Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Last Call

The Tea Party wins in Wake County, North Carolina...and the entire country loses as a result.

The sprawling Wake County School District has long been a rarity. Some of its best, most diverse schools are in the poorest sections of this capital city. And its suburban schools, rather than being exclusive enclaves, include children whose parents cannot afford a house in the neighborhood.

But over the past year, a new majority-Republican school board backed by national tea party conservatives has set the district on a strikingly different course. Pledging to "say no to the social engineers!" it has abolished the policy behind one of the nation's most celebrated integration efforts.

And as the board moves toward a system in which students attend neighborhood schools, some members are embracing the provocative idea that concentrating poor children, who are usually minorities, in a few schools could have merits - logic that critics are blasting as a 21st-century case for segregation.

The situation unfolding here in some ways represents a first foray of tea party conservatives into the business of shaping a public school system, and it has made Wake County the center of a fierce debate over the principle first enshrined in the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education: that diversity and quality education go hand in hand.

The new school board has won applause from parents who blame the old policy - which sought to avoid high-poverty, racially isolated schools - for an array of problems in the district and who say that promoting diversity is no longer a proper or necessary goal for public schools

Stop and think about that.

Wake County, home of the capital of the state I grew up in a Southern state no less, is telling children and parents that diversity is no longer a proper or necessary goal for public schools.

Before the Tea Party took control of the GOP, Wake County was a held up as a model school district.  It dropped racial integration for economic integration ten years ago and since then is one of the better ranked large school districts in not just the state, but the entire country.

Over the years, both Republican and Democratic school boards supported the system. A study of 2007 graduation rates by EdWeek magazine ranked Wake County 17th among the nation's 50 largest districts, with a rate of 64 percent, just below Virginia's Prince William County. While most students posted gains in state reading and math tests last year - more than three-quarters passed - the stubborn achievement gap that separates minority students from their white peers has persisted, though it has narrowed by some measures. And many parents see benefits beyond test scores.

To recap, Wake County schools improved significantly with the plan, and both Republicans and Democrats praised it.

That was before the Tea Party decided they wanted to take the schools backwards.

Things have not gone smoothly as the new school board has attempted to define its vision for raising student achievement. A preliminary map of new school assignments did not please some of the new majority's own constituents. And critics expressed alarm that the plan would create a handful of high-poverty, racially isolated schools, a scenario that the new majority has begun embracing.

Pope, who is a former state legislator, said he would back extra funding for such schools.

"If we end up with a concentration of students underperforming academically, it may be easier to reach out to them," he said. "Hypothetically, we should consider that as well." 

Under the old plan, the entire district performed better.  Test scores and graduation rates were higher.   A diverse, rising tide lifted all boats.

Now we're back to "We don't want them in our school."  Unbelievable.  You poor, minority kids can have your own school.  Hell, we'll pay you to stay out of ours.

Is this 2011 or 1951?  Way to set a national example of what you would do with power, Teabaggers.

Asking The Right Questions

In the spirit of trying to dial things back a bit, I'm going to pose the legitimate questions that Greg Sargent brought up today as an open discussion:

Do you agree that the "eliminationist rhetoric" cited by Krugman is a problem and is out of bounds? Are you denying that such rhetoric exists, or that the preponderance of it comes from the right? More broadly, putting aside the case of Jared Loughner, is it a valid question to ask whether such rhetoric in general risks tipping the unhinged into violence?

Given this story today:

An Arizona Republican Party District Chairman resigned shortly after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 18 others on Saturday. According to The Arizona Republic, Anthony Miller had been subject to verbal attacks and internet postings by apparent Tea Party members, and said he feared for his safety.

"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," Miller told the Republic. "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."

I think these are very valid questions to ask.  And Miller's not the only Arizona Republican who fears the Tea Party enough to resign.

Orange Julius Doesn't Disappoint

As expected, House Speaker Boehner won't even allow any gun control legislation up for a vote, including Republican Peter King's bill.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is rejecting gun-control legislation offered by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in response to the weekend shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others in Arizona.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation prohibiting people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of members of Congress.

King, who has previously called for the removal of illegal guns from the streets, made the announcement alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s loudest voices for stricter gun laws.

King said the legislation is not intended only for the safety of government officials but also to protect the public. He said elected officials are not necessarily more important than constituents, but by protecting them in this way, they would feel safer in meeting federal officials at public events.

“The fact is they do represent the people who elect them, and it’s essential, if we’re going to continue to have contact, that the public who are at these meetings are ensured of their own safety,” King said.

King’s legislation got the cold shoulder from Boehner and other Republicans after it was announced.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the Speaker would not support King’s legislation.

If Republicans can't even get a bill up in the house, nobody can.  Not that anybody expected Boehner to allow the measure to advance, but  it still shows the finality of the end of gun control at the federal level post-Clinton.

Not that Democrats bothered to put up any serious legislation either, even when they had control of the House and Senate.

A Moose With Hoof In Mouth Disease

Sarah Palin's response to her critics included the phrase "blood libel".  Pat Buchanan thought it was "excellent".

The both of them really might want to read a book once in a while, because the history of that particular phrase is ugly.

Historically, blood libel refers to anti-Semitic accusations from the Middle Ages, when some believed that Jews made Passover matzo from the blood or organs of murdered Christian children. Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf told Politico, "The blood libel is something anti-Semites have historically used in Europe as an excuse to murder Jews -- the comparison is stupid. Jews and rational people will find it objectionable."

The first example of blood libel, which is sometimes called "blood accusation," surfaced, as far as we know, in the writings of a monk. In 1173, Thomas of Monmouth wrote "The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich," which told the story of a young boy who was allegedly killed in England around Easter 1144. According to Thomas of Monmouth, the town believed that local Jews were responsible. Afterward, a Jewish man was murdered. Since Thomas of Monmouth was the only one to write about the story, we have no idea whether the events, or some form of them, ever took place.

Despite the questionable origins, the rumors took hold in Europe, lasting through approximately the 14th century. Some Jews were tortured, even executed, after being accused of such abductions and murders of Christian children; others converted to Christianity to save themselves.

Though blood libel allegations declined after the Middle Ages, they still cropped up occasionally, even in the United States: In 1928, in upstate New York, the Jewish community of the town of Massenna stood accused when a 4-year-old girl disappeared. It was Yom Kippur, and the police questioned the town rabbi to see whether the local Jews might have been responsible. Even when the girl reappeared, having been lost, the Jewish community was still looked at with suspicion.

The phrase was first used this week by Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Reynolds wrote, "So as the usual talking heads begin their 'have you no decency?' routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?"

In the National Review Online, blogger Jonah Goldberg questions Palin's and Reynolds' use of the phrase this week. "I agree entirely with Glenn's, and now Palin's, larger point. But I'm not sure either of them intended to redefine the phrase, or that they should have," he writes.

And if you're willing to cross a line that makes Jonah Goldberg stop and go "You know what, that's a bridge too far" then you've failed.  Claiming a phrase with a long history of anti-Semitic connotations for your rhetorical defense of your words in the shooting of a Jewish member of Congress may in fact be Palin's most ignorant, boneheaded move yet.

Granted, she lifted it from Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, but he's supposedly a law professor, someone who should have known better.

Every time she opens her mouth on this issue, she makes things far worse for herself.

Get 'Em While They're Young

Drug testing in middle school?  This is being considered in Belvidere, NJ.  The school says they want this to be a deterrent, and plan to randomly drug test the students.

Well, at least they are doing it before they teach them about the Constitution in high school.  Maybe they'll discuss the "search and seizure is okay if we say it is" clause that was missing from my own education.

Deny Deny Deny

CHICAGO -- Thousands of gizzard shad are going belly up along Chicago's lakefront in a large die-off that's left many of the fish frozen in the ice along the city's harbors.

Rather than admit something weird is going on, a theory was put forth that the fish may not have matured enough to survive the significant drop in temperature.  Riiiight.

At this point, I'm concerned that we haven't heard more concern that our food supply has been seriously compromised, by nature or disease or chemical.  When conspiracy theories would typically be flooding the net, there is an eerie silence instead.  I am left with worries and an image of a bunch of men in suits sticking their fingers in their ears and singing "lalalalalalala" as loud as they can.

Paying For It All

California has chosen to cut, cut, cut to balance its budget (and still faces a huge hole.)  Illinois on the other hand is still able to raise revenues...and they just did in a huge way.

Many states are struggling with anemic revenues and the prospect of an end to additional federal funds, but Illinois faces a budget deficit of as much as $15 billion, owes some $8 billion in unpaid bills to social service agencies, doctors, dentists and others, and is receiving mounting signs of worry from bond investors.

Under the legislation, the income tax rate would, at least temporarily, rise to 5 percent from its current rate of 3 percent. Lawmakers had talked about an even steeper increase, but set that aside as the hours went by and the debate grew increasingly emotional. The rate for corporate taxes would rise to 7 percent from its current rate of 4.8 percent. As part of the deal, the state’s spending growth would be limited from one year to the next over the next four years.

Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, a Democrat whose signature would be needed to make any rate increase final, has indicated in the past he believes a tax increase is necessary.

The tax hike irked Republicans in Springfield, the state capital, and business owners around the state. Again and again, Republicans argued that the state needed to make significant spending cuts to solve its deficit before it even began considering a tax increase.

On the Statehouse floor on Tuesday night, Roger L. Eddy, a Republican representative, said that lawmakers were essentially “making up for our mistakes” on the backs of taxpayers, while one state senator called it a “train wreck.” Representative David Reis, another Republican, warned of the “sucking sound” he imagined would now be heard of businesses leaving the Illinois.

The fallout of the vote remains to be seen: Will Illinois businesses really now flock to neighbors Wisconsin and Indiana as opponents have suggested? Will the increase impress investors and quickly improve the state’s sunken bond rating? And, perhaps most of all, will the change be enough to turn around the financial woes of a state where the deficit has grown to the size of half of the annual general fund? 

We'll see.  Republicans who forced California into draconian cuts say they had no choice.  Illinois Democrats who forced a major raise in the state's income tax said they had no choice either.  We're about to see a laboratory of democracy experiment in action.

Which state will recover first, if either? 

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 14

If I asked you which state was currently leading the nation in steepest home price drops heading into 2011, odds are pretty good you'd rattle off a dozen before you even got close to the answer.  Idaho is currently the dubious champion in that category, and no region in Idaho has been hit harder than the state's Treasure Valley, from Boise west along I-84 to the Oregon border.

Michele and Ben Pearson need a new home for their family of eight, currently squeezed into 1,800-square feet of living space.

With six children — including 2-year-old triplets — the couple wanted to upgrade from the three-bedroom home they purchased in the Sutters Mill subdivision in Kuna three years ago.

Their problem: They owe $180,000 on the home, which is now valued at $121,600, according to the Ada County assessor’s office website.

In industry parlance, it’s called being “underwater,” or owing more on a home than the residence is worth.
CoreLogic, a provider of consumer, financial and property information, recently reported that 44,524 homeowners — or almost 34 percent of Treasure Valley mortgage holders — were underwater on their home loans. Another 6 percent, or 7,687 borrowers, had less than 5 percent equity in their property.

It’s a situation that leaves a homeowner with very few options.

A full one-third of homeowners in the Boise area are now underwater.   That means there's no up-selling, plunging tax revenues, no housing market at all to speak of.  At this point it's a matter of holding on as prices plunge.  We're seeing the third wave of underwater mortgages now, states like Idaho and Alabama are seeing their housing markets disintegrate now, while the states where the problem started, California and New York, are seeing modest gains.

But overall, the housing depression rages on.

Who Does That Leave?

Some folks have told me "You know, when it comes down to it in 2012, the GOP won't make the mistake of nominating a far right loon that can't beat Obama."

To that I say "There won't be anybody left but the far right loons."

Mike Huckabee won't make it.  He doesn't hate Michelle Obama enough.

Mitt Romney won't make it.  He's not a "real Christian".

Tim Pawlenty won't make it.  He doesn't love crosshairs enough.

Mitch Daniels won't make it.  Doesn't hate gays enough.

That leaves what, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and John Bolton's Mustache?  Nearly everyone else has already been dismissed from the race by conservatives as of course not being conservative enough.  If anything, the entire 2012 primary circus is going to have to lurch even further to the right.

It's not going to be pretty, either.


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