Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The best thing to happen to education is a budget shortfall.

I serve on our local school board, one of seven elected representatives of the taxpayers in our school district ISD 199. First, let me say without equivocation that I think we have one of the best school districts in the Twin Cities metro area, if not one of the best in the state. Our district isn’t perfect, to be sure, but because we have a no-nonsense board combined with a results-oriented superintendent and building administrators, we put 70% or more of our dollars directly into the classrooms, we’ve limited our district administrative staff to just seven key people (with limited clerical support), we’ve implemented pre-AP and AP courses and gifted programs that draw students from surrounding districts, we serve a disproportionately large special needs population very well, and we renewed an operating referendum without raising property taxes last year.

Last night we heard the first rollout of our budget proposal for the next two years. We knew going into this presentation that we needed to cut $1.3 million from our expected budget (which essentially meant a cut of $71,755 in actual dollars spent from the year before). Unlike other government entities, school districts cannot deficit spend. By law, we have to maintain balanced budgets or we go into statutory operating debt, which makes us vulnerable to a state government takeover of district operations. And we do make reductions to proposed budgets every year based on enrollment figures in each grade and participation levels in all programs and activities. This, however, was by far the biggest reduction proposal we had had to consider since 2001.

We could have tried the approach of a simple spending freeze, but that wouldn’t have addressed many of the educational issues we faced, and it would have required the buy-in of the unions in our district – highly unlikely.

Instead, our district and building staff, led by our superintendent Dr. Dee Wells, conducted an all out assault on Business As Usual practices in the district. Everyone was engaged in the process, from building maintenance workers to teachers to district department heads. Every line item was debated. All expenditures had to prove their worth and value to the goals of the district (improving test scores and graduating students who are prepared for whatever they want to accomplish in life). Priorities were clear: core academics came before everything else; all other classes, programs and services were prioritized based on use and usefulness to the students.

It was a beautiful sight to behold: educators willingly hacking over a million dollars from their own budgets and finding ways to improve our education along the way. They found new cost efficiencies in purchasing; outsourced some services while bringing others in house; combined some programs and services with other districts; completely redid the scheduling in the middle school to increase student teaching time and cut under-utilized staff; found ways to implement brand new uses of technology to improve teaching quality while cutting personnel costs, and came up with better ways to achieve our AYP goals under No Child Left Behind.

The result: a proposal for a leaner, cleaner, better organized and more efficient school district that will be much better positioned to prepare its students for 21st century careers and lives. Like all crises, this budget shortfall forced everyone in our district to look at all aspects of product and service delivery in completely new ways. It brought out the best in creativity and innovation, resulting in proposed solutions that will save us money, increase productivity and give us better results as we go forward. That’s the American way.

It’s a pity that Washington has forgotten that.

For a closer look at how this school district balanced the budget without bilking the taxpayers, go to: http://www.invergrove.k12.mn.us/Proposed_Budget_Reductions.html

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Playing in Zero Gravity

I’m tired of everyone acting as if the Big O pulled off a miraculous feat of marketing genius in 18 months by building the electronic campaign and social networking machine that we saw in the 2008 campaign. The truth is, while the effectiveness of the Big O’s new media campaign was awe-inspiring, the signs of the electronic transformation have been around for us to see for awhile. If conservatives want to even begin to think about becoming competitive again, we need to understand what has happened to American culture in the last 20 years, and how it is being expressed through the technology of the last 5 years.

First, for the culture change.
It all goes back to education. For more than 20 years in some states, conservatives have been fighting the culture wars in the education establishment. We have focused on standard public education, arguing about curriculum content, teaching methods, test results, tax rates and spending patterns. In many cases, we made substantial progress in improving graduation standards. We passed No Child Left Behind, which, despite its flaws, finally gave school boards a big enough stick to use against the power of the teachers’ unions to improve teaching methods and testing results. Nonetheless, we missed a couple of crucial elements that we cannot control through regulations or standards.

The first thing we missed is that no matter what the standard curriculum content is, teachers have the ability to supplement the curriculum with additional materials. That means that if they feel there is something lacking in the regular textbooks they’re using, they can add other materials, activities, projects and assignments to “flesh out” what they think should be taught. If a teacher is motivated by a particular social, religious or political concern, it is not unusual for them to bring this into the classroom in that way, whether it's conservative or liberal. The coverage of the presidential inauguration provided a classic example of how easy it is for a civics lesson to turn into an opportunity for political indoctrination. Even if teachers focus on seemingly non-controversial aspects of the inaugural, there is no way for the student to escape the politicization of the office by the current holder. Students are learning in subtle and not-so-subtle ways the finer aspects of liberal thought just by the ancillary teaching that occurs in the classroom.

The second thing we missed is the nature of “character development” that is occurring in the classroom. While we were busy lamenting the lack of discipline in the classroom and the fact that Judeo-Christian values cannot be taught for fear of running afoul of the First Amendment, schools were busy filling that void with less controversial values. Now we have a whole generation of voters aged 18 to 30 who literally grew up with these ideas of American values:

Cooperation instead of competition
Consensus instead of majority rule
Community instead of individuality
Celebration of racial and cultural diversity instead of American unity
Fairness of outcome instead of equality of opportunity
Non-judgementalism instead of discernment and strength of conviction

Thus, these younger voters truly believe that fairness is patriotic, that cooperation and consensus are more American than the cruelty of competition and majority rule. How exactly do we re-educate them?

Now for the technology.
So we have these younger voters who have been educated for some 20 years in these systems with these values, and they begin to connect with others in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and elsewhere who think like they do via outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and other social networking sites. If you don’t know what those are, you’re not alone. That also means you’re officially part of the problem. These plugged in young Americans may just as easily have a best friend in Zurich whom they've never met in person as one down the block from their childhood home. They meet their spouses online, they find jobs online, they look for and buy homes, clothes, cars, electronics, gifts and illicit substances online. While people over 40 use the internet, for people under 40, the internet is so integrated into their lives that they live partially in the physical world and partly in cyberspace – and both places are equally real and valuable in their lives. They literally don't know how to live without the web, nor do they find any value in the idea that they should live without it.

Most importantly, they are getting their news and information on the web and forming their opinions on the web based on information they seek out from multitudes of sources (reliable and not so reliable) and from the people with whom they connect online. While we were busy shaking our heads at the “crazy things kids do online”, those kids were busy building entirely new cultures that transcend national boundaries, ethnic divisions, religious differences, and political labels. If you ask them what it means to be an American, you might be very surprised at their responses. You might even find that "being American" isn't all that important to some of them.

This isn’t just a new playing field or a different playbook. We have to learn how to play an entirely different game in a zero gravity atmosphere.

We can start by reading this excellent article:

and by reading every book on the list - even Al Gore's book. Some of us need more schooling than others, but we all need to understand the new world we live in if we’re going to make conservative values relevant again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Extorting Socialism

I was talking with a banker friend of mine today about the “bailout” of the financial markets. I learned a few things. For instance, it’s not enough that Capital Hill financiers are creating enormous welfare programs for banks of a certain size in this country. It’s not enough that they are flirting with nationalization of some banks to prop them up. Because Capital Hill has both the funding and the legal authority to do so, it is not only providing funds for banks – it is forcing banks to take those funds or the FDIC will not guarantee the banks because it assumes the banks are insolvent and will not be operating in a year. So banks like TCF Financial, Wells Fargo and US Bank, which didn’t really even need the TARP funds, are getting them because Capital Hill is forcing them to take it if they want to retain their FDIC insurance.

Further, Capital Hill isn’t content with forcing banks to take loans. The structure of the transaction is in the form of preferred non-voting stock. In essence, the federal government is buying non-voting ownership in these banks at a preferred rate of return beginning in two years.

So let me get this straight. The federal government is forcing banks to take its money in return for insurance protection, then forcing banks to pay the money back in two years at a higher rate of return than other shareholders get. Sounds suspiciously like a protection racket.

And the Don lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Capital Hill

No, it’s not a typo. It appears that the vast majority of our members of Congress desire a career change. They have gone from public servants to venture capitalists. Capitol Hill, once the bastion of Constitutional defense that guaranteed, uniquely in this world, that the people would be heard and represented has become Capital Hill, the central headquarters of one of the largest investment and loan operations in the world. Obamunism is painting the whole town bright red. The Big O is trying to downplay it, of course. Secretary Geithner backed away from the idea of federally controlled banks, saying that, “Governments are terrible managers of bad assets”. Regardless, the Big O is pressing forward with an agenda that will make our banking system look like Sweden’s – an even more systematically socialist approach than Japan’s bailouts, which the Big O says didn’t go far enough.

And where are our free market defenders?

In the Left Lurch
Astoundingly, many Republicans on Capital Hill are beginning to think that nationalization of the American banking system is not such a bad idea after all. Senator Lindsay Graham, once a conservative but now merely a Republican, is quoted in a Financial Times interview as saying, “You should not get caught up on a word [nationalisation]. I would argue that we cannot be ideologically a little bit pregnant. It doesn’t matter what you call it, but we can’t keep on funding these zombie banks [without gaining public control].”

Senator Graham said that it didn’t make any sense to throw good money after bad into institutions that now have lower values than the amount of public bailout money they’ve already received.

Stop. That actually makes sense. Don’t throw good money after bad. Stop there.

But no. Republicans like Graham aren’t stopping there. They’re taking a hard left turn and actually supporting the idea that nationalization of at least some banks will be a good idea to help the economy.

Has the phrase ‘free market correction’ left their vocabulary entirely? Yes, it hurts. It hurts a lot. But it doesn’t hurt as long and it doesn’t leave the economy crippled for a decade or more trying to right itself after such a hack job intervention as partial (or, God forbid, total) nationalization of the financial sector. Free market corrections leave the American economy leaner, cleaner and far better able to compete on the global stage precisely because Americans adapt, innovate and find ways to work ourselves out of the economic pain we hate to feel. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and all that. When did we (or at least our politicians) become so allergic to discomfort that we would rather throw our American ideals – and proven successes - down the toilet than deal with the shot-term suffering of making the right decisions?

An even more important question: if some of the leading Republicans on Capital Hill are buying into the new Obamunism, who are we left with to carry the flags of conservatism and free market capitalism?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Kinder, Gentler Dictatorship

OK, people:
The rubber has hit the road.
The train has left the station.

Pick your favorite colloquial phrase. We cannot afford to waste any more time wondering what happened to Republicans in the 2008 elections. We cannot afford to waste time pointing our fingers at each other. And our soul-searching odyssey must be cut short, or we won’t have the freedom to finish the odyssey at all.

In case you missed it, the Democrats are serious about reviving the Fairness Doctrine, requiring radio and TV stations to provide equal amounts of airtime for both conservative and liberal views. The Democrats are doing this because every effort they’ve made on their own to compete in the marketplace has failed: their radio stations go bankrupt, their TV stations go dark, their newspapers lose readership daily. No one wants to listen to them, so advertisers don’t want to advertise on their stations; the stations can’t pay their bills and they go out of business. That’s how the free market works. But that’s not how socialism works. The way socialism works, government dictates what we will hear, read and see by regulating and controlling the airwaves.

Wait – that’s a dictatorship.

We aren’t even into the first 30 days of the Big O’s presidency, and we’re already in full tilt mode for a federal government takeover of the financial sector, the healthcare sector, the manufacturing sector; the federal government by presidential decree is making sweeping (if largely unreported) changes in social policy from gays in the military to federal funding for abortions; the American federal government is practically playing kissy-face with some of our most dangerous foreign enemies while putting smarmy political operatives in charge of our intelligence community, the federal takeover of public education is almost complete, Democrats have already planned how they will rewrite the lines of our electoral future for at least the next decade by politicizing the census. Now they’ve hatched their plan to publicly brainwash all of us using all the airwaves we access for information.

The scope of the Democrats’ hubris is breathtaking. Their cunning is extraordinary. Their boldness of vision and discipline to carry it out bears strong resemblance to a few other such grand plans we’ve seen in history.

Mao Tse Tung.
Chiang Kai-shek.
Saddam Hussein.

It sounds melodramatic, I know. To be sure, an American Democrat dictatorship would be a kinder, gentler kind of dictatorship. Probably bloodless (unless you include the body count of the unborn killed by abortion; the aged, infirm and handicapped dead from rationed healthcare; and the civilians and soldiers who will undoubtedly die from renewed terrorist attacks here and elsewhere; but that’s all).

Repression in any language is a violation of human rights. Government control of public airwaves is constitutionally unsound. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. We’ve had the Fairness Doctrine before, and there’s no reason to think we can’t be muzzled by it again given the current state of affairs and the sheer might of the Democrat machine.

I don’t care where you put yourself on the political spectrum; who you supported for President, or what you think of the current Republican Party. We cannot allow this to move forward. If we don’t stand strong together, the Democrats will succeed beyond their wildest dreams, and all we will have left is our own extinction. We'd better run; the train is fast picking up steam.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Al Capone in the White House

I've always loved Chicago. I love the buildings, the food, the larger than life people, the history, and the culture. I was raised on gangster movies and movies about the Chicago political machine. I thought it was all fascinating and glamorous. As I got older, of course, I saw the seediness and destruction of organized crime and understood how bad it was. But, Chicago was still always endearing as a pocket of the country where the remnants of that bygone era still hang on, albeit in slightly less bloody forms.

Well, life may well imitate art if the White House gets its way now.

Buried as a news item everywhere except deep on the Fox News website, the White House has announced that the Big O's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, will be in charge of conducting the 2010 census, even though operations will "technically" stay within the Commerce Department:

"White House officials have announced that the census will technically remain part of the Commerce Department, but that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will oversee it at the White House, raising eyebrows among critics who say he can't be expected to be neutral in the task. Emanuel ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and was instrumental in getting Democrats elected into the majority."


Since the outcome of the census determines funding levels for many federal programs to the states in addition to defining Congressional district lines for the next ten years, it is essential that it is done accurately and without any partisan involvement, which is why the Commerce Department does it and not, say, ACORN.

Now it looks like our First Community Organizer will have the opportunity - and the muscle - to truly remake the country in his image for at least the next ten years. What we will witness is the development of a federal numbers racket designed to systemically entrench Democrats' power throughout the country and all but eliminate any chance of Republicans even gaining enough ground to be competitive, much less gain control of Congress again for at least a decade.

This is exactly how Chicago style politics is run for real. The wards are divided up to ensure easy margins of victory for certain groups of people, virtually guaranteeing that those in power stay in power. Deals that don't pass the public sniff test - like the notion of turning the census into a list builder program for the Democrats - are done behind closed doors and slid past the public eye with disguises and subterfuge. Meanwhile, public adoration is purchased by giving money to orphanages and churches, calculatingly following the old adage that all politics is local.

Think it can't happen? It already has. The foundation for the infrastructure was built early in the Big O's campaign with all the ACORN activity searching out and registering new voters. How easy will it be to call up those same workers with the same training and tactics to do the sampling surveys the Democrats like to use so they can overcount their constituents and undercount ours? They've already done it once, under the public scrutiny of a presidential campaign. Doing the same thing for the - yawn - US Census is like taking candy from a baby.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, bless her heart, is calling for an investigation into the decision. Not that it matters. Republicans have no numbers, we have no media, and we have no public sympathy. The Big O has it all, and he has Rahm Emanuel to enforce his agenda with absolute discipline behind the scenes. Forget breaking legs or getting kneecapped. The only thing members of Congress truly fear is not being able to raise money for their war chests. How many phone calls do you think Emanuel would need to make to stop the flow of cash to a recalcitant Congressperson? We have a bloodless mob war in the making.

We may not realize it yet, but we are watching the Democrat party transform itself into an organized crime ring - each major player with his or her own territory and racket across the nation and an unending stream of revenue from the labor unions, Hollywood and other typical mob co-conspirators. And the Don lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Final sale, as is, no warranties

A new album I posted on my Facebook page with photos from some of the more notable terrorists attacks and activities in recent memory elicited a strong response.


I'm glad to know that people on both sides of the aisle still recognize that there are people in the world who intend to do us grave and permanent harm - who would like to see us wiped from the face of the earth, if truth be known.

One person suggested that there's no way a liberal President would just 'forget' about terrorism. I'm not worried that the Big O will forget about terrorism. I'm worried sick that his new approach to dealing with these evil people will be ineffective at best and destructive at worst.

This brings me to the fundamental difference between hawks and doves (or, conservatives and liberals, generally).

Hawks see the world as it is, guarding against the atrocities of the past. Hawks believe in the idea that we need to take the actions of other actors on the world stage primarily at face value and deal with the situations at hand in ways that best contain/eliminate threats and protect the people we are sworn to defend: American citizens, our allies and others who ask for our help. Hawks believe in the validity of protecting American interests, because hawks believe that the American way of life (generally the Western society we recognize of Greco-Roman lineage) and government is superior to other ways of life and other forms of government. Hawks believe freedom and democracy are worth fighting and dying for, whether it's for America or another country that shares our values (or whose people demonstrate they want to adopt those values in spite of oppression/brutality/dictatorship).

Doves use a completely different operating system. Doves see the world as it could be, with the ultimate goal of global peace and harmony. Doves believe that love really does conquer all, and that everyone, if given understanding and support, will eventually respond in kind. Doves genuinely believe that all cultures, religions, histories and global actors have relatively similar value and can add positive attributes to what they believe is everyone's ultimate goal: world peace, harmony and equality. Therefore, Communism has just as many positive attributes as Democracy (albeit in different ways). The idea of peaceful coexistence is the highest ideal. Doves are so commited to this ideal that they will sacrifice their own self-interest and the national interest of America to try to achieve it because they want to put what they perceive as others' needs ahead of their own.

We need both perspectives.

We need to believe in the positive potential of humankind even as we recognize and accept that not everyone will achieve it. We need to believe in the idea of global peace and prosperity while understaning that not everyone does or wants to share that belief. We need to believe in the possibility of redemption for every soul, even though we know that many souls will willingly reject the chance. It's a bit like trying to reconcile some of the things we know about Christ as recorded in the Bible:

- the man who preached love, forgiveness and understanding was the same man who bodily whipped and threw merchants out of the temple without warning - he didn't waste time talking to them;

- the man who commanded us to love one another as we loved ourselves was the same man who told his apostles to shake the dust from their sandals and move on from any town that didn't listen to them, and told them that the poor would always be among them;

- the man who told us to forgive 70 times 7 is the same man who said he came into the world to divide it rather than unite it, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to spit the lukewarm from his mouth;

- then that man allowed us all to brutalize him in front of his mother, willingly dying in agony so we could be redeemed, knowing that some of us would still willingly reject the chance.

2,000 years later, we still can't figure it out.

We need to understand that the world we live in is a fixer-upper, that our time in it is non-returnable, non-refundable and non-transferrable. There are no warranties, no guarantees that any of our approaches will work 100%. In fact, history has pretty much shown there is no 100% solution. There are, however, a few approaches with a track record of working better than others:

First, we have to protect the people and things we've sworn ourselves to protect. Without our word, we have no credibility. Without credibility, we have no negotiating power. We need to say what we mean, and follow through with what we say. Every time. No exceptions. It's the foundation of behavioral modification, and it works better than anything else I've ever seen.

Second, we need to bring back Pres. Reagan's policy of "trust, but verify". That was the best example of balance that I know of in the modern world. Work together where we can with those whom we can, but never just believe that what they're telling us is true without third party verification.

Third, we need to live up to our own ideals as best we can in order to win the hearts and minds of people around the world who want democracy in their own countries. Spreading democracy is easier than ever now with the interconnections we have via modern technology; we need to take responsibility as a nation and as individuals to be positive ambassadors of freedom, opportunity and democracy.

Fourth, we need to accept that not everyone wants to coexist peacefully, and we need to have the testicular fortitude to deal with them on their terms in ways they understand, because there is no other way. There was never an example in the Bible of Jesus sweet-talking a demon out of someone. He commanded it to leave, and forced it when it didn't go on its own. There is real evil in the world, and doves need to accept that the only way to deal with evil is to exterminate it. Even as we look for ways to spread peace and prosperity in partnership with those who share our ideals, doves need to cope with the reality that we still need to do some demolition on this fixer-upper to achieve the world of our dreams. Not everything or everyone should be saved.

Fifth, and I think this is important as an American, is that we all need to be a little less cynical and get back to the rock solid conviction that America is the expression of all that is best in humankind. Even if our leaders don't always make the right decisions, even when our government's policies don't work the way we think they will, even when we as American citizens forget to live up to the ideals of our Constitution - America is still the shining city on the hill. Some people hate that, and we need to be steadfast and unwavering in our commitment to defend her. Most people love that: they look to us to lead the charge for freedom and democracy even when they grumble about how we do it. Hawks need to remember that this fixer-upper has limitless potential. We don't want to get so caught up in defending ourselves against the evils of the past that we miss the opportunities to build the future of our dreams.

Give us another 2,000 years - maybe we'll get the job done by then. In the meantime, I am a hawk who believes that we need to do whatever it takes to stop the bad guys in their tracks.

But we need to keep sending out the doves to see if they come back with a live olive branch.

The economy is our fault, stupid

I'm going to set partisanship aside for a moment as I try to consider and reconcile some of what I heard last night in Pres. Obama's speech and the various reactions to it. I believe some important points are getting lost in the hype: The economic mess we have on our hands is actually not the result of "Republican" or "Democrat" policies exclusively. Is it the result of a combination of things:

- trade deficits that have fed our national deficit;

- the seemingly insatiable appetite for people to want to appear more prosperous than they are, leading to them spending more than they can afford on a lifestyle they haven't earned;

- willingness (and in some cases, encouragement) by lenders to work out programs that allowed consumers to borrow against their homes at 125% of the home's value to "pay off" their unsecured debt, which only allowed them to build up more debt;

- lack of education and responsibility on the part of first-time homebuyers about all the costs involved in owning a home. Saying that you can buy for less than rent isn't exactly true after you factor in insurance, maintenance, taxes, utilities and various other expenses that go with owning a home. I think most first-time homebuyers were utterly unprepared for this, especially if they did not come from a family that owned their own home;

-protracted intransigience on the part of labor unions unwilling to recognize that the world is a very different place now, and their focus on extracting as much as they can from the companies for which their members work is not a good strategy for long term economic health. Instead, they should be taking a cue from the entrepreneurial sector and looking to workers in other countries (who may actually need their services much more) to imcrease their membership - and their funding sources. Grow and diversify.

The single biggest cause of this recession, however, is us. We can blame regulators, financiers, Congress, political parties, advertising executives and everybody else until we're blue in the face, but what we really need to do is look in the mirror. We, the consumers, let our own desires to look more prosperous, feel better about ourselves, 'one up' our neighbors, or whatever our motivations, get in the way of making sound spending decisions based on the reality of our ability to pay rather than what we could get away with or push off down the road. All of the programs that we are now criticizing Wall Street for creating and government for not regulating only exist because there was enough consumer demand for those programs to make them profitable. That's how the free market system works. If we weren't clamoring for free money, no money down programs, no payments for a year programs and the like - they wouldn't exist. Our own greed got us into this mess.

Wall Street didn't drive us - we drove it. To abdicate that responsibility is the height of immaturity and denial on our parts. We have to be accountable. We have to accept the notion that we can't have everything we want, exactly when we want it, just because some marketing firm says "You're worth it". We have bought into the false idea that we "deserve" things - because we work hard one day, because we watch what we eat during the week, because we live stessful lives. The fact is - we only deserve what we legitimately earn, after we've earned it.

So now we have Communist nations holding more than 25% of our debt, our domestic real estate is devalued to the point of attracting the only foreign investors who have any money right now - who happen to be part of a culture that wants to see ours completely dismantled - and we are led by a President and a Congress who believe that appeasement of enemy dictators and federal government spending are the best ways to fix things. I would be far less worried about Barack Obama if Nancy Pelosi and Hary Reid were not running Congress. But they are, and we are headed for an absolute train wreck because of it.