divides, and multiplies. In some organisms, cell division stops, and the organism deteriorates and dies.

Perhaps these big school districts need to do the same.