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Posts published in October 2012

Two debate casualties

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The basic rule of political punditry is you’ve got to be interesting, original and not sound – or read – like all the other pundits. But most of all, you’ve got to have your facts straight. Regardless of whether anyone has thought to write it down somewhere, the same rule applies to political debates.

The participants in the first presidential debate of our overlong political season seemed to have skipped right over that requirement.
First, the Obama side. His claim that Social Security is “fundamentally solvent” and “does not need fundamental changes.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says those are the facts today but will not be the case in 2030. Fundamental changes must be made. He knows that.

The President claimed his authorship of a “$4 trillion dollars deficit-reduction plan.” Actually it’s $3.8 trillion, counts letting the Bush tax cuts expire – not likely – and counts savings already agreed to a year ago. Bit slipshod in the math. He knows better. There were some other “stretches” to make points but nothing that most debaters don’t do when in full stride.

As for his performance, Obama needs to offer sincere apologies to all his supporters for showing up with less than his “A” game. He ignored obvious openings, walked right past distortions of fact, offered no challenges of his own and seemed sort of bored with it all. He had a bad attitude problem going in and coming out. And it showed.

The respected David Gergen nailed it for me. “Romney drove the debate,” he wrote. “I sensed the president had never been talked to like this over the last four years. I think he was so surprised that he thought Romney was just flat-out lying – that he never proposed a 20% tax cut. I think it sort of threw (Obama) off his game.”

As for Romney, this will be a longer list. But if my Republican friends will take off their GOP sweatshirts for a moment and look at Romney as only nondescript “Candidate A,” you’ve gotta go with me on this. Because “Candidate A” flat out lied. Many times.

Romney scored high in presentation, seeming interest in the debate, attacking openings and camera presence. Very high. Even some of his own staff said they had never seen him perform so well in public before. High “5′s” all around.

But – as a friend of mine has said – Romney became a human pretzel trying to make his various points. He stretched “maybe’s” into “sure things” and ignored fact when trying to make several points. While he certainly scored well for his side in appearance and presentation, he was near the bottom of the chart in substance and fact. He even flatly contradicted some of his own previous campaign rhetoric.

Here are some cases in point. Romney repeatedly claimed Obama has taken $716 billion out of Medicare and crippled the program. Fact: Obama has transferred $716 billion from insurance company payouts and hospital- approved provider payments to add solvency to Medicare. The dollars are still there. While saying he would not substantially change Medicare, Romney has repeatedly endorsed the Ryan plan which does – a plan he has repeatedly said he would sign into law. And he has endorsed the Simpson-Bowles Commission report which does the same.

Romney claimed he was not in favor of a $5-trillion tax cut – something he has supported on the campaign trail. He said he would not put any tax cut in place that would add to the deficit. But the non-partisan Tax Policy Center concludes Romney’s tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion over 10 years. The top one-percent would also get an average tax cut of more than $246,000 each under Romney’s plan. And he again refused to give specifics, saying he didn’t want criticism of his plan before he’s elected.

Romney said he would not cut education funding. While campaigning, he has said he would make such cuts or he’d pass whatever lesser federal dollar amount he approved to the states. But, again, the Ryan plan does cut education funding and Romney has endorsed that plan – even promising over and over he would make it law.

There are more items on the fact check list. Many more. In the next few days, you’ll be seeing and reading a lot of media and government kickback as the fact checkers do their business in depth. But here – in the first headlines – is a summary worth noting:

Chicago Sun-Times: “Romney wins on style – Obama wins on facts.”
CNN: “Mostly fiction.”
FactCheck.org: “Romney sometimes came off as a serial exaggerator.”
NPR: “Romney goes on offense – pays for it in first wave of fact checks.”
Huff Post: “Romney walked back many positions – denied own tax plan”
David Gergen: “Romney was just sort of flat-out lying.”

But the saddest fact about this first debate is this: far more people will have seen the movie than will ever read the book.

Another debate (Inslee/McKenna)

For a hot debate - hotter than last night's presidential - check out the Yakima contest a couple of days ago between the candidate for Washington governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee.

The heat seemed a little more on McKenna, behind (narrowly) in most of the recent polls. At the Slog, Goldy contended that "McKenna's at a huge disadvantage in this debate, because now he has to hold a microphone, which means he can only gesticulate with ONE hand. That's half the gesticulation. And half the points."

The zinger actually did come out to play, on both sides, and the question of who won tips largely to who you support to start with. But there seemed to be nothing that put away either candidate.

It seems like a hot race, the hottest big one in the Northwest. No cooling yet.

False premise in the Luna Laws

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

At the core of the Otter/Luna reforms there is a false premise----that state government bureaucrats can design a logical, defensible set of metrics to measure how good a teacher is.
Don’t believe it. There are only two ways to evaluate a teacher: 1) the evaluator has to spend hours in the class observing to see if learning is taking place; and, 2) ask the students----they always can name the teachers who teach and they respect, and the one’s who babysit and they don’t respect.

The state department of education should quit trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they say local school boards call the shots, but on the other hand they provide “guidelines” to determine who is and isn’t a good teacher. In fairness to the department, they do allow on a local option basis input by students in the evaluation of teachers. And they do mandate in class observation - at least once during a school term.

They also mandate some sort of proof of parental involvement in the evaluation of teachers, but they leave it to the local school board to determine what form and whether a teacher’s evaluation is incomplete without the parental assessment.

What to do about parents who don’t care and won’t participate is apparently a problem left to the teacher and the board to solve, but an evaluation is not complete in the eyes of the state office without the parental involvement portion.

So, what do good bureaucrats do? With the participation of the teachers they create a form with lots of numerical goals and metrics. Examine one of the forms though and it is pure b.s. It is a statistic driven exercise regarding who can most creatively figure out how to game the system and turn the form into a positive evaluation.

It is another iteration of the phony STAR system created by the department to help one determine the better public schools in an area. So surprise, surprise, Benewah County turns out to have a five star elementary and a couple of four star schools as well.

I’m sorry folks, but with all due respect to the teachers and administrators who work hard under difficult circumstances there are no five star and four star schools in Benewah County.

I taught eighth and ninth grade at Kootenai Jr.-Sr. High School one year after college graduation, the academic year 1968-1969. Recently I attended the 40th reunion of that ninth grade class. Though sparsely attended every one of those students immediately recalled how I had made poetry come alive for them by initially playing some Simon and Garfunkel songs and some Beatle songs.

I had the lyrics written on the blackboard also and began showing them the standard rhetorical devices used by the song writers’ common also to the great writers of poetry. Suddenly poetry was much more interesting to them. By the time I asked them to produce their own poems every one of the eighth and ninth graders was able to produce some pretty fair stuff.

I knew I had touched every one of my students for the better. Unbeknownst to me the school superintendent was listening outside the classroom door (he never came into the class), and he decided that since I was a Columbia graduate and playing radical songs by the Beatles I must be a communist.

He wrote my draft board and asked that they rescind my teaching deferment and suggested I be drafted and sent to Vietnam. The draft board was only too happy to throw me into the draft pool.

I appealed to the school board at a meeting in which almost all the parents of my students showed up and asked that the superintendent be fired. The school board, impressed by the many testimonials from parents regarding my teaching, did fire the superintendent on the spot.

The system worked one might say but I chose to pursue my Master’s the next year rather than return because, grateful though I was for all the support, it was an early lesson in the petty politics that exist in all schools and it left a sour taste.

So what’s the answer? Here I part company with the teacher’s union which steadfastly insists on protecting the weakest link. There are good teachers, who don’t have to fear evaluation, and there are a few squares in round holes who shouldn’t be teaching and school boards have to be able to remove a bad teacher without facing the threat of lawsuits.

My answer is that teachers should be “at will” employees and leave it to the local school board to hire and fire without prescribing elaborate sets of criteria. If one mouths the mantra of local control, they ought to really walk the talk and quit promulgating all sorts of criteria.

My bottom line is repeal the phony top-down Otter/Luna Reforms and start over with the participation of all and come up with real reforms that restore real power to the local school boards.

Earmarks of a very bad marriage

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The other day, I overheard someone say the one thing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan need right now is a “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” as Tammy Wynette used to sing. As someone who’s made more than one trip down the aisle, the comment stuck in my consciousness. Now, 30 days or so out from the election, I not only agree but suggest the principals act quickly.

To say the candidate mating of Ryan to Romney was made in Heaven taxes both my political and religious beliefs. Romney chose Ryan with the far right of his own party holding a white shotgun between his shoulder blades. “It was white for the formal ceremony,” as they used to say. The “outwingers” of whatever base there is left of the Republican Party didn’t start off liking Romney. They still don’t like him all these months later. They trust him even less. So they chose the “bride” to keep an eye on the “groom” as it were.
Let’s take this analogy a few steps further. Let’s also – in a moment of total jest – suppose Romney wins the White House. No, I don’t think that will happen. But play along a minute.

Mitt becomes President. He sits in the Oval Office wondering what to do now. He has no previous relationship with Congress. He’s completely over his head in foreign affairs. His own party doesn’t like him – or trust him. Being a man of good faith, he’s gathered around him the same ignorant staff that served him so poorly in the campaign. There sits a guy with no idea what to do. And outside the fellow billionaires, no friends to speak of.

Now, next door in the old Executive Office Building – (E-O-B as it’s called in Washington) – next door sits Vice President Paul Ryan. I know that’s not likely, but just bear with me a minute. With his years in Congress, he’s created a large phone and computer directory – lobbyists, donors, bundlers, party throwers, committee chairmen and – wait for it – all members of Congress and, more importantly, their staff people who really know how to operate the government. More than that, he can put a face with nearly all the names. He’s got relationships, emails and unlisted phone numbers. Don’t you wish “President” Mitt had one of those files? Well, Paul has. Mitt hasn’t.

Add to this insider’s advantage yet another. The Republican Pro’s – and the base – like him. Trust him. They’re looking to him to keep Mitt – across the street there – on the straight and narrow. Ryan’s their guy. The other guy? Well…….

Now here’s where we get to the real problem. During the campaign, Mitt – er President Romney – had either no positions on issues or every position on issues – depending on the glass half-full, half-empty theory. He had what I charitably call “situational” positions. Name the situation and he’ll come up with a position.

Ryan, on the other hand, comes from the zealot wing of his party. Because he’s a much younger person without some experience to tell him better, he’s got fixed positions on issue after issue which he’ll share at the drop of a Powerpoint. He’s even got an executive budget. Sure, it may be crazy and entirely bogus. But he’s got one. And “President” Mitt doesn’t. More than that, all the Republicans in Congress have a copy. Most of them have already voted for it at least once.

Ryan’s got an abortion position – none – no way – no how – never – for no reason. Romney has had every – pardon the word – conceivable position on abortion. Ryan’s campaigned to privatize both Medicare and Social Security. Romney says he’ll “protect” seniors on Medicare and his jury’s still out on Social Security. Ryan has hardcore positions on issues Mitt still hasn’t developed more than one or two responses for.

The more serious point here is – as far as Congress and party pros in Washington are concerned – Ryan is one of them and Mitt isn’t. Ryan has access to – and relations with – people Romney has yet to meet. Ryan has political partners on Capitol Hill waiting to get on his bandwagon on issues near and dear to all their hearts. Romney doesn’t.

“Oh yes,” you say. “But Mitt is President and Ryan is number two.” That’s a fact. And protocol says the President runs the show. Yeah. Can you say “Dick Cheney” and “George Bush?” Where was the power in that match-up? Whose hand was up whose back?

A President Romney in the White House who, in eight years of running for President, still hasn’t a clue about operation of the executive branch of government. Sitting directly behind him, Ryan, in his 40′s and firmly fixed in both his political status, his youthful zeal for enacting his own agenda and in high favor with the power structure of the far right in Congress and his own political party.. If you were Romney, would you be comfortable? If you were Romney, would you be looking over your shoulder? Would you sleep nights? Is this really be a “marriage made in Heaven?”

As a guy with his own faulty record in the marital bliss department, this Romney-Ryan nuptial looks to me to have more than its share of land mines. I think it’ll take more than counseling. Does the Supreme Court do divorces on the side?

Idaho 100 is out, as is a first review

The new Idaho 100 book by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson (see the box and link above) is out and available, as of today.

As is the first review, which dominated Page 1 of the Idaho Statesman today. Here's what columnist Dan Popkey had to say about it.

From it: "“Idaho 100” is intentionally provocative, meant to spur debate, while reminding us from whence we’ve come as we approach next year’s territorial sesquicentennial. ... Peterson told me that he aimed to give “an overview of why Idaho is what Idaho is.” Stapilus said the “real value is in opening up often obscure but important parts of Idaho history.” They’ve succeeded. The rankings are less important than the acts that earned a spot."

Be sure and read the comments after the piece, too.

Lower prices?

carlson
NW Reading

Natural gas prices have been going down. Here's a description of the situation in Idaho, from a Public Utilities Commission report.

Intermountain Gas Company customers received their sixth consecutive decrease in gas rates effective today due to a decline in the cost of gas the company buys for its customers and increased gas supply.

The decrease will come in two components: a reduction in monthly bills effective today as a result of the lower gas prices and a one-time bill credit in December. Combined, those adjustments result in a decrease of 7.1 percent for the average customer.

The yearly Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment (PGA) projects gas prices for the next 12 months and either surcharges or credits customers the difference between the projection and the actual cost. Sometimes the PGA is adjusted more than once a year if gas prices materially change.

The variable portion of customer rates is based on the Weighted Average Cost of Gas or WACOG, which makes up about half a customer bill. With this application, the WACOG drops from 41.8 cents per therm to about 33.5 cents per therm, as low as it has been since 2002. The WACOG represents about half the total customer bill, which is now about 66.8 cents per therm during the winter months and 70.2 cents from April through November for a customer who uses natural gas for both space and water heating. For that customer, the average bill will decrease by about $1.51 per month. A customer who uses natural gas for just space heating will see a decrease of about 17 cents per month. A commercial customer will see about a $6.46 per month decrease.

In addition to the $6 million price reduction as result of lower gas prices, a one-time credit totaling $11.9 million will be included on customers’ December bill. For residential customers who use natural gas for both space and water heating the one-time credit will be about $29.85. Residential customers who use natural gas for space heating only will receive a credit of about $19.40. The average December credit for commercial customers is about $129.80.

The commission said the credit will help customers during a time of year when natural gas bills are highest. “Instead of embedding the value of the credit in rates throughout the coming year, the single credit method will allow customers more immediate rate relief during a time period when natural gas usage is typically nearing its peak.”

The are several other significant factors in the overall reduction: 1) $3.7 million in benefits generated by release of some pipeline transportation capacity, 2) $4.8 million attributable to the collection of pipeline capacity costs, a true-up of expenses from the 2011 PGA and capacity release credits and 3) a $1.3 million deferred credit balance, which is the difference from the commodity costs Intermountain actually paid for natural gas and the WACOG that was included in rates.

The commission did give the company authority to surcharge customers for Lost and Unaccounted for Gas, which reduced the total credit allowed customers by $2 million.