DHS Warns Companies Of Evil Terrorist “Flyer Distribution”

TPM Muckraker:

DHS Warns Companies Of Evil Terrorist “Flyer Distribution”

You gotta see this to believe it.

In a bulletin issued yesterday, the Homeland Security Department warns U.S. businesses of the threats they face from animal rights group and “eco-terrorists.” Such radical extremist groups may use several tactics — each devastating in its own way — including:

– “organizing protests”
– “flyer distribution”
– “inundating computers with e-mails”
– “tying up phone lines to prevent legitimate calls”
– “sending continuous faxes in order to drain the ink supply from company fax machines”

That’s right. If the ink runs out of your fax machine, that means the terrorists have won.

The precedents are somewhat discouraging.

Michael Kinsley in Slate.

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It’s like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can’t anyone here play this game?

US “accomplishments” in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stiglitz: Social Justice and Global Trade

“Today, liberalization discriminates against developing countries. It needs to discriminate in their favor.”

Joseph Stiglitz’s critique of global trade liberalization is behind FEER’s paywall. Thanks to Mark Thoma for this extended excerpt.

FEER: Joseph Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University, argues that trade liberalization must be re-examined to take into account how it damages poor countries.

Economists are in near-univeral agreement that globalization is a Good Thing. But the globalization that economists theorize about isn’t the globalization that politicians negotiate.

Social Justice and Global Trade, FEER, March 2006, By Joseph Stiglitz.

The history of recent trade meetings—from Seattle to Doha to Cancun to Hong Kong—shows that something is wrong with the global trading system. Behind the discontent are some facts and theories.

The facts: Current economic arrangements disadvantage the poor. Tariff levels by the advanced industrial countries against the developing countries are four times higher than against the developed countries. The last round of trade negotiations, the Uruguay Round, actually left the poorest countries worse off. While the developing countries were forced to open up their markets and eliminate subsidies, the advanced developed countries continued to subsidize agriculture and kept trade barriers against those products which are central to the economies of the developing world.

Indeed, the tariff structures are designed to make it more difficult for developing countries to move up the value added chain… As tariffs have come down, America has increasingly resorted to the use of non-tariff barriers as the new forms of protectionism. Trade agreements do not eliminate protectionist sentiments or the willingness of governments to attempt to protect producer and worker interests.

The theories: Trade liberalization leads to economic growth, benefiting all. This is the prevalent mantra. Political leaders champion liberalization. Those who oppose it are cast as behind the times, trying to roll back history. Yet the fact that so many seem to have been hurt so much by globalization seems to belie their claims. …the details of the trade agreements—make a great deal of difference.

That Mexico has done so poorly under NAFTA has not helped the case for liberalization. If there ever was a free trade agreement that should have promoted growth, that was it, for it opened up for Mexico the largest market of the world. But growth in the decade since has been slower than in the decades before 1980, and the poorest in the country, the corn farmers, have been particularly hurt by subsidized American corn.

The fact of the matter is that the economics of trade liberalization are far more complicated than political leaders have portrayed them. There are some circumstances in which trade liberalization brings enormous benefits—when there are good risk markets, when there is full employment, when an economy is mature. But none of these conditions are satisfied in developing countries. With full employment, a worker who loses his job to new imports quickly finds another; and the movement from low-productivity protected sectors to high-productivity export sectors leads to growth and increased wages. But if there is high unemployment, a worker who loses his job may remain unemployed. A move from a low-productivity, protected sector to the unemployment pool does not increase growth, but it does increase poverty. Liberalization can expose countries to enormous risks…

Perhaps most importantly, successful development means going stagnant traditional sectors with low productivity to more modern sectors with faster increases in productivity. But without protection, developing countries cannot compete in the modern sector. They are condemned to remain in the low growth part of the global economy. South Korea understood this. Thirty-five years ago, those who advocated free trade essentially told South Korea to stick with rice farming. But South Korea knew that even if it were successful in improving productivity in rice farming, it would be a poor country. It had to industrialize.

What are we to make of the oft-quoted studies that show that countries that have liberalized more have grown faster? Put aside the numerous statistical problems that plague almost all such “cross country” studies. Most of the studies that claim that liberalization leads to growth do no such thing. … Studies that focus directly on liberalization—that is, what happens when countries take away trade barriers—present a less convincing picture that liberalization is good for growth.

But we know which countries around the world have grown the fastest: they are the countries of East Asia, and their growth was based on export-driven trade. They did not pursue policies of unfettered liberalization. Indeed, they actively intervened in markets to encourage exports, and only took away trade barriers as their exports grew…

The point is that no country approaches liberalization as an abstract concept… Every country wants to know: For a country with its unemployment rate, with its characteristics, with its financial markets, will liberalization lead to faster growth?

If the economics are nuanced, the politics are simple. Trade negotiations provide a field day for special interests. … Exporters want others’ markets opened up; those threatened by competition do not. Trade negotiators pay little attention to principles… They pay attention to campaign contributions and votes.

In the most recent trade talks, for example, enormous attention has been focused on developed countries’ protection of their agricultural sectors—protections that exist because of the power of vested agricultural interests there. Such protectionism has become emblematic of the hypocrisy of the West … Some 25,000 rich American cotton farmers, reliant on government subsidies for cotton, divide among themselves some $3 billion to $4 billion a year, leading to higher production and lower prices. The damage that these subsidies wreak on some 10 million cotton farmers eking out a subsistence living in sub-Saharan Africa is enormous. Yet the U.S. seems willing to put the interests of 25,000 American cotton farmers above that of the global trading system and the well-being of millions in the developing world. If those in the developing world respond with anger, it is understandable.

The anger is increased by the United States’s almost cynical attitude in “marketing” its offers. For instance, at the Hong Kong meeting, U.S. trade officials reportedly offered to eliminate import restrictions on cotton but refused to do anything about subsidies. The cotton subsidies actually allow the United States to export cotton. When a country can export a particular commodity, it does little good to allow imports of that commodity. The U.S., to great fanfare, has made an offer worth essentially zero to the developing countries and berated them for not taking it up on its “generous” offer. …

In short, trade liberalization should be “asymmetric”, but it needs to be asymmetric in a precisely opposite way to its present configuration. Today, liberalization discriminates against developing countries. It needs to discriminate in their favor. Europe has shown the way by opening up its economy to the poorest countries of the world in an initiative called Everything But Arms. Partly because of complicated regulations (“rules of origin”), however, the amount of increased trade that this policy has led to has been very disappointing thus far. Because agriculture is still highly subsidized and restricted, some call the policy “Everything But Farms.” There is a need for this initiative to be broadened. … In fact, the advanced industrial countries as a whole would be better off, and special interests in these countries would suffer.

There is, in fact, a broad agenda of trade liberalization (going well beyond agriculture) that would help the developing countries. But trade is too important to be left to trade ministers. If the global trade regime is to reflect common shared values, then negotiations over the terms of that trade regime cannot be left to ministers who, at least in most countries, are more beholden to corporate and special interests than almost any other ministry. In the last round, trade ministers negotiated over the terms of the intellectual property agreement. This is a subject of enormous concern to almost everyone in today’s society. … It reflected the interests of U.S. drug and entertainment industries, not the most important producers of knowledge, those in academia. And it certainly did not reflect the interests of users, either in the developed or less-developed countries. But the negotiations were conducted in secret, in Geneva. The U.S. Trade Representative (like most other trade ministers) was not an expert in intellectual property; he received his short course from the drug companies, and he quickly learned how to espouse their views. The agreement reflected this one-sided perspective.

Several reforms in the structure of trade talks are likely to lead to better outcomes. The first is that the basic way in which trade talks are approached should be changed. Now they are commercial negotiations. Each country seeks to get the best deal for its firms. This stands in marked contrast to how legislation in all other arenas of public policy is approached. Typically, we ask what our objectives are, and how we can best achieve them. … If we began trade talks from this position of debate and inquiry, we could arrive at a picture of what a true development round look like. …

As more and more countries have demanded a voice in trade negotiations, there is often nostalgia for the old system in which four partners (the U.S., EU, Canada and Japan) could hammer out a deal. There are complaints that the current system with so many members is simply unworkable. We have learned how to deal with this problem in other contexts, however, using the principles of representation. We must form a governing council with representatives of various “groups”—a group of the least developed countries, of the agricultural exporting countries, etc. Each representative makes sure that the concerns of his or her constituency are heard. …

Finally, trade talks need to have more focus. Broadening the agenda also puts developing countries at a particular disadvantage, because they do not have the resources to engage on a broad front of issues.

The most important changes are, however, not institutional changes, but changes in mindset. There should be an effort on the part of each of the countries to think about what kind of international rules and regulations would contribute to a global trading system that would be fair and efficient, and that would promote development.

Fifteen years ago, there was a great deal of optimism about the benefits which globalization and trade would bring to all countries. It has brought enormous benefits to some countries; but not to all. Some have even been made worse off. Development is hard enough. An unfair trade regime makes it even more difficult. Reforming the WTO would not guarantee that we would get a fair and efficient global trade regime, but it would enhance the chances that trade and globalization come closer to living up to their potential for enhancing the welfare of everyone.

Truth or shrill?


Bruce Bartlett, the author of “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” is an angry man. At a recent book forum at the Cato Institute, he declared that the Bush administration is “unconscionable,” “irresponsible,” “vindictive” and “inept

It’s no wonder, then, that one commentator wrote of Mr. Bartlett that “if he were a cartoon character, he would probably look like Donald Duck during one of his famous tirades, with steam pouring out of his ears.”

Oh, wait. That’s not what somebody wrote about Mr. Bartlett. It’s what Mr. Bartlett wrote about me in September 2003, when I was saying pretty much what he’s saying now.

Human nature being what it is, I don’t expect Mr. Bartlett to acknowledge his about-face. Nor do I expect any expressions of remorse from Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Time.com blogger who also spoke at the Cato forum. Mr. Sullivan used to specialize in denouncing the patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize President Bush, whom he lionized. Now he himself has become a critic, not just of Mr. Bush’s policies, but of his personal qualities, too.

Never mind; better late than never. We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn’t trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters, which says there’s something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush’s deceptions, even though the administration’s mendacity was obvious from the beginning.

According to this view, if you’re a former Bush supporter who now says, as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that “the administration lies about budget numbers,” you’re a brave truth-teller. But if you’ve been saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were unpleasantly shrill.

Similarly, if you’re a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that “the people in this administration have no principles,” you’re taking a courageous stand. If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.

NSA follies

Does the warrantless-wiretapping flap really accrue to the benefit of the Bush administration? Glenn Greenwald thinks not, and adduces a pile of convincing evidence that the administration doesn’t think so either.

While spouting that bravado, the Administration’s actions reveal that they fear this scandal and want more than anything for it to disappear. At every turn, they have tried to prevent a meaningful investigation into the legality of their actions. If the NSA scandal is really the political weapon which the GOP can use to bash Democrats as being weak on national security, wouldn’t the White House be doing the opposite – that is, encouraging every hearing and investigation possible?

Especially telling is an editorial from “the Pat Roberts-loving Wichita Eagle“.

Many Kansans, including members of The Eagle editorial board, have long admired Sen. Pat Roberts for his plainspokenness and reputation for fair brokering of issues.

So it’s troubling that Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is fast gaining the reputation in Washington, D.C., as a reliable partisan apologist for the Bush administration on intelligence and security controversies.

We hope that’s not true. But Roberts’ credibility is on the line….

This week, Roberts sidetracked a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the possibly illegal National Security Agency wiretap program, saying the White House had agreed to brief lawmakers more regularly and to work with him on a behind-the-scenes “fix” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

That prompted a scathing New York Times editorial Friday headlined “Doing the President’s Dirty Work,” which opined: “Is there any aspect of President Bush’s miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?”…

But whether the law needs a “fix” is far from certain. Roberts’ deal could thwart Congress’ duty to learn more about and evaluate this program, while securing from the White House only a vague pledge to talk about fixing the law down the road….

What’s bothering many, though, is that Roberts seems prepared to write the Bush team a series of blank checks to conduct the war on terror, even to the point of ignoring policy mistakes and possible violations of law.

That’s not oversight — it’s looking the other way.

Not “Freedom Pastries”?

Via Kenneth Baer, the AP reports,

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranians love Danish pastries, but when they look for the flaky dessert at the bakery they now have to ask for “Roses of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Bakeries across the capital were covering up their ads for Danish pastries Thursday after the confectioners’ union ordered the name change in retaliation for caricatures of the Muslim prophet published in a Danish newspaper.

“Given the insults by Danish newspapers against the prophet, as of now the name of Danish pastries will give way to ‘Rose of Muhammad’ pastries,” the union said in its order.

“This is a punishment for those who started misusing freedom of expression to insult the sanctities of Islam,” said Ahmad Mahmoudi, a cake shop owner in northern Tehran.

A Way to Cut Fuel Consumption That Everyone Likes, Except the Politicians

Robert Frank in the NY Times., via Mark Thoma.

Suppose a politician promised to reveal the details of a simple proposal that would, if adopted, produce hundreds of billions of dollars in savings for American consumers, significant reductions in traffic congestion, major improvements in urban air quality, large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and substantially reduced dependence on Middle East oil. The politician also promised that the plan would require no net cash outlays from American families, no additional regulations and no expansion of the bureaucracy.

As economists often remind their students, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So this politician’s announcement would almost surely be greeted skeptically. Yet a policy that would deliver precisely the outcomes described could be enacted by Congress tomorrow — namely, a $2-a-gallon tax on gasoline whose proceeds were refunded to American families in reduced payroll taxes.

Five myths about universal health care

The Truth About Universal Health Care: Tyler Zimmer, writing in Campus Progress, has a concise treatment of some of the most often heard myths about UHC.

Myth #1: It would be too expensive

Rather than cost more money, UHC would actually reduce the cost of health care. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that UHC could save up to $14 billion annually by spreading the risk evenly over the entire population, eliminating deductibles and co-pays and making preventive medicine available to the poor and uninsured. The federal government already subsidizes private health insurance in the form of tax deductions.

Private insurance companies also spend billions on administration and overhead, advertising, and determining and inspecting patient eligibility, all while trying to make a profit. UHC would not be burdened with some of those costs, like advertising, and unlike private business, it could run at a loss and still be viable. The pressures of profitability would no longer close the door for millions of Americans and drive up costs. As a result, Americans would effectively pay less for health insurance than they do now, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Myth #2: It would require a HUGE, inefficient bureaucracy

The current system is already a HUGE, inefficient bureaucracy! As previously mentioned, much of the unnecessary overhead and micromanaging in the system now could be eliminated if UHC were implemented. For example, the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in determining patient eligibility would be completely unnecessary if everyone were eligible and covered. Insurance companies spend an estimated 25 cents of every dollar on administration. Canada, which already has a comprehensive UHC in place and still manages to pay 70 percent less per citizen on health care, spends about the equivalent of about 12 cents of every dollar on administration.

Myth #3: It would restrict patient choice

How can we even begin to talk about choice when 40 million Americans don’t have any health insurance at all? “Choice” really isn’t an appropriate topic for those who can’t afford health care. Many of the chronically sick are simply denied coverage by private insurance companies because they aren’t good financial investments. The concept of choice probably doesn’t resonate much for people in this situation, either. But even for those who are insured under the current system, HMOs and insurance companies alike restrict patients to a strict list of complying physicians. UHC wouldn’t directly dictate what doctor you have to see in order to get treatment and would thus enable more choice in selecting a physician than the current system would for many, if not most, Americans.

Myth #4: It would be a socialist seizure of the medical industry

It would be nothing of the sort. Socialized medicine would entail hospitals and doctors becoming employees of the state. UHC only provides funding for people’s health care, but doesn’t provide the health care itself. The only difference is that health care insurance plans would be funded by the state. Hospitals, physicians, and other health care employees would all remain part of the private sector. Competition between doctors and hospitals would not be eliminated. Although using the “s” word in attacking UHC has proven effective in frightening the populace, UHC would be no more socialist than Medicare and arguably less so than public education. Granted the far-right would gladly see both of those programs destroyed, but the overwhelming majority of Americans would not.

Myth #5: UHC would impede economic growth

An added benefit of UHC would be that private business would no longer have to worry about health-care benefits, and employees wouldn’t have to remain in unpleasant jobs just to keep their benefits. Benefits wouldn’t interfere with wage increases, and employers would have more financial mobility. The recent problems General Motors has been having with maintaining health benefits for its workers while trying to remain financially afloat have been well-documented. GM estimates that health-care benefits account for nearly $1,500 of the price of every car they build and sell. Many other companies are switching to “temporary” or outsourced jobs in order to avoid paying benefits. Not only would UHC relieve businesses of having the burden of providing health insurance for their workers, but the workers would also be unconditionally covered regardless of where they work.

No Child Left Behind Fails to Close Achievement Gap

NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday had a nice piece by Claudio Sanchez; give it a listen.

Weekend Edition – Sunday, January 8, 2006 · Four years after the No Child Left Behind Act became law, test results show progress in some areas. But many schools are not reducing the achievement gap between white and minority students, and closing that gap may take longer than the law’s requirements.

In the piece, we hear from Richard Rothstein, of the Economic Policy Institute. In the introduction to his book, Class and Schools, Rothstein argues,

Good teachers, high expectations, standards, accountability, and inspiration are not enough
As is argued in this book, the influence of social class characteristics is probably so powerful that schools cannot overcome it, no matter how well trained are their teachers and no matter how well designed are their instructional programs and climates. But saying that a social class achievement gap should be expected is not to make a logical statement. The fact that social class differences are associated with, and probably cause, a big gap in academic performance does not mean that, in theory, excellent schools could not offset these differences. Indeed, there are many claims today, made by policy makers and educators, that higher standards, better teachers, more accountability, better discipline, or other effective practices can close the achievement gap.

The most prominent of these claims has been made by a conservative policy institute (the Heritage Foundation), by a liberal advocacy group (the Education Trust), by economists and statisticians who claim to have shown that better teachers do in fact close the gap, by prominent educators, and by social critics. Many (although not all) of the instructional practices promoted by these commentators are well designed, and these practices probably do succeed in delivering better educations to some lower-class children. But a careful examination of each claim that a particular school or practice has closed the race or social class achievement gap shows that the claim is unfounded.

In some cases, the claim fails because it rests on the misinterpretation of test scores; in other cases, the claim fails because the successful schools identified have selective student bodies. Remember that the achievement gap is a phenomenon of averages — it compares the average achievement of lower- and middle-class students. In both social classes, some students perform well above or below the average performance of their social class peers. If schools can select (or attract) a disproportionate share of lower-class students whose performance is above average for their social class, those schools can appear to be quite successful. Many of them are excellent schools and should be commended. But their successes provide no evidence that their instructional approaches would close the achievement gap for students who are average for their social class groups.

For nearly half a century, the association of social and economic disadvantage with a student achievement gap has been well known to economists, sociologists, and educators. Most, however, have avoided the obvious implication of this understanding — raising the achievement of lower-class children requires amelioration of the social and economic conditions of their lives, not just school reform. Perhaps this small volume can spur a reconsideration of this needlessly neglected opportunity.

No child’s behind left: the test

Yes, but which people?

Greg Palast:

New York — Today and tomorrow every 8-year-old in the state of New York will take a test. It’s part of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. The losers will be left behind to repeat the third grade. Try it yourself. This is from the state’s actual practice test. Ready, class?

“The year 1999 was a big one for the Williams sisters. In February, Serena won her first pro singles championship. In March, the sisters met for the first time in a tournament final. Venus won. And at doubles tennis, the Williams girls could not seem to lose that year.”

And here’s one of the four questions:

“The story says that in 1999, the sisters could not seem to lose at doubles tennis. This probably means when they played

A) two matches in one day
B) against each other
C) with two balls at once
D) as partners”

OK, class, do you know the answer? (By the way, I didn’t cheat: there’s nothing else about “doubles” in the text.)

My kids go to a New York City school in which more than half the students live below the poverty line. There is no tennis court.

There are no tennis courts in the elementary schools of Bed-Stuy or East Harlem. But out in the Hamptons, every school has a tennis court. In Forest Hills, Westchester and Long Island’s North Shore, the schools have nearly as many tennis courts as the school kids have live-in maids.

Now, you tell me, class, which kids are best prepared to answer the question about “doubles tennis”? The 8-year-olds in Harlem who’ve never played a set of doubles or the kids whose mommies disappear for two hours every Wednesday with Enrique the tennis pro?

Is this test a measure of “reading comprehension” — or a measure of wealth accumulation?

If you have any doubts about what the test is measuring, look at the next question, based on another part of the text, which reads (and I could not make this up):

“Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs. In this sentence, a club is probably a

F) baseball bat
G) tennis racquet
H) tennis court
J) country club”

Helpfully, for the kids in our ‘hood, it explains that a “country club” is a, “place where people meet.” Yes, but which people?

Madison on war

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare….”

firedoglake channels James Madison:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare….

The monsters who eat escargot

“France is the latest country to fill American conservatives’ need for a foreign boogeyman that will keep liberals in their place.”

Jonathan Chait

Instead of just ridiculing the conservative argument, let’s take it seriously for a moment. Near as I can tell, they seem to be saying this: Liberals want bigger government. Europe has bigger government. Bad things are happening to Europe. Q.E.D.

Do conservatives have even a germ of a point here? No. It’s true that liberals admire some things that Europe does, and it’s also true that Europe has some highly destructive policies. But there’s almost no overlap between the two. By almost all accounts, the single most damaging aspect of European and French policy is the absurdly restrictive rules on firing employees, which discourage businesses from hiring anybody and result in high unemployment.

I’ve never, ever heard an American liberal call for emulating French labor regulations. You do, on the other hand, hear liberals praising France’s effective public transportation and, above all, its healthcare system. Tanner’s column doesn’t try to cite France’s advanced rapid transit as a cause of social decay, but it does mention its “universal national healthcare system.”

This is particularly laughable. France’s healthcare system does cover everybody, has far more doctors per capita than the U.S. and produces better health outcomes. Is this lavish socialist system bankrupting the country? Far from it. France spends about 10% of its national income on healthcare, as opposed to 15% in the U.S. In fact, we’re the country being bankrupted by its healthcare system, which is by far the most market-intensive in the advanced world. Skyrocketing healthcare costs are discouraging job growth and strangling the automobile industry, among others.

Real Education Reform…in Denver

“The teachers union agreed. Why? Because it was brought into the discussion from the start as a partner.”

Michael Hiltzik blogs over at the LA Times,

While the crack education reformers in Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office have been busy picking fights with teachers, Denver took a step Tuesday toward real reform.

The voters there approved, by a handy 60-40 margin, a $25-million annual property tax increase to fund a new teacher pay system that may actually improve teacher performance. Here’s a curious fact: The teachers union agreed. Why? Because it was brought into the discussion from the start as a partner.

Denver ProComp links teacher pay to performance, but it’s not designed to punish. Rather, it’s a way to involve the teachers in setting their own goals and meeting them. Nor does it encourage them to set fake goals easily met—the system encourages them to be ambitious, and gives them the tools to succeed.

Homework considered evil

“Say it flat out: homework is most likely evil.”

Brad Plumer:

But let’s do Waldman one better and say it flat out: homework is most likely evil. Yes, evil. Any educational system that relies on parents at home to help with the “learning process” will only end up perpetuating inequality, as long as some parents can help their kids and some cannot; as long as some parents can speak English and some cannot. And homework, for all its uselessness, is far more likely to put undue stress on family life than anything else. Of course, let’s also be honest, the whole point of public school isn’t to turn students into well-educated citizens but rather to produce good consumers and dutiful worker bees—people with short attention spans who follow authority, care deeply about status, and will attend with all due diligence to humiliatingly pointless tasks. Get used to working overtime, kid, you’ll need it. In that regard, homework is indispensible.

Monbiot: Nuclear energy

“Every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.”

While the context of George Monbiot’s article on nuclear energy is British politics, it’s directly relevant to the US as well.

Ten cents of investment, he shows, will buy either 1 kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity; 1.2-1.7 of windpower; 2.2-6.5 of small-scale cogeneration; or up to 10 of energy efficiency. “Its higher cost than competitors, per unit of net CO2 displaced, means that every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.” And, because nuclear power stations take so long to build, it would be spent later. “Expanding nuclear power would both reduce and retard the desired decrease in CO2 emissions.”

It’s certainly a good idea, as people like Sir David recommend, to have a “diversified energy portfolio”. But, as Lovins points out, “this does not mean … that every option merits a place in the portfolio purely for the sake of diversity, any more than a financial portfolio should include bad investments just because they’re on the market.” Building new nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom would be a political decision, not a scientific one.

Whatever happened to congressional oversight?


One problem in recent years, Aberbach says, is that political control in both chambers has been centralized within the leadership, depleting the authorities of committees. “You have to have realistic expectations of Congress — it’s a political body,” he said. “But if you draw power away from the committees, you lose the expertise that they have, and that’s certainly been a problem recently.”

To illustrate the decline, Aberbach counted oversight hearings in the House and Senate, excluding those by the appropriations committees, for the first six months of 1983 and 1997. He found steep reductions in both chambers: from 782 hearings in the House in 1983 to 287 hearings in 1997, and from 439 hearings in 1983 in the Senate to 175 hearings in 1997.

Feingold v. Roberts

“I understand your view. I think it’s narrow.”

Josh Eidelson, writing at TPM Cafe, calls our attention to Russ Feingold demolishing the argument that candidate Supremes can’t discuss cases.

FEINGOLD: In Hamdi there were four different opinions…We know where all eight other members of the court stand on these opinions — in their opinions. They either wrote or joined one of them. Yet all eight of them will hear the next case that raises similar issues. No one is suggesting that their independence or impartiality in the next case has been compromised. Mr. Hamdi, of course, has left the country, so the precise facts of his case will never return to the court…Justice Scalia can participate in the next case involving the questions at issue in Hamdi, even though we know exactly what he thinks about that decision..Why shouldn’t the public have some idea of where you stand today on these crucial questions concerning the power of the government to jail them without charge or access to counsel in a time of war? They know a great deal about how each of the other justices approach these issues. Why is your situation different?

ROBERTS: Well, because each of the other eight justices came to their views in those cases through the judicial process…You’re now asking me for my opinion outside of that process: not after hearing the arguments; not after reading the briefs, not after participating with the other judges as part of the collegial process; not after sitting in the conference room and discussing with them their views, being open to their considered views of the case; not after going through the process of writing an opinion which I have found from personal experience and from observation often leads to a change in views…

FEINGOLD: What would be the harm, Judge, if we got your views at this point and then that process caused you to come to a different conclusion, as it appropriately should? What would be the harm?

ROBERTS: Well, the harm would be affecting the appearance of impartiality in the administration of justice…

FEINGOLD: I understand your view. I think it’s narrow. I have the experience of having one of my bills go for the Supreme Court and I know I didn’t have, as we say in Wisconsin, a snowball’s chance with a couple of the justices because of what they had ruled previously. But I didn’t think that made the process in any way tainted.

Corn-fed pork

Ethanol clouds senators’ judgment

James D Hamilton at Econobrowser notes the bipartisan Senate approval of yet another giveaway to ADM and their other pals.

The urge to be seen as doing something about our energy problems is giving rise to legislation that has the potential for more harm than good. The ethanol amendment approved by the Senate yesterday is a case in point.

Whatever the argument in favor of such a measure, it isn’t to provide a new energy source. David Pimental of Cornell concluded that when you take into account the energy required to plant, grow, harvest, and process the corn, 1.7 Btu of energy inputs get used up to produce 1 Btu equivalent in ethanol; Resource Insights and Energy Outlook have more discussion of this.

Which is not to endorse an energy theory of value, as if energy were the only wasted input that we should be concerned about. When you add up the value of the land, labor, and capital also used to produce that 1 Btu of ethanol, the economic loss is really quite considerable. Even the current use of ethanol for fuel would not remotely survive without huge public subsidies already in place.

There are other studies of other processes that yield a more optimistic energy ratio than 1.7:1, but as Hamilton points out, a small energy surplus (and that’s the best case here) is far from enough to justify this barrel of pork.

What is the justification? No real mystery there; the usual suspects are at this trough.

So what is the point of the amendment? Hard to come up with a good answer other than to throw a new benefit to farmers, not to mention Archer Daniels Midland. It looks to me less like an energy plan and more like the usual pork barrel, in this case, corn-fed pork.

The benefit to farmers, at today’s depressed prices, is nugatory. To ADM, priceless (since we pick up the tab…).

Debt relief: cui bono?

The G8’s debt reduction plan is little better than an extortion racket.

We’ve heard a lot of self-congratulatory talk in the media recently about the G8 announcement of some $40B in “debt relief” for third-world countries. You might have wondered about the motivations behind such a move; what’s in it for the creditors?

George Monbiot reads the fine print and writes in the Guardian,

The idea swallowed by most commentators – that the conditions our governments impose help to prevent corruption – is laughable. To qualify for World Bank funding, our model client Uganda was forced to privatise most of its state-owned companies, before it had any means of regulating their sale. A sell-off which should have raised $500m for the Ugandan exchequer instead raised $2m. The rest was nicked by government officials. Unchastened, the World Bank insisted that – to qualify for the debt relief programme the G8 has now extended – the Ugandan government sell off its water supplies, agricultural services and commercial bank, again with minimal regulation.

Paul Wolfowitz, new president of the World Bank, is satisfied. “I’m really delighted … because I think it’s a very important, successful outcome.”

Cui bono? Follow the money.

Just shut it down.

Tom Friedman finds an acorn.

Tom Friedman finds an acorn.

Shut it down. Just shut it down.

I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.